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The Painted Voyage

November 19, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 7.5. From 151 votes.
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Sometimes I’ll just stare out the window and think about it. I’ll think about it long and hard. While it happened decades ago and I have moved on with my life, I still get the biggest chills when I remind myself of it. I tell myself all the time that it must have been an illusion or some wicked dream. But it wasn’t. It really wasn’t.

I was ten years old at the time, and I still remember all the exciting commotion from everyone boarding the ship. For many, this ship was a symbol of everything good. The smell, the visuals, and the feel of it were all remarkable. I thought of this upcoming voyage as a new chapter in my life. America was waiting for me, and I was looking forward to living there.

All I wanted to do was have some fun during the voyage itself. I quickly befriended a wealthy kid my age who resided in the first class. His name was Edison. Many of the first class kids ignored me because I was third class, but Edison was the exception. He was just like me. We would run around and be those two ‘know it all’ kids that would annoy all the adults with the mischief we’d get in. We would pull so many pranks and then laugh until we couldn’t any longer. It was awesome. Unfortunately, that lasted for the first few days.

I had slept over in his room, and we woke up the next morning feeling good about the day that was to come.

“Do you wanna meet up with some of the other kids today?” He asked me the following morning as we both woke up rubbing our eyes.

“Sure, I guess,” I replied. I was a bit hesitant to meet other first class kids because I thought of them as brats. But if Edison was friends with them, then I was open to the idea.

We walked out into the hallway, and a girl our age immediately greeted us.

“Edison! What a pleasant surprise!” she said. She tried to make it seem accidental, but it felt as if she was purposely waiting for us.

“Oh, hi there?” Edison replied. He apparently did not know her.

“You’re funny!” she said, giggling in a sophisticated manner. She had a huge smile on her face, with big blue eyes. She had on a fancy white dress along with a fancy hat, so I knew she was first class. She was way too enthusiastic for my taste.

“We’ve met before?” Edison asked.

“Of course!” she said. “My name is Martha, remember? Anyways, what are you up too?”

“Um, Charlie and I were just about to-”

“Oh yes, Charlie! My dear, how do you do?” She reached out her hand for a handshake.

“Um, fine I guess,” I responded, shaking her hand. While she seemed friendly, she was also very suspicious. Her cheeriness seemed forced and unnatural.

“I was just about to go to my room. You guys should come with me! I have breakfast if you two are hungry!” she said.

“Oh, that’s ok. We have other plans,” Edison said.

“Oh boo,” Martha said. “Won’t you two please come with me? I get really lonesome around here.”

Edison and I looked at each other once more. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, we both agreed.

“Splendid!” she said. “This way we go!”

We followed her down the hallway and entered her room. The paintings on the bright red walls immediately caught my eye. There was an absurd amount of them, each depicting various disasters. The strange part was that there was a figure in each and every one of them, and it was downright creepy. It was someone with long black hair and a long black cloak. The figure also had a large black hat, one that President Abraham Lincoln would wear. The shade from the hat obscured the entire face, so I couldn’t tell if it was a male or a female. Upon closer inspection of all these pictures, I noticed that each of them had random names signed in the corner.

The locations that this figure inhabited were especially interesting. They were all shown in a night setting, and disasters ranged from burning houses, crossfires, severe car crashes, tsunami’s, wars, and various explosions. Indeed, most of them had fires or fights, each with this creature lingering on the side. One painting that I specifically remembered had two towers, with one of them having an explosion near the top. The corner of the picture was labeled 911.

“So I see you’re taking an interest in these paintings,” Martha said. “May I ask your opinion?”

“Well, they’re interesting,” I replied back. I wish she would stop talking like she was so fancy and sophisticated.

“Why thank you, sir. I drew them,” she said.

I was surprised. She didn’t seem like she’d draw scary paintings at all. I was genuinely curious about the black figure, so I decided to ask her about it. “Who is the, um, fella wearing all black, in all your paintings?”

“Oh, it’s just for art. That is all. Anyways I’m glad you took a liking to them,” she said, giggling.

I turned to Edison and used my eyes to signal him that we should leave this girl alone, but he didn’t look at me. His eyes were just on Martha the whole time. And oddly enough, he kept silent. He was usually someone to talk and give his opinions whenever he could.

“Well, you have talent,” I said. “I think I better be going actually. Mom’s probably worried sick.”

“Oh, but you just got here! Please stay for a bit. Please, oh please oh please?” she asked.

I reluctantly agreed.

“Oh, splendid! Tell you what guys; I have leftover cookies from breakfast this morning. Super delicious. You two wait here. Don’t you dare leave,” she said. She walked away to enter the kitchen. It was then just Edison and me with all these paintings surrounding us.

“What do you think about these paintings?” I asked him.

“Charlie,” Edison said. He had a solemn tone, which was unusual for him. He also held still, like a statue. “Did you not see it?”

“See what?” I asked him.

He didn’t look at me nor did he respond. Martha later came back with some cookies and directed us to the dining table. We sat there and talked about our experiences we have had for the past few days. Well, at least Martha and I was. Edison didn’t say much. Martha blabbered about how she didn’t like the other kids. She kept on insisting that we were the only ‘intriguing’ ones.

“Anyways you guys,” Martha said after finishing her cookie. “Tonight is the big night!”

“What is the big night?” I asked.

“It’s a surprise. You’ll see,” she replied. “But first, I’ll be right back. Let me show you guys something!” She walked over to the kitchen.

While Martha was nothing but weird, I found Edison’s behavior to be even odder. He would only speak when asked a question. It was not like him at all.

Martha came back with a canvas in her hand. It was another painting. She turned it over to show me. “Do you like it?”

One look at the painting and I became deeply concerned. It depicted a ship. Sinking. Not surprisingly, it was a night setting. It was at a fair distance, with the water being splashed about everywhere due to people drowning in it. The ship itself seemed as if it was about to break from all the physical damage. Everyone had facial expressions that were full of fear. Why would she draw something like this when we were in a ship ourselves?

But the best part? That figure. That same black figure. It was on the left side of the painting, looking at the ship itself at an oblique angle. I told her I didn’t like the painting.

“Really? Oh, rats. I worked on it for hours. You don’t find this art pleasant? My feelings are hurt, Charlie,” she said.

“Charlie,” Edison said out of nowhere. “Tell her you like her painting. Now.”

I looked at Edison with astonishment. I could not believe that he would demand me to do something with such a serious tone. I began to worry about his insanity.

“Martha,” I said. “Your paintings are creepy, but I do admit you’re a good artist,” I said.

“I didn’t ask you to tell her that she’s a good artist,” Edison said. He didn’t look at me, as his eyes were strictly on the painting. “Tell her you like the actual painting itself.”

“I like your painting,” I finally said. I couldn’t stop thinking about Edison’s behavior.

“Oh thank you, Charlie!” She said. “And one more thing. Do you mind signing your name on it?”

My heart dropped. Sign my name? Why on earth would she want my signature on her painting? She was truly not like any other girl I have met. She held out a charcoal pencil right in front of me.

“Sign it,” Edison said.

“Are you sure?” I asked Martha.

“Yes,” she said. “You see Charlie, I have chosen you for a reason. I like you a lot. I hope you can respect my culture in signing this painting? Just sign it anywhere. It doesn’t need to be fancy. I will appreciate it, and well, so will everyone else involved.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but at that point, I did not care. I grabbed the pencil and looked at the painting. For an odd reason, I felt repelled to sign my name anywhere near that black figure, so I signed it on the opposing side.

“Charlie, thank you,” Martha said. “You made this whole thing possible.”

“You’re welcome,” I said. I got up and walked toward the exit door. “I’ll see you guys around.” I received no response.

As soon as my hand touched the doorknob, the lights went out. The room was pitch black. Worried, I called out for Martha and Edison. Again, no response. I tried opening the door, but it was locked. I was afraid at this point, and so I held my hand on the doorknob firmly and did not let go of it. I was in a room with no light, trapped with a strange girl and strange paintings. Not an ideal situation by any means. I called out their names yet again. Nothing.

