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A Story From the BlackGuard [Part 2]

June 5, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Check out the previous entry in this series here!

Ah, so you are back to hear another story, I see? Very well. The BlackGuard is an organization that takes you to many places, and creates many heroes. And even legends, at times.

This next tale had taken place a few years after my promotion, and to my dismay my great friend, Sledge, had retired from the organization with enough money to live a fulfilled life with his baker family in the countryside. I couldn’t really blame him for doing so, and wished him well on one sunny day with a look of sorrow in my eyes as he left.

With him gone, I had lost the last of my friends in the Guard, with the rest being slain by the monstrosity I spoke of last time. The only man I really knew was my Commander, Cyrus. But he was surely too busy to trifle with the likes of me, much less get along with me in the first place. It was during this time I fell into a bout of depression, and moved through the days without much of a care. Amongst my unit I was known as the killer of the Shapeshifter, and despite being decently respected, it didn’t change the fact that nobody wanted to associate with me.

In the North there were rumors of the return of the Iceblood and a doom to befall our planet, and despite them never being confirmed I occasionally overheard some of the higher ups speaking of losing entire garrisons of men who were stationed in Nation 1 during parties in the capital. It made for a foreboding sense of dread at what that could possibly entail.

But that is beside the point of my story, of course. We had been travelling all about the Mire in search of a place to make ourselves useful, and when the good Commander heard word from Dravis himself of a disturbance within the wilderness of Nation 3, we were sent there immediately. From what I heard, an outpost within the wilds had been stripped all but bare of its inhabitants, with corpses strewn about the streets in droves. But the most interesting thing was that nobody knew who or what had caused it to happen.

For this mission Cyrus was taking his elite unit of men, which included me. It was top priority, and had been hyped up for about three days before we finally boarded the train in the monorail station of the capital of Nation 9. I sat alone in a seat towards the rear of the thing, and with a palm on my chin watched the surroundings begin to fly by. The monorail was a bit of technology taken from Earth, if you were unaware. Here on Ares we do not have gasoline, and are forced to use electricity to operate our technology. And since the residents of Earth haven’t quite perfected electric car technology, they are quite scarce here. Trains and feet are the main ways of getting around, and they serve us quite well.

The monorail we travelled on was elevated off the ground about five meters up, and we could soon see the green tufts of bushy trees on our left and right as we moved. The ground was rich and brown, and with no human interaction had caused the semi-tropical forests of our nation to thrive along with all manner of different, and sometimes dangerous wildlife. The Mire itself is just a small portion of Ares, you see, and travel across it by train would take three days at most. Of course, the monorail travels at a blisteringly fast three hundred miles an hour, a machination of Commander Beckett’s scientific prowess.

Cyrus, still wearing his dress attire and black coat, was sitting in one of the front rows with his arms crossed over themselves. Typically, Commanders got to use the first class portion of the train, but Cyrus was an oddity who preferred to always be keeping his eye on his men, for better or worse. Some speculated it was out of suspicion of us, and more thought it was because he just wanted to spend time with his troops. I sometimes worried about him, considering how he never really associated himself personally with anyone and looked on death like it was just another everyday occurrence.

He stayed that way for the entire day, and we got off at Nation 2, home of the infamous Commander, Zane ‘Insane’ Morgan, who I am about a hundred percent sure is only being kept as a Commander because Dravis is afraid of what he would do if demoted. We were at a portion bordering the tropics of Nation 5, and the humidity hit us like a slap in the face. Soon we had adjusted, though, and were lucky enough to make lodging in an old shack at the edge of the ocean. The whole thing had been built upon the stark white sands of the beach, and the sun was beginning to fade into the distance, painting the darkening sky a brilliant orange as it lowered itself below the line of waves.

There was a small village nearby, comprised primarily of thatch houses that were built just a little ways from the shore. The locals were darker skinned and looked on us as if we were men from space. I distinctly remember a child who was hanging the laundry staring at me from behind the clothesline with her two blue eyes in curiosity as I walked through the muddy streets on my way to the shore. Many other soldiers were just lurking about on the beach, three sitting around a thrown together firepit and sharing drinks and some swimming in the water without a care.

I didn’t really do much, other than watch the sun set over the horizon and admire the crystal clear waters from a distance. We were just on the edge of a rainforest, and palm trees stuck out a little while away mixed in with the other plant life of a tropical region. Broken seashells of all shapes and sizes littered the ground as well, carried in by the tide on some unknown day, but the smell of it all was invigoratingly fresh, coupled with the rhythmic crashing of the water upon the shore that would lull me to sleep that night within the rather large shack. I saw Cyrus that night standing apart from even me, staring into the ocean like I had with a distant look upon his countenance. Just a figure in the distance from where I stood.

It had been all but confirmed that he was a mixture of a human and one of the odd immortal men from overseas known as ‘Vampires’. The stereotypical version of a Vampire is far different from what they are in reality, I assure you. In real life they looked just the same as you or I, but with red eyes. From what I had heard of their homeland, Raymere, they were actually a seafaring group who colonized all sorts of different lands across the waters. Cyrus was born in Raymere, and judging by the longing in his eyes he missed that land in some way. I told you they were not fiction once, did I not?

The next morning was rather standard. I awoke from my straw-filled bedding and set out for the nearby train station. The train we had been on previously was heading for the deserts of Nation 4, and we were forced to wait for one heading to Nation 3. We all filed aboard one by one, but before I left I saw the girl from last night staring at me from the edge of the village while I walked. My hand was briefly raised to her, and that was all.

This new train had the memorable scent of freshness to it that filled every corner of the thing. Every seat within was a red velvet, and all metal furnishings made of a dull gold. It quite reminded me of the old Ferego back in Nation 9, to make a comparison. I’m sure the train would ordinarily costed a month’s wages to have the pleasure of riding, but some businessman begrudgingly allowed our use of it on account of Imperial matters.

We soon departed the shores, and after about six hours of travel the tropics had shifted to a forest of pines and spruces that towered above our train. It was said that 75% of the Nation was completely unexplored, and contained ruins of ancient wars, dark magic and untold riches. But Nation 3 was also known for being a very dangerous place. The kind of location where men wandered into the depths of the woods never to be seen again by those that once knew them.

The ground below was composed primarily of pine needles and dense brush. It was great for growing crops, from what I had heard, and this made the place a very desired location for farmers. Some of the men had gotten drunk and were singing some song about the young Emperor in the meantime.
“-When ol’ Atlas Blacke got stabbed in the back, the bastard was given the throne! And from that day forth, for who knows how long more, we all will be his drones!”
Nearly everyone broke into a fit of raucous laughter. I didn’t hear the entire song, but it appeared as if Cyrus did, and while the Commander didn’t join in with his troops, he certainly wasn’t trying to make them stop.

I ended up getting drunk as well as the day continued, and spent most of it in a haze until we reached our destination, at which point I casted a quick spell to clear my mind and rose from my seat to find the whole car a mess, with scraps of food and shattered bottles of wine and ale lying everywhere. Some of the men were still lying about on their seats in stupors and Cyrus gave a brief sigh of disdain as we stepped out into the brisk air of Nation 3.
“Gentlemen! Welcome to frontier country!”
We almost all were at a loss for words as we stepped onto the cracked marble platform. In the distance were trees that stood higher than the tallest buildings, magnificent things which formed a treeline that allowed shining golden light to flow across the air.

From the train platform, much of the surroundings were hidden by the various buildings, but I could already tell they would be as magnificent as I was told in my younger years. The platform in question looked old to the degree of having been constructed thirty years ago, and all of us were a little offput by the lack of people in the area. It appeared almost as if we were the only ones here, and judging by what we had heard it seemed a most accurate assumption.
“Why they callin’ the monster hunters in, eh?” A scrawny man asked another with a skeptical look on his face. “For all we know they coulda just dunnit themselves.”
The other soldier shrugged with a legitimate look of uncertainty on his face, but I had a definite feeling that whatever caused the sudden massacre that had taken place in this sleepy forest town was most certainly a monster of some sort. The reports were unlike anything I had ever heard of, and I had heard many an odd thing in my years of service.

I walked past some of the empty customs buildings and down a set of ancient looking stone stairs that led to the ground beneath. They were few in number, but when my boots hit the ground I knew that we were getting into something very serious.

A thin mist was covering the streets between the old wooden buildings and log cabins, but amongst it were bodies. Hundreds of them just lying there motionless in the entrances of sewers, and hanging off the sidewalk. Some were even sprawled out on the roofs of buildings. Everyone in my unit seemed to stop at around the same spot and looked the scene over with expressions of disgust or surprise, but all of us remained motionless and silent as we watched over the carnage that lay before us. The city itself looked all but untouched, apart from the liberal amounts of garbage and shattered glass littering the streets, which faded into a dull cobblestone towards the buildings themselves.

The sunlight from above seemed to be diminished by the veil of fog to an extent, making the whole place suitably eerie, and the wind rustling in the trees sounded like the most appropriate backdrop possible at the time.
“Bloody hell…” Someone mused, face awash with disbelief. I myself had seen a great many things, but a massacre of this size was still completely unexpected. Sure there was the occasional person shambling through the fog, but for the most part the entire place was completely devoid of life, aside from us.

Cyrus came down the stairs, and walked right past us as if he had seen nothing.
“I will be able to provide assistance, if you deem it worthy of my time. This is no longer a training mission, my friends.”
The majority of us were standing in a big line, and Cyrus turned to face us all with a wry smile on his face. He clapped his hands a couple times, and the high pitched sound was the only real noise in the entire area. We just looked on blankly as he continued for a little while before abruptly stopping. “Now THIS is a mission worthy of the BlackGuard!”
He announced with a chuckle that was tinged with noticeable… Excitement.

Indeed, throughout all the missions we had been on, none could really compare to this kind of scale. Even so, we were trained to be able to handle even these kinds of things, and before I knew it we were spreading out through the nearby village in search of people to question and answers to find. I was among them, of course, and set out to find somebody to talk to in the lonely looking place.

There was dried blood everywhere. On the stone streets, on the walls of buildings, and even on the glass windows. But from reluctantly observing the bodies, I deduced something more confusing than I originally assumed. Every one of the wounds looked to have been cause by human means, such as stabbing shooting and bludgeoning. There were no marks where talons had entered the body, or strange marks of any sort. It looked more like what one could expect to see after a giant battle had taken place. I stooped over the sprawled out corpse of an old man on the curb of the road. His face didn’t look to be at peace, afraid, or even surprised… It looked like it had been contorted in a look of rage and anger as the man died, having his skull bashed against the metal lamp post nearby and creating a grievous wound in the back of his skull.

Some of the faces of those I had encountered were destroyed beyond recognition, but the ones I could get a decent look at all had the same expression of pure anger. For some reason they struck me as even more frightening than the standard fear filled faces of the dead I had seen previously, and a feeling of paranoia crept over me as I traversed the murky streets of the town. The houses looked to be made rather recently, and were quite well designed for where they had been built. There were even a few mansions made from expensive looking marble, standing abandoned at the edges of the town through the mist.

I was unsure of how we were to go about solving a mystery such as this, but the way the BlackGuard worked was that if the case wasn’t closed by day one there would be a meeting in the morning where we shared all of our findings with each other. I had a feeling that was what was going to happen now. Oddly enough, the street lamps were still in working order, casting warm orbs of light in the distance and illuminating the corpses all the more. But why were they on in the day? Did the mist set in before everything went to hell? I was accumulating many questions with little answers to go with them, and so I made the decision to focus my efforts on finding somebody who had survived the strange massacre that had taken place.
My efforts paid off after about an hour of travel through desolate streets in the form of an old man in rags sitting against the side of a metal dumpster in an alleyway. He had started a small fire within a can, and sat beside it in a thick coat, hands glowing as they were set near the flames. There was even more trash in the streets at the moment, and the weather had grown quite chilling. He looked on me at first in a state of shock and fear, but after a few seconds calmed down.
“So you haven’t gone crazy yet, eh?”
He said with dull eyes, watching the fire in the can blankly. I stooped over beside the little source of warmth with a raised brow.
“And why would I be crazy?”
I asked, to be met with no physical reaction from the man apart from his dull reply.
“Everyone else lost their minds. Thinkin’ I’ve lost mine as well.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
The fire dimmed a little, and the man casually picked up a metal rod that had been scorched black at the end and stoked the flames, which grew back to their form once again. It made a rustling noise, and I observed with impatience in my eyes.
“Saw em’ run past. Holdin’ clubs’n torches. Beatin’ old women over the head and fightin’ with the other crazies. I had to kill me one.”
He shifted his head to the dim area beside the dumpster where the crumpled body of a teenager lay, small stab wounds where his heart once was. “Came at me with a mallet, so I put him down with the fire stoker.”
I didn’t know whether to be impressed or disgusted, so I settled on neither.
“Do you know what caused this to happen?”
The man shrugged.
“Mayor kept talkin’ bout his damn mine all day. Said he found a new source of money that’d put our town on the map. Same week this happened.”
“Where could I find this mine?”
“Up north a ways, but don’t go there alone. The crazies have gathered there in a big horde doin’ nothing. They want that mine safe for whatever reason.”

I thanked the man for the information, and jotted what he said down in my notebook. This would likely prove vital to our efforts, but the day was still young. Some other members of the Guard walked by around three in the afternoon, and one approached me with a look of fear in his eyes.
“Stay away from the warehouse in the northwest,” he said urgently, “there’s these red stones inside that turned Mikey into a killer!”
“What happened to him?”
I asked.
“We… We had to put the poor bastard down. Our immobilization spells did nothing.”
His tone sounded sincere and saddened, and I decided to leave them be for the time being and to take their advice about the warehouse. Clearly that would be a task for the good Commander, who was far more powerful than any of us, to take care of. The lower district contained the highest body count from what I had seen, while most of the deaths in the more wealthy upper district had occurred from peasants killing more of the wealthy folk. Was there some kind of uprising? I doubted it, because of what my comrade had just described to me about the red stone. There was something else going on in this town. Something darker.

Before I knew it night had fell and I had discovered a few more things about the city. For one, the mayor’s house was nothing short of a mansion, and made all houses nearby look like rubbish. About thirty bodies were strewn across the well-tended lawn, each bearing wounds from musket shot. Furthermore, I was unable to find any other survivors that day, and from what I overheard from the other men, they had no such luck either. It was likely that the Regimental army would be called in soon, judging by how the situation looked.

I may also add, that while I was exploring the mayor’s lawn I was given quite the fright upon spying two red orbs staring at me atop the roof. The body was a shadow through the mist, and all I could really see of the figure was those two crimson eyes boring into me. You could imagine my embarrassment when they blinked a couple times, and I realized they belonged to Cyrus. That man blended in with the environment as if he was in his element. Hell, he probably was.

