“I’m Sure You Understand.”

March 26, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The agitated wind roared outside, carrying millions of tiny snowflakes with it. I stared blankly at my computer screen reading the document my now ex-wife had left on it just before she had left me.
“ Dear Blake,
I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise to you, considering I’ve been home less and less lately, but I can’t think of a way I could say this face to face without you exploding on me. I’m done with this whole thing. I can’t take the late nights and the yelling any longer. I’ve never met another couple that argued as much as us and I think it’s time we start calling this what it really is-abuse. I’ve found someone else, Blake; someone that will treat me the way I deserve in addition to providing for me. I hope you make some changes in your life, or else you will be alone for the rest of it. I’m sorry things couldn’t have ended differently. I’ve started the paperwork and I’ll contact you soon about arranging a day to come sign it.
-Rachel”
The words didn’t hurt any less the twentieth time I had read it than the first. Each moment I thought about it felt like a chain wrapped around my neck with a heavy weight at the bottom tugging and choking me. Warm tears silently streamed down my face as I closed the document once again, a nightly ritual I had performed since the night Rachel left me.
“I wasn’t a bad person, was I?” I thought. “I had tons of friends at work and even those I had kept in touch with from high school. Rachel and I were just a bad fit, I guess.”

Just as I went to open another document, my computer monitor went black, as well as the rest of the lights in my house. “Shit..” I muttered to myself. It must have been the storm outside. The snow had pounded my small home town in Washington for nearly a week straight, but the wires had held on for as long as they could. Realizing that I would be without electric heat, I donned my large brown Carhart jacket and boots and proceeded outside to the wood pile. The icy wind instantly froze my contacts to my eyes and made my vision blurry. I had made this walk several hundred times and even with the distortion of my vision as well as the tenacity of the snow storm, I made my way over to the wheel barrow and began to load it up with pieces of the oak I had cut down during the past fall.

After I had gathered all I needed as well as some kindling to start a fire, I started wheeling the load back over to my front porch and stacked it neatly in a pile on my porch so the snow wouldn’t cover it. I went back inside and hung my coat back up, but suddenly I felt uneasy. I looked out my window and what I saw surprised me. About two-hundred yards away stood a man wearing a heavy dark coat and a black back pack. It was hard to make out his face due to my inhibited vision, but through the trees, it was unmistakably a man. I opened my window and called out to him. “Hey, are you lost or something?” No response other than the echoes I heard through the hills was returned. I went over to my living room and grabbed my cell phone off the coffee table just in case I needed to call a tow truck for the man and made my way back outside. To my surprise and confusion, he no longer stood there. Not only that, but after surveying the woods around my house, I couldn’t find him anywhere. This was strange, as I lived relatively deep in the woods and didn’t have any neighbors for miles. What would a man be doing walking around in this blizzard by himself? After locking the door with the dead bolt, I went back inside and started a much-needed fire. After giving a few painful thoughts to Rachel’s memory, I lied down in my recliner and nodded off.

I awoke the next morning around 7 AM to all of the lights in the house turned on that I had left on the previous night. After making a round to ensure I wouldn’t have a hefty electricity bill, I cleaned up and put my EMT uniform on. The storm had died down to a few flurries here and there, although the sun was still very much hidden behind the dark grey clouds as I walked out to my truck. I made one last glance around my property for the man I was sure I had seen last night before getting into my old Dodge pickup. The familiar sound of the engine turning on made me realize that I hadn’t lost everything along with Rachel, and I hastily sped out of my driveway to the county EMS station, as I had spent a little too much time preparing for work that morning.

In the garage that housed the ambulances stood my best friend, Taylor; he walked up to me and gave me a comforting hug and a few pats on the back before speaking. He was fully aware of the situation with Rachel. “How are we doing, man? Did your power go out last night, too?” He asked. “Yeah, I’m managing, and it went out around 10 and didn’t come back on until morning.” I replied “Hopefully this storm won’t last too much longer. I’m almost out of firewood.” That day went on like any normal day at work. I remember hearing a story on the local news about a man named Roger Patterson who had gone missing a week ago. His family was willing to listen to any leads of his whereabouts. That moment, I thought of the man I had seen last night, staring at me, unmoving. I got really creeped out, and tried not to think about it for the rest of the day.

After coming home that day, I checked my cell phone and my eyes widened a little. A text from Rachel glowed on the glass screen, and I quickly opened it and what I read filled my heart with a warm rush of hope. “I need to talk to you, Blake. I think I’ve made a mistake.” This one little message almost erased what had been a week of depression and anxious thoughts. Things were going to be different now. I was going to make it up to her and show her what a real husband was. The old Blake had died in this experience, and I emerged from his ashes as the man my wife always needed. I spent the rest of the day doing household chores with a permanent grin on my face.

As night fell, I lied on my bed underneath the thick blankets. The conversation I had with Rachel on the phone a few hours ago remained fresh in my mind. We had decided to meet for lunch the next day and talk about the feelings we had about reconsidering things and to see if we could make our relationship work. It took a lot for me to hold back what I wanted to say to her over the phone. I wanted to do it in person, so she could see that I could be a sweet and thoughtful guy after all. I loved Rachel more than anything in the world. It just took almost losing her to realize that.

Just then, the power went out as darkness engulfed the room. I grunted in frustration and got up to once again make a trip for firewood. This time, I grabbed my pistol just in case the man I had seen the previous night showed up again. I made the second trip to the wood pile without seeing the man, but once I had made it back inside my house, I once again glanced through the window to see the dark figure facing me. He was standing in the same clearing but about a hundred yards closer this time. The white snow glowed blue in the moonlight and the snowflakes danced along with their shadowy counterparts. His face was more apparent to me this time, and a thick beard frosted with snow outlined his chin. A hood covered his eyes, and tattered, ripped clothes shown under his now opened jacket. He stood motionless, silent, and focused on me. My hair stood on end as fear combined with the chill of the storm swept over me. I called out to him for the second time as I reached for my gun. “Listen man, I don’t know what you want, but I can promise you if you keep doing this, I’m calling the cops.”

Some visible steam from my breath escaped as I scratched my chin hairs. The man stood motionless until I made a couple steps towards him. He then began awkwardly pacing away from my house into the tree line. There was something about his steps that was off, like his legs were made out of glass and he was afraid they would shatter underneath him. Before a minute had passed, he had disappeared into the trees.

I went back inside and proceeded to start another fire. It was easier this time, as the first one had not completely gone cold. I grew more and more concerned about this man. “What if he broke into my shed and took my expensive power tools? What if he broke into my house?” I tried not to think about it, and started thinking about Rachel instead. Her fair skin and brown eyes complimented her complexion in a way that made me feel lost in her when things were good between us. I couldn’t let her slip away. I wouldn’t let her slip away.

I looked out my upstairs window for any sign of the bearded man in the woods. I saw nothing through the thick arctic clouds of powdered snow that raced in front of me, almost tauntingly. I had trouble sleeping that night. Maybe it was just the anticipation about seeing Rachel, but I couldn’t help but feel on edge. I tossed and turned before checking my cell phone again and reading the message Rachel had sent me. “I think I’ve made a mistake.” The words resonated with me as I felt I had never made a bigger mistake in my life than treating her badly. My mind fixated on memories of being with her as I slipped into the unconscious world of sleep.

The next morning behaved similar to the previous one. I woke up at 6:30 instead this time so I would have enough time to check my shed for anything the bearded man might have stolen last night. Nothing was out of place. If the man was so interested in stalking me, why would he not have taken what he wanted when he had the chance? I wasn’t going to chase after him in the blizzard. I spent the morning getting ready and making sure everything valuable was locked up before heading to work.

Taylor wasn’t at the station that day. He had taken off for illness and asked a coworker of ours named Caitlyn to take over his shift. She was relatively good friends with Rachel and we spent the morning in between calls talking about things I should say to her to show her how I really feel. “I’m actually really proud of you, Blake.” She said. “It looks like you’re really trying to make a change, and she’ll see that. Don’t worry about saying exactly what she wants to hear. If you just tell her how you feel, I’m sure she’ll come around.” “Thanks, I really appreciate it.” I said. “It’s all I’ve been able to think about the past couple days and I know she’s the only woman for me.” There weren’t many calls that day; not many people were out doing things in fear of the storm. There were only a couple of minor car wrecks from people trying to drive their little town cars through the mountains.

After work, I went to see Rachel. The anticipation could be cut with a knife at this point and when our eyes met, she instantly ran up and hugged me in the cold air. With tears streaming down both of our faces, we kissed for a long time. “I missed you so much.” I said almost choking through tears. “I missed you too..” She whimpered back. That moment was one of the best in my entire life. I felt like a piece of me had been restored and that I would never let it slip again. I’ll never forget that scene, surrounded by the street lamps already illuminated even though it was only around 5:30. We talked for hours at the restaurant and then agreed to spend the day together tomorrow. I couldn’t wait. As we departed, I gave her one long kiss goodbye and told her to drive safe. She echoed the same back to me and we both walked away into the night feeling fulfilled.

The drive home was filled with so many good thoughts and memories of Rachel that I almost forgot about the man that was sure to show up tonight. I called Taylor and asked him if he wanted to come over and watch a movie or something since we hadn’t really seen each other outside from work in a while; that was the excuse I used anyway. I wanted another person around just in case the bearded man got brave. He obliged and said he would be over after he took his daughter to her grandmother’s. I prepared a fire beforehand just in case the power went out again so I wouldn’t have to trek out into the blizzard, or look at the creep who decided his favorite pass time was fucking with guys trying to make an honest living.

After a couple hours of social networking and web browsing, my computer screen went black again. “Of course..” I said, almost as if I were talking to the man that was surely standing outside. I looked outside and there he stood. This time, things were different, though. He was much closer to my house this time, only about ten yards away. His face shot up to meet me at the second story window. I was terrified now. I looked down unable to remove my gaze from his frozen body as he started sprinting towards my front porch. I ran over and grabbed my gun from under my pillow as I heard a large CRACK and the sound of shattering glass downstairs. Fighting through every thought that told me to stop and hide upstairs, I silently crept down each step, making as little noise as possible.

I felt a freezing breeze roll in from the window the man had just broken. It made me flinch and almost lose my composure. “I’ve never been so fucking cold in my life..” I thought as I took a deep, silent breath. Without a second thought, I whipped around the corner brandishing the gun, but found an unexpected sight. The bearded man lay face down with half of his body hanging over the window sill. He was motionless, not even breathing, and I honestly couldn’t decide whether to call the police or shoot the guy myself for the obvious home invasion he had just committed.

