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When Death Cheats You

August 21, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Everyone knows the term “cheating death”: it’s when you get to escape the ending of your life, or the cruelness of how it will end or just the terror itself it carries. But everyone knows that Death will eventually catch up to you. Some people can evade it for a long period of time while others may not have the best of luck. I cheated Death once, and it hasn’t caught up to me… yet. Before I die; before I’m caught, I want people to know his story. Yes, his story, not mine. This isn’t about me. It’s about the one young man that will live a thousand lifetimes more than me. I will die soon and so will my story. His will just fade away to the point where no one will remember. So to keep his story alive, I will tell you everything he told me. As I said before, I, along with few others, may have cheated Death, but what if Death cheats you? Then what? What happens if Death gets the better of you in the end?

Up in the north of Washington, a young man around the age of 19 named Lyle fell ill to Acute Myeloid Leukemia. A cancer that works at a dangerously fast pace and affects the blood in the body. He did not have long to live. Hearing the constant sorrows of his family, he begged for mercy from God. He pleaded and cried out to at least prolong his life a little longer. He wanted to be able to stay with his family; to relive his life and make every second count. However, that was never to be…

A month or so later, the young man was on the verge of death. Lyle passed in and out of consciousness one night. He tried so hard to stay alive and not breathe his last breath. Losing energy, he fell prey to his killer until a shady man appeared before him in his little hospital room. He wore a black suit, black dress shoes, a dark grey dress shirt with a white neckerchief, and a raven colored fedora that shielded his eyes. He watched the young man as he twirled a fancy cane with a blue jewel on the tip in his hand. An unnerving sneer crept across the man’s face. He walked over swiftly and stood beside the bed.

“What do we have here?” A voice so deep, so raspy and so cold sounded from the man’s thin lips, “It appears your little disease is getting the best of you.”

Lyle opened his eyes slightly to see the figure loomed over him, “Who.. are you?”

“Originally, I came here to kill you–.. pardon me.. What I mean to say is that I am a savior.. of.. sorts. I’ve come here to end the agonizing torment. But after hearing your constant begs and pleas, I couldn’t help but answer to your pathetic prayers,” The mysterious and harsh-toned man explained himself. He had such an uninterested look as if being there was a waste of time. Lyle was confused and bewildered. A nonstop flow of questions circled throughout his mind. Who was this man? What does he want? And how did he get in a room that was locked from the inside?

“I understand that you don’t wish to die, so what if I were to tell you that I could make you live a long time? Eh~ would that suit you? I know you’re dying to see your family again– no pun intended,” He said with a deadpanned face. He didn’t even give a slight chuckle to the dark joke he made. The man leaned down closer to the boy’s ear, “If I gave you a chance to live, would you give me something in return? It’s nothing out of proportion, of course. It’s an eye for an eye per se.”

“You can.. save me? Really!?” Lyle widened his eyes in surprise.

The man could see that Lyle was interested in what he had to say and pursued his target, “I’ll give you your life…if… You give me your soul. Sign your soul away to me and I can grant you this one wish. Make a deal with the devil. Keep in mind, though, you can’t back out of the agreement once you’ve signed.”

With a snap of his fingers, a white scroll with a red ribbon wrapped around it appeared out of blue flames. The man grabbed the scroll and flicked it downward. It unrolled itself and the contract appeared. Next to the paper, a feather of a crow levitated in place. The young male looked over the small cursive writing, but was interrupted.

“You don’t have much time, so I would decide quickly. Your hour glass is down to its last, miserable grain of sand,” The impatient and bored man ushered him to sign. Lyle knew that there was something up with the guy. He was hiding something. However, if he didn’t sign the paper now, he would die. Finally deciding his fate, Lyle took the quill and wrote down half of his signature before the man spoke again.

“Oh, I neglected to mention: by signing your soul away to me, I am granted the right to your physical being. In other words; I own you,” The man smiled slightly as the last of the signature was signed. Flipping up the paper, it disappeared into blue flames.

Before Lyle’s very eyes, the whole room was set ablaze by a vibrant blue. The room shook uncontrollably.

“What’s going on!? What’re you doing?” Fear sunk into the mind of the young adult. He was perplexed, scared, and regretful. A black substance that was too thick to be smoke but too thin to be tar slithered its way up to Lyle and started to burn him. The dark substance encased Lyle’s entire body. He screamed as it dug into his skin with a burning sensation. His screams were muffled as the tar-colored slime slowly poured itself down his throat. It made its way around Lyle’s face and started to seep into his eyes, burning them doing so. Lyle watched the man as he disappeared in blue flames, waving as he left. A paper floated down to his bed and hovered over his face. Still in shock at the sudden turn of events, Lyle was unable to read the paper. The dark substance completely blocked out his vision along with his intake of oxygen. He soon fell unconscious. The flimsy paper floated down to the floor with the words “Rest in Piece” staring straight up at Lyle.

Six months later, Lyle was released from the hospital and went into relapse. As he and his family drove down a busy street and into an intersection, another car sped through a red light. The opposing driver rammed straight into the passenger’s side of the family’s car. The vehicle then spun out of control and smashed into a wall that helped elevate a toll road. Both the driver and the passenger, his mother and father, were killed.

A private funeral was later held in his hometown’s cemetery. At the funeral of his parents, Lyle found a familiar face. He approached the man and took him aside away from the few family members and relatives he had left. When out of earshot of everyone else, the shady man announced he had a job for him to do. Not listening to him, Lyle begged the man for help. Annoyed about the situation, the man explained bluntly that he could do nothing for them since it was necessary for his parents to die. The young adult flared up and lashed out at him. He exclaimed profanity and questioned what there was to gain for killing the innocent.

“You’d be better off without them,” The man said with a firm tone. The cruel words echoed in the grieving boy’s ears.

“W-What… No…” He fell to his feet in perplexity and remorse.

“You should be thanking me,” he snapped his head up toward the cruel, calm person that stood before him, “It will make your next job a whole lot easier. Keep in mind, kid, I’m only trying to help your sorry ass.”

Before he could say much more, the man gave an honest explanation.

“I have a job for you, boy,” The man took on an even more serious demeanor.

“What sort of job? Something you don’t want to get your hands dirty with?”

“Heh! Now you’re catching on. With my old state and how busy I am, I need you to do a few permanent tasks for me. Since your soul belongs to me, there is no way you can back out of this. I am Death. No matter how hard you try you can’t outrun me. You’ll be caught eventually.”

“Is that a challenge?” Lyle raised an eyebrow.

“No, it’s the truth. As for your job, you will be what’s known as the G.-R.-A.-E.: a Ghastly Reaping Archangel of Ethnologies.”

“A.. Grah-eh..?” Lyle tried to pronounce the acronym.

“No, you idiot! It’s pronounced like the word ‘grey’! In other words, you’d be a Grim Reaper. No wait.. I don’t like that term. It’s used too much and it’s lost its terrifying connotation since so many people fantasize about them…

“Anyway, you will collect souls from all those who are about to perish. It won’t matter if they are a stranger or a friend, good or evil, male or female, young or old. Your emotions or ties to people, stranger or known, will be void and meaningless. Each person has a time limit and if you don’t collect the soul within the time frame, they get to cheat death. In other words, they will be granted another day or so until the prefect time is right,” Death clarified as he felt badgered by the young man.

“As morbid as this sounds, why can’t they just die then instead of giving an extension?”

“Coincidence. There needs to be an excuse for their death instead of just an unsolvable case of murder. We can’t just go around collecting souls whenever we want. We’re not like those stupid psychopaths out there killing people with dull knives or those miserable creatures causing disappearances. If we do that, we would be unprofessional and even more chaos would reign. People would believe in a mass murderer on the loose. Again. Which is why Jack the Ripper had to go… Heh, we’re more professional than that. We’re practically a business, ” The man paused for a moment. With a flick of his hand, an antique chain watch appeared dangling from his grasp. As he held it in his hand, a blue flame was lit on both clock hands.

“What, are you gonna pawn it?” Lyle joked without amusement.

“This pocket watch is a person’s lifeline. Once the hand starts moving around the face, it will not stop. You have within the time the hand starts moving to when it makes a full cycle to collect the given person’s soul. If the hour hand makes a full cycle, then the flame will disappear and they’ll get an extension. I do not want that to happen, now. I don’t like to give away free days to live. It’s rather troublesome, so be sure to finish the job within the set time.” Death paused for a moment.

“How am I supposed to know who I need to kill? How the hell would I find them anyway!?”

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll know where to find them, and you’ll know the person before you even lay your eyes on them. Your job begins at nightfall, “Death smirked as if he just heard a stupid joke. He turned and walked away, “I’ll be watching to see how you do. It should be … interesting, heheh~.”

After Death left, Lyle sank to the ground. Overwhelmed by the vast amount of information and the sudden change of plans, he didn’t know what to do. When he gathered his thoughts, he headed home and lied down on the couch. With a long sigh, he threw his arms over his face and drifted off to sleep within a matter of minutes.

The sun was down, and the moon illuminated the night sky with silver light. Tossing and turning on the soft couch, heavy footsteps paraded across the flooring. They headed straight for the couch and stopped in front of the sleeper.

“Wake up, you fool. It’s time.”

Lyle shot straight up and looked where the voice originated, “Who’s there?”

There was nothing there but an empty home, and yet he felt that he was not alone.

Without warning, someone took a hold of Lyle by his messy, dull colored, blonde hair from behind and pulled him back. He grasped the intruder’s arm and tried to break free. It was of no use. Lyle felt something cold and sharp at his throat. A knife, perhaps?

“Stop squirming, stupid brat. You’re making this harder than it needs to be.” Lyle opened his eyes and saw Death standing behind him, pinning his head to the back of the couch.

“You! What the hell are you–”

“Tonight is your first night of reaping. To make sure things run smoothly, I’ve taken it upon myself to see to it that you don’t screw up.”

Within that instant, Death snapped his fingers. Lyle looked around waiting for something to happen. His eyes burned for some strange reason. He wiped his eyes and saw a black slime smeared on his hands. He choked and coughed excessively, letting out clots of dark goop from his lungs.

“What did you do!? This is… This is that stuff from before, isn’t it!?” Lyle muttered his words in panic, but Death yanked his head back and injected his boney fingers into Lyle’s eyes.

“Now, now. Don’t move about. It will only make it worse,” He warned nonchalantly.

The young adult let out a blood curtailing scream as the assaulter dug into the eye sockets deep enough to latch onto the inside of the skull and pulled his head upward. His hand receipted from Lyle’s eyes and he focused on the right eye. Death intricately moved his fingers around to get a firm grasp and yanked the eye out of the socket. Blood and black slime poured profusely out of Lyle’s eyes and mouth, burning his skin as it slithered down his face.

“It’s just a precautionary measure. Stop making such a fuss. You can’t die, you know? I won’t allow it!” Death’s voice sounded uneasy, yet it still had that mellow tone to it. He did not enjoy this horrendous torment, but it was necessary.

Death tossed the right eyeball on the ground and watched Lyle for a moment before going after the other eye. He used his knife to slice two cuts across the left eye. Lyle tried desperately to fight back and get away, but to no avail. There was no possible way he could beat the devil, himself.

Death let go of Lyle and watched him as he fell to the floor and curl up in a ball. The young adult held his face in misery. His scarlet, red blood stained the white carpet and covered every inch of his hands. Just when he thought it was over, Death took his knife and held it against Lyle’s throat. He squeezed his jaw with enough force to open Lyle’s mouth. With the knife in hand, he dug the knife into his mouth and roughly and partially cut off his tongue. Death didn’t remove it entirely, but it was severely damaged and would take a long while for it to heal. Aside from that, he even made several cuts around the mouth including the gums and lips.

Unable to escape, Lyle choked on his own blood along with that black substance that continuously poured from his eyes and mouth. Death stood up and allowed Lyle to roll over onto his stomach. He hacked up even more blood and ooze on the snowy carpet. Death sat down on the couch unimpressed and watched Lyle wither in pain.

Lyle couldn’t stand the torture. His eye sight was nearly gone just like his tongue. His skin and the inside of his throat burned. He couldn’t do anything but lay there and wait for the next round of torment. All he could do was moan and mumble shrieks of distress and horror.

What kind of a precaution was this!? What was the point of this!? Why must he be put under so much torture when promised an actual life? Why did it seem that Death cheated him out of an escape from this torment?

Lyle took his focus away from the questions that circulated through his mind. He then remembered he wasn’t alone. He could feel a cold, unsympathetic gaze on him.

“This isn’t something personal. Be happy that you’ll eventually heal…” Death was silent for a few moments before speaking again, “I had to do this… Now that you cannot see who exactly your target is, you won’t be able to show anyone mercy during your rookie years. It’s logical to spare those you know and love; it’s just human nature. That’s why when I first met you I plagued you with Ruin. You know, the disgusting crap you keep hacking up? It’s just making its way up to your mind to help you make decisions when it’s time to do your job. Maybe when you finally heal, you’ll make the right decisions and not screw up.”

Lyle mumbled and gargled.

“Why did I destroy your eyesight and nearly rip out your tongue, you ask? It’s simple, you have to do the job without thinking of emotions or personal interests. Your mouth and eyes are capable of showing your emotions. I’ve taken away all of your abilities of displaying emotion with the exception of body language since you need your limbs,” Death chuckled slightly at his last statement. Atoning for his crime, he took several bandages and wrapped them around Lyle’s eyes and mouth to stop the bleeding, then turned rather serious, “Now that is over with, finish the job for tonight.”

He left without saying anything else. The young adult laid there on the ground in discomfort and pity. The smell of iron flared up his nostrils and provoked him to vomit all over the floor. He tried to open his left eye and saw red and black. He felt around his face gingerly. It was bound with bandages that were poorly wrapped around his face without much light able to pass through.

Out of nowhere, Lyle had this feeling to stand. Obeying himself, he stood up shakily and raised his hand. He unclenched his fist and found an old, decorative pocket watch with a blue flame on the hands. He couldn’t see it but he knew it was there. As he studied the flames, he got a sense of where he was supposed to find the person he needed to kill. It was as if the watch told him what to do. Although Lyle couldn’t see them, the hands moved slowly so he may have enough time to get to the target. He heard something like fabric shift on the ground next to him. Facing toward it, he picked it up and felt numerous objects. Most of it seemed to be clothes, another felt like a pair of shoes and gloves.

Taking a few minutes to change, Lyle dressed in an attire similar to what Death sported: a long, dark, tattered hooded trench coat, a dark grey dress shirt with a striped vest where his watch is now being held, a vibrant, red tie, dark pants and gloves, and black and white, fancy bowler shoes. He looked as if he were a mafia member with blood stained bangs and bandages. When he was done, he held up the watch again. He didn’t waste too much time getting dressed which was surprising considering he was practically blind and light-headed.

Lyle headed off in the direction of his target. He ran out of his home swiftly, quietly and at an inhumanly fast pace. He did not just run though, he seemed to glide across the ground like wandering ghosts. Along the way, he would take out the watch to check the “time”. Lyle could sense the flame become stronger as he got closer to his destination.

