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Admin Update 11/9/2015

November 9, 2015 at 10:57 AM

Hey guys, Derp here.

I’m sorry, but someone very important to me passed away this morning, and I need to take a few days to myself to deal with everything. Unfortunately, I have been scheduling on a day-to-day basis this past week, so this means that you guys will have a few days without fresh stories. I just don’t have the mental energy right now, particularly when considering the content of a lot of submissions.

I hope to only be gone for a few days, and thank you for your understanding.

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Summertime Nightmare

November 9, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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In the summer of 1985, my mother, sister, father, and myself moved into a rural farm house in Central Kentucky. The house was not in the greatest of shape but it did the job. Even though my father had served his country for 22 years, he never took the time to attend college or even a vocational course, so when he left the service, his options were few when it came to employment. He found a job fixing copy machines in the small city of Elizabethtown, KY and my mother found work at a clothing store. Needless to say, both my sister and I, who is 5 years older than me, were latch key kids.. .not out of the norm in the 80’s.

We were renting that house at the time and our landlord was an old crotchety man. He did little to nothing to help keep the house up but, given the low rent and the fact that we were just below the poverty line, it was acceptable. There was nothing extraordinary about this home. A basement, the middle floor, and the attic that had been converted to a master bedroom. As any 11 year old, the basement was not my favorite… always dark, always spooky. The washer and dryer were there, along with our large freezer. It was segmented by partial cement block walls, as if someone wanted to do something with it but never really got around to it.

The house had no air conditioning and a furnace that worked some of the time. We couldn’t afford anything more than fans in the summertime and space heaters in the winter. The house had been rented and left over and over again prior to us moving in and after that first year, it became clear why.

My experiences started on a Friday afternoon. Both my mother and father were working, my sister was at school. As for me, I was at home trying to recover from a flu that no one else in my school seemed to have. At the time, I got sick… a lot. Many nights, I would have chills and a fever but by the next day, I would be alright. My mother took me to the doctor repeatedly but they could never really pin point what the problem was.

The windows were open and the two box fans were going that hot July day. I was lying on the couch, watching one of our 3 channels that we could pick up with our roof mounted Radio Shack antenna. As I lay watching some old show, static began to overtake the television screen. Not bad at first, but then basically made it impossible to watch whatever horrible show was on at the time. I raised up, irked that I had to move. As the static became unbearable, both visually and to my hears, I made my way over to the large oak cabinet that contained the behemoth set. That was the day, the moment when I realized that this house would change me and I would never be the same.

I began messing with the wires on the back of the set. Checking connections and becoming worried that this snafu would prevent me from watching my afternoon cartoons and in 1985, G.I. JOE was not just entertainment, but a way of life for me. The t.v. was a kit set, by that I mean it came in pieces and my father literally put it together and installed it into the oak cabinet that took up way to much floor space. As I proceeded with my examination, I moved to the front of the t.v. pulling out the control panel and tried to make any adjustment that might bring it back to life. I leaned over and turned the set off. I was now just starring at it, pondering my next move.

As I looked at the blank, dark screen, all I could see was the reflection of the living room behind me. The light from the curtainless window made my surroundings in the tube all that much more clearer. Everything appeared normal behind me at first as my main focus was on my need to watch my upcoming cartoons but right at that moment, I noticed something out of place in that reflection. A man was sitting on the very couch that I had just left. The fear shot through me like a bolt of electricity. I spun my head around as fast as humanly possible to see… nothing. I stood up just as fast and scanned the room, my heart was racing. How did someone get in here without me hearing or seeing them. I cautiously made my way through the house, checking first, my sisters room, then mine… I slowly walked through the kitchen as it was the gateway to the rest of the home, including that basement.

I skipped that door, going instead to the one that led up to my parents room. I quietly moved up the stairs, trying to take in as much as I could. Still, I found nothing and no evidence that anyone was there. I finally made my way back to the kitchen and the basement door. I opened it with just enough space to flick on the light. Once they came on, I pushed the door open and peered down the stairs. That was enough for me. As I came back into the living room, I looked around and saw no more than the couch, chairs, and that overgrown t.v.

Sitting back on the couch, I started, to the best of my 11 year old brain could reason, to think about what exactly I had just seen. He looked to be in his late 40’s, in a black suit, black hair, long face ,and he was not looking at me, just looking forward with a blank stare. I tried to compose and reason with myself. I was a giant horror movie geek and I had just watched Poltergeist for 50th time that past weekend. It was a trick of light and shadow, and my imagination, I figured. It did not make sense that anyone could come in the house for one but also, why would they just sit down, get up, and leave. A ghost was out of the question as nothing had happened in the few months that we had lived there and besides, that was fiction. My final thought was, I am simply not seeing what I thought I saw. Once I had come to that conclusion, I was able to steady myself and refocus my attention to what really mattered, MY CARTOONS!

I walked over and pushed the power button back on. Low and behold, we have picture and sound! Just then, the phone rang. I hate to admit it, but I jumped just a little. It was my sister telling me that she was going to a friends house after school and to let mom know. I said o.k. and hung up the phone, not willing or wanting to know if my sister had anything else to say. After all, she was my sister and sibling rivalry was in full effect.

Leaning back on the couch, feeling that I just accomplished something great by returning to my programs, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was my bedroom door and it was slowly opening. Was it the wind? Did I check that room for the non existent intruder? Getting up, I made my way over, only to jump back when the door suddenly jutted open as if someone on the other side had grabbed the handle and decided to make a quick and forceful entrance into the living room.

I took two or three quick steps back. I could see directly into my bedroom. Once again, nothing. The calmness that I had obtained from my prior investigation had suddenly vanished. My heart rate was up, and although I knew I was sick, my sinuses had become fairly clear from the rush of adrenaline. ‘Hello’ I half heartedly spouted. No noise, nothing came from anywhere. Of course it didn’t, nothing was there. Stepping further back, I was amazed at myself and the level of fear that had taken control of me. I took a deep breath, attempting to readjust my brain to find a rational explanation to the non robber/ghost and to a door that up to a few seconds prior, had never done that before.

I decided that stepping outside was a good idea. I spent about 10 minutes playing with my dog and just looking around. The inside of the living room could be seen through the screen door but I decided that I would take one good look around. Laughing to myself, it dawned on me that there couldn’t be anyone in that house because my dog would have barked. She barked at everything from cars to a leaf that might have moved past her in an odd way. Needless to say, she was alert to the point of being irritating.

After walking around the outside of the place and coming to my senses, I made my way back in. I went directly to the kitchen, grabbed a Coke and a small bag of chips and sat myself down back in front of the idiot box. Then came the moment where I could no longer explain anything. Above me, from my parents room, I heard distinct footsteps, loud footsteps moving from one end of the room to the other. Back and forth they went. I stared at the ceiling, hoping it would stop but it didn’t. Instead they moved closer to the stairs. I moved to the doorway of the kitchen and listened as they proceeded to stomp down the steps. I was frozen, waiting and watching and then… nothing. Screaming as the attic door flew open was my next plan of attack. Not a great way of defending oneself, mind you, but that was the best I could come up with at the moment.

I began to ponder whether or not I should call my mom at her place of work. However, I couldn’t imagine what would take place if I told her to please drive 20 miles back to the house because her son had basically lost his mind. Also, if she had, she would have told my dad and that for me, was a non starter. He was not one who liked to be bothered with… well… just about anything. So, my options were shrinking as my level of fear was rising.