“Look, I’m gonna call the police.” I said with a shaky voice. The wind chilling my bones was unbearable and made my movements stiff and slow. Just then, I gasped as the man’s head fell off of his body and rolled over on the floor next to my foot. I could see now that this was not a prankster, burglar, or even any sort of natural man. I saw his face clearly now, the skin on his cheeks was blue and cracked from what looked like days spent in the elements without shelter. His glassy eyes were black and shriveled. His lips were frozen shut and crusted with blood. A look of despair and misery shown in this horror and I vomited after seeing it.

After I had composed myself, I saw a thick, black, tar-like substance start to pour out of the hole where the man’s head once rested. It oozed out onto the floor for several minutes before dripping to a stop. I backed away, not knowing what diseases or parasites this man carried. Looking down at it, I saw something else that chilled me more than the sub-zero temperature. I looked down to see two large eyes open in the pool of filth, as well as a large, tooth-filled mouth open. I screamed and ran upstairs. I slammed the door shut and frantically looked around for my cell-phone. I curse when I realized I had left it downstairs, and without the power for the land-line, there was no way I could reach the police.

I stared at my door with the gun pointed at it. I didn’t know what good it would do for a creature like this, but it was my only defense. I heard the thing making sloppy, wet steps up the stairs towards my room. I heard it lay against the door way and stop moving. The door to my room had no crack underneath for ventilation, so it was stuck on its side of the hallway, or so I thought. I let out a terrified scream as I saw the thing passing through my door without opening it. I saw its face clearly now. Not completely amorphous, but not in the natural shape of a man. The thing almost looked like a thick stick figure similar to that old kids show Gumbee. Its impossibly wide eyes fixated on me inside the room and it opened its mouth to speak in a light-toned voice that I can only describe as similar to a cheerful salesman with several voice tones all sounding at once.. “It’s cold.” It said. “I’m sure you understand.” Those words almost made me piss myself. I watched as it slowly worked its way through the door before flopping out with a notable lack of grace in its movements.

It slowly came towards me, its whole body jiggling with each step. Its indefinite shape trying to mimic that of a man was menacing. It spoke again. “It’s so cold.” It was going to do the same thing to me that it did to that poor bastard downstairs. It was going to invade my body to stay alive. That’s why it was watching me. It was studying my actions, waiting or the right time to strike. I wondered how it came to be. Was it made in a lab? Was it the product of some satanic ritual? It was very close now, maybe only a few feet away. It lumbered towards me like a toddler trying to hug a teddy bear when an audible thump made it stop. Behind it, I saw the bedroom door open and Taylor who had just dropped his beer bottle in shock. He ran up to try and grab the thing before I could stop him. His hand when through its body like jello, and it quickly slid its form around him, sticking its arms and appendages into his mouth, nostrils, ears, and everywhere else it could move into his body. He screamed and writhed in protest, but I just stood there, motionless. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen.

I ran past the thing and Taylor and slammed the door shut behind me. I had to call the police. I had to get far away from that thing. I had to… WHAP. I tripped down the stairs in my haste and smacked my head against the bottom step. I felt a warm stream of blood slide down my face. I looked at the top of the steps to see Taylor, his eyes now merely shriveled pits under the control of that thing. It walked downstairs awkwardly, but with more grace than in its true form. I crawled towards my front door on my hands and knees. I couldn’t let that thing have me. I managed to crawl over to my truck and get inside. Luckily, I had kept my keys in my pocket from work. I started the thing up just seconds after the thing had made it over to me and smashed my window with Taylor’s hand. Thick, black oozing blood dripped from the wounded hand as he reached for me. I slammed on the gas and sped away into the night.

My heart didn’t stop pounding until I was about an hour away from my house. I didn’t even think to grab my cell-phone before I had left, so I stopped at a gas station to ask to use their phone to call the police. The gruff, middle-aged store clerk looked me up and down. I must have looked really shaken up and he took pity on me. I called the Eckerd County Police Department and a young-sounding female dispatcher picked up. I explained the incident as best I could without it sounding like a prank and as calmly as I could, asked if they could look for Taylor. The woman’s response seemed puzzled. “We got a call from a man named Taylor Matthews a little over an hour and a half ago. We already have officers at the scene and they found the bodies of two people.”

I let the phone slip away from my face for a second as I attempted to lift my head up and keep from puking. Taylor was dead, and that thing was still out there. “Get everyone out of the house.” I whispered. I hung up the phone, paid for fifty dollars in gas and roared back towards home. I couldn’t let one more person become the victim of that thing. After about twenty minutes of driving, I heard the engine of my truck make a massive CLANK as it rolled to a stop. “No, no, no, no shit!” I said to myself as it came to rest on the side of the road. I got out and popped the hood to look inside. There was thick, gooey oil all over the inside of my engine. I cleaned it out the best I could and got back into the cabin of my truck. I punched the steering wheel several times out of anger and heard the horn echo through the woods. I had no idea what to do. I didn’t have a cell-phone to call for help and I was at least thirty minutes from town.

I opened the door and started to step out of the truck when I heard that voice again; the inhuman timbre of a being that I didn’t understand. “It’s so cold.” It said quietly. I looked back to see that thing’s cheerful eyes and mouth staring at me with an enormous grin, its body resting half-formed sitting in the passenger seat of my truck. Its mouth oozed black liquid as it spoke. It grabbed me with its disgusting, appendages.. “I’m sure you understand.”

Credit To – Ben Meadows

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Bathroom Anxiety

March 24, 2014 at 10:48 AM
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Ms. Hanson is quitting her job at the end of the school year. She’s only taught fourth grade for three years, but she’s already had enough. She’s had enough of the clueless administrators who’ve never set foot inside a classroom telling her how to do her job. She’s had enough of the brainless, irresponsible and self-righteous parents refusing to punish their spawn even when they hit their teachers or trash the classrooms. Most of all she’s had enough of the violent, thieving, vandalizing, foul-mouthed and ungrateful little brats that fill Winterfield Elementary. In its youth the school had suffered through a number of rat and cockroach infestations, but as far as Ms. Hanson is concerned the diseased vermin never left: they just got bigger and learned to talk back.

She was enthusiastic in the beginning, anxious to help young kids grow and develop. Now she’s thankful that her husband divorced her before she could get pregnant. She never smiles at children and never speaks kindly to them, so it’s no surprise when she frowns at little Zack Tobin as he pokes his head through the classroom door.

Ms. Hanson is a pretty woman of twenty-five, but her eyes are cold and blue and can freeze children into little terror-stricken statues. For this particular boy she has a very special, extra mean frown where her eyes almost vanish into tiny blue slits and the lines in her smooth face suddenly cut so deep that she ages another fifty years. Zack Tobin is confident that she hates him more than anything in the world.

Ms. Hanson is still reading to the class about Paul Revere. She stops in the middle of her sentence and snaps, “You’ve been gone for fifteen minutes!”

Zack opens his mouth to explain, but she doesn’t let him. She tells him to sit down and stay in his seat after the bell rings.

Yvette Lewis snickers. Timmy Morris whispers something to the boy next to him. All eyes are on Zack as he slinks down the right-most aisle to his seat directly in front of Ms. Hanson’s desk. She moved him there the first day of school so she could keep a closer eye on him at all times: last year Mrs. Wright had told her about his enrollment in the gifted program, which means he isn’t quite right in the head. He’d heard Mrs. Wright say so in the office once.

Zack plops into his seat and stares at his desktop with his hands in his lap. Ms. Hanson has her students take turns reading from their history books out loud until the end of class. Everyone is out the door and down the hall before the bell has finished ringing.

Everyone but Zack.

Ms. Hanson spends a few minutes organizing the children’s papers, like she always does at the end of the day. Zack knows this because she’s kept him after school roughly twice a week since the start of the school year for drawing in class, not paying attention, talking to other kids, or asking questions that she didn’t like. When she’s finished she sighs, rubs her eyes, then finally looks up from her work and leans forward with her hands together at the center of the desk. She doesn’t speak for five long seconds.

“Do you want to lose your bathroom privileges?” she says.

Zack shakes his head. “No, Ma’am.”

“This is the second time you’ve abused them. Where exactly do you go when you say you need to go to the bathroom?”

“The…The bathroom.”

“And do you know that there is a bathroom right up the hall? Or do you walk all the way home and use your own?”

Zack’s eyes fall back to his desktop.

“You better answer me,” she says, “before I kick your butt up to the principal’s office.”

The boy tries to make eye contact and fails. “I don’t like that bathroom,” he finally says.

“You don’t like it? What is that supposed to mean? Just where exactly do you relieve yourself, then?”

“I used the bathroom in Mrs. Wright’s hall last time. Skip was cleanin’ it today, so I went to the one in the auditorium.”

Ms. Hanson covers her face and sighs again. “Zack,” she says in a softer tone, “you go in, you do your business, and you leave. You don’t have to like anything about where you do it so long as you do it and stop disrupting my class!”

Zack looks up at Ms. Hanson with eyes like a five-year-old freshly wakened from a nightmare. It’s a look the teacher is unprepared for and her anger vanishes for a moment.

“The noises scare me,” Zack says. “I don’t like goin’ in there.”

“What noises?”

“In the wall. Scratchin’. And other stuff.”

Ms. Hanson heard the stories about the infestations in her student teaching days. She’d researched that period out of curiosity and found photographs that still make her shudder in remembrance. Tiny armies of goose bumps crawl across Ms. Hanson’s skin.

“What kind of ‘other stuff?’” she asks.

Zack’s face turns white like he’s about to fade away before her eyes. He says nothing. Ms. Hanson sighs.

She leads him to the boys’ bathroom up the hall and around the corner and goes inside. It’s a regular public school bathroom: two long white tile walls, a large multi-user sink and a mirror along one, four urinals and two cubicles along the other. Ritchie Sawyer is standing at the nearest urinal. He looks over his shoulder, sees Ms. Hanson, zips up and runs out the door with a wet spot on the front of his pants.

The bathroom is empty now. Nothing looks or feels or smells out of place.

It’s quiet.

“I don’t hear anything, Zack,” Ms. Hanson says.

Zack says nothing. He refuses to step beyond arm’s reach of the door.