About fifty minutes later, he came across an old apartment complex. He checked the watch again and found that he was close. Instinctively, he jumped into the air toward the second story window and landed on the fire escape. Astonished at his new abilities, he shook his head to regain his focus. He pressed his head up against the window to see if he could hear anyone. Lyle heard the sound of someone cough violently. A middle aged man came around the corner and entered the room. He had a lit cigar propped in his mouth. The man looked up and saw the shadowy, well dressed figure in the window.

“What the hell are you doing? Get your ass out of here before I come out and make you myself, you little fucker!” The man threatened.

Lyle could not retort. His mouth was bound and injured. All he did was lower his head and studied the man’s presence. It was him. It was his soul that needed to be taken.

“Hey! I said get the fuck out of here!” The man shouted as he took heavy steps toward Lyle.

Before the man could do anything, Lyle, without a thought in his mind, rushed inside. He smashed the window to small shards upon impact.

There was a thumping sound coming from the floor, “Hey, keep it down up there! There are people sleeping, asshole!”

Both the man and Lyle ignored the complaint.

“You son of a bitch!” The man ran for the kitchen to get his gun, but Lyle was too quick for him. Lyle reluctantly grabbed the man and turned him the opposite direction. He smashed him into the wall and created a large, gaping hole. Adrenaline flowed through Lyle’s veins, but he had this feeling that he did not want to do this. That it wasn’t right. On the other hand, there was a slight bit of excitement in him. It felt… good… to relieve his anger on this soon-to-be-dead man. The man got up and shook his head.

“Who the hell do you think… You…” The man’s voice faltered when he saw the bloodied, bandaged face staring at him. He never realized how the intruder’s face was so badly injured. Horrified by the site, the man dashed out of his apartment, down to the first floor. Lyle didn’t pursue. Instead, he checked his watch. He had more than enough time to do his job. He didn’t even really want to do it. The man may be a jerk, but it still didn’t seem right…

Lyle walked over to the broken window and saw the man stumble outside, coughing and hacking up a storm. Lyle felt pity for the man. He didn’t wish to do this, but he didn’t have a choice. For some reason a little sting in his mind urged him, gave him the need or want, to do his job. He had a horrible feeling that bringing pain to others would relieve his anger at Death. Maybe it was that Ruin Death was talking about earlier that took an affect on him now. His hands started to tremble and he jumped out the window, landing a few yards in front of the scurrying man.

“What do you want from me!?” The man shouted, alerting a few of his neighbors. He took a few steps back before he decided to take his last moments into his own hands. The man lunged himself at Lyle, but he quickly dodged. The two played a sort of game of chase; the man was “it”. Lyle simply toyed with his target. He was indecisive; he wanted to get the job over with, but then he wanted to give the man more time to live.

Not being able to evade the brute any longer, Lyle received a hard punch to the left side of his face. He stumbled a little before the man swung his left arm around and hit him in the temple on the right side. Lyle lost his footing again and knelt on the ground. The man laughed triumphantly as he thought his opponent was just an freaky, pathetic bastard. This made Lyle clench his fists in even more anger than before. He trembled again, except this time it was both of his arms; from the very tops of his shoulders all the way down to his finger tips. The man’s laugh seemed to falter though as Lyle grew more infuriated by the second. The Ruin took control.

“What.. the hell..!?” The man took a couple steps back as the darkness grew all around him. His opponent remained kneeling on the floor looking downward. As he stared at Lyle, he felt something, or some things, crawl up the side of his leg. He looked down and saw an assortment of cockroaches, centipedes, and beetles scattered around him. Moths flew around him and landed all over his body. Extremely disgusted, he smacked them all off and tried to step on them. But, they just kept coming.

“Hehehe…”

The man heard a small laugh and looked up. Lyle’s shadow grew longer and stretched toward the man. As soon as it touched his feet, the Ruin pooled around him. He stepped out of the shadow, but the slime stuck to his shoes and went along with him like he just stepped in a mixture of chewed gum and mud.

“Hehehah.. hahahaha… Hahahahaha! Ahahahahaha!” Insane, gargled laughter came from the bandaged intruder. Blood seeped through the wrappings. Even more horrified than before, the man realized that his efforts to get away from the bugs, slime and the ever growing darkness were futile. What possessed this guy to start laughing like a maniac choking on blood-he didn’t know. One thing he was certain of was that he needed to get away.

Lyle cupped his hands over his face. He stood up and looked at them. He bled again. His mouth dripped red, staining his clothes as it flowed down his neck. His eyes were no better off either. They never had enough time to heal even a little and they started to bleed in vast amounts. Lyle’s furious demeanor got the best of him. His arms and hands shook even more uncontrollably. He slowly cupped his face again and scratched slightly at his bandages which caused them to slightly come undone.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Freak!?” The man was discombobulated. He was so frightened at Lyle’s actions that he lost all thoughts about the bugs crawling on him.

Immediately, after the man spoke, Lyle ceased his laughter. He slowly brought down his hands to reveal his ruined face. Vibrant teal and black veins ran all over the areas of his body that were visible. The bandages over his left eye moved and a glowing, piercing red showed through. The man turned and ran away in terror. Lyle watched his prey scurry away like a frightened mouse. He was angered beyond belief and he wanted to relieve that fury. He was so furious, his body just shook while he remained set in place until he was finally able to slowly walk toward his target.

As the man continued to run, he looked back and saw his pursuer following at a close distance. But… Lyle only walked the whole time… How could he have caught up so fast?

Darkness shrouded the man’s sight and something grabbed his leg, causing him to trip and fall to the asphalt. He turned over and saw something he would never be able to unsee: a transparent, brightly and faintly colored, teal specter. Its face was distorted and decomposed and had vibrant, red, quarter sized dots for eyes in the sockets. Its boney arms had rotted looking flesh. Its legs weren’t even present. Instead, it had a tattered, cloth-like body. The phantom wheezed and gasped, staring at him. It crawled closer and closer to him. The man looked around and saw multiple other phantoms surround him. Horrified at the grotesque monstrosities, an ear-blasting cry of fear erupted from the man’s vocal chords.

“L-.. Leave.. LEAVE ME ALONE!!!” The man shrieked with tears formed in his eyes.

The poltergeists swarmed around him; bugs crawled all over him. He opened his eyes slowly and saw a figure walk toward him.

“S-Stay back! Stay the fuck back!” He warned.

A slight chuckle came from the figure. Right after, it lunged into the air and came straight down on the middle-aged male. The man jumped up and pushed through the ghosts to get away just in time to escape a large, curved blade with a chain attached land in the spot he was just in.

Lyle was having fun. Too much fun… He summoned the souls to mess around and tease the poor man. He obtained so much pleasure, he didn’t realize how childish and cruel his thoughts were.

Lyle raised his arm straight out to the side and smokey substances enveloped his hand and lower arm. The substances started to form into something long like a staff. The curved blade and chain were dragged back toward Lyle and attached itself to the smokey substance encasing his hand and arm. As the smoke faded away, a solid object that was the same length as its owner was in Lyle’s right hand. Lyle looked at his new weapon, and wondered how he knew that he could do such a thing. He studied it and realized that it was his perfect murder weapon: a scythe, just the thing for a traditional reaping.

He chased the man down on the empty street and cut him off. He was literally inches from his face. The man stared into the red eye that tracked him. The horrendous face haunted him. Lyle took his bloodied hand and touched the jawline and neck of the frightened man. His face started to deteriorate, his muscle mass shrank, his stomach caved in, his eyes sank into the back of his head, his skin rotted, and his bones nearly tore through his thin layer of flesh. He was losing his life and he desperately needed to escape. With the last of his strength, he smacked Lyle’s hand away, and slowly ran from him in exhaustion, yet again. His body returned back to its original state within a few seconds.

Within that moment, two lights lit the both of them up. The darkness and phantoms disappeared and the man was finally able to see that he was back in the middle of the street. There was a sound of an engine headed toward them. A car going at a rather fast speed barreled through the street. Without a warning for the man, the vehicle rammed right into him. The impact was so brutally strong it sent him flying through the air. He landed on the asphalt with tremendous force and skidded across the ground. The impact of the car along with the ground destroyed most of the man’s body. The car sped off as the man groaned in pain and shock. Somehow he was still alive. Probably due to the fact that it was Lyle’s job to finish him…

The lights went on in the apartment complex. Within seconds, people would be flooding the street. This brought Lyle back to his senses. He used this spare moment and stealth of the darkness to finish the job. He walked over to the man who’s body and the area surrounding him was covered in blood, his face was a mutilated mess, his ribs were shattered and one of his legs bent in a way that would be unnatural for a human to do. The pathetic brute was hardly recognizable. Lyle prepared his scythe. He could hear the neighbors, the sirens, and the dying male.

“W-…why…?” The man questioned with his last dying breath.

“It’s just business,” Lyle answered in a voice that was hard to comprehend because of his injuries.

With a sigh, Lyle raised his scythe and struck down fast and swift through the man’s chest, over his heart. He cut straight through him, red crimson spraying in the direction the scythe sliced across the victim. Lyle held his pose for little while longer. His body was trembling, his eyes were wide. He never killed anyone before. It felt… Exhilarating. He hated it. He hated the fact he became a killer. But it’s his job now, and it’s better to accept it then try to fight a fight he will never win in a thousand lifetimes. Yet at the same time… He liked it. He finally had something to take his anger out on. If he could do so, Lyle would be … smiling…

A glow appeared over the man’s chest where his heart would be. A bright, vibrant, teal orb rose from the chest. It was a soul. Lyle took it in his grasp, and clenched it until it was no more.

“What’s going on over there!?”

Lyle turned and found several people started to make their way into the streets. They all headed in his direction. He turned away from the crowd and looked back at the body. The corpse’s large gash in the chest was gone, but the blood was still there. It was as if he only died from the car accident. A perfect cover up.

Lyle ran down the street and into an alley to get away from the crowd. He climbed up the fire escapes to the top of the roof and knelt on the ledge to watch the scene from afar. He could hear the reactions of people as they laid their eyes over the twisted corpse. Screams of disgust and horror could be heard. People frantically called ambulances and police cars to assist the dead man even though a couple police cars were already arriving due to noise complaints. But of course there is nothing they can do for him.

Lyle suddenly heard someone’s footsteps heading towards him from behind.

“Well done,” The figure said whilst clapping slowly, “I expected nothing less of you.”

The figure came into the light and revealed to be none other than Death, himself. He looked over at the site where the crowd gathered.

“Oh lovely… It seems you stirred up quite a bit of trouble. You weren’t really supposed to spark up a scene.” He chided in a scornful manner and turned his cane around in his hands, “Nonetheless, you got your job done. Not bad for your first time. Looks like you had fun, though. … Maybe a little too much fun.”

Lyle flinched at the last sentence. It made him feel cruel and sick. He wanted to say something, but alas his face was not healed enough to speak well.

“I know, you wish to be able to talk right now, but I don’t really want to hear your gargled, irritating voice.” Death paused for a moment to study Lyle, “Heh, I understand you’re angry with me. I was the same way when I had to take over this job. But of course, you aren’t alone. There are several others in the same position as you.”

Death turned and started burning up in flames of blue, “Remember, you aren’t the only person who’s been through this. So long… Grae.”

“It’s Lyle,” Lyle spoke harshly, with his hard-to-understand voice, correcting him with a hint of disgust on each word.

“Not in my book,” The aloof man’s smirk bore into Lyle, “Oh, your next assignment should be up soon. Have fun. Oh, and uh.. Dont’ overdo it.”

Lyle turned back to the crowd and saw the paramedics take the man into the ambulance. He turned away and held his head down. What has he become? What was that sensation he felt before? Was that really pleasure? And where did all those… abilities come from..? They were so strange and disturbing. Lyle grew distraught as he thought about it more and more. Either way, he didn’t like this at all. The new name he was given didn’t help the situation either. But he can’t do anything about it. All he can do is his job: being the Grim Reaper, the G.R.A.E., that steals the souls of lives that are on the brink of death.

….

Hours, days, months, and years passed and Lyle grew more and more engrossed in his job. He took it seriously and an abundance of deaths appeared in either the news headlines or in the newspaper death notices, the obituaries. Each death was claimed to be linked to a sort of brain damage or heart attack if it wasn’t already caused by something else such as a car accident, illness or injury. Each death, however, contained an odd, splattered line of blood over the corpse’s chest where the heart would be. No investigator could link the death to anything in reality. No forensics scientist could understand how the person’s blood could end up on the outside of the body without a single scratch of the skin. No one could identify this as murder, illness, or accident, and possibly, no one ever will. Many believe it’s a serial killer’s doing, while others believe it may be God’s doing. Since no one could identify a motivation to kill, a lot of people came up with the idea that it was the Grim Reaper’s doing.

…Well.. they’re not wrong. In fact, they’re all correct. It is a serial killer’s doing and it is the work of some God-like figure in a sense. It could be the Devil that created the killer. Despite what everyone believes… it is the Grim Reaper harvesting souls. It’s him that’s doing the mass numbers of peculiar deaths. Rumors of meeting the dangerous figure and surviving developed after this notion surfaced to the public. The internet did a good job making sure those rumors spread throughout the world.

Then there was me; the one person who actually did see, meet and escaped the Grim Reaper, himself. Or as he prefers to say, “G.R.A.E.” Unlike everyone else, though, I call him by his given name, Lyle. His name is all he has left. He doesn’t remember his past too well prior to his meeting with Death and he’s starting to forget about that, too. So at least calling him by his real name could bring back his memory a little. Obviously, I feel sorry for him. He never wanted this and never deserved it. But of course, there are thousands who would disagree considering his actions. I don’t care, I sympathize with just about anyone. Of course, that isn’t always a good thing, but no one is perfect.

I’m waiting to meet with him again… I know he will come for me and take my soul. And this time.. I can’t escape him. Haha, it’s funny, I remember everything after cheating him..

For some reason, before he left, he asked me, “You know, I’m curious. If you were about to die by my hand right now, what would your last words be?”

Thinking long and hard since I would never get this opportunity again, I was inquisitive as to who he really was.

“I’m not sure… But… what happened to you, or what did you do, to become this way?”

I stared him in his one good eye. It didn’t seem bored or angry, but sorrowful. Reluctantly, he told me just about everything he knew.

I am pretty much the only person he ever told his story to and will be the only person for a long while. That is why I’m passing the tale to whoever reads this so that they know who the Reaper, Grae, or whatever you want to call him, really is. I know for a fact that he was not always a bad person, or I guess, being. It’s not his choice anymore.

It’s funny. For so long after meeting him, I still remember those, piercing, red eyes, the odd, vibrant, veins all over his body and face, the messy, bloodied hair and his unsightly, pale skin… But the one thing I remember the most is that phrase he said to me before he was about to extinguish my life.

“It’s just business.”

When Death Cheats You

Credit To – Annie Reagan

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South Wing

August 20, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I was desperately broke. I suppose that was why I decided to suck up my pride and apply for a job at the Hindlewood Mansion. They were always in need of housekeepers at that big old place. In high school, a few of my friends had worked there, but never lasted more than a week before quitting. They all said it was because of the way the old man treated them, but they way they acted when we rolled past that house in our beat-up cars told me otherwise. Something was just…weird about that place.

My appointment for a housekeeping interview was at 9 o’clock at night; a strange time, but I had heard that old man Hindlewood hated company, and we were only to clean house at night when he was sleeping. I did not really mind, my nights were normally pretty uneventful. The small town I lived in hardly had any night-life, and the only gatherings the younger people had were drinking in the corn fields or hanging out at the local gas station. I preferred to stay home and read.

