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The Window Screen

March 15, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Rating: 8.1/10 (876 votes cast)

The backstory: This story was told to me by my friend’s older sister when I was in fourth grade. I assumed she was lying and tattled on her. But to my surprise, her mom actually corroborated the story and even added details to it. Since then I’ve never forgotten it. At some points in my life I thought back to the story and reasoned that the family were just assholes trying to scar a kid for life. But I do remember the older sister telling me “we have a tape.” I never saw the tape, but her mom corroborated that fact too.

So here is the story. The dates are pretty close to when it actually happened, but I’ve changed some of the names and I didn’t include my friend or his sister. The neighborhood where it took place, Boynton Waters, is a real place in Boynton Beach, FL. I’ve fleshed it out into more of a story, but the major plot points are unchanged.

——

June 28th, 1994 – that was the date we moved into the house in that cute little neighborhood of Boynton Waters. It was a new neighborhood. South Florida was chock-full of these little enclaves of houses – Rainbow Valley, Cypress Creek, names the developers probably sloshed around in their heads for a few days to try and sort out what types of images they would evoke for its market.

I can describe the neighborhood as rather undeveloped, with a quiet that blanketed the entire compound at night followed by musky, cicada-infested days.

We were one of the first families that had moved in so I hadn’t been able to get to know the neighbors well at all. The first weeks were a wash-and-repeat cycle of unpacking, going to Publix, looking in furniture stores, getting in touch with my company and setting up the utilities. By the third week all that was done and over with, so now it was just a matter of settling in and making it feel like a home.

It was around July 29th, about one month later, that I noticed something odd with the window screen in our master bedroom. An outline of white appeared on the fiberglass and I as approached closer, I could see that there were a series of small tears running vertically and diagonally, in fact – there were dozens of them.

“Huh,” I remarked to my wife Amanda. “That didn’t used to be there did it?”

She followed my voice out of the bathroom. “Hm?” Then she noticed it. “Oh how did that happen? I never saw that before.”

“It’s not a big deal,” I insisted, half-voicing my real thoughts. I mean, it’s a new house after all. It should be flawless. “We can get it fixed.”

Being that the rips were so significant, I figured they would need a professional touch, so I called up a few window screen repair services the next morning. The big yellow phone book didn’t list prices so I had to call quite a few before finding the best quote.

The guy came a day later and didn’t seem at all fazed by the sudden appearance of wear. “Happens to everyone, but if you need to do this again in the future – here’s how.” He demonstrated for me. It wasn’t a difficult process, just involved getting a new sheet of fiberglass and some super glue. If it happened again, this would be no problem, but I doubted quite highly it would happen again.

Four nights later, on August 2nd, it must have been around 10 PM, but I was retiring to bed a bit early. That’s when I noticed it.

Dozens of ripped, white tears in the window screen. Needless to say I was more than a little freaked out. “Honey!” I called. Amanda bounded up the stairs.

I inched closer to the screen and felt a wave of déjà vu pass over me. These tears were almost exactly the same as the ones from four nights ago. It was puzzling, but… there they were. “Odd…”

Amanda folded her robe over her as she entered. “Oh my god!” She rushed over to the screen. “What the…?” She peered up at me with a raised eyebrow. “Did-did you do this?”

“Of course not!” I protested. “I don’t know how they got there.”

Amanda stifled a laugh. “Sorry, it’s just – It doesn’t make sense does it?”

“No it doesn’t…” I said seriously with a sigh. I couldn’t believe it. This was a new house! These rips couldn’t have made themselves so it was obvious to me that a neighbor or someone, maybe an animal perhaps, made these. “It’s got to be a pest, a rodent or maybe birds. I guess it could’ve also been one of the neighbors’ kids I mean… This just doesn’t make any sense. And look-“ I pointed to the size and length of the tears. “They look exactly the same as last time.”

“Well we’ll just have to keep the window closed then,” Amanda concluded.

“Oh-what? Come on,” I told her. “We’re not gonna suffer in the heat because of a few tears in the screen.”

They could be fixed easily. Around 10 AM the next day I went to Home Depot and got some supplies for fixing. At least one thing came out this. I’d get to work with my hands and do some real fixing up on the new place, which I was looking forward to.

By the afternoon, the fiberglass was fixed. I stood back and admired my handiwork proudly. Looked good as new, and I really, highly doubted I would need to do this again. “Well, that’s that.”

The day wore on and Amanda and I were out for most of it. We had made some new friends and went out to dinner together. We came back around 11:30. Amanda went upstairs first. Minutes later she called down to me, “I thought you said you fixed it!”

I glanced up casually. “I did!” A pause. I did…

“Well it’s still there!”

I shook my head. No way. I shook my head all the way up the stairs. No way, there’s just no way. I just fixed it. I just fixed it! Walking in to that room, my heart jumped back five feet. What appeared before me was a torn screen, once again – the same large gashes… in the same places, creating that same white outline. I couldn’t say anything at first. I was a little spooked, but mostly perplexed. This wasn’t a situation that could be easily explained I felt.

I observed the tears again, this time searching for clues and traces of what or who caused them.

Amanda noticed the concern on my face and told me gently, “It’s probably an animal, like you said.” She prodded further, “And it’s not a big deal after all. We’ll just fix it again tomorrow and keep the window closed unless we’re in the room.”

But I wasn’t convinced that was the answer. I know it was crazy and probably going a bit too far for some silly old rips in a window screen. God knows those things can tear pretty easily. Still, I had some video equipment. Maybe I could set it up and see what was causing these rips.

I yawned. Of course not tonight. Like Amanda said, it wasn’t urgent.

As we slept, a small noise, like scratching against the wall stirred me awake. I only opened my eyes and listened for a moment. It was like someone was carving something into the wall. A rising sense of panic flashed through me and I quickly turned on the light.

Amanda blinked and rustled. “Why’d you turn on the light?”

“Don’t you hear that?” My ears peered open again for the scratching.

Amanda listened also. “Sounds like carving.”

The state of alarm in me was all too real. So I got out of bed and listened for where the carving was coming from. “It sounds so close by.” As if it was in our own room.

I approached the window cautiously, assuming there to be some menacing figure, a teenager, or someone carving into the side of our house. My voice was buried at the top of my throat, ready to unleash a string of loud warnings.

In one swift movement, I opened the window and peered outside – on both sides. But there was no one. It was empty. It was dark but tranquil.

The carving continued.

“What is that?!” Amanda cried, her voice also rising in panic.

I shook my head and waited for a moment. A few seconds later, the carving stopped.

My heart beat loudly in my chest and I had to take in a good thirty seconds of silence before I could feel at ease again. “I’m going to give the realtor a call tomorrow, see what’s going on – if there were some rodent problem she conveniently forgot to mention.”

In my grumpiness and agitation of being woken up, it was hard finding sleep again.

“Vagoyaveech. Vagoyaveech.”

I furrowed an eyebrow. “What was that honey?” I muttered drowsily. Oh forget it, I thought. She always talks in her sleep, deeper tone than usual though.

In order to trap to snake you’ve got to set some bait. The bait would be the fixed screen. That was top priority, so first thing in the morning – I cut out patches of fiberglass and set to work molding the new patches into place with superglue. After that, I set up the tripod. My video camera hadn’t gotten a lot of use in the past year so the tape inside would suffice. I would have to come check on it after 2 hours so I made sure to set an alarm on my wrist watch. This time there would be no mistake. I couldn’t even leave one minute going without recording.

In the first two hours, I tried to take care of errands outside. To my positive dismay when I returned, the fiberglass was actually holding up. And throughout the day, as I checked repeatedly in two hour increments, nothing happened. I had to constantly record over the previous footage, as there was simply nothing happening that was worthwhile.

Well, I thought, this was probably a good thing. The rodent or perpetrator, whoever, had moved on.

But something was egging me to keep going. Around 8 PM, the camera still going, and me and Amanda downstairs scarfing down the last bits of Breyers ice cream in front of the TV, the walls appeared to rattle, if only for a second.

“That was weird,” Amanda remarked.

I waited for a moment to see if more rattling would occur, but it had passed and nothing more happened. I felt a bit alarmed though and told her, “I’ll be right back.”

More cautiously than usual, I walked up the carpeted stairs, quietly. I suppose I was masking my own footsteps. Did I suspect someone was in the house? No… But, just to be on the safe side.

The door to the master bedroom was wide open. “Huh.” I thought I had closed it.

As I proceeded closer I could see the window appearing into view, and the screen, once more – was ripped – in the same places. I rushed over in a panic, edging my hands along the outskirts of the rip. “HEY!” I shouted at no one in particular, but I assumed there must be someone. “HEY!”

From behind me I heard a loud gasp.

I looked back at Amanda in disbelief. “Can you believe this?!”

“Did you get it on tape?” She asked.

I nodded. “At least we got it on tape this time. OK.” I stopped the recording and handed the VHS tape to Amanda. “Get the VCR ready.”

I stared back at the window screen intently, no thoughts going through my head except “Why?” “How?” I focused on the outline, and my eyes… in that moment, some inescapable feeling of dread filled me. The outline began to come together for me, take on a shape. It was the outline of a human, no, a woman. It appeared to be, with a sharp nose, her face leaning down and her eyes closed, and below to the side, what looked like fingers plugged into the screen.

I shook my head. Maybe it was reruns of Twin Peaks setting my mind on fire, but… the face, the figure now were unmistakably visible. I could no longer see any outline. All I could see was this embittered woman, face pressed against the window screen among the ripped fiberglass.

I ended up backing away slowly out of the bedroom. Whenever I looked back at the screen, I could see now, not a rip or a tear, but a woman – and needless to say – it freaked me out.

I walked down the stairs to Amanda, trying to put on a calm face and get the rationality back into my mind.

She had already prepared the video. “Ready when you are.”

I nodded slowly, pressed play – the scene of the crime where we left off – and pressed rewind. We watched as the video unfolded itself backwards. Nothing was happening yet; the rips were there but we hadn’t reached the point where they first started to appear. “There!” Amanda cried.

I paused and looked closely. In the fragmented image, I could see the rips in the screen reversing. I tried to make out what was behind the screen. “Can you see anything?”

“No…” She said. “It’s all darkness behind there.”

I rewinded back further. Amanda shrieked. What we saw in those few moments of rewinded footage was the screen ripping… by itself, naturally.

“OK play it back,” She urged.

I pressed play. Now we were at a point where the fiberglass was undisturbed. I let out a small gasp as I realized now what I was seeing – there was no person… no animal, no bird, no rodent – just the fiberglass ripping apart, alone, and by itself. One rip. I shook my head rapidly. Two. And then another. Amanda stood up and backed away, “What the hell?!” It was all happening on its own.

“I can’t… understand it,” I whispered to myself. “Is it…”

“A ghost,” Amanda concluded. Her voice was absolutely serious.

I looked at her as if she was crazy, which she was. “A ghost,” I repeated dryly.

She pointed to the screen hysterically. “Look at what you just saw!! Window screens don’t just tear themselves.”

I suppose mentioning that the outline appeared to look like a woman would only fuel her frenzy. “Look, I admit it’s weird.It’s…”

“How else can you explain it?” She was still pointing at the screen accusingly. “Window screens rip themselves?”

I shook my head in disbelief and forced out a bit of logic, “It’s got to be something outside causing it.”

Amanda looked completely spooked. “Calm down.” I looked back at the screen. “Let’s just think about this.” I sighed. It may be freaky, but it certainly wasn’t dangerous. I figured a venture outside to catch a glimpse of what might be causing this was necessary. “Where are the flashlights?”

As she went to look for them, I stared back at the screen and rewinded the footage again to when the rips first started appearing. I pressed play and watched. The first started from the left, slight vertical incisions, all in a row, indicating what had earlier looked like fingers. Then long gashes gradually surfaced, one, and then another until finally what looked like the outline of a sharp nose finished the abstraction.

My fears lumped together and Amanda’s suggestion came back to me. A ghost. The ghost of a woman?

“Brought the flashlights,” Amanda handed one to me. She paused. “What’s the matter?”

I guess the fear showed in my eyes when I looked up at her. “Nothing.”

We slipped out the back door and made our way around the hedges to the master bedroom side of the house. Using the light from the flashlights, we peered up and down and into the hedges, along the metal piping and at the bottom edge of the house. We looked all over but there was nothing.

My vision darted back to the window, to the hedge and then back again quickly. Something was off. I moved just so that the shadows in the master bedroom would allow me to see the rips in the window screen more clearly.

The vertical gashes splitting the screen diagonally down the middle were still there, but I could feel my body freezing up with the absence of the rips that contoured a nose… a face, contoured those closed eyes – the tears in the middle, all of them, and I had definitely noticed them before – were missing.

“Amanda,” I mouthed. “Amanda!” I repeated in a hushed voice.

“Hm?” She asked.

“Go inside the master bedroom, and tell me what you see from in there,” I told her.

“…Okay,” She replied. “But we’ve already—“

I whispered again, harshly, “Just please do it.”

I couldn’t move my eyes. I was stunned. Now I had some reason to believe that these rips weren’t caused by something natural. Or maybe it was just me… But there had definitely been a face among the rips before. Definitely there were small gashes outlining a face. I was repeating this logic in my head. But I had to be sure.

I watched Amanda come into view. She nodded at me from the bedroom. “OK, I see you.”

“How many of those tears can you count?” I called to her.

She looked at me like I was crazy, as obviously there were quite a few, but began silently counting. “There’s the two big ones on the side here, and these two smaller ones, and then four little gashes right below… just down here. In the middle there are just a bunch of little tears. I can’t exactly count them. Looks like… 1…3-“

She was counting at nothing from where I stood. I interrupted her, “From this side you’re counting at nothing.” I motioned to the small area that should have been torn to shreds. “Nothing at all.”

She looked at me wildly and without another word left the bedroom, I assume to see if my claim was true.

I stared at the window screen, calming down a bit. It was perplexing and it was confusing yes, but it wasn’t dangerous I reasoned. But why did danger even resonate with me? Because danger and ghosts usually walk the same path was the answer I was looking for but didn’t want to admit.

Amanda appeared by me a few moments later, “Well…” She breathed astonished. “I’ll be. You’re right.” She placed her hand on the spot where the cluster of rips should’ve been. “There aren’t any.”