“Where do you usually hear the noises?” Ms. Hanson says.

Zack points to the furthest wall. A single tile has fallen out of place, leaving a fist-sized square hole in the wall two feet up from the floor. Ms. Hanson walks to the back of the bathroom, kneels down and peeks through the hole. It’s pitch dark on the other side.

Ms. Hanson sends Zack home, then tells Principal Sinclair about the hole, igniting one of his longwinded stories about the history of the building.

Afterward she packs up her things, digs a drawing out of her desk that Zack made during lecture (instead of paying attention) and heads across campus to give it to Miss Wiley before going home — an insistent request made by Mr. and Mrs. Tobin when they learned Ms. Hanson had been throwing them out.

She’s quick about it because she hates talking to the bubbly art teacher for more than a minute, especially about the drawing being delivered.

“He’s a creative boy,” Miss Wiley had said once, “and that imagination of his can get out of control. He needs a healthy artistic outlet.”

“That’s what our counselor told me,” Ms. Hanson had replied, “about a boy in my class who went to the office for exposing himself at recess.”

Ms. Hanson glances down at this drawing instinctively as she drops it on the art teacher’s desk. Nothing but a lattice of ugly black lines forming a series of white squares. One square right in the middle has been covered with two thick coats of black crayon. A yellow circle sits in the middle of the black square, only partly colored in. Normally a child’s scribbles fill Ms. Hanson with pity or amusement when she can’t figure out what she’s looking at; Zack Tobin’s drawings fill her with unease instead. Ms. Hanson has a brief word with Miss Wiley — very brief — then goes home, grades her papers, fixes dinner for one, and reads until bedtime.

She’s grateful when the weekend comes. She gets her grading out of the way Saturday morning and spends the day in her garden, grooming the flowers and napping in the sun.

*

On Monday Zack goes on two bathroom breaks during class, and comes back within three minutes both times. Ms. Hanson is relieved to see the boy has grown up enough to use the hall bathroom again. Even better, she never has to scold him for anything all day.

Ms. Hanson realizes he hasn’t made eye contact with her all day: even during lecture he simply stares zombie-like at his desk. She recognizes the guilty look on his face and wonders if he’s done something bad that she’d somehow missed.

At second recess Ms. Hanson rummages through Zack Tobin’s desk for anything incriminating. His textbooks are all there, most of them dog-eared and carelessly crammed into the lower shelf. She wedges a comic book out from between the history and reading books — one she told him twice before to leave at home — and tosses it on her desk.

The upper shelf holds a battered box of worn-out crayons. A crumpled sheet of drawing paper has been jammed into the back along with handfuls of other junk, which Ms. Hanson takes the liberty of clearing out. She un-crumples the paper out of curiosity and finds another unfinished drawing on it.

Something in the pit of her stomach squirms.

Two figures scribbled in black and brown, a small and pathetic one wadded up in the arms of a larger one. The latter is gangly and crooked like a dead tree and has long, dark scribbles on its head to represent a woman’s hair. Its face wears a gnarled, toothy smile drawn from ear to ear, and the eyes are yellow and uneven with tiny black specks at the center. It looks like something that was going to be human and then missed its mark at the last minute. The background is colored in with black, but he ran out of crayon near the bottom-right corner, which is still white.

Three minutes slip by unnoticed.

“What’re you doing?” Mrs. Tanita says from the classroom door.

Ms. Hanson nearly screams. “Don’t sneak up on me like that,” she says as Mrs. Tanita giggles. “What do you want?”

“I need to borrow your three-hole punch.”

Ms. Hanson shoves the drawing in the trash and gives her three-hole puncher to her neighbor. “Was Zack Tobin acting weird in Science today?” she asks.

Mrs. Tanita shakes her head. “No more than usual. Why?”

“It’s probably nothing,” Ms. Hanson says. Mrs. Tanita smiles again and leaves.

At the end of the day Ms. Hanson tells Zack that she cleaned out his desk for him, then gives his comic back and tells him not to bring it to school again. He nods, saying nothing, and heads for the door. He neither looks nor asks for the drawing she threw away.

*

Ms. Hanson has a bad dream Monday night. It scares her enough that she damns Zack Tobin to hell for it.

She remembers a blanket of darkness enveloping her. The bitter stench of urine, mold, and dust were so crisp and clear that she swears she was actually in the horrid place and not dreaming at all. She remembers her eyes adjusting just enough to see wrinkled cavern walls. She remembers the cold air wrapping its depraved arms around her, fondling her skin as a wave of greasy fur and needly paws ran across her hands and feet.

Her eyes fully adjusted to the shadows at one point near the end, and that’s when she heard the sounds: clumps of earth trickling onto the ground and the muffled grating of nails against dirt and stone. The wall ahead of her was crumbling at the center. She’d moved in to get a closer look as a fist-sized hole formed. She’d peered into the blackness beyond.

The voice came about then, sweet and gleeful like an old woman welcoming her grandchildren. And something yellow and evil peered back at her through the hole and brought her sleep to a screeching halt at 3 A.M.

Ms. Hanson’s ears are ringing, but she doesn’t remember screaming.

*

All day Tuesday Ms. Hanson is in an awful mood. She’d barely had five hours of sleep because of the dream, and she’s developed a headache that refuses to go away. She’s not civil with anyone, child or adult. She starts by giving Mr. Snyder a nasty glare in the teacher’s lounge, and mutters something regrettable to him when he asks sarcastically if anything interesting happened yesterday.

Yvette Lewis titters with a classmate during lecture and Ms. Hanson gets right in her face and threatens to send her to detention if she doesn’t keep her mouth shut. Yvette is quiet and teary-eyed until the bell rings, and Mrs. Tanita finds her bawling about it at recess.

Ms. Hanson has two more incidents like this before second recess, and when the children come back in they’re too scared to do much of anything without her permission. Timmy Morris doesn’t come back at all and goes straight to the principal’s office instead.

After granting Zack’s request for a bathroom break (just like clockwork) Ms. Hanson gives everyone a reading assignment if only to get a little peace and quiet. She finally begins to relax, but her headache has returned in full force. She leaves the children to go to the nurse’s office for some aspirin. The nurse is up the hall and around the corner, just past the bathrooms.

She makes it as far as the drinking fountain two classrooms up the hall.

“What,” she hisses, “the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Zack Tobin is frozen like a tasteless statue. He stands on his tiptoes at the drinking fountain with his hands at his crotch, in the midst of unzipping his pants. His eyes bulge until they strain out raging rivers of tears. He begins to cry.

It’s the last straw. Ms. Hanson grabs his wrist and drags him around the corner like a squealing suitcase. She throws open the boys’ room door, then just as effortlessly bowls Zack inside.

“Don’t come out until you grow up!” she shrieks, and slams the door. She holds it closed for a minute and listens to his panicked whines and his little fists banging against the other side. It only infuriates her more. Then he cries and snivels for another minute, and finally he goes quiet.

Ms. Hanson realizes at that point that clusters of children are standing at the classroom doors all along the length of the hallway, watching her with horrified and confused looks on their faces. Some of them are accompanied by their equally shocked and bewildered teachers.

Ms. Hanson feels herself shrink to about three inches high. She clears her throat and diverts her eyes elsewhere, continuing down the hall to the nurse’s office.

*

Ms. Hanson has left her class unattended for a little over ten minutes, and the hallway is now thankfully deserted. On her way back from the nurse’s office she stops outside the boys’ room door and wonders if Zack Tobin is still cowering in there. The memory of how he refused to look her in the eye yesterday delivers a sharp kick to her stomach and convinces her to check on him.

She opens the door a crack and pokes her head inside. “Zack,” she says gently. “Sweetie, are you still here?”

Grainy shuffling like sandy boots on concrete. Then silence.

Ms. Hanson leans further inside and starts to call again when she hears a sob. She steps slowly inside until she has a full view of the bathroom. The back wall grabs her immediate attention: it has somehow partly collapsed, forming a gaping black hole two feet wide and high. Broken wall tiles and flakes of plaster are scattered on the floor at the mouth.

Another sob. More shuffling.

Ms. Hanson stands stiff at the door much like Zack did the previous week. She swallows a lump in her throat and steps toward the cubicles, pushing the doors inward and finding both deserted.

Something moves inside the wall, just inside the hole. Ms. Hanson gets goose bumps again as the stench of sewage and decay creeps into her nostrils. She’s certain no little boy would hide in a scary place like that.

Ms. Hanson steps over to the mouth of the little cave and kneels down to peer inside. Just how far does it go? Her eyes can’t adjust, but it seems to be a long, wide space crudely dug out of the plaster and concrete between two classrooms. The walls of the “cave” and the loose tiles scattered on the floor bear hideous chisel-like scratch marks.

More movement directly ahead, and another sob in Zack Tobin’s voice. Ms. Hanson peers into the darkness and can almost see a form thrashing and struggling inside.

“Zack, where are you?” Ms. Hanson says.

She’s about to crawl in after him when she hears the laugh. Feminine, gleeful, and very close.

Two huge yellow eyes and a gnarled, toothy grin dimly reflect the bathroom light, staring at her from the shadows like a nightmarish Cheshire Cat. Ms. Hanson is grabbing for the bathroom door handle moments later.

*

There are three children and seven faculty members in the office, including Principal Sinclair and Mr. Snyder, when Ms. Hanson bursts through the doors. She babbles and screams and bawls, violently flailing her arms. Her eyes are intense red and flowing wet and unblinking. She tries to explain what happened to Zack Tobin in the boys’ room. She tries, but only gibberish comes out. Mr. Snyder and two others pin her onto the bench by the front desk until she calms down.

Ms. Hanson’s eyes roll around in their sockets, and then she faints. Sinclair tells the secretary to call an ambulance. One of the children is crying.

*

Ms. Hanson becomes a permanent resident at the North Hill Psychiatric Center. No one ever knows what happened to Zack Tobin: whenever someone asks Ms. Hanson she shakes her head violently, covers her eyes and hyperventilates until she faints. She never speaks again, and outright refuses to go into any bathroom.

Principal Sinclair finds the hole in the boys’ room and has a carpenter hastily seal it up. Life goes on at Winterfield Elementary as if nothing happened.