The room started shaking. It was gentle at first, but then the shaking became intense. I grabbed the doorknob with my other hand and held it tightly. I was not religious by any means, but I began to pray. The chandeliers shook violently as if someone intentionally kept shaking them just to make this scenario all the more dramatic. I felt like I was being mocked. Some of the chandeliers fell to the ground. At one point, I heard the table flip over, with the glass cups and vases shattering on the floor. All I could do was hope that everything would be okay.

The shaking eventually stopped. I tried to calm down my heavy breathing, wiping off some sweat from my forehead at the same time. It was still as dark as ever. I tried opening the door again, but no luck. Seconds later, the lights came back on.

My back was facing Martha and Edison, and I was terrified to turn around. After a few deep breaths, I calmed myself down. Nervously, I turned around.

There was no physical damage. The chandeliers were hanging from the ceiling, having never fallen to the ground. The table I had also heard fall was back in its regular position. Even stranger, the paintings that were on the wall beforehand were now gone. Martha herself was standing in the same spot. She was rubbing her hand gently on the painting as if it was everything she ever cared about. She was giggling so maliciously that it was a disgusting sight to see. She acted as if nothing had happened whatsoever.

Edison was nowhere to be found. I became downright scared. Martha seemed absolutely insane. It took every ounce of bravery to speak.

“Martha, what happened? Where is Edison?” I asked.

She completely ignored me as she continued to stroke the painting. She then picked up the painting, turned around, and hung it on the wall. She again looked at the painting and laughed continuously. A part of me had a strong desire to confront her about her behavior, but I was too scared to do anything.

She then proceeded to skip to the kitchen, continuing to laugh. She entered another room, and as soon as the door shut, her laughing ceased. Of course, the light had to turn off again. I couldn’t see a thing and now I was back to step one. The only thing that was going for me was that the door I held on to was finally unlocked. Anxious about what might be on the other side, I slowly opened the door and walked out into the dark hallway.

Although I couldn’t see anything, I felt like I just walked into a large vacant room. I called out for help. Nobody. I walked around while extending my arms, trying to figure out where I was. After a few minutes, I stopped walking and sat on the floor. I held my knees close to my chin, hugging my legs tightly. I started to cry.

A few minutes later, I felt a sudden intensity of heat. It felt as if something was burning a few feet away from me. I didn’t want to let go from the fetal position I was in, but the temperature rise was so intense that I had to look to see what the cause of it was.

I turned to my right to see a small area with a red light shining on it. It was at a distance, perhaps a bit less than a quarter mile away. I wiped my eyes to take a closer look. The red lighted area was the only area visible in the pure darkness. It was like I was on stage for a play, but the spotlight was shining on the other side of the stage. In this spotlight, I saw what looked to be large lit candles on long sticks and black objects on the floor.

I walked there slowly. Every step I took, my heart rate increased. My adrenaline was at an all-time high. As I got closer, I realized that these black objects were kids dressed in black cloaks, all sitting in a circle. They all had a hood covering their heads, so I was not able to see their faces. The children were surrounding something. I couldn’t tell what it was at first until I got even closer and realized that it was a painting hanging from the ceiling. It was swinging back and forth like a pendulum. The painting was.. the painting was…

It was the one I signed back in Martha’s room. The one depicting a sinking ship.

I was now only a few yards away from the children. They didn’t notice me, so I was relieved by that. I watched these kids just sit there in front of the swinging painting. I closed my fists as hard as I could and tried my best not to make even the slightest of noise.

The sound of a piano broke my concentration. It was playing in a loud yet eerie way. It was like someone got to a piano just in time and started playing it so that the ‘play’ on stage would continue. The children then began to sing softly.

“There is no other way, they all fall down. There is no other way, they all fall down. There is no other way, they all fall down.”

I wanted to die. I was so terrified that I couldn’t even think straight. It was when the children removed their hoods that my adrenaline exponentially skyrocketed. Amongst all the kids, one of them stood out to me. Edison was present.

Out of nowhere, a figure entered the red spotlight from the black darkness surrounding it. It was a figure that must have been about eight feet tall. It too had a long black cloak covering its entire body. It had long black hair, along with a black hat – one that President Lincoln would wear. I didn’t want to believe it. But there it was. It wasn’t even walking. It was levitating. It hovered so slowly as if it had all the time in the world. It always had a slight white mist revolving around it.

The figure stopped right in front of the painting. The sound of the piano and the singing from the children ceased. The tall figure proceeded to remove the painting from the rope. Immediately, in the corner of the red area, a fire spawned. The figure took the painting and placed it in the fire. The creature then picked up the burning picture, and with what I assumed to be its hands, rubbed the canvas in a gentle manner.

In the most dramatic way possible, it immediately looked at my direction. Whoever was at the ‘piano’ decided to play it again, this time much more furiously. I was paralyzed from the neck down and my eyes refused to blink. My body was undergoing physiological changes that I don’t even think any expert in the field of physiology could explain.

The children got up and started laughing. They began to run towards me, each passing me one by one and still laughing endlessly as if this was a friendly game of tag.

Edison was the only one to stop running and stare at me. He was a few feet away from me with a frozen face. He didn’t look real at all. He appeared very ghost-like, which was of high contrast to the darkness surrounding him. What scared me the most were his eyes. They were nothing but robotic. It was like he was staring through me rather than at me.

He proceeded to blink tightly. When he opened his eyes again, they became different. This time, he was actually looking at me. His ghost-like appearance disappeared. His eyes became filled with many tears.

“Charlie! Charlie!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. I could tell he was terrified just as much as I was.

“Edison?” I whispered softly. I couldn’t scream. I was too scared.

“Help! Please, Charlie, help!” he kept yelling. He was crying violently in the process.

My heart sank. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stared at him while crying myself. I then realized that the tall black figure was no longer in the red spotlight area. It was officially empty. When I turned my attention to Edison again, I gasped in horror. His mouth was covered by something that belonged to the figure. His eyes, still filled with tears, had signs of hopelessness. I didn’t blame him; I had lost all hope myself.

The figure looked at me and smiled. It didn’t even have teeth. Its mouth was just…red. A complete red void. The shadow of the hat still covered its eyes, and it was still hovering. Just watching this figure felt like someone was physically stabbing me with needles all over my body. Truly abominable.

I watched as Edison’s eyes became robotic-like again. He stared in my direction, again as if he was looking through me rather than at me. He became ghost-like again, and I did nothing but cry as he fell victim to this sinister figure. Darkness immediately obscured Edison, appearing as if he was sucked inside the cloak of the figure.

An abrupt wind occurred out of nowhere. The wind became so intense that I couldn’t help but to squint my eyes. The figure then extended its neck a few feet towards me and screeched a loud groan. I am not sure what happened next, but a sudden white flash blinded me.

The noise I heard from this thing was not human. I repeat, it was not human. The closest detail I can get to describe the noise is to imagine the sound of a thousand ambulances times the sound of nails scratching an old chalkboard times the sound of bomb explosions everywhere, plus more. But one thing that was clear about this noise was that it was full of hatred.

After I had adjusted my eyes from the bright white flash, I looked at the figure again. The wind was so strong that the cloak of the figure was flying in the air. This thing…it had no body. It seemed as if a cloak, a hat, and a red smile were all there was to this creature, just hovering in the air.

With this wind, noise, and an all-powerful demonic creature in front of me, I thought it was all over. However, for some reason, I felt like whatever force there was to get me kept failing. This creature continued to scream aggressively. It then began to fly at me with no hesitation. With no time to waste, I turned around and ran for my life. I was running in a complete dark void, with something inhuman chasing me.

My fear turned into motivation as I ran in the pitch black. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew I just needed to run. With the wind against me, I contracted every single muscle fiber in my entire body to move as fast as I could.

I saw Edison again. He was running alongside me, but this time, he didn’t acknowledge me. He was too busy laughing hysterically. He ran past me and vanished into the dark distance ahead of me. That was the last time I ever saw him.