I heard a rustling coming from the hedge beneath Amanda’s feet and flashed my light. “Sssss” a seething, menacing sound filled the silence of the night, and I watched helplessly as the threatened snake underneath the hedge lash out and stab one sharp tooth into Amanda’s foot.

She screamed and I reached out, dropping the flashlight and pulling her away from the hedge. The snake that had been hiding underneath slithered into view and as quickly as it had appeared, disappeared into the lawn-cut grass.

My stomach sank. It was dark but I saw it – the scales ringed in patterns of red, black and yellow. A coral. We didn’t have much time.

“Oh god,” She breathed heavily. “Oh god, oh god, it bit me. It bit me!”

I clenched her shoulders and immediately hustled us away from the window and toward the driveway. “You’re going to be fine!” I assured her. For some reason, and I don’t know why, I glared angrily back at the screen. “You’ll be fine,” I repeated.

“Ow…” She winced. “Honey it’s really starting to hurt.”

With Amanda limping by my side, I walked her over to the passenger side of the car and she leaned against it. “Wait. Just. Hang on.” I rushed into the house without a thought, grabbing at everywhere in the dim light, trying to get to my keys. My mind was a jumbled mess at this point, a mess of disbelief and fear.

“Vagoyaveech!”

My eyes shot up and I glanced around wildly. A voice, a dark and deep tone of a voice, had been so close to my ear. At that moment the lights flickered off.

“Who’s there?!” I shouted, but only silence responded.

“Hon!” Amanda’s voice, crippled from the pain, shouted to me from outside. “Hurry up!”

My breathing had grown staggered and heavy. Someone was in the house. Oh why had we dropped the damn flashlights? Zig-zagging pupils, my heart was racing now. Phone, phone, phone. Call 911. Call the police. Whatever my hand would find first. I had to rationalize. I had to get my mind to a secure spot where it could think. I was in the living room. The kitchen was to the right.

I felt along the wall for the phone. Near the entrance, adjacent to the table, just have to reach for it.

A gradual stench began to fill the house, waft into my nostrils and sit. “Ugh…” Phone, phone, phone. My hand wandered along the empty walls until I reached the entrance to the kitchen. I flung my hand desperately to the left, feeling the familiar smoothness of the receiver and picked it up.

The lack of a dial tone left me weak-hearted. I pressed the numbers desperately. 9-1-1. 9-1-1! 9-1-1! “Damn it! Work for me!”

I slammed the phone down, the putrid smell still in the room with me, but my only thought was of Amanda. Keys. I strode towards the kitchen counter and felt around, searching for a glimmer of metal. But there was nothing. “I put my keys…” I tried to retrace my steps. We came home. Came out of the car. I put my keys by the… Oh god, it was hard to think with all the elements of the moment – the smell, the dead receiver, the darkness, the voice, the bite… Think. Think! I put my keys by the…

Suddenly I realized. The table. By the sofa. The table by the sofa. In the dark I felt along the walls using my whole torso as a compass. I could feel the edge of the counter press against my back and I followed the it around the corner where it ended against the wall.

I paused for a second, taking in the smell finally. It was ghastly, a horrible smell like plastic bags of rotting garbage left out in a drizzle and then melted back down by humidity, coiled up and decaying. I’d never before smelled anything like it.

I walked into the living room, my nerves tense now that I’d formally met the horrible stench.

It was at that moment our car alarm went off, a loud, high-pitched, wavy sound that mutated from tone to tone quickly.

I yelled into the darkness agitatedly. “What the hell is going on!”

Not wasting another moment to feel the wall or look where I was going, I stumbled into the darkness towards the polyester-clad sofa, slid forward and grabbed at the surface of the table until I felt something sharp and metal in my hands.

After that moment there was no thinking left to be had. I rushed out, slammed the door shut, turned the alarm off and caught up to Amanda who was crouched down by the foot of the driveway. “Honey, Manda, come on! We gotta get you to the hospital.”

“I don’t feel so good…” She muttered dazily. The pupils in her eyes appeared dilated and sweat was pouring from her face.

“Come on…” I urged. “Into the car.” I shuffled her in and fastened her seatbelt for her.

As I was backing out of the driveway, I felt the house staring back at us, something hostile emanating from it. In that fragment of time, it peered at us like a stranger. “It was a perpetrator,” I mouthed in a desperate grasp of logic. It was our house, yet it seemed cold and uncaring of everything that had happened. It seemed cold and uncaring of me, perhaps even pleased with the turn out. “A perpetrator,” I mouthed again, but my mind was unconvinced.

August 6th was the day Amanda was released from the hospital. It was 2 days later. According to the doctors, a lot of venom had made its way in, but because we reached the hospital in such a short amount of time and because they had anti-venom on the ready, she was able to recover quite quickly.

In all that time, minus a couple of food breaks and calls to her parents, her sister and my clients, I barely ever left her side.

The fear of returning to our house had bottled up in me and was forgotten, until release day. Then the realization started to hit that we were returning home – and with home came all the elements of that night, the rotting stench, the sudden power outage, the voice, the car alarm suddenly going off. That familiar sense of unknowing filled me.

I had asked police to check our home, search the premises, but they returned with nothing. “Keep your doors and windows locked; we’re just a phone call away,” They said. Reassuring words, but I had hoped that it wouldn’t come to that. On the drive home I even contemplated buying a handgun.

Amanda would still need some time to fully, properly heal, but for the most part she was home-ready and could do all the recovering she needed to do at home.

“Honey,” She said as we approached the entrance to our community. “I don’t want to sleep in our bedroom. I hope you know that.”

“Manda,” I looked at her seriously. “We can’t let fear run our lives. Besides,” I reasoned. “I’ve already made calls to Animal Control. They’re coming by in an hour or so.”

Amanda shook her head. “That’s not what I mean. It’s not the snake. It’s the window screen.”

The word sent shock waves up my arms. “Well then I’ll fix it.”

“Just take the whole thing off.”

I looked back at her. We were approaching the driveway now. The place was very different from how we left it. In the daylight it looked warm, friendly and inviting.

“I think I’ll make some calls,” She said decisively. “Hey, have you ever tried using a medium? One of those people who can communicate with the dead?”

I didn’t want to get into this argument with her, so I made my last point very final and clear, “We don’t need any damn medium.”

Amanda insisted she needed just the one crutch, but the hospital had of course given her two. She strode towards the front door, a little limp in her walk but as I watched her I could see – the doctors did a fine job. She really had recovered. Maybe now, in light of those hospital bills, we could just put this whole mess behind us and move forward with our lives.

I would have no fear. As I opened the door to that familiar hallway, nothing putrid, rank or foul met us. It was the cleanest, freshest smell, the smell we’d grown so used to and that felt so warm to us.

Enveloped in this new assurance, I head towards the master bedroom, prepared to see a torn screen, maybe even feel a sense of security in seeing it again. But staring me back in the face when I entered was a perfectly flawless screen. No rips, no tears, not even a blemish.

Amanda cautiously followed in after me, and a loud gasp followed that. She pointed, her eyes and mouth quivering at an enormous speed.

I finished her thought for her, “Yeah, it’s fixed.”

I gently escorted her out. I knew she didn’t want to be in there, and I hadn’t any explanation nor a tape to serve as proof of anything. “Just forget it,” I told her. “Screen’s fixed so that means it’s over.”

She turned to me abruptly, “And you’re not gonna question how the screen got fixed so conveniently while we were gone?!”

“Who cares.” I brushed the point off. I was sick of this crap and I just wanted to move forward.

“Seriously!” She called after me, still pointing to the master bedroom. “You’re not even gonna examine this?! Honey! This is—this is not normal. Screens don’t just fix themselves. Are you gonna tell me the police did this? That they conveniently fixed our screen from the kindness of their hearts?”

I flung a hand into the air, my way of saying “forget it, move on.”

She called after me repeatedly but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. The past is in the past. What’s done is done. Yes I was curious and sure, I didn’t know how the screen got fixed. But was I going to dwell on this more? No! And I hoped she wouldn’t either.

But… She did. We did.

One day later, on August 7th she discovered it.

I use one of the spare rooms as a home office, but I rarely open the blinds. I keep them about half-way open. Our short-lived attempt at moving on with our lives was just that – short-lived.

She came into my office one day and while examining a bill with me noted the half lit visibility of the room, “You know it’s a little dim. Let me open up the blinds.”

With no objection from me, she opened the blinds all the way and noticed it – something that looked like tears in the screen behind the blinds. “Was the screen here always ripped?”

“Oh no,” I stated. “Is it ripped?”

She pulled the blinds up so we could get a good look at it.

My heart stopped in my chest. It was daylight yes, but I could see it. Amanda could see it too. The same tears, the same rips, the same variation and placement of the previous rips.

“But I never open the window,” I told her. “I never… You don’t think I…”

“Did this?” She pointed. “No…”

We were a little spooked, especially after everything that had happened. But since it was daytime, we didn’t feel the high intense amount of fear we did the previous times with the master bedroom. Each time we had discovered those rips it had been at night.

“Still,” She continued. “Do you think you could fix it? I mean I know you don’t use it often enough, you keeping the window shut all the time. But…” She approached the screen, then hesitated. “I wonder.”

“What?” I guessed she wanted to bait whatever had caused the previous rips. “That if I fix these tears, they’ll rip up again on their own?”

“I’m just thinking…” She murmured.

“Amanda,” I said seriously. “I don’t want to play ghost hunter. The rips are there. Let’s just leave it at that.”

“But don’t you want to see—“

“No I don’t,” I interrupted sharply. I never told her about what happened the night she got bit. I never told her about the putrid smell, the lights flickering off, the car alarm, the voice. I never told her any of these things and I didn’t want to. She would take it and run, conjure up an even deeper ghost story than the one she probably already had brewing in her mind.

I just wanted to move on.

At around 9 pm, I was still in my office, catching up on work. Two days is significant, the fact that it leaves a lot of backed up assignments on the table is an understatement. I’d be working well into the night I assumed.

“Vagoyaveech.”

Startled, I turned in the direction of the voice. It had been harsh. It had been close. It was so close to my ear that it felt as if someone had whispered right into the eardrum. Alarmed, I stood up. It was an enclosed space with barely a closet. I knew, logically, right then in that moment, no one was in there with me. So, was I just… going crazy? Why did I keep hearing this voice? And why this sound? This language that I didn’t recognize?

My nostrils flared. The remnants of a stench. I recognized the smell. The same, rotten, horrible smell from three days ago.

“Amanda!” I called.

She followed my voice towards the office. “Ugh,” She voiced her disgust immediately, holding an elbow up to her nose. “What’s that awful smell?!”

I shook my head helplessly. “I don’t know.”

She recoiled back further. “Oh my god, it’s awful. Is it the garbage?”

I searched around the office for any clue of where the smell was coming from. “Get some of that air freshener stuff.”

Was there a dead animal outside? And that’s what’s causing the smell? But Animal Control had cleaned up our yard good. They removed two snakes. They checked thoroughly for any remains of anything else, so… it just didn’t make any sense that it could be a dead animal. I mean, this was a new property for pete’s sake.

I could hear Amanda spraying the air freshener everywhere, but it just wasn’t doing any good.

I started to thoroughly check the house from room to room, thinking, trying to identify the culprit. The window screen gets ripped, then this happens.

A piercing, drawn out scream interrupted my thoughts.

I rushed to Amanda as she rushed towards me, panicked and upset. “What is it!? What’s wrong?”

“Go check the bathroom!”

I could feel the odor pulsating as I approached the open bathroom door, and lord was I shocked. Mold. Mold everywhere. Black mold forming around the outer edges of the tile along the bathroom wall, inside the shower, at every corner of the room. It was like our bathroom hadn’t been touched in decades.

“How the hell did this happen….” I stated in disbelief. It wasn’t like this at all two hours ago. I had just used it. And in that time, years of mold just appeared?

At the far end of the hallway Amanda stood, awkwardly hiding her healing foot behind her good foot. “Let’s go. Let’s get out of this house. Just for tonight.”

“No!” I stated.

“But honey,” She stated again, tears in her eyes. “You know something’s wrong with this house.”

I did know that. I couldn’t explain the window screen. I couldn’t explain this mold and I couldn’t explain a number of other things that had happened. But I also couldn’t let whatever this thing was win.

“We’ll sleep through tonight,” I told her gently. “We’ll get the bathroom taken care of, and then you can call… That.” I didn’t want to say it, but I knew we needed one. “That medium or whatever.”

I kept my eye locked on the bathroom door as I closed it. Black, deadly mold. And it was everywhere.

The next morning, August 8th, I felt a tight sensation in my chest as I woke up. My lungs. It felt as if they had caved in on me. My breath came out in sharp raspy tones, like after water goes down the wrong pipe. “Amanda,” I called in between great big gasps of air.

She rustled and turned towards me. “Hm?” Her eyes opened wider and she sat straight. “You’re sweating! You’re all pale oh my god.”

I couldn’t react much as far as say her name again. My glands felt puffed up and heavy. I needed oxygen. “Hos…” I breathed in a gap of air. “Pital.” I said it again, pushing the words out against collapsing pieces of air. “Hospital.”

The fear of what was happening to me spread, as Amanda limped towards the phone. “I’m calling 911 okay?! I’m calling them!”

I focused on the little air that was seeping in me. Breathe, I thought to myself. I would have to conserve air. My lungs were failing. I could feel it. Every gasp of air was like sharp needles, clusters of needles, attacking my lungs. It was horrifying, what was happening to me, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

I could hear her curse loudly in the background, but my lungs were preventing me from catching any of the stimuli of the outside world. All I could think was to take each breath at a time. Any moment I could black out and it would be over.

She came back into the room, and spoke to me, but I couldn’t catch what she said. It was all gibberish now. Everything in the room was blending and blurring together, including her.

I think she snapped at me, and screamed a warning at me to stay with her. But I was fading. The world around me was darkening. My brain was being depleted of oxygen and so to was my consciousness.

I just kept on puffing out sharp breaths of air in an effort to stay linked with the world.

Amanda left my side again in a huge hurry. A voice, distant, shouted back to me. I kept my concentration on the ceiling. I just had to stay linked with it, not let it fade out of view. Stay alert. Stay breathing. Don’t slip away, I thought. These were all the thoughts I had room for.