The interview was conducted by the lead housekeeper, a woman who looked a little too old to still be working. She was small and frail, very sweet, but a little strange. The questions she asked seemed a little irrelevant to the job. She mostly wanted to know if I was afraid of the dark, since the old man could not sleep with the slightest light. I did not really understand how, in such a huge place, one light could bother him – even at the other end of the house. We were permitted candles and a flashlight, not exactly ideal for dusting the small nooks and crannies of the old place. Despite the irrationality of it all, I obliged to her request for lack of light; I was never afraid of the dark.

Mrs. Levingston also requested that I never visited the Southern-most wing of the house, where the old man slept, because she deals with that area herself. Hindlewood did not like strangers, and would likely fire me on the spot if he so much as saw evidence that anyone was in his wing.

I suppose I answered all of the odd questions correctly, because I was hired on the spot. I was to work that night, and began immediately after getting my uniform from the maid’s quarters. She walked me to the room with the cleaning equipment, near the kitchen, told me to work the Northern wing for the night (the same wing which the harbored the Maid’s quarters), reminded me again not to enter the South wing, and said goodbye for the night. She was to return at dawn where my session would end, and hers would begin.

I changed and began performing the duties explained to me; mostly dusting an array of antiques. I was about half-way through my shift when I hear a high-pitched whistling. Not like a person whistling, more like the wind spiraling through a small window. I figured a window must have been left open somewhere, so I followed the noise, with my flashlight, checking all of the windows as I passed them. It was oddly still out, and my heart began to beat a bit harder as I noted how eerily quiet it was outside. It did not seem windy at all, so what could this sound be?

Of course, the noise was coming from the Southern wing. I stood at the threshold to the Southern hallway wondering what to do. I did not want to go down there, but could feel a dreadful draft coming from that direction, and was afraid the poor old man could catch pneumonia from the open window. I did not want to be the cause of the old guy’s death, even though he had a reputation for being quite the grouch. I’m sure he would understand, and if not, the worst that could happen is that I get fired, right?

I took my first step into the hall, half-expecting the old man to come charging out garnishing his cane like a crazed dementia-induced madman, but nothing happened.

I slowly walked down the hallway, listening. I could still hear the whistling, but nothing else. I came to Hindlewood’s doorway and put my ear to the door: nothing but the whistling which was clearly coming from the room. The door was nearly closed, yet was open just a crack, and I could see some light coming in from the crevice. It was not artificial light, but a dull blue light, like from the moon.

I slowly opened the door, which creaked loudly as the room slowly came into view, with my flashlight pointed at the floor of the dark room in front of me. The room was large and mostly empty with a very large curtained bed at the center. I could see a lump in the bed with the flashlight, which I assumed was the old man. He looked to be sleeping, but the hairs on the back of my neck told me I was being watched.

As I inched towards the bed, I remembered my purpose for entering: the window. I looked around at the barren walls and out of the corner of my eyes I noticed what was above me. The light poured in from a large skylight above me, yet cast in the light was a shadow; it seemed as if a figure of person was highlighted on the floor from above, yet its shape was unnaturally large and twisted. What would have been the head was shaped more like a V, and where its shoulders would be, there were large pointed protrusions.

I panicked. As I went to turn and look at whatever was standing in the light of the moon, I dropped my flashlight. As I tried to catch it from my tumbling hand, it rolled across the room and under the bed. I watched it fall out of reach, and spun around to check the skylight. There was nothing there, and the shadow on the floor was gone.

With my heart pounding in my chest I got on my knees to seek out the flashlight under the bed. I could see it shining out from the darkness. It had rolled underneath and I crawled in to retrieve it when I noticed that the whistling was gone.

I grabbed the flashlight and held it to my chest trying to calm myself for a second. I told myself I was probably seeing things; the darkness was beginning to get to me and I was seeing false shadows. I needed to check on the old man, who was likely sleeping soundly directly above me.

I took a deep breath and began to scoot my way towards the edge of the bed when the whistling started again. I could immediately feel the cool air whirling around the room. I stopped where I was, still underneath the bed but close to the edge. I peered out, hiding the light of the flashlight in my hands, in the direction of the ceiling with the window. Something was standing there, covered in shadow. I could only see the muddy red gloss of it’s eyes as it stared at whatever was above me. It was then that feet dropped inches away from my face, old veiny and wrinkled feet, and so I tucked my head back into the darkness. The feet lifted into the air as if they were floating, and the whistling was then accompanied by larges gusts of wind, like the flapping of large wings.

Then all was quiet.

I stayed in that spot for what must have been two hours with my heart pounding in my chest. Was I crazy, or had something taken the old man out of his bed while he slept? My mind raced as I lay there, frozen in fear. It was not until I could see the first indications of sunlight that I was able to summon up enough courage to get out from under the bed and look around the room. The bed was empty, like no one had ever slept in it. The room was tidy, the window closed.

I walked to the maid’s quarters, feeling numb and bewildered, and waited for Mrs. Levingston. I did not say a word to her. I took especially long to change, as I knew she would be making her way to the South wing. She came back only a few moments later, and as the maids room was next to the kitchen, I saw her making breakfast. When she saw me, surprised I was still there she says “Oh, glad you are here honey. Mr. Hindlewood worked up quite an appetite last night and I could use your help, would you like to stay for breakfast?” I was not quite sure what was on the menu, so I said “No thank you” and left.

I am still not quite sure what I saw that night. At first I thought Hindlewood was taken by some evil creature, but I saw him walking the gardens the next day by Ms. Levingston. He looked normal, perhaps even more spry than usual. Now, I’ve been working at the mansion for over 10 years,and somehow, the old guy is still alive and looks like he has not aged a single day. Whatever has been going on, I don’t really mind because it gives me a job and good pay. All I know is, I stay out of the South wing, and I’ve learned to ignore whatever it is I hear in the night.

Credit To – B. Paige

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Why Sarah Never Sleeps

August 19, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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There were too many doors in the upstairs hall. Sarah told her parents, but they couldn’t see it. They told her not to worry. They told her there was nothing there. But there was an extra door, at the end of the upstairs hall. An extra yellow door, and it didn’t belong.

It was the color of disease, jaundiced and infected, with spidery black veins across its face. One perfect silver knob gleamed in its center above a shadowy keyhole, and it didn’t look right. The doorknob shone with a mirror’s finish, and caught the light from any angle, begging for Sarah to look its way. Sarah did her best to ignore it, but the door knew her name, and it whispered it when she drew near.

“Saraaaahh . . . ” the door would rasp with a voice like dried leaves as tiny claws scraped against the other side. Tears would well in Sarah’s eyes as she’d hurry past, her arms laden with everything she’d need to get ready for the day.

“Saraaaahh . . .” it would call again before she’d shuffled out of range and closed the bathroom door, cutting off its paper-thin wails. When she’d creep from the bathroom to head downstairs, the door’s voice would follow her with a furious flurry of scraping claws and tormented howls. They lingered and gnawed in the back of her mind as she’d rush through breakfast so she could leave the house a few minutes sooner.

School became a blessing, an excuse to be someone somewhere else. At school she could forget the door. At school she could pretend her house was like everyone else’s, with the right number of doors and no eerie whispers. But at the end of the day it was still waiting for her at the end of the upstairs hall, with it’s mirror-ball knob and yellow face. She hated coming home and knowing it was there, but even more than that, she hated going to sleep, because in her dreams, she opened the door.

Every night, she stood before it, fighting the urge to reach out. Dread knotted her belly in anticipation of pain when her hand rose anyway, to grasp the silver knob. Some nights it burned her like the driest ice. Other nights it seared like a red hot iron. Very occasionally, it did neither, instead turning and turning without ever opening the door, and she couldn’t stop turning it until she woke up.

When the door did open, it revealed a swirling vortex of shadow and sound, with a thousand voices crying in the darkness. The voices curled around her, crawling through her hair like spiders. She thrashed and swatted at their skittering whispers, but the words still tingled across her skin.

She never should have listened.

“He sees . . . ” they said. “He hears . . .” they moaned. “He hungers . . .” they wept, and burrowed in her mind like worms. “The Hollow Man, the Hollow Man,” they echoed in her mind and screamed to her from the gaping vortex. “The Hollow Man . . . he hunts!”

Sarah shot up with a scream, gasping and sweating, but alone in her bed. The clock’s crimson face said midnight had passed, but not by much. Darkness enveloped her room, except where a vestigial nightlight illumined the corner by her desk; it wasn’t a lot, but it made her feel better.

She covered her face with shaking hands, and pushed away the chitinous echoes. “I’m fine,” she swore. “It’s just a dream.”

“Sarah?” Someone whispered.

Sarah froze. Tears welled in her eyes.

“Sarah? Are you Sarah?” It was the voice of a girl, not at all like the voice she usually heard from the door at the end of the hall.

“Who . . . who are you?” Sarah whispered back.

“My name is Lizzie. Are you Sarah?”

Sarah rose from her bed slowly, clutching the sweat-damp shirt she’d worn to sleep, and moved toward her bedroom door, moved to where the yellow door waited. When she stood before it, her stomach lurched, and for a moment she couldn’t tell if she was going to vomit, or faint.

“Please,” the door said in a young girl’s voice. “Please, are you Sarah?”

Sarah opened her mouth to respond, but her voice crackled when she couldn’t find the breath to speak. Shaking all over, she struggled to calm down enough to answer. She pressed her palms to her cheeks and smeared away the tears as she forced herself to take a breath and speak.

“Yes,” she said at length, her voice tremulous and weak. “. . . I’m Sarah.”

“Please, let me in!” The door’s silvery knob shook violently, rattling as if locked, and jostled by someone on the other side. “Let me in, Sarah, please! I can’t stay in here, please help me! Let me in!”

Sarah stared at the door in shock, backing away a moment before her knees buckled and she fell to the floor, where she screamed.

Level with the shadowy keyhole below the rattling knob, she stared directly into a very human eye. Wide and white with fear, it darted around, as if searching through the hall, but seemed not to see her. Tears shimmered in the other eye, as they shimmered and spilled from Sarah’s. Then the silver knob stilled, and the keyhole became shadow, and Lizzie began to cry.

“Please, Sarah,” she pleaded. “He’s almost here.”

“The Hollow Man?” Sarah whispered as a chill slithered up her spine. Lizzie sobbed quietly. Sarah scooted closer to the door, fear allowing room for tentative concern when the girl from the other side failed to respond. “Lizzie?”

Silence came without warning, and concern became sharp fear again.

“Lizzie?!” Sarah sat up on her knees with both hands braced against the door. She trembled under the weight of growing horror as not even a sniffle or a whimper came from the other side. “Lizzie, please answer me!”

Sarah’s head and heart ached, each throbbing painfully through her tension, and the world was a little fuzzy around the edges; it was getting hard to focus.

“He’s here . . .” Lizzie whispered at last. Her words were barely audible, and came as though her lips pressed tight against the keyhole. “Please, let me in . . . .”

Though she still hesitated, her hand was upon the silver knob before she even realized it.

“Please, Sarah . . . .”

Rising from the floor, she turned it.

The door opened noiselessly beneath her hand, gliding open without resistance. As it did, she cautiously peeked around the edge.

A lonely expanse of normal wall inched into view, and she felt sick. She worried at her thumb in confusion, and extended a trembling hand to touch the wall behind the door. It was solid. As solid and as normal as the wall at the end of the upstairs hall should be, but her stomach churned.

Something wasn’t right.

She closed the door, which issued a soft click as the latch sprang into place, and waited. She hardly dared to move or breathe as she listened to the night, waiting for the door to speak again. When her muscles ached, and her eyes were heavy with sleep, she finally relented. Fatigue sucked at her limbs — she hadn’t realized how exhausting fear could be until the last traces of adrenaline had finally bled away–, and though she didn’t look forward to her dreams, she simply had to sleep.

The crimson clock was broken when she rolled herself into bed, its face declaring 12:16 AM to a room that only vaguely felt familiar, but she couldn’t bring herself to care when her eyes and body felt so heavy.

“Sarah . . . ,” Lizzie whispered. But it couldn’t be a whisper.

“Sarah,” Lizzie whispered again. “Sarah, don’t wake up.”

Sarah groaned a little. Don’t wake up? But she hadn’t even fallen asleep.

“Don’t wake up,” Lizzie said, her voice echoing in Sarah’s mind.

Sarah frowned, and rolled on her back. She didn’t want to wake up. She wanted to sleep! Don’t wake up, don’t wake up. Lizzie didn’t need to tell her not to wake! It was the furthest thing from her mind!

For a long time all was silence, and Sarah began to drift toward the strange warmth of sleep.

“He’s here . . .” Lizzie whispered at last. “Please, don’t wake up . . . . ”

Who’s here? Sarah wondered as sleep pulled her further down.

“His hollow face, an eerie mask. With hollow voice at doors will ask. To be invited in to bask. Above his favored midnight task.”

A strange tingling worked its way up her body as Lizzie recited the haunting rhyme in a disconcerting monotone. Clarity inched its way toward Sarah, slowly melting away the fog of sleep. Wasn’t she still dreaming?

Something was wrong.

“He’s waiting inches from your face. To be the first thing your eyes grace. But keep them shut, or else embrace. A hollow shell to take your place.”

Cold dread seized Sarah’s heart with each new stanza, and she trembled with the weight of her mistake. For a moment, she swore she could feel the air stir above her, stale and strangely warm against her cheeks. Don’t wake up! Don’t wake up! She squeezed her eyes closed extra tight to keep them from opening, slowly surfacing from her vivid night terrors at last.

“The yellow door, you always keep. He follows you to where you sleep. Into your room he then will creep. Your life and dreams for him to reap.”

Lizzie’s voice became little more than a breath within Sarah’s mind, and a pressure lifted from her chest when the air cooled around her. What had she done?

“The Hollow Man, above your bed. With hollow eyes, deep slumber fed. His hollow dreams may fill your head. But never peek, or you’ll be dead.”

Everything was wrong.

Distantly, Sarah registered the sound of her parents screaming in their room, and felt tears sliding down her cheeks. Why did they sound so far away?

“. . . Mom,” Sarah whispered, the sound paper-thin. “Dad,” she rasped with a voice like dried leaves. “Lizzie?” She thought, probing for her presence, but Lizzie did not respond.

Silence fell over the house and Sarah knew nothing would ever be right again.

From the hall outside her bedroom door, Sarah heard the soft click as a latch sprang into place, and waited.

Several hours passed before she felt safe enough to open her eyes. Sunlight peeked through the curtains, and the crimson clock said it was 7:45 AM. The yellow door, with it’s mirror-ball knob, stared at her from the wall at the end of the upstairs hall.

And Sarah knew she would never sleep again.

Credit To – Death_by_Proxy

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Remember Smith

August 18, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Hours have gone by, with nothing. I’ve typed the same shit over and over, which is getting me nowhere. It’s time to get something done…

Smith, before I go further with this, I want to establish how much I hate you. Although, in a sense, I’m proud of you. This trap is rather elaborate, and even uses my own idea against me. You’ve thought around every corner to ensure my suicidal demise in the end, and for that, I commend you.