That night we made lodging in an old inn at the edge of town which overlooked the forest. Thankfully, it seemed completely abandoned, and the amount of bodies was lessened around its perimeter. Even the beds had been made quite well, and if it weren’t for our miserable surroundings I’m sure I would have been able to spend a good enough night in this place. Unfortunately, I remained awake until 2 A.M. listening to what sounded like hissing coming from the foliage outside the window I lay next to. And I could have sworn I briefly saw a figure staring at me from behind the bough of tree with deathly pale skin and eyes as wide as saucers. My eyes only caught a glimpse of it, though, before it silently ducked back into cover in a fluid motion. The thing I found most frightening about it was how distinctly human in appeared to be, while still remaining unnatural and horrifying.

Cyrus, as a Vampire, didn’t require sleep and must have spent the night scouring the town in search of more information. A Regimental Commander was the strongest user of Cambria in his or her Nation. They didn’t have to fear hardly anything with their kind of capabilities, and Cyrus was rumored to be one of the strongest out of the nine Commanders. Every year an optional tournament was held in the capital that pitted them against each other in friendly duels. Cyrus turned up one time in all the years I had been alive, and defeated every last one of his opponents before vanishing from the competition without a trace. Never to return since.

Many people hated the man because of him being a Vampire. The Mire had a history of war against the seafaring people, and Cyrus was a half breed. This meant that neither side could call him theirs. Even I, who had served under him for a good deal of my life, could really claim to know much about him or what his motivations were.

But moving on with my tale, the next morning was cold. Many people had scavenged coats from around town and were wearing them as if they had owned them their whole lives. Even breakfast was pretty much stolen, consisting of ale, bread and cheeses. This was still superior to what we typically ate in the BlackGuard, so none of us could complain. While eating alone at a wooden table I overheard a group of others talking about a survivor they had found and how he used to work in the mines. According to them, the mine uncovered a red colored material about a week back, which somehow led to the contamination of the water supply. I was beginning to make the conclusion that this odd stone had something to do with what had happened here.

We all gathered in a line outside the inn, and Cyrus paced as he usually did and explained that he would be individually talking with each person about what they had found out, before sharing his own findings with everyone. Many people had nothing to report, but I heard the same thing about the mines and water contamination, as well as a bit about how the mayor had lost it a day or two before the massacre took place. The death of the soldier in the warehouse was brought up, and Cyrus stated that he would investigate the place in person. A couple others had gone off to explore the northern forest and never returned, according to a pair of bleak faced men to my right. I explained my own findings, and aside from that only one other bit of knowledge was revealed to us.

Somebody had interviewed a scientist, who stated that the red stone contained an extremely strong mutagenic property that affected behavior, strength, and in late cases, appearance. It took longer exposure to ‘infect’ somebody from simply holding the stone to one’s skin than it did consuming it, where the effect was almost instantaneous. We were advised to steer very clear of the mineral in the future and not to drink local water. Many of us were afraid about the alcohol and food but since we weren’t trying to kill each other yet, our fear was unfounded.

This was a vital bit of intelligence, and everyone seemed to know it. Cyrus addressed us on the subject in a prompt manner.
“I must admit that you have all done your work quite well. The picture is becoming clearer to me now, and the objective of the mission has now changed,” he began with a firm look in his eyes as he paced back in forth like he usually did when speaking with a group of people, “we will now focus on the curing or elimination of the infected as well as destruction of any and all of this stone. I will be calling in the Regimental army, and initiating a quarantine immediately. Until a potential cure is found, you are authorized to eliminate any infected persons that you encounter. At a later time, I will be gathering volunteers to demolish the mines. Until then, I wish you all best of luck.”
We raised our salutes and scattered. Some of us formed into groups to go out and engage the infected, but I remained alone. There were still unanswered questions about the situation, including why the infected weren’t killing each other and how we would go about finding a cure. But as a morally sound gentlemen, I decided to make finding the scientist and a cure my top priority.

After speaking with a few people, I was directed to the train station. Survivors were being gathered here for questioning in addition to evacuation, but only about seven people stood at the trainstation. The scientist was at least easy to spot as he wore a white labcoat and goggles and stood well over six feet tall. The poor man from before was there too, staring up at the trees in an almost malignant way.
“Hello, sir!”
I called out to the scientist, putting my hand in the air in greeting as I did so. The man in question turned a depressing looking face to me in a delayed manner.
“What is it?”
“Do you believe there could be a cure?”
I pressed, stopping in front of him and awaiting a reply. The scientist sighed deeply and looked off into space, clearly pondering something in his head. I was quite surprised at just how long he did this before actually giving me an answer.
“I assume not. It seems to be more of a mutation than an actual virus, so it would need to be reversed, if anything,” the man rubbed his chin and stared off into space, “I doubt the effects will be reversible.”
With this sobering news I nodded a few times.
“So would it be possible to make an antidote? At all?”
“Sure it’s possible, but it would probably take months or years.”
We certainly didn’t have that kind of time on our hands, that was for sure.
“Could you perhaps tell me the location of your laboratory?”
He nodded briefly and pointed into the distance in a vague and confusing manner.
“A little ways past the warehouse. But do not enter the warehouse or you may become afflicted!”

I thanked the man and began walking away, only to halt my pace upon realizing that these people could still provide a lot of useful information to me. Even so, questioning them all took about an hour, and yielded few results that were of much use to me. Defeated, I finally snuck away from the small group and began making my way back towards the village, unsure of what to do next.

There were certainly some options before me, but none really seemed too appealing. Firstly, I could join the others, who were preparing to kill all those who were affected by the insidious disease. Second, I could take the day off and sign up for the destruction of the mine, or I could investigate these stones that had both I and many others afraid and perplexed.

My eventual decision was to look into the origin of the stones, as I was hardly one to enjoy killing things. Especially things that bore a resemblance to fellow humans. My destination was the laboratory, and the trip to this location took me near the warehouse that I had been warned of now multiple times. The road nearby shifted to a light brown gravel that crunched beneath my feet. A surprisingly dry landscape considering the misty and mildly humid environment nearby. There were actually a multitude of different metal warehouses to the left and right, which smelled faintly of manure. I managed to catch a glimpse through an open doorway to see some hay and various farming equipment within. It caused me to jump slightly upon seeing the blood-stained head peeking out below the doorway, eyes glazed over and soulless. More of the crimson liquid had pooled nearby. I picked up my pace a bit after this, and from then on began seeing dead bodies more and more often.

Eventually, the different farmhouses at my flanks terminated to reveal a giant area of gravel sprawling out before me. The west portion led into the misty forest, while the east creeped back into the town. To the north was a giant warehouse that was colored white and cream and made of rigid metal that stood in the center, more bodies than ever lying about its perimeter. I had not seen another Guardsman in a while now, and was beginning to grow a tad worried about being here alone. But as I gazed through the mist I could see the dark outline of a figure standing motionless in front of the metal building ahead.
“Hello!” I called out, stopping for a moment with a hand on my flintlock. “Are you a member of the Guard?!”
I received no reply, but I knew exactly who it was as the figure turned to face me, with two distorted ruby lights cutting through the veil that separated us. “Oh… I apologize, sir.”
“No need.”

There was a brief crack of wind and before I knew it the figure of Cyrus stood directly in front of me. Wind batted at my face, and the dust that had been kicked up managed to catch my eye. I must have looked like quite the fool while trying to rub it out, but I knew that Cyrus had just utilized a wind spell known as the ‘Vault’. A very popular technique capable of propelling one forward in a straight line almost instantly, while at the same time killing many by having them strike a brick wall or tree at supersonic speeds during training.

I dared not attempt to utilize it unless it was required, considering it took a large amount of mastery in order to dictate how far and how fast you travelled at once. Cyrus looked at me in a bland manner as I cleared my eyes of dust and saluted him.
“Reporting, sir.”
“Please explain to me why you are here, Mr. Cedric.”
He stated in a monotone.
“I heard from a scientist that his laboratory is a ways past the warehouse, sir. My goal is to find a way to stop the mutation.”
“And why is no one else with you?”
I didn’t quite know how to answer that question, looking back, but devised the most suitable reply possible at the time.
“I am not sure, sir.”
Cyrus sighed and shook his head.
“First of all, you have permission to speak freely. Secondly, since you are here, you may as well be of some use to me.”
My expression changed to one of confusion.
“How could I be of any use to you?”
“… Well, I was just about to answer that,” he started, very slight annoyance lacing his words, “I wish for someone to describe what the infection is like. As a Vampire I am immune to such things, so I need somebody to be my guinea pig, so to speak.”

You may imagine my surprise to hear this, but I did not straight up say ‘no’.
“So you want me to commit suicide?!”
Cyrus raised a finger and opened his mouth, but looked to be unable to find the reply he had been looking for. Eventually, he let his arm drop, and with a dull look gave me the most brutally honest response possible.
“Pretty much.”
“With all due respect, I must refuse!”
With a sly grin he threw one of his ice cold arms around my shoulder and began walking towards the nearby building with me in an extremely awkward imitation of what a normal person would do with one of his friends.
“But you did not let me explain! Before you reach the point of no return, I will end the infection. How else would I garner any results?”
A little relieved, but still indecisive, I nodded in an ever so slight fashion.
“But how do you know the infection won’t be irreversible?”
“Heh. You ask too many questions, but for someone who enjoys giving too many answers…” He paused here and let his voice trail off for a bit. “I don’t.”
“Wonderful.”

Honestly, I was in no position to refuse my Commander. And if he really wanted to, he could have simply hexed me and forced me to comply, which I had heard rumors of him doing in the past rather frequently. Perhaps his forced attempt at socialization was him trying to gain obedience using other means, and I most certainly didn’t want to stop him from trying this.
The warehouse already reeked of the dead upon reaching the entrance. It was bigger than all the rest, and more bodies were scattered around it than in its surroundings. There were certainly a good number of people that once lived here if there were this many bodies.

Cyrus took his arm off my shoulder and briefly peered inside one of the gaping metal doors.
“A few were lingering inside. Had to put them down,” he explained casually, “not quite sure when they got there. Heard one of my squads went in, but got out.”
With that he entered, motioning for me to follow. I had my palm clutching the hilt of my sabre all the while as I did so. At first, the inside was completely devoid of all life and only the shadows that swept the edges and parts of the unknown were visible. Cyrus then uttered a few brief words and a pale light shone over the interior like a beacon, making clear to me what was in the distance.

There were more bodies, but disfigured almost beyond the point of being human. But it didn’t look to be caused by the bullet or blade, but… Naturally. There were grotesque mutations all across the body of one man, including bulging eyes and swollen muscles as if he had been on heavy amounts of steroids. Another was all but a skeleton, lying motionless on the ground with drooping skin all around him that looked to have melted off some way.

In the rear were huge piles of a glowing red. And I made these glowing objects out to be stones of some sort, that were being handled like drugs from the looks of it in this musty and decrepit smelling place.
“If Beckett was here, he’d call it a ‘Class A Mutagenic Substance’,” Cyrus said in a mocking tone of a snobbish person, “it appears that small amounts are capable of producing a feeling of intense euphoria. Addiction is immediate and powerful… As is evident by the amount of bodies.”
The Commander stood over the body of the swollen man I described from earlier, rubbing his chin in thought.
“So I wouldn’t immediately turn into one of these… Things?”
I asked, trying to hide my cringe at the ghastly sight.
“No. Likely you will become very addicted, but I can assist with that.”

The good commander walked over to one of the piles of the stuff and removed a shard of the glowing stone from just ahead of a cream colored tarp that had been partially moved. He held it upwards and inspected it thoroughly. “I assume that this was never intended for human consumption. For a Mutagenic it could be rather useful, though.”
In case you are unaware, a Mutagenic is a very rare breed of human that has abilities that evolve depending on different variables. Many have theorized they originated from experimentation and not naturally, as they incorporate many artificial substances and enhancements into them without a hitch.

Society has all but shunned Mutagenics, though. Often times they may have different body features, like incredibly large muscles or lack of different body parts and this can make them appear rather frightening. Different objects can alter their appearance and abilities, and judging by what Cyrus had said, this was one of them.
“So you want me to-”
“Hold it firmly in your hand, yes.”
Cyrus interrupted, walking briskly over to me and shoving the stone he was holding into my palm. Almost instantly the world changed into a haze of rainbow and psychedelic wonder. It built up a little at first, until the feel of the environment faded, following by all senses and ending in me being all but removed from my body.

I wasn’t just a human anymore, I was an entity. A mixture of different emotions wandering the aether as opposed to a bag of flesh maneuvering throughout the world. When I attempted to laugh, there was a distorted echo and colors filled my entire reality in oceans of brilliant colors. The world had faded and I was one with whatever fanciful world I had been brought into. And I didn’t want to leave. On the contrary, I wanted to stay like this forever. My body was nowhere to be found now, and all I could feel was intense satisfaction and peace.

And then everything turned a crimson red. Suddenly I despised everything and everyone. Everyone had to die by my hand, no matter what the cost. It is really hard to describe this feeling, but by the time I was suddenly yanked from my paradise I was about ready to stab something. Anything. The world returned to me, in addition to my lowly body, and I collapsed to the floor with the color still fading from vision. A painful headache had set in and all sound that reached my ears reverberated about five times before finally reaching my ears. I heard somebody shouting at me for awhile, but just ignored it and clutched my forehead in pain.

After about a minute I received an incredibly strong kick to the ribs that was powerful enough to knock me on my back, facing the blurred ceiling. My uniform was fashioned from durable hardened leather, but even so I already knew I had been severely bruised where the kick had landed. My mouth opened and I let out a cry of agony, but reality had set in once more, and I was back in Nation 3 again, with two crimson orbs staring right at me from above.
“Welcome back.”
Cyrus said, grabbing my palm despite it facing downwards and pulling me to my feet with inhuman strength. I stumbled around a little, and my hand felt as if it had been dipped in ice water from just touching the Commander’s flesh. I took a moment to get a grasp on my surroundings, all the while having my left hand pressed to my forehead, which still throbbed in pain.
“Why… Why did you kick me, sir?”
I uttered, turning to face my Vampiric comrade while trying my hardest not to come across as upset.
“We don’t have time for recovery, Mr. Cedric!” Came the reply, as he folded his arms. “Now tell me how you felt.”
My explanation was a lot like it was in this recounting, and the Commander didn’t appear surprised in the least. Then again, he never did appear to be surprised in all my time serving him.

Eventually Cyrus appeared satisfied and nodded briefly.
“So it is also psychological, then,” he mused, pacing back and forth while rubbing his chin, “the Regimental army shall be arriving in a couple days, along with Beckett. With this information, things should go much smoother.”
“Couldn’t you have just waited and used somebody else?”
The Commander chuckled as if I was intending to tell a joke.
“These kind of methods are far too unorthodox for Dravis. Would have never heard the end of it. But on another note, I believe you should investigate the suitcase over there. You may find it most… Intriguing.”
One crack of wind later, the Commander vanished, leaving me completely alone within the warehouse. My eyes scanned the place for awhile despite my headache, and when they caught sight of something in the very corner of the room they widened in disbelief. The white light Cyrus had created had vanished, but even so I knew what I was looking at.

It was the exact same suitcase that had gone missing that fateful night when I encountered the Shapeshifter. Every last detail about it looked the same, from the mahogany brown finish to the shiny handle at the top portion that hung out limpy. The case itself was closed, but was covered by a small coat of dust as if it had been there for a large amount of time. Cyrus must have noticed it before I did, but considering he was a Commander, it wasn’t very surprising. My boots thumped along the concrete floor as I approached the thing, past another limp corpse.