Moving quickly back to the living room but with my eyes still focused on the attic door, I did not know what to do. Making my way back to the couch but this time, paying no mind to whatever was playing on the t.v., I asked out loud ‘who are you’? When I received no response, I realized that I was basically whispering.. I tried again, this time with more force in my voice, ‘WHO ARE YOU;!?! When I got nothing back, the thought that my 11 year old mind had come up with was simple. I was crazy and there was no stopping it now.

Staring at the screen door directly in front of me, I began to wonder if this was real. Perhaps I am not going crazy, perhaps there is something here and if that is the case, I don’t want to be around. I grabbed the phone and called my best friend. He had gotten home, having completed his day at school. It was a Friday and I told him that I was feeling better and I should stay the night at his house …hell, the entire weekend sounded pretty good. He asked his mom and she said yes. He then told me that he and his dad would pick me up in about an hour. Unfortunately, that hour would be too long of a wait.

I went to my room, packed some things, grabbed some Nintendo games and wrote my mom a note telling her that I was at my friend Jimmy’s house for the weekend. The explanation sounded pretty mature for the time. I even told her to have a good weekend and to contact me if she needed anything. There was no doubt in my mind that I was not waiting around for another two hours before she got off work, not to mention to 30 minutes it took for her to drive home. NO THANKS.

Rocking myself back and forth looking for my friends fathers car to pull up our overly long driveway, I was growing more and more anxious, but I knew my trauma, real or imagined was coming to an end. Sitting there, even with the t.v. on, I noticed that everything had become eerily quiet. Box fans were on full blast and the commercial on the t.v. was very loud but nothing seemed right. The air felt still, everything outside of the main noises of the electrical equipment was oddly was almost bizarre. I turned both fans off and then the television. Suddenly, I was overcome with all the hairs on my body rising as if a low electrical current was going through me then it happened. I heard the one thing, the one thing that I absolutely, positively did not want to hear.. My name.

Jonathan… it was a slow whisper but loud enough to clearly make out whatever ‘it’ was saying. My breathing became so heavy and my heart was beating so fast that it was almost impossible for me to hear anything other than those two things..and yet, there it was again…Jonathaaann…, louder than before.. I was in shock, I grabbed my belongings that I was planning on taking with me and I ran. I ran all the way down the drive way, leaving the doors wide open. I stayed there for 35 minutes before my friend showed up with his dad.. When they got there, I requested that they go down the drive way so I might ‘check the doors’ to make sure I locked them. His father did so without one complaint.

After the weekend passed and I returned home after school on the following Monday, instead of having a peaceful existence, whatever the thing was, it systematically began to haunt every member of my immediate family. My mother kept having things moved around or go missing, my sister would hear whispers in her pillow and began to spend more and more time with her friends, basically moving in with one of her friends, and my father, well he would often see someone out of the corner of his eye. He would say he saw someone in the property, and one night, in the basement while he was working on something… That incident was the start of our move away from that house and Kentucky. Although he would never specifically say what happened, when it did, he began to plan our move. As for me, it called to me, I had horrible and disturbing nightmares, always taking place in the basement, and shadows would appear on the wall from time to time.

Many years have past since we lived there. The house has been remodeled from what I understand, and many people have came and went. No matter where I have lived, I will never forget what happened there and that incident is why I became a Paranormal Researcher…

Even after all of this time, when it’s a hot summer day, and I am alone.. I often put earbuds in and listen to music if for no other reason to make sure I never hear my name being called from the shadows again.

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Mr. Padewski’s Story

November 8, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Mr. Padewski’s Story

Three years ago one of my colleagues, whom I consider a friend, uncharacteristically stopped coming to work.

Mr. Padewski was in his forties and was well-respected. Health-wise, he was a runner, and in impeccable shape. He had been working toward obtaining his Master’s Degree so I figured he most likely succeeded in taking a position elsewhere. I just thought it was odd that he didn’t tell any of his lunch buddies goodbye or anything. Some of us had known him for ten years.

His empty chair at the lunch table often evoked questions of his disappearance. “Hey, did Padewski win the lottery or something? Lucky prick doesn’t have to work anymore? Does anyone know if Padewski took another job or something? Did he die? What the hell happened to that dude?”

Nobody seemed to know anything. They knew what I knew. He never came back to work. I googled his name and found nothing. No social media presence, no criminal record, no newspaper articles, no obituary…nothing.

I literally ran into Mr. Padewski yesterday as I was entering and he was exiting a gas station. As we shook hands, he appeared pleased to see me, but his eyes were dull and teary. Quite frankly, his physical transformation all together was beyond shocking. He was thin three years ago, but has since lost a considerable amount of weight, which, aided in accentuating the wrinkled skin that sagged like melted wax from his face and bones. His once groomed and lively brown hair had turned light gray, long, and wet.

“Hey man, what happened to you?” I inquired with a warm cheerful smile.

Now, Mr. Padewski was a great listener, a sensible man who often gave profound advice on matters, but he was never known to be an elaborate story teller. However, what he confessed to me outside of this gas station yesterday had every hair on my body flaring. I haven’t been able to think about anything else, and usually nothing really affects me.

He said, “Brandon, this is going sound strange, but it’s the horrible truth.”

I just smiled and shrugged not really knowing what else to do.

There was indescribable anguish in his tone, and so much pain poured from his face while conveying the following:

On the morning of December 4, 2012 I was taking a shower before work, just like I do every morning. Well, I heard someone pounding on the bathroom door. Brandon, I mean REALLY pounding. I could tell it was my oldest son as he began shouting, “Dad! Dad! Let me in!”

I yelled back to him, “Come in! The door shouldn’t be locked.”

I finished as fast as I could. While rinsing the last of the shampoo from my hair, my son’s voice echoed repeatedly throughout the bathroom, or maybe just my head. I kept hearing, “Dad! Dad! Let me in! – Dad! Dad! Let me in!”

I dried off and got partially dressed. I went straight for his bedroom. And there he was, my sixteen-year-old son, nestled gently underneath his cocoon of covers with his eyes closed.

I laughed a little as I said, “You know the door wasn’t locked, you could’ve just come right in.”

He didn’t stir.

I cleared my throat and made my voice more authoritative, “Wake up, Son. It’s time to get ready for school.”

He didn’t budge. He remained completely still. I got closer and shook his shoulder. He wasn’t breathing at all, and his body was like ice. I sat and stared at my son for several minutes before calling for my wife. He died unexpectedly and honestly Brandon I’ve had a really difficult time dealing with it ever since.

Mr. Padewski paused. He used the bottom of his shirt to sop up the streams on his cheeks.

I know my own son’s voice, and I heard it loud and clear. I heard it not even two minutes before entering his bedroom, yet the coroner said that my son had been deceased for several hours.

Author’s note: The family’s actual last name was changed to protect and respect them.

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November 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Despite Clare’s advancing years, he walked with smooth confidence up the narrow, infinite steps, which should have given trouble to one as ancient as he. He was notable, if for no other reason than his youthful figure: the locals had told me that he must be at least seventy or eighty at this point, but to see his powerful body, to hear his loud commanding voice, one would never guess his age. Indeed, his mansion matched his own vibrancy: the ancient thing would look brand new if it weren’t for the painfully outdated furnishings. As he gestured and flowed widely through the rooms of the house, it was clear he took a great pride in it, and had some deep love or connection to the place unfamiliar to a travelling investigator like myself.