How long you’ll go on is lost to me. I’m not sure how, but perhaps this log will be recovered, and someone else will want to dent your face in. You may have gone years without being caught, but you won’t continue much longer, not like this. I’ll try to be sure of it.

Now, with my personal message out of the way, I’m not sure where to begin. I have what feels to be all the time in the world, yet that’s not something I can be sure of. For some time, I’ve been oblivious to the loss of blood from my wrist. It wasn’t apparent until the pain began to set in, but its been slow. I’m hoping I can at least keep alive until this is finished, wherever it may be going. I apologize for any blatant typos or unfixed errors. A perfect paper isn’t my highest objective at the moment.

I’ll start by talking about him, I suppose. Smith. We worked for a time, but we never shared a friendship. Our relationship was strictly business. We never met outside our work, and left much of our personal lives undisclosed. Knowing of his past could’ve surely prevented this, at least this outcome.

I work(ed) at Massachusetts General Hospital, by the way. My occupation is a general researcher, but I had a bit of a side interest, which Smith apparently shared. As I delved into the medical research field, I began a fascination with technological enhancements. It was more of a fantasy to me, a strange world that I dreamed of and sketched throughout the day. For Smith, it was essential, to say the least. It was his pursuit.

It was his obsession.

The first day Smith confronted me was while I was on break. At the time, I believed he was actually working at Mass. General. However he sneaks about, he must be good at it.

Smith was drawn in by a sketch of mine. It was a undeveloped, spur-of-the-moment idea: a wrist device, similar to a watch, that could regulate areas of the body by injecting various chemicals into the bloodstream. In theory, it could adjust body heat, maintain blood sugar levels, keep its user alert and awake, or vice versa. It was another fantasy to me, as I would never have the time or resources to construct such a piece. Smith, on the other hand, saw potential in it.

Him and I chatted for a while, about are similar views on the concept. Its hard for me to say this now, but at the time, I found him to be quite an engaging man to speak with. His insights into this world of technology were beyond any that I had heard. He’s the only individual I’ve ever spoken to who looks at tech enhancements as a real use and possibility.

From that day, we scheduled various dates in which we worked on the prototype device. Smith was rather paranoid of ideas being stolen, so we kept our location and progress quiet from other researchers. We worked at his apartment, which was secluded enough.

Throughout the project, Smith never stopped encouraging me, if “encouraging” would be an appropriate word. It appeared to be the only matter he focused on, annoyed that I didn’t feel the same. Yes, I thought the project had potential, but I still had a job to keep, at the very least. This frustrated him, for sure.

It was clear that Smith knew far more on the subject than myself. He constantly spoke about how he’s worked with tech for years. After only a week’s worth of collaborating, I wanted out, but was unsure of how to go about telling him. After all, he grew angry if I even questioned him. Abandoning him wouldn’t be much more promising.

Goddamn. The pain’s worse now, for sure. Maybe the wound’s worse than I thoughtt.

I’ll state that I had one major interest outside of tech enhancements. Over the years, I’ve developed an interest for writing. When I think about it, my interest in the latter came from my writing, as the ideas started out just story notes. I never explained this to Smith, for reasons that I hope I’ve made apparent.

Naturally, the project with Smith had taken up most (if not all) of my time outside work. Smith practically forced me to meet with him whenever I could. If I began to refuse, he would interrogate me, asking me about my life, what I could possibly be doing in place of our progress. I’ll admit, he frightened me. I’m not sure what exactly about him was unsettling, but he seemed capable of pushing to the end, meeting his goals at whatever costs.

I’ll leave out the time in between, but before I left the project, we had made progress. Though we still were nowhere close in finishing the prototype device, we had made much ground in getting its basic functions working. The only reason I stayed was because of the device itself, that my fantasy sketch might just become a real, working tool.

Then, all our progress was shattered.

Unsurprisingly, Smith grew impatient. Despite our progress, he wasn’t yet satisfied. He wanted the device fully operational, right away. He began to tamper with at the delicate piece. His hands were shaking, jolting with various screws and micro-sized vials. He began screwing with the device’s code, ultimately erasing hours of work, and rendering the technology near useless.

He blamed me for our failure, of course. I tried to argue how it was his own fault, but this only sent him off more.

“What have you fucking done?!”, he screamed. “You’ve never cared about this from the start, have you?! This was just some fucking drawing that you made, that I wanted to see for real! THIS is the stuff I live for! I’ve done this before! I’ve created my own inventions, and tested them! What have you done?!”

He grew violent, making threats and throwing objects about. Needless to say, I didn’t want any part of him anymore. I left on the spot.

I continued with my regular job, and found a peace of mind again. Smith’s threats continued to echo in memory, however, as they were too sinister to be passed off.

Four days after I abandoned the project, I was approached by two men. Where they came from, I didn’t know, but they were investigators. They asked if I’d see Smith, as they’d been tracking him for a long time. I told them a bit of what I knew, and what followed was a long, tedious interrogation.

Eventually, when they knew they’d been told everything, they told me the truth about Smith.

Smith Alexander wasn’t lying when he said he’d “done this before”. Despite meeting me in the hospital, and describing his job, he’s never worked there in his life. He’s never worked in any hospital, or any medical or science profession. He’s slid and faked his way about the systems for years, with almost no one catching on. As unsettling as it is for an impersonator to be creeping his way about a medical facility, it was his reasons for being there that set me off.

He was looking for live subjects; injured individuals for him to test his “designs”. He’s scanned businesses, schools, and public areas to find a wide array of experimental material.

In short, he used people as human test dummies.

What he did with his captives ranged from lethal to vomit-inducing. The investigators told me some reports, as well as showed me some photos. He loved to tamper with the heart, resulting with some of his less-brutal murders. However, his psychotic designs had no limits. Some of the photos showed a man with both his arms sawed off, with metal rods replacing the limbs. Another photo showed a woman with her back flayed open, syringes lining her spine, which had turned a sickly black color. He didn’t discriminate when it came to his victims. I stopped looking at the photos when they started included children.

I’m getting drowsy now….fuck. I should at least get to my own predicament, before I end.

Last night, I was working on a novel of mine, right inside my apartment. It was still unfinished, but I was closing in on its conclusion. Despite the confidence, a lack of rest got the better of me, and I drifted into sleep right at the desk.

Fuck. I just realized that I may’ve been knocked out by the water I was drinking at the desk. It had an interesting taste to it, but my focus was devoted to writing. Smith must’ve slipped in here before and drugged the glasses.

I need to keep on subject. I awoke this morning, right in my apartment, at my desk. The computer screen blared in front of my eyes, which showed a blank page. My ears were greeted with two words:
“Start typing.”

A cold, narrow shaft bumped against my head. The voice was familiar, but given that I woke up seconds before, my mind was still dazed and unfocused.

“Start typing, dammit!”, the voice shouted, with a cold surface being pressed against me.

The voice was Smith, and he was holding a pistol to my skull.

“Smith”, I said, beginning to wake. “What the hell ar-“

“Type, or your face will be smeared on the monitor”.

I listened, despite my confusion. Slews of letters appeared on the screen, as I was only complying for my life.

“There”, he said. “This is what you wanted, correct? You wanted to write? I knew it was your hobby. I’ve seen you work like this a number of times. Now that you’re out of the project, you have all the time in the world write.”

Smith reached over my shoulder, towards my right arm. He pressed a small button on a watch, which was secured on my wrist. I hadn’t noticed it until he reached for it.

“Don’t stop now”, he said. “I’ll explain your situation: That’s it, by the way. Your design. I made it possible, all without your help. It’s a prototype, as it only has one feature. It’s connected to the keyboard that you’re using now. More importantly, its needle is connected to your bloodstream. Fiddle with it, or stop typing for more than ten seconds, then it will send a small dose of lethal poison into your system. Your heart, along with everything else, will die in less than a minute. All you have to do to prevent that, is just keep typing. Keep typing to your heart’s desire….”

“You’re fucking crazy!”, I screamed, smashing the keyboard with a fist.

“Don’t type too aggressive, now. That keyboard breaks, then so do you. Before you get any clever exploits in mind, I’ve wired the keyboard to the watch in specific ways. Tricks such as weighing down the keys or holding down one letter won’t work. Don’t bother with trying to get up, either. I’ve removed all the phones from this room, and there’s no inhabited room nearby in the building. Help is unreachable, unless you run out of this room. If you wish to attempt a suicidal escape, by all means, go ahead.”

“You won’t get away with this, you sick fuck. Someone will come for me eventually, and I’ll tell them everything.”

“Perhaps they will, but will you go on that long? I guess that’s up for you to find out. Now please, continue to write. I won’t distract you any longer. Enjoy your session, David.”

And with that, the bastard walked out. If I had to guess, he’s still been uncaught

That was about six hours ago, if I’ve been keeping track of time right. He’s right when he said there’s no way out of this. I’ve been here continuously writing and deleting the same shit, trying to think of a plan. He’s left every crack sealed, as far as escape goes. Despite his warning, I actually did try screaming for help earlier, and no one’s shown since then.

After hours of useless plans, I knew the best (and only) course of action would be to write my own, final chronicle. I’ve explained a story, and the trap, so I suppose the only part left is the warning. God DAmmit! My wrist is fucking killing me at this point, and the pain’s moved up towards my shoulder. It’s painful to lift my right fingers, let alone my arm. Smith’s rushed most of his prototypes, and this oen was no exception. Even if I keep going, I’m sure I’ll die from blood loss soon.

Over the course of typing this, I’ve found the best loophole available:

The computer’s locked on this text program, but I can still send out the document directly from it. I’m going to think of every address I can remember, even one’s of those I don’t know personally.

My name is David Mallory. Smith Alexander is most likely still out there, wherever he may be. He probably skipped this town right after trapping me here. He’s dangerous, to say the least. He uses random people as test material in his terrible, rush “ideas”.. He’s created devices to kill, like the one clasped to my wrist right now. I don’t know what his end goal is, but he’s had no problem murdering so far.

End goal…that needds to be said. He must be stoppped.

Despite Smith’s impatience, arrogance, and outright insanity, he has a plan. Over the course of working with him, he’s made hints to something bigger, morE significant than his regular, brutal enhancements. He talked about how he planned to “bless society” with a grand technology, a modification that would be to all, for all.

He even talked about how he would sneak it into circulation.

Whether it’s a virus, nano-sized tech, a fucked up drug, I don’t know. But whatever twisted vision it is, Smith’s capable of it. He’s been capable of all the violence he’s committed so far, and he’s a danger to aNyone at this point. If he’s got away with his crimes so far, what’s to stop him now?

That’s it,, for me. I’ve gotten out all I can in this little time. Fuck you, Smith. Goddammit, fuckk you…

6he pain’s moving towards my chest now, my heaart. I guess this watch didn’tt work as well as SMith thought. By the time I put in the addresses and send this out, I’ll be close to keeling over. I’ll let the poison take me, then. SHouljd be less painful, I hoep.

Forget about mE, my lifee. Remember Smith, though. Remember his atrocities that I’ve detailed, that he’s still out there…

…and he’s still working.

Credit To – Emeryy (Richard S.)

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The Sleeping Town of Saluzar

August 17, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The town of Saluzar, Arizona existed in its own world, and its citizens liked it that way. The town was accessible only by way of a little dirt path, and if anyone had ever stumbled upon it by accident, they probably would have turned back, unaware that anything lurked behind the row of elm trees. And had anyone somehow come across the town, they probably would have felt uneasy, as if they were disrupting some sort of enchanted burial ground. They would have felt unwelcome. This isn’t to say that the people of Saluzar, Arizona weren’t friendly. It’s just that everyone in the small town knew each other, and their ancestors knew everyone else’s ancestors too. And in a town like that, where you know everything, when someone or something comes along that people know nothing about, it can be unsettling. But the people of Saluzar were as nice as you’d find any other place— they were just shy to the idea of any change visiting their humble town

The town, it was readily accepted, started at the giant church building, which doubled as a town hall, and which was the very first building built in Saluzar. And, fittingly, the town’s boundaries ended at the cemetery in the fields beyond the schoolhouse. Every person who’d ever lived in Saluzar was buried in the cemetery, as there was no other area in which to bury them. And while cremations sometimes occurred, it was uncommon. Even after death, the citizens of Saluzar wanted to be a part of their town. Why, they wondered, would anyone want to end up in an urn? The burials were always conducted by the Thade family, who ran the Saluzar funeral home. The current chief undertaker, Evan Thade, had learned all the secrets of embalming that had been passed down from father to son for generations. Evan Thade looked like an undertaker. He had a brow that was permanently furrowed, and his spine was perpetually in the shape of a question mark, the result of years of hunching. His hair was brown, but anyone would have sworn it was black; not because the hair was dark, but simply because it felt like it should be black. His eyes, likewise, were overshadowed by the blackness of his pupils, although if one were to look closely, they would have noticed that his eyes were actually a piercing, vibrant green. It was among Evan’s duties as town undertaker to conduct the autopsies on the dead, since the town did not possess a licensed mortician, but Evan had never been trained in that practice. Embarrassed, Evan had never told anyone, and so the cause of death was always listed as “natural causes.” But, whatever skill he may have lacked in performing autopsies, Evan made up for in terms of embalming. Evan Thade was a true master of preservation. The Thade’s were artists, and their canvas was the dead.

Between the church and the cemetery, were a variety of small homes, and enough shops to keep people occupied. Mildred Snipes, now 82 years old, had a clothing business which she ran out of her little cottage– the same house she’d grown up in as a little girl. Mildred, despite, several strokes, and a healthy dose of arthritis, had managed to maintain her good looks. She aged as one with wisdom might, not as one who had given up. A gifted seamstress, Mildred had spent since the age of 16 sewing clothes for the various townspeople. Be it socks, hats, shirts, dresses– whatever someone needed, they went to Mildred and she’d make it for them. Her favorite garment to make was suits. Something about the fitting of suits exhilarated Mildred. She felt alive when making them. The smooth lines of the pinstripe as they run down the jacket or the pant leg, the crisp formation of the collar. Her father had been a button maker, and so each suit had a different custom set of buttons. Some were metal, some were wood, some bone. As she had studied violin as a young girl, she was the only member of the town who could read music, and therefore had been chosen as the town organist each Sunday. When not playing, she’d stare out at all the men sitting in the pews, admiring her handiwork on each of their Sunday suits.

The church was the closest thing to a town hall. Despite Saluzar’s intimate setting, those Sunday church sessions were the only times the whole town would gather together. Although most members of the town were religious, even those who did not consider themselves so would go weekly, in an attempt to fulfill their social obligations to the town. For two years now, Father Todd Luger had been the town’s only priest. And while serving an entire town of parishioners alone seems a daunting task, Father Luger hadn’t given a sermon for the past ten months. He accomplished this through a program where he’d invite the members of the town to be what he called “guest priests.” It was an attempt to make church a more interactive and enriching experience, he said. Some of the older generation, such as old Mildred at the organ, though, felt that Father Luger was simply shirking off his priestly duties, and longed for the days of Luger’s predecessor, who had staunchly followed all of the parochial rules to the very letter. But, the “guest priest” sermons did at least serve to enhance that social feeling that church seemed to provide the people of Saluzar.

“These days, you can be ordained in an instant. On these computers. Why can’t ordinary folks be allowed to give sermons as well?” thought Father Luger one Sunday morning, as he slept through Egan Ammon’s impassioned speech concerning the Gospel of John.