Everything after was a blur. I don’t remember much after this point. All I remember was that in the next moment, the noise and wind came to a halt. I took a moment to look around – I was instantly back on the deck of the ship. I was no longer in a dark void. I was finally back in the real world.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the ship I boarded just a few days ago was now sinking. I had no idea why or even how. I looked at my hands while many people ran past me in fear. I wiggled my fingers. I placed my hand on my chest and I felt my heart beat. I felt the cold wind hit hard against my skin. I had somehow made it. But the journey was far from over.

Everybody around me was panicking. The ship was at an angle. It was oddly night time. I looked down to see the bow of the ship not even visible because the water had already covered it. People were falling. People were screaming. I saw that there were already many people in the water, crying for help that was clearly not there. I saw the half-filled small lifeboats rowing away. I felt like I could see those cliche timers above people’s heads that signaled their time of death. For many, it was only a matter of minutes. I could see that despair had entirely filled the atmosphere of the deck. The humanity of those around me was falling exponentially as the ship continued to self-destruct.

I somehow managed to get in a lifeboat after everything. Just when the crew members were about to send down the boat into the ocean, I saw her. Martha. She was skipping down the ship, laughing at the misery of others. She was also singing a tune. For some odd reason, even with all the loud commotion of the people in between us, I could hear what she was singing.

“There is no other way, they all fall down. There is no other way, they all fall down. There is no other way, they all fall down.”

Nobody seemed to notice her at all. When she reached the part of the deck that was near me, she moved slower and looked at me. She gave me the most sinister smile I had ever seen. I hated her. To this day, I still refuse to believe she was an actual girl. It must have been something else that took the form of a girl. After looking at me for a few seconds with that ugly smile, she continued to skip happily down the ship singing. She eventually faded into the crowd and I never saw her since. The crying and yelling of the soon-to-die passengers overtook my consciousness.

The sounds of everybody slowly died out as my lifeboat moved away. The ship had broke in half. I watched in despair as the ship said its final goodbye to the world. I whispered goodbye to my mother, as I had this feeling that she didn’t make it. Everything was just awful. Truly, truly awful.

On the early morning of April 15, 1912, the Titanic had officially sunk. All of us in the lifeboats quietly waited in the middle of the freezing Atlantic Ocean. Thankfully, the RMS Carpathia arrived soon to save all of us.

It was when I was boarding the rescue ship named Carpathia that something caught my attention. Something was in the water floating nearby. I rubbed my eyes and took a closer look. It was the painting I signed in Martha’s room only hours before, still in perfect condition.

Ever since then, I always question if any tragic event I have heard on the news was because of this creature and its paintings. There is something out there just lurking about, playing with the lives of human beings as if it is all a game. One day, I will come across it. Yes, I feel it. I never thought I’d say this, but I want this creature to visit me. I want to confront it. I want to know the fate of Edison. I want to learn more about those paintings. I am tired of having to live with this all these questions. I am sick of having nightmares and anxiety. I need to know. I need answers. I want my closure. No – I will get my closure.

Credit: Jordan B

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Trial and Error

November 13, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 7.5. From 173 votes.
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School camp. This is one of the things I enjoy most about being a teacher. Each term at Hamilton College, the students are taken to a different camping location that enables them to bring the content of their studies to life. For this particular camp, the other teachers and I organised to take the students to Lake Eildon, where together with spectacular nature views, an ancient building had been uncovered by Archaeologists over 70 years ago.

I’m a bit of a history nerd, so I took the lead in organising the location and the activities for this camp. The year 10 students were all focusing on Ancient temples where sacrifices were considered holy rituals. Now this particular temple is said to be at least 1000 years old. Built and maintained by a Jewish community, sacrifices included animals- not humans. On record anyway. Many artefacts and bones were uncovered at the site that indicated this, and archaeologists and anthropologists have confirmed this by relating it to other historical rituals.

Of course, to ensure the safety of Lake Eildon, I organised to venture out on a three days camping trip with two of my colleagues, Anna and Josh. Both these teachers were in the same faculty as I was, and we had been friends for at least 10 years. I graduated from high school together with Josh and studied with him throughout University. I started working at Hamilton College as a graduate teacher, and Josh joined one year later. I had known Anna since primary school but developed a strong friendship after we met at a social gathering. She started out as a student teacher at Hamilton College and got the gig the same year I did. What a coincidence, hey?

On Monday morning, I picked up Anna and Josh and we began the 4-hour road trip. I had packed far too much for the three-day trip, but most of my packing consisted of photography and recording equipment. I wanted to do a little digging, clearly. I always felt that I should have been an archaeologist because of the curiosity that drove me to find new things. Even as a kid, I always found myself lost in the forest during family BBQ’s or examining the significance of artefacts at the state museum. I was always reading. My personal library at home was stacked with history books, biographies of archaeologists and historical academics.

Josh and Anna both enjoyed history too, but they were not this level mad about history as I was. All the same, I was glad that the two of my friends had accepted to accompany me on this mini trip.

We arrived at Lake Eildon midday Monday. The lake was completely deserted. It was at least an hour drive to the nearest town. This aspect of the destination of the camp worried many of the teachers at the school, but after a long battle of convincing, the school decided that with the company of more than 8 teachers during the camp were present, it would be completely safe.

The views were spectacular. The lake, with water a foggy blue, was completely still and the mist of the morning was resting on the surface of the water. The hills of the premises were opposite to where we were setting up camp and was nothing short of pure greenery. Our side of the lake, the Eildon Woods, was a little darker than the bright side of the hills. A musk of fog stooped the tops of the trees and caused a chilly climate on the ground. We set up our tents and lighting and decided to start a small fire to get ourselves warmed up.

Because of the tall gradient of the hills across the lake, the setting of the sun seemed to come sooner on our side in the woods. This didn’t seem to bother me, considering we would have an endless supply of lighting for our stay, the darkness wouldn’t have been a problem.

“I didn’t realise how creepy this side of the lake could get”, said Jake while adding some more branches he had collected earlier to the blazing fire.

“It’s not so bad Jake, toughen up. Become one with nature. Haha no really, this place is completely safe. There’s no wildlife here apart from birds and insects.” I responded. “So it’s literally just us, the trees and the monster lurking in the forest,” I joked.

We spent the night thinking and planning activities that the students could do around the lake.

“I think that we explore the forest bright and early in the morning and mark a pathway that we can use with the students. Sort of like a pre-planning of an adventure. What do you guys think?” I asked.

“I’d say the students will probably get lost in there, especially those one or two idiots who think they’re heroes. But if you’re saying we should mark a path from them, then I think it would be fine,” said Josh, and Anna nodded in agreement.

There was nothing but silence that night. We all slept in our own tents and were circled around the still burning fire. Anna was sound asleep, but Josh was up. I could tell by the light protruding out from his tent. Of course, he’s playing games on his phone, even the absence of any network connection in these woods wouldn’t stop him from using his phone up till the battery finally gives in.

I decided to venture out of my tent to creep up on Jake. Opening the zipper of my tent, I was taken aback by the sight before me. Incredible. The views were spectacular at this time of night. The moon’s light was glowing over the lake so luminously, everything was almost clear before me. Something caught my eye across the lake. What was that? At first, I thought it was a tree, but like I mentioned before, there was nothing but grass on the hillside of the lake. It was a tall figure, and it stood so still in the middle of hills that I could almost sense it facing me, maybe even looking straight at me.

“Don’t be foolish, Grace. There’s nothing out here.” I almost felt the hair on my neck stand up as I said it, and out of curiosity, I started walking toward the lake. I stood on the edge of the water and continued to peer across to the other side, but whatever it was that stood there had gone. I glanced down to my reflection in the water, and I noticed the terrified expression on my face. Why did I feel so scared? I must be delusional, I thought to myself.