It was a struggle, fighting against my drooping eyelids, fighting for those breaths of air, each inhale stabbing at my insides. Any moment now I would go.

More snapping, fingers, not Amanda’s. A multitude of strange, distorted faces crowded around me. I could hear the echoes of their voices bouncing from one figure to the next. I felt the ceiling move closer to me then slip away as other scenes of other tints of color flipped past and behind me.

Something fastened it’s self on my face and I felt my brain flicker with some sort of gust of energy, then fade. My eyelids were heavy. The world was becoming dark. Figures. Hands all around me. Can’t hang on.

I awoke roughly two hours later in a hospital bed.

My chest felt like ice, but at least I was breathing. I had needed some suctioning to drain out the excess air. “Pneumothorax,” the doctor explained, and I had been attacked by a small hamburger-sized bite of it.

“Small?” I scoffed. “Didn’t feel that way.”

“Try not to talk so much,” The doctor warned. Boy was he was right. Talking hurt. In fact, everything hurt. He explained that things will hurt for the next few days as I recover, but he was hopeful I would be out quickly. “After all,” He told me, “It wasn’t a major collapse. More like a light graze.” I wasn’t sure if he was telling me that because it was true or just a nice, calming “doctor” thing to say.

Amanda was by my bedside. I could feel her squeeze my hand. “You made it back to me.”

“Yeah…” I replied drowsily. “I did.”

I didn’t think too much about why it happened. Mostly I just focused on the recovery part. Amanda was with me most of the time. The day before my release she was out and when she came back, she had a strange little smile on her face.

I had watched enough episodes of The People’s Court and I don’t even like Mad About You but I watched it, so when she entered my room, my heart soared the way it did when I proposed and she’d said “yes.”

She sat down by my bedside and put a hand over mine.

She stated sweetly, “I think we’re ready to go home.”

“Good,” I nodded with relief. “I’ve had enough TV for one lifetime.”

She laughed. It was odd. It had been awhile since I’d heard her laugh. Since either one of us had laughed. Finally she just rested her eyes on me, a pretty smile playing on her lips.

I was curious. “You seem happy. We’re finally getting out of this hamster cage?”

She shook her head still smiling. It was a huge comfort to me. I had pretty much recovered. Breathing had normalized and I knew we’d be going home tomorrow. But something about her smile in that moment. Fresh Prince in the background. The hospital room glowing just a little bit warmer than usual. Something in that smile, in that moment I guess, was very comforting.

I was released the next day. It was noon, August 12th, just about four days later. Release papers signed. Amanda’s foot more or less healed so she drove us home.

Everything was a bit brighter, a bit gentler, and even the fear of going back to the house seemed to pale in comparison with the beauty of the world. When you’re in a hospital for a few days, everything looks greener once you get out. Even that crappy 7-11, the one on Military Trail that no one goes into looked brighter.

As we approached our community, I felt my throat lock up.

“I have to tell you something, “ Amanda told me. The way she said it, I could sense that some kind of big revelation was hiding underneath those words. “I called a medium the day after I came back from the hospital, the day before you went in.”

I stared and didn’t say anything.

“Well she came,” Amanda continued. “And she explained a lot of things.” She took a breath as we approached the house. “Now, I know how it’s all going to sound. But have an open mind about it.”

At this point, considering that the very air that I breathe had nearly been taken from me, I was willing to go on a little faith.

The medium had come two days ago. The tears and rips in the screens had mysteriously vanished and there was no mold in the bathroom, neither was there any stench in the air, but according to Amanda’s story, the medium had felt the lingering remains of a presence, but she needed to do some further research to find out if this presence was harmless, malevolent and if so, would it return.

“She called back last evening – that’s before I saw you,” Amanda recalled. “And it turns out, the developers hid a very compromising fact about the land our community is built on.”

According to the medium’s research, our community had been built over a site that had previously served as a Seminole burial ground.

“That means hundreds of Seminole Indians are collecting dust beneath our feet?” The thought gave me shudders.

“Listen!” Amanda continued. “It was really important land, to a lot of people of Seminole descent. They refused to let anyone desecrate the land so there were daily protests. This was years back when the land was still undeveloped. The point is, one Seminole woman led an annual ritual there, and as she was leading people to the spot, she fell into an unmarked pit. This is the only documented death that took place on the grounds our house is built on in the past fifty years. She suspects that… maybe the haunting was temporary, a chance to lash out against oppression. Against us, descendants of white men.”

I was taking all this with faith, and a grain of salt. “So wait, you’re saying that the snake bite on your foot… and my collapsed lung… all this stuff, has been about revenge?”

Amanda shrugged, nodding a little. “Eh, it makes sense to me. I mean it happened to me. Can’t be coincidence that it happened to you too.”

“I just want to know that it’s over,” I looked at our house wearily. “Otherwise we’re definitely going to have to move.”

“It’s over,” Amanda stated firmly, her voice held some assurance. “We’re not going to be bothered by anyone, ghost, spectre; we’re not going to be bothered again.”

I gave her a look. “How can you be sure?”

“Because the medium sensed it – that all the lingering evil intentions are gone.”

All we could do was hope. At this point, a normal life couldn’t come soon enough. The practicality, the realistic possibility that we would have to move was sitting in my mind like an unopened notice. The option was on the table now. Just the fact that it was even on the table…

I thought deeply about the theory. A woman. An angry, bitter woman. Bitter that the land had been developed against her will. Bitter that white feet trampled over sacred Seminole grounds. So she lashed out, as a snake against a foot, or as the trigger to a lung collapse, as mold against a shiny bathroom sink, or the foul odor of a rotting corpse filling the hallway.

That theory nestled and buried itself deep in my mind.

The next few weeks went by without incident. It was tough to climb back up after everything that had happened, but somehow Amanda and I made it out of that hole. We were finally at a point where we could put all the terrible events that had plagued our first two months here – our lives had regained a semblance of normality again.

Weeks turned into months. We didn’t look back. We kept moving forward.

It must have been February when I was browsing a Walden Books and came across a few books on Seminole Indians. I didn’t buy any, but that long dormant curiosity was surfacing. That theory had never left my mind. Was buried yes, buried deep in cross chambers of my memory that I didn’t want to reopen. Yet I think in all that time since the incidents, I never answered some of the burning questions that lay deep in my memory.

After that visit to Walden Books, I returned home, keen on contacting someone. Who, I didn’t know, but the web might. Yes, we finally got our PC hooked up to the web. Moving forward!

About fifteen minutes later, I found who I was looking for and rang them up.

They came by the house three days later, while Amanda was at work.

“Are you John?” They asked.

“Yeah that’s me, come on in. Make yourselves at home.”

My invited guests were two men of Seminole descent, one in his early fifties and the other, much younger, probably in his twenties.

The older one started talking first, “I’m Steve. This is Jason. Good of you to call us when you did.” His eyes crinkled as his belly shook with laughter. “I want to hear the whole story. I mean the whole story!”

“Yeah it’s quite a story. Can I get you anything?”

The younger one, Jason, spoke up, “Coffee?”

“Got it, one for you too Steve?”

Steve was a big guy with a bear-like stance when he walked, “Better make mine decaf.”

Steve and Jason were both with the Seminole Tribe of Florida organization. They agreed to meet after I had indulged a little bit about what had went down in those late summer months. Now I was filling in the details. They were intrigued.

“And anyways,” I continued from the ending of my story. “It seems like it’s over now… But, I feel guilty. If we’re here… sitting on a Seminole burial ground, and she died in such circumstances, just because she wanted to keep traditions going. I mean…” I swallowed. I hadn’t mentioned it much to anyone. It was a thought that sat in my mind, alone, for only me to grapple with. “The tears and cuts and rips in the screen, they resembled a woman – eyes closed, fingers digging into the screen.”

Steve looked at me strangely. “Window screen ghosts,” He whispered.

I stared up at him, startled. A smile crept up at the corners of his mouth and he broke into wide laughter, “Now listen John. If I were you, I would just put it behind me. And you have. But you got to really mean it. To put this stuff behind you, you got to let it go. Now if I recall, the lady in question, whose name is Urma, she’s done her part here on Earth and now she’s continuing on her journey. Her possessions, buried with her. That’s our custom.”

Jason spoke up then, “But I’m not sure if she even intended to hurt you. That’s not our way… I think she was communicating something with you. A warning, perhaps, a chance maybe? I mean after all, isn’t it the moments where we think we might lose each other that bring us closer together?”

Jason had a point. If anything had come out of all this, it’s that Amanda and I care for each other more deeply than ever, and the preciousness of our lives feels more real and valuable to us than it has ever felt before. A faint smile found its way to my lips, a warm, burning feeling that speckled and flickered along the lines of my mouth and faded as quickly as it had come. Suddenly, and perhaps for the very first time ever since the incidents, I really felt at peace.

“Just one question,” I remembered now. The thing that was nagging at my mind. “I kept hearing the word ‘Vagoyaveech.’ Does that mean anything to you?”

Jason and Steve looked at each other and then Steve spoke. “Well, yes it does.” He laughed. “Even with your mangled pronunciation.”

I leaned forward. “What’s it mean?”

“Vhoyvkets. It means… ‘Let’s go.’”

Credit: saucerhands

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The Orchard Of Despair

March 14, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The Orchard Of Despair

This is an audio pasta. If the embed is not loading for you, please click the link above to go directly to the video’s YouTube page and try listening to it there.

Credit: Morgan M

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The Great Escape

March 13, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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A dim light glowed along the cracks of the door, “Where am I? How did I get here?” the words did not escape my lips but lay trapped in my throat, rumbling along my vocal chords and spilling out in a dull moan. “Am I to remain trapped here?” I outstretched my arms, groping blindly in the darkness, running my hands along the walls, feeling for a way out. I let my hands glide along like sandpaper, sending a flesh-turning sound echoing throughout my prison. Stepping forward from the wall I immediately walked into a large wooden door and collided with a thud. I stumbled back and falling to the ground, sending the carelessly strewn objects on the floor to the edges of my small confinement.

With so much fear resting below the surface of my consciousness, I sat in the dark and contemplated my means for escape. In the silent darkness, thoughts swirled around my head; as they began to come together, neatly forming a brilliant plan, my concentration was shattered. A soft sobbing penetrated the walls of my jail, consistent moans of sorrow broken only by brief gasps for breath. The sound broke my heart but gave me hope of freedom. “Help me, I’m trapped in here and I don’t know how I got here but please help” I called out loudly, again my words twisted and contorted as they escaped my lungs leaving me with a sharp indecipherable shriek. In frustration I slammed my fists against the ground, shaking the door on its hinges. The crying on the other side of the door stopped and was replaced with deafening silence, not so much as a fresh breath broke the air.

Standing to my feet I again groped the air, finding the door again. “This is the only way out” I muttered and again my voice betrayed thoughts, emanating a long low moan. Grasping the handle I shook it violently, threatening to break it from the door itself. A loud scream was heard from the other side and I immediately let go, falling to the back wall and listening carefully. Within moments a booming roar bellowed from the other side, it sounded hurt and angry. The screaming continued again and the roar responded once more, growing louder before silencing. It’s tone grew softer, creeping closer to my small room. I listened carefully as each step of this beast drew near. The doorknob began to turn and I rapidly grasped at the objects littering the floor, throwing them over myself in an attempt to hide, peering out with but one eye. The door opened and I glanced up, making certain I remained completely still. I saw the beast that had made such fearsome noises and it sent my skin crawling. The beast was round of head but had flaps of flesh dangling from the side of its face. Its eyes were small and beady and it had a beak that protruded from its head only but a short distance. I could see tendrils gripping the handle of the door and wrapping around the side of the doorway as it searched the room with eyes alone. Turning its head it barked at the whimpering spawn behind it and soon the crying ceased. Slamming the door shut once more the beast stomped away and I was left alone, knowing only the taunting pleasures of the freedom that lay so close, yet so far away.

I understood now that I could not alert the young beast, and that if the large one returned, it would tear apart this cell in search of me. I placed my ear against the door and listened intently. I thought I heard crude beastly whispers, but nothing like the behemoth that nearly found me; it was now or never, if I could make it past the little one I would be free. I felt a breeze of wind as a window cracked open. I slammed my shoulder into the door once, twice, three times and tore through. The door fell to the side and the little one shrieked again, alerting the alpha. Quickly I darted around in search of the window, until there at last I saw the beauty of a full moon and my path to salvation. As I made my way for the open window I was stopped dead in my tracks by a second creature, as small as the other. They both screamed, their long limbs and tendrils flailing wildly in the air. I reached down and grabbed a sharp object, lunging it into the beasts chest before leaping out and escaping into the forest.

As the man burst into the room, he saw his son crying on the bed and the friend who spent the night lying on the floor in a pool of blood with scissors in his chest, “What happened?” he shouted.

“I told you there was a monster in my closet!” The boy screamed back between sobs.

Credit: Irrelevant

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The Great Occam Cobb

March 12, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Chapter 1

Jonathan was fascinated by magic.

For as long as he could recall, it was something that undoubtedly enthralled him. Perhaps it was that the enigmatic nature that drew him towards it. He remembered witnessing his first act of wonder on the street, when an old man had a random woman select a card from a deck.

He could still recollect the old man’s appearance. He had pale skin veneered with a river of frozen ripples across his face. His cheeks sagged to his chin as if pocketing small bundles of change. His eyebrows were white and bushy, veiling his eyes while complimenting his dense mustache.

He wore a classy suit, featuring a tasteful vest beneath. A golden chain looped precariously from his vest, disappearing behind the flap of his jacket. A top hat sat idle on his head adding to his already towering height.

The woman appeared rather extravagant herself, donning a quite lavishing red dress with a brown fur coat, her brunette hair resting comfortably upon the fleecy collar. Even in the heels she sported, she barely measured up to the old man’s chest.

He had her gaze upon the card before returning it to its home in the deck, shuffling them while he entertained the audience with an array of phrases, gaining their laughter in return.

After the cards had received enough attention, he fanned them out in a smooth and yet swift motion. Every card held their red backsides to the audience, all but one. In the heart of the arched row of cards poked the white tip of one rebellious card. At that moment there, everyone including Jonathan had begun to gasp. The old man asked the woman to retrieve the card.