The only person in Saluzar who was never in attendance at Sunday services was Martin Glinser. From the time Martin had shown up for the first day of kindergarten wearing aviator goggles, he had been pegged as the weird kid. Perhaps because of that label, Martin’s readily apparent genius was ignored. By the age of seven, he’d constructed blueprints to create a flying bicycle. At ten, he’d developed a unique and, to his knowledge, undiscovered fungus culture. And by the time he was twelve, he’d created an effective and non-toxic deer repellant for folks to spray on their gardens. But even if someone had recognized the brilliance that Martin Glinser possessed, it would have been greeted with the same response.

“Kid, you’re from Saluzar, Arizona. And no one from Saluzar, Arizona ever goes anywhere or does anything.”

As such, the days where Martin should have been at MIT were spent huddled in a small broom closet which he referred to as his lab. His hair had gone grey early in his twenties, a trait he inherited from his father, and he felt so cheated by this fact, that he’d allowed his hair to go into complete disrepair. Never combed, it had gone past the point of being unruly, and was now permanently matted to the spot. The aviator goggles he wore in his youth had now been replaced by thick glasses. They were much thicker than he actually needed, but he liked the feel of the extra weight the lenses provided, and so he’d worn the overlarge glasses for some time until he got used to it. He had denounced God completely, and so found church unnecessary. So, despite the distinct impression he inevitably left on those he met, there was no one in the town who he ever considered a friend. The one person Martin had gotten to know well of late was Evan Thade, the reclusive undertaker. Martin had recently seemed to have developed a profound curiosity for Evan’s line of work, and the ordinarily shy undertaker had been more than happy to talk about the subject he was so familiar with, and which no one else seemed eager to talk about. And while they could never prove anything, some of the older schoolchildren had even mockingly commented on the relationship between the two bachelors, upon seeing them walking in the cemetery during school hours. When they shared this with their parents, the response was generally quietly encouraging.

“Good for them. Everyone deserves to have someone in their lives,” people would say. It was indicative of the overall mentality of Saluzar. The town liked to think of itself as open-minded, and filled with open-minded and good people.

Aside from menial errands and his daily walks and conversations with Evan, the only other times Martin emerged were when he came to present one of his inventions to the town council. The council was made up of the most prominent citizens of Saluzar, Arizona, and were in charge of allocating the small budget the town had. Despite having meetings in the church every Tuesday from 3:00-4:15, no one ever attended. The only time the council had anything to actually do at the meetings was when Martin had an invention, hoping to get funding to mass produce it. And while Martin’s inventions ranged from good to not so good, the town’s response was always the same.

“Kid, you’re from Saluzar, Arizona. And no one from Saluzar, Arizona ever goes anywhere or does anything.”

But, whether through obliviousness or blind optimism, Martin was feeling assured on this day as he approached the altar to begin the presentation on his latest invention. It was a good one, he was sure of it. With any invention, Martin brought it to the council with the confidence of a child whose watercolor is hung on the refrigerator, sure that one day they’ll be a great painter and that the work will sell for hundreds of dollars. This time, however, was different. The product simply called out, ringing like a siren in Martin’s ears, and there was no way it could be ignored. Surely the town council would hear the importance of this one, surely they too would hear that ringing.

“Hello, everyone. I’ve um…I’m glad you could all make it.” Martin paused to carefully wipe the sweat from his knuckles. His palms, amazingly, were dry, but his knuckles were the ones glistening under the bright lights. “It should only take a minute.”

“Yes, well, weekly meeting. Meetings are open for all to come. Share ideas,” said Saul Moon, mayor of Saluzar. Mayor Moon had always been a fair man. He felt strongly that the town should be able to weigh in on all of the town’s decisions, even if they weren’t part of the esteemed council. It was level thinking like this which made him so popular amongst his constituents, and which had allowed him to run unopposed for the past thirty odd years.

“No one comes anyway,” laughed Egan Ammon, hitting Moon in the side. Ammon, a retired traveling string salesman, was the most recent member of the council. When not in the surrounding towns, pitching various strands of twine to housewives, he had claimed his own bench outside the barber shop, where he would wax poetic about the world. His job meant that he’d seen the whole state, and so was among the more cultured members of the town. Each day, Egan would sit on his bench and talk. Even if no one was there to listen, his voice kept himself company, reciting and inventing proverbs and mantras by which he’d live out his coming week. And if anyone felt that he was an unbearable bore, those opinions were never shared.

“Well, Martin’s here, right? That’s someone,” replied the mayor.

“Yes, and when Martin’s here, it’s the only time we have anything to talk about!”

“So, we should give him a chance, shouldn’t we, Egan?” said Mildred Snipes, nodding to Martin with grandmotherly eyes. “What do you have for us today, Martin?”

“Well, I think this is a big one. I think that this could, well, change the way that we live.”

“Hrrumph,” snorted R.C. Goose, a local businessman and the richest man in all of Saluzar.

“What was that?” asked the startled inventor.

“I said Hrrumph!”

“Hrrumph?”

“Yes. Hrrumph. I mean, really Martin, this whole ‘changing the way we live’ thing. You say this each time.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“It’s a charade!” growled Goose. “Every new invention, you claim it’ll be the biggest thing since non-iron shirts. It never is. What was that last one- a solar powered lamp.”

“Well, yes, I…that was energy efficient.”

“But, if you need sunlight to power it, then why would you need the lamp?” asked Goose. The portly man checked the time (he had a pocket watch, of course) and, once again, let out a resounding “Hrrumph!”

“I know you’re a busy man, R.C., but I can’t see the harm in letting him speak,” said Father Luger. Luger and Goose had never really seen eye to eye. Luger was constantly looking for more money to be allotted for the church. Goose felt that, since he owned the only lucrative business in the town, and brought in most of the town’s revenue, it should be his business which received a bigger share. And yet, both found common ground in that neither felt that Martin Glinser or any of his inventions should get anything.

“Thank you, Father.” Martin wiped his knuckles on his pant leg. “Um, well…I was thinking that for every disease, there is a cure. For every ailment. You have a headache, we can cure that. You have the flu, we can cure that. I mean, you have a broken bone, we can even fix that. Anything that our bodies do to us, we can, well, we can fix it.”

“So, is this some sort of medicine?” asked Mildred. R.C. Goose yawned.

“Not, well, not exactly. See, we can’t actually fix everything. There’s one thing we can’t ever fix, we can’t ever reverse. Once it happens, there’s no way of treating it.” A small bead of perspiration fell from his right knuckle, hit the stone floor and melted under the hot, orange light coming in from the stained glass window. “The one thing we cannot ever treat, we cannot ever fix…this one thing that our body does to us, is, well…we cannot fix death.” The council’s eyes were blank. “But, now, well, I’ve fixed death. I’ve cured death. This potion, it can bring the dead back to life.”

Everyone instinctively stared at Cameron Ward, the final member of the town council, who sat at the end of the pew. Ward had been a soldier in the Vietnam War, where he lost three of his toes at the age of seventeen. Once back in Saluzar, he’d cared for his mother, Cecilia Ward. Mrs. Ward had raised Cameron alone, as her husband Oliver had died when Cameron was two. Upon Cameron being drafted, Cecilia had descended into insanity, fearing she’d lose her son as she’d lost her husband. The past forty years, Cameron had kept her inside as much as he could, in an attempt to avoid embarrassment. Every Sunday, he and his mother would carefully go into the church, sit in the back row, and leave. Cameron was the perfectly dedicated son. And Martin’s news was especially welcoming to Cameron. Cecilia Ward had died only a month ago, making her Saluzar’s most recent casualty, and still fresh on everyone’s mind. Cameron felt the gazes of his council members, and chose to be silent. After a while, Mayor Moon felt the need to respond.

“You can fix death?”

“Revive the dead, yes.” Martin stared at them. “I mean, I really…I think, and I don’t believe I’m mistaken, but I think it will change the way we live.” The silence echoed through the church, bouncing off the organ pipes, the stained glass windows, the high ceilings. Finally, it was Egan Ammon who spoke.

“Any dead person?”

“Any recently dead person,” corrected Martin. “As long as they were properly embalmed and are still preserved, this potion will bring them back.” There was silence. “And Evan Thade ensures me that all of the dead have been properly embalmed,” he added. It was Egan Ammon who spoke first.

“You mean, with this potion, I would be able to bring Chloe back?” Chloe Ammon had died the previous year, just one week after her and Egan’s fifteenth anniversary.

“Well, this is preposterous!” exclaimed R.C. Goose. “You don’t really expect us to believe that you can revive the dead. That you’ve CURED death?”

“But, I have. It’s this potion right here,” said Martin, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a little glass vial, filled with a viscous vermillion liquid.

“That, why that looks exactly like cherry cough syrup!” cried Goose.

“I know it doesn’t look like much, but it truly is a miracle potion,” insisted Martin.

“It’s black magic. Witchcraft!” hissed Father Luger. “I’ll have no part in it!”

“If it even works at all,” scoffed R.C. Goose.

“Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” reasoned the mayor. “If what Martin tells us is true, this would certainly be a remarkable invention, one that we shouldn’t just discount.

“The devil’s work,” crowed Father Luger.

“But, perhaps, perhaps we should see if it works. Just see. We don’t have to use it, but just see if it works,” said Mildred. Cameron Ward cleared his throat, and then nodded in agreement.

“I’m with Mildred,” said Egan Ammon. “We don’t have to use it, just see. What do you say, mister mayor?” The five other town council members immediately turned to stare at Mayor Moon. He looked at Martin.

“You, uh, you say this works? This potion as you call it, it revives the dead?”

“It does.”

“Do, you mind if we, well, if we experiment before we attempt this?” asked the Mayor. Martin shook his head.

“I promise, you won’t be disappointed.” said Martin. “I believe, if you want proof, I know where we can go.”

***

“Yes, do come in. All of you, all of you. My, there are a lot of you, aren’t there? Watch for that!” Evan Thade jumped to stop the fall of a glass jar. The jar, containing a hand suspended in green liquid, had been disrupted when the rotund frame of Egan Ammon bumped into a cupboard.

“Formaldehyde,” continued Thade “you can never get it out.” Ammon mumbled something in apology. “Besides,” lamented Thade “this hand has sentimental value to me.”

“Please forgive us for barging in like this, Evan. We know you’re probably busy. This should only take a minute” said Mayor Moon, eyeing an unenbalmed corpse lying on the table. It was not anyone from the town. “Might I ask who…”

“It’s for practice,” interrupted Thade, hurriedly covering the corpse with a sheet. Thade’s lab was situated in a dimly lit stone cellar. The space had been used by the Thades to brew their own ale during prohibition. From that time, two large copper vats remained, pushed into the corner. For several years, the Thade family had tried to remove the now useless vats, but they were too large to get out of any of the doors or windows in the space. Which raised the question of how the vats were first brought to the basement in the first place. Thade had built two crude wooden cabinets. In one he kept his various chemicals, sorted by color and purpose. All the preservatives on one shelf, the sanitizers on another. In the second, he kept his utensils. Various syringes, pumps, and a treasured Mary Kay makeup kit, used to dress up the bodies for open casket funerals. Lining the cabinet tops were various morbid objects: books on death, assorted dark wooden boxes, mummy figurines, and the stuffed body of a raccoon. With the town council distracted by these objects, only Cameron Ward noticed what appeared to be a pile of small mouse bones piled up in the far corner of the room.

“Yes, thank you, Evan, for letting me, um, use your space.” Martin Glinser shook Evan Thade’s hand. “Could you please get me the specimen.” Evan Thade went atop one of his cabinets, and removed a small mahogany-paneled box. Evan put the box on the table. The six council members peered to view the box, as if by arching their necks, they would see what was inside. The box, however, was closed, and all they could see was the lid. On the lid, written in Evan’s scraggled handwriting, was the name “Edgar.”

“Open the box, Mr. Thade” said Martin, smiling with the feeling of someone who had practiced the line countless times in front of the mirror. Evan Thade did so. The box was lined with a rippling dark blue velvet. On the inside lay the lifeless body of a rat. The sleek fur was impossibly white, as if it had been completely untouched by anything. As if fingerprints would leave a blemish. It’s eyes were closed, peacefully, but the red cornea was peeking through an almost imperceptible slit– a tiny, morbid sliver of ruby.

“Mr. Thade, is this rat dead?”

“Yes, Martin. He’s most dead.” At this point, the ceremony had to pause. Egan Ammon insisted on testing the rat’s heartbeat for himself, and he ultimately concurred with Evan Thade’s assessment.

“All good. That’s one dead mouse,” announced Ammon, after his examination.

“His name is Edgar,” muttered the undertaker.

“Yes, so, as we have determined, the rat is dead,” chirped Martin. “But, as you can see…” he picked up the vial, and inserted into it an eye dropper. With Evan’s assistance, they opened up the dead rodent’s mouth, and carefully applied three drops of the potion.

“Now that we’ve applied the medicine, you wait just one second…” said Martin. The rat was still. Then, after a moment, the nose twitched slightly. Then its right hind leg. In almost no time, the rat had turned over and scampered over to Evan, as he always used to do before his passing. Evan reached into his pocket and gave the rat a piece of cheese. Edgar, happily and harmlessly, nibbled on the square of cheddar. Evan stroked its head with his pinky finger.

The council was silent, the exception being Egan Ammon who gasped.

“Chloe…Chloe can come back,” Egan gaped.

“It’s a miracle,” whispered Mildred Snipes. Cameron Ward was speechless. R.C. Goose looked at Father Todd Luger.

“I don’t believe it,” said Goose. “I just don’t believe it. Is it witchcraft, father?”

“Well, I…hmmm…” Father Todd Luger knew deep down that such a thing went against God’s plan. You live, you die, and then you were supposed to go into the afterlife. To bring people back would go against everything God had planned. And yet, there was no denying this curiosity. A potion to bring back the dead was, no doubt, remarkable. And Father Todd Luger felt that perhaps it would be best if the church remained silent on this specific issue. “It is intriguing,” he finally concluded.

“And you believe this same potion can be used on people?” asked the mayor.

“Absolutely. It’s the same process. A life is a life. If it works for a rat, why not a human?” replied Martin, who looked at his shoes.

“Well, could we, say, test this out?” The mayor eyed the corpse under the sheet.

“You don’t want to bring this one back,” warned Thade with a grim chuckle. “He killed four people a few counties over. Death penalty. I’m…well, I use him for practice.”

“I see,” said the mayor, quickly looking away from the sheet. “No, we wouldn’t want to bring him back.”

“Perhaps,” chimed Martin, “well, perhaps…perhaps if we were to bring just a few people back. A few that we would want to bring back. If it works on them, on this, well, this test sample, then we can always do more.”

“But, who are these few people? Who would they be?” asked the mayor.

“Well, we have all of you. All of you here. The town council.” said Thade. Martin Glinser agreed.

“Each of you could bring someone back. And, Mayor Moon, you could decide if it’s a success.” Martin glanced at the townspeople. The mayor considered this.

“Yes, yes, we could. Egan, you would bring back Chloe I’m guessing.

“And Cameron’ll bring back his crazy old mother,” exclaimed Ammon. Cameron Ward said nothing.