I turned around slowly and walked back to the camp. The light in Josh’s tent was gone now, he must’ve fallen asleep. About time. I crawled back into my tent. I glanced over at my watch and noticed the time. Had it really been two hours since I walked out of my tent? It was just ten minutes, I could’ve sworn it. I felt the strangeness overwhelm me, and I fell asleep thinking about the silhouette I had seen across the lake.

5.45 A.M.

“Okay guys, up we get! We’ve got a lot of exploring to do today”, I said as I started banging my torch against the pan I found on the floor. Silence. Were these guys seriously sleeping through this noise? I walked over to Josh’s tent and unzipped the entry. No one. Where the hell was Josh? Before I started to freak myself out, I thought of a logical explanation as I walked over to Anna’s tent. She wasn’t in her tent either. There much be an explanation. Maybe they went for a swim, or a hike and didn’t want to disturb my sleep, I thought to myself. But then the chilling memory of what I had seen last night crept back into my mind, and I found myself panicking at the thought of it. Was there actually something here in Lake Eildon, or was I imagining it? I picked up the torch and packed a few things in my backpack. I was going to go looking for them. The sun still hadn’t risen during that foggy morning, so the light of my torch would have to lead me through the forest. At that point, I was trying to cancel out any suspicion of something bad happening to the two of my friends and rather convinced myself that they went exploring without me or are just lost.

I started walking in between the tall trees that surrounded me in the forest, and as I fished for the marking chalk in my pockets to mark my pathway along the trees, I noticed something peculiar. The trees had already been marked. At first, I thought it was a regular marking caused by nature on one of them, but as I continued further, the marking appeared on other trees that were leading in a particular direction. Curiosity and suspicion welled up in me at that point. I examined the marking on the tree, and strange enough, it was a deep gash in the bark, so much so that the wick was protruding. Every other marking on the surrounding trees were the exact same. What encouraged my curiosity further was the fact that the markings were at least a head and a half taller than me. And then it dawned on me.

“I knew it”, I said aloud to myself. I felt really stupid at this point. Josh and Anna must have started before me, leaving the markings for me so I could catch up. They can’t be too far. I just don’t understand why they wouldn’t wake me up. What encouraged my curiosity further was the positioning of the markings. How did the guys reach so high? Anyway, I guess I’ll find out when I catch up with them, I told myself. I started to follow the direction of the markings and found myself venturing deeper into the forest than I ever had before.

The sun was finally rising, and I decided to stop to snack on some of the food I had packed with me. It’s always good to plan ahead. I had been hiking for an hour now, and still not sight of them. It made sense to me, they were probably at least two hours ahead of me. But what I didn’t understand was why they had decided to venture so far into the forest. Initially, we had only planned a 45-minute hike for the students, but I guess they must have discovered something interesting. The forest was uncomfortably quiet, not a single rattle from the branches of the trees or the chirping of a bird. It was extremely… still.

At that point, I began to psyche myself out.

Silence.

“What the—“, I snapped my head around and shot right up. A low grunt. I looked around and saw nothing. I heard something or someone make a noise. Surely I did. I gazed around me carefully, examining every tree that was visible to me during that foggy morning.

“Josh, Anna?” It’s got to be them.

As though my thoughts were being heard, the noise of a sinister chuckle came from behind me, as if to mock my thoughts and logic.

“Josh, cut it out!!! It’s not funny.”

Silence.

I grabbed my belongings and quickened my pace. I couldn’t help but feel like I was being watched. From behind every tree to the bushes on my path. I didn’t hear anything after that. Maybe I was just freaking myself out. Either way, I took precaution and held my heavy torch firmly in my hand as my defence mechanism.

I finally came to a halt. Right in front of me was a cave with an entry so dark you couldn’t see into it at all. I looked for any other markings, but coincidentally, the final marking was carved into the tree standing right beside the cave.

This has to be a joke, I thought to myself. Why would Josh and Anna decide to go into the cave?! I started to turn back the way I came, convincing myself that waiting for them back at the campsite would be the better option. As I turned around, I spotted something wedged into the branches beside the cave. A piece of rope? What could that be doing here so deep into the forest? This little piece of evidence proved my fear and worry to be that of logical nature. They must have gone in there. What if something happened to them down there? They could’ve fallen into a glitch or made their way through a passage that they couldn’t find their way out of. Each of these possibilities seemed logical to me, and right at that point, I started to worry about my two friends. How do we even call an ambulance out here? If the final mark ended here, it must mean that they ventured into the cave. The fact that they have been gone for so long must have meant that something happened. I needed to go inside. I took a few unnecessary things out of my backpack and noticed something out of the ordinary. Slightly to the left of the cave was a large, flat stone. I couldn’t make out how it was round and flat as compared to the cave, considering the rest of the forest consisted only of bushes and trees. Shaking the curiosity of the abnormally large stone out of my mind, I switched on my torch and stepped into the cave.

The darkness lasted for at least 10 metres. Literally nothing but the smooth, encompassing cave walls, save for the light of my torch brightening up the metre in front of me. I was careful to make hardly noise while I tried to listen out for anything that sounded like Josh or Anna.

I finally came to an opening. This time, there were three entrances to what seemed like more passages. I had no idea how deep this cave travelled, and feared I’d end up lost. Click, click, click. What was that? Click, click, click. The sound was coming from the third entrance, extremely faint but audible. I decided to follow the sound in hopes that it would lead me to my friends. It must, I thought to myself.

This passage was a little different to the first. There were carvings on the walls, or what I thought were carvings anyway. Most of them looked like lines or scrapes to me. Click, click, clack. This time, the noise was coming from behind me. I whipped around and, in a cause of panic, I shined my light into every black spot I could possibly see. I scanned the passage slowly, focusing into the abyss that surrounded the light. I shone the light directly above me to the ceiling of the cave, and I froze dead in my tracks. I stopped breathing for what seemed like an eternity. I could feel my heart thumping as though it was attempting to set itself free from its cage. With 100 metres apart, and nowhere to run, a black silhouette lay perched up on the ceiling. I could make out its long, sharp claws and tall, muscular legs. It crouched closer to my face, holding onto the ceiling of the cave with its long claws and arms. It’s big, yellow eyes peered into mine as if to read my thoughts. My mind and body completely froze, in what seemed like hypnosis. It snickered at me, revealing its wide jaw with a full set of sharp teeth. I couldn’t move. It continued to smile at me, letting out a low, sinister rumble of laughter. Without realising, my torch slipped out of my hand and the cave went dark.

Released from its gaze, I snapped back to life and crouched to the floor, picking up my torch. I started to run back into the abyss of the cave, attempting to switch my torch on at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever run like that in my life. I snapped my head back to where I had seen it, shined the light and noticed it standing tall, watching me run with a grin on its face. Why wasn’t it chasing me? Why was it smiling? It lowered its head, and its smile deepened. I looked straight ahead and ran toward the light that was protruding from the end of the passage.

I stepped into the light. Without wondering about of the source, I turned back and faced the passage I had come from. I gazed back into it, trying to understand what I had seen. What it was. ‘Why didn’t it attack me when it had the chance?’ I wondered to myself. I saw nothing. Whatever it was that was stalking me had disappeared into the darkness. But it was there, watching me. This I knew for certain.

I looked around me and noticed a passage of stairs, leading to the pit of the cave. It was either that or I would have had to go back the way I came. I remembered its eyes and ruled that option out. I was going down these stairs. I started to wonder who had built this system of stairs, and when. As I made my way further down the stairwell, the light seemed to brighten. I was getting closer to the source. At this point, I was wondering how deep into the ground I was.

The lower I ventured, the more uneasy I felt. I could still see the entrance back into the dark passage in which I had come from. I kept my eyes focused on the dark encirclement, in an attempt to identify the entity that seemed to be stalking me. All I wanted to do was to find my friends and get the hell out of there.

“Josh……Anna?!” I knew that wouldn’t work, and if anything I had attracted more of the attention to myself than I had before.