Clare looked back at me, finishing his description of another dull oddity. His blue eyes were piercing, and I was jolted out of my internal monologue.

“Does it really interest you, Mr. Stanley? I must admit I don’t get many visitors. The place is quite out of the way, you know.” He spoke with an almost clichéd regal British accent, but his words boomed out with a deep bass, effortlessly projecting across the room. I nodded with feigned enthusiasm.

“Certainly, Mr. Clare, the house has a quality that is rarely seen these days. Your decorations” I said, gesturing to one particularly bland pastoral, “are most interesting.”

“Ah yes. Well, I wouldn’t say that particular piece is of my own taste. My wife did many of these.”

I resisted the urge to nervously grab at my tie, and broke eye contact with Clare. “Oh, I, uh—“

“She’s no longer with us.”

His words had a tone which was bizarre, and what I assumed to be remorse. Looking back up, I said “I’m sorry, Mr. Clare.”

He waved it off, dismissive. “Come. We’re about done the tour.”

After what seemed like another hour of walking through dreary, maze-like passageways, we finally arrived at the so-called den. Clare sat in a massive, gaudy chair—presumably his usual one. He gestured for me to sit across from him, and poured me some tea, left by an unseen servant. Looking up at him, I had to stifle a laugh.

The man sat, with almost mirrored similarity, in front of a life-sized portrait of himself. Apart from a few clothing differences, he looked exactly the same as the portrait—same age, and same sitting position, which is what made the image so comical. With how closely he resembled the portrait, it must have been painted very recently. I guessed the man had some modicum of self-love for him to have such a thing done when none would see it—no visitors, or even family.

Clare didn’t notice my temporary seizure of laughter, seemingly lost in unending descriptions of his manor. In a moment he broke, and we finally came to business.

“And you, sir, would like to stay in the place?” He looked suspicious, one eyebrow firmly up.

“Rent a room for a few days, sir. If you wouldn’t mind. I have such an interest in the…pieces you’ve collected…a-art pieces I mean…and I don’t feel the tour you’ve given me is enough—thorough though it was—to give me an…ehm…appreciation, you see.”

I felt my throat tightening, and my brow beginning to drip: Clare was so obviously not convinced. He didn’t mince words. “Are you sure that’s it, Stanley? Are you sure there isn’t something more?”

“Well I, uhm, don’t see what you, uh, could mean, s-sir…”

“I know Stanley. I can see. And I don’t blame you boy. Truly I don’t.”

“R-Really, sir?”

“Of course not!” He said in a sudden yell, leaping up from his chair to gesticulate wildly. “This house has me too! It has me! I’m enchanted. Of course you can’t appreciate such rich atmosphere with such a brief tour. You have to exist here. Yes, of course!”

I didn’t know whether I should say something, or merely run away in the instant, and avoid the house for the rest of my life. The man had such a gleam in his eyes, and his sudden passion scared me deeply—you may laugh to read it, but at the time it was a real, affecting fear. But, instead of running, I remained motionless, and stared up at the raving man.

“I wouldn’t keep such an experience from anyone, dear boy! No, no! Stay here? Why of course, of course, I’ll give you a room for free!”

I just stared dumbly up at the old man for a moment. Then, not wanting to excite him any further, I quietly said “Thank you, si—”

“Don’t mention it! Just one thing.” I nodded, and clenched nervously. “Do not explore my basement. It is, uh…under construction at the moment.” The sudden fire in his eyes told me of his earnestness. I wordlessly agreed.

And so I gained unguarded access to the Clare mansion.

The basement door had a locking mechanism that would have been hard to penetrate some fifty or a hundred years ago. As it stood, my toolkit and lock-picking skills were enough to easily dislodge the door, and it swung back with a quiet smoothness.

Locating the basement had proved difficult enough thanks to the confusing, arbitrary layout of the mansion. Pile on that Clare’s insistence on accompanying me throughout the day, and talking endlessly about God only know what, and I had little opportunity to explore on my own. I was however sure that the basement was the lead I should seek, thanks to Clare’s overemphasis on it. So, after dark, when the master had gone to bed, I snuck out and spent a few hours wandering the halls, aided only by my small flashlight.

The stairs down were thin and ancient, clashing with the well-maintained central body of the house. They were also partially concealed in a blind spot between a door and a cupboard, making them almost impossible to find in the dark. The smooth cement walls produced a chill unfamiliar with the otherwise antiquated warmth of the place, and the door was thick and plain.

Inside it was dark, and I had to calm my thrashing heart with deep breathing. That adrenaline, that excitement, was all the inducement I needed to do the things I did. In frantic anticipation, I crept into the enveloping darkness.

My tiny light did little to illuminate the room. After taking a quick survey, I discovered a small sconce with a partially used torch still in it. I shined my light around the room, not wanting to reveal my presence by tampering with anything. As I directed the light upward, it seemed to reach farther and farther, like the room had no top. When it had reached the ceiling it glanced across something which to my utter horror, looked like a face. An angry, vicious, massive face.

I gasped and scrambled to the torch, hoping to illuminate the fiend. I deftly lit a match, and the torch surged with light. To my surprise, a series of further torches burst to light in sequence after the first. I made the vague assumption that this was done by some unseen mechanism, which I wasn’t particularly concerned with at the moment. I stared up at the place where the face had been, and had to laugh—not only at discovering my fears to be unnecessary, but also at the pure surreality of the scene before me.

The face I had seen belonged to a statue, and was not nearly so malevolent when fully illuminated. It was plain, with a vaguely masculine facial structure, which was the only clue to the statue’s gender thanks to its otherwise sexless form. It was monolithic, stretching to the top of the unbelievably tall ceiling of the chamber. The room itself was a large, mostly circular hall, which aside from the statue was empty. The walls were all rough stone, as though the door had simply led to a conveniently located cavern—in fact, it was like a different place entirely, and I wondered if I had somehow missed a step in the transition. The ceiling was so high above that it seemed impossible that a house lay just overtop, and the stairs I had descended didn’t seem like they should account for the height.

The statue was inexplicable, even for a noted art collector like Clare. It was placed at the far end of the room, facing the entrance like a guard. It smacked of those stereotypical Egyptian sculptures, the types one might find in the deep tomb of some Pharaoh. If it had ever held some sort of staff, it didn’t now—the left hand was missing, presumably fallen off at some point long ago. Behind where the arm should have been was a door, which looked to be made of sandstone.

Wanting to get a move on, I slinked past the statue, never taking my eyes off of it. As I went under it, I looked up at the unmoving giant, whispering “Huh, some guard.” Then I opened the sandstone door, which slid up surprisingly easily, and entered the next room.

The light from the previous chamber only illuminated a small circle, which I crept into cautiously. As soon as I passed the doorway, the sandstone slab slammed down behind me, and the room lit automatically. It was squatter but longer than the first chamber, like a grand hall. The room had walls of the same sandstone as the door, smooth and constant. Like the previous chamber it was almost entirely empty aside from a small, plain, out-of-place looking oak table and chair. On the chair sat Clare.

The moment I saw him, his eyes lit up with uncontrollable mirth. “Mister Stanley. You are simply so easy.”

I was caught with an uncomprehending confusion, mixed with a vague dread and guilt at being caught. His jovial reaction didn’t much calm me, and when he called me over, I bolted towards the closed door behind me. Unfortunately, it seemed like it couldn’t be opened from this side. As I scrabbled and dragged my hands across the smooth surface, Clare continued to laugh.