As she did, he inquired if that was the card she had selected, and regardless, right or wrong, he would later tell her something about the card she was removing. The woman procured the card, staring at it before slowly shaking her head in discontent. Jonathan remembered how he felt at that moment, almost feeling sorry for the old man, and holding his head down in dismay.

However, the old man wasn’t finished. He simply shrugged his shoulders feebly before asking the woman why she had taken two cards from him. Confused, the woman argued back that she hadn’t. Yet, the old man pressed on, ensuring that she in fact had taken two cards and that one was in her coat pocket. She was hesitant, but slowly she placed her hand in her pocket and immediately her eyes lit up.

Jonathan’s lit up as well unable to gauge at the possibility of the old man’s act. The woman removed her hand from her coat pocket and to everyone’s amazement, a card was in it. The old man once again asked her if the card she now held, the two of diamonds was the card she had selected. With quivering hands, she was speechless, simply nodding, producing an extended smile and showcasing everyone the card.

Everyone around applauded, but the old man held up his hands to gesture silence. He notified everyone that he had vowed to inform the woman something about the first card she had selected. He asked her if the first card had been her original choice before selecting the second one. She was speechless again, holding one hand to her mouth. After a few seconds, she claimed that it was, but that it was something she had decided in her thoughts.

It was at that moment, the crowd burst into a thunderous applause, even louder than before. The old man’s lips curled into a satisfied smiled, and he issued a long leisure bow.

After that day, Jonathan was forever instilled with captivation. From then on, he recognized that a Magician is what he wanted to become.

Jonathan had witnessed that act three years ago when he was eight years old. From that moment on, card tricks were the tool he toiled with, anxious to create a routine of his own that would have crowds applauding in amazement.

Of course this was all a pipedream, if anything. He lived with his mother in a rather rundown part of the city. His father had passed some years ago when he was too young to remember. His mother had claimed that he died from stress, of working so hard at the shoe factory, barely keeping their heads above water to make ends meet. They were just shy from being dirt poor, and with his father gone, the weight of that burden now resided on his mother who worked long hour shifts.

Jonathan tried to pull his own weight to assist his mother, functioning as a paper route boy. Every morning, well beyond even the slightest glimmer of light, he would wake to meet his boss, Mr. Garrett at a stand down the corner. Mr. Garrett who was a rather impatient pudgy fellow was reluctant to hire the boy at first, but caved after Jonathan proved his worth by working the first few shifts free of charge. Jonathan was hard-working at his job, often finishing earlier than Mr. Garrett’s past employees that he barely had anything to say against him.

So when Jonathan went on again about the headline on the papers about “the Great Occam Cobb,” he indulged the boy.

“Mr. Garrett, it’s him again!” he exclaimed excitedly.

Mr. Garrett was lazily fanning through one of the papers. He was an objectively large man and always seemed to have a frown pressed across his lips. One of his hefty fingers rubbed his brow, after correcting the cabbie hat on his head. Afterwards, he lugged his attention from the paper he was reading.

“What’s that?” he asked in a monotone voice.

“It’s him, the Great Occam Cobb!” Jonathan answered, giving the name his best announcer voice.

Mr. Garrett sniffed briskly, before returning his attention to the paper. “Oh that coot, huh? Is he still at it?” he asked dryly.

“At it?! He’s the greatest Magician in the world and it says he’ll be performing here all week starting next week!”

Mr. Garrett was silent, turning the pages nonchalantly. “Mr. Garrett, did you hear what I said?! He’s coming here!” Jonathan repeated in a voice even more excited than before.

The elevation in his voice seemed to startle Mr. Garrett as if pulling him out of a trance. “That’s great, kid,” he said without looking up, the top of his hat bobbed from nodding.

“It’s fantastic!” Jonathan replied, staring wide-eyed at the black and white photo depicting a man. It was a rather young man with black hair combed and greased to the side. He wore a nice suit similar to that of the old man years ago. One hand rested just under his chin with fingers curling around it while an eyebrow was raised. His other hand poked from under his arm clamped tight to a wand. His entire expression seemed as though he was peering deep into Jonathan’s eyes, almost inquiring him if what he would see was genuine magic or deception.

Occam Cobb was Jonathan’s favorite Magician or maybe idol was a better word for it. Although, he had never attended a show of the man, the rumors of his talents and reputation were enough to fuel his imagination of what the man could do. He heard nothing less than: “Occam Cobb was a true Magician of the Ages” or “Occam defies Laws of Physics” or his favorite, “The Great Occam has surpassed all his predecessors, creating a new genre of Magic.” Of course, these were all headlines on the newspapers, but even the words from people were no different.

Alas, Occam Cobb was coming to his city to perform. The thought alone set a spark of vigor through Jonathan’s body. He immediately dug in his pocket to pull out a beaten set of playing cards. He was able to purchase them after saving up enough. At the time, he was uncertain to buy them, but his mother insisted that he could, since all he talked about was magic. She said it was okay and that it would be his early birthday present for that year.

“Alright, Mr. Garrett, can you pick a card, please?” he asked, holding up the fanned out deck.

Mr. Garrett sighed behind the paper, before dropping it and sluggishly grabbing a card. He quickly peered at the card barely looking at the face before putting it back in. Jonathan smiled devilishly while shuffling the cards, attempting to once again give his best announcing voice.

“So you picked ‘that’ card, huh? You think ‘that’ suit is the one to do it? It’s possible I might never find it, but you can’t resist the image of the card in your mind, can you?”

When he was finished shuffling, he put his finger on the top of the deck.

“The card on the top will be the one you pick!” he exclaimed. “Are you ready?”

Mr. Garett had a glazed look in his eyes, issuing another brisk sniff. With the awkward silence, Jonathan continued.

“Okay! Is this your card?!” he said, lifting the card, revealing it to him. The card revealed a three of spades.

Mr. Garrett nodded with an unfazed face. “Yeah that’s it. Good job, kid,” he said, returning to his paper. “You’re all done for the day, right? You can go home then, see you bright and early tomorrow.”

Jonathan barely heard his words, having returned his attention to the picture in the paper. He smiled to himself admiring the photo. He knew Mr. Garrett had seen the trick a million times. He needed to make a new trick though, one that would surely blow the minds of everyone away. Better yet, if he could meet Occam Cobb, even if just for a second, he could show him his trick, and maybe it would be enough to amaze even the greatest Magician.

Chapter 2

Occam Cobb would arrive in a week which meant Jonathan had to create and perfect his trick in that allotted timeframe. All throughout the next few days, he found himself contemplating on the trick, on what to do and how to do it. He began multitasking, pondering while working, while on breaks and even before sleeping at night. With the arrival of the Magician drawing closing, Jonathan began to worry he wouldn’t be able to come up with a clever enough trick.

However, two days before the inevitable day, a new trick had donned on him. Throughout those final two days, he practiced the trick intricately, even threatening to be late on a few deliveries. He became more and more obsessed to perfect it, making sure to pay attention to all the details until at last the week at hand had arrived.

That day, Jonathan had never felt such a surge of anxiety and apprehension. He found himself stuttering a few times when talking to a few fellow customers, even with Mr. Garett.

“You alright, kid?” he asked later that day. “You were a little skittish today.”

For some reason, he had lost his voice at the point. He simply nodded a little. Mr. Garrett gave him a puzzled look, but gazed at the headline of one of the papers stating: “See the Great Occam Cobb Tonight!”

“Ah, you’re nervous about that Cobb fellow. It really means that much to you, doesn’t it?” he said, giving off the first smile Jonathan had ever seen. “Tell you what, you can get off early today.”

Jonathan’s eyes lit up. “Really?”

“Yeah go on, get outta here,” Mr. Garrett replied.

With that, Jonathan took off, racing home, never stopping once until he arrived. He came across his mother who happened to be on her way out.

She was a frail looking woman with a face stained with light wrinkles, mingling of stress and exhaustion. She stood with a slight hunch, more than likely a result from preserving the posture at the sewing factory. A few strands had managed to escape her poorly sustained bun falling across her weary eyes. They widened when they recognized the boy running up to her.

“Jonathan!” she exclaimed, while he greeted her with a hug. “What are you doing home so early?”

“Mother?! You-wouldn’t-believe-it…” he said excitedly, half out of breath. Occam-Cobb-is-here-tonight-performing!”

She shook her head in complete confusion, holding up a hand to her head. “Slow down, child. Catch your breath first.”

He smiled, pausing for a second before attempting to repeat the news. “Occam Cobb, mother! He’s here tonight performing!”

She closed her eyes rendering a soft sigh of relief before giving a sheepish smile. “That’s wonderful, Jonathan. I thought something terrible happened.”

“No, it’s greatest thing ever!”

“Well that’s good. Why don’t you head inside? I started to warm up some soup for dinner. I’ve got to head in for my next shift,” she said, starting to leave.

“Well mother, I was wondering… if it was maybe possible for me to go?” he brought up.

His mother halted, giving off another long sigh. “Jonathan, we’ve talked about this before. I don’t mind when you play with your cards or tricks as long as it does not interfere with what’s important,” she said, looking him deep in his eyes. “What’s important right now is our home and the money we get to keep it. We can’t just throw what little we have on just anything, especially not just to watch another person. Our priority is for the things that can keep us alive. You understand that, don’t you?”

Jonathan felt his heart grow heavy. His eyes fell to the ground slowly.

“You understand?”

He sighed, nodding. “Yes, I understand, mother.”

“Good. One day, you will get over all this magic and you’ll look back at this moment and realize that this was the right decision,” she said, issuing a light kiss on his forehead. Afterwards, she parted ways disappearing down the street.

Jonathan felt his eyes grow watery, a few tears escaped, rolling down his cheek. He quickly rubbed them away. His appetite had diminished not caring for the meal his mother had prepared for him. Instead, he began walking down the street with his head still lowered. Along the way, he could see a man with a tall pole lighting the candles of street posts. Around him, the skittering of paws could be heard from the stray cats that ran amok. The sky grew cooler and darker, the street lights becoming his only guide in the darkness.

In the distance, he could see another set of lights brighter than the area around. Upon inspecting, he could tell it was coming from the city’s Grand Theatre where Occam Cobb would perform. He made his way towards the building, observing the crowd of people flooding slowly inward. “Witness the Great Occam Cobb” was spread in large letters across a long banner hanging in the front.

The people were all dressed lavishly with men in noteworthy suits, some with comparable top hats, even a few with canes. The women wrapped along their arms were ones to gleam as well. They glowed with gorgeous dresses, coats of the most extravagant fur, and jewelry that pirouetted at every movement in the light.

They muttered among themselves while the line traversed forward to a man at the door accepting their tickets. The people were about to witness the performance of a lifetime, he thought to himself. Unfortunately for him, he was left to simply speculate on what marvels he would be missing out on. After a several more minutes, the crowds had subsided, completely contained within the wide structure. The air around had reverted back to its ensnaring stillness.

Chapter 3

Jonathan sat across the building with his knees to his chest, resting his head atop. He listened as an orchestra could be heard blaring their instruments from inside followed by a thunderous applause. For every long pause of silence, the orchestra would intervene followed by another round of clapping. He was ready to return home until he was startled by a man exiting the side of the building. He was carrying a box and tossed it to the side before reentering.

Jonathan bit his lip, thinking for a second. This was his chance and it might be his only. He nodded his head and quickly made his way to the door. After waiting a few seconds, he attempted to turn the knob; it twisted open without effort. He carefully glanced around before entering, shutting the door behind him.

Inside, he found himself to be in a poorly lit storage room. Stacks of old wooden crates towered around, some entangled in long dusty cobwebs like fish caught in fishermen nets. The air itself smelled of oil fluid and musty loafs of bread. The amount of dust in the air managed tickled the back of Jonathan’s throat.

He continued through the room, being cautious to not draw attention to his presence. The faint light seeping in the room emanated through the cracks of a set of large wooden double doors. Sneaking to the doors, he placed his ear up against it to listen. He heard a few voices on the other side before they grew faint in the distance.

Carefully, he gave the knob a twist all the while pulling the door open to take a peek inside. Immediately, his face met with a calm airstream, flooding his nose with an aroma that of saccharine honey and garden-fresh flowers.

His eyes regarded a massive candle lit hallway decorated with walls of gold and white. Golden columns permeated from the walls, expanding to the ceiling, running along the both sides of the hallway. Exquisite portraits draped the walls amid the spaces of the columns, each depicting a man or woman posing in a manner of prominence. A radiant red carpet accompanied the hallway, gracefully stretching down its wide corridors.

Jonathan’s eyes widened, taking in the glorious sight before him. Never had he had known such a beautiful configuration existed. Another loud applause from further within drew back his attention from the fantasy he was encased. He frantically looked around, attempting to find some manner of entrance that could grant him an audience to the show.

Making his way down the hallway, he came to a large circular room. The room was similar to that of the hallway, containing identical golden columns hugging the wall with more portraits just the same. However, a few sets of furniture were present, including a few chairs and tables that could entertain many people. Another hallway could be seen to right of the room where he heard the applause erupt louder.

Jonathan was ready to head towards it, but began to hear voices from within, approaching his direction. Panicking, he quickly looked around the room to locate a place to conceal his presence. Finding nothing, his heart began to race frantically until he noticed a wooden staircase to the left. Without hesitation, he bolted up the stairs which led to a stiff door. It took several pushes with his shoulder, but he was able to finally budge it a second before the voices arrived in the room below.

The room he had entered appeared to be an attic of the sort, housing similar stacks of crates like below, entangled in cobwebs. A few rats scampered across the floor before disappearing into the darkness. The attic itself was hard to see in with minuscule strands of light escaping the cracks of the floorboard.

While he stood there letting his eyes adjust to the dark, a voice startled him; it sounded muffled but spoke as if addressing many people. It sounded near so he began making his way through the attic. He held his hands up to prevent himself from walking into any of the stacks. Even so, he tripped a few times.

He finally came across a window frame with a set of old curtains drawn across. Behind the curtains, he could hear the applause even louder. His heart began to beat faster with anticipation. He reached for the curtains, pulling them to the side. Immediately, a cloud of dust was released into the air. He coughed a little while fanning the smog of particles away.