“Shit!” I gasped as I reached the bottom of the cave. I was astounded by what I had seen. Perched up on a higher platform than the ground were stone structures, circling what seemed like the alter. In the centre of the alter were 4 stone structures which looked as though they were built for the purpose of laying something flat on them. I was confused at this point and didn’t understand what I was looking at. I turned my head to the right side of the room. Hanging from the walls to the right side of the alter were 4 corpses. The flesh had been completely dried off of them, and all that was left were their perfectly composed bone structures. These corpses were 300 years old, at the least.

It finally came to me. How did I not realise this earlier?! The temple. I had found it. Or was I lead to it?

Then it dawned on me. I had been lured into this cave like a fish is lured to the bait. I started to piece everything together, all the while losing focus of my surroundings. The silhouette I had seen across the lake the first night, the eyes in the forest, the markings on the trees and the chuckles that stalked me all the way to the cave. It all made sense now. I had been marked that night, and whatever this thing was knew my weakness. And I followed its plan so precisely that it snickered at my stupidity when it gazed into my face in the darkness. At that point, I knew for certain that Josh and Anna were not here. I had to get back to the camp to warn them.

BANG! I snapped out of my thoughts and turned to the source of the sound. There it was, crouching low on the ground as though it was readying itself to finally consume its prey. It stared into my eyes and opened its jaws to send me a message. It lifted its finger and pointed at me with its long claw. I was frozen. Should I just let this thing consume me? It must be hungry, I thought. 300 years and I’m the first idiot who stumbled into its well thought out trap. It must’ve tried this more than once. I stumbled back, and as I did, it laughed at me. As I hit the ground, I picked up something that felt solid and heavy.

At that point, my hunter had leapt forward in an attempt of catching me. With my full force, I grabbed what I now found to be a long metal rod, and swung it so fast and so hard until I felt the connection to this things head. And just like that, it wailed and stumbled back into the darkness from which it came.

With full speed, I ran up the stairs I had come down from. Without my torch to guide me, I leapt into the darkness of the passage that would lead me directly to the mouth of the cave. That’s when I heard it. My hunter had regained its strength and was stalking me. I could hear its grunts, at least 10 metres away. It wasn’t going to let me go without a chase. Judging by the noise it was making this thing was at least ten metres behind me. I reached the entrance of the cave, swirled around to look into the darkness and I could make out the entities fierce, yellow eyes glowing in the dark. The look of hatred and thirst were portrayed in its piercing glare. I looked around me in search of a weapon I could use as protection. The round stone. I used all of my strength at that moment to wield this stone from the floor. With what seemed like my last bit of strength, I laid the big rock flat against the entrance, blocking the light from glaring into the darkness of the cave. CLICK. That was odd, the stone seemed to click right into place. I could hear my hunter wailing angrily from inside the cave, attempting to smash down the blockage. I was now certain that unless moved from the outside, the entrance to the cave was barred from inside. I picked up a smaller stone off the floor and began to carve into the stone barrier. “DO NOT OPEN”, I wrote in big, clear letters. I had to leave a warning for the next person that may fatally stumble upon this cave.

As I picked up everything I had initially taken out of my bag, I listened to the abnormal silence from the cave. Whatever this thing was had stopped wailing, and for some reason, I felt its presence pushed up against the flat stone. It seemed to be listening to me, to what I was doing. Then it chuckled, that same sinister chuckle I had heard in the forest. I made a break for it.

I ran straight through the forest for what seemed like hours. At least it was light outside, I thought to myself. If that thing found a way out of there, it would be the end for me. No one would hear my cries in these woods. I somehow lost my bearings and found myself surrounded by unmarked trees.

“Shit!” I said aloud. I stumbled further into the forest without paying any attention to the markings on the trees, and now I had lost them. I needed to get back to the camp as soon as I could. I was certain that Josh and Anna were waiting for me. It was me who fell prey to the stalker of the Eildon Forest.

It took me a few hours to get back to the campsite. Everything was just how I had left it, save for one thing.

There was a note attached to the zipper of my tent. I recognised the handwriting straight away, and my stomach churned in pain and discomfort with the feeling of fear. I opened the note, and it read:

“Grace, we have no idea where the fuck you are or when you disappeared. But Anna noticed some carvings on the trees and we thought you started off on your adventure without out us when we were out gathering some more branches for the fire this morning. We waited around for hours for you to come back, but after a while, we felt uneasy. So, we’ve taken most of the stuff with us in case something goes wrong and we’re coming to find you. If you get to this letter before we’re back, stay put and wait for us. Remember, there’s no reception here so we need to be smart about this. Stay put, if we don’t find you in the forest in the next 3 hours, we’re gonna make our way back. Josh. Signed: 1.01pm.”

I looked at my watch immediately. 8.40pm.

It was dark now. And this time, I knew where Josh and Anna were. And I knew that this was all a part of the hunter’s ingenious plan. He planned to fail the first time. I finally understood what the phrase ‘killing a bird with two stones’ meant. I know he can see me, that he’s lurking somewhere in the trees. Waiting for me to follow the path that he created to save the friends that I granted him.

I approached the darkness of the forest, knowing what I had to do.

Credit: Ebru Hal

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Malgam

November 12, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 7.7. From 165 votes.
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There are things in the dark and ancient corners of this world that nature should never have allowed to exist. In spite of the decay of millennia they live on, the last remnants of the world that should have been forgotten. There was much that I sacrificed to learn that firsthand. Every day for the last ten years I wish that I had never heard the word. All I can do now is try to keep others from having that same regret.

I was studying ancient archeological sites in Egypt at the time, trying desperately to make a name for myself by making some important discovery. After two years of digging through the sand with nothing to show for it, I became somewhat reckless. I had several instances of ‘differences in philosophy’ with our dig leader that found me working alone from that point on.

Now unrestricted, I used every resource at my disposal to dig into the darker corners of Egypt. I bought several relics off the black market and paid a great sum of money to dealers in the back alleys of Cairo in this pursuit, but I finally found something worth finding. It was evidence of a cult that seemed to predate Egyptian mythology. It did not appear often, but it was always accompanied by a picture of four skulls in a diamond pattern; a picture that seemed very different from any previously seen Egyptian art. I enjoyed a modest celebrity status for bringing this cult to the attention of the academic community, but I had much higher aspirations.

At least two sets of hieroglyphs mentioned something about a tomb in the desert. This place was talked about with such reverence that it had to be the center of this cult. One set included a word that translated as ‘Malgam’. I thought that this was surely the name of the site or perhaps even the name of the cult itself. I put out a bounty on any piece of information that could lead me to this tomb. It was only three days before I received a call that directed me to a newly opened tomb outside of the Siwa Oasis. My contacts said they would make sure I was the first researcher to enter the tomb.

As I entered the ancient structure, there were two things that stood out. Firstly, that it was a very large space, denoting that a very important person had been entombed there. Secondly, the room had been completely looted. I thought that my contact had cheated me until I saw that one thing remained. On a pedestal against the far wall, there was a single tablet. As I approached, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. In bold relief at the very top of the tablet was the emblem of the four skulls. Below it was the word: Malgam. Whatever looters had ransacked the tomb had not thought it was valuable enough to take. Or perhaps they were afraid of it. I took several pictures of the tablet and then smashed it. No one was going to know about it but me. It told me the exact location of the tomb. It was dead in the center of the Libyan Sahara.
It took me a few weeks to gather supplies and hire a guide willing to go that deep into the desert. The journey went more smoothly than I had any right to anticipate. A day away from the tomb’s location we met a Bedouin caravan. Taking a chance, I asked them about ancient myths. They laughed and told me all sorts of mad rumors and legends. They talked about gods, demons, sand monsters, sea monsters, and ancient cities like Lasaria, Holm, and Zatan’nataz. But I noticed that in all of these stories, they never mentioned the tomb I knew was so close at hand. I finally just asked about it. The laughing and storytelling stopped instantly. After a lengthy silence, I heard a voice from behind me say the word I had wanted to hear. I turned to see an old man staring at me. He told me that it was a place of sorrow and death; a mistake of the ancient world. The Bedouin went no closer to it than we were now. I told him I would not be dissuaded. He believed me. Before we set off the next day, he tried to warn me one more time.