“I could bring back Father Shanley,” piped in Luger, referring to his predecessor at the church. R.C. Goose stared at the priest in amazement.

“You’re on board with this?”

“Well, it is intriguing, R.C. And, when one thinks of it, is it really so terrible? If God has given Martin this potion, then perhaps he intends for us to use it. And, besides, wouldn’t you like to see Mark again? You were such a good team.”

R.C. Goose considered it. For years, he and Mark Leyman had been partners. Goose & Leyman was the most lucrative business to have come out of Saluzar in its entire history. The town’s only export, coal, had been outdated for some time, being replaced by fancier forms of fuel. Yet Goose & Leyman had a near monopoly on all of the coal in the state, so while business was slow, the pair did well enough to make by. Goose dealt with the personnel part of it. Making sure they had willing customers, figuring out what was the lowest they could charge and still make a profit (then he’d double that number.) Leyman dealt with the books. The two would split the profit 50/50, until Mark’s untimely death last July. The business partners had been inseparable, each owing their success to the other. The sign on the door still read “Goose & Leyman,” and not a church service went by where R.C. Goose did not at some point think of Mark.

“But, I have nobody. Who could I bring back?” asked Mildred. Mildred Snipes had never been married, although there had been offers. For one reason or another, none of the offers had ever come to fruition. Mildred, instead of a husband, kept cats. Many cats. She used to always take in the strays, care for them. Whenever anyone had a sick animal, they took it to Mildred. She was the closest the town came to having a veterinarian. Mayor Moon pointed out that if the potion could bring back a rat or, as Martin claimed, a human, why not a cat? And so it was decided that Mildred would bring back her most recently deceased pet, a tabby named William.

“Tomorrow, then. We will meet in the cemetery and bring back our friends and family,” said the mayor.

“Even my Chloe?” offered Egan.

“Yes, Egan, of course. Your Chloe.”

***

Cameron Ward sat at home and stared at his vial of potion. He ran a freckled hand through his straw-blonde hair. He sighed.

“Here, take this, watch after it, it’s yours, and be sure to bring it with you tomorrow,” Martin had said down in the Thade cellar. Cameron removed his left sock and applied some topical ointment to the stumps where his three toes used to be. Blown off by a shotgun. The wound had mostly healed after all these years, but Cameron didn’t care. He was still fearful of contracting gangrene on the foot, and besides, the ointment felt nice. It soothed any pain, massaged all of the tension out. The vial was on the table.

“Oh, ma,” he said to the empty room.

According to Martin, each body that came back had full memory of its past life. In fact, memories would be more vivid. It would be as if the body came back reborn, refreshed, a brand new mind full of the same old memories. Cameron’s heart had seized. His mother, if the potion worked, might no longer be insane.

Cameron went to the refrigerator and took out a beer. He always kept beer in the house in case there was company, as he himself rarely drank. He had always felt that if he were to drink, he’d become an alcoholic like his father, Oliver. All Cameron had ever known about his father was his name (he could never forget it, his father’s first name was his own middle one) and that his dad had drunk himself to death, as his mother put it. When Cameron was a boy, his mother had instilled in him that even a drop of alcohol would eventually lead to an untimely death. But, as he grew up, he learned this to not be true, that alcohol in moderation would not kill you, but he still felt an obligation to his mother not to drink.

“Such a dutiful son,” everyone always said about Cameron Ward. And, it was true, Cameron Ward had cared for his mother well after the breakdown. And while he gladly would have continued, the vial which held the magical potion to bring her back seemed to be taunting him. What if his mother came back and was not insane? And what if she remembered what had caused her mental breakdown? And what if she told people? Cameron felt his neck go clammy. He couldn’t let this happen.

Perhaps it was growing up with no father figure, as his mother had often reasoned, but Cameron had never been strong. And when he received the notice that his lottery number had come up in the draft, Cameron didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t go to war. The draft was an all-consuming entity, swarming through Cameron’s life in his peaceful childhood town. But more importantly, there was his mother. With his father having died, he was the only man in his mother’s life. Were he to die in the war, she’d have no one at all. It was with this reasoning that he had gone out back, picked up his dad’s old shotgun, said a prayer, and blew off three of his own toes.

When his mother heard the gunshot, she ran out into the yard, weeping. She screamed and hugged her son. Cameron did not cry.

“It’s okay, mom. It’s going to be okay. They can’t make me go to war now.”

Cecilia Ward looked down. She saw the smoke still trailing out of the wound, saw the shotgun in her son’s hand, and Cameron’s ever stoic expression.

“I see,” she finally said.

Cameron expected relief, perhaps even praise. After all, by sacrificing three toes, toes he didn’t even use anyway, he had insured his own perfect safety. He would not abandon his mother as his father had done. But, he could not have anticipated the look of shame and anguish in her eyes. A fly flew towards her and she twitched to avoid it. And in that twitch, Cameron could see something within his mother snap.

“No son of mine’s a coward!” she calmly seethed, and then walked into the house.

Cecilia locked herself in her room, refusing all of the food and water Cameron attempted to bring her. Despite his best efforts, Cameron couldn’t save his mother. He watched her wither away. Her mind, deprived of nourishment, shut down. Cameron found her one night, violently writhing on the bed, near to death. He phoned the doctor, then fled, vowing not to return until the war had ended.

When he finally did return to Saluzar, he was surprised to find that he was greeted with a hero’s welcome. Cecilia Ward told everyone her son had been dutifully serving in Vietnam. The doctors claimed she’d been so worried about him that she’d stopped eating causing her to lose her mind. And so, she’d told everyone that her son was in the war, bravely fighting for the cause. She had forgotten the incident, and it was Cameron’s belief that the story she had concocted was her mind protecting itself, her one solace once her mind had shut down. From what the doctors said, it would be best not to upset her, and so Cameron shyly went along, always shrugging off the praise, agreeing to his mother’s story. In that way, he felt he could perhaps meet her expectations.

And yet, Cameron Ward still felt guilty. Guilty enough to care for her for nearly forty years. When she’d died, he’d thought he could breathe easy, his secret would never be out. But, if she were to come back…what if she were to tell everyone? If she were to reveal Cameron’s secret shame? This town, the people that Cameron had come to know, would they shun him as his own mother had? If the whole town rose up against him, Cameron even feared for his life. The vial taunted him. The red liquid looked just like the color of the lipstick Cecilia used to wear every Sunday when they went to church.

Cameron took a sip of beer. In less than a minute, he’d finished the whole can.

***

R.C. Goose, meanwhile, sat in the office of Goose & Leyman. Business was done for the day, and had been for a while, but the stout businessman felt like it was where he needed to be at the moment. It had only been a year ago that R.C. Goose last sat in the same office with Mark Leyman. The men had been business partners for fifteen years at that point. It was evening, the curtains were drawn, and the only phone in the building was situated on the table in front of them. Leyman yawned and glanced at his partner.

“You’re welcome to go home, you know,” he told Goose, smiling wearily.

“Not at all. You probably get lonely sitting here all alone each night.”

“True. But I’m used to it at this point. You never stay this late.”

“I thought that my company would be a welcome change,” Goose taunted, using his index finger to pick some stray chicken breast from between his bottom teeth.

“Not at all! You know I enjoy your company.” Leyman nibbled on his fingernail. Goose stared at him for awhile, then let out a guffaw.

“I know, I’m just teasing you, Mark. Are they normally this late?”

“No, no. I don’t know what’s happened. The shipment normally gets in an hour ago.”

The pair certainly made a strange picture. Compared to Goose’s plump figure, Leyman’s figure was incredibly gawky and angular. His gaunt face was accentuated by a pair of copper wire glasses which framed his eyes to look irate at any moment, and which harshly left red footsteps on the trunk of his nose. The Arizona humidity chapped his slender lips, and so his mouth was constantly covered in bits of dead skin. It was Leyman’s unofficial job to sit and wait for their customers to call and say the shipments had arrived. It required very little attention, simply the ability to pick up a phone. The train would get in, the distributor would pick up the coal, and call the office. Leyman would warmly thank them for their business, and go home for the night. Most shipments got in at around six. This one was nearly an hour late.

“It’s bad weather I suspect,” croaked Leyman.

“What was that?”

“Sometimes, if there’s bad weather, then the shipment is delayed slightly.”

“Hm. Is there bad weather often?” asked Goose.

“Sometimes. Sometimes the tracks get icy, the train can’t get there in time.”

“Does that affect it? Ice on the tracks. It can make the train go slower?”

“Yeah, it happens sometimes.”

“Mmh. Maybe that’s what happened, then.”

“Yes, maybe.” Leyman seemed to be willing the phone to ring with his mind. His partner got up, strode to the pantry and got two pieces of shortbread. He wolfed one down, and gave the other to Leyman, who tried to wave it away. Goose put it on the table anyway.

“Eat it. You like shortbread.”

“No thank you. Really, I’m fine.” The truth was that Leyman was hungry. And he did like shortbread. He just didn’t like eating in front of people. And he was very conscious of Goose’s eyes. Leyman shook slightly. He picked up the shortbread and began to eat it.

“You know, Mark, I don’t know if it’s ice on the tracks,” said Goose, after Leyman had finished.

“Why not?”

“Well, it just seems odd for there to be ice on the tracks in the middle of July is all. And this being Arizona, where we don’t even get ice in winter usually. It doesn’t seem like there’d be too much ice present, on train tracks of otherwise. Seems to me.”

“But, the shipment was heading to Pennsylvania. And they do get ice on the track there sometimes.”

“It’s possible, Mark, but, it’s still July. I don’t think Pennsylvania gets ice on the track in July.”

“I guess not, R.C.”

“No. And, since the shipment’s so late, and it couldn’t have been delayed because of ice on the track, it seems to me more likely that the order was never going to arrive. As if someone may have cancelled the order.” Leyman was quiet for a moment, refusing to meet Goose’s glare.

“What? R.C., you…you cancelled the order? R.C. you should’ve…”

“No, no, I don’t think you understand me. I didn’t cancel the order, Mark. But it seems to me that one partner would make more of a profit than two. That if someone cancelled the order and then shipped it off independently, they would keep all the profit. Not have to split it. You see what I mean?”

“Not really, R.C.”

“Did you cancel the order, Mark?” Mark Leyman wiped some crumbs from the side of his mouth.

“R.C., I don’t know what you’re talking about. Really, I don’t. It’s just delayed for some reason, there’s…”

“Because it seems odd to me that they’ve not called yet, unless they’re calling a different number. Like your home number. Like you told them to.” Goose had gotten up and walked to the fireplace.

“R.C., where is this coming from? You know I’d never…”

“I don’t like it when people double cross me. The profits have been a bit light this month.”

“Times are hard, R.C.”

“Which is the reason someone might try to do something like this.” He grabbed a fire poker and walked towards Leyman.

“No, R.C., I can explain. They’ll call! I know they’ll call!” Leyman put his hands out to stop his advancing partner. “I’ve never cancelled any order. Granted, it had occurred to me, but I’d never…never for more than a second did I think about it. Never more than just one second.”

“But, I can’t believe that, Mark.”

“No, please, I didn’t…please let me explain!” The blunt end of the poker collided with Leyman’s temple. He dropped impossibly fast, slumped over the coffee table, shortbread crumbs just barely visible on his unshaven face. Right in the spot, his head began to swell.

Goose returned the poker to the fireplace, dragged his partner up the staircase, not an easy task to do given that neither of the businessmen were in the best of shape. Once at the top, Goose let his partner fall. And that would be how R.C. Goose would tell everyone he found the lifeless body of Mark Leyman the next day when he came in for work.

But, that night, as he was about to leave the building, the phone began to ring. He picked it up, listened to the voice on the other line, and then thanked them confirming that the coal order had come in. The man on the other end apologized for the delay. Goose put the phone down, uttered an apology of his own to the man at the bottom of the stairs, went home, and made a cup of tea.

Now, Goose sipped his cup of tea in that office, the vial in his pocket. He grasped it, angrily. Tomorrow, he was supposed to bring Mark back. His grasp tightened, willing the glass to disintegrate at his touch. It did not.

***

The next morning, Father Luger walked to the cemetery, glass vial in hand. He hadn’t slept, thinking about the potion had kept him up.

The potion left him more than a little confused. He had no idea how he was meant to respond to the whole thing. The whole thing was so biblical. The walking dead, who wouldn’t think of Jesus Christ? And how he would respond worried him. He knew himself to not be a smart man. He liked his routines, his unchanging habits of daily life.

He had never been the most steadfast priest. In truth, he had his doubts about the whole Catholicism thing. As a boy, being a priest had felt natural to him. He loved the church building itself. The way the light was refracted by the stained glass windows, how the organ echoed in your eardrums. But, as Todd Luger had become more vested in his occupation, he found more and more inconsistencies. When he’d mentioned this to Father Shanley, he’d been told that all priests experienced doubts, but that one day, they’d pass. Todd Luger was still waiting for them to.

And now Martin Glinser’s potion concerned him. Sure, he’d been intrigued at first, who wouldn’t have been? But what if these corpses came back and said that there was nothing? Nothing in the afterlife. That would cement his doubts. It would be proof that his whole life, not to mention his livelihood, was a sham. This would be bad enough. But, even more worrying than that was the possibility that the dead would come back and say that God did exist. And that there was a heaven. Or a hell.

It was the hell part that worried the priest. If this potion proved that hell existed, he knew he would end up there. Certain things, he felt, cannot be atoned, and stealing periodically from the church’s collection plate was one of those things. At first, it had been just a couple of dollars here and there, and only when he needed the money to get by. But as Father Luger’s frustration with his religion grew, he began stealing larger and larger sums. It became a compulsion, and while he never kept track of the full amount taken, taking money from an entire town of people, every week, for two years…he couldn’t bring himself to imagine how much he had amassed. The only way he could live with himself was in trusting his doubts. Trusting that he’d not end up in damnation for his crimes. But, if those dead bodies came back and confirmed everything he’d once believed, then what would he do? It was weighing him down.

“Morning, Father,” called the jovial voice of Egan Ammon “I’m guessing you’re going to the same place I am.”

“Yes, Egan. I would imagine we are.” Father Luger let the rose-cheeked man catch up. Ammon was slightly out of breath.

“I’m glad I caught you, Father. I was wanting to say…this potion, it would be something, wouldn’t it?” The priest grunted in agreement. “Yes, well, last night, as wonderful as it would be to see my Chloe again, and it would of course be wonderful, I kept thinking that maybe the dead should be dead after all. Would it be so much harm to let Chloe rest?” Ammon looked at Father Luger hopefully. The priest stopped walking and stared at the retired string salesman.

“You won’t give her the potion?”

“No. I mean, if this works, I suppose that someone would get the potion to her eventually, and I don’t want to hurt Martin’s feelings. That poor kid hasn’t a friend in the world, and he worked hard on his potion and, well, I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t grateful for the favor.” Ammon reached into his pocket and took out his vial. “So, last night, I switched my potion out for some cough syrup in the medicine cabinet. The color, it’s almost identical.” Ammon smiled broadly. He’d had the idea the night before, and had immediately poured his actual potion on some dead plants he’d not gotten around to throwing away (the plants looked lovely now). It had not been a difficult decision to make. Although maintaining good public appearances, the Ammon’s had had a tumultuous and abusive relationship. Egan Ammon felt constantly berated. Chloe had called him a “boorish git,” “bland as toast pig,” and much worse. Chloe’s death had been the greatest thing to have ever happened to the retired string salesman.