“Your efforts are really quite useless. Come, dear boy, come. Don’t be afraid. I expected such a thing, you see. Why would you think I’d mention my basement so artlessly? Did you really think I was so stupid, that I really wanted you to stay out of here? Come here, boy, I’ll explain it all to you.”

I finally moved forward, slowly and wordlessly. Clare sat casually in his night-robe, with his hair still askew from bed. I realized that his previous raving behaviour must have been an act of some sort, that he had been manipulating me the whole day.

“I know your type, Stanley. Yes, yes, sit down there. Your type, you see: curious. I get them sometimes, people that think the place is haunted.” He laughed at the notion. Laughed too hard. “Well, I know my tastes can be a bit unusual, but please.”

“There certainly are rumours, Mr. Clare.”

“Well, yes, fine. So I show those people. That it isn’t haunted, or anything of the sort, see? Look for yourself! Does it look haunted?”

I shook my head, obviously lying. “But, Mr. Clare. What about those other rumours? Rumours a…about your family?”

“Of course it doesn’t,” he said, ignoring me, “This is part of the experience, this vault of mine. To get to experience this mansion, and let it affect you, you must be here. Here is the place!” He laughed again, jumping up. “Here, here! You’ll love it here. Lots of room! See the walls here. Imported, you know. The be—”

Not an act, after all. Luckily, I was always prepared with my trusted adventurer’s backpack. I reached back, thinking I’d got the machete, but I was mistaken. Towards Clare’s turned head came my hammer, making a satisfying crunch on impact. I realized I must have mixed up the two items accidentally. I made a mental note to reorganize the pack later.

Clare quickly fell to the ground, face-first in a growing pool of blood. I looked at the hammer in dismay, seeing that it dented slightly on Clare’s thick skull. It wasn’t meant for violence, but it did the trick in any case. I wasn’t sure if Clare was alive or not, and I wasn’t particularly keen to check. Ignoring the body, I doubled back to the closed door he had trapped me with. Indeed, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t jar the thing with hands alone. I drew out a thin crowbar, intended for just such a purpose, and pried at the door’s bottom crack. After a considerable effort, I was able to lift the door fully open. Then I wedged it with a nearby rock, in case it decided to lock itself again.

I was determined, you see. I certainly wasn’t ready to give up on my “exploration,” and without hesitation I moved down the long hall towards the next sandstone slab. This, identical to the first, was just as easy to open, and I used the same method of jamming to ensure my escape route.

Thus ensued a long series of rooms and hallways, similar in style to the first but all varying in shape and composition. Each had the same lighting system which made it easy to navigate through them, and at the end of each was the same sandstone slab. The immensity of the whole construction clashed with its apparent uselessness, as no room had much of anything noteworthy within it—though some did have bizarre items on the walls, like thick shafts zigzagging everywhere, and occasional holes that looked like massive spouts. As I moved through hall after arbitrary hall, I felt my excitement grow more and more, dreading and anticipating whatever could possibly be at the end.

I travelled for what felt like a half hour, after which I came on a chamber larger than all the others, and starkly different. The entire room seemed devoted to a large construction facing the entrance. It was placed on, or perhaps composed the opposite wall, and was not made of sandstone. The backing seemed to be some sort of fabric, which was a ruddy red or plum in colour depending on how the fire-light decided to cast it. On it were thick black tendrils, what I would describe as over-sized threads though they looked more like vines of pitch. The threads all lead to a centre clump, and though they were arranged in a symmetrical, and what I might even describe as a fascinating or alluring presentation, they didn’t seem to form any picture or outline. The closest impression I got was that of some large, black flower, though this was a vague notion at best. The mass of tendrils sat above something that appeared to be an altar, with twinned free-standing torches placed by its sides. These torches, like the rest in this underground vault, burst to life in succession after I lit the first in the room.

I approached the central altar, which was placed on top of a raised platform. Climbing the few steps, I saw yet another door placed off to the side, and relished in the anticipation of even more exploration. On top of the steps I gave a brief glance at the altar itself, which was smooth and plain. Then I moved towards to mass of threads, and felt a stab of horror when I saw the thing more clearly.

The first and most disturbing image was that the tendrils moved. It was subtle, almost unnoticeable, but it was clear as I came closer. The mass shifted slightly at irregular intervals and in arbitrary directions, giving it the resemblance of some blind, stupid lifeform.

However, I was an adventurer extraordinaire, and I certainly wasn’t going to let a little fear halt my investigation. The mass seemed harmless enough, so I moved up to it, close enough to touch it.

I realized that the tendrils which seemed thick as vines actually were made of tiny threads. These threads clumped together in a way that made them seem like one mass, when they were really quite small. I reached out to touch a section of thread, but the very moment my fingers touched he substance, the whole mass made a brief shudder, and I heard a small gasp.

I froze, paralyzed with fear and confusion. Then, like an avalanche the epiphany came to me. Unthinking, I hurriedly started separating out great swathes of thread, unburying the surface I now felt underneath.

What I found was, of course, a human face, though much too pale. The bright eyes looked up at me, signalling an obvious intense, quiet fear. It was a child, though I couldn’t guess at an exact age: at any moment the face looked ten or fifteen. I could only see a brief section of clothing by the child’s neckline before it became covered in hair. There seemed to be a sort of white robe or gown, and indeed when I looked down to the child’s feet, I could see a trail of white fabric.

I assumed by the way the soft voice had sounded that the child was a boy, and looking at his face, one could see it as masculine, if one were to stretch every definition and understanding of “male.” The poor boy had, somehow, been restrained here and his hair—though more hair than a human should be able to produce in a lifetime—had been threaded into the wall behind him. Despite the monstrosity of the act, I must admit that the job was done with a careful, artful—what I might even call gentle—hand, threading the hair in a thoughtful, thorough manner. It was clear how disturbing it was to the boy though. You could see the fear in his eyes.

I reached down to pat his head, and though he recoiled I persisted, saying in the softest, gentlest tone I could, “Here now, don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you. I’m going to help you,” followed by the biggest smile I could muster. The boy still looked afraid, but calmed somewhat. “So,” I said, trying to fathom how I could possibly free the lad, “what’s your name?”

He just stared up at me, either unable to talk or unfamiliar with my language. Either way, it wasn’t much use talking. I knew the only way I could free him.

I softly said “Don’t worry, I can get you out of here.” Then I grabbed the hair behind him, prodigious though it was, into a condensed handful close to his back. He gasped in surprise, but I calmed him down with pleasant sounds and words. Then I reached back, and located my machete (successfully this time). With a big wind-up, I sliced through the hair.

I didn’t think to warn the boy for some reason. I had expected the hair to take a number of chops to get through anyway, but to my surprise it all cut apart in a single stroke, and I almost fell over from all the excess forward momentum. The stuff didn’t feel like how I’d expected. It cut more like butter, or…I don’t know, something similar. As I looked down, I felt my heart drop. There was blood spilling everywhere.

The boy screamed out, a sharp, piercing, all-encompassing sound. I looked around, feeling my whole body shake violently as I stared at the river of blood pooling on the floor. The boy had slumped over, and lay in a heap. I realized that I must have cut him accidentally, very badly. In a panic, I rushed over to apply what little first aid I knew. But, on moving the still-considerable length of hair off his back, I could not locate a single wound, though his back was covered with blood.