When he gazed back at the window, his heart dropped. Below him, he could see countless rows filled with people down in the Theatre. All of them were at the edge of their seat, admiring the prospect before them. Jonathan’s eyes surveyed through the rows, guiding them to where the rows met the stage. Before he could view the man upon it, he heard his voice echo throughout the air.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for being the lovely audience that you have been all night!”

Jonathan’s eyes grew wide while a smile formed into a full blown grin. It was him, the Great Occam Cobb. With all his luck in the world, his eyes were able to gaze upon the greatest Magician of all time, and without a ticket.

The stage was massive with tall velvet curtains to its side, looming to meet the height of the immense ceiling. Occam Cobb himself appeared trivial upon it, but confident with his arms extended out, radiating from the illumination focused on him.

“It is with my greatest pleasure that I introduce to you, the final and most intricate spectacle in my hat to conclude this miraculous evening!” he continued on.

Two women appeared from opposite sides of the stage, each rolling a tall, thin black box that stood vertically. Each box had golden letters engraved upon them, the first saying Witness, while the second, Greatness. They placed the boxes at opposite ends of the stage.

At that moment, the orchestra erupted in a loud ambitious melody.

“Ladies and Gentlemen! What you are about to witness, is an act so simple, so mind blowing that it must be viewed twice to believe it!” the Magician’s voice echoed. “Imagine for a second, the idea of being in two places at once all under a single second, to be in one location and then a next in a blink of an eye!”

The orchestra increased its tempo to further amplify the moment. It was working; Jonathan was leaning closer, eager to see what impossible feat he was describing. Below, the audience could be seen doing the same.

“I am proud to present, the Occam Transporter!”

The audience rendered another loud wave of applause before immediately dying down, eager to hear how the trick would work.

“Behold! Behind me, you see my two lovely assistants have brought forth onto you, two boxes!” he exclaimed, holding up two gloved fingers.

“To your left!” He gestured to the box labeled ‘Witness’. “I will step inside and enclose myself within that box.” He turned his attention to the box on the right. “I will attempt to transport myself from the first box into the next in just one second!”

The crowd began to murmur among themselves in dissatisfaction. He paused, before curling his fingers onto his chin, similar to that of the newspaper photo.

“Hmm… I can tell that some of you have your doubts, in fact, I think some of you think that I, the Great Occam Cobb, can do better! Well you’re right!”

A long chain emerged from the ceiling hovering above the left ‘Witness’ box.

“What if I told you, that I can ante up the stakes and lift the box I will be contained within and drop it?! That’s right Ladies and Gentlemen, I will plummet to my doom, if I cannot indeed transport myself from that container to the next!”

Jonathan bit his lip in discontent, he did not like the sound of this act. The audience seemed to feel the same way, issuing a light clap all the while murmuring among themselves.

“And if that wasn’t enough, the box I will be contained in will be secured with a lock!”

One of his assistants gracefully paraded the lock in the air. At this moment, the audience grew even more rowdy. The Magician extended his arms outward.

“Alas!” he exclaimed and immediately turned around, facing the left box. His smiling assistant opened the door for him. He walked inside the tight box, facing the audience inside. His assistant shut the door. His voice although muffled could still be heard within.

“Now, my lovely assistant will apply the lock to the box!”

At his cue, she applied the large padlock to the box’s door.

“She will now attach the chain to my case!”

Again, she moved on cue, climbing a small ladder brought out. At the top, she attached the chain to the box’s top ring. When she climbed down, she removed the ladder. The chain began to hoist the box high into the air. Everyone at the moment was dead silent, including Jonathan. A series of knocks could be heard coming from within the case.

“I assure everyone that I am still within the box!” a muffled voice yelled out. “Please ensure that you do not pull eyes away, not even for a second or you dare to miss the opportunity to…” he continued before pausing. “Witness…!”

At that last mutter of the word, the chain released, plunging the box swiftly to the ground. Everyone gasped out in fear as it fell, shattering into many pieces. However, the moment the box touched the ground, the door to the second box swung open.

“… Greatness!” the Magician exclaimed, finishing his sentence from before without delay.

It took a second for the audience to register what had happened. Yet when they did, they quickly erupted in a thunderous applause louder than ever conceived that night. Many of them rose to their feet clapping and cheering as they did. Jonathan clapped as well from his position, filled with a mixture of reverence and angst.

He had done it, performed the impossible and amazed with true wonder. The Magician smiled gracefully taking the hand of his assistants, rendering both a light kiss. Afterwards, he issued a bow. The curtains began to gracefully descend, but stopped when he held up a hand.

“Ladies and Gentlemen! I informed you earlier that the trick would happen so quick that you would need to see it twice! So how about it, would you?!”

The applause died with the crowd murmuring among themselves, before sitting down quietly.

“I thought as much! However, I being the Great Occam Cobb couldn’t simply lull you into watching the same trick exactly! Oh no, as always the stakes must be raised! So that’s why I am giving one of ‘you’ the lucky opportunity to be the one transported!” he exclaimed, extending his arms outward again.

A slight delay occurred before the audience issued a light clap, continuing to murmur amongst each other.

“Who dares to leave this world in a second and return in another?!” he asked, pointing his finger among the seating.

One of his assistants rolled another case in, setting it in front of the broken shards of the last box. The new box had the same word ‘Witness’ engraved across it. Again Jonathan bit his lip; what he would do to be part of that act.

“I assure you, Ladies and Gentlemen that the box will not be suspended like the other, so there is no cause for alarm! So who will dare the trip?! Who will venture into the unknown?!”

There was a long pause until a man abruptly stood up from the back. “Yes, sir! We have a beautiful woman back here who would love to volunteer!” he announced.

The woman sitting next to him shook her head in dismay, playfully hitting the man to stop. However, he pressed on jokingly urging her to do so.

“Ah yes, come along milady!” the Magician replied out.

Jonathan could see her crossing her arms in discontent, firmly glaring at the man still standing aside her.

“It looks to me, the lady is shy. Perhaps a round of applause will grant her the courage she needs!” he requested, clapping his hands together.

The audience followed suit applauding. The woman began to blush before finally conceding. She stood up making her way to the stage. The Magician helped her up the small set of stairs, planting a kiss upon her hand once she was safely up.

She was beautiful with short locks of blond hair. Her white dress glimmered in comparison to the jewelry athwart her neck. Her thin figure was very much apparent from the firm press of the dress.

“And what, do I have the pleasure of calling you?” he asked.

“Carol,” she responded, blushing.

“Well, Carol. It is truly a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he said, issuing another small kiss to her hand.

She blushed harder at this notion.

“Now Carol,” he said guiding her over to the first box. “You saw here, how the trick works. I am going to place you into this box, wave my hands and in a mere a second, you will get to experience firsthand the Occam Transporter!” He said, gesturing to the box on the right.

The woman swallowed a little. She spoke rather soft, her voice barely carrying across the stage. “What do I have to do?”

The man smiled, turning his attention to the audience.

“Carol, here asked a very important question. She asked ‘what will she have to do?’ And I tell her as I tell you, nothing! Nothing my dear! All you have to do is enter that box and I will do the rest. Are you ready?”

She swallowed again before giving a light nod with a sheepish smile.

“Okay then!” he responded, guiding her closer to the left box.

The orchestra began playing their aspiring music once again. Once the woman was in front of the door, he opened it and helped her in. Immediately, he shut the door and began knocking against the box with his fist while addressing the audience. This struck Jonathan rather odd; it was possible it was just a coincidence, but the knocks almost sounded identical to the ones earlier. He quickly shook it off though ready to see if the Great Occam could fulfill his promise.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Witness… Greatness!” he yelled, pointing to his assistance to open the other box’s door.

She opened the door and as promised, the woman appeared on the other end. The assistant helped her out of the box and the audience erupted into another thunderous applause. Strangely though, the woman held her hand up to the air as if everything around was too bright. She almost appeared dazed. The Magician walked over to her with a quick pace, taking her hand.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Carol!” he exclaimed.

The audience continued to applaud. He took a bow while still holding her hand. The woman smiled weakly before being guided back down the stairs. Jonathan curiously watched as she continued to appear dazed before finally being guided back to the gentlemen she was seated with. With that, the Magician took one final bow with the echoing of applause still roaring. The curtains made their decent soon after, fully concealing the stage.

The audience below began making their way to the exit of the Theatre. Jonathan leaned back from the window, contemplating the last few moments he has seen; he felt a smile slowly form across his lips.

Chapter 4

After waiting for the lingering crowds to leave, he made his way back down the stairs. In the room below, he ensured no one was around before entering it again.

It was marginally quiet; he could hear some of the voices of the people from outside faintly through the walls. This was his moment, he thought. This was his opportunity to see Occam Cobb. His luck had already presented the rare opportunity of catching the most breath-taking Magic act ever conceived and was sure it hadn’t run out yet.

Jonathan crept down the hallway leading further into the building. The hallway led him to a much larger room almost similar in length but clearly the lobby. At the end, a man was sweeping the floor, guiding the dust towards the set of doors for the entrance of the Theatre. His back was to Jonathan, allowing him to shuffle through the lobby to the hallway parallel.

This new hallway curved around towards the direction of the stage. Coursing through it, he came to a door marked, ‘Backstage.’ After carefully peeking through and finding it safe, he continued through the other side. Behind the door, the path was dark. Only two wall-candles lit the way, the ones next to him and the others at the end.

The hallway was unlike the other ones. In the light, the walls were unadorned, containing many rough cracks in its dry wooden features. The air back here was cool as if the wind from outside was coursing in. Small skittering of feet, suggested the presence of rats. Jonathan sighed softly and began to venture through the corridor. A few times along the way, he felt something brush against his foot.

At the end of the hallway, he came across another door. The candlelight was dim, but its rays managed to illuminate the words across the door just enough. ‘Performers Only’ the sign read. Jonathan pushed open the door. Inside, he found clothing racks with an abundance of outfits hanging from them. A variety of suits hung layered tightly together on several of the racks while a plethora dresses hung from others. The cluster of racks made the room feel almost suffocating.

Moving past them, the room became more open and clear. To the side, he could see a large full-body mirror up against the wall. A thin desk sat next to the mirror sporting a chair set aside as if someone had recently left it. Piles of papers filled the top of the desk along with a very peculiar set of gloves. Jonathan slowly approached the desk, recognizing the gloves.

His fingers grazed across them, feeling the smooth silk of the fabric. Afterwards, he turned his attention back to the room around.

“Hello?” he called out softly. “Mr. Occam Cobb, sir?”

The air was silent as ever. He sighed softly to himself, realizing he had missed his opportunity. He started to make his way back, but stopped when he heard a voice answer him.

“Yes, how can I help you, young man?”

Immediately, he sprung around and to his amazement, there stood the Great Occam himself. He was a much taller man in person with a thin frame. His black silky vest hugged tightly against his body with the sleeves of his white button shirt rolled up to his elbows, his arms crossed. His eyes leered back with a quizzing nature while his sharp chin was raised.

Jonathan noticed how the colors of his eyes differed, one being blue while the other appeared hazel brown. For a second, he was speechless, still surprised at his suddenly appearance and the fact he was viewing the man he held as an idol.

“Well?” Occam continued.

Finally, he managed to find his voice. “Yes sir, I… I just wanted to inform you that… I’m your biggest fan.”

The man was silent before replying, “Is that so. Why are you back here?”

Jonathan grew quiet again, trying to find the right way to answer. After seeing this for a minute, the man’s eyes warmed up; a smile grew across his face.

“Did you see the show?” he asked with a sincerer tone.

“Yes, I did! Well, I saw the last act,” Jonathan replied excitedly.

“And?” The man incited.

“And it was spectacular!” he exclaimed.

The smile grew larger on the man’s face. “Just from your reaction, I can tell you’re quite the magic lover, am I right?”

Jonathan nodded excessively, smiling greater than ever. “More than anything! I want to become a great Magician, just like yourself, sir!”

Occam seemed pleased with this statement, lowering his arms and inviting the boy further in the room. “What’s your name, my boy?”

“It’s Jonathan, sir.”

“Tell me Jonathan, what kind of acts draw your attention the most?” he asked, taking a seat on the chair.

“Well right now, I’ve been using cards for my tricks.”

“Ah, playing cards. Believe it or not, I began my career with playing cards as well. I used to entertain people down there on the streets. It seems like it was only yesterday,” he replied, nodding his head in content. “As you can see, I’ve come a long way from then, and you can too.”

Jonathan’s eyes lit up. “You think so?”

“Of course, lad. Everyone makes their humble beginnings from one walk of light or another. The important thing to remember is to not forget why you love magic. Your love of magic will keep you going even through the times that grow rough, and believe me, there will be some.”

Jonathan nodded, taking in the advice. “Well, sir…I would be lying if I didn’t tell you the real reason why I am here.”

“Oh,” Occam replied, “and what is that?”

“Well, I wanted to show you a trick of my own, if that is okay with you?”

The light in his off-colored eyes seem to grow brighter at the request. He returned another warm smile before crossing his legs and laying his chin in his hand.

“I would be delighted.”

Excited, Jonathan pulled out the deck of cards from his pocket. Occam stared with distaste when he caught sight of the worn out appearance of the cards.

“I can tell you’ve been hard at work. However, those cards most certainly will not do,” he scoffed.

He pulled out a box cards from his pocket and held them out for the boy. Jonathan simply looked at the box, depicting the image Occam on the front, and then back at the man with uncertainty.

“Please take them. You can use them when become the next great Magician. A great Magician always performs with his best.”

Jonathan smiled, gratefully taking them. Occam took his beaten deck and placed it on the desk behind him. Jonathan removed the cards from the box. The fresh scent of the cards filled his nose, an aroma he hadn’t experienced in a long time. He carefully stuffed the box in his pocket as to not damage it, and began shuffling the deck.

He was nervous, feeling his heart heatedly pound against his chest. He glanced at the Magician ever so often while shuffling the cards; the man was instinctively focused on them. It was clear he was no stranger to hasty deceits the hands could portray with cards, even in the initial shuffle. This notion only further instilled tension in his heart.

After the cards were thoroughly shuffled, he took a deep breath. There was nothing to worry about, he thought. He had practiced for days with little end until his very hands cramped from fatigue. He just had to perform the trick one more time. He held out the deck of cards, still neatly stacked.

“Can you please select the card on the top, sir?” he asked.