Credit To – Mike MacDee

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The Memory Card

March 21, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Growing up I was always a curious child. I always wondered what was behind all the “Authorized Personnel Only” doors and in the “Classified” folders. It didn’t have to be anything secret to attract my attention; it just had to be out of my reach to get me wondering about. As I grew up my curiosity only grew stronger, so much so that when it was time to go to college I’ve chosen a computer engineering major, despite the fact that most IT and programing jobs are being outsourced. All that mattered to me was that being a programmer I would get the “behind the scenes” look at the biggest pool of information in the world- the internet.

This natural curiosity of mine was the cause of the chain of events that made me kill that homeless man. Not directly, I didn’t want to kill him, or anyone in particular, but at the time it seemed like the only way out. How else would I be sure that she’ll leave me alone? Anyhow, it started on the bus. Back then I was still attending UNT, a fairly large university in Dallas. By the time I was done with classes it was around six in the evening and I was exhausted, with barely enough energy to get on the almost empty bus. Aside of the driver it had a teenage couple sitting at the very back watching something on a cellphone and an elderly woman sitting close to the driver, reading a Stephen King book. Naturally I proceeded to sit down in one of the seats in the middle of the bus spacing myself evenly away from others.

I put the headphones on and started looking through the window, mostly spacing out. As the bus was passing the downtown area I started looking at skyscrapers, dreaming about a corner office in one of them some day. All of a sudden I saw a silhouette of a girl emerge. It was dark and transparent. The girl was looking at something. My first thought was that she was standing behind me, and I was just seeing the reflection of her in the window. I quickly turned around but there was no one behind me. I looked around; the couple was still there, as was the old lady upfront, peacefully reading her book. I didn’t know what to do, yelling would seem weird, besides it might have just been a trick my brain was playing on me, as revenge for six classes a semester and long nights of online gaming. Calming myself down, I slowly turned around…The girl still was there. She didn’t move, she didn’t even look at me, she was looking at the empty seat next to mine. I turned around once more to inspect the seat, and didn’t find anything. I looked back at the window, the girl didn’t move an inch, her calm face seemed scarier to me than any other expression imaginable. She looked young, maybe twelve or so, wearing as far as I could tell a grey hoodie, I couldn’t see much more, but she didn’t seem even remotely from the past, like I would imagine a ghost to look. Her eyes, her pitch black eyes were locked at the same point. I tried my hardest to trace her look that was piercing through me, as if I wasn’t there at all, but deep inside I felt as though the girl wanted me to see what she was seeing. Finally I looked at the gap between the seats and found a memory stick, the micro one that is usually used in smartphones. When I turned around the girl was no longer there. This must have been it, she wanted me to find the memory card. Still being frightened by the silhouette I just saw, I started thinking that it must have just been a coincidence, after all how many ghosts do you know that are dressed in modern clothe and reveal themselves to help you find a piece of digital technology?

When I got home it was already nine, the rain that I thought would start a lot earlier just now started pouring, and I could see the lightning flash even with the blinds closed. I lived alone in a one-bedroom condo my grandma left my family when she passed away. This place was the main reason I moved away from my parents, it was my first shot at independent life. I loved the place since I could remember myself, it was in between other condos and trees, so the light almost never came through. Furnished in a Victorian style it had a hint of darkness to it, and such surrounding always helped me think and be productive. The only downside to it was that no friend I’ve ever brought home ever came back here again, but I didn’t mind, I liked being alone. Especially during a storm, such at the one that was about to start. I put the kettle on the stove to start making some tea, laid back on the couch and reached for my phone. As I was grabbing the phone I felt something besides it, something tiny and thin…the flash card. I almost forgot about it, frankly if it wasn’t in my pocket I would soon forgot about the girl in the window. I pulled out the card and looked at it. Nothing special, a plain micro SD card, 256 megabytes, the basic one, the kind that comes standard with the phone, the kind that you change for something better the same day you buy the phone, the kind that just sits in your desk drawer for years never once used. The kettle whistled, and I went to fix a cup of black tea with some lemon. Nothing in my opinion feels better than drinking some hot tea on a cold rainy evening. Thinking about how cold and yucky it is out there while staying warm, dry, and sipping on a delicious cup of pure goodness.

I brought the tea to the room and left it on the desk, and then came back for my phone and the memory card. I wasn’t sure if I should do anything about it. On the other hand I’ve already picked it up, it’s not like I could just go put it back…or could I? My natural curiosity got the best of me. I quickly swapped the memory card in my phone for the one I found on the bus and started anxiously waiting for the phone to read it. No new applications or pictures showed up on the phone, however the video folder contained a file. The thumbnail was black so I could only guess what was on it. After couple of seconds oh hesitation I’ve decided to play the file after all.

The screen was black, nothing was happening for the first five seconds, suddenly I heard heavy breath, scratching noise, and finally a cry for help. “Help me!…Someone please!…This is not funny any more..” The voice sounded desperate and loud, it was high pitched enough to belong to a child, maybe even the girl on the bus. Suddenly the screen got green, like in a video that is shot in infrared.  I could see her now, it was the same black-eyed girl that I’ve seen earlier today. The camera was positioned a few inches from her head, and the girl herself was laying down on some soft fabric. I could only see her face, a nicely decorated pillow, and more fabric on top. I couldn’t tell the colors, all I could see is her laying between the two walls of fabric crying for help. The moments the girl wouldn’t cry I couldn’t hear a thing, just her breath, it was dark and quiet. The top wall seemed curved…just like a coffin. Could it be…could someone have buried her alive and filmed it? But why? And why leaving such a horrifying video on the bus, and why did she help me find it? I kept watching, hoping to see a slightest hint that it was just a prank, someone’s sick joke. At one moment the girl stopped crying and turned her head to the right, looking straight into the camera and whispered “help me”. She was looking right at me, as though she knew I was watching. The video abruptly ended. I put the phone on the table and grabbed the teacup. Only now I’ve noticed how much my hands shake, I literally could not hold it without spilling tea on the desk so I put it back. “Starting navigation to Richland Cemetery” computerized female voice proclaimed. I looked back at my phone, the GPS was set for the cemetery on the other side of town. It…or she…something wanted me to go there, maybe rescue her. I opened my laptop and looked up the cemetery, I searched the recent obituaries nervously scrolling through the page. 1924-2013 1935-2013, 1966-2013…I couldn’t find anyone younger than thirty buried here in months. Maybe this is all just in my head, if not than it’s just a prank, it has to be. I turned off the GPS and got on Netflix, hoping that a season of a good show on a Friday night will wipe this memory and I will start tomorrow with a clean slate.

I was awakened by a phone notification. My phone was buzzing as though someone kept texting or messaging me on Facebook. This was rather annoying, anyone who knows me well enough to text me knows that I will never be up at 10 AM on a Saturday morning. My dungeon-dark condo didn’t let a single sun beam in so I could rest safe and sound, like Count Dracula in his coffin….Coffins, why did I shiver thinking about them right now. I reached for the phone and peeked at the bright screen. Something wanted me to share my location, probably some app that updated overnight and now came out with a GPS feature. I agreed to the terms and conditions to shut it up and went back to sleep.

After I woke up and ate it was time to fulfill my New Year resolution- go running. I barely started my grandma’s old mercury and headed to the nearest park. When I got to the park there was just one other car there, and no wonder, all the running trails were wet, and the cold wind was blowing especially strong today, as though near-freezing temperature alone wasn’t bad enough for me. But since I’ve decided to not make any excuses I forced myself out of the warm car. The park was dark, despite the mid-day, not a single person in sight. The wind was blowing in my face so I looked down as I slowly started to run. Two songs into the run (I would time my runs by songs) I got to a narrow alley with a wall of tall bushes on both sides. Wind didn’t freeze my face here as bad so I could finally look up. What I saw ahead of me made me freeze like a deer in the headlights.

About fifty feet ahead of me I saw a girl. Not a jogger, and not the owner of the other car on the parking lot, she looked too young to be a driver. Her skin was pale, grey hoodie and jeans were muddy. I froze, waiting for her to make the first move. After a minute or so of silence she started walking towards me. An unnatural, animal fear took me over, I started sprinting back to the car. The girl just walked. Each time I would turn around she just seemed to walk, but each time the distance between us didn’t seem to change a bit. By the time I ran up to the car I didn’t win an inch of the distance between my pursuer and me. My hands were shaking as I started to mess with the lock. By the time I opened the door the girl was at most twenty feet away. She now was walking even slower than before, almost if she knew that I will not escape. I could see her much better now. It was not just her clothes that were muddy, so was her face, the face that was no longer neutral, it was furious, she was looking at me with her eyes that now were solid white with no sight of pupils or iris,  dirt was in her hair, and on her hands…her hands…her nails, they were handing of the hands attached just by some of the skin, some nails were missing, as though she was scratching them on something…like a coffin lid…no…this is impossible, I’ve read somewhere that it is impossible to get out of the buried coffin alive. I wasn’t sure if she was alive though. I jumped in the car and slammed the door shut. Couple of spins of the starter, and no sound of pistons firing. There was a reason I took a bus to college; this car would never start when I needed it the most. The girl was now near the trunk. I closed my eyes, floored the gas pedal and turned the ignition key again. The old Grand Marquis roared, I shifted in drive and took off the moment the girl reached for the door handle.

I got home at least twice as fast as I got to the park, I ran the lights, and I didn’t care for the speed limit. If anything, an officer pulling me over would comfort me, the though of sitting in a metal cage on the back of a squad car driven by an armed officer didn’t seem too bad at all at the moment. As I closed the car door something seemed odd. It was the handle, or more specifically the absence of the handle. Could it be that when the girl grabbed the handle she ripped it off.

I had no intention of staying in the condo for too long, I grabbed my laptop, some basic clothing, and couple of energy drinks. I wanted to go home, if I was to die I wanted to spend the little time I got left with my family. A car alarm went off but I paid little attention, I needed to get away from this place as fast as possible.

I opened the condo door ready to head to the car when I saw her again. She was standing next to my car, the driver side window was broken, the alarm that was going off turned out to be mine, there were imprints of the dirt on light-grey cloth driver seat. My heart started racing as I slammed the door shut from the inside and locked both locks. Alarm timed out and stopped panicking. How did she find me? How did she know I was on a trail, knows where my car is, but not where I live. I’ve decided to call my only friend in the city to come pick me up. Cellphone was nowhere to be found. Thankfully grandma, being old-fashioned lady had a landline. I didn’t know my friends number, but at least I could call my phone. After the first beep in the phone I heard the same car alarm go off. I looked through the peephole and saw the girl beating on my car and reaching inside. By her chaotic moves I could tell she was blind. That’s when it hit me, the cell phone! I took it with me on the run and left it in the car. She didn’t know where I was, she just knew the phone’s location. This scientifically made little to no sense to me but I was not going to question in when my life was on the line. I sat on the couch and started praying, as far as I can recall, for the first time in my life. In ten minutes or so the car alarm turned off.