Father Luger held Egan’s vial. The color and texture inside were the same as his own. This is because that night, when Father Luger couldn’t get to sleep, he too had gone to his medicine chest and replaced the potion with cherry cough syrup. As had Cameron Ward, and R.C. Goose. And as too had Mildred Snipes, who realized that bringing back one of her cats might show what Evan Thade had missed in his poorly conducted autopsy: that pieces of each of her cats’ fur and bone were missing, used to make yarn and buttons for her thriving clothing business.

“I doubt the potion would have worked anyway,” Todd Luger finally said as he and Egan approached the top of the hill.

***

“I don’t…I don’t understand why.” Martin Glinser heaved as his shovel scattered another pile of dirt into the ground. It had only been an hour ago when he had finally conceded that the townsfolk could all go home, that none of the dead of Saluzar would be reawakened that day. Now, Martin was helping Evan Thade put the coffins back in the ground. Taking the coffins out had been an ordeal, but Evan was adamant that all the dead be returned to their resting places before nightfall. The last thing he wanted was for someone to unwittingly fall into an open grave. Safety first; that had always been rule number one in the undertaker’s household.

“No one will mind, Martin. They’ll all forget about it in time. These are good people. Simple townsfolk.” Evan took a break from shoveling and wiped some sweat from his brow. Mayor Moon had denied Martin the funding needed to mass produce the potion, citing that no one would want a potion that could only resurrect rats. At first, Martin had been distraught, pleading, but he had calmed down now. Standing over the open grave, listening to the rustling of dirt as it collided with the coffin top was peaceful– almost therapeutic.

“Well, maybe you could sell it to science labs. Bring their rats back from the dead,” Evan offered. “Or market it as fertilizer.”

“But it works. We know it works.”

“I know, Martin.”

Martin Glinser absently brought his hand to his head and felt the sore wound. He winced, and looked at his shovel. The shovel was caked in dirt, but the specks of burgundy were still more than visible on the metal spade. Evan had mentioned that the blood never had fully come out. ‘You owe me a new shovel,’ he’d said, but Martin had not realized the full extent of the stain. It wasn’t even that the stain was massive, it was just that the color was so intoxicating, so hypnotic, that one could not help but look at it. He stared at the red flecks, amazed to be staring at his own blood. To test the potion, he’d known he’d need to revive a human being. But he didn’t want to endanger anyone’s life, in case the potion didn’t work. So, one week earlier, he’d had Evan Thade kill him, hit him on the head with shovel, then feed him the potion.

“But, why, Evan? I mean, why didn’t it work? It worked on the rat. Every time, it worked on the rat. And, I mean, it, it worked on me.”

“A good thing too.”

Martin looked at the undertaker beside him. The inventor had never had many friends, and certainly not any close ones. But the bond that he and Evan had was unlike any other. Certainly Evan felt it too. Their friendship had grown considerably since that day when Martin had first approached Evan, telling him about the potion. And when Martin had him conduct that final experiment, the first thing Martin had felt when he’d been revived and looked into Evan Thade’s face was that they had just shared the experience of Martin’s death. And a connection like that couldn’t be broken.

“Maybe they weren’t meant to come back. You, it wasn’t your time, so the potion worked on you. But, the others…maybe, Martin, there’s a reason they needed to stay dead.”

The two men were silent for a moment.

“The corpses were perfect, Evan. Really, even after so much time, they looked as if they could have gotten up and walked around.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re an artist, you know that.”

The undertaker thanked Martin and shoveled another heap of dirt into the grave.

“Everyone was so nice about it. Told me it was okay, that they didn’t mind,” Martin continued. “‘Mistakes are made, chap,’ Egan said.” Evan laughed. Martin did a spot on impression of Egan Ammon

“Like I said, these are good, simple townsfolk. You can’t find any better people.”

“Salt of the earth,” agreed Martin.

They continued filling the hole with dirt, the sun slowly setting over Saluzar, as the church bell struck eleven. And when they were done, the simple country folk rested easy, comfortable in the fact that the dead would remain buried.

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Green Valley Alarms

August 16, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I took the last drag of my cigarette and inhaled a deep breath, savoring the carcinogen-filled smoke inside my lungs before I drew it out again. I looked down at the smoldering butt in my hand and took a gander up at the green trees that surrounded my back yard. Modest, all-consuming green trees which everybody here claim are what make this little town so damn pleasant. More like smothering if you ask me, I’ve always been more of a city boy myself. Whereas most people around here find the streets of Los Angeles overbearing and nauseating, I’d gladly give up those pretty, green trees for apartment buildings and taco stands. There’s something mysterious about the mountains, something lonely, something desolate, and every once in a while things happen out there that just aint right.

Let me tell you a little something about where I used to live. “Green Valley,” it‘s called. And believe me, there is no false advertising in the name. The little mountain town in the heart of Southern California is greener than an over-enthusiastic Irishman on St. Paddy’s day and covered with a heavy layer of wild shrubs, foliage, and modest-sized trees. There are only 2 real streets in the town (by real I mean frequently traveled on by the town’s residents and commuters). First, there’s “San Francisquito Canyon Road,” which weaves down through the mountains for about 20 miles and puts you right at the edge of Valencia. Then there’s “Spunky Canyon Road,” which most of the other streets in the town branch off of as it connects up the neighborhoods. Commuters traveling between the Antelope Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley drive up and down San Francisquito Canyon every day which also provides a quick way for families and teenagers to get to Magic Mountain from Palmdale or Lancaster, if they don’t feel like taking the freeway. Given it’s heavy traffic at times, winding curves, razor-sharp corners, and drivers who fly down the damn thing like they’re practicing for the Daytona 500, it’s seen it’s fair share of accidents over the years.

Now, one thing I always found quite interesting is that, years ago, someone thought it would be a good idea to have a loud, booming alarm system set up in the Green Valley fire station that alerts the locals when there’s an accident in the canyon. Given that there is no cell phone reception anywhere, the alarm provides a means of communication to the residents when San Fran is blocked off due to a car crash. It’s not a bad idea and I never would have had a problem with it, except…there is just something really off-putting about this alarm. I always thought it sounded like the type you would hear at a government facility when they’ve discovered that a nuclear bomb is about to be dropped and blow the whole fucking country to smithereens, or that some deadly, flesh-eating virus has escaped from a laboratory and is quickly seeping into the air of our neighborhoods. Which aren’t the loveliest thoughts when you’re laying in bed at 10:00 at night in your underwear and you hear this loud, belligerent siren suddenly rattle through the streets and penetrate you to the very core. It’s just…disturbing.

But anyways, that’s not too important at the moment. What’s important is that on this day, on this evening, I had just smoked my last cigarette down to the filter and I was in dire need of more to carry my nicotine fix throughout the night. This meant that I had to make a run to the little gas station on the corner of Spunky and San Fran where the canyon meets the main residential area of the town. I had just disposed of the cigarette butt in the trash can and was walking back to my front door when I heard the alarm pierce through my ears. It stopped me in my tracks. That familiar, low yell of the siren rang in my head and I instantly felt a wave of compassion for the sorry saps who had just crashed their car in the canyon. I had hoped it wasn’t as bad as the one I saw a few months ago on my way home from work in which a small sedan going about 90mph, had a head on with an SUV about 30 feet behind me while I watched the carnage from the rear view mirror of my truck. “Poor bastards,” I said out loud as I continued my strut inside to grab the truck keys. Then something struck me and I paused, mouth agape and listening attentively…There’s something slightly off about this one. I couldn’t really tell for sure but it didn‘t seem to be coming from the fire station, it was too distant; and what’s even stranger is that there was this unsteadiness to it. It was dying down a little and then coming on strong again in waves and changing in pitch too. The dynamics were totally off. It had a beckoning, sorrowful longing to it like a wild animal with his leg caught in a hunter‘s trap. I wasn‘t just hearing it, I was feeling it too; my insides felt like they were being grabbed and pulled towards my legs like silly putty. I was getting more uneasy by the second.

“Of course it was weird,” I thought, but I had other, more pressing priorities at hand than sitting around pondering the peculiarities of this alarm. My nicotine craving struck again and I was suddenly in the truck cruising down the road towards the corner store to get to those sweet, sweet Newport menthol-smokes. I turned on my headlights as I navigated the small stretch of asphalt that leads to the gas station about a mile from my cozy, little 2 bedroom house. It was summer time and the clock on the dash told me it was 8:30pm. Summer days are pretty long out here and the sky was at that stage right between dusk and twilight where everything I passed had a subdued glow about it. The road was not yet a complete mass of darkness without my headlights, but it was close. I saw silhouettes of bushes, hypnotically flailing side to side in the distance as I approached the gas station.

When I pulled in the thought gradually crept into my mind over the next few seconds that I was staring at an empty establishment. There were no cars at the pumps or even the familiar employee trucks in the parking lot. It wasn’t that business was just slow or anything, I mean the place was totally abandoned. Where the hell was everybody? “And what the fuck,” I thought, as my eyes caught the dim OPEN sign in the window who’s lights were not flashing in their usual neon red; “the place is closed?“ It’s the one night the bastards decide to close early and I happened to have just burned my last cig of the carton. Damn, just my luck. I pulled up in the parking lot and parked my truck so I could think about my next move. I saw the metal gate behind the big double doors then looked over to the empty chairs still lingering out front where Frank and Tom shoot the shit every day on their cigarette breaks. Call me what you will, but I was not about to go the whole night without that sweet taste of tobacco; so I walked over to the two chairs in hopes that Frank, or Tom had left some butts for me to scrounge up and hold me over until morning.

I was in luck! They had left their ashtray right between the chairs and there was even a half smoked stogie still burning, emitting broken coils of smoke like tiny ghosts dancing in the moonlight…I must have just missed them. I gained some amusement at the thought of them on their first break tomorrow trying to figure out how in the hell thirty cigarette butts apparently just jumped up and disappeared from the tray. Then I remembered that Frank still hasn’t returned my power drill I let him borrow two and a half weeks ago (“just for the afternoon,” he had told me) and my amusement turned to out-loud laughter. “Ha! Let that bastard think it over.” Frank was a good guy but he had a reputation of holding onto other people’s things for a little longer than he should.

I turned and walked back to the truck a little shamefully, feeling like a grimy, cigarette-butt scrounging bum and gazed at the Canyon road…Not a single damn car, that accident must have been pretty bad to block the whole road like that. There wasn’t a single vehicle driving the streets. I looked back at the two chairs then to the road again; that’s when I first noticed the feeling. Something just wasn’t right about all this. In my 2 years of living in this little hole in the mountains I had never seen the corner store close early. And given that Frank or Tom’s cigarette was still lit in the tray, they must have rushed out of here in a real hurry. Feelings aside, the day had been uneventful up until this point and I was bent on knowing what the hell was going on so I decided to take a drive down the canyon a little ways and see if I could take a peek at that accident. It sounds morbid, I know, and the last thing I wanted to do was get in the way of an ambulance or a cop if someone was seriously hurt but I was putting it together in my mind and figured the emptiness of the gas station and the alarm going off may be connected in some way, plus the dull day had stirred up a sense of adventure in me that was not subsiding so I lit a re-burn and took off down the road. Danger is the heart of adventure.

I was just about to give up and head back when I saw it. It was dark now and a tiny little light was shining a ways down the canyon on what appeared to be the side of the road. There were still no damn cars which had begun to give me a slight case of the jitters and the creeps all at once that manifested into my hands which were now slightly tremoring as I gripped the wheel of my Ford with white knuckles. My mouth was drier than a barrel of hay. A wave of panic shot through me as I started to worry I might actually be having a mild seizure, a ridiculous notion. I had never had one before and I was pretty sure the symptoms didn’t match up even in the slightest. I pushed the thought to the back of my mind and continued accelerating towards the glowing anomaly down the way which was approaching faster than I had anticipated, swerving and slowing to accommodate the sharp bends in the now dark mountain road. I thought for sure I would have seen somebody by now but there was…nothing. No ambulances, no cop cars, no angry commuters coming up through the road, speeding and pissed off for getting held up by a car crash on their way home from work. It was beyond strange for this usually bustling canyon and my better judgment was telling me to just go home to my blood hound who was waiting for his 2 scoops of doggy chow and forget all about this damn excursion…but I just couldn’t. When I set my mind to something, I follow through and have a mighty hard time dismissing it. So as stubborn as I could allow myself to be, I pressed on. And in God’s name and all the creatures in the world do I wish now that I hadn’t.

The small light was becoming ever more apparent as I approached it slowly on my right side. There was something so mesmerizing about it, yet sinister like a shimmering lighthouse guiding lost ships towards some hidden, rocky shore. I was a defenseless fly drifting closer and closer to a fluorescent bug zapper, right before he gets torched and turned into a thousand specks of ash blown away by the steady, warm Summer wind. I began to make out the shape of a car in the darkness. That’s what it was alright, it was a car, with the interior light still on and the driver’s side door swung wide open. I pulled up in front of it on the side of the road with my headlights glaring down, turned the ignition, removed the key, and sat in the deep silence; silence which after a moment was broken by the sound of an owl emitting a large hoot up in the trees somewhere. My mind raced as a million thoughts rushed through me at once. The most prominent one being that this must be the car that triggered the accident alarm earlier and it had been in some kind of wreck; but if that were the case, then where the hell were the ambulances and the cop cars that I had nervously expected and the crowd of people that usually linger around an accident to gossip and make sure everything‘s alright? There is no way they kept driving by this peculiar looking scene without offering some kind of help. People have their downfalls, but they are nonetheless eager to help out their fellow man when in dire straights. And we’re a curious breed, no doubt curious, which is what left me so baffled as I stared out my windshield. It’s coming.

My personal curiosity was at an all-time high as I stepped out of the truck and approached the car. I left the headlights on to provide me with some illumination. It appeared to be in decent shape until I circled around to the driver’s side. There was a monstrous sized dent in the door that stretched all the way to the front fender. The window was smashed out, but no glass on the ground as far as I could see; and no driver anywhere to be found. It was a puzzling scene. I stepped back to observe the damaged vehicle a little better and that’s when it hit me again…the feeling. It came on stronger now and I began to tremble harder. I shouldn’t be here. Something was horribly wrong and I knew it. And not just in a “someone got hurt,” kind of way; this was different. I even felt it in the air; there was an oppressive musk that weighed on me making me feel like my legs would give out at the slightest movement. I looked up at the trees, even they were different; they appeared to be cowering back away from this wrecked hunk of metal in front of me as if they themselves were terrified of this intruder in their quiet little home. “That has to be my imagination,” I thought. I felt like I was trapped in some dreamlike landscape and any moment I was going to wake up in my bed submerged in a pool of sweat. No, not a dream, a god damn nightmare. “Where the hell is the driver?” I couldn’t help but wonder.

I leaned against the side of the car with the door still open and began to rationalize the best I could. As I looked down, thoughts moving and circling around in my mind, something caught my eye. There was a trickle of blood in the dirt by my right foot. I looked up further and there was more blood, and more. It was a trail leading away from the car so I followed it with my eyes until it was out of the car light’s reach and taken out of sight by the night. A chilling realization crept into my mind; whoever was driving the car had gotten out and ran into the forest. The next thing I knew I was grabbing the flashlight from my center console and aiming its beam at the blood trail leading from the side of the road into the trees. Whoever it was that had been in this vehicle was badly hurt. I walked a little to get a better view and saw a break where a small beaten path was winding up through the trees and into the mountain. That must be where he ran off to.