My palm slid over the dry dust, and the upper part of the case was now shining where I touched it. I scanned it over one last time, before unbuckling the two metal flaps at the top and opening it. They had been opened recently, judging by the lack of dust near them. This was certainly Cyrus’ doing. And then I remembered what the contents were.

Eyes fell to the floor from within. Some bloody, some rotted and some looking almost fresh. They hit the ground like oversized marbles but with a fleshy impact that made me grimace. Even so, I didn’t drop the case, I just looked at it in disgust along with its horrid contents as a foul stench filled the air… One more foul than it already smelled in this place. Oddly enough, my next thought was to find the Scrye authorization papers, but I came out empty handed in the end. This confirmed my prior thoughts that somehow, some way either the Shapeshifter from that night survived, or there was a second one. A second Shapeshifter. But why would it come here, of all places? Especially since it must have departed the night it acquired the papers? I felt uneasy after this, having almost put my memories of my first encounter into the back of my mind.

But for now, this was a secondary objective. I needed to figure out how to stop this mutation, if at all possible, and so I hastily left the building only to find something infinitely more terrifying outside.

About fifty feet out from the entrance was a thing that resembled a human being, wearing typical rags of a peasant. But it was almost exactly like the thing I had seen the earlier night, with massive eyes and pale skin. After a minute, it just stopped and turned its gaze in my direction, staring at me completely motionless.

My blood ran cold and I dared not take my eyes off it for even a second. My hand fumbled at my hip for the flintlock I carried, and when it finally grasped it the creature charged me at terrifying speeds on all fours, reminiscent of how the Shapeshifter from before moved. It hissed through a toothless mouth as it approached in an astonishingly loud manner.

Without needing much thought, I raised my gun and took aim through my left eye. Its movements were easy to trace, and a crack ran through the air as a high impact bullet struck it in the torso, causing a thump and a brief spray of blood where it hit. Even so, the monster only jerked back for a second before continuing its assault. Not having time to load another bullet, I put my weapon back in its holster and drew my silver plated sabre, readying it before me in a defensive stance as the abomination closed the distance.

It pounced into the air and raised what I assumed to be its hands They looked human, but bony, and the nails had taken on the form of pure bone and had sharpened enough to each be as sharp as razors. Five of them stretched a full foot long. I was able to swat aside both appendages with my blade and force the thing to jump to the side on all fours once again, hissing for a moment before making another move at me.

This time it made a slashing strike with its right arm, which I was able to parry with a single hand on my blade, while using the other to hopefully cast a few spells to even the fight.
“Pir!”
The most simple Word at our disposal, Pir created a weak spray of flames for a second. But a second was all it needed to engulf the monster in a gout of fire, which it did not seem to enjoy judging by its frantic motions as it tried to claw away from the inferno. I gave it no time to recover and lunged in with my sword, catching the side of the neck and decapitating it in one mighty strike. Blood was thrown all across my face and the nearby area, and the charred and bloody corpse fell silent as the last embers of fire died from around it.

I took a few deep breaths and used a cloth from one of my pockets to wipe away the red that occupied my blade. It was a brief but decisive victory, and was to be expected from a member of the Guard. Clearly this was not the only one of these monsters that lurked around the village, and I decided that it would be most advantageous to not postpone my trip to the laboratory any longer.

After loading an incendiary round in my flintlock, I began making my way towards where the scientist directed, leaving the warehouse and strange body behind for the time being. There were less bodies as the gravel continued, but also more ramshackle houses. Some even consisted of tin and cloth furnishings that added to the impoverished look of the area.

I found the building rather easily, a proper white one sticking out like a sore thumb next to the pitiful looking surroundings. The place looked to be in nearly perfect condition, and even the door was unlocked. Inside it was a different story, as papers and various equipment were thrown everywhere. I looked the scene over in search of something that could be of use, and after spending over two hours reading through all the different papers, I managed to find a sheet of paper that cleared a great many things up.

“After years of study, I have deduced that the red stone, ‘Chakarae’, that has been destroying my town and my people has not been only just discovered. Legends of a lost race of people in Nation 3 have detailed the use of the mineral in various rituals to pagan gods. Those that are exposed to it are called ‘demons’ due to their behavior. The behavioral pattern of these creatures suggests something terrifying, in that their only real purpose is to eliminate sentient life of any kind. I have seen them butcher animals, children, and the elderly without cause. The initial stages make humans into crazed killers, while later stages involve mutation to the degree of becoming a completely different species.”

To my knowledge, the effects are irreversible once they have reached stage one. If this mutagenic is allowed to spread, we may be facing a crisis that puts the entire human species at great risk, as the mineral can be spread through simple physical contact, water or a number of other ways.”

I also found a journal entry dating to before the apparent incident took place.

“The mayor’s behavior has become increasingly erratic as of late, as he has focused the entire town on his damnable mine. This week he seemed different from the usual upbeat man he tended to be. More… Unnatural in an inexplicable way. I have seen him visiting the old warehouse by my residence during my midnight strolls, and speaking with men in black suits. I suppose I write this entry because I have had little to do as of late. This lovely town is completely devoid of sickness and disease, and my studies are few but generally successful. I just hope this mine is worth the effort of renovating.”

This led me to believe that he had written all the rest of the papers in a very short timespan. Most likely searching for a way to find a cure, like I was. This mayor character seemed rather suspicious, to say the least, and the occurrences taking place were beginning to make me believe that the Shapeshifter incident was somehow connected to this one. But one thing was for certain: the mine would have to be destroyed.

My next priority, however, was to find Cyrus again. This was a matter that would best be discussed with him before anything else. I felt an odd sense of relief after leaving the laboratory and heading back towards the hotel with suitcase in hand. When I came back, I found a good deal of other Guardsman there. Some sat out at the wooden outdoor tables, while others were lying on the ground with gauze covering bloody wounds on their bodies side to side. It appeared these creatures were already beginning to inflict a few casualties, but compared to the number who weren’t wounded, it didn’t seem like they had inflicted too many.

Cyrus was sitting alone at one of these tables, furiously writing something upon a sheet of paper by the looks of it. As I approached, I saw him occasionally stop as if to ponder something before resuming once again. A scratching sound filled the air from the pencil he held.
“I believe I have found some more items of interest, sir.”
I announced, straightening myself before him and providing a salute.
“Very well, Mr. Cedric…” He spoke, not taking his eyes off the paper he was writing on. “And what are these items?”
“The scientist’s notes, sir.”
“Ah, very well. I shall pass them onto Beckett as soon as possible.”
“But I thought we were to be looking into this matter on our own, sir?”
Cyrus grunted and set his pencil down in an almost frustrated manner, before turning his dull gaze to me.
“Well, I have good news,” he started, obviously not meaning a word he said, “Beckett and his scientists will be handling this case as soon as the mine is destroyed. He apparently thinks these things are ‘fascinating’.”
“More like horrifying, if I may say.”
I replied in almost a mumble.
“You may. But it appears that we are needed for more urgent matters, currently.”
“And those are?”

Cyrus looked as if he was contemplating whether to actually give an answer or not for a moment, but eventually sat back and took a deep breath.
“You have the suitcase, correct? It appears that this whole Shapeshifter debacle isn’t over yet, since the mayor left the town two days before the major outbreak.”
“And what is so important about that?”
I asked with a raised brow.
“We found the corpse of the mayor in the living room of his mansion, Mr. Cedric. His left eye was missing.”
Deep down I knew something like this was afoot, but it still managed to come as a surprise to me somehow. It appeared that the very thing I thought had ended was only just beginning, and for some reason I was at the very center of it all.

The mine was destroyed that night with Cyrus leading the away party. A third of those who had gone to destroy it did not return, and yet more came back wounded grievously. Even so, the operation was a success. I had not been in the raiding party, and instead sat on the upper floor of the hotel, looking out into the forest to see that same creature from last night staring back at me. Except this time, it was just standing there with what I swore to be a thin and malicious grin across its face.
Normally I would have looked away, either in fear or spitefulness but instead I glared right back at it with what must have been a strong determination in my eyes. If I was to fight monsters, I would no longer be apprehensive to doing so. If nobody would be there to watch my back, I would watch it myself. And if a Shapeshifter wanted to play games with me, I would let him go ahead and try.

My depression ended that night, as I thought back on why I joined the Guard in the first place. It was not to make money, and not simply to serve my Nation or Emperor. It was something far more simple than either one of those reasons. Even so, the look of odd confidence in the creatures’ massive eyes was a little disconcerting as it snuck back behind the same tree from before.

The following morning we left on the next train, and I had packed all my belongings in the suitcase I had found. The mystery of what really took place in that town would still remain a mystery for the time being, but I was ready for whatever the future could throw my way… At least that was what I believed.

As we began to climb aboard the train that was leaving, I shot the scientist who was also leaving with us a look that said everything I needed to say. He nodded, and disappeared into the rear portion with the rest of the survivors.

And as the vehicle’s dull horn resounded through the area as we began to pick up speed, and I found myself staring out the window once again as we departed. A town completely devoid of all life, wiped from the face of the planet by an ancient material of unknown origin. It was frightening to think just how much of the Mire was shrouded in mystery to this day.

As Cyrus walked by, one of the men on the row opposite me spoke out.
“May I ask where we will be going next, sir?”
The Commander stopped for a moment and turned to face him.
“You may,” he replied almost exactly how he had done with me, “I just hope you all like the ocean.”

Credit To – hexo67

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The Mortuary

June 4, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I was surrounded by dead bodies. Being a mortician, I was used to it of course. It used to creep me out a little when I first got the job. But eventually, you get used to it, and it just feels like another day at the office. After a while I started talking to them like live patients, which is actually a norm in my profession.

You might think it distressing, working with dead people all the time. But I actually enjoy it, in fact I find it rather peaceful. Yes, it’s much better than dealing with the rambunctious eccentricities of the living. The dead have no complaints, they all act like model patients.

My name is Mark, and I’ve been doing this for nearly ten years. I work at the Kranhausen funeral home outside Detroit’s north end, one of the oldest in the state of Michigan. The cemetery has graves with internment dates going back into the eighteenth century. The building itself is an old Victorian era mansion, converted sometime in the early nineteenth century. Signs of antiquity show all through out the ancient carpentry and masonry, giving it the atmosphere of an earlier time, when this region was almost entirely void of inhabitants.

Our story starts in late December. In the winter time, when the ground would freeze, we would have to wait until next year to began burying the bodies. So until then, the caskets would be temporarily placed in another old building in the cemetery for storage until spring closed in. It was my job to roll them out and place them in their temporary resting place. We generally tried to do this in the evening, as the sight of caskets being moved around seemed to make onlookers feel a bit uneasy.

I remember how cold it was, when I would push that dolly loaded with a casket through the path to the back of the cemetery. I hated it, it was always so cold, and the dolly was heavy and would never want to maneuver in the snow. I would reach the old building exhausted and out of breath, only to have to place the casket on a rack, and make the return journey with the dolly still not wanting to cooperate.

Sometimes, when I was loading those caskets into the old storage building, I could hear the loud creaking of the ancient lumber, accompanied by an uneasy feeling of being watched. The dead never bothered me, but there was something about that old building which I found rather unsettling. It had no windows, and the air inside was rank with rot and decay. The smell of mildew was so potent it was nearly unbearable.

It seems as though I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like that place either. I was working on embalming one of my patients. As I said earlier, talking to the dead is common for me, even though it’s a one sided conversation. As I worked, I was explaining to him I was gonna but him up in the store house until the ground thawed. And this was the first time my imagination got the best of me, cause I swear to you I heard him tell me not to take him there. I laughed to myself about it, cause after all, why would the dead care where they’re resting at, it’s not like being buried in dirt is any better then laying in an old building.

Then came spring, and with it, the ground thawed out. That meant it was time to start moving the caskets to their permanent resting place in the cemetery. It was a grueling task to perform even though the obstacles of ice and snow were gone. Those caskets and their macabre contents weighed quite a bit, and moving them by myself was hard work no matter what the weather was like. For this reason, we only did two or three in the mornings to save the rest of the day for my normal duties.

It was early in the morning in late March, the exact day I cannot remember. It was still rather cold out, despite the misleading sight of fresh green grass. I grabbed the dolly, and began the long walk to the storage building near the cemetary. I kicked along the path, silently resenting having to perform this grisly task. I had other work to do, and needed to get this over with.

As I opened the iron door, it let out a loud creak, and I pushed the dolly inside. I hesitated for a moment, not wanting to enter as the building still gave me an uneasy feeling. I put the dolly next to the rack with the casket I needed, and began sliding the casket over. The old building was creaking loudly as I worked. First one end, then the other, I finally got it in place, when my imagination started up again. I thought I heard a whisper saying “get out.” Looking behind me, I saw nothing there, and shrugged it off, getting ready to make my way back out. Just then, I heard a voice loudly yell the word “go.”

As rational thinking was being replaced by fear, I quickly shoved the dolly out the door following closely behind it. I felt better just being back outside, and whatever I had heard quickly became irrelevant. Maybe I imagined it, maybe it really was a ghost, and they just wanted to be left alone. As I was mulling these thoughts around in my head, I heard another loud creak, followed by a loud crash.

At first, I was scared to turn around. It was so loud, it took me a moment to realize I was okay. When my heart rate started to calm down, I finally looked behind me. The old storage building had collapsed into a pile of rubble. All that remained now was a formless mound of broken boards, glass, and some nails. If it had happened just one minute sooner, I would have died right then and there. Then I started thinking, was that why I had heard that voice? Were my dead friends in there trying to warn me the old house was about to collapse? I think about it alot, and there’s too many coincidences to come to any real conclusions. But I did get one thing out of the whole experience; if a place gives me the creeps, I stay away.

Credit To – David Armstrong

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Dark Slayer

June 3, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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The store, called Ferocious Arms and Armory, was heavy with the scent of cured leather. Standing in front of the counter Darrick eyeballed the katana, giving each square inch the attention it deserved. Among the other gleaming weapons that hung on every wall of the shop, this one stood out. The red dragon printed on the sheath gave the sword style, and it felt good when he held it in his hands, as if the cold iron was a part of him. But it was best to consider a purchase of this magnitude with care.

“Is it full tang?”

“I reckon so,” The old man behind the counter said scratching at his gray facial hair.

“Can it take edge on edge contact?”

“No… No sword can. Not for long any way. It’s only in the movies that people slap swords around like that. It’s a real good way to bend or break your weapon. Also… it’s a two hundred dollar replica.”

Darrick did his best to cut him a nasty look and said, “But it’ll chop through… like, three cows right?”

The clerk rolled his eyes and gave a labored sigh. “Yeah… It’ll cut through five or six, and it’ll really let you focus your chi to super-human levels.” The clerk rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palm. “So, are you going to buy the thing or not? The mall is about to close and you’ve been looking at the sword for two hours.”