The request seemed to puzzle the man. “You want me to select a card now, without fanning them out?”

Jonathan swallowed at this before answering with a slight squeak in his voice, “Yes sir.”

Occam frowned a little before picking up the card to view.

“Do not let me see the card,” Jonathan instructed.

He split the deck in half, holding each part in one hand.

“Okay, if you would sir, place your card back in the deck,” he continued, holding the hand with the lower portion of the deck out.

Immediately, the Magician complied as instructed, setting the card face down. Following the action, Jonathan placed the upper set of cards atop.

“I will now shuffle the cards,” he informed, beginning to mix them.

Without warning, the cards suddenly slipped from his fingers, scattering across the floor below. Jonathan froze, closing his eyes in shame while biting his lip. Occam was unfazed, although his displeased expression had expanded across his face.

“That’s quite alright, accidents happen, my dear boy. The show must continue nonetheless,” he responded.

Jonathan nodded and began picking up the messy array of cards. After a few minutes, he managed to obtain them all, standing up ready to face the Magician again.

“Is it okay, if I start all over?” he inquired.

Occam issued a light head nod, still residing in his previous posture.

“Okay,” Jonathan began. He started to shuffle the cards again. Once the tiresome act was completed, he held out the deck for the man to choose a card for a second time. Conversely, once he reached out a hand to pick a card, Jonathan immediately retracted the deck away.

“Is there something wrong, my boy?” Occam questioned with a baffled look.

“Well, sir. I was going to have you pick a card, but I realized you never returned the first card you selected,” Jonathan brought up.

The man’s brow furrowed heavily as a profound contortion appeared across his lips. “I assure you, my boy, that I did indeed return the card. Perhaps, in your mishap, you did not pick it up. How would you know otherwise?”

“Perhaps you’re right, sir. I guess I must have missed the one under your foot,” Jonathan replied.

The man took a second to gaze down, lifting his foot and to his surprise a card was facedown underneath. He picked up the card, attempting to hand it to the boy until his eyes glanced at the face. His brow lifted and a heartfelt smile cultivated athwart his lips. He produced a warm laugh, almost uncontrollably for what felt like minutes to Jonathan. Unsure, what to do Jonathan simply stood there.

“My boy, that was a very interesting and yet bold act, dare I say, very tricky indeed.”

It was Jonathan’s turn to smile then.

“How did you derive such trick?” he asked, now intrigued.

“Well, when I learned of your coming, I knew I wanted a make a special trick just for you, but I knew it had to be a clever one. However, when I tried to think of one to create, I couldn’t. The trick I presented to you now was like one I saw performed by an old Magician on the streets. His act was similar, but more elaborate. At the time, I didn’t know how he did it, but later, I figured it out.” Jonathan explained. “That act is what drew me into magic in the first place.”

Occam placed his hand on Jonathan’s shoulder, simply amused. “It is moments like those that true magic is realized, to have the idea to instill the equivalent spellbinding moment that was casted upon yourself onto others. Thank you for sharing your act with me, Jonathan.”

“No, thank you, sir,” Jonathan replied, rendering a light bow.

He thanked the man again for his time and began to make his way out.

“How would it sound to learn a new trick or two from me?” Occam called out behind him.

Immediately, Jonathan sprung around. “Learn a new trick, from you, the Great Occam Cobb?”

“That’s right, I can take you under my wing and teach you prevailing tricks to showcase for everyone you know, while I’m still in town, that is. Sadly, I depart at the end of the week, but I am confident that you can master such rudiments in time as you did so in preparation for an audience with me. What do you say?”

Jonathan gave an answer without hesitancy, promptly after the man had asked. “Of course! I would love to! Thank you, sir for the honor!”

With a please looked, Occam beamed. “Excellent, my boy. Simply, make your return every evening as you did so tonight, and I will instruct upon you a new trick for you to rehearse.”

“Yes sir. I won’t let you down!” he replied. His eyes began to look at the ground though. “Yet, how will I get pass the ticket man? To tell the truth, sir, I didn’t exactly walk through the front door to see the show,” he confessed.

The man produced a light chuckle. With the card from earlier still in his hand, he cupped it, before revealing it again; it had changed. “Use this,” he said, handing it to Jonathan.

Jonathan glanced at the object. The card was much larger with a picture of Occam Cobb with his arms stretched out. Above his picture, the words ‘All Access Pass’ stood bolded out.
“Show that to the doorman and he’ll let you in without a fuss. You can even view my show again, all of it this time, from the front row seat.”

Filled with joy beyond measure and without warning, he gave the man an alarming hug of compassion. The notion caught Occam off guard, but he quickly collected himself. After the tenderizing moment, he bid the boy farewell. A few tears had formed in Jonathan’s eyes, but he made sure not to reveal them. He simply made his way out the door with his prized pass in hand and new deck of cards.

Promptly, he halted on the other side. He realized he had forgotten his old deck of cards being caught up in the moment earlier. Sure, he had new cards, but he wanted to only use them when performing in front others like Occam had instructed. He decided that his old cards would be the deck to use while he practiced.

He returned through the door ready to excuse his second intrusion, but was quickly terrified at the action he perceived. Occam Cobb was nowhere to be seen, well almost. The moment he stepped past the clothing racks, he witnessed the back heel of the Magician pull through the mirror on the wall, vanishing on the other side. The mirror’s reflective surface, rippled from the action momentarily prior to settling back into its flat appearance.

Jonathan was star-struck, frozen in terror and astonishment. Rubbing his eyes for a second, he stared at the mirror which simply offered back his reflective confused expression. Had he really seen such an act? Cautiously, he approached the mirror, hesitantly holding out a hand. He flinched for a second when it touched the surface, having expected his hand to pass through, but instead it only met with the hard surface.

Now, he was very confused. It shouldn’t have been that far-fetched. He was in fact dealing with the Great Occam Cobb the greatest Magician, right? Yet, despite trying to convince himself of this ordeal, a deep sensation sat at the bottom of his stomach fabricating an unpleasant vibe.

As if what he had witnessed wasn’t enough, something else threw him off. Emitting from the mirror or at least what he thought was the source was the slightest breeze of cool air. It was as if a window was cracked open or rather it felt more like someone was softly blowing cool air in his face. The breeze felt odd when it met against his skin.

Its chilly winds not only felt icy, but it was accompanied with the slimmest tickle. It felt like someone was softly dragging the tips of their fingers across his cheeks as if carefully caressing his skin. A sharp shiver quickly pulsated through his body. The thought of someone unseen standing before him was quite eerie, but it was impossible. He shook the thought off and grabbed his old deck of cards before swiftly making his way out and back home.

Chapter 5

The next evening Jonathan was eager to return to the Theatre. Upon finishing his work, he immediately bolted to the building without stopping home. He opted to not inform his mother about the Pass and knew she would be working her usual long hours.

At the Theatre, Jonathan could see another large crowd of people waiting in line for the door. They looked at him funny when they saw him join among them, obvious his attire was nothing in comparison to theirs. He didn’t care though. Unlike them, he had an ‘All- Access Pass’ and a guaranteed front row seat.

When he reached the door, the ticket man gave him the same questioning look. Jonathan proudly presented him the Pass which still made the man stare at the boy with a suspicious expression for having it. However, he eventually let Jonathan through, who was then escorted by another man.

The man led him through the main lobby he recognized from the previous evening. The other guests inside were talking amongst themselves while admiring the interior decorations; a few gave snobbish glares at him. Jonathan was taken through a set of large double doors leading to the main Theatre seating.

The room appeared much grander than where he was in the attic above. On the ground, he could see just how extraordinarily high it really was for the ceiling. He wasn’t able to tell then, but now he could clearly note the rows of seating elevating up the further back they stretched.

The stage was massive as ever and almost intimidating up close, but it was beautiful nonetheless. To the far right next to the stage, Jonathan saw the musicians, mumbling among themselves and tuning their instruments. The conductor was an elderly man standing upon a perch, beaming instructions to a few of the players.

Jonathan was led to a seat in the center of the rows. He thanked the man and proceeded to sink into the seat. It was surprisingly comfortable with a soft cushion. He smiled to himself, still not believing where he was.

After several long minutes, everyone eventually had found their own seats. Soon after, the orchestra began to play, signaling the beginning of the show. Occam Cobb emerged from the backstage smiling and then bowing. For a moment, his eyes caught Jonathan’s and he rendered a slight nod in his direction.

From then, the show went on as planned with Jonathan breathlessly watching all the performances conducted. After the show, Jonathan returned to the backstage to meet Occam. The Magician was there and instructed a new trick for him to learn as promised. This continued throughout the week with Jonathan practicing hard on his newly learned tricks when he could.

He returned every evening to watch the show and later perform the trick he was taught in front of the Magician to receive any necessary critique. One evening after Jonathan’s time with Occam had expired, he lingered behind. He hadn’t forgotten about the strange event he had witnessed the first night. Furthermore, he was too afraid to question the Magician about it, fearing he might anger him.

Instead, Jonathan wanted to witness the Magician conduct the act in its entirety. After viewing many of his shows, he began to suspect the ‘Occam Transporter’ was tied to the event. He remembered the series of knocks Occam did and realized that he did so every time for that particular performance and it was always done in the same manner. Jonathan just needed to see it one time to confirm his theory.

Hiding behind one of the clothing racks, he peered into the room. Inside, the man was simply reading the newspaper. An hour or two went by and Jonathan’s legs began to feel a sharp cramp of pain from standing so long, but he ignored the pain; he needed to see this. Finally, Occam checked his pocket watch.

Afterwards, he took up his dress jacket, ensuring it was properly fitted. From there, he approached the mirror. He issued two quick knocks near the top followed by a delayed one in the middle. Next, he issued two final knocks slightly lower below the first two.

Jonathan watched in bewilderment as the man took a step into the mirror until his entire body had disappeared. The mirror rippled momentarily before settling into its solid stance like before. He couldn’t believe it, he was right. The knocks were the same; it was how he was able to transport himself on the stage.

He walked up to the mirror, seeing his reflection stare back in amazement. A light cool breeze met with his face. Once again, he felt a chill fall down his spine upon feeling the gentle brushing across his skin. It felt stronger than before as if several more fingers were eerily caressing his skin in long strokes. He shivered out of impulse, attempting to brush the feelings away.

He bit his lip again, realizing his curiosity had fixated its roots unfathomably in him; he needed to know what was behind it. Raising a shaking hand, he began to mimic the knocks of the Magician. Upon issuing the final knock, he could tell the mirror had changed; it was no longer just a mirror.

He held up his hand to the surface slowly edging towards it. He could feel the draft against his hand, the feeling of many more ghostly fingers brushing against it. When his hand finally met with the surface, it felt like it was being submerged into an icy pool of water. The mirror rippled across, distorting his reflection. This was it, he thought, closing his eyes and stepping forward, completely submerging inside.

Jonathan stumbled in, reaching the other side of the would-be door. At first glance, he thought he had forgotten to open his eyes, but realized that he had done so after blinking a few times. The world around, everything that is, was completely black. His eyes could not distinguish if the ground existed or if he was floating in an ocean of nothingness; it all seemed like one.

The same waft from before streamed around him endlessly. Its invisible fingers now evolved from caressing his skin to tapping as if someone or something was trying to gain his attention. With each tap, he spun around, his heart colliding against his chest, expecting to meet the face of his would–be tormentor only to be met by the perpetual void around.

The taps grew in frequency, touching him all over. The more they did, the more they felt like hands – hands brushing, caressing, grabbing. He couldn’t help but jolt in fear to every direction he felt. Each sensation felt new never like the other only instilling more terror. His eyes scanned in horror at every angle, but darkness was all he could see. At moments, it felt like his eyes could perceive a shape or figure before him, but when he blinked it mended back to the same veil of black.

It wasn’t just the hands that were tormenting him, it was the obscuring darkness too. He could feel his stomach churn, feeling nausea as if the world around was spinning not him. Even his head felt light. He needed to get out; he couldn’t bear this world any longer. His breathing now amplified to an inconsistent rhythm. Was the area getting smaller? Was it even as big as he thought it was? Maybe it was all just a room, a small room and he was trapped inside.

He reached around, hoping to feel the entrance for the mirror, but all he could feel was empty air. His heart’s tempo was now an echoing crash against his chest, ringing in his ears like the shattering of glass. He flung his arms around, helplessly hoping to feel for anything. Without warning, he felt something forcefully grab his hand, yanking him forward before harshly letting him go. He immediately shrilled out in horror, falling back and shutting his eyes.

Tears managed to escape through his eyelids.

“I want to go home. I want to go home,” he repeatedly whispered to himself, rocking softly.

Hesitantly, he slowly opened his eyes ready to gauze upon whatever horror had grabbed him. However, his eyes once again only met with the teasing obscurity. He wanted to believe nothing was there, but his senses had their own agenda, filling his mind with horrid anomalies in the abyss before him.

There’s nothing there. There’s nothing there, he thought to himself.

He needed to believe it.

Jonathan didn’t know what to do. What was going to happen to him now? Was he going to die here, and if he did, no one, not even his mother would know what had happened to him or even where to find him. A few more tears began to stream from his eyes at the realization of the inevitable hopelessness.

Upon lifting his hand to rub them, he noticed a faint light across it. A light glow emanated from his hand. It looked as though his fingers were covered in ink or paint of some kind. Inspecting the ground, he realized the origin of the strange substance derived from what appeared to be a footprint.

It puzzled him because he hadn’t noticed it before, perhaps his eyes hadn’t adjusted yet. Looking even closer, he realized there were more footprints in a trail heading away from his location. It was Occam Cobb, it had to be from him, he thought. A feeling of relief came to him, eager to find the Magician.

At this point, he didn’t care if the man would be angry with him, he just wanted to get out of this place. He made his way forward, following the footprints. They curved in odd directions, but continued to stretch onward. It felt like hours had passed as he followed them. By now, Jonathan finally realized that the tormenting hands had ceased. He wasn’t sure why they had or when exactly their foreign touches had stopped.

Maybe it had something to do with the substance he accidentally touched. Did the stuff somehow keep them at bay? It felt like more time had elapsed and Jonathan was beginning to feel impatient, anxious to get free. The more he pressed on, the more he believed he would catch a glimpse of Occam ahead but he never did.