It was then that I realized: it was his hair. His hair was bleeding.

Indeed, looking at the wall, I saw thick fountains of blood falling from the leftover mass of hair. The stuff twitched—twitched like severed body parts, and curled up like dried tentacles. Staring, uncomprehending, I looked down at the boy. He muttered and gasped, and cried horribly. I did what I could, tearing a piece of thick fabric off my clothing and using it to tie the ends of the hair up, which stopped the blood-flow somewhat.

There was another violent shake, and I realized it wasn’t just me but the whole room that vibrated. This, as I now properly sensed, was accompanied by the most horrific, brain-stabbing, blood-curdling scream I have ever heard. It was like the mix of a growl and a shriek, piercing and guttural rasping combined to an impossibly loud degree.

I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I picked the boy up, and held him in both my arms, so his head rested on my forearm and his legs dangled over the other side. He was light, surprisingly so—in fact, he was almost weightless. I had some base, instinctual urge to protect him—I couldn’t describe it, but I knew, just knew that I had to get him out of that place.

Before I could start moving, a sound from below stopped me. What I feared was the rasping of the unknown thing was just the door behind, opening by itself. I almost didn’t want to see what was through it, and I didn’t have to look: when it had opened a crack, dark liquid, thick like tar, flowed into the room, covering the floor with a sticky black covering. The smell was foul like rot, and I hesitated moving any farther as I descended the stairs. But the boy still shivered and cried in my arms, so I lost all my fear, and plunged in.

It was even thicker than I had expected, and clung to the bottom of my feet aggressively. I could still hear that horrid roaring at frequent intervals, each time seemingly closer, and the liquid made it difficult to move. I started into a run, which only amounted to a stumbling walk, and finally made it past the first door.

The tar was much thinner here, and I crushed the rock that had been holding the doorway open, thereby slamming it down. The mechanism to open the door seemed to be thereby broken somehow, and the ooze couldn’t pass through. Relieved, I rushed through this next room, after which (if I remembered correctly) there was another eight. As I ran, I heard a splashing sound behind me, and in outraged confusion I looked back to see the tar cascading out of the spouts in the wall. Out of hundreds of spouts.

It couldn’t reach me before I slammed the door on it, but I knew that it could enter any of the rooms through those spouts. I only ran faster, trying to outpace the liquid death, but after every room I passed, it gained on me bit by bit. By the time I had reached the room just before the hall where I’d met Clare, I only barely managed to close the door before the ooze overtook me. It was already falling when I turned to run.

This room was a thin hallway, long as the others but with a low, cramped ceiling. It was filling faster than the previous rooms, and before I was halfway through, the tar came up to my waist. It was almost impossible to move, and I had to hold the boy up high over my head, though he still got splattered by the falling streams. The walls, once bright yellow, were now covered in the black muck, and matched its colour. The torches were long put out, and the only light was the faint torchlight from the next room, which seemed to stretch farther and farther away.

The liquid was up to my neck, and I clambered wildly for the door. I didn’t want to attempt to swim through the dense sludge, and I could feel my body being pulled down where I had thought there was floor. I could feel my limbs burning and dying. I just about gave up.

With a sudden surge, the sludge burst out into the next room, carrying me with it. The larger volume of the hall gave plenty of space for the liquid to wash out, and I managed to regain my balance. I still held the boy in my arms, in an iron grip. He occasionally gasped and moaned, but seemed otherwise insensible. I rushed to the exit of the basement, sure I could make it out before the sludge got me.

I felt the vague sense of something missing as I entered the last chamber, or rather, the entrance chamber. I thought nothing of it and rushed into the room, headlong for the exit. That’s when I heard the growl, the scream again. It was so loud I was sure my eardrums would burst, and I kneeled to the ground, unable to cover my ears due to their current luggage. Then I looked up, tears streaming down my face.

The statue, that damned statue, was looking back down. As I stared its mouth opened, gapingly wide, and the scream it made was the grinding of stone-on-stone amplified from deep inside it. I stared up, and met its eyes, which were wide, deep, and black like the tar. In a slow, grinding movement, it brought up its feet to trample us.

I hurled my body in whatever direction I could, careful to land on my back and not crush the boy. The foot came down with a crash, causing a large splash of muck. I scrambled, and pushed myself up using my elbows. The colossus was readying for another attack, raising its massive leg out of the tar with a schlick, and I ran back as quickly as I could. Unfortunately I had jumped towards a side wall away from the exit, and the sludge was again building. As the powerful leg came down I became trapped between it and the stone wall, with only a few feet of space. I trembled violently in desperation and exhaustion, and held the boy close up to my chest.

The colossus shuddered, and I prepared for the extreme killing pressure. I waited, and held the boy tight, and it never came. I shook in extreme fear, and looked up. The giant was posed in its killing posture, and its eyes stared directly at mine. But it didn’t move.

I looked around, uncomprehending. The sludge was still rising, and I knew I had to move, but some deep instinct made me stay still. Then I finally noticed it: the boy’s leg lay against the stone of the statue.

I couldn’t understand it, but I took advantage all the same. I crept under the stone trunks of the monster, holding the boy out against its leg at all times. The boy’s body lolled and flopped with unconscious weight, and I made sure to hold him firmly to the stone against all my desires to flee. Once I had crossed under the giant’s legs and reached the child’s body out as far as I could, I grasped him back to my chest and ran.

As soon as the boy lost contact with the monster, the beast started grinding again, following through with his previous attack. I hurtled towards the door, focusing my sight directly on that exit. As I made it past the threshold the boy shuddered, and I felt a massive impact through the door behind me, blocking the opening with a tumble of rocks. I didn’t look back again and quickly made my way through the house, somehow finding the exit without paying much attention, and being jolted to my senses as I burst forth into fresh air.

I brought the boy some distance and laid him on the soft grass. The house burst into a geyser of filth, and sheets of sludge fell all down its sides, covering it in fountaining muck. But I didn’t pay this more than a glance, and instead looked down at the boy.

His eyes were bright and dazed. He was looking all around at the outside, which I figured he had probably never seen before. The sky was overcast, a soft bluish gray, and a cool wind blew gently. He took in all that was around him, seeming to forget the drying muck and blood on him, the torturous injury.

I grasped him by the shoulders, and he looked directly into my eyes, and his gaze was like piercing, like it went into my body and soul, and he just stared at me like that, and in the most unforgettable look he gave a soft smile.

Then, he shuddered again, and fell to dust in my arms.

Credit: Ree

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The Doctor Killer

November 7, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Everyone knows that flying is one of the statistically safest activities one can do. That does not mean the inhabitants of the skies remain accident-free, however. Each aircraft has a reputation which gives one clues as to its safety and dependability. Some artificial birds cannot avoid unfavorable rapport in their relationships with their potential passengers, and even their pilots. An inauspicious wind blew through the V-Tail Bonanza in the olden days. Despite this aircraft’s best efforts to shutter its own occupants down into the concoction of clay, silt, or sand which would end their lives, this low wing Beech monoplane was a mere portend to the modern day kamikaze of craft which climb the common air. Recently a new plane, one with small control surfaces (and consequently high landing speeds) has ended more lives in less time than the old shaky master ever could. Thus the Cirrus bedimmed the old Bonanza’s reputation as a plane to be feared for its formidably defiant spirit. The old name stuck though. A title earned by luring those inexperienced pilots in by flaunting its spacious leather interior in front of their fortunes. Such coaxed naivety; tempted ineptitude reared by sleek lines and a smiling salesman with a set of keys. The doctor killer.