“Yep, I am.” Darrick wasn’t positive, but it seemed as if the clerk’s voice dripped with sarcasm. However, he’d resolved to let it slide for the sake of getting the sword.

He yanked out the money, and the greedy clerk snatched the bills from his hands then popped open the cash register. He stuffed the money in and said, “Cool, thanks for your business, but I got to close up shop now. I got bowling tonight, and I’ve been late two times this month. The guys in my league kind of frown on that.”

“Whatever.” Darrick grabbed the sword off the counter and walked out of the store a far more dangerous man than he had ever been. He clinched the sword with in his hands as he walked the three miles back to his place in the dark.

Once he arrived at his studio apartment, he cleared the Miller High Life cans and Monarch Vodka bottles off of the coffee table and replaced them with the sword. He brushed his fingertips over the blade, and it sent a chill racing down his spine. One of his major life goals, owning a samurai sword, was complete, but it came with unexpected strings attached.

The forces of the undead were amassing, and he seemed to be the only one that gave a crap. It’s not like the world didn’t know; they just didn’t care. However, that sounded about right for humanity. They were, and always had been, procrastinators, and they always wanted someone else to save them from their own stupidity. Darrick, as Atlas before him, would shoulder this burden and send the children of the night back into the shadows. He smiled as he assumed the lotus position on the somewhat sticky floor. He slid the sword off the coffee table and rested the blade on his lap as he said, “Dear Buddha, see that this sword is true, and guide it into the hearts of the undead. Let none stand without fear when this blade is used, and let all the girls think it’s completely awesome.” Thus the sword became his holy weapon of destruction, and in a voice as deep as his vocal cords could permit he proclaimed, “I name you…Foe Chopper.” He raised the sword into the air, and the ceremony was almost complete. All he had to do now was christen it with undead blood, and that would come soon enough.

After three hours of working out to sword practice videos he’d found on YouTube, he was sure no modern master could stop his speed, cunning and reflexes. He had an unnatural ability to learn the fighting arts. In fact, all he had to do was see a move once or twice and he was able to repeat it perfectly, so in his estimation he’d already mastered six different martial arts from YouTube and Kung fu magazines alone.

Since he’d received government funding a year ago, it allowed him to devote himself to his cause, and he would only get better and better. There was no stopping him. He cracked open a bottle of Blue Nun to celebrate, and didn’t rest until it had been drained along with a few beers and a shot or two of vodka.

When the world became too blurry from the alcohol, he crashed on top of his bed, and he couldn’t help but imagine all the ways he’d use that blade to slice through the undead. The fighting would be like a perfect, yet brutal, ballet, and the night would know him by his code name forever more. He was to become the Dark Slayer, and that name would be on the lips of every hellish being that walked the earth. The sword lay beside him as he drifted off.

***

The buzzing of the doorbell pulled him from the alcohol-induced coma that passed for sleep. Sure, he slept better than he had in years, but that didn’t mean much as he usually only got a couple of hours in. He always felt ragged, and even with the extra sleep, he still had the hangover to contend with.

Not many people came by these days, but he couldn’t blame them. They wanted to keep living in their fantasy world where bad things didn’t happen to good people, and the dead stayed dead. However, he wouldn’t do it anymore. The more he accepted the world for the way it was, the less he could relate to others, and the more he reflected reality’s harsh truths back at them the more they feared him. It was sad really. The lengths people would go to hide from what was going on never ceased to amaze him.

The doorbell belted out its thin but insistent ring once more, and he shot from his bed. It could only be Miss Halloran, his governmental contact. He snatched the sword off of the bed and shoved it into his closet so she wouldn’t see it. He didn’t need any hassle about it not being a regulation weapon, and he sure as hell didn’t need any flack about all the beer cans either. As an agent in training he was not supposed to drink. However, it was the only thing that calmed him after his workouts, and it was the only way he could get any sleep. So, he grabbed the armful of cans and bottles off the coffee table and shoved them into the trash as he yelled, “Just a second!”

He sprinted to the small mirror on his wall and slapped his hair into shape then rushed to the door. Darrick put his eye up to the peephole, and he saw Miss Halloran’s all too round face distorted by the fish eye lens of the hole. He lingered at the sight for a moment, just to make sure that no one else had followed her. Some might call it paranoid, but one could never be too careful when dealing with either the government or the undead. After a few moments of watching her pace in front of his door, he was satisfied she was still one of the good guys. His hand shot up to the dead bolt, and he unlocked the door.

“Morning,” She said walking in without waiting for an invitation. She could be forward at times, but that was one of the things he liked about her. It was also one of the things he despised.

“Morning,” He repeated as he walked over to his sofa and plopped down. She shut the door behind her and strutted further into the room.

“You haven’t been to any of the meetings in a few weeks, Darrick. Is everything ok?”

He nodded, but said nothing. She never used his code name, and he was sure she did it just to piss him off. Although, he’d never been too adept at reading the female kind. She could have been coming on to him for all he knew. It didn’t matter much to him either way. He had neither time for anger or sex. All that mattered was his first real mission, and that mission was happening tonight. Nothing would stop him from being ready. Besides, Miss Halloran, at best, could be described as frumpy. “Nope, haven’t been to one in a little while.”

“Why not?”

“We do the same shit … like, all the freaking time. I just don’t get it and I hate going,” He said.

“Well, the others manage to show up… every time. I don’t think it can be that bad. Besides, attending those meetings is one of the things that got you here,” She said swirling her hands in the air to signal the apartment. She always had to threaten his funding. It was the first place she went to get him to do as she wanted, and she knew he couldn’t say no. However, he wasn’t going to give up without at least a little fight.

“The government has billions of dollars, and the best they can do is toss to me a one room apartment in the shittiest part of town. I’m not too impressed with the way they treat their people.”

Her face scrunched into a mix of exasperation and disgust as he spoke. They’d played this game too many times, and he knew what was going to come next. She reached into her purse and pulled out a small white bag and tossed it onto the coffee table. The bag rattled as it slid across the table and came to a stop on his pack of Camels. “You got to keep up with everything if you want it to stay like this.”

“I have been.” He scratched at his stubble and continued, “Everything’s been hard lately, but I said I’d keep your rules and I’m a man of my word.”

“I know you are, so could you just come to the meetings like you promised?”

“Yeah… whatever Miss Halloran.” She hated it when he called her Miss, but that was why he did it so often.

“I’m not trying to be mean, but I feel you should use my proper title. I like you. However, we need to keep our rolls clear.” She glanced down at the floor and said, “I’ve stuck my neck out for you.”

“I know and I’m going to make you proud. I just need more time.”

She put her hands on her hips and sighed, “Ok, you can skip the next one, but you need to come to all the rest. I mean it.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Ok. I’m going to leave you alone for now. I’ll be back tomorrow so we can have a little more substantial talk,” She looked around the room and grimaced. “Also, clean this place up. It smells like feet in here.”

“Sounds good.”

“Let me know if you need any help.” She opened the door and walked out.

He spent that afternoon organizing his gear for his first mission. His nunchucks, throwing stars, wood stakes and homemade pipe bombs were either placed in his bag or on his tac vest, and when night fell he’d be ready for the gathering of the undead that was happening that night.

Because he was taking action without clearance from Halloran, he was risking everything, but there were too many traitors within the organizations ranks to trust them with any of the details of his mission. It was going to be a sticky situation no matter what, but if he could take down a nest as large as the one he found by himself, they’d be forced to make him a full agent.

He glanced down at the paper bag she’d tossed on the coffee table, and he snatched it up and stuck it in the tac vest. If something bad happened tonight he needed to be able to at least pretend he was playing by some of their rules when they pulled him in.

***

As night fell, the Dark Slayer, crouched in the trees outside the green two-story house at the end of Maple Avenue. The house itself was nice, at least, nicer than the mobile home he grew up in as a kid, but underneath it all was the stink of the undead. There were already five or six vamps in the house, and they sometimes glared out the windows looking for their comrades or checking for security threats. However, he was too well hidden in the dew soaked underbrush that grew wild on the far left side of the house.

As he crouched in the darkness, the damp and cold night air bit into him like a wild animal. It would have been more bearable if he’d wore more than his black sleeveless Metallica shirt. However, it was important that the vamps saw how ripped he was when he made his assault. His biceps were a powerful form of psychological warfare, and he needed to use every tool in his arsenal to take them down. He’d trained a long time for this, and a little cold weather couldn’t stop him.
He’d show the organization he meant business, and they’d have to let him join. Hell, he’d come so far from where he started, and he’d shown too much gumption to be turned down now. At one time he’d been just like everyone else. He’d once thought the existence of vampires to be little more than a myth, but a documentary on the history channel last Halloween showed him otherwise. At first the show just talked about boring historical stuff, but towards the end it brought on a few actual vampires. They were tall, nerdy looking things, but underneath he could tell they were pure evil. They were dressed all in black, and even the men wore fingernail polish and lipstick, as if they were girls. The thought that people knew these creatures of the night roamed the streets ground on his nerves.

He had begun his search for vampires soon after he’d seen the show, and it didn’t take long to find them. They didn’t even cover their tracks. For God’s sake, they had web sites, and still no one did a thing to stop them. He didn’t read much of the sites’ contents, but they had pictures all over them. He couldn’t believe they could be so bold. But, the wicked often were, and that was the problem with the world. Evil gets right in everyone’s face and no one stands up to it, but the Dark Slayer wasn’t like everyone else. He was a man of action, and most of that action tonight would come from his razor sharp, and completely bitching, samurai sword.

This particular nest of vampires he’d found by accident while looking for research material at Wilson’s Comics. The Dark Slayer wasn’t much of a reader. He preferred to conduct his research in graphic novel form. Wilson’s was a small place packed to the brim with cardboard boxes full of old comics and other things nerds like, and the musty pages of the books made the place reek. He didn’t like the store much, but it was better than reading a Time Life book or a web page. So he’d been going for weeks just to gather information about the undead, and they had mountains of data on the subject.

He couldn’t believe his eyes as it walked into the store one dreary December night. The vamp was a little worm of a kid with thick-rimmed glasses, and his meekness made the Dark Slayer instantly aggressive. However, he contained the power within, and he let the kid be. After all, the Dark Slayer is a protector of the weak and helpless. But his gentile stance was misguided. What lurked within that boy was pure evil, and he was ashamed his keen hunter instincts didn’t pick up on it from the start.

“Hey, Wilson, you mind if I put this up on your board?” the kid asked the goofy shop owner. The kid’s voice was as high pitched as glass being chopped up in a blender, and that’s when Darrick discovered two things. One, the kid was a vampire, and two, that vampirism most likely stunts puberty.

“What is it?” Wilson’s fat lips flapped.

“A vampire L.A.R.P,” the undead monster said.

“Yeah, whatever.”

The vampire trotted over to the cluttered bulletin board and pinned up a self-printed advertisement. The poster was black except for the picture at the top of an open mouth with fangs and bright red font that appeared to be dripping blood. The flyer spelled out their diabolical agenda as clear as possible saying, “All undead are welcome to the first annual undead L.A.R.P. Come one come all and we’ll have ourselves a vampire ball. We play the gathering or other white wolf types of systems.” In smaller block letters underneath it stated, “It starts at 7pm January 14th. Call 907-347-2254 for further details or simply show up at 326 Maple Avenue. The sign will be out front by the mailbox. Just knock on the door.”

It was as if liquid nitrogen had been injected into Darrick’s veins, but he played it cool. He couldn’t let the enemy see his distress. After the vamp left, he ripped down the sheet and just glared at it for a while. When the incredible weight of all its implications rolled off of him, he marched up to the store owner with the leaflet clinched in his fists and tossed it at him.

“What the hell is this?” the Dark Slayer shouted.

“Yo, dude, what up!”

“What up? Are you one of them?”

“Hell, no, I’ve never L.A.R.P’ed a day in my life! If you ever accuse me of that again, you can just get the hell out of my store.”

“I don’t believe it!”

“Dude, calm down. They’re good loyal customers, and they’re just holding their little nerd party.”

“Nerd party!”

“Yah, they just go there and have a good time. I don’t give a crap what they do. It’s weird to me, but to each his own. I mean, they spend a lot of cash in here, so I‘ll tolerate a little weirdness from them. It’s all just nerd pretend dude.” Wilson tossed the leaflet back at Darrick, and it hit him in the chest and rolled to the floor.

The question as to why vampires wanted to pretend to be nerds was a mystery to Darrick, but he’d had too much of the collaborator known as Wilson to care. He snatched the paper off the ground and stormed off.

That’s how he’d come to the house on Maple Avenue, and he’d finish what he’d started. He’d been hiding in the woods for nearly three hours, and his hand was starting to ache from the stranglehold he kept on the Foe Chopper’s hilt. Darrick didn’t like to admit it, but the cold was getting to him. He pried his hands off the hilt of the sword and shoved them into his tac vest. He wasn’t trying to warm them, just looking for his bottle of rum. When his hands found the plastic bottle, Darrick jerked it out, and along with it came the bag Miss Halloran had given him. He snatched up the bag, ripped it open and pulled out the small amber bottle that lay within. Even in the dark, he could make out the horrid black letters printed on it.

Thorazine

Dr. Halloran

Take Orally: Initial Dose: 25 mg 3 times daily.

He popped open the bottle and dropped a few of the pills to the ground. When the organization took him back in, he wanted to be able to say he’d at least taken some of them. As the pills hit the dead leaves carpeting the woods a rusted out red van pulled into the driveway, and vamps piled out, dressed as if they’d taken fashion advice from Morticia Addams. All wore black and held cases of beer, bags of chips, or bottles of wine. There were about five of them in all, and slithering among them was the same gaunt nerdy vampire he’d seen at the comic shop. The Dark Slayer slammed what was left of his rum and tossed the bottle to the ground. Clinching the hilt of his sword, he sprang from the underbrush.

The Dark Slayer sprinted across the lawn and into the yellow glow of the flood lights. One of the vampires, posing as a young teen girl, spotted him as he closed in on his target. She pointed and let out a scream. Her eyes were wide and a look of terror was slapped across her face. Darrick jumped over a flower bed and onto the driveway. The hard rubber soles of his Vietnam jungle boots clacked on the asphalt as he rushed towards the target.

Despite the girl’s screams the poor bastard never saw it coming, and with one quick strike the sword slashed into the back of the nerdy vampire. The vamp let out a low whine as the Dark Slayer brought the sword down again, and he smacked the top of his head. Blood gushed from his wounds as the vamp crashed to the ground, and cries of fright rose from the lips of every undead soul that stood there. Darrick had caught them off guard, and now they were going to be chopped into pieces, along with the rest of the vamps in the house. Miss… Dr. Halloran would be shocked at how good he was when she saw this. If she wasn’t, it just meant she was a sympathizer.

The End

Credit To – Jeremy Bennet

*Disclosure: The above Amazon link has our affiliate code included. If you buy anything using the above link, thank you!

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The Burned Photo – Part 2

June 3, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Part one can be read here.