“The ancient places of this world have spirits,” the old man said. “Some are benevolent. Others are not. You will feel which one lays beneath the desert tomb.”

My guide and I reached the rock formation the tablet had spoken of late the next evening. It looked like a landslide at the foot of a large cliff face, but I knew there was an entrance beneath it. My assistant and I began to clear the rocks away as the sun set over the horizon. Half an hour after nightfall, the entrance to the tomb laid exposed: a six foot high tunnel leading down into the abyss. We made camp and planned to enter the tomb the following morning. That would have happened, except that late that night, probably around midnight, I awoke to a sound emanating from the tunnel.

I quickly got up and ran to the tunnel. The sound of crumbling stone came from below me. At that moment, I was terrified that shifting the rocks at the entrance had caused some form of collapse inside the tomb. Without waking my guide, I grabbed a flashlight and headed for the entrance, if only to see what damage had been done by our clumsy excavation. It would have been better if the tunnel actually had collapsed.

As I approached the entrance, I no longer heard the sound of shifting rocks. Every moment seemed like an hour as I sat and waited for what might as well be my dreams crumbling. I don’t know how long I stood there, but I finally decided it must have been a single rock or perhaps my imagination. As I turned to head back to camp, I heard another sound, more subtle than the first. It was the sound of the wind. I almost ignored it, but then I realized that the wind was at my back. It was coming from the tunnel. I spun around and shined my light onto the entrance. I walked very slowly back towards it, until I was absolutely sure about the wind’s source. I remember wondering whether I should wait until morning or if I should wake my assistant. None of those thoughts won out. I could almost hear the wind from the tomb whispering to me, calling me to find it. I could not bear to decline that invitation.

The passageway descended at a gentle slope into the earth. The ground was littered with rocks and debris, forcing me to move slowly. I had been moving down the tunnel for about ten minutes when the ceiling abruptly rose above me, opening into a large chamber. I shone my light above me, trying to determine the size of the chamber. The ceiling rose at least 30 feet into the rock above. As I looked up, my foot struck something on the ground in front of me that felt like metal. I moved the light down and saw a ruined chandelier at my feet. It appeared to be wrought iron made to look like a mass of conjoined bones. A number of skulls along the circumference had cavities for burning substances. I could still smell a trace of whatever rank oil had once burned in them.

Carefully stepping around the ancient fixture, my gaze came to rest on the wall opposite the entrance. A plainly carved doorway opened into the next room. On all sides of the door was writing etched into the stone. Although it was not aesthetically impressive, I was awestruck by what it implied. The carvings said what I assume was the same phrase in varied languages and scripts. In that moment I felt as though the Rosetta Stone paled in comparison with what I had found. Among the writing I counted Egyptian hieroglyphics, ancient Greek, Sanskrit, Chinese characters, classical Latin, and even some form of cuneiform! The only ones I could decipher were the Egyptian and the Latin. They stated, and I presume the rest did as well, that ‘they live eternally’. Upon closer inspection, I noticed something that sent a chill down my spine. Someone had scrawled out the ‘live’ in the Latin text and replaced it with ‘patiantur’. They suffer eternally.

I scanned the room carefully for what might have made the noise I had heard above ground. The layers of dust on the chandelier implied that it was not the culprit and I could see no substantial debris on the ground. I thought briefly about turning back, but the tomb breeze still whispered to me, calling me deeper into the darkness. I walked through the doorway and into a forgotten age.

I’m not sure how the room was lit, but it was. The closest I can come to comprehending it is moonlight being reflected through the ceiling. After the fact, I found that odd seeing as I remember there being no moon that night. The light, however, was the farthest thing from my mind at that moment.

In front of me laid a panorama of an ancient world. The opposite wall was concave and completely covered in a vast work composed of silver and black onyx, every bit of it shining in the dim light. After the initial awe at the work faded, I realized that the wall was in fact a vast map. I knew this only because of the coastlines because the map itself did not represent cities of any kind that I knew. There were rivers and forests depicted where none had existed for several thousand years at least. Strange symbols covered much of the wall, as well as many depictions of creatures I had no recollection of in history or mythology. And, of course, at the exact point where I stood on the map was the emblem of the four skulls. I walked forward to inspect the work more closely, stepping around a ruined pedestal in the center of the room. I was an inch from placing a hand on one of the emblems when I noticed that it appeared to be tarnished. Turning my flashlight towards the wall, I realized that it was not tarnished. It was stained red. Looking at the rest of the map, I saw that a full two thirds of the symbols had similar residue. The anxiety I had felt was replaced by dread. I ripped my eyes away from the map and scanned the rest of the room at last. There was nothing else except for the stone pedestal in the center of the room and a door at the side leading deeper into the crypt. I wanted to go through the doorway back to the entrance. I wanted nothing more. But the voice in the wind came to me again.

I left the light of the map room and entered the new passage. I had been walking for barely a minute when I came upon two alcoves to either side of me. Turning my light into them, I finally found the first graves. But something was severely wrong with them. The coffins were thick stone carved from the very rock beneath them. At one point, heavy stone lids had laid on top of the graves. Those lids had been thrown off and were lying on the ground beside them, one in several pieces. Investigating the intact lid, I found a large sun design crafted out of black onyx embedded into the stone. I paused for a long while before turning my light to the inside of the open tomb. I finally took a deep breath and looked inside. There was no body. In its place was a large reddish-brown crust that reminded me immediately of the stains on the map. Whoever had been placed in this tomb had still been bleeding. I made my way across the corridor to the other alcove. I picked up a piece of the shattered lid and saw that it had a design of waves made out of sapphire. Flipping the piece of stone over, I saw what could only be half of a bloody handprint on the underside of the lid. I dropped the shard to the ground, where it shattered in two. As I looked at the floor I saw something else. There were marks on the floor. Drag marks. They led from the stone coffin to the corridor and beyond. I didn’t want to follow those scars in the stone, but I had no choice.

As I walked through that ruined necropolis I passed grave after grave, hoping that at long last I would finally find my reason for being here. Scientific curiosity had left me long ago. Academic and financial reward had no meaning to me anymore. I just wanted the whispering to stop. I wanted the wind to stop blowing. And then I came to it; the last doorway, where all the marks on the ground led. It was a large stone archway with no decoration, save for a single word hewn into the keystone. I don’t believe I need to tell you what that word was.

I stepped through the door and came to the final chamber. I knew as soon as I entered that this was what it was all for. All the stone, silver, and blood were for whatever was in this room. The floor continued for twenty feet in front of me before ending at the edge of a massive pit. I cannot say how wide or how deep it was, but I will say that in that darkness, it seemed to have no end. Time stood still as I stared at its edge, waiting for some purpose to reveal itself without having to look into the depths. The breeze that had taunted me for so long took on an acrid, putrid stench as it emanated from the pit. It was almost like my feet moved by themselves to the very edge. I did the only thing that I could to bring this night to an end. I raised my light and directed it into the abyss.

I saw four skulls in the dim light. Four normal human skulls facing up out of the darkness. I almost breathed a sigh of relief. Then the wind stopped blowing. Whatever magic the voices in the wind had worked on me dissipated. I was a moment away from turning and running when the skulls began to move. More skulls came into view beside the four. As they shifted in the darkness, the light revealed more than I could count. I swung the light away from the pit, but as the light moved, the eyes began to glow with their own. I gazed down at dozens of sockets glaring at me with a dull blue light.