There was no surprise. None whatsoever. The crash happened quickly in the beautiful high-altitude landscapes of the mountains just behind the doctor’s home airport. Investigators were called by those who heard the distressed broadcast and arrived at the alpine field within a couple days. What they saw was well documented on their cameras and in their journals, all while continuously being crosschecked against their expert opinion. A very hard emergency landing due to the low-lift altitude had smacked the plain against the ground and torn it to pieces. The damage to the field and the wreckage trail all matched up with an inexperienced hurried decent. Although they never liked to see someone die, the team of investigative agents from the FAA and NTSB were so unastonished that they barely batted an eye. They did however think the particular model of plane that crashed was pretty sleek. It had every latest gizmo: the full airplane parachute, full glass panel, and even its own black box. This little vocal store was interesting, and although it was not on the list for checks in a general aviation incident, the team decided to give the box a listen, if for no other reason than to evaluate the quality of the condensed technology against that of black boxes in bigger jets.

They all gathered around and pressed ‘play’ on the analyzing software the bent recording device was hooked up to. Marvelous and clear, the voices of the dead around them were personified through the speaker. They heard the same radio call the tower had picked up a couple days earlier. The pilot knew he was going down, and struggled to remember the setup procedures for a quick touchdown. Then they heard the pilot confirm successful gear deployment. Next they heard him say under his breath to flare, at seemingly the correct time in the sequence. Now they froze and listened closely, waiting for the ripping and tearing of the plane. In only moments the physician verbally confirmed the aircraft had come to a complete stop. A perfect landing.

This time around, the doctor killer was innocent. Someone had done a perfect job of disintegrating the plane after it landed, making it look like, even to experts, that it had caught dirt at high speeds. The investigators really, really hoped, at least for the rest of their lives, that it was indeed…someone.

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Crippling Debt

November 7, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The first phone call came as we sat down to dinner.

I had been expecting calls from potential employers or recruitment offices, so I was excited when I heard the ring tone. I was nine months into the job search and our savings were running dry. Though it was six in the evening where we lived, it was only three on the west coast and I had sent my resume everywhere. My stomach gave a small lurch as I looked at my phone and read the word UNKNOWN across the screen. The only phone calls I had gotten from unknown numbers over the past months had been bill collectors or people trying to sell me solutions to debt or upgrades to my internet service.

“Should I take this? It’s an unknown number, but maybe it’s important,” I asked my wife, Caroline.

“Two minutes, Tom. I’m serious,” she said.

I touched the accept button.

“Hello?” I said.

For a moment, the line was almost quiet. There was some distant sound, like a record player or a crackling fire, but I blamed poor reception.

I looked at my phone to make sure it was connected, which it was, and almost tapped the End Call button at my wife’s insistence, until a voice came through the speaker, high in pitch and business like.

“Hello, Mr. Hanshaw,” said the voice.

“This is he. Not much time to talk. Who is this?” I said into the receiver, admittedly coming off as impatient.

“Oh, this isn’t that kind of phone call, my good sir. There was no question mark at the end of that sentence,” the voice replied.

“Well, there was one at the end of mine. Dinner is getting cold, the wife’s stare is colder, you understand. I’ll ask again. Who is this?” I tried to sound firm, but I was tired and I sounded it.

“It may be best to have your wife eat without you. We have a few things to discuss. Cold supper should be the least of your worries,” said the voice.

“If I owe you money, I’m doing my best. If this is a prank, you need to do better than that. Have a great night,” I said.

I touched the End Call button on my phone sat down to eat so my wife would stop rattling her finger nails on the table.

“Obviously that wasn’t a job offer,” she asked.

“Unless the job is sniffing out bullshit, no. I’m afraid not,” I replied, deadpan. I couldn’t even be disappointed anymore. It had become the status quo.

“Tom, we are going to be alright, aren’t we?” Caroline said.

“Of course we are. This is just poor timing. I just got my master’s degree. I’m stuck between overqualified and under experienced and I just need to meet with the right people,” I repeated for what had to be the hundredth time that month alone. Her eyes rolled the same way they had every time I said it.

“I hope you find them before the bank sends a moving van and locks us out of our own house,” she said.

She spooned peas into her mouth, her face contorting to one of hatred (though hatred of me or another leftover meal, I didn’t know). It amazed me how quickly love didn’t matter when everything else went to hell. Happily ever after wasn’t a real thing, but in my case, tolerable for a while was pushing it. The problem wasn’t that we hated each other. It was that we didn’t want to, and neither of us knew how to prevent it from constantly poisoning every fucking discussion we had.

The phone rang again. I had set it next to me on the table. My wife gave me a look that said she would be happy to throw the fork across the table and eat with her hands if I delivered any more bad news. The screen said UNKNOWN again, so I didn’t answer.

The ensuing silence lasted long enough for each of us to take a bite of the leftover chicken ziti her sister had given us the night before. It had become a habit to accept any offer of a free meal, served with a side of sarcasm and dirty glances from her sister for not taking care of her sister.

Before my wife could swallow her first bite, my phone rang again. The volume grew with each ring until the sound was deafening in the small dining room. Caroline’s hands flew to her ears as she screamed something I barely heard. I tried tapping the decline button enough times to make my finger numb, but it wouldn’t stop ringing. My wife ran across the room. I was able to make out her words as she passed.

“I’m not even hungry anymore. The last thing you need is a broken fucking phone when we can’t even make a car payment, Tom, so fix it or shove it up your ass so I can’t hear it!,” my wife screamed, approaching the stairs.

I stuffed the in my pocket to dull the noise. I had kept my voice mail empty, paranoid I would miss a message about a job lead or offer, so I knew that it should have clicked over at some point. The ringtone kept getting louder.

Grumbling to myself, I separated the back plate from the face of the phone and removed the battery. At last, the ringing stopped, though there was a ringing in my ear that wouldn’t go away. I put everything in my pocket to leave the table technology free, the way Caroline had insisted it should always be before the credit collectors had started ruining every second of our lives with phone calls and endless e-mails. Just in case she came back into the room. No need for another fight over something stupid.

I kept eating the now-cold dinner, lulled into a mechanical dance of scooping cold ziti into my mouth as I reveled in the silence, until the phone ring again, not bothering to slowly build to full volume this time. The sound was deafening in the small dining room. I inhaled and nearly choked, but was able to cough up the pasta. It took a moment to realize that the phone in my pocket, sans battery, wasn’t the one ringing. I crossed the room to my wife’s small purse, which was dancing across the kitchen counter with the power of the vibrations, and pulled out her phone.

The screen said UNKNOWN.

I clicked accept, ready to yell at whoever was on the other line, my last straw reached.

The voice didn’t wait for me.

“Hello, Mr. Hanshaw. It was very rude of you to hang up on me without hearing what I have to say. I abhor rude people, so I will say this just the once. If you hang up or otherwise find a way to interrupt this call again, I will take something from you,” said the voice.

“What do you want? I don’t have the time or the patience to deal with prank calls. Have some empathy. Please, save it until I have a job again before I end up sleeping on the couch,” I said

“Mr. Hanshaw, what on earth makes you think this is a prank?” the voice said, half laughing.