My aunt took Shane to school the next morning. Mom didn’t want to tell him about Grandma until after he got home, so she’d have some time to sleep and cope with her own emotions and figure out a tactful way to explain death to a five-year-old. She planned and re-planned the speech she’d give her son over and over and still didn’t have it down by the time Shane’s grandfather – my dad’s father – dropped him off at the house at 2:30. So she simply said what she felt, unsuccessfully holding back tears.

Shane stared at her, empty-eyed.

“Oh, okay,” he said. “Artie’s outside. Can we play now?”

Mom lost it.

“Are you kidding me?” she screamed. “Grandma’s dead. And you can seriously think about playing right now?”

Shane frowned. He seemed to grasp that his mother was upset, but not quite understand why. His confused expression calmed her a little bit. He’s processing, she remembered thinking.

“Fine,” she said, more tempered. “But today, tell Artie I’m driving him home and having a talk with his mother. He’s over here a little bit too much, and I’m not sure he’s a good influence on you. We’re going to talk seriously about some time apart.”

Shane didn’t react. If his mother threatening to take his friend away affected him emotionally at all, he didn’t show it. If anything, the look he gave her was one of pity. Not devastation. Just boring, inconvenient pity. The pity inspired by a homeless man begging for change. Wordlessly, he went to the back door and let Artie in. Then, single-file like soldiers, the little boys strode into Shane’s room and closed the door.

Mom sat down on the sofa to cry. But finally, the physical and emotional turmoil of the last 24 hours hit her, and she was too tired to squeeze out tears. So she leaned back and closed her eyes for a minute. For another minute. For…

Her eyes snapped open. The room was dark. She looked at the clock on the VCR; it was past 6:00. She’d been asleep for nearly three hours. Something had woken her – a crash or a thud, some noise from a short distance away. The boys?

She went to Shane’s door and turned the knob, cracking it slightly. She could see Shane sitting cross-legged on his bed, angled away from her. He was talking in a low voice to someone sitting on the other end of the bed, out of her line of sight. She opened the door a little wider, revealing a blue-clad knee. The child giggled. It was Artie, of course. Who else?

CRACK!

She whirled around. There it was again, and it definitely wasn’t being caused by the boys. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the laundry room. She turned around. She heard Shane’s door click shut.

“Jim?” she called out. Though she knew it couldn’t be my dad – he had left for the airport around midnight the night before.

THUD… THUD… THUD…

She was getting scared. She considered calling 911, but didn’t think loud noises possibly coming from the basement would be enough to justify police involvement. Instead, she checked the front door and then the back. Both were locked. There was only one door to the basement and no external entrance, so if anyone was down there they would have had to sneak past her as she slept on the couch. The floorboards creaked; she’d often been awoken in the middle of the night by Jim or Shane getting a glass of water from the kitchen.

She tiptoed to the laundry room door. She took a deep breath, turned the doorknob, and switched on the light.

The room was exactly how she had left it – a basket of her scrubs and Shane’s and Jim’s jeans on the floor by the washer, a detergent bottle on top of the dryer with the lid unscrewed. She looked down at the trapdoor that lead to the basement. It was closed, and the latch was set.

The latch was set. The trapdoor had been locked from the outside.

Mom felt a wave of panic, turned to run, then caught herself. Even if an intruder had managed to sneak past her as she dozed on the couch, he couldn’t possibly have gone down into the basement and latched the door behind himself. So it was probably just rats.

Rolling her eyes at her own baseless fear, she unlatched the door and lowered herself down. When she had both feet on the landing that divided the stairs, she pulled the cord that turned on the light. A dim, piss-yellow glow illuminated the messy cellar.

Artie stood at the foot of the stairs.

Mom cried out and stumbled, managing to catch herself on a railing. Artie’s blue eyes glowed; his iridescent skin seemed to possess its own luminosity. The little boy was staring at her. Staring at her with that same twisted, inhuman, hate-filled glare she’d seen when she followed him home the day before.

“Artie! Sweetie, how did you…” she stammered, her voice high-pitched and quavering.

His glare softened, melted into a smile. The biggest smile she’d ever seen on a little boy. A first day of summer smile. A Christmas morning smile. Except there was nothing angelic about this smile. There was only malice in his eyes.

Then my mom came to a realization that made her legs weaken and her stomach drop.

If Artie was down here, then who was Shane…

Mom ran. Up the stairs, through the open trapdoor, out of the laundry room, to the bedroom of her child. She threw open the door.

The room was empty. Everything was exactly as it had been before Shane came home from school. The only thing that indicated recent occupation was two small, child-sized indents in the comforter.

She threw open the closet door and peered under the bed. She opened the window that overlooked the backyard and screamed her son’s name. Then, trembling and drenched in sweat, she stumbled back to the laundry room. This was a joke. She was seeing things. The boys were playing a trick on her. The basement door was still wide open, and the light was on. She threw herself into the rectangular aperture and whirled around on the landing.

Artie was gone. Or he was hiding. She ran down the steps to the concrete floor. Her foot landed on something small and hard, and she nearly fell headlong. A small wooden cube ricocheted off a molding cardboard box.

One of Shane’s blocks. She knelt down to examine the thing. It was the “U.” Unicorn, umbrella, unicycle, unibrow.

There were more blocks, all scattered around. They may have spelled something before she’d tripped over them. Seven of them in total. E, I, O, N, M, W, U. Like a child playing with Scrabble tiles, my mom sat cross-legged on the floor and stared at the letters.

NO WE… I, N, U
NOW U ME… I
WON ME… I, U
UNEM… W, I, O

Nothing. In frustration, she picked up two blocks – the U and M – and threw them at the ground. They bounced and clattered in opposite directions. Near tears, she rolled onto her stomach and crawled to retrieve them. Then she noticed something.

The U had landed upside down. Like a lower case “n.” The set of blocks had only one of each letter. Shane or Artie or… she shuddered… had turned it over and used it as a second “N.” Shaking like a scared animal, she lined up the blocks and started over.

She figured it out in a second.

MINE nOW.

She screamed. Calling Shane’s name over and over, she destroyed the basement, throwing boxes aside, knocking over furniture, scouring every inch of the space. When that failed to uncover anything, she tore apart the rest of the house. She opened every door, looked under every piece of furniture, ran out the back door and made two rotations around the property, crying out for her child into the darkness.

Finally, she called the police. They sent a patrol car over, and she told them everything. The cops were sympathetic and understanding and, within an hour, five more cars were casing the area for any sign of the boys. They’d find her son, they told her. Two little kids couldn’t have gone that far. When she said she’d never once met Artie’s mother, the cops seemed surprised, but assured her they’d check out the unkempt white house he’d disappeared into.

The officers offered Mom a ride to her mother’s house to stay with her sister. She could rest tonight, then come into the station to answer questions in the morning. In the meantime, they’d continue searching the streets and keep patrol cars outside the house, in case Shane returned. He probably would, they told her. He and his little friend probably had some fantasy of running away to Sesame Street, and would come back as soon as they got hungry or scared of the dark.

The next morning my father, who had been rushed back to Miami, arrived at the house. One patrol car was still there. The two cops assigned to keep watch told him that if he needed anything, grab it now, because in about 30 minutes his home was going to be an active crime scene.

He never came out. The cops didn’t hear him scream.

My mom was sitting in an interrogation room with the sketch artist when she was arrested. The artist had finished a drawing of Artie. It was quite good, but there was… something missing. His eyes weren’t quite right, and she found she could not describe his smile. That evil, twisted smile. They cuffed her right there at the table.

Bonnie Ibanez, you are under arrest for the murder of Shane Ibanez.

The next few hours were a blur. She was booked, fingerprinted, photographed; all while sobbing and screaming and begging for someone to tell her what was going on. Finally, she ended up back in that same interrogation room, this time with her hands cuffed behind her back, across from a stern-looking police officer. He demanded, she cried, he yelled, she – through his threats and attempts to intimidate her – pieced together what had happened to her only child.

Jim Ibanez, her husband, returned home at approximately 10:30am. The police officers there, after checking his ID, allowed him 15 minutes to take what he needed from the house. Thirty minutes later, when he didn’t reappear, they went in after him. The door to the laundry room was open, the basement door was open, and the basement light was on. Jim was on the couch. Blood pooled at his feet, around a sharp kitchen knife. He’d slit his own wrists. He was dead.

The cops, after they’d called the paramedics and radioed for backup, had a look around.

In the family’s basement, half-covered by a patchwork quilt in his old crib, they’d found the stiff, ice-cold body of Shane Ibanez. Ten fingers, ten toes, no cuts, no broken bones, no signs of struggle or trauma at all.

Except for the clean, precise cut that had severed his head.

They never found his head.

Time of death was estimated at approximately 6:30pm the night before. The last person to see him alive, besides Mom, was the boy’s grandfather, who’d dropped him off at the house at around 3. It had just been her and Shane, he’d said.

“But…” my mom had stammered, “There’s no way. I looked everywhere for him. You guys were at the house yesterday. He wasn’t there.”

“Maybe,” the cop had said. “But we weren’t looking around that carefully, were we?”

“Artie,” she whispered.

The cop laughed mirthlessly.

“You keep on saying that,” he mocked. “Yet we have no proof this Artie ever existed.”

“But the house,” Mom said. “I saw him going into that little white house I showed you.”

“You mean the house occupied by a Ms. Myrtle Anderson? Widow, 75 years old, lives alone, doesn’t drive. No grandchildren in the state, has never seen a child matching your description.”

“But he…”

“Two nights ago. You told us. She was watching TV in her room at the time, says no one went in or out.”

“In fact,” the cop continued icily, “none of your neighbors seem to know this kid. According to our records, no one named Artie – or Arthur, or any other name that might be shortened to Artie – lives within a mile of your neighborhood.”

“People saw him!” my mom insisted. “My mother baby-sat them all the time. And my husband met him.”

“Both of whom,” he sneered, “are conveniently dead.”

Days went by. The sketch artist’s drawing of Artie was on every nighttime news show, displayed all around Miami, shown to everyone living within three miles of the house. Neither hide nor hair of him was ever found. My grandmother and grandfather and aunts said they’d heard Shane talking about an Artie, but that he’d described him like an imaginary friend. The cops determined he was a figment of the little boy’s imagination, capitalized on by Mom to cover up his murder.

My two aunts put their dead mother’s house up as collateral to get my mom out on bail. She holed up in her childhood bedroom, sleeping with the light on and the door open and trying to piece together how her son’s decapitated body had magically appeared in her basement.

Had some murderous sociopath kidnapped her child, strangled him right outside the window, then returned his maimed remains as soon as she left? No, that was impossible. There had been cops around all night, no one had gone in or out. And besides, she had seen Shane. In his room. Talking to Artie. But it wasn’t Artie, because Artie was in the basement.

Who had Shane been talking to?

And how had Artie teleported into the basement, bypassing the latch? Why hadn’t anyone but her and her late husband and mother and son seen the kid? Those clothes he always wore. Never stained, never wrinkled. The invisible mother. That house he’d disappeared into. And the message in the blocks.

The blocks. She’d taken photographs of the two boys playing with blocks.

She hurriedly took the film to be developed, thanking God she’d kept the used roll in her camera bag, and her camera bag in the car instead of her house, which was now under the control of the police. She paid extra at Sav-on to have it done in an hour; an hour she spent wandering aimlessly around the outdoor shopping center. She could prove it, she thought. Prove that Artie was real. Prove she wasn’t crazy. When the process was done and she had the envelope of photographs in her hands, she waited until she was at her mother’s house, in her bedroom, before opening her little package of salvation.

They found her eight hours later, curled up in a ball in the backyard, self-inflicted claw marks up and down her arms, a Bic lighter and a pile of ashes at her feet.

Mom told me she doesn’t remember a whole lot of the next six weeks. She was confined to a padded cell in a psychiatric ward, mumbling and giggling. They’d had to place boxing gloves on her hands to keep her from hurting herself. She started improving around week three, remembering her name, and then her sisters’ and husband’s and son’s names, and then finally that her husband and son were both dead.

She never told anyone what she’d seen in the photos she burned.

Upon her release from the psych hospital, my mom found herself a free woman in more ways than one. The police had dropped all charges against her, due to two extremely puzzling circumstances.

Circumstance #1: Shane’s body had disappeared. One day, it was under a tarp in a refrigerator in the coroner’s lab; the next, it was gone. In its place was a small pile of grey dust. Neither the cops nor the coroner’s office could come up with a reasonable explanation. Only three people had ID cards that would open the door to the lab; all three were accounted for. The scanner had not recorded any attempts to access the room, successful or unsuccessful. And security footage showed that no one had been anywhere near the lab the night it happened.

Circumstance #2: Her house burned down. Six weeks earlier, the two police officers tasked with guarding the crime scene had smelled smoke. The basement was burning. The flames moved unnaturally fast, soon engulfing the entire house. The cause of the fire could not be determined, but both arson and electrical failure were ruled out. Luckily, the fire didn’t spread. It was a miracle the houses on either side hadn’t gone up, the fire chief said. Probably thanks to the humidity in the air.

It was only coincidence, it was agreed, that the fire seemed to have started at exactly the same moment my mom burned her photos of Shane and Artie playing with blocks.

With no body, no motive, a questionable time line, and any potential evidence up in smoke, the cops could do nothing but free my mom and hide the case away as an unsolved mystery or an act of God. Of course, this didn’t mean she was off the hook. The cops, fearing mass panic, had kept the more inexplicable elements of the incident from the public, including the missing body. So Mom was crucified by the press. My father’s family wanted nothing to do with her. Her own sisters swore they believed her, yet insisted they sell their mother’s house as soon as possible. When it was sold, way below market price, they split the money three ways. Then, almost immediately, both sisters left the state and changed their numbers. Mom hadn’t spoken to either of them since then.

She couldn’t stay in Miami. Even if she hadn’t been attracting dirty looks and furtive whispers, if not open hostility, every time she set foot outside her dingy hotel room, the city held nothing for her. Everybody she’d cared about was gone. She saw her murdered child’s face whenever she closed her eyes, and the sight of his favorite McDonald’s or the park where he’d played as a toddler just served to twist the knife in her heart. She slept a lot, lost herself in trashy soap operas, never turning off the lamp on her bedside table. Beside the lamp she’d set a bottle of sleeping pills. She’d stare at that bottle as she lay down to sleep and when she woke up, sometimes in the middle of the day, and sometimes for what seemed like hours, wishing she could empty it with a glass of water and lose the ability to remember.

But she couldn’t. When she’d returned to her senses in the psychiatric hospital, the doctor had refused her Tylenol for her drilling headache. Because she was eight weeks pregnant.

Eventually she pulled it together, packed up her car, and drove across the country to Ohio. She paid a man for a fake passport and driver’s license under the name Elizabeth Johnson. She found a small apartment for rent. She invested some of her insurance money into starting a photography business, and then I was born, and then we moved to the little house in Cleveland.

“But Mom,” I asked her, “what was wrong with those photographs? The ones you burned – why didn’t you show them to the cops and prove Artie was real?”

At that, she sighed and closed her eyes. Her crow’s feet darkened as the color drained from her face. She looked helpless, like an old woman and a scared little girl at the same time.