I felt the entire tomb shake. A cacophony of clattering bone came from the abyss as I stumbled backwards, my legs no longer seeming to function. As the rattling bones became louder, a colossal hand reached up and clung to the edge of the pit. Its fingers were arm bones bending at more joints than I wanted to count. There were eight digits, each ending with a skeletal human hand grasping sightlessly at the rock beneath its tip. As I watched in horror, another hand gripped the edge. The rattling was deafening as the creature pulled itself out of its lair. Before the mass of watching skulls could break the surface, another arm, stretching impossibly long, reached out of the pit towards me, impacting only feet away. I fell to the ground in shock, landing a foot from the mass of skeletal hands. The arm behind it was a ramshackle nightmare of femurs and spines with ribs jutting like spikes. I climbed to my feet and ran before I had to see the eyes once more.

The graves flashed by me as I ran. Now I knew exactly where the bodies had gone. I knew what they had been fed to. This was no tomb. This was no holy place. This was a pit of sacrifice for madmen worshipping a monstrosity. I saw the light of the map room ahead of me. Surely the thing could not make it through the corridors beyond its pit. I was at the graves nearest the map room when it happened. I felt my arm grabbed from behind and I fell sideways into an alcove, slamming into the stone coffin within. I looked up frantically, trying to see what had grabbed me. I saw only crypt air behind me. I began to get up when I felt it; my arm being pulled of its own accord. No, not my arm…the bones. The next pull sent me sprawling onto my stomach. Pain began to wrack my hand as the bones inside attempted to burst through the skin and tendon. I was slowly being dragged back to the pit. I looked around in a panic and saw the piece of stone lid I had broken earlier. The shattered edge looked sharp. I grabbed it. I used it. It took six strikes, but I was freed of its grasp. I turned and ran. I ran through the map room, through the room that promised they would live eternally, and, finally, through the tunnel that led to the surface.

My guide awoke ten minutes before sunrise to the sound of me screaming and trying to roll rocks back onto the entrance to the tomb with one hand and a bloody stump. I don’t remember much of the next week, but thanks to my guide and the Bedouins we had met the day before, I made it back to civilization in time for treatment. I asked my guide how he managed to find them and he answered me that he did not. The old man that had warned me away from the tomb before had convinced them to follow us in case we required aid. He was miles away when I finally regained my senses. I never had the chance to thank him.

I paid dearly to learn a lesson that day. To learn that there are indeed spirits in ancient places and that they are best left alone. That lesson cost me my hand. Although I cannot truly say that I lost it. I know exactly where it is. I still feel it. I feel the decay in the air, the wind of the crypt, and the rattle of countless bones. My hand will live eternally; it will suffer eternally; attached to the arm of the Malgam.

Credit: Alex Taylor

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Good Luck

November 4, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 6.5. From 159 votes.
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I have just awakened from a deep sleep, not fully aware of how long my eyes have been closed. There is a dank, musty smell, combined with…I don’t know…maybe the scent of creosote. The odor itself is ominous, foreboding, and almost seems to carry on its smelly back the presence of…well. I shudder to think the presence of what exactly, but it’s definitely there.

I am cold. I feel like I’m indoors, but my eyes don’t quite seem to want to adjust to the environment. I can feel beneath me, under my ass as I struggle to sit my groggy self upright, an old sofa or big chair. It feels like it’s finished in velour, with evenly spaced buttons in a pattern on its surface. My heart rate is beginning to quicken. I am beginning to hear a soft crunch, crunch, crunch – the sound of my own pulse in blood vessels somewhere near my eardrums.

My breathing is shallow and quick. I feel as though I don’t want to breathe in too much of this smell; this musty awfulness. And I feel as though…my God please let their be some light. Please. Someone is here. Not just in this room, but inches from my face.

Dear God, the pit of my stomach feels hollow. My heart even more so. I’m dead. That’s the only conceivable answer. I’m dead and I’ve gone to hell. The devil himself is staring at me, no doubt grinning as he plots my eternal torture.

I guess I wasn’t the best guy in life, but I have to admit that I’m at least a little surprised to have been damned to hell for cheating on my wife once, and telling the pastor who presided over my mom’s funeral that he could go fuck himself. He could. My mom was no saint. But there was no good reason to wish her luck getting into heaven. The bastard actually said, “good luck,” as they lowered her into that hole.

I digress. I have a tendency to do that. Especially when I’m nervous. And right now I’m scared shitless. It’s been a good 10 minutes now, my eyes have adjusted to nothing, and I know that if I stick my hand up in front of my face, I’m going to touch the face of the devil hims….

The lights. They’re slowly beginning to raise…and…and there’s something else. Oh for chrissakes…carnival music. It sounds like it’s coming from an old Victrola. It’s scratchy, and occasionally skips. And it seems void of all the joy that such oom-pah sounds from a merry-go-round naturally bring. It’s sad. It’s melancholy, whatever that means. And yet, it’s just carnival music.

This place, this room, clearly hasn’t seen another person – a living one, at least – in a good 80 years. Maybe more. And yet the lights work, that goddamned Victrola plays, and…wait. Someone had to turn all of this shit on.

It turns out there was nothing directly in front of me. The devil isn’t here. I wonder if he does wear Prada. I’m digressing again. I told you I do that when I get nervous. Or at least I think I did. I’m too nervous to remember, honestly.

Though I fear to turn my head for what I might find…what I might see…what I might not be able to UN-see, I must. I have to summon strength, bury my fear, and find out just where in the name of God I am.

It looks like some kind of formerly beautiful, old Victorian-style living room. Everything is black and red. The high wing-backed chairs, the sofa I now see that I’m sitting on. The red wallpaper that rises from the floor to a black chair rail. And above that, I can’t tell what the walls look like. They’ve been re-papered with posters advertising a vaudevillian magic act that look decades upon decades old. They’ve yellowed. They’ve faded. They’re covered in dust and cobwebs, some of which stretch clear from the walls to the chandelier in the center of the room.

Whoever this magician was, he was clearly proud of himself. I wonder what his wife thought of his gaudy display of ego ruining what could have been a lovely living space. Hell, she was probably his “lovely assistant.” But if she let him do all this shit, she was probably ugly as sin, and just allowed him to flaunt his stupid little posters so he wouldn’t throw her out.

“She actually was quite lovely, David.”

Jesus. There’s someone here. He knows my name. And this is no act of magic. He’s reading my mind. He’s in my head. I can see him as plain as day in my mind’s eye. He is tall and thin, dressed in 1920’s dark suit. Graying hair, and a…a cape…under his right arm. I need someone to know this in case I don’t make it out of here. His name is…

“Mephistopheles the Great!”

My arms. Dear God in heaven, I cannot move my arms. And my legs. And…and my mind. I’ve lost it too. I’m hearing voices. I cannot move. I cannot think for myself. I cannot…MAKE THIS DREAM END!!!

“Now, now, David. Calm. Be calm. I want to teach you one of my most famous works of magic.”

No. No magic. I just want to go home. I’m pretty sure I have to work tomorrow. Or…or something. Maybe it’s my weekend to see my daughter. I can’t remember. And I sure as hell can’t seem to make a move toward the…my God. There IS no door.

“No, David. No doors. What I have for you is a box. The same box from which I conducted my most famous escape. And I am going to teach you to perform this escape as well. You will enter the box when I slide it in front of you…and then…”

WOOSH!!!

It’s. It’s a pine box. How did you…You slid it right in front of me, but you’re not even…It looks like a…

“No matter what it looks like. When you escape from the box, you will be home.”

You swear? Don’t fuck with me, Mepha…whatever your name is. I don’t know how I got here, but I want out. I never want to see this place again. For chrissake. Please let me go, and I promise to never speak of this to anyone.

“Gooood. Good.”

The lid just slowly opened in front of me with no one else here. No one touched it. At least no one that I can actually see.

“Into the box, David. Hastily, now.”

My arms and legs that hadn’t worked are now working on their own. Without my command, they lift me from the sofa. I take the two steps to the edge of the box, and then step in. Left foot. Right foot. And I lay down.

Slowly the lid begins to lower. Again, without being touched, just as it had raised. And now it is closed. Once again I find myself in complete darkness. And now there is banging. Violent, loud, banging. The box is being nailed shut. Starting near my head, and now six inches further down. And six inches more. And another six. Until I am now finally, completely, sealed.