I slowly stepped outside and made my way to the car constantly looking around. When I opened the door there was glass and dirt everywhere, I swept all I could off the seat and started the engine. I didn’t know for how long she left me alone and if my phone is the only way she can track me, but I didn’t want to take any chances, so I decided to leave Dallas and go back to my family.

The traffic was heavy and the traffic light would only let about five cars through at a time. My phone was turned off and I kept staring at it, and on a rear view mirror, expecting something supernatural to scare me to death one way or another.

“Spare some change?” the old man said. I never talked to homeless people at the traffic light before, I wouldn’t roll down the window, but since this time my window was gone, the man approached me unsolicited. “Pardon me?”- I said, trying to get my thoughts together and snap back to reality. “Could you spare some change or food please?”-the man said. He looked very pleasant, the kind of a guy who could play Santa Clause if he was to wash his beard and put on a couple of pounds. His face, despite all the troubles of life he must have been through, still looked very kind and appealing. “I…I’ll do you one better”-I said looking at my phone-“Here, take it”. I handed the homeless man my phone. “I don’t have any change but you can sell for some money”-I said. As the man with the genuine smile thanked me I tried to look away. I was ashamed of putting him in danger, but all I could think of was the girl who was still on my tail, the girl who was able to crawl out of the grave and could easily break into my car. As I finally got to the highway all I could think of was the old man selling the phone to someone who deserved to die, or to someone who would throw it away, or recycle it, and those thoughts helped me deal with the guilty conscience.

Six month later I was at Texas Tech, on the other side of the state, still far away from parents, but thankfully as far from Dallas, and Richland cemetery, and my condo. I was about to go to lunch when I received a call from a Dallas area code phone number. The shivers went down my spine as the memories of the winter events emerged again. I let it go to voice mail. As soon as I got the notification about a new voice mail I immediately opened it. “My name is Officer Williams”-the voice said-“I believe we recovered your cellphone and we’d like to ask you a few questions”. The officer proceeded to ask me to show up to one of the police departments in Dallas at my earliest convenience.

Being anxious about what the police wanted with me I headed to Dallas the same day to show up to the department the following morning. I was lead into the office of one of the detectives. “My name is officer Williams”- said a sharp dressed lady in a suit-“I was the one who left you the voice mail. Now tell me, what happened to your phone?”. “I…I lost it”-I mumbled. “Where?”- Said the detective. “Around my condo, I must have been taking out trash or running late to school and didn’t notice it falling out”. Detective looked disappointed, not with me, but with my answers, she was clearly hoping for some promising clues. “We found your phone on an elderly homeless man”-said Mrs. Williams-“I don’t assume you know him, but nevertheless, could you look at the pictures and tell me if you ever seen him around”. She proceeded to hand me a folder but stopped at the very last moment. “These pictures are very graphic, you don’t have to look if you don’t want to”-she warned. “Its okay”- I replied taking the folder.

Inside were three pictures. Just by the first glance I could tell it was the same guy I handed my phone to; medium build old guy with a long white beard. First picture was him laying on the ground. Another, a face close up, his eyes were wide open, and solid white, just like the girl’s. His hair and beard were black from dirt, so much so that I could barely tell that they were grey before. The other picture was of one of his hands, all bloody and missing nails, some fingers were bent in unnatural shape, as if they were broken. “She did to him as they did to her”- I whispered. “What did you say?”-Asked the officer. “Nothing, nothing officer. I’ve never met this man.”-I replied

I drove out of Dallas in silence. I was angry at myself, at the girl, at the memory card. I didn’t even know that old man, I don’t know where he’s buried, I can’t send him flowers or say thanks, but I will be forever in debt to him for taking my fate on himself. From there on I spent a lot of time volunteering at the soup kitchens and ended up changing my major to human sciences and becoming a social worker, working with homeless, trying to repay the debt that I owe to one kind old man.

Credit To – Yevstakhiy Syvyk

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Ymir’s Get

March 18, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The first sign of trouble had been the night before it started in earnest.  Sarah had been talking to Rebecca, that’s her sister, even though it had gotten rather late.  Erica was camped out in Billy’s room, and while not overly thrilled about sleeping in the same room as her cousin, we sold her on the idea of it being like camping, all nested out in a tumble of old blankets and pillows.  I was just coming in from my last cigarette of the night and Sarah was saying goodnight to her sister, making her way to the guestroom we were staying in.  Peeling my boots off in the laundry room, I could hear the faint scuffing coming from down the hall, and an even softer sniffling under it.  Erica came slinking around the corner, eyes darting quicker than I could track, trying to look everywhere at once.  Dirty blonde hair corkscrewed into a sleep induced mess, and a huge dark stain on the front of the old Brave onesy she still insisted on sleeping in.  My brave little girl was terrified, and the sight of that alone was enough to take my breath away.  She finally locked on me and ran forward, clamping onto my leg in a death grip, and whatever shred of courage had driven her out looking for her parents shattered, as she broke out into wretched sobs.

I pried her hands loose from behind my knee and picked her up, holding the back of her head as she buried her face in my shoulder, trying to muffle her crying.  She reeked of fresh urine and terror sweat, shaking like a bird with a broken wing.  I whispered in her ear, trying to coax out of her what the nightmare had been about.  She shook and cried for a while longer, trying to worm her way into my chest, till finally she pulled her head up and told me it was no nightmare.  She was afraid of the little boy trying to get her to come outside.  When I asked what little boy she told me she had woken up to the sound of someone tapping on the window of Billy’s room, hard enough to make the glass shake in the frame.  She said that when she woke up and looked out the window he stopped and started talking to her.  She couldn’t make any sense of the words he was using, claiming that the words came out like he had a mouth full of marbles, but she knew that he wanted her to come join him outside.  She said that he was an “Elbow, like the man at the pretzel stand at the mall, all white and thin”, which was Erica-speak for an albino, except that his eyes were black instead of red and that all he had on was pajamas.  When she didn’t immediately start climbing out the window the little albino boy got angry and started hitting the glass with an icicle, saying that he would come inside to get her and drag her out into the frost.  I asked about that, ‘into the frost’, as it didn’t sound like something my daughter would say.  She just nodded and started crying again, saying that she wouldn’t go outside.

I held her for a bit longer, then put her down.  Kneeling in front of her I dried her tears with my shirt and told her I would go check and make sure the little elbow boy was gone.  Immediately she started crying again, latching back onto me, begging me to not go, to not go into the frost.   I kissed her forehead and drug a chair over to the door for her to stand on, telling her that she could watch through the window to make sure I stayed ok.  Wrestling my coat back on, I went outside and walked the length of the house, making sure to stay where Erica could see me.  The snow on the ground around the window was smooth and undisturbed, wind polished and packed hard.  I returned to the house, and explained that it must have been a dream because no one had been anywhere near the window.  She almost started crying again, insisting that it had been no dream.  I hugged her some more and ran my fingers through the hair on the back of her head, insuring that everything was ok.  We stripped off her wet pj’s and got her cleaned up with a quick shower, A quick trip into Billy’s room, him being still fast asleep, netted us clean clothes to sleep in and the two of us climbed into bed next to a softly snoring Sarah.

I woke up the following morning with only Sarah next to me, Erica off to enjoy her vacation ritual of early morning cartoons and a breakfast cereal induced sugar frenzy.  I stumbled into the bathroom to avoid ending up like my daughter the night before, and then started making my way back to bed.  Still squinting and barely awake I stepped into a small pile of snow-slush someone had tracked inside.  I started whispering curses, lifting my foot and rubbing my eyes to focus on whatever was on the floor, and my brain locked.  Under my foot wasn’t snow or any other kind of sludge off of someone’s boots.

“Are those…brains??” I heard myself whisper as I stared down at my foot and the carpet under it.  They can’t be, some detached part of me muttered, nothing could be from a living thing and be that cold.  Whatever it was was maybe half a degree from being frozen solid, the traces left on my foot almost burning with cold.  I braced myself on the wall and scrubbed my foot on the carpet trying to get it off, still suffering from some sort of mental vapor lock, looked up the hall and straight into the eyes of my daughter.

She was walking out of Billy’s room, head turned to the sound of me trying to clean myself.  She was covered…covered from the cheeks down in blood and torn bits of meat.  It flaked off the tiny little claws her hands had curled into, from her mouth and chin.  She had thick globs of it matted into her hair.  I just stood there, in such utter disconnect from what I was seeing that I didn’t even register that she started talking and walking towards me.  With agonizing slowness my mind started processing what I was looking at, details becoming things I was able to understand.  Her hair had lost all of it’s color, faded from a dark blonde to paper white, almost invisible on her skin which had gone the same shade.  Even her eyes had faded that way, stark white globes in her head with only the smallest pinprick of black in the center.  Finally it dawned on me that she was speaking, but I was too entranced by her mouth to understand what was coming out of it.  Shredded flesh was stuck to her thin little lips, congealed and hardening at the corners, but her teeth held me.  I could see through them, even covered in filth they were partially transparent.  They weren’t teeth, not anymore.  They were little slivers of ice, poking out of her gums.

She had gotten so close to me I could see her scalp through the blood matted on her head, and had time to think “Is she speaking…Belgian??” before she tackled me.

Erica ran and lept hitting me dead in my sternum, knocking me flat on my back.  One hand lurched up and knotted itself just over my hairline, the other flailing wildly at my face.  Finally coming fully awake from pain I realized it wasn’t the power of her blows that hurt, it was contact with her skin.  She was cold.  Arctic, glacial, polar ice caps cold.  Her strikes burned she was so cold.  I brought my hands up to push her off of me and where my skin made contact with her face my hands steamed, all the heat lost in an instant.  I jerked back, seeing the bloody handprints I left on my daughter’s face as I tore skin getting myself free, thrashing to get loose, afraid to even touch her..  She forced her hand open palm on my chest, burning me so badly it scared, and growled at me in a liquid gurgle.  Words of some kind, spit rather than spoken, before she lifted her head and opened her mouth so wide I could hear bones grind and tendons creek.  Quicker than I would have given her credit for her head whipped down and my daughter bit the pinkie off my left hand.  The pain was so intense I couldn’t even scream, the wound cauterized instantly from the cold, and I watched Erica lean back and bite down hard on my finger.  It was so deeply frozen it shattered, my own crystallized blood flying into my eyes.  Animal terror gripping me I found my voice, screaming like some crazed thing, and twisting my remaining intact hand into her pajamas threw her overhand off of me.