“Artie wasn’t in the photographs,” she said. “The bedroom was there, the blocks were there. Shane was there. But the… thing sitting beside him. It wasn’t Artie. It wasn’t human. It was an abomination that shouldn’t exist. Humanity couldn’t… I couldn’t show anyone… I couldn’t…”

She turned away to wipe her nose, tears running down her face. I couldn’t get any more out of her. Either she thought the description of the thing she’d known as Artie would terrify me, or she couldn’t find the words to describe it. I never brought up the subject again. She didn’t let me out of her sight for weeks, and I slept in her bed for two months, terrified now that I knew what she feared. But the thing didn’t find us in La Puente. I never saw the angelic little girl in the polka-dot frock, or the red-headed teenager who couldn’t feel cold, ever again.

My mom died when I was twenty-two. Breast cancer. They caught it late; it had spread, and the chemo didn’t work. I moved all of her stuff into storage. The day after her funeral, I sat on the floor of my storage unit, surrounded by all of her memories, and looked through her photographs. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands.

I rented an apartment, found a job, passed the CPA exam. Four years later, I fell in love with a guy who worked across the hall at an advertising firm. Two years after that, we married and bought a little house in Glendale. And, last February, I became pregnant with our first child. I’m due next month. It’s going to be a little boy.

I’ve never told my husband about my mother’s story, or Shane, or the shape-shifting thing that stalks my family. (Things? Maybe there’s more than one of them.) I’m debating it now, since we’re about to be parents, but… honestly, I don’t even know how I’d go about it. My husband’s not superstitious. He’d probably just assume my mother killed Shane and assure me that homicidal impulses aren’t genetic.

But there’s a reason I’m writing this now. Why I’m putting it out there for strangers to piece through, hopefully strangers who can give me the explanation I’m desperate for. It’s because the thing that took my brother, drove my father to suicide, tormented my mother, and posed as “Katie” and “Zoe” to ensnare me – it’s still here.

Two nights ago, I came home at around nine. My husband was out. As I reached for the light switch, I nearly tripped over something small and hard. Flipping on the light, I saw the unexpected obstacle. Blocks. I knelt down. Alphabet blocks, the sort children play with. The one nearest to me was a “B,” beautifully carved and finished. On four faces were detailed pictures – bananas, a butterfly, flowers, and a little dog (a beagle?).

Holding my breath, I gathered the blocks together. There were eight of them. N, I, U, B, M, A, J, E. All with beautiful pictures, obviously part of a set. Painted blue, red, green, or yellow. Definitely not ours. Thanks to my mom’s story, I figured it out in seconds.

BEnJAMIN.

Benjamin. The name we’d chosen for our son. We hadn’t told anyone yet, not even my in-laws. Heart pounding, I fled, locking the door behind me and locking myself in my car. I sat there for a while, hyperventilating. Racking my brain for a logical explanation. Maybe it was a present from my husband, a surprise. But those blocks. They were exactly like the blocks my mom had described to me. Irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind. Destroyed in a fire thirty years ago.

My phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number. I answered, my voice shaking. It was a Sergio from Rent-a-Box storage. My storage unit, where I kept all my mom’s old belongings, had inexplicably caught on fire. Everything had been ruined. Hands drenched, shaking like a leaf, I drove to the facility. A huge fire truck was parked outside, but the building still stood. According to Sergio – a short, balding security guard – the fire had been limited to my unit. The cinderblock dividing walls had done their duty, apparently.

Confused and terrified, I asked to see the unit. All my mother’s photos – her photos of me growing up – had been destroyed. I stared into the charred-black little room, holding back tears. Then, in the far left corner, I saw it. A small sheet of thick paper.

“That’s odd,” Sergio muttered. “That wasn’t here ten minutes ago.”

I picked up the odd little object. It was a photograph. Relatively old, judging by the quality, and burned around the edges. I got the impression I was only looking at half of the photo; the other half had been reduced to ash. It was of a little boy playing with blocks. Blocks identical to the ones scattered on my living room floor. Blocks that, when I returned home hours later, had mysteriously disappeared, though the doors were locked and the rest of the house was untouched.

The boy was about five years old, dressed in high-waist shorts and the sort of t-shirt popular in the early eighties. His mop of curls, coffee-colored skin, square jaw, and large deep-set eyes bore an uncanny resemblance to photos of me at the same age. He was smiling. Laughing. Looking to his right, at another person depicted in the burned-out portion of the picture. An undecipherable shadow fell across him.

I stared at the photo for a long moment. I knew it was Shane, and I knew the unseen entity next to him was the creature who’d posed as “Artie.” What I couldn’t understand was how the photo had ended up here, as my mother had burned it to ashes thirty years ago, after whatever cast that shadow had driven her to insanity.

The last detail I noticed, before the photo crumbled into dust in my hands, was that the blocks laid out in front of Shane spelled out a word. The numerical “0” and the letters “S,” “O,” and “N.”

SO0N.

Credit To – NickyXX

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The Burned Photo – Part 1

June 2, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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When I was a little girl, I lived with my mom in a rented two-bedroom house in Cleveland, Ohio. The paint was chipping and there were stains on the shag carpet that had been there since the 70’s and the heater broke each year, on cue, in the middle of January, but there was a big backyard with a big tree to climb and I thought the dump was a castle.

My mom was a small woman, only about five-foot-one; slender, and pale. Her eyes were large and deep-set, giving her a look of perpetual exhaustion and world-weariness. She had networks of tiny lines extending from the corner of each eye, premature crows-feet, which became more pronounced when she smiled. So even when she was laughing, she looked like she was sad.

She was a professional photographer; weddings and parties mostly; graduations, quincineras, family reunions – any sort of gathering people pay to memorialize. Pictures defined my childhood. Photos in frames on the walls and propped on every flat surface, filling cheap albums stacked in my mom’s closet, sealed in Sav-on envelopes stored in boxes. Sometimes, on rainy Saturdays or mornings when I was too sick to go to school, I’d sit cross-legged on the floor and look through a bunch of them, watching myself grow up, one perfect memory at a time.

One clear-skied, grass-smelling day in May, when I was nine, I was alone in my room, reading a Babysitters Club book on my bed. My mom was in her bedroom, napping after a long night photographing a corporate event. I glanced up and out my window and noticed something out of the ordinary – in the backyard, standing in front of the tree, was a girl about my age. She had olive skin and long, jet-black hair. She wore a lacy green frock with polka-dots. Her eyes caught mine, and she smiled at me. She had a very big, very pretty smile.

I opened the window and called out to her. “Hey! Where did you come from?”

She skipped to the window and looked up at me. Our backyard sloped in such a way that she could have stood on tiptoe and grabbed hold of the ledge.

“Hi!” she chirped. Her voice was kind, comforting. “I’m Katie. What’s your name?”

“Felicia,” I told her. “Why are you in my backyard?”

She shrugged. “I live down the street. I just moved in. Do you want to play with me?”

I frowned. My mom had always insisted she meet my friends and their parents before I invited them into our house. This was a rule she’d imposed when I was in preschool, and one on which she was unrelenting.

“Hold on,” I told Katie. “Lemme ask my mom.”

Katie’s face fell. “Do you have to? Can’t you let me in first? I’m really tired and I have to go to the bathroom.”

“It’ll just take a minute,” I said, and scampered away.

“No, wait!” Katie called after me.

I went into my mom’s room and shook her awake. She rolled onto her back and looked up at me with bloodshot, tired eyes. She smiled groggily.

“Sweetie, are you okay?”

“Mom,” I said, “there’s a girl outside. She says her name is Katie. Can she come in to play?”

Mom sat straight up. Her red eyes widened, and the look she gave me was one of abject terror. Contagious terror. I felt my heartbeat quicken and my palms moisten.

“Where…” she stammered, “where did she come from? Is she at the front door?”

“She’s in the backyard,” I told her. “She just appeared.”

Mom threw herself onto her feet and ran out of the bedroom, towards the back door. I followed close behind her. She kicked open the door and ran into the yard. Katie was gone. I wondered where she had gotten to so fast; I’d only been in my mom’s room for a couple minutes. Mom, apparently, didn’t care.

“STAY AWAY FROM HER!” she screamed, addressing the air around her. “Stay the FUCK AWAY from my child!”

I stared, frozen in place. I’d never heard my mom curse before. She turned back to me, big eyes wild, small body heaving.

“Felicia,” she panted, “get your stuff. We’re going to a hotel.”

We stayed in the hotel for two days, during which time Mom arranged for a U-haul truck and a small rented house in Aspen, Colorado. By the morning of the third day, all of our belongings were packed and we were heading east on the interstate. I skipped school, and every time Mom allowed her eyes to rest anywhere but on me for more than a few seconds, her head would snap back in my direction, her face a mask of horror. It wasn’t until we were on the road that she started to relax.

Aspen was nice. I liked my new school, and Mom was hired as the staff photographer for an upscale banquet hall. I asked her a million times why we had to move – not even move, flee in the dead of night – and I think she gave me a million different answers. She was sick of Cleveland. Aspen had a lower crime rate. Work was steadier here; lots of nice hotels hosting fancy weddings.

Never once did she mention Katie, or her outburst in our backyard.

One windy, ice-cold day in early December, when I was fourteen, I walked home after school. My mom was out photographing a convention at a nearby hotel. I was unlocking my front door when I noticed a girl about my age sitting at the other end of the porch, her back to the house. Upon hearing my keys jingle, she stood and turned to me.

She was very pretty; thin, pale, with freckles and red hair. She wore a black V-neck shirt and skinny jeans. She smiled. Her smile was lovely, as though seeing me was the best thing that had happened to her all day. I grinned back at her, momentarily ignoring the kicks from my fight-or-flight reflex. Something about her threw me off, but I couldn’t quite say what.

“Um, hi,” I said. “Can I help you?”

The girl nodded. “I’m Zoe,” she said. “I’m sorry to impose on you, but can I possibly come in? I live a few houses down, and I forgot my keys. Can I use your phone?”

“I guess,” I said warily. My mom still had her rule about allowing people inside the house she hadn’t met, but it had begun to seen a little ridiculous. This chick looked harmless.

Except she was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket in below-freezing weather.

Suddenly, I remembered Katie, and the terror the strange little girl had inspired in my mother. Then I noticed how much this girl resembled her. Same big smile and innocent eyes, staring at me expectantly.

I turned and ran. I holed up at a friend’s place a few blocks away, and got a ride from her older brother to the hotel where my mom was taking pictures. Three days later, we were out of the lease, packed up, and on the road. La Puente, California this time.

When we’d gotten home that day, the day I’d found Zoe sitting on the porch, I went inside ahead of my mom while she gathered her equipment. I turned on the light. There was something different on the coffee table, though nothing else had been touched. I walked over to investigate, and found a photograph of a little Black boy. An old photograph, by the looks of it. The boy in the photo was two or three, maybe, giggling while leaning over the edge of what appeared to be a bathtub filled with bubbles. The edges of the picture were charred.

I didn’t notice my mom come up behind me. At the sight of the strange picture, she screamed. Startled, I dropped it.

As soon as the photo hit the ground, it disintegrated into dust.

We stayed in a hotel after that.

The night before we planned to leave for California, Mom and I sat on the couch in our hotel room, watching sitcom re-runs. Our U-haul truck was parked in the lot. When the channel went to commercials, Mom muted the TV. We sat in silence for a moment. She hadn’t given an explanation for our move this time, and I didn’t need one. I knew it had to do with Zoe, or Katie, or whatever was causing these girls to continually seek me out and ask to be invited into the house. And that photo of the little boy.

“Felicia,” she finally said to me, “I don’t want to tell you why we have to keep moving like this. God, I’ve spent the last fourteen years trying to protect you from it. Trying to pretend it’s gone. But it just keeps on finding you and me, no matter how far we run.”

There was a reason, she told me, that I didn’t have a father. Or a grandmother or grandfather, aunts or uncles or cousins. Why all of our acquaintances and her few friends had only known us since I was six months old and we’d moved to Cleveland. Why we lived so far away from her hometown of Miami – the only piece of information she’d ever shared about her past – and why we’d never gone back.

It was all because of the little boy in the picture. Shane. My brother. And another little boy he’d once played with.

Before I was born, my mother lived with my father and Shane in a house just outside of Miami. My mom’s name was Bonnie then. Bonnie Ibanez. She loved taking pictures, but it was just a hobby. Professionally, she was a nurse at a hospital. My father’s name was James Ibanez. He was Dominican; curly-haired and dark-skinned, like me. He worked as a commercial pilot and, due to the nature of his job, was away from home for days at a time. So, most of the time, it was just my mom and Shane.

Shane was the love of her life. Mom’s eyes lit up as she described him to me. He was very smart, she said; always learning, always taking apart appliances and trying to put them back together, exploring, finding his way into and out of things. One memorable evening, while my mom was on the phone, he managed to slip into the laundry room, unlatch the trapdoor that lead to the basement, climb down – then get lost and scared when the door slammed shut and he couldn’t find the light switch. He loved animals, and GI Joe, and books about talking animals or fantasy creatures or witches and wizards. But just nice witches. He didn’t like scary stories.

Though Shane was a sweet child, he was shy, and had difficulty making friends with his kindergarten classmates. My mom did all she could to recruit him a playmate – she organized a carpool with other mothers, arranged play dates, enrolled Shane in karate class. But despite her efforts, as summer became fall, the end of first semester approached, and kindergarten play groups became airtight, her son was still spending recess playing alone on the swings and weekends in his room, with only his toys to keep him company. Mom was frustrated.

One Saturday in mid-November, after dozing off on the couch while watching some gossip show, she was awoken by the sound of an exuberant peal of laughter. She immediately went to check on Shane in his room, where he had been playing with his Legos.

Shane was still there, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Next to him was a small boy with milky-pale skin, blue eyes, and ice-blonde hair, dressed in overalls and a red t-shirt.

Mom nearly screamed.

“Oh!” she managed to stammer. “How the heck did you get in…”

Then she realized she was looking at her son, and that he was interacting happily with a kid his own age. She smiled.

“Shane, why don’t you introduce me to your new friend?”

“His name is Artie,” Shane replied gleefully.

“Well, hi Artie!” Mom said, with the enthusiasm a lost sailor has for land. “Do you live around here?”

Artie nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, aren’t you polite?” she gushed. “You’re welcome to come over any time you want. But, sweetie, do your parents know you’re over here? I’m sure they don’t want you wandering the streets all by yourself.”

“It’s okay,” he told her. His voice was angelically sweet. “I told my mom I was going to play with the kid down the street. She said it’s okay.”

Artie smiled at her. My mom said it was the widest smile she’d ever seen on a little boy. A first day of summer smile. A Christmas morning smile, new puppy smile. Poor kid, she mused. His parents must not be the most attentive adults on the planet, if they unquestioningly allowed their elementary school-aged child to run off to the house of a neighbor they’d never met. And such a sweet little boy! Maybe he, like her son, was lonely and in desperate need of a friend.

So she left them alone for the rest of the afternoon. When dinnertime came around, she told Artie he was welcome to stay. But he insisted he needed to be going home, lest his mom be worried. The minute the front door slammed shut after him, Shane ran to our mom and asked her if please, please, please Artie could come over and play again tomorrow?