I started to take Caroline’s phone apart to remove the battery, same as I had done with mine. Like my wife, I no longer wanted food. Just five minutes of peace. I planned to call the phone company to figure out how to block unknown numbers the next morning.

“If you do that, I will have to take something from you, Mr. Hanshaw. I would highly advise against…” the voice cut off as I removed the battery and tossed it and the dead phone on the kitchen table. Frustrated and ready for the day to end, I tasted none of the food as I shoveled it into my mouth.

Whoever was trying to contact me was out of phone numbers. There were plenty of people who knew how to reaching us both it wasn’t hard to hide a phone number from caller ID, but whoever was doing this was in for some advice on their people skills and an evaluation of our friendship. Every person who mattered in our lives knew what we had been dealing with. I didn’t recognize the voice. The harassment was unnecessary. When our shit was in order, I would find out who was responsible, and one day, they would regret it. One day, I would…

The phone began vibrating on the table. I froze, colder than the remnants of the food stuck to my fork. There was no ringing, but the way the table shook made the phone seem…I don’t know…angry.

All the anger that had been building up drained away. When the phone started vibrating without a battery, I became scared. When the phone answered the call without my assistance and put itself on speaker, I could barely breathe.

“I warned you,” said the voice, much deeper than it had been the previous two times.

I wanted to speak. I truly did. The food in my mouth, half chewed, might as well have been cement. I couldn’t open my mouth at all. My eyes, however, were wide open.

“I don’t know why it is you people find it so hard to answer a simple instruction. You are all entirely too rude. And now, I have to take something from you, Mr. Hanshaw. I really don’t want to. I sincerely mean that. But you must take me seriously or this is all for naught. So, which bitch will it be? Zelda or Caroline?” the voice asked.

That broke the spell. I kicked the chair backward and stood, sweeping my head around and looking for an intruder, a face in the window, something…anything…to lead me to whoever was taking this sick joke one step too far.

“If you wait too long to make a decision, I will be happy to make it for you, Mr. Hanshaw,” the voice warned. “Just think about who you love the most. Everybody else in a person’s life is usually expendable. How about thirty seconds? Thirty. Twenty-Nine.”

“You think I’m a naive asshole?” I screamed, regaining both my anger and the use of my mouth. “Oh, big man, you know the name of my wife and dog. As soon as I found out who this is, you won’t have a job, either. Then we’ll see who is laughing!” I screamed.

“Twenty. Nineteen. Eighteen.” The voice continued to count down.

Scary stories weren’t like real life. Even at that moment, as I ran to the front door and threw it open with a shout, hoping to find some past co-worker or a close friend trying to take my mind off of the terrible situation I was in and the crippling debt that was destroying my family from within, I had no notions that this was something beyond an elaborate, albeit convincing and offensive, prank.

Until the voice reached zero and the lights went out.

Until, in the darkness, I heard a crash from upstairs and a light laugh from the phone on the kitchen table.

I ran towards where I knew the stairs to be, knocking the knick-knacks and paintings we had wasted so much of our depleted earnings on to the floor as I rushed my way through the blackness, all the while screaming for my wife and my dog. I heard Zelda bark and it calmed me down enough to stop screaming. I heard some other sound too, something muffled and frantic. Probably Caroline wanting the dog to shut up while she drank away her sorrows.

I tripped in my scramble to climb the stairs. Instant pain shot up my shin and stopped my ascent for a moment.

The lights returned shortly after that. They didn’t flicker or buzz as lights tend to do after a power outage. One second it was black, the next I was nearly blinded as I limped my way up the rest of the stairs.

Zelda met me at the divider gate we kept at the top of the stairs, jumping up and down and licking my hand as I reached down to pet her. As soon as I opened the latch and stepped through, she sped off towards the bedroom. I took a couple of breaths before I walked into the room, knowing how angry Caroline must have been to ignore my screaming during a blackout.

Those deep breaths are the only reason I didn’t pass out when I entered my bedroom.

Caroline lay face down on the floor. That isn’t entirely accurate. A pile of clothes at the foot of the bed must have tripped her during the black out, and her back was to the ceiling, her face wasn’t exactly on the floor. Half of the bottle had disappeared down her throat. Her mouth had been stretched so wide by the bottle that the corner of the lip I could see had torn. The blood seeping down the bottle and onto the carpet had mixed with wine and something that looked thick and snotty. Tears trickled from her bloodshot eyes. The top part of her body rested at an unnatural angle as her head balanced on the wine bottle, which rested perfectly upright on the floor save for the person choking on the upper half of it. Zelda lapped at the frothing mixture like a doggie cocktail. There was a disgusting bulge under the skin on the back of her neck.

As disturbing as all of that was, the single blink of Caroline’s visible eye was what caused me to drop to my knees and vomit. Zelda was quick to run over and begin her second barking course of the night as tears and snot streamed down my own face.

“Now, I’m sure this is something of a shock to you, Mr. Hanshaw, but I gave you a warning and told you my terms in plain English, the same as your creditors before me,” the voice said from my pocket.

The phone hadn’t bothered to ring this time.

I pulled my phone out, my voice catching on the sobs and whimpers in my throat. The screen no longer said UNKNOWN, but had instead opened up one of those video chat apps. My vision was blurred from the tears, but what silhouette I could make out made me think that was for the best.

Caroline made a coughing noise and her body jerked. I cringed.

“Don’t be such a baby. Those kind of spasms are completely normal. It’s not like you’d hear a death rattle, right? If you think that’s bad, wait for the bowels to let loose!” the voice chided.

I grabbed Zelda and ran from the room. The last memory of my wife was going to haunt me long enough. I didn’t want to be in the room while my dead wife shit herself.

I locked Zelda and myself in the bathroom. She whined some, but only because I hadn’t let her finish snacking. That thought would have made me throw up again had anything remained in my stomach.

“I’m going to give you exactly two minutes to compose yourself, Mr. Hanshaw. After that, we will resume the intended conversation. So that you know, this is an attempt to collect on a debt. I hope you realize that any further attempts to delay or avoid this conversation will result in…similar consequences. Get your shit together,” the voice said.

The next two minutes might as well have been an eternity, though looking back I wish I had just washed my face and waited for the call.

As soon as the screen went black, I reached into my pocket and grabbed the battery. I pushed it into the phone and held down the power button, waiting for it to turn on and cussing at it under my breath for wasting time. Zelda sniffed under the door and scratched to be left out, sick and tired of being cooped up.

I opened the door and let her out, not wanting to deal with the distraction. Beyond everything that happened, I regret that the most. It was the only time that night I feel I had any real control, and in my panic I reacted how I would have on any other normal day.

By the time the phone loaded, nearly a minute must have been wasted. I called 911, fulling expecting something crazy to prevent the call from going through, but they picked up after a ring.

“911, what is your emergency?” the operator asked.

“My wife is dead. Someone is attacking us,” I answered.

“Are you in any immediate danger?” the operator asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

She started to ask me to describe my assailant, but I cut her off, knowing time was short.

“He will be back in less than a minute. He killed my wife. I don’t know who he is or what he wants. He says he is a debt collector. Please send help. My address is 932…” I was cut off.

“Salvador Street, Mr. Hanshaw? Obviously, I know where you live. Technically you did nothing to prevent our conversation, so I suppose I can’t fault you for keeping your wits after such a traumatic experience. To be honest, I’m impressed you were able to think at all! Are you ready to talk?”