While walking, Jonathan couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t alone anymore. It felt like something was watching him from the shadows, something with a malicious intent. He didn’t know why, but it felt as if whatever was watching him wanted to inflict harm upon him. A few times he couldn’t help but turn his head at what he thought were very faint whispers. They were so faint he couldn’t decipher them. Although, he thought he caught one word, ‘stay.’

He was beginning to feel hopeless again until something ahead caught his eyes. He could barely make out the silhouette of a figure in the distance. It took a minute for his mind to register; it was Occam.

Without thinking, he called out, hoping to attract his attention, “Mr. Cobb! Mr. Cobb wait! It’s me, Jonathan!”

However, he already began to disappear. Tears started pouring out of his eyes at the realization that he was crossing back over to the other world, the world he knew; he would be trapped for sure. He attempted to race to the man’s location, still yelling. In response to hearing the boy’s voice though, Jonathan heard a collection of frightening roars.

He could feel their vibrations against his skin. A tight pressure subtly ensnared around his meager form before subsiding. All around him, he could hear the harsh pounding of feet as if a stampede of large beasts were sprinting towards him.

Whatever dwelled in this darkness, it was coming for him. He was now at a full sprint, focusing his eyes on the last location he saw Occam. The things behind him were closing in on him quickly. Their roars echoing all around. Below him, Jonathan’s eyes watched in horror as the glowing footprints started to fade before him.

He could start to feel the tips of fingers touching his face again now accompanied by the whispers. The whispers grew louder amplifying into deafening roars, all blaring the same single word, “STAY!”

Hot tears continued to fall from Jonathan’s face, his lungs were burning profusely. He couldn’t stop now though. He knew the things were right behind him, ready to do God knows what to him. His legs began to cramp from exhaustion, but he ignored the pain with all his willpower until he slammed into what felt like a wall.

A sharp pain spread across his nose and his lips. His head was throbbing immensely. Despite this, he stumbled quickly to his feet, feeling across the would-be wall. Behind him, he could hear the pounding of feet and roaring growing closer. His head was full of the voices now screaming the word at him. The feeling of hands had escalated to painful grabs; they were squeezing him tightly, holding him back for the beings behind him.

He screamed uncontrollably while banging against the wall to be let out, but was given no response. He could feel the invisible hands tug at his shirt now pulling him back, practically dragging him with great force. He could feel his body begin to lose balance. When he glanced back, he could barely distinguish a large mass of black figures, blacker than even the world around darting towards him. How could something be darker than this abyss? Suddenly, he felt a hand grab his arm and promptly jerk him forward through the wall onto the other side.

Chapter 6

Blinding light consumed Jonathan, throwing him momentarily into a realm of pure white. When the light subsided, his eyes came into focus upon the concern gaze of a man before him; it was Occam Cobb. The remaining world around came into view.

They were in a room, a fairly big one. It appeared very elegant, garnishing a large king-size bed. Several pieces of furniture sat around the room, glowing in an ostentatious brown that was similar of the walls around. The sweet aroma of fruit and honey graced the air.

Upon seeing Occam, Jonathan swiftly embraced him, clinging tight. He shook endlessly not letting go with tears streaming down his face. Occam held a confused and yet guilty look on his own face.

“It’s alright, lad,” he said calmly, rubbing his back. “you’re safe now.”

After several minutes, he pried the boy loose from his chest, promising another set of assuring words for his safety. He left into another room momentarily where Jonathan could hear the sound of water. Shortly after, Occam returned with a wet towel in his hand. He gently brought the towel to Jonathan’s face, who felt a sharp pain when he did.

“I’m sorry,” the man replied to the boy’s cringing. “But your nose and lip is bleeding.”

Words finally returned to Jonathan. “Where are we?” he asked, weakly.

“In a hotel, not too far from the Theatre,” Occam replied still applying the towel to his face. “I know what you’re thinking right now,” he continued. “I know you must have so many questions.”

Jonathan remained silent, looking down at his arms which were plagued sparsely with purple bruises. The imprints of fingers and even full hands could vaguely be seen embedded among them.

“I also understand that it might be a lot to take in. It’s how I felt when I first ventured there.”

Jonathan’s ears seem to perk up. “And where is ‘there’?” he asked.

Occam became motionless. After a minute, he sighed and made his way to the bed to sit.

“I suppose you deserve an explanation,” he said softly. “In my early career, before all the fame, before I had a single cent to my name and the name Occam Cobb was but just that, I traveled the world. Back then, I was an ambitious one, eager to find better ways to improve the little tricks I had mastered. You see, my boy, I know what it feels like to endlessly search one’s mind for an idea to create true wonder in people’s eyes,” he continued. “What I did come up with didn’t seem flashy enough; they were all just foolish little tricks, child’s play really, pardon my words.”

He paused for a second to run his hand through his hair.

“I wanted to show the people ‘real’ magic. I craved for it so much that I was willing to do anything to get it. Unfortunately, I found what I was looking for,” he continued. “I had a rather wealthy friend, who was in debt to me. In return his for assistance, I was willing to consider the debt paid. So he funded my travels, including any guides or translators that I needed. My travels brought me to the heart of the east where I stumbled upon an old underground site. You should have seen it, my boy. It was truly magnificent, almost like an underground city, going on for miles. We could’ve spent a year down there and still barely crack the surface of learning all of what truly was there.”

A smile was across his face when he explained this, but soon it faded.

“Then, we found the library. With my translator, we learned what the place was and who had created it through the library’s recorded texts. The place used to be the home of cultists, who worshiped and conducted rituals down there. I of course wasn’t interested in any of that. What did interest me were the incantations they conducted. The cultists were able to perform miraculous things; they were able to cloak themselves, bend the elements, even open doors to other worlds.”

Occam went silent again for a while before continuing.

“I should have heeded my guide and my translator’s warnings, but like the fool I was, I didn’t want to hear it. I coerced them to reveal the secrets onto to me. After that day, everything changed. Oh I wish I could correct that fateful day. I learned a great deal of dark magic at that time, some of which you have seen in my performances.

“However, the most noteworthy one you know to be the ‘Occam Transporter.’ This simple act involves opening a door to another world as noted. In that world, time doesn’t exist. It normally takes me what would be about an hour’s time to traverse from one door to another in that world, but back in this world, a mere second is all that elapses. You’ve experienced this world for yourself. You’ve felt its… exceptionality, haven’t you?”

Jonathan swallowed hard at the mention of this.

“The door to that world can be opened by rendering a series of knocks in a unique pattern. This pattern derives from the ritual conducted by the cultists.”

“I-I don’t understand,” Jonathan interrupted softly. His intervention startled the man a bit. “Why would they want to enter a world like that?”

Occam frowned, not answering initially. “If you recall, I mentioned that the cultists conducted their rituals and worshipping in the underground city. They worshipped what they referred to as the Teneborsi. Roughly translated as ‘the dark, shadowy ones.’”

A strong shiver quickly crept down Jonathan’s back. His memory donned on the figures he had seen earlier before Occam managed to pull him back. He was grateful his eyes were not able to view them clearly, but even so, the image of their obscure forms even darker than the world itself still brought faint tears in his eyes.

“In that world, the Teneborsi dwell. In the texts, we found out they taught the earlier cultists how to use dark magic. In the end, the cultists began to worship the beings. In return for their knowledge, the cultists conducted sacrifices to them.”

“Sacrifices?” Jonathan repeated. “What kind of sacrifices?”

Occam paused for a moment, before continuing on, ignoring the question.

“I began the study of the Arts, learning as the cultists of past had done so. Soon, I was able to devise a way that would suit a performance in front of audiences without divulging the fact that I really was using magic.”

“I don’t understand. I saw you… in that place. Those things noticed me, but they didn’t notice you,” Jonathan brought up.

“Trust me, lad. They did more than notice you. They opted to chase you only after you yelled because they didn’t want the other to reach you first. They were only watching you when you entered because they thought the other of their kin hadn’t seen you yet and they greedily wanted you for themselves.”

Jonathan gulped ever harder.

“They didn’t notice me because I was veiled in the same manner as the cultists. They had special material that allowed them designate who the sacrifice was and who was simply the escort. I had this material sewn into all of my clothes, although it doesn’t last very long. Just the same as my shoes, I’m sure you noticed my glowing footprints. Cultists had special incantations in their footwear so they could find their way back from the darkness,” Occam continued. “Now you see, now you know all my secrets.”

“True,” Jonathan replied. “but there’s just one thing you haven’t answered.”

Occam’s frown returned, knowing the question already.

“The sacrifices, am I right?” he asked.

Jonathan simply nodded.

The Magician took another long solemn sigh. “I am not bad man, I assure you. What I do, I do without choice and in complete discontent.” He started. A few tears began to swell up in his eyes. “The veil for my clothes… it only lasts a short time.”

A tear began to roll down his cheek.

“And those… things, they cornered me one day. They threatened to consume me, to keep me there with them if I didn’t do what it was they asked of me.”

His face was now in his hands and he was balling out in tears. Jonathan didn’t know what to do, but for some reason his body reacted, placing his hand on the man’s shoulder for comfort.

“They asked me to send them others in my place. If I did so, I could use their realm for whatever I please,” he continued from his hands.

“How did you…?” Jonathan began to ask, but stopped in his words, realizing the answer for himself.

“That’s right, my boy,” Occam replied, looking up. “The second part of my Transporter act. When I ask for the audience to volunteer, I’m really asking for a sacrifice to those fiends.” Jonathan backed away from the man. His thoughts sprung on all the people he had witnessed volunteer for the act. He even recalled wishing he could be a part of the act himself.

“What happens to them?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Occam replied solemnly. “The cultists’ texts only mentioned that they couldn’t take the light of our world; it’s too bright for them. I simply know that people enter that world, but what returns in their place isn’t a human being anymore.”

Another shiver fell down Jonathan’s back.

“What do they want?” he asked.

At that moment, Occam gave Jonathan the most frightening look he had ever seen from the man; it was look of pure uncertainty.

“I do not know,” he replied.

The awkward silence between the two lasted for minutes before Occam finally rose to his feet. He walked over to a table in the corner and proceeded to pour himself a glass of bourbon. The silence continued as he sipped on the glass slowly staring off into space.

Finally, Jonathan spoke out unable to coup with the quietness. “You should stop this.”

Occam appeared unfazed at the words as if not hearing them. Jonathan repeated his words. In return, Occam chuckled to himself.

“If only it were that simply, my boy,” he replied.

“But it is,” Jonathan insisted. “you can’t keep handing over these people to them; you’re killing them.”

“‘They’ are killing them, lad, not I. I am simply a courier,” he said, sipping his glass without looking back.

“Handing them over makes you as much a killer as them.”

The words didn’t seem to sit well with Occam. He forcefully threw his glass into the wall before running up to the boy and grabbing him.

“I am no killer! I’m nothing like those things! They do it, it’s all them, it always was!” His eyes blared like a madman, peering deep into Jonathan’s as he shook the boy.

Seeing the fear engulf the boy’s eyes, he swiftly released his grip.

“I’m sorry, lad,” he said shamefully. “I can’t do what you’re asking of me. Every time I enter that world, I am reminded of the horror I do. I can feel them touching me, feel their sorrows seep upon my face… I’m sorry. My hands are tied, and I don’t know what to do.”

Jonathan placed his hand on his shoulder.

“You once told me to never forget why I loved magic, that my love for it would be the reason enough to help me through the rough times. What this is, isn’t magic, it’s evil,” he said calmly. “You know what to do.”

The man calmly looked at Jonathan, pulling away soon after.

“I’m sorry, child, I cannot to do what you ask of me.”

With that answer, Jonathan reached into his pockets, pulling out the two decks of cards, his worn out one and the newer deck given to him by Occam. He handed the cards over to Occam who returned a puzzled gaze. Afterwards, he slowly walked over to the door.

“It’s my life or theirs, child,” Occam muttered weakly with a trembling lip.

Jonathan opened the door, turning around to the man. “I know. I also know you lost your love for magic. You used to be Occam Cobb the greatest Magician in the world. You were my idol. Right now, it’s your life you love the most. If this is where true magic takes you, then I’m done with it.” He said coldly, shutting the down behind him, leaving the man alone.

He took his time walking home. While he did, he recalled the words his mother pushed on him the days before. She knew one day he would get over magic. Somehow inside, he knew she would be right, but deep down, it wasn’t the reason he thought he would do it for.

Chapter 7

The following day, the paper’s headline read: “The Great Occam Cobb’s Final Performance will be held tonight!”

“It’s the last day to see your idol, you going to it, kid,” Mr. Garrett asked.

Jonathan shook his head softly. “No, I think I’m over him.”

The answer gave Mr. Garrett a puzzled look. He was ready to question the boy further on it, but Jonathan had walked away to complete his work. Mr. Garrett soon shrugged the matter off and returned to reading his newspaper.

The following day Jonathan was met with an alarming headline: “The Great Occam Cobb Vanishes.”

The headline caught his attention and he began reading the article out loud.

“Occam Cobb known as the greatest Magician of our time set out to perform his final show over the evening. The Magician had been doing well selling out tickets to all his shows for the entire week. His performances dazzled audiences with never before seen marvels. His most noteworthy one, ‘The Occam Transporter’ had audiences baffled beyond belief.

“However, events took a turn when the famed Magician elected to transport an audience member having already done so himself. Audiences were thrown for a loop when Cobb elected to enter the box again instead of the selected volunteer. Even stranger, the audience was surprised when the Magician never appeared in the other box as prior depicted. At first, the audience thought it was joke, but when the Magician never appeared after several minutes, people began to worry.

“As of now, local officials are investigating. If anyone has information on Occam Cobb’s disappearance, they are to contact local authorities immediately,” Jonathan finished.

“Shame thing indeed, sorry about all that, kid,” Mr. Garrett replied, overhearing him read the article.

Jonathan didn’t respond. He had done it, he thought. He defied them. He felt a small smile form across his lips. He was a true lover of magic after all.

Epilogue

Many years later, Jonathan became a successful businessman. At some point, he managed to earn enough to take care of his mother. They moved away from the city, owning a nice house in the countryside. His mother who no longer had to work long hours spent most of her days attending the garden of the house.