Mom was very happy.

“So, sweetie,” she asked Shane over dinner, “how did you even meet Artie? I think I would have heard him come in the front door, the way the floorboards squeak in the living room.”

Shane shook his head. “He was in the backyard. He climbed in through my window.”

“Oh,” Mom replied. “That’s… different. Does he go to your school?”

“Nuh-uh,” Shane said. “He says his mom teaches him at home.”

Home-schooled. So Artie was definitely lonely and desperate for a playmate. And since he wasn’t surrounded by other children all day, Shane had no competition for his friendship. Mom was ashamed of the thought, but also aware her shy, awkward son could use all the handicaps he could get.

Artie did come over the next day, and three more days that week after Shane came home from school. The boys got along beautifully. Artie seemed fascinated by Shane’s toys – his die-cast car collection, numerous stuffed puppies, GI Joe and Transformers action figures, Legos. My mom assumed he didn’t have a lot of toys at home, since he never brought any of his own, and seemed fascinated by the existence of such playthings. Maybe his parents didn’t have a lot of money. That would make sense, since every time she saw him he was wearing the same overalls and red t-shirt. Like a cartoon character.

His favorite toy was the same as Mom’s – the beautiful set of blocks her late father had made for Shane. It was a set of forty – letters, numbers, and four blank ones – in a box with handles. The letters and numbers were artfully carved in an Old English font on two sides of each block; the other four faces were decorated with a different object that started with the letter, or were in groups of the appropriate number. A beagle, a butterfly, a bunch of bananas, and a bouquet of buttercups for “B”; a pair of shoes, two eyes, a bride and groom, and salt and pepper shakers for the number “2”; and so on. Each was detailed with a muted red, yellow, blue, or green. The toy was utterly unique. Irreplaceable. Shane, too young to appreciate the fine craftsmanship and all the hours of labor that had gone into its making, had lost interest a year before. But Artie was tickled pink. He amused himself, and Shane, for hours; spelling out different words and giggling.

One day, my mom was off work and in a creative mood. The boys were in Shane’s room, building word towers with the blocks, and they looked particularly sweet for some reason. So mom took out her camera. Quietly, calmly, as though photographing wild animals, she snapped a few shots through the bedroom door. The boys caught on almost immediately, and began striking mock-dramatic poses, arranging the blocks to spell “poop” or “fart” or in random patterns. She finished off the roll and collapsed on the floor with them, all three giggling like toddlers.

Day after day, week after week, the boys spent more and more time together. Artie met my father, once or twice, for a few minutes, as he rushed out the door to the airport or stumbled to his room to sleep off his latest bout of jetlag. He met my maternal grandmother, who stayed with Shane when both my parents were at work, and charmed her with his sweet voice and pleas to teach him how to knit. He began staying over for dinner a few times a week, though he never seemed to eat a whole lot.

Soon, Artie was on the front porch every day, waiting for Shane to get home from school. Always wearing the same red shirt and overalls. Always pale, no matter how much time the boys spent out in the sun. Always angelic.

As the boys grew closer, my mom became increasingly curious about Artie’s family – who, apparently, were invisible. She’d spoken about Artie to several of the other young mothers on the cul-de-sac, gossipy women who made it their duty to know everything about everyone. Yet none of them had seen nor heard of the little boy, let alone his mysterious parents.

Mom had been fully expecting, sooner or later, a pale-skinned, blue-eyed, ice-blonde woman to come knocking at the front door, smiling sheepishly as she asked the whereabouts of her little boy. Maybe she’d be wearing a denim jumper and a red top.

But no such woman ever came.

“Artie, do you want me to drive you home tonight?” Mom asked him sweetly one day, as he and Shane were organizing toy cars in the living room.

He smiled at her and shook his head. “S’okay, ma’am.”

“Are you sure, honey? I’d like to meet your mommy. Let her know her son’s not spending his time with a bunch of crazy people.” She giggled.

Artie’s blue eyes flashed. His smile drooped.

“You can’t, ma’am.” He shook his head exaggeratedly. “My mommy’s sick. She doesn’t like seeing people.”

With that, he turned his attention back to Shane and the cars, and responded to any further inquiries about his mother or offers of a ride home with the same exaggerated shaking of his head. My mom dropped the subject.

Then, day by day, one small adjustment at a time, Shane began to change.

First, he stopped letting Mom touch him. When she’d extend her hand for his to cross the school parking lot, he’d let her take it only reluctantly, and with a pained, nearly vicious look on his face. He’d stiffen like a board when she put her arms around him. The jingling of her keys, which had once summoned Shane like a lonely puppy, now only inspired a languid look towards her direction from whatever unseen point in space he was staring at.

Then, he stopped eating. He and Artie sat side-by-side at the dinner table, stirring their food around their plates, lifting their forks without taking a bite, throwing dull-eyed glances at one another when they thought Mom wasn’t looking. She was sure Shane had been throwing away his sack lunches at school. Whenever she offered him any food, he’d invariably reply, “I’m just not hungry, Mom.”

Finally, he stopped talking. After dinner, he’d retreat to his bedroom to do his homework, where he’d stay until Mom knocked on the door and told him to take a bath. When he finished bathing and putting on his pajamas, he’d shut his bedroom door, turn off the lights, and close his eyes. No story. No kiss goodnight. He only spoke when responding to direct questions, and with as few words as possible. When he didn’t have to wake up for school in the morning, he’d lie in bed until early afternoon. Until Artie came over to play.

And the way Artie and Shane interacted had changed as well. The boys no longer played in the yard or chased each other around the house. Instead, they’d retreat to Shane’s room immediately, and stay there all afternoon with the door closed. When my mom would check in, she’d find them sitting peacefully on the bed. Sometimes, if she listened through the door, she’d hear things being moved about and clinking together, possibly Shane’s cars. But whatever it was they were doing in there, they did it neatly. When Artie would finally leave for the night, the room was always in exactly the same condition it had been before Shane came home from school.

My dad assured Mom that Shane was just going through a phase. And, for the time being, she chose to believe that because she had to. My grandmother was ill. She’d been living quite effectively with diabetes for years; then, out of the blue, her kidneys had failed. One sister moved home to live with her and take her to dialysis, but my mom was left to deal with her bills and legal documents and health insurance.

One day, stressed and tired and getting a headache, she pushed aside the pile of pension documents she’d been analyzing at the kitchen table. Might as well see what the boys were up to. As she approached Shane’s closed door, she heard muted giggles. She pressed her ear to the wood.

“Mumble mumble… maybe, she’d be really mad… giggle giggle giggle.”

The mumbling was definitely Shane’s voice, but my mom couldn’t make out exactly what he was saying. Then Artie spoke.

“Mumble… not like gone forever, but… mumble mumble mumble… no one would ever see … giggle giggle giggle.”

She leaned on her right foot. The floorboards squeaked. The voices behind the door fell silent. Quickly, like a child caught sneaking a cookie before dinner, she scampered back to the kitchen table and made herself look busy. Shane’s door didn’t open; she was in the clear. But something about what she’d heard had unsettled her.

A small part of that unease was due to the odd content of their conversation. It was also strange that she couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, despite being only a few feet away.

But mostly, she was bothered by the fact that she was sure she’d heard more than two voices.

That night, she waited until Artie was out the door, then tried to have a conversation with her son. She caught him in the hallway between the kitchen and his bedroom.

“Shane, sweetie,” she began gently, “what do you and Artie talk about?”

He turned to her and shrugged. “Stuff.”

“I know that,” she said, a little more demanding. “What kind of stuff?”

“Places he likes to go to.”

“Oh!” My mom smiled. “Like Chuck-e-cheese? Or McDonald’s?”

Shane shook his head. “No. Special places. There’s other kids there. He’s going to take me there soon.”

“Oh, okay.”

Mom had no idea how to respond. Shane, done with talking, slipped into his room and closed the door. There was something strange about the way he had said that. ‘He’s going to take me there soon.’ Not ‘can we go there?’ As though he had no choice in the matter. And as though she had no choice in the matter.

The next evening, Mom worked the graveyard shift. Artie left around seven, as she was putting her hair in a bun and grabbing her car keys. She watched his small, red-and-blue clad form stride purposefully out the front door.

And she decided to follow him home.

She waited until he was a few car lengths’ ahead of her, going east, towards where the street dead-ended. Then, she stepped on the gas with her headlights off, driving very slowly, focused on the little boy’s blond head bobbing up and down. He made it to the dead end. Mom braked. He kept on walking, around the circular sidewalk, until he was heading west. That was strange, she thought. Why hadn’t he just crossed the street in front of their house?

Then he stopped. He turned around and saw my mom’s car. He looked her in the eye. Startled, she stepped off the brake pedal and let the car roll forwards. On his angelic face, she said, was the most hate-filled expression she’d ever seen on a living thing.

He turned away, and made a beeline for the house right in front of him – a small white one with an unkempt lawn and empty driveway. The door was embedded in a dark alcove, my mom couldn’t see it from the car. Artie walked into the alcove and was swallowed by the darkness. Mom assumed he’d entered the house, but no lights were turned on.

She considered going in after the little boy. Whatever his living situation was with his unseen mother, it obviously wasn’t ideal for a small child. It was well after dark, and he was coming home to an empty, unlit house. But there was something about that look he gave her. That insipid, ugly glare. She felt nauseous thinking about it. So she made a U-turn and drove to work. It wasn’t until she was in the hospital parking lot that she noticed the goose bumps on her arms and the whiteness of her knuckles from grasping the steering wheel.

An hour into her shift, Mom got the call from her sister. The skin around their mother’s catheter had been reddish and tender for a couple days. She’d thought it was just a rash, but that night my aunt had found my grandma unresponsive on the floor. She’d been rushed to another hospital in town. By the time the ambulance pulled into the ER, Grandma had flat-lined. Septic shock.

It was only coincidence, my mom decided, that her mother seemed to have collapsed at exactly the same moment Artie fixed her with that disgusting glare.

Part two can be read here.

Credit To – NickyXX

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The Displaced Man

June 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The cracked, grey structure stood like a monument before them, separated from the offroad only by a chainlink fence, scattering pockets of moonlight over the foursome. Swaying against each other with inebriation, three fraternity boys and the only girl they could find who had the balls to come up to this place, stood agape before it like they couldn’t believe their feet had brought them so far away from the campus parties and city lights.

“Don’t you think someone still owns this place?” the girl asked them. Her name was Allison, a freckled brunette and to be fair, she was drunk too, but she wasn’t stupid. “It’s still, like, a private property or something. And there could be security we don’t know about.”

“HERE?” retorted Lance with a snort of laughter. “Yeah, I bet they have state-of-the-art cameras.” With a boost from his friends, he clambered his bulk up and over the fence in what seemed like a single motion. Quite an athlete, Lance was, broad in his shoulders and the boldest of them all- yet he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something was a bit off once his feet touched the ground. Not that he could ever let it slip. The grip on his reputation as the fraternity storyteller and man of the world was a tenuous one at best. “Alright, I don’t hear no alarms and shit goin’ off. Come on over.”

Mikey, a tall scarecrow of a boy with dangling sandy curls to match, gestured to Allison. “Ladies first?” She rolled her eyes and began climbing. His gaze darted across her tight jeans and slender frame, too drunk to make a secret of the fact that he was hoping to get lucky. After all, it was New Year’s Eve and most of the girls had gone home for the holiday, so it seemed like as good a time as any. When she reached the other side, Mikey was next over the rusty barricade.

The last one in their party felt most hesitant of all, even if it didn’t show in his smirking young face. Junior- as his friends called him- was only a sophomore and although Lance had famously made many daring journeys to places strange and spooky, this was Junior’s first. But he didn’t want to be labeled a pussy, so he shrugged off the feeling of uncertainty and made his way over the chain link fence just in time for Lance to begin weaving one of his grandiose tales.

“There’s a reason, guys, that this building, out of the WHOLE facility, is the one that no one, and I mean NO one, is brave enough to step inside.” Allison heaved a sigh. “You know, my mother warned me never to get into haunted houses with strange men.” Mikey laughed, if a little too forcefully. “But it ISN’T a haunted house. Well… not in the traditional sense.”

“Traditional sense?” Junior piped up. Unlike the others, he had a genuine interest in history… not only that, but the building really did seem to emanate something. It gave off that feeling- what some might call deja vu, or the chill they say you get when someone passes over your grave. “Well, it was a house of sorts… somebody lived there. But just one man. One single, solitary, MYSTERIOUS man.”

“Oh, GOD.” Allison was less than impressed. “Was he an axe murderer? Did he eat people? I went to summer camp, these aren’t new stories.”

“Look at this… this, shack, I guess. It’s a piece of a hallway off an outbuilding they CUT off from the rest of the hospital. And you notice anything else?” He waved his impressive wingspan around the facade of the building with a dramatic flare. “You know there was a fire here in ’74.”

Mikey shrugged. “Yeah, the whole place burned down.”

“The hospital had to close. They wouldn’t have had a patient in here- and if there was, they would have….” Junior wanted to add something of his own but his voice trailed off as his eyes were drawn to the outside walls of the chipped cement home, for lack of a better term. It wasn’t scorched or fallen down in blackened beams leaning against each other like the rest of the structures in the hospital. It was unsullied. It almost seemed… pristine by comparison.

Lance lowered his voice and let the eerie feeling set in. “Why would they lock one man in here alone, when there were ALLLLL manner of sick and crazy people to house him with? And why… is it still standing here, completely untouched, while the rest of the hospital crumpled down all around it?” He leaned back nonchalantly against an old tree trunk, satisfied with himself, and began to speak in a slow monotone. “I see windows. Boarded up, sure, but they’re there. But what I don’t see…”

“A door,” Mikey said breathlessly. He had spotted something, he was sure of it. “Is that- the door? Guys, look!” It was hard to tell, even with a good amount of light shining down on them, and like any good millenials they whipped out their phones and began a hesitant approach towards the old building, their digital flashlights held up like shields before them. But he had been right. The shape Mikey was gesturing to did seem like the size and outline of a door, and yet it had been perfectly painted over- no, more like SEALED over, long ago, and was the same color as the rest.

But as he slid his nimble fingers over the surface, dust and grime not withstanding, he could feel its frame. The rest of the adventuring party followed suit, save for Lance who kept his distance back at the trees. Maybe it was all his previous journeys out to haunted houses, or just the melodrama he kept bubbling below the surface of his legends, but something felt wrong about this place in his bones. Allison was more enthusiastic- more brave, even. She turned eagerly back in confirmation. “He’s right, there’s a door here! And look!”

She gestured to the one other curious feature, that after a bit of probing and close examination revealed itself: the door had a narrow hole right in the center of it, like a mail slot. She knocked, and behind it the hollow space rattled back at her. Allison shivered at the touch and along with Mikey and Junior, took a few steps back from the building.

After a moment Lance finally spoke again, breaking the crisp and quiet night air. “Alright, so there’s a door. We made it this far. The question is… who wants to go inside?”