I followed through with the throw, rolling myself onto my stomach, screaming even louder when I realized what I had done.  Having fallen I had landed with my shoulders directly in front of the doorway to the guest room.  Able to do nothing I watched with horror as my daughter completed the arc of the throw and landed square on the sleeping body of her mother.  I was on my feet as fast as I could be, but it was already too late.  Erica’s head flew to Sarah’s belly, and even over the sound of both of our screams I would hear the thick, wet tearing of skin as Erica chewed her way into her mother’s guts.  Her screams didn’t last long, and the sounds of meat shredding quickly turned into cracking ice.  I stumbled away, unable to watch my wife’s dying moments,  retreating to the front of the house.

I made it as far as the living room before I collapsed.  Down on my knees, unable to care about the pain in my hands as I struggled not to fall any farther, I crawled away from the horror in the bedrooms.  In moments I heard movement, and turned back to see my daughter climbing onto the back of the couch that divided the room.  Standing erect and staring down on me with nothing but hate in those horrible white eyes, she watched me scramble back to my feet and backpedal till I was pressed against the fireplace.  Slowly she tamped down, bending at the knee till her hands were below her ankles as she balanced on the sofa, snarling at me it whatever she was attempting to use as language.  I pressed harder against the fireplace, trying to push myself through it, my hands crawling over brick and up to the mantel.  In the scant moment she finished speaking my injured left hand closed over something hard and in the same second she lept forward I swung, destroying the cable box I had found over her head.

The impact drove her right, and she crashed into the brickwork next to me.  She landed on her side, eyes wide and unfocused for the moment, and I, still moving on instinct rather than conscious thought, ignored even more damage to my hand to grab her by the hair and repeatedly bash my own daughter’s head onto the corner of the bricks till the side of her skull exploded.

For the second time in less than five minutes I realized my mistake far too late to do anything about it.  When her head broke blood and what should have been bone went everywhere, including onto me.  A long, thin splash of it shot into the air, sloshing over my shoulder and the right side of my face.  Blinded and maddened by pain, I cradled my face in my hands, damaging them even further.  The cold was unlike anything I can describe, the closest thing I can think of being sprayed with molten metal.  Even as I screamed I could feel the blood boring into my flesh, freezing my skin to such a degree that any movement caused it to crack like bone china.  I passed out in seconds, and in my final moments before a black tide unconsciousness washed over me I looked at the remains of my daughter with my one remaining eye and saw that Erica’s bones were gone.  They had been replaced by a dark, dimly transparent ice.  I lay maybe three feet away from her and I could feel the cold coming off of the ice, sucking the heat from everything and frosting the bricks till they cracked.

***

They tell me it was three weeks before I was fully awake again.

One of Rebecca’s neighbors had gone looting in the houses nearby and stumbled across me.  At first he assumed me to be just another corpse till he saw that I wasn’t covered in frost like the others he found in the house.  It seems that I lay there for two days before he found me, and another half of a day before he could safely bring a truck to rescue me.  Sig, which is short for Sigmund Boarsson, led a few others he had found to Rebecca’s house and took me to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which they had turned into a bolt hole of sorts.

The doctor that tended to me, Dr. David Talbot, may be one of the last alive on the east coast.  The morning the children changed Dr. Talbot was working, on top of the hospital at the helipad, trying to stabilize a boy that was being flown in.  He was rolling the child deeper into the hospital when he says that every alarm in the place went off at once.  Every single child under the age of ten flatlined at the same time.  The staff went berserk, running everywhere at once, trying to figure out what had happened.  Dr. Talbot ran to the office of the IT department thinking it had to be a mistake of some kind, a system wide crash or something.  The techs hadn’t showed up yet and he was checking what little he could think of when the screaming started.  He opened the door to see a RN with a naked two year old trying to chew it’s way through her neck run past.

He stood in shock as an orderly arrived to help the nurse.  The orderly grabbed at the child, yelping in pain as his hands steamed from the skin to skin contact, and accidentally whipped the child against the wall in his shock.  On making contact with the wall the child burst, spraying lethally cold blood and the ice that had replaced its bones all over the orderly and nurse.  Talbot quickly shut and locked the door to the office, pushing desks and equipment into a hasty barricade.  He stayed in there for hours till he couldn’t hear more screams from the staff.  He waited even longer till he found the courage to peek out of the office, and longer still before he left it’s security.  The hospital had been turned into an abattoir, bodies of both patients and staff littering the halls and rooms.  Looking out of a window he saw packs of children chasing survivors of the initial attacks through the streets, but always away from the hospital.  He guesses that the children are following a pattern, spreading a net wide and using the hospital as its starting point.

The children are intelligent and are able to communicate with one another.  The only reason Sig is alive is because he can somewhat understand them.  He says that they speak a very old version of a Norwegian dialect, and when they were tracking him they yelled to each other, obvilous that he could understand them.  He say’s that they call themselves Ymir’s Get, and are intent on hunting down every last human that is not one of them.  They are strong and fast, but not to an inhuman degree.  Intelligent and cunning, but not what one would call ‘smart’.  All of them look the same, dressed in whatever they had on them when they changed and with that horrible white on white appearance.  There is another survivor here, a kid that was going to college in the city, who thinks that the ice that makes up their bones is at a temperature of absolute zero, so cold that movement has stopped down to an atomic level.  He also says that that’s impossible for a number of reasons I don’t understand, but he still insists that its the only explanation that makes any sense.

The only one of us that has any guess as to what happened to the children is Sig and even he thinks it’s crazy, but admittedly, not any crazier than dead children with bones of ice trying to murder us all.  He says that Ymir is the father of the frost giants in the mythology of Scandinavia, killed by the gods to make the world and that its his bones and flesh that make up the earth we stand on.  He thinks that whatever giants that are left in the world, and even he has no guess where they are, did this to the children.  Infected them with the cold of Ymir and turned them loose on the rest of us.  It’s nuts, but coming up with ideas as to what happened passes the time, and we have a lot of that on hand.

I’m able to walk with the help of crutches for short distances and my hands have healed enough that I can feed myself again.  Most of my upper torso and face look like they’ve been hit with acid.  I lost the eye and ear on my right side and the back teeth as well.  It’s been awhile since I cried when I look in a mirror, but I still avoid them whenever I can.  I don’t know what I’ll do if something happens to the rest of the people here.  I can’t move very quickly and can’t use the stairs, so I’m stuck on the floor I’m on.  What little fuel the generators have left is used to keep the heat on and the medical equipment running for me and the others who’ve been hurt.  None of us have been warm for weeks and winter’s end is nowhere in sight.

The funny thing is that it doesn’t really bother me as much as it used to.  Erica has been visiting me at night, talking to me through the window.  I couldn’t understand her much at first, but she’s been teaching me to understand her.  She says that the rest of the survivors have barred up the bottom floors of the hospital tight enough that she can’t get in to see me, which is why she has to climb up the outside of the building every night.  She wants me to open the window so she can come in, but I keep telling her that they weren’t built to be able to do that.  She says that once I’m strong enough I can go downstairs and open the doors for her and that I shouldn’t push myself to do it, she’s willing to wait.  I’m sure she is, it’s not like she doesn’t have time on her hands either.  I can see the stars through the side of her head when I look into her eye, from the hole that I put there.  Erica’s not angry about it anymore, she understands how the both of us overreacted that morning.  She keeps telling me how excited her and all the rest of the children of the people here are to get inside and see all of us again.

I know that when I open the doors to the hospital she and the rest of the children are going to rush in here and kill all of us, but that doesn’t bother me much.  It’s not like I’m going to have much of a life like this anyway.  And besides, a daughter needs her daddy.
Credit To – Jason Markley

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The Mound

March 16, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The ground shook. It pulsated. But that was what it always did and nobody paid any attention to it anymore, just as long as the sacrifices were made. The very earth beneath one’s feet would fall and he would be extinguished if not for the sacrifices. All of the dirt, the ground, was alive, and controlled each and every aspect of every villager’s life. Every twelve years, eighteen sacrifices, eighteen innocent people, were demoted and removed from the village and redirected to the Mound, a pile of dirt and rocks and things that was riddled with tunnels and labyrinthine mazes and dead ends. Any who entered never came out, because once insanity is reached or a person starves or dies, the ground is fed.
On one such day, there was mourning and wailing, and women ran into the streets and fell upon the ground and wept, for the earth would only chose children, for the flesh was more alike the ground than those who have lived long. The streets were muddy and the houses were made from earthen bricks and thatch and wheat stalks. The townsmen were poor and ate the dust and rotten apples that fell from the trees.
Only the greatest troublemakers and least valuable children were chosen to run into the Mound. All the children in the slum would line up and the earth would rise up around a chosen child. He then went to the shack outside of the boundary of the Mound. There they ate well and were made fatter, to appease the earth and grant fruitful crops.

Sephtis was one such child. He rarely went outside, for all have a fear of the earth, but he would never even set foot on the ground. So, he fashioned thick-soled shoes.
He was bone-thin, and his face was gaunt and pallid, and his eyes were sunk into his head. He had long, wispy white hair and an abnormally wide nose.
On the morning of when the earth chose its children, the bell in the crude steeple rang out through the town, and all the children lined up on the left side of the street. The priests and magi filed out of the church, with their staves in their hands, and beat the muddy ground and called to the earth,
“O the earth, come, choose your disciples!” The congregation was low in voice and their song was haunting. The clouds hung to the ground on that day, and the sun was gone. There was no joy in the people’s eyes, no light. There was no escaping the earth, for it was ubiquitous, always underneath.
Suddenly a scream echoed down the line of children. The earth had chosen its first victim. A small girl, underfed, disappeared under the raised hump of dirt. Terrifyingly loud bawling continued. Strings of earth slithered around the children, as though snakes or some small animals were burrowing under the ground. But that was not the case. The living earth weaved in and out of the lines of children and many of them cowered in fear. Sephtis was indifferent. He knew what was to come, and he knew what he would have to do if he was chosen. There was no expression on his face, and he looked down at his feet, waiting for this to end.
His feet were wet. Mud was gathering at his feet. In a short panic, he looked to his right and his left, but none else had this happening. Then walls and columns of soil erupted from the street and encircled him. His eyes were closed and the earth washed about him and he was gone.