One day, Jonathan was in the city for business. While passing an old newspaper stand, he caught sight of the headline: “Be Amazed As A Man Claiming To Be The Once Great Occam Cobb Performs Tonight!”

This article struck Jonathan odd, but he shrugged it off believing it to be a man honoring the legacy of Occam. Later that night, he decided to watch the show for old time’s sake.

That evening at the show, he sat in the middle row. It wasn’t as close as the seat he had as a child, but it was close enough. The show began with the orchestra blaring their ambitious instruments like he remembered. He smiled to himself, the moment bringing back nostalgic memories.

Immediately after the instruments began playing, a man emerged upon the stage. He looked vaguely familiar. It wasn’t until he stepped clear into the light that Jonathan could see him. When he did, his heart dropped and his eyes grew big.

There standing on the stage was Occam Cobb, who appeared as if he hadn’t aged a day since the last time he saw him. Even stranger, Occam appeared to squint many times as if the light was too bright for him to bear.

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The Road to Happiness

March 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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She had traveled down this road more times than she was willing to count. Surrounded by forest and wild life, the long, narrow, dusty road offered a safe route from Tara’s home to the grocery store where she worked. Under paid and overworked, Tara had been there for years with no end in sight. Five, sometimes six days a week, Tara made the forty-five minute walk to her dead-end job, only to return home to her unemployed husband every night. At 16, Tara left her abusive father into the arms of an abusive boyfriend. His words were unkind, his touch was not gentle, yet without a diploma, Tara was left without many options. He promised her stability and a home, and her fear and naivety let her believe him.

On her long walks to and from work, she often thought about the last ten years and the events that resulted in her broken life. The mistakes, the lies, the desperation; all of it lead her to him. Tara hated her husband in a way she never knew was possible. The mere thought of him sent nauseated pangs to the pit of her stomach. When the thought of returning home to his drunken embrace became too much, Tara would fantasize about what she felt was her only escape; his death. An electrical fuse short-circuits engulfing the sleeping drunk to ash. An earthquake demolishes the rundown home crushing all within. He always died of an accident through no fault of her own and in the end, she would gracefully be whisked away in the embrace of a kind hearted rescuer. When her journey came to an end, still smiling she would turn the door knob to reality and endure the nightmare that awaited inside.

Tara had no idea how profound her seemingly harmless fantasies were, but she was destined to find out. On that long stretch of road, damp from the midday showers, Tara walked along the muddied path. She was exceptionally lost in a fantasy involving a hurricane and a sympathetic firefighter, as she tried to ignore the throbbing of her bruised ribs. While she floated in the arms of her fantasized hero, Tara suddenly realized she didn’t recognize her surroundings. The road stretched for miles in either direction and there were no road signs in sight to help pinpoint her location. She pulled out her phone only to see there was no cell phone service. The sun was beginning to pass the tree’s skyline, and with the dusk, Tara began to panic. He would never believe she had gotten lost, and the last time she was late she was punished in a way she tried to forget.

As she began frantically darting back and forth with her phone in the air, hopeful for a connection, a soft voice called out to her from behind a tree. Tara froze from fear, not knowing what the voices intent could be. “I’ve been waiting for you child,” the voice said again.

Tara watched as a shadowed figure emerged from the darkness. A crippled, hunched over elderly woman hobbled towards where Tara remained still. Despite her decrepit and unappealing appearance, the old woman seemed fragile and harmless, and so she decided to speak to her. “Uh, hi. My name is Tara. I live off of 70th street, but I think I made a mistake somewhere on my walk home. I’m kind of lost. Any way you can point me in the right direction?”

The elderly woman smiled exposing the few rotted teeth she had left. “I assure you child, it is no mistake you are here. You see, you know what you want most in life, but you are unable to obtain it. You came here because I can give you what you desire.” The old woman’s voice was icy which caused Tara to shiver. She couldn’t justify it to herself, but she felt uneasy in her presence. Confused by the old woman’s response, Tara sought an explanation; “I’m sorry miss, I don’t know what you mean.”

Shrill and raspy, the old woman explained, “I can see inside your heart, child. I hear your pain everyday you walk this road. I have listened to the stories you create inside your head to pretend you have a chance at happiness. I can feel your hatred for who you feel is to blame for your misery. You are here because you can’t possibly want something more, and I’m here to give it to you. All you have to do is decide if you are willing to pay the price.”

Tara’s curiosity began to pique, and so she humored the old, daft woman. “And what exactly is it that you think I want? And how much is this going to cost me? I don’t have a lot of money so I don’t really see where you’re headed with this.”

“You want freedom,” the old woman hissed. “You need money, you long for happiness. You desire him dead.” Tara stared with an open mouth, dumbfounded by the woman’s accuracy. Surly this is all a trick, Tara thought to herself. All general statements. Who wouldn’t desire money and happiness? But wanting to believe, she continued to listen.

“I can give you everything you’ve fantasized about. All I ask in return, is in one years time, you allow me permission to enter your body for two hours.” At this Tara scoffed. Why had she been nervous about this woman? She was obviously crazy. “OK,” she antagonized, “but how do I know you’re telling the truth and can really give me these things?”

At that, the woman materialized a goblet full of liquid. She motioned for Tara to come closer. As Tara looked into the goblet, she saw her husband asleep in front of the T.V., an empty whisky bottle at his side. Frightened and intrigued, Tara gazed at the old woman. “You really can change my life? And all I have to do is allow you two hours inside my body one year from now?”

“That is all, child. Permit me to use your body as a vessel for two hours in one year, and everything you’ve ever wanted will come true.” Tears filled Tara’s eyes as the visions of a better life filled her mind. The concept of relinquishing her body was odd but after a life of constant disappointment and sorrow, she was willing to agree to more than she was willing to admit. She feared if she questioned the old woman’s intent that the offer would be tarnished or taken away. And so, without much consideration, Tara blurted “yes!”

A smile began to creep across the old woman’s face as she hissed, “and so it is done.”

Tara turned around to find her door right in front of her. The road had disappeared along with the elderly woman. She began to think she had gotten lost in her imagination, that the whole interaction was a fantasy. She stood at the door breathing deeply as her heart pounded. Still In a haze, she turned the door knob and stepped lightly through the dark house. Her blood grew colder with each step towards where her husband sat. And then, in the glow of the T.V., there he was. Peaceful, motionless, and not breathing. Tara touched him and jolted at his cold skin. Tears began to flood her eyes as she looked up and thanked the mysterious woman from the road. Finally, Tara was free.

A coroner’s report ruled Tara’s husband’s cause of death a heart attack. The paramedic who answered Tara’s emergency call turned out to be an old friend from high school that she had forgotten. It wasn’t long before the two began dating. While receiving two weeks off from the grocery store to mourn, Tara was approached by a lawyer who informed her that her husband had a life insurance policy which left her with two million dollars. Because the death was deemed natural, Tara received the money within a month of her husband’s funeral. It all happened so fast, and none of the good fortune made any sense, but she didn’t care how surreal it all was. Tara finally had the life she always wanted, the life she felt she deserved. The joy empowered her so much that she soon lost track of time. It seemed like only a blink had passed when the old woman came knocking on her door.

Tara was alone the day the old woman returned for her payment. She was so happy from the life she was now living that she greeted the old woman as she would a long lost friend, embracing her in a warm and genuine hug. “You know, you are a miracle maker,” Tara gloated. “I never knew a person could be this happy. And I have you to thank.”

The old woman looked Tara in the eye, and through her rotted grin she asked, “then are you ready to repay me, child?”

Lost in her own happiness, Tara smiled back and shook her head yes. She trusted the old woman who had brought her such amazingly good fortune. “Well then, it’s time,” the old woman hissed as she grabbed Tara’s face and brought it to her own.

Tara saw a blinding white flash, and then it was as if nothing had happened. The old woman was no longer in front of her and it seemed like she had dreamed the entire encounter. That is, until she tried to move.

Trapped inside her own body Tara cried out “what is this? I thought you would use me as a vessel, that I wouldn’t remember any of this.” “Oh no, child. You will remember every moment I have with you, I can assure you of that,” the old woman responded out loud in Tara’s voice. Feeling Tara’s fear and confusion, the old woman began to explain.

“For centuries I have been plagued with the thoughts and emotions of the broken hearted. Always tormented, always crying out for help, never making a single effort towards helping themselves. Until I come along and offer a solution. A solution that only requires an agreement. Two hours of their time to receive all of the desires and dreams the bleeding hearts were too lazy to achieve themselves. Not once has any of the disgustingly entitled brats inquired as to how I do what I do, or even why I need to use their body as a vessel. The offer is just blindly accepted and they greedily enter their new lives unappreciative. Well, these two agreed upon hours are used for harvest. You think you were so tormented and your life was so tragic? Lets see how you fare after this.”

Tara watched helplessly as her body approached the festively decorated house. Entering the sleeping home, Tara felt as her fingers gripped the handle of the knife taken from the kitchen. The home was dark and quiet but the old woman glided Tara’s body effortlessly to her intended destination. Without making a sound, Tara’s body positioned over the woman asleep in her bed. And with a swift motion, Tara’s hand slid the knife into the woman’s stomach. Piercing screams filled the home, pain and terror emanating from the victim’s eyes. And with a flick of the knife to the helpless woman’s throat, Tara listened as the wails began to gurgle. The warmth of life faded to cold in Tara’s arms as her mouth wrapped around the gaping slit in the woman’s throat. She tasted copper as the blood slid down and coated her stomach. Tara’s cries and screams of horror could only be heard by one, and in response, she felt her blood soaked lips curl into a smile.

Standing over the mauled woman, shrill and cruel, the old woman began to speak; “For every soul I take before it’s time, I must sacrifice an innocent soul to appease the disregard of deaths plan. A soul not promised to him, one destined to a greater eternity.”

From a darkened corner came a child’s whimper. The old woman turned Tara’s head so she could see the terrified girl violently crying as she stared at the grotesque figure that was once her mother. “You thought you were in hell but oh how wrong you were. Your laziness to wait for rescue and your selfishness to ignore consequence has cost the life of this young, widowed mother. Look into the eyes of this child and see what real tragedy is. This orphan will live tormented for the rest of her life and there is nothing that will remove her misery. Although unlike you, she will try. Remember, you did this. Enjoy your reward, because the cost was immense.”

And with a flash of white and a searing pain, Tara collapsed to the ground. Tears streamed down her face as she began to scream, clenching her blood drenched hands, finally able to express her shock of what she had been forced to do.

Tara never heard the police sirens, never felt them as they put her hands in restraints. And she would never remember being taken away from the sacrificed woman and the child she had damned. After a short trial, it wasn’t long before she was committed to a mental institution. Despite desperate attempts from people trying to understand why she had committed such an awful act, Tara never spoke to anyone again. It was as if she were trapped inside her mind. But late at night, when the halls were quite from sleep, Tara could be heard whispering, “I just wanted to be happy.”

Credit: Taylorg

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A Moment of Clarity

March 10, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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It’s almost funny, people understand so little about life until their lives are close to over. Ah, but youth is wasted on the young, right? Well, from my youth on, I have attended patients at Mashapaug Psychiatric Institute, a private manor in a heavily forested area outside Union, Connecticut. There are a number of mysteries surrounding the Institute, such as why the local populace knows so little about us or how the institute came to be officially recognized, but I fear I may understand only the mystery surrounding the longest ,and currently only, residing patient, Mr. Ulvsson.

Mr. Ulvsson is the constant and overbearing concern of my employers, so much so that the Institute is kept open, surely operating at a loss, to care for him. The man suffered so it seemed, from an acute aversion to and fear of ordinary materials, and the powers that be decided exposure therapy was the best hope at rehabilitating the patient. Thus, there were a number of peculiar rules surrounding his care, most of which infuriated Mr. Ulvsson to no end. No less than three large thermometers hung off adhesive hooks inside the door of his room, all older models filled with mercury. He claimed an allergy to mercury, which would cause him to break out in hives, but since the mercury was contained and no hives observed, the allergy seemed a part of his condition. Outside his room, there was a parlor area with doorways to other wings and the main office, and every metal fixture in this room was required to be britannia silver. He claimed to dislike the smell of the metal and said it agitated his nose. Silver allergies are incredibly rare, usually the result of nickel in jewelry, and silver has no smell to speak of, so again his aversion was explained psychologically. The strongest reaction was reserved for a wreath decorated with aconitum shoots and flowers which hung on the main office door. The plant is poisonous, but Mr. Ulvsson would mutter to himself whenever he caught sight of the purple flowers and scurry to another side of the room. It was this reaction which assured most of the staff that the man needed to be here.

His condition was so ingrained that at night, he was restrained to his bed, an old hospital cot with belts, for fear of violent outbursts. It usually was not bad, but one to two times a month he would have a bad night. I saw some of the damage once after a night of struggling; thick red lines and scratches covered the man. Strangely, he had no problem with the restraints. Rather the need for being belted down bothered him, and he complained that his treatment was the far crueler restraint. In truth, the argument for keeping him was difficult to sustain, and became more so the longer I stayed at the institute. I would explain that none of his fears were justified, that the allergies were not real, but a man should be able to choose what metals are in his house or flowers in his wreaths. I eventually became sympathetic to his complaints. Whenever I discussed the matter with my employers, however, I would be severely reprimanded. The patients require treatment, they cannot be expected to know better. The explanation rang hollow for me, but after many years, when Mr. Ulvsson became the only remaining patient, I had a chance to right things. I am now the director of the institute with a handful of staff, and I resolved to do things better.

So, one week ago, I started to make the changes. First, I removed the thermometers, they popped off with a loud snap, like when one snaps a belt to intimidate a child. Mr. Ulvsson seemed instantly happier. Over the next few days, I removed all the silver, replacing it with brass. The sounds of metal clanging against metal filled the institute, and my ears are still ringing with the clashing, banging noise. Finally, I removed the wreath, and the door creaked loudly. The old wood groaned as I took out the nails holding in the wreath. The nails are making the door creak. The creaking, the groaning, it is so loud. His nails, his claws, are battering the wood, causing it to groan as it breaks. With moonlight spilling in through the window, I can see a single claw through the door. It’s almost funny, only now at the end do I finally understand why my employers were so insistent on surrounding Mr. Ulvsson with quicksilver, silver, and wolf’s bane.

Credit: Eric Miller

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