The questions that had dominantly plagued my mind since the gas station had become secondary when I realized this person is probably in need of some serious help. I was getting a hold of myself a little better now and that rational part of my brain that had been temporarily hijacked was starting to make its way back. Even so, the mixed emotions I had at that moment could have torn me in two, but I knew deep down that if there was someone dying out there and I had to hear later on the evening news that this man or woman had bled out in the mountains of my little town, I would have never forgiven myself. Arguing with that other half of me had suddenly become fruitless, now was the time to act. Even though every bone in my body was telling me to just go back home and call 911 or maybe wait here for a moment for the ambulances that would eventually arrive, I didn’t. Flashlight in hand, I headed up the trail.

I immediately saw more blood as I headed up the winding path. The beam from the flashlight illuminated the way as I stepped over fallen, dead branches and leaves. The drops weren’t huge but they were enough to know that whoever was bleeding had taken a serious injury back in that car and was out there cut to all hell. I entertained the thought at this point of at least turning around and snatching my .45 pistol from my house and rushing back here quickly just in case I run into some kind of trouble up there but I was just too far and I didn’t want to risk getting to the victim after it was too late. I had remembered reading somewhere in a magazine or journal that a person will die when they have lost 40-60 percent of the blood in their body and by the looks of it, my missing man was getting there, fast. I stared at the quarter-moon sky, which hadn’t been providing me with jack-shit as far as moon light goes, then back down again and continued on. The drops began to get bigger as I progressed up the trail. I paused to take a look at a peculiar looking one that seemed to have a chunk of something white and slimy stuck to it. After a good few minutes of brisk walking I noticed that they weren’t only getting bigger now but also thicker and more pronounced. I was reminded of my own mortality as I followed these crimson puddles of dense fluid that leaked out of this broken human being and sat coagulating and festering in the cold earth, or maybe out of something else, it’s easy to forget how fragile our bodies really are when you’ve never really had an accident. They suddenly veered off the trail and I caught one with my flashlight on a branch about as high as my head. Then I heard something…

I couldn’t quite make it out but it sounded like the low chatter of someone’s voice. I looked through the trees where the blood on the high branch was dripping from and I could vaguely see an area that had been trampled through. The voice definitely came from that direction. I climbed in through a small opening the size of a crouched man and began to cautiously follow this trampled wonder through the trees. My senses were wild, heightened to the point of animalistic intensity in the cool darkness. I saw more blood on the branches and then stepped in a small pool of it. I shined the flashlight down and observed more of that white, slimy crap that I saw earlier. It looked gut wrenching. If I had stared any longer I would have been at risk of losing my dinner. I felt stomach acid arise in my esophagus and slowly make its way back down again. “What the hell was it?” I thought to myself as I crouched to get a better examination of the shimmering white pieces against their dark, scarlet background. They looked something like chunks of peeled grapes, if peeled grapes were white. My concentration was interrupted when the chatter started again, only this time it was much closer and almost directly in front of me. It sounded like some one mumbling to themselves and I knew it had to be my man (or woman, although I thought this was unlikely by now). I flared with bursts of excitement as I headed closer to the sound, rushing through the trees branches and low bushes as I continued on the trail. They were cutting me up something fierce, but I didn’t care because at that moment I saw an opening amidst the branches. I made my way through it and fell to my knees with a hard thud as I tripped over a stray branch that caught my shoe just right.

Sharp needles dug into my palms as I hit the ground. “Ouch!” I said out loud in much more than a whisper. The flashlight slipped and launched a good couple feet away from me during the fall. I winced a little and returned to my feet, brushing the leaves and dirt off of my clothes. It was at this point that the environment had my full visual attention as I studied my surroundings with a deep, penetrating gaze. My mouth suddenly dropped. I was in a clearing, at least it appeared to be a clearing until I shined the flashlight down to my feet. My eyes accompanied my mouth and grew from astonishment. I had been walking on top of smashed bushes. All around me in almost a perfect circle 20 feet in diameter these bushes had been collapsed and laid down to create a perfect surface to walk on. It was utterly bewildering. I shined the light around some more with my continual countenance of pure awe which was now permanently attached. “This doesn’t just happen in the middle of a group of trees, someone made this.” I thought. Every bush had been pressed in exactly the same fashion as the next and snapped at the same height to create this perfect platform of shrubs.

I barely had time to wonder when I heard it, that mumbling again. It startled me this time. A shudder went through me like a bolt of lightning and I frantically pointed the flashlight in the direction of the noise. The blood drained from my face and I went completely cold. By the edge of this platform on the opposite side of where I was standing there stood someone with their back towards me. It was indeed, a man. He was wearing a collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up and black slacks. His arms were at his sides and I saw a trickle of blood running down his right one. His head was faced downwards and he remained perfectly still like a statue.

“Sir!” I called out. “Sir, are you alright?”
No response.
“I saw your car down there, were you in an accident? Are you hurt?”
Still no response.

I did nothing for a moment. I just stared at him waiting for some kind of communication, but I got none. Then it hit me again, hard. There was a pressure that rushed inside my head which felt like a million bees swirling around my brain. It was pressing on my shoulder blades, weighing me down almost to the point of collapse. Every part of me was screaming, pleading to get out of there. I was a hair away from bolting the other direction as fast as I could to my truck. Go! Run! “What the hell am I doing here?” the thought returned. I took another look at him. It was all wrong, just plain wrong. But I had to hold on a little longer, now was not the time for another internal argument. I brushed it off the best I could and began to walk forward towards him slowly, eyeing his frozen limbs with great caution. I heard the branches crunch beneath my feet.

“I…I’m bleeding.” he spoke. His voice was calm, soft but with a hint of something else. I have never heard anything like it.
“Yeah, you are. Looks like you’re hurting pretty bad, too. Why don’t you let me walk you down to my truck, it’s just down the road. We gotta get you to the hospital.” I pleaded with the man for any excuse to get away from this creep show.
“They…they got me.”
“Wh..who got you? Is that why you’re bleeding? Did someone a..attack y..you?” My voice was quivering and I was shaking all over. I could barely articulate my words.
“They think they can have this place but…”
“but…” He was heaving in deep breaths.
“but they’re wrong…”
“This one’s mine!!!” His voice deepened to something atrocious as he yelled.

The force of his scream flung me backwards and I fell on my ass dropping the flashlight. I got to my knees and began to fumble around like a frantic lunatic in hopes of recovering it. The bleeding man turned around slowly, walked closer to me, and leaned down a bit. I found, curled my fingers around, and immediately shined the flashlight in his face all in one fluent motion. I surprised myself with how fast my movements were which gave me a small sense of control amidst the chaos. And then as quickly as it came, the brief joy I felt had fled…what I saw paralyzed me to the spot. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even breathe. There was the handle of a small knife sticking out of his eye socket which had been lodged into his head through his left eyeball. There were slimy chunks of white stuck to his cheek. He was peering at me through his one good eye. I was trying so hard to keep my thoughts together which had now become a jumbled blur. I was floating in the night sky. “There is no way he could still be alive after a wound like that, the blade must be halfway through his brain,” I thought. He gazed at me for a split second and with a raspy, low voice he leaned in closer and lividly shrieked “You’re all going to die!”

Just then his head starting jerking in short, rapid movements from side to side, impossibly fast. An inaudible gibberish began to come from his mouth which sounded like the mumbling I had heard earlier. In between a burst of jerks, he grinned forcefully to reveal a repulsive set of rotten teeth. His eye rolled back and his head was moving faster. The incoherent mumbling got louder and louder.

Before I knew it, my paralysis subsided and I was on my feet sprinting as fast as I could move while taking in heavy, deep breaths. I got back to the trail at lightning speed and took one look back to see if he was behind me. What I saw then, I will never forget. A beam of light appeared out of thin air and began to consume his body as he continued to go through his bizarre, terrifying episode. He stuck his legs in first, they disappeared and he began to lower his arms into it. Half of his torso and head were still sticking out while convulsing and spewing his incoherent babble. He roared and exhaled a stream of green vomit which flung around him in a circle as his head was spinning and splattered onto the collapsed bushes. I didn’t stop to watch any longer, I booked it as fast as my legs would go; down the trail to the side of the road I went until I saw my headlights. I jumped feet first into the truck, fumbled with putting the key in the ignition, heard the roar of those sweet six cylinders, jerked it into gear and with dirt roosting from my tires I was out of there.

It’s all over.

…..

The next morning I took a little trip to the gas station. Frank was sitting out front in his usual smoking chair puffing on a Marlboro red. He moved his gaze from the cement walkway as I saw the logo of his faded trucker hat with the two criss-crossed assault rifles ironed on the front jerk up towards me. He squirmed in his seat a little bit as I approached then forced a stupid smile. I parked my feet directly in front of him and stared into his aging, wrinkled face. I should have expected his loud-mouth to start gabbing before I could get a word in but somehow it still surprised and irritated me.

“Billy, how you doing brother,” his mouth moved as anxiously as he did in that aluminum chair he probably took from an outdoor furniture set. “Hey listen, I’m gonna need that drill for a little bit longer. You see, me and the wife are fixing up the barn and I thought I’d put some more shelves in. Say, what do you make of this? I could have sworn there were a whole mess of cigarette butts in this ash…”

“Where the hell were you last night?” I interrupted him. I was in no mood for his rambling, not today.
“Wha.. what are you talking bout?” He said, perturbed by my interruption.

“Last night, why did you close up the store so damn early?”
“Oh, well…some funny things was happening and me and Tom thought it best to just call it quits for the night.” He looked troubled when he spoke, with a slight wave of bewilderment and irritation. like I was trying to force some taboo topic from his mouth that he had thought he’d never have to actually bring up in conversation.
“Funny things?” I said. I was all nerves.

“Well, yeah. You see the power went out in the whole place about a quarter past 8. Couldn’t see a damn thing. Have no idea why, either. Tom checked all the breakers and they seemed to be in order.”
“So why didn’t you just pull out the generator?” I said. “People need their gas and smokes.” My mind was running and I was caressing the corner of my flannel shirt between my thumb and forefinger. He could tell things weren’t well in Billy Town. My face was ghostly pale, I knew from the glimpse I had caught of myself in the bathroom mirror before heading out, and black circles were starting to form under my eyes from the restless forty-five minutes of sleep I had gotten.
“Well, that’s just it,” he said. “Hadn’t been a car come up that road for nearly an hour. Usually that time of night is busier than hell with the folks commuting from work and what not.”
I met his stare while still caressing my shirt…
“You feelin alright Billy? You aint lookin your freshest this morning.” He said sounding genuinely concerned. “Looks like you had a meeting with the devil himself.” he followed his words with a nervous chuckle but didn’t take his eyes off of me.
My heart began to jump a little and I felt the shakes coming on. “I…I’m fine.” I said “Just…never mind. I’m gonna go grab a pack of smokes.” I suddenly realized I wasn’t in the mood for this.
“Well hold on now Billy, there’s something else too if you really wanna know.“ He said as he grabbed hold of my arm during my attempt to escape.
“Something else?” I managed to sound a little more enthused.
“Nah, forget it.” he said.
“Frank, what are you talking about?” I had to know now. Whatever it was it couldn’t do much more damage to my already fractured state of mind this morning.
He eyed me up and down with a look on his face that said you know what kid, fuck it, just go grab your cigarettes. I don‘t think you can handle what I have to say considering you look like you’re gonna go running behind those bushes like a scared puppy dog if so much as a loud car drives by. But after a long while he came out with it and when he was finished, the comfort of those bushes didn’t sound like a bad idea.
“Well, me and Tom just had this funny feeling,” he began. “You know how sometimes you just get a feeling, Billy? Like when you know something aint right? It was just this funny feeling that me and Tom both kept gettin…like….”
“Like what?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“We couldn’t tell ya really, and looking back on it sounds kinda ridiculous now. But well…it was like we just shouldn’t be there.”
I gazed at him, flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it.
“It didn‘t have something to do with that alarm going off, did it?” I asked with a hint of hopefulness in my voice.

“Alarm? What alarm? Hasn’t been an accident in the canyon for nearly 3 weeks.”

…..

I moved to Los Angeles 6 months after the whole thing and quit smoking. After my conversation with Fred I bought my cigarettes in a dazed panic and rushed back to the safety of my home where I locked all the doors and windows, drew the curtains, and dozed off into a few hours of dreamless sleep. I had anxiety issues for a few weeks and had to take some time off work. About five days into my vacation, a Jehovah’s Witness came to the door and I nearly had a heart attack; I guess they got the idea to start soliciting to the smaller towns in Los Angeles County which I can safely say they won’t be doing again, well at least the kid who came to my door won’t be. I’m sure he’ll door knocking in more populated areas from now on considering how fast he booked it out of here when he heard the cock of my 12 gauge shotgun letting him know I‘m not in the business to be opening my door to strangers; poor bastard made it to the end of my drive way in about two seconds flat. I kept thinking anybody and everybody was that…thing, in disguise. I turned my phone off and permanently moved my shotgun to the nook by the front door as well as kept my .45 pistol tucked into my pants while I pranced nervously around the house, checking the windows every five minutes. It sounds stupid now but I thought for sure it was going to come looking for me and I sure as hell wasn’t going to take any chances.

After about a month, I realized I was turning into a paranoid, reclusive, wreck and I hated myself for it so I decided to face my fear and take a drive down the canyon to that little spot where I had first seen the car. I parked the truck near it and got out to gather whatever information I could find. I wasn’t just facing my fears, I was looking for answers and by God did I have a lot of questions. Some tire tracks were vaguely visible in the dirt where my original meeting with the car had been but there’s no way they could have belonged to my truck or the busted up sedan, our tracks were long gone by then, blown away in the summer’s wind. The blood was gone too. I took a walk up the trail again, re-tracing my steps from that night. I never found the bush platform or the opening in the trees, or the “man” anywhere, it’s like he was never even there. That’s not to say it didn’t happen, I know what I saw. There was something on the road that night, I knew it and everybody else knew it. That’s why there wasn’t any cars because just like Frank, the people who usually travel that road had enough sense to stay away from it and take the freeway home. Some call it intuition; we all have those built-in alarms that draw us towards great and beautiful things as well as steer us clear from danger. They knew there was something evil in that canyon, some abomination. That’s what it was, an abomination. What I think, is that…thing, was calling someone or something that night to take it back home because it knew it had been bested and, god knows why, but for some reason I was susceptible to its call. I chose to ignore my instincts and it almost cost me my life. Anyways…I can’t do anything about it now but carry on living and learn from my mistakes. I have no reason to fear it for I know it’s gone far away from here. But you know, sometimes on the darkest of nights as I stare out my third floor apartment window at the late night city traffic, I get this funny feeling it wont be gone for long. And you know what? If it does happen to return and our paths do happen to cross again, I’ll be ready, and this time I won’t choose to ignore my inner alarms.

Green Valley Alarms 1

Green Valley Alarms 2

Green Valley Alarms 3

Green Valley Alarms 4

Credit To – Ryan Berg

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