“God! Wake up!” An old, wrinkly man struck Sephtis across the face. He was lying in a cot in a long room. He was the last of the eighteen sacrifices. Sephtis groaned and swung his legs off the bed and with a little pain in his stomach, got up. The old man must have been a priest, for he wore a lengthy robe of green and brown and silver cloth.
“Go with the others.” He pointed towards the end of the hall, where a door stood. He watched the child stroll down the room on the soil. The priest turned and went the opposite way. The old doors creaked open and both shut equally loud.
Seventeen children greeted Sephtis with blank stares, not being impressed with his physical appearance. They were all sitting at one long table, and each had a large plate of food. He took his place at the end and began to eat. Between bites he looked around him at the building. The walls were of earth, but wooden crossbeams and columns stood to support the heavy thatch roof. A large opening in one wall led to a smaller room full of beds, but these beds looked to be more comfortable than those in the first room.
He finished the meal and followed several others into the bedding room. This room had high windows in the walls and he saw that it was night. He also saw that he was leading a train of children and he broke off and went to one of the beds.

For weeks life was like this. But Sephtis remembered what he had to do. Instead of sitting on his bed and becoming fatter, he sat on the ground and exercised, or he would jog around the rooms, or he would not finish his meal.
Due to the good food and exercise, Sephtis gained some muscle in his arms and legs, and he became stronger and not short of breath such as he was in the town.
Soon came the Mound and not a soul was spared.

The entrance was low and Sephtis had to stoop to get in. The earth brushed onto his back and he had to shake it off. There were some crude earthen stairs that descended a few steps into the ground. The cave was dark. A little light was brought in by the entranceway, and a little was supplied by the small torches lining the walls that split off from the main room. The air seemed thick and was musty and humid. Puddles of mud and waste were scattered around.
The old man was behind the crowd of children. He shoved them into the cave opening and without even taking a glance at them; he closed a large, heavy door and locked them in. Through one of the cracks he saw the man turn and leave, and on his face was the expression of sadness.
Now the time had come. Sephtis turned and saw the other children looking about. They were confused. He was not. Without any hesitation he meandered from the steps to the pathway that split off from the first room in the center. The sacrifices looked at him and waited to see if he had anything to say.
He had nothing.
“To the death.”

There was a stick and some rocks and from that, Sephtis fashioned a makeshift knife. There was nothing to eat, just as there had been for days. His thick-soled shoes were wet and muddy. He crouched in a corner of a junction of paths. None of the sacrifices he had seen were living, and he longed to hear someone’s voice. All one could hear was the hunger pains in his stomach. Any color that had been put in his face by the good food and jogging and exercising was gone, and in its place was left the face of fear. Sephtis’s ears picked up at the sound of a scream. Slowly, he stood.
He did not want to venture out from his corner, for it was the unknowing of what lied ahead that terrified him the most. His grip on the dagger was sweaty but strong. The mud squished beneath his feet, and several times it felt as though he was sinking.
He continued cautiously down the tunnel, being as quiet as possible so as not to draw any attention from anyone who may be near.
The pathway, after getting narrower, widened out into a sizable room. It was vacant, but several other paths branched out from the walls. The sound of a raspy and low gasp emanated from the earthen walls. Sephtis jumped when he heard this but his heart did not skip any beats, because being on edge was a thing that he had gotten used to.
A body staggered from one such path. Its head was down and it caught itself on one of the walls. The clothes it was wearing were torn, and it was still.
It had long hair covering its face. Blood was dripping down its leg. Something red was in its hand. The body was quivering but silent; it was not cold in the caves, but still one would shiver in fear. The body must have been a girl. She raised her head to see, for she had heard Sephtis. But she could not see- she had no face. The only facial features that he could recognize were the muscles that skin should have been covering. She opened her mouth. Blood trickled down the flap of flesh that resembled a chin and she did her best to beckon to Sephtis. In her hands was her face. It was mangled and stained in dirt and blood.
With a disgustingly horrifying sound, the girl put the skin to her face. Without warning, she screamed in pain. Some madman had ripped off her face. Sephtis ran as fast as he could in his shoes down a path that did not contain such a horror as the girl. He looked behind him to see if she was following her, but he had to keep an eye in front as well.
When he thought he had ran far enough, he stopped and squatted in the dirt and tried to think of what to do next.

Droplet after droplet of murky water dropped on Sephtis’s sleeping face. He sat up and jumped to his feet. There was mud in his hair and in his clothes. He sighed, frustrated, and anxiously looked around for his blade. He splashed in the mud, looking for it, but it was gone. Something had happened to it. Either someone had taken it, or the earth had swallowed it up.
There were a few rocks lying around near him, so he hurriedly began to search for one that would make a suitable weapon. He found two or three that could be used.
There was a fork in the pathway near Sephtis, and because he knew he needed to keep moving, he took the left path. Still clutching the rocks, he stalked down the hall. It was perfectly silent.
After a while of twists and turns and forks and such, he came to a string of several dead ends. He decided that he must have been near the edge of the Mound. As much as he wished to break through the wall or start to dig, the earth would not be pleased. So he turned and went the opposite direction. This needed to end.
He shouted as loud as he could, but being without water and food for a few days had made him weary, and so his feeble shout could not have been heard by many. The sudden feeling of being very thirsty came upon him. He kept walking. By now, he had noticed that on his way from the edge of the Mound the earthen path had been sloping down a tad, and the puddles of vomit-brown mud were trickling slowly down with him. Surely if he followed this stream there would be some reservoir at the end.
Along the way, he passed several soggy twigs and branches that somehow made their way down into the soil. Using his rocks and other strips of thatch and wheat stalk he formed two other creations that could vaguely resemble knives.

Sephtis stopped. There was a gaping chasm in the ground where the floor opened to some great cavern. The drop must have been hundreds of feet, yet that was where all the muddy water was flowing. A single, small torch was illuminating the ground below. He then took a step back, for fear that there might have been an overhang into the cavern and his weight collapse it.
The squish of his shoes in the mud was drowned in the sound of a man’s heavy breathing. He jumped, truly surprised, and looked around. There was no one behind him, but on the other side of the hole in the floor was a large young man. The man was stooped, probably from the low ceilings in parts of the Mound, and his eyes were a reddish hue, possibly from getting the mud in them. As far as Sephtis could see, there were no weapons in this boy’s hands.
The young man stepped back and put himself into a stance as though he was going to jump. He pushed off of the walls of the path and in two long was strides was in midair. Impossible! He was not going to make the jump, Sephtis knew. The span must have been ten, twelve feet. The man grabbed the edge of the cliff and tried to pull himself up, but Sephtis rested his foot on the boy’s head and pushed him off the slippery, wet surface.
A few moments later, a defeated roar echoed from the pit. The light from the torch down below had been extinguished. Sephtis trekked on.

He picked a substantially large puddle to fill his needs. After taking a few sips of the murk, he spat the last out. In his hands was a small grub. He reeled back, not so much because of the discovery of the worm, but because of the disease that one received from being so close to one grub.
His thirst was quenched, though.
“This is the end.”

He staggered from wall to wall, a terrible pain in his stomach. He felt something different on his chest and he looked down. The skin of his abdomen had changed from human to the skin of that of a grub or worm.
Soon the pain was gone and he was able to walk unimpaired, but it was noticeable that he was slowing down from the lack of food. He could have eaten the grub, but he would be dead right now. His chest was that of a grub. It was slimy and smooth, and two of three pairs of tiny legs had sprouted from where his ribs should have been. It disgusted him but he could not get away. Even as he walked, his arms swung back and forth and brushed against the feelers.
A girl was crouched in a room ahead and she saw him. She had made a large weapon and, in fear, reached for it and stood and held it in front of her.
“Stay away. Please.” She said, in a whisper, tears rushing down her face. Sephtis held his hands out as well as a sign of peace. His shirt was just a wet rag clinging onto his body, but he tried to hide his deformity. He hesitated, but dropped his blades into the soil.
She had a lovely voice. It was a great sensation as her words rushed to his ears. Possibly too great was his want of a friend, and he rushed too quickly at her. She backed up and her blade went right up at his neck.
Sephtis backed to an opposing wall. Her façade of innocent helplessness was gone and she hulked toward him with her sword in hand.
A great pain arose in his legs. He dropped to the ground and put his head down. He ran his hands up and down his thighs, and to his horror, they were now insect-like, just as his chest was. The girl stopped advancing. They waited, in the silence, for a moment or two. The pain slowly mitigated and because Sephtis knew that the girl was still ready to skewer him, he pause and prepared to jump her.
He jumped up and pounced out of the way of the first blow the girl dealt. His grub-legs were great on the muddy floors, and with inhuman speed he knelt and swiped the girl’s feet out from under her. The fallen blade was snatched up by Sephtis and he held it to her nose as she scooted back to the wall of the room. He drove the blade into her head and heard her skull crack as the sword passed into the earthen wall.
Warm blood spurted out at him.

His arms and stomach were as a grub. His eyes were yellow now, and there was blood in his cough. Hopefully, this would all soon be over. Scurrying down the corridors on all fours, he held the blades he had accumulated in his extra appendages.
It was then when he was running that the transformation was completed. A pain like a lightning strike bolted through his head. A terrible migraine began, and he felt his lips dissolve into silky tentacles and his eyes divide and he saw things a thousand times at once. His ears were gone, and his neck had swelled and become flush with his back. His nose fell from his face and burrowed in the sand. He lay on the ground curled up in a perfect circle and he died.

He was the last person alive and the last to die. The ground engulfed him and he was gone.

Credit To – Chandy and Gart

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The Crying Room

March 11, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The end of the hall finally arrives, and on Todd’s left a door marked 129. The keys jangle as he spins them idly on his finger like a gunslinger just after the kill; then he notices the grimy film coating his fingers from touching the key ring. One more thing nobody bothers cleaning.

Todd slides the key into the door handle. The lock snaps back like cracking vertebrae, and behind it is a sound like a gasp or sob inside the room.

Todd hesitates, listening. The entire building is silent as if it were abandoned. He pushes the door open and flicks on the light, maybe a little hastier than he’d admit.