Nurse’s Log: December the 10th, 1891. Patient Name: Mr. Miles Sullivan. Notes: Mr. Sullivan is a white man young in age, which cannot be approximated due to lack of documentation as well as his continued delusions of a “fantasy world” he believes exists. After suddenly entering the facility unsteady on his feet, found to be sweating and in a daze, his words have been garbled and made very few, if any, facts apparent. He has been consistently uncooperative, even under the treatment of sedatives and psychiatric care, in giving any explanation as to his unusual complexion and skin condition, which in the last few days after being committed to this facility, has proceeded to spread over much of his body. Symptoms of dry coughing, spasms and fever indicate a possible resurgence of the recent influenza pandemic, forcing the case physician Dr. Hill to move Mr. Sullivan to the quarantine ward at this time, until further study might be conducted. The standard treatments for delusional hysteria remain as usual. End notes.

“You expect us to go in there? Jesus, Lance,” Allison moaned, and pulled her jacket tighter around her. “There’s a million other ways to celebrate New Year’s, and I’m pretty sure the party you dragged us from was one of them.”

“Well they say it has to be New Year’s to see him. There’s something… special about it.” Lance stood up straight and gave the best stern look he could muster while drunk. “It’s a timing thing, OK?”

“So YOU’RE going in then, I assume?” she shot back.

“Wait, see WHO?” Mikey narrowed his eyes in skepticism. “See the crazy got-stuck-in-a-shack guy? How the Hell are we supposed to do that?” He couldn’t get his mind off of that creepy door. That barely-there opening to the outside world. Who on Earth would you trap in such an ungodly place, and how was he supposed to still be alive after all this time and no one to attend to him? Mikey certainly wasn’t fool enough to go in.

Junior stood in thought for a moment. “So the man they kept in here- what’s so creepy about that? I mean, maybe he was just a pervert or a leper or something, and they didn’t want him around everybody else. Lance, dude, he’s gotta be dead by now. Nobody comes around here anymore.”

“It’s a goddamn GHOST story, man. That’s the whole point.” Lance steadied himself and took a couple steps toward the rest of them. “This guy, right? They say he had some kinda… you know, a virus or something. But thing is, it didn’t touch him. It was getting everybody ELSE sick from being around him.” He smirked and hoped he was getting to them, even as that nagging feeling at the back of his mind told him that it was getting to HIM, too, and that maybe stepping foot in the old place wasn’t the best of suggestions. “So eventually… he did die. And on New Year’s Eve, TONIGHT okay, if you look through those old boarded windows…” He pointed out the narrow slits between the planks through which two tall windows could be seen. “You’ll see him in there. Buddy of mine did. People have before. He comes…. every… year.” He let his story fade down into an uncomfortable knot twisting all of their stomaches as they made uneasy glances at the building.

Mikey instinctively took a step away. “Lance, if there’s a freakin’ virus or something in there, we could let it out and all get sick. That door stayed shut for a reason, man. I mean… do contagious things live that long?” His eyes, now gone wild and a wide sky blue, made their way around the circle of kids in a dash of paranoia. “Do they?”

“No way,” Allison butted in. “You said people were here before, and they saw this, this sick guy, right?” Lance nodded. “Then it would’ve gotten out.”

Junior cleared his throat and decided to have a go at it. “She’s right- on New Year’s, you said. And check the windows.” Behind the thin slats of wood they could see broken-out panels of glass, covered in filth and occasionally whistling in the breeze. “There’s no contagion.” His curiosity got the better of him, and his voice gained courage with a kind of ambition, like he was a man with something to prove. “So then- tell us. Tell us how it works.”

“Okay,” Lance continued, leaning into his little group. “You can SEE him. Actually see him, inside, trying to find a way outta there. Like he never escaped. I’m telling you, man, it’s the fucking truth. You go to the windows, and just gotta like… I dunno, call him out. Then just wait and watch him from out here.”

“So no one’s going in, then,” Allison said with a hint of disappointment. “Waiting to catch a glimpse of a locked-up ghost. Wow, this IS stupid. I’m going back to the party.” She began to make her way to the fence.

Junior didn’t want to miss his chance to look brave and cool in front of a pretty girl; even though it gave him the creeps, surely opening up the door and stepping inside would be ballsy in her eyes. “I’ll… I’ll go in,” he half-whispered. “I mean, yeah. I don’t believe in ghosts. So fuck it. What’s the worst that could be in there, a couple a’ hobos and some rats?” He puffed himself up with every moment that passed, until he was determined to step foot inside.

“Junior, it could actually be dangerous in there.” It was working- she was truly worried for him. “These guys are being dumbasses- you don’t have to do it.” She bit her lower lip and wandered slowly back to the group.

“No way, he’s got the right idea!” Lance smiled, if a bit uneasily. “I’ll even go in after ya.”

“Ooh, real brave of you,” Allison quipped. Then she turned to Junior, matted dark hair and the face of a stoic hero as he steeled himself in front of the mysterious building. “Just be careful, dude. Use the light of your phone, it’s fucking dark out here.” She even put her hand on his arm, and a feeling of warmth spread through him.

“Take pictures!” Mikey chimed in. “If this is for real, it’s shit I wanna be able to prove.” As if driven to do so he, too, clapped Junior on the shoulder with an atta-boy sort of look, if only to save himself from being the one to go in alone.

Junior stepped to the now just-visible door, and suddenly his stomach dropped out so forcefully he felt sick, and not just from the booze. Something emanated from this place and it felt like another world he was edging towards, though he wasn’t sure it was an evil one. A crazy plague man, out of time, alone in his shack. The hairs at the back of his neck stood on end like the air was pure electricity. But all the same, he wasn’t one to go back on his word, and he was more than ready to find out. It took some prying, and he had to remove his gloves just to get his nails in beneath the coats of paint and bits of lacquer haphazardly dashed across the door, but finally he had it open. With his flashlight app on and a final glance back at his friends, he slowly entered the dingy one-room shack, and suddenly a chill ran through him as his sneakers trudged unsuredly across the threshold.

At first, Junior was fairly underwhelmed by what he saw inside. It was a dirty, sparsely furnished den of sorts, and seemed long-abandoned from what he saw by the light of his phone. Based on the leftmost wall, he saw where it might have been once attached to the rest of the hospital, and as he went over to investigate, he discovered loose boards beneath his feet. Looking around unsuredly, he knelt down to knock at the hollow space, then slowly pried a plank up. Junior didn’t know why but it seemed… cozy, like there was an actual home down there, a place where you might lay your head. It was a little cubby, sort of a hidey hole, just big enough for someone to huddle inside. Plus, it seemed that no one else had even found it before. But the wood held a lot stronger than he anticipated and with a great snap, a chunk suddenly broke off into his hand and sent him backwards, tripping over the boards with the sound of a crunch from his phone echoing off the walls before he landed on his back.

Nurse’s Log: December the 21st. Patient Name: Mr. Miles Sullivan. Notes: Mr. Sullivan’s health has declined sharply given his repeated refusal of medications and, as of today, he has enter a semi-catatonic state. Dr. Hill suggests a form of psychiatric examination, and has consulted with Doctors Warring and Ebb in an attempt to further study these curious traits. The rash, seemingly bilious in nature, continues to spread. It is feared that the poor man may not live to see the new year, considering his rather deplorable circumstances, and feared even more so that he was the cause of an unusual number of deaths in the very quarantine hall he has been placed in. Indeed, the patient- when on occasion he speaks- seems to wish himself dead, and expresses a complete lack of understanding in regard to the deaths of his fellow patients. We had hoped that despite no one coming forward as of yet, as it is nearing Christmastime, some family might come to inquire after Mr. Sullivan. Before he stopped communicating completely, however, amidst his rantings he insisted that his companions were in fact the ones who constrained him to this institution in the first place. End notes.

Junior pulled himself back into semi-consciousness and found himself in a strange, new environment, sharp and bright as he allowed his eyes to adjust. He’d hit the back of his head and upon the pillow what felt like matted blood stuck in his hair; they must have taken him to an urgent care or something. It was like a dream, and the room he was in swam before his vision in a haze of white and grey. Did they give him medicine? He itched like Hell. He tried getting up only to find himself, to his horror, in rubber brown restraints strapped to a gurney. Frantically he looked around him: rows of beds, cleanly dressed with white linen and empty. Nothing. No one. He cried out in frustration. “Hello? HELLO? Please, can somebody tell me where I am?” His pleas were met only with silence. He saw that he was in a strange dressing gown, also white, and wondered what they’d done with his clothes, his friends, with ANYthing as far as he was concerned.

He had nearly resigned himself to just lying there and going back to sleep when footsteps approached. Lifting his head, Junior could see two doctors in suits and bowties, one of them wearing gloves, and a nurse in a large heavy apron a good distance away from him, seemingly watching him and remarking to one another. They stayed quite a ways from him and kept glancing over nervously before continuing to talk in hushed tones. “Please,” Junior demanded, “please just tell me what is happening!” The nurse gave him a scance look of concern, then continued conferring with her colleagues, who seemed to ignore him entirely. They began walking away. “No, no don’t! You have to help me!” His heart thumped wildly in his chest as he lay back, staring up at the cold white ceiling as he struggled to hang onto consciousness.

Allison was the first in the group to stand up from their seated half-circle and look at her phone. “He’s been in there for a while, guys. Someone needs to go check that he’s okay…. I thought I heard a noise.”

“Are you kidding? He’s just trying to spook us,” Lance said, his voice filled with false bravado. “I bet any second-“

Mikey jumped to his feet. “Wait! Look! I see something.” He craned his long neck for a better view between the wooden slats.

“Junior?” Allison ventured. “I think it’s him, thank God!”

Junior was sedated- the nurse had injected him behind a veil of plastic sheeting and by now he had utterly no idea where his head was at. The two doctors, both now heavily weighed down by thick gown-like garments and surgical gloves, said through heavy rubber masks, “This is the second time and I haven’t the slightest inclination as to how.”

“How he got out? Clearly the man’s a plague-bringer. His mind is ADDLED, Warring. That’s why you know what we must do… what steps must be taken. This has gone on long enough.”

The young man tried in vain to protest, slurring and mumbling, as they dragged him down a narrow hall, sparsely lit, and onto a decrepit cot in a dark room. Sleep took hold of him and somewhere in the darkness, a door slammed shut and the sounds of rivets, boards and whispers drifted quietly away amidst his foggy slumber.

“Holy fuck!” Lance practically screamed as the door slammed shut of its own accord. He leaped up and raced towards the old grey shack and the occasional movement that could be seen just between those gaps in the window boards.

Mikey shrugged off his sense of foreboding and ran to the door. “It won’t budge! It’s like it was sealed back over again… I can’t get it!” His friend joined him in trying to pry it open any way they could, desperately searching for tools or objects that might free him, while Allison went to the window in a panic.

“Junior, can you hear me? Junior… uh, Sully!” Inside he gave a groggy half-smile at the sound of his name. It was kind of nice, he thought. No one ever called him that.

Allison whipped her head around and frantically gestured to Mikey. “Sully! Mike, he’s just… laying there. The window’s too high for me to reach. Come on, please!” The two convened at the window, struggling to catch any glimpse of their trapped companion.

Inside, the beleaguered young man tremblingly stirred to his feet and was immediately floored by the horror of the realization. He was back in that old boarded-up room again, except it was far from the place he remembered. The paint newer; the furniture cleaner. And the windows- they had bars on them, and as he approached he was only barely tall enough to see through them. He thought to find something on him- anything- but as he patted down his body he only discovered that he was in another plain hospital smock, one that contrasted against a blotchy yellow-red discoloration spread all over his arms.

But Allison- he could hear her voice, echoing through the chamber! She was on the other side of the window, she MUST be. Junior’s mind reeled and yet he clung to the only things he could fully grasp- the bars on the windows, and the notion of his friends outside, ready to save him from this monstrous Hell, a Hell that seemed so familiar and yet so wrong. HE was wrong. THIS was all wrong. Were they his friends? Were they even there at all? He fought hard against a growing delirium.

The faint sound of fireworks going off in the distance hardly served to deter Allison, who was hoisted up wobbling by Mikey and Lance as she took care not to cut herself reaching through the long-ruined window in one of the few holes big enough to get her arm through. She called to him desperately. “Sully! Sully, come on, we’re getting you out of there!” Not she, not Mikey, nor even Lance, had the heart to tell them that what they were seeing from the outside utterly horrified them in the same primal, confused way his own surroundings did- they could see him older, with mottled and burnt-looking skin, and a tattered gown draped loosely over his skeletal frame.

He reached for the window as best he could, but he felt so terribly exhausted. Sully looked back at the floor behind him- there was a pattern of uneven boards, and he remembered his special spot down there. A place where he didn’t have to face any of this, where he could be comfortable, and just sit and think a while. It was like… going home. Waking up from a nightmare that couldn’t really happen. He half-shuffled and half-crawled down onto the hard panel flooring as the voices he seemed to dream calling his name began to fade.

“What is he doing? He’s… I can’t see him anymore!” Lance and Mikey lowered the girl back down as they shared disturbed glances and a feeling of utter hopelessness came over them. As if on cue, the grand finale of the city fireworks went off with a cacophony of pops and shrieks. All three of them ran to the door in a frenzy, smashing and kicking it wildly until all at once it creaked opened, to their surprise. Trembling with uncertainty, Lance put forth his phone, bathing the dusty old room with light. Holding hands the three went in together. “Sully?” There was no reply. “Junior, dude, where are you?” Mikey offered, and his clammy hand gripped Allison’s once more before letting go. After a few tentative steps alleviated their paranoia, they separated to search every possible nook and cranny, which ended in a stumble followed by a loud scream.

Nurse’s Log: January the 1st. Patient Name: Mr. Miles Sullivan. Notes: It is my sad duty to conclude the patient file on Mr. Sullivan as, after much deliberation, the chief medical staff and attending physicians all agreed that he must, himself, be quarantined from the rest of the world. Most alarmingly, Mr. Sullivan shows no observable signs of direct harm from whatever contagion he harbors, and yet it managed to infect and kill not only every soul in the quarantine ward, but a dozen others outside of it, including two nurses and a small child. If this is indeed a variation of the “Asiatic Flu” disaster, then inhumane as it may seem, it appears there are no other options for this unfortunate man than to seal him away in the storage outbuilding for fear of greater epidemic. In accordance with virulent disease protocols, this institution and its staff will do their best to accommodate food and drinking water for this man, until such time as he cannot or will not cooperate. His remaining personal effects, incinerated to destroy contagion, were as follows: one pair Levi-Strauss denim trousers, one oddly colorful linen shirt, one pair lacing shoes, one woolen buttoned jacket, one pair socks and one glass device, possibly a type of mirror or photographic cartridge, thoroughly dashed to pieces when Mr. Sullivan was admitted. This is the final status report on patient Miles Sullivan, the year of our Lord 1892. End notes.

Allison recoiled in horror as she found herself half-fallen into a small cubby hole of sorts, seated snugly beneath the floorboards, containing a single human skeleton in a tattered old gown curled awkwardly into the fetal position and resting just against her leg.

Credit To – TheJinx

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