Mephistopheles, I have kept my word. I am in the box. And now you keep yours, damnit. How does the trick work? How do I get out of here and get home? You promised to tell me. Mephistopheles, please. You promised.

“David?”

“Yes.”

“Good luck.”

Credit: Jason Fornwalt

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Shadow of the Storm

November 3, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 6.9. From 135 votes.
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Shadow of the Storm
By Joongus

You always hear stories of boys and girls, or men and women for that matter, who will randomly wake up in a foreign land; still groggy from sleep, their fears will get the best of them until the realization that they are mere feet or yards from their original nexus: their beds. The occasional tale of the small child going missing, only to be found crying on the roof of their house or in the neighbor’s backyard are always a comical pleasantry. I, personally, had found sleepwalking a rather funny habit. When all is said and done, the idea that a person can move about completely free of the mind only to nearly forsake themselves to madness upon waking up always seemed whimsical to me. It is, in essence, the perfect prank; your own body, behind the back of its own accompanying mind, seems to have a sense of humor. And, the backbone of all good jests, is the lack of consequence when the joke comes to fruition. I have yet to hear of a sleepwalker getting into a car and causing a fatal accident; or, I have yet to hear of a sleepwalker turning on the faucet and drowning in their own bathtub. Ironically, however, there have been cases of both sleepwalkers driving cars and taking baths without any such tragedy. Of course, there are outlier cases in sleepwalking as well; but, the number of creepy/funny tales of parasomniacs’ shenanigans vastly outweigh that which you can find in the tragic/fatal tagline. So, um, I’ve decided to not let a few bad apples ruin the genre for me.

My son, Jaime, started sleepwalking when he was 6 years old. And, honestly, as a parent, it was terrifying for me at first. I woke up before dawn for work one morning, and just found him sleeping on the hardwood floor of the upstairs hallway. I shook the little guy up, asked him if he preferred a harder mattress or something, and he just looked at me like “How the hell did I get here”? When it started happening 3 to 4 times a week, that’s when I started getting nervous. Because, while each instance was harmless and uneventful, a parent’s mind always expects the worst when it comes to their child’s safety. After the first few instances, I began asking the “what if”s? What if he self defenestrates himself? What if, he turns himself into the police for some crime I had no idea he committed? Yes, Jaime is only 6, and yes, parents’ minds can stretch to even the most outlandish of places. Needless to say, I began losing sleep after the first week. I tried sleeping in his bed with him; I looked online for solutions that didn’t involve force feeding my kid pills; I even tried blocking his door one time (I tell ya, that kid was strong). When all went up in failure, I, honestly, just got over my paranoia. You see, the thing that was strange (and relieving) about Jaime’s sleepwalking habit was that he always would end up in the same spot. The way our upstairs is set up, the landing stairs come right up to my bedroom and his room is across the upstairs balcony from mine. On this balcony, the aforementioned ‘hallway’, there is a small light, one that’s more akin to a large nightlight than an actual lamp, located between our two rooms. A few times a week, every single time, I would wake up around 4 for work and find him sleeping under the glow of this nightlight. Now, I asked him if he wanted more light in his room, and he reminded me that he would sleep just fine and has no recollection of ever moving to the hallway.

This went on for about a month and a half. After the first few weeks, it sort of just became a routine of mine. I would wake up for work, flip a coin, and if it was heads Jaime would be under the nightlight again. Tails, and he was still in bed. I would always just tuck him back into bed and go off to work. However, this routine was interrupted one night in April. There was a small thunderstorm that night, and Jaime, being afraid of the storm, wanted to sleep in my bed. I’d tried sleeping in his room before, but never the inverse. Well, this technique was anti-therapeutic. I awoke that morning to find my son, unsurprisingly, not next to me in my bed. Casually, I got up and checked the hallway. To my terror, the nightlight shown down on nothing but the wood floor. I started panicking and screaming my son’s name: no answer. Once again, the horrible “what if”s swarmed back into my mind. There was my son, splattered across the street outside my house. There was my son, face down in the local retention pond. There was my son, on the back of a newspaper or milk carton…and there was my son, sleeping on the back porch behind our sliding glass door. Recovering from my heart attack, I stepped out into the witching hour’s daughter. Scooping him up into my arms, I asked him what the hell he was doing out there. I got that familiar blank stare.

Things returned to normal after that night. Back in his own bed, I was relieved to find him sleeping under the hallway nightlight a day later. So, my son goes to one of those K through 5th grade schools, and, call me paranoid, but I had him see the school psychologist. I notified her ahead of time that this was a minor sleepwalking issue, and that I just wanted any of her suggestions that she can draw from sitting down with Jaime. Jaime was pretty pissed at me for that one… but nothing a new Star Wars action figure couldn’t fix. Anyway, she couldn’t get anything out of him. My son had always been a good, cooperative kid in the few years of school he’s had and the psychologist told me that his testimony to her reflected that behavior. “No underlying illnesses or behavioral issues were apparent”, is what I think she said. After the good news, I did bring up to her that my son always ends up under the same nightlight, except for the one time he was under the porch light. She attributed this to a latent fear of the dark; that, some kids can override their fears of the dark, but succumb to these fears subconsciously, I.e., when they’re asleep. After a good laugh about how my son’s a fear suppressing badass, I asked her if she had anything else; she countered my question by asking if Jaime has ever manifested a fear of heights. Allegedly, the night of the storm, Jaime had a weird dream where it felt like he was falling. He had said that it was so vivid that he thought he had woken up, but, that the fall was so brief it was over in the blink of an eye. The doctor asked him if he remembered anything else from that night, and with a shake of his head, then concluded that he must have still been dreaming.

Time continued on once again, and the tedium of Jaime’s midnight promenades slipped back out of my mind. By the end of April, Jaime’s nap on the porch had become just another laughable memory. To this day, I love reminiscing about that night; where, after so much stress and panic concentrated over a few minutes, my boy was right there: waiting on the porch to be brought back into my arms…

“April showers bring May flowers” and the “air is calmest just before the storm”… The news rang on about a large scale thunderstorm in my area. That night, April 30th, the weathermen were surprisingly accurate for once. The storm was quite fierce. Flashes of lightning blinded me in the same duration yet opposite manner of the blink of my eye. Their less graceful tag-team partners followed not long behind, with punches that seemed to nearly knock me off of my bed. In fact, they knocked Jaime out of his bed. I remember that boy standing in my doorway, his wide eyes barely gleaming under the hallway light. That boy, who I tucked back into his own bed; “Not this time, I wouldn’t want you getting wet in the rain!”

The dark limbo before dawn came: a slightly darker limbo than I was used to…There it was, my son’s door, ajar, like the unhinged maw of a snake. There it was, the nightlight, having breathed its last, dead in the night. And there it was, the sheer panic that only a parent caught in the helpless headlights of chance can experience. Reminiscent of my past hell, I sprinted downstairs. Sharply turning the corner of my foyer, I nearly reentered blackness when I almost tripped over my son’s favorite teddy bear. I picked it up, scanned over its soft effects, and rubbed the matted spot on its left arm. Just above the bear shown our wall mounted analog clock. Its face stared at me, frozen in fear, while its long black tail still reached for life inside the barren wall.

The police found me that night, shouting and sprinting through my neighbors’ blackened yards. They… haven’t found Jaime yet. Because of the storm, there were no eye witnesses who saw my son leave the house. They’ve searched the entire area, and have not a single lead. At this point, I try not to think of what happened to him. The flowers showing up on my doorstep and porch the weeks after were little consolation. I just, want to see my son again. I want to wake up and find him under the nightlight once more. I want to tuck him back into bed and kiss him goodnight. And then, I don’t want to see his face again until I pick him up from school that day. I hate seeing his face around dawn. His brown eyes are now acquiesced blackness. His light hair, now strands of tinsel gray… Funny, it’s probably how he looked, when there wasn’t any light.

Credit: Joongus

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