Standard room. Small table by the window. Wooden vanity with a cracked mirror. Small entertainment center with television set and videogame console. Queen size bed with green comforter (read as, mite nest), which Todd promptly tears off the mattress and tosses in the corner. Bathroom so claustrophobic the door almost touches the toilet bowl when it opens. The one thing giving it personality is the presence of the missing author’s things — mostly textbooks and notebooks — which haven’t been moved or claimed yet. The bedside clock reads 9:31 P.M.

The room is quiet.

Todd closes the door with his foot, tosses the key on the vanity. He pulls a packet of bleach wipes from his back pocket and begins wiping down the doorknobs, the TV remote, and the faucet handles. He takes twenty minutes to wipe down the toilet’s seat and lever.

*

Todd Kline maintains the most abysmal rooms at the Nimbus Hotel. He used to clean the cadaver room at the university, so the eerie and the disgusting have little effect on him.

He’s lost track of how many years he’s been a room attendant there, but it’s been long enough to know the hotel should be shut down and the building condemned. The shit he’s seen would turn tourists off of hotels forever. The beds are a vast culture of germs and dust mites: attendants don’t wash the comforters between tenants unless they’re visibly stained on both sides. The bathrooms have such thick layers of fecal particles that tenants ought to be showering with their shoes on. And God knows what’s crawling around in those “clean” drinking glasses.

That’s all standard fare for a veteran hotel worker, though. It’s the special, gruesome little touches that make Nimbus stand out from the other germ bordellos.

Last year he cleaned a handsome spread of gooey feces out of the bathtub in 222. Gladys, Dave, and Bernie all refused to touch that one. They wouldn’t touch the crusty clumps of God-oh-God-please-don’t-be-semen in 114’s comforter, either — stone solid like petrified gum. It was a miracle Todd managed to scrub it all out.

The same year as the tub-shitter and the bed-gum, a lady got scabies from sleeping in room 313. Gladys checked the bedspread and found it swollen full of mites, fleas, and ticks. Todd had to ball it up, stuff it in a garbage bag, take it to a stretch of desert highway and burn it. The lady got reimbursed for her stay. Todd got seven or eight fleas.

All of that still doesn’t top the crown jewel from two years ago, when they got a complaint about a sweet and sour stink in Room 106, and found the source — stuffed between the mattress and the bed frame — was a dead hooker. Todd was the only one who didn’t puke when the body was found, so Todd got to sanitize the room after the police hauled it off.

Somehow the Nimbus Hotel is still in business, boasting that “A stay in a Nimbus Hotel is like sleeping on a cloud!”

A cloud of shit-caked fleas that feed on dead hookers.

All Todd’s jobs at the Nimbus Hotel are dirty jobs. When the other attendants refuse to clean the filthiest of filth from the bedsheets, bathtubs, or TV remotes, Todd has to drop whatever he’s doing and go take care of it. He’s the only one who’s ever had the guts or the know-how (and you can bet he won’t let anyone forget it). Nothing scares or even discourages him, however weird or gross.

That’s probably why Manager Ed asked him to spend the night in the Crying Room.

*

Its proper name is Room 129. It’s had eleven tenants in the last two months and not one of them stayed the entire night. Some stayed for less than an hour. They usually packed their bags and fled without giving an explanation or asking for their money back (a few had even abandoned their luggage). Four of the eleven just vanished. Todd and the others presumed those tenants had left in the night.

Only one asked for a refund: Jervis Liddel, a pasty, balding lawyer with a bulbous nose and huge grandma glasses who had haughtily announced he was staying for a week. He’d barely been settled in for an hour when he came back to the lobby whiter than ever, his hands trembling and his teeth chattering as if he were standing in a snowy wood without a jacket. He took his money and launched through the doors like a missile.

Todd was chatting with the pretty new clerk, Melissa, when the Crying Room’s next tenant checked in: a middle-aged schoolteacher lady named Fran Carlyle. She came into the lobby at ten to five, made pleasant conversation with them about the book fair up the street that she’d come to help with, asked if there were any good restaurants about, then took her key and went to her room.

Melissa got the call on the lobby phone around nine. The voice on the other end was hoarse and just barely above a whisper.

“Can you come down to Room 129 please?” it said.

“Uh, is this Miss Carlyle?” Melissa said.

The voice seemed unsure. “Yes.”

“Miss Carlyle, is everything okay?”

She was quiet for a while, then said, “I…I think someone is in my room.”

Melissa didn’t waste any time calling the police. But they didn’t find anyone in there except the teacher, and she seemed a mix of frustrated, embarrassed, and terrified. She explained that she’d been reading in bed and heard a voice — a young boy or a woman, she wasn’t sure — crying and sobbing silently somewhere in the room. The police were pretty irritated when they left and the teacher seemed desperate for someone to believe her. She’d frightened Todd pretty good trying to make him stay with her.

She was gone the next morning. Her car was still in the lot. Everyone assumed she must’ve run screaming into the night like in a cheesy campfire story.

Sometimes a tenant in room 127, 128, or 130 reported hearing someone sobbing next door, usually late in the evenings. One guy had actually knocked on the door to the Crying Room and asked if everyone was okay in there. The sobbing stopped, and the room was quiet for two days.

The last guy to stay in 129 was a mediocre writer of children’s lit, Benjamin Hammond. He’d heard about the Crying Room and wanted to stay in it for a night or two. He was working on a book about childhood night terrors — closet monsters, bogeymen and the like — and thought studying Room 129 would help his research. Like the other three vanishing acts he was gone the next morning; but later that same day the college girl staying in Room 127 filed a complaint with Ed, saying the rowdy lovers in 129 had woke her up late at night.

“I had an important interview today and only got about five hours of sleep for it,” she said. “I wake up to those two wrestling next door like they’re the only ones in the building, one of ‘em going on with this pathetic whimpering and another giggling like a child. I pounded on the wall and told ‘em to keep it down, and the racket stopped, but they’d woke me up at midnight all the same. I mean, guys and gals gotta have fun now and then, but goddamn…”

Ed shared this little anecdote with Todd and the others. They all knew the author had checked in alone.

*

Ed sat everyone down in his office earlier today and said he wanted something done about Room 129. The other attendants were so scared they wouldn’t be caught dead in there. So it was up to Todd to save the day — “like always,” he’d reminded his coworkers as he patted each of their scowling heads — and that’s why he was walking down a green carpeted hall stinking of fresh paint with a hotel key in his hand instead of driving home to the comfort of his apartment.

“Stay the night in 129,” Ed said. “Figure out what’s going on in there. Maybe it’s a prank. Maybe it’s a ghost! Who knows? Figure it out and there’s a raise in it for you. I can’t afford to keep losing tenants. Bad publicity.”

“It’s a prank all right,” Todd thinks, reflecting on the meeting, “to see if they can break me. What a waste of time and effort that could be spent actually cleaning this dump.”

Bad publicity. Todd thinks of scabies and dead hookers and wrinkles his nose.

*

Todd wakes suddenly in the night and finds himself sitting upright, staring into darkness. The unfamiliar bed startles him at first, but with a groan he quickly remembers where he is.

His heart kicks the inside of his throat like he’s been jogging for the last hour. He has trouble breathing as if the air is made of lead. Neither of his arms will reach over to turn on the bedside lamp. They’re frozen stiff. He can’t remember what nightmare could have pulled him so abruptly out of a sound sleep or put him in such a frightened state.

Was it a nightmare that woke him? Or was it that icepick jab in the pit of his stomach — jabbing him still — trying to tell him that someone came into the room while he was asleep? Ten minutes pass as he allows his eyes to adjust to the dark, but the room is deserted except for the comforter wadded in the corner; quiet except for the sound of his own uneasy breath.

Todd’s muscles soften and he releases a long sigh. Skimming through the author’s notes before bed was a mistake, all right. Late night thoughts of boogeymen and closet monsters and Baba Yaga have made him as paranoid as a five-year-old. He lies down again. Takes in another lungful of stale air.

An hour later Todd wakes up again. Someone is weeping silently nearby.

He bolts upright and scans the room. There’s nobody. The shape in the corner is still a wadded comforter. His head still swimming from waking so suddenly, he loudly mumbles, “Whoozere?”

The room is quiet. It stays quiet for the fifteen minutes Todd sits there, listening, wondering if he had heard anything at all. Angrily he swats the missing author’s notebook off the bedside table and goes back to sleep.

Todd has barely slept a half hour when he’s awoken once again by the voice. It’s unmistakable this time: a delicate, miserable voice trying shamefully not to cry too loudly.

Now Todd’s mind is crisp and clear. “Who’s there?” he whispers.

Like before, the voice holds its breath. After a few minutes it starts crying again.

Todd can’t pinpoint the source of the voice: it seems to come from all around him, from the room itself. He climbs out of bed to get a better bearing. He plants his feet on the carpet and stands up, wobbling slightly.

The weeping suddenly stops.

Something made of old leather paws at Todd’s ankle.

Survival instinct takes over. Todd’s feet leave the floor as he lunges forward like a rabbit escaping a snapping bear trap; he twists in midair, crashes headfirst into the wall and lands on his side. Barbs of pain drip through the joints of his skull and fill his eye sockets. His ears are ringing. He might have cracked one of his ribs. He doesn’t care. The bed has a firm hold of all his brain’s conscious functions.

There’s nothing where his feet had been. But Todd knows there was something a moment ago.

The voice starts crying again.

It can’t be coming from under there. Nothing could live under there for two months.

Todd inches steadily forward — eyes never leaving the spot by the bed where the thing touched him — and turns on the bedside lamp. Somehow it makes the void beyond the bed skirt even more sinister.

Seemingly of its own free will, Todd’s hand reaches for the bottom of the skirt. The crying stops when his fingers brush it.

It’s Ed, Todd thinks, his blood sizzling like cooking oil. Or Gladys. Bitch blubbers like that all the time.

Todd bites his lip and puts his ear to the carpet inches from the bed frame. He pulls the bed skirt upward, a montage of angry curses on the tip of his tongue.

The hand that reaches out to greet him is vaguely human.

The ancient eyes staring at him from the shadows are not.

Suddenly Todd doesn’t care if it’s a prank. He doesn’t care if there’s a raise in it for him. And in the next ten seconds he doesn’t care that he’s running across the hotel parking lot in his boxer shorts.

Credit To – Mike MacDee

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