I was done. I had reached my limit. I had wasted whatever wits left on a failed 911 call and had nothing left to maintain my composure. I proved it by tossing the phone in the toilet and holding down the flushing handle. I thought it would just sit at the bottom of the bowl as the water flowed over it, but it was small enough to disappear from sight.

I cried then. I leaned against the wall, ignoring the painful jab of the towel rack and Zelda scratching to be let back in to comfort me, and cried in loud, heaving sobs.

I wasn’t a bad person. I hadn’t done anything illegal. I lost my job at an inopportune time and had shitty luck, but I was trying as hard as I could. I loved my wife despite her criticism and resentment. She had a hard time understanding that trying hard didn’t always equate to results. Her anger was understandable. I had insisted on going for my Master’s degree, sure that it would take us to that next level of financial stability, and every failed interview and missed opportunity I blamed on that degree was me hating myself a little more for how much of a failure I had become.

Through all the anger and resentment, Caroline had stuck by me and put up with my self-righteous bullshit. She was my best friend, and now she was dead. If the voice on the phone was to be believed, it was just as much my fault as the debt that had caused him to call in the first place. Zelda’s scratching and whimpering grew louder, so quieted my sobbing until she let a bark of boredom and moved on.

That’s when I decided to end my life. My reason for living was dead in our bedroom. Whether all of this was a bad prank mixed with worse coincidence or the act of some crazy individual out for blood, better to die by my own hand than by that of whoever that voice belonged to.

I opened the bathroom door to call for Zelda, planning on leaving her in the neighbor’s fenced in yard with my suicide note tied to her collar. She didn’t come. All it took was a downward glance to realize that she hadn’t been scratching at the door to try and comfort me.

Zelda, both halves of her, lay dead at the foot of the bathroom door. Blood had soaked so deeply into her white fur and the carper that it was hard to tell the two apart, save for the collar around the lump on my left. Much like my wife’s final blink, some part of Zelda let out a final wheeze that sounded like a weak bark.

Zelda was like our child, and though I had no illusions that we would outlive her, I cannot explain to you what seeing something so brutal done to something you love so much does to you. What happened to my wife could have been a fucked up accident. Somebody had torn Zelda in half.

I felt nothing as I walked to my bedroom, stepped over Caroline, and stepped into the closet. I unlocked the combination safe and grabbed the gun from top shelf, not bothering to close it afterwards. I stuffed the gun into the back of my pants and grabbed the blankets folded at the end of our bed. I used one to cover Caroline as best as I was able without looking, and the other to cover Zelda, hoping they would appreciate the gesture if they had been able.

I walked down the stairs, slow and deliberate, almost too carefully for a man on his way to swallow a bottle of cheap vodka and a bullet. At the foot of the stairs, the doorbell rang. I wasn’t surprised as I looked towards the door. I knew exactly what I would see through the cloudy, decorative glass of our front door.

The same silhouette that had been on my phone screen.

The voice spoke to me through the door. I pulled the gun out of my pants and walked towards it, hearing every word, defeated.

“Now that we can avoid further interruption, Mr. Hanshaw, let’s discuss business. It’s very simple. You owed money and services to some very impatient people. I am more dedicated than most when it comes to collecting on those debts, and so people of such influence tend to come to me when all else fails. Why, you ask? Because instead of waiting for a peasant like you to pay installments, I pay your debts in full. Call it pre-consolidation. Now the only person you owe is me,” the voice informed me.

“I don’t have the money. I don’t have anything left!” I cried, leaning my head against the door and placing the gun against my temple.

“I don’t need your money, Mr. Hanshaw. Money is paper. Paper can be recycled. I only require one thing to clear your debt. Something invaluable. Just one little thing, and we can both move on from this. Open the door and give it to me. Trust me when I say that the gun in your hand won’t save you. There are plenty of things left I can take from you. You just don’t have the imagination in you to know what they are,” the voice said through the door.

“Just take it! Take what you want and leave me alone! What the hell do I have left to give?” I screamed, slamming my head and fists against the door, letting every emotion hit me at once.

“Your soul,” replied the voice.

Then, a sharp pain struck me in the chest and I was on my back, with bright light blinding me and demons screaming and scratching at my arms, turning me on my stomach and whipping me, pulling on my, beating me.

Through it all, I was content, because the voice was gone.

It was over.

My debt had been repaid.


The image of Tom Hanshaw’s calm, smiling face froze on the screen.

The man who had paused the video read from a sheet of paper, his voice unnaturally deep and clear.

“When this was filmed, Mr. Hanshaw was free from any drug or alcoholic influence. It was filmed three days after Officer Stevens and Officer Norman entered the home, by force, in response to Mr. Hanshaw violently banging on the door from inside. Due to the nature of the emergency call, they thought Mr. Hanshaw was being attacked. Instead, they found him holding a gun and dazed from being knocked to the ground when they entered. Nobody can be sure rather or not the 911 call was meant to lure in further victims or bring someone in to clean up the mess he left behind. Thankfully, he was restrained and taken into custody without a single bullet being fired. He had rested and eaten before filming his confession, assuring anybody who would listen that he wasn’t worried as his debt had been repaid. He requested this confession and signed forms claiming he was within his right mind while delivering his confession. He assumed he would be free to leave afterwards. That was a year and a half ago,” he said.

The recent testimony they had all been privy too was entirely different. Tom had been frantic and weeping. Though his state appointed lawyer had adamantly warned against it, Tom Hanshaw wanted to tell his side. Anti-psychotics and trauma prevented him from saying anything helpful. The gaunt man was barely able to string a legible sentence together as he cried out that his debt had been repaid and that he should be free.

Due to the lack of witnesses and scant testimony, all they had to go on was evidence from the crime scene, expert testimony theorizing what led to the break, and Tom’s own poor excuse to defend himself. Some of them were unwilling to condemn a man so broken and driven to insanity by debts of the system when he was barely able to tell his side of the story, so they requested a review of his confession tape, filmed three days after his arrest at his own request.

The man set the paper on the table and spoke to the men and women before him.

“The man on that tape is not the man we have seen in the court room over the past few weeks. His sanity has been cleared by multiple professionals, meaning Mr. Hanshaw believes what he is saying is the truth and may be a functioning sociopath. Comparisons to Ted Bundy, while not relevant, seem accurate at this point. Now that we’ve seen the tape, I think it’s safe to say we can reach a fair, unanimous decision. We may never know whether it was an insurance ploy or an argument over finances gone wrong. What we do know is that Tom Hanshaw blamed murdering his wife and dog on calls received from two cellular phones that evidence shows had been disconnected weeks prior to the event. Difficult as it may be, we have a decision to make.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the options are as follows. Option one, the real Tom Hanshaw is the cold man we saw on that tape, and we condemn him to a guilty verdict and the death penalty. Option two, the real Tom Hanshaw is the man we saw in the court room, though still guilty, and we condemn him to a live out his life in a high security psychiatric facility. Option three, the real Tom Hanshaw is both men at different stages of grieving, is telling the truth, is not guilty, and should go free. The verdict must be unanimous. Are we ready?”

He let the question hang in the air for a moment, giving everybody a chance to digest the weight of the question with murmurs and head nods.

“Very well. Now then, all those who think Tom Hanshaw is guilty, please raise your hand.”

Moments later, the man walked to the door and informed the guard that a unanimous verdict had been reached. The jury was ready to inform Tom Hanshaw whether or not his debt had been paid after all.

Credit: Rob E. Nichols

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