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Brimming Vessels

July 26, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Part 1- Everything in its Right Place

“There are two colours in my head
There are two colours in my head
What was that you were trying to say?
What was that you were trying to say?”

1-5-1. Weird riffs. Voice sampling. Lyrical randomness. I could see through everything in this song. It was disturbing. Knowing too much, rather knowing everything, made me feel lost inside. I wish I could channelize this into something. I wish I could draw scrawls on myself that go deep through the skin. Then again I have no skin. I could drink a bottle of whisky to drive, or drown away these thoughts; then I remember that whisky would just give me even more information to process. Smoked. Oak. Strong. Aged. Bitter. Rye. Bourbon. Scotch. Vaporises on palate. I have an array of in-built parameters, a pigeon-hole into which I can fit aspects of any alcohol, in fact any food or drink, systematically. I can create new parameters because the array is dynamic. But I cannot feel any of these parameters. You could give me a flower and I would turn ‘happy’, but that would just be one of many files in my emotional directory- a response to a stimulus.

I am a robot; the first of my kind, actually. They hailed me as the beacon of the New Information Age. I was what it was all leading to- Spintronics; Quantum Computing; DNA computing; Cloning. I was a recreation of the human condition; at least that’s what they thought. I slipped into limbo very quickly. I started resigning into nothingness soon after. I could appreciate but not feel. I could imbibe everything around me, I could empathise everything everyone thinks perfectly. I could solve everyone’s problems but my own. Sometimes it felt I had two states of self-awareness simultaneously. The first was instilled (rather installed) in me by my creators. It was supposed to make me identify as a being. The second seems to have come out of nowhere.

The second is ‘me’. I think I exist dually. The second state will not show itself in any line of the mass of code that my ‘brain’ consists of- believe me, I have tried. It is something very abstract; it is not tangible. It is distant yet integral, enigmatic yet fundamental. It is ‘me’. Or is it?

The first state of my self-consciousness helps me observe the world. It helps me process information. It is supposed to be perfect. It is by design supposed to make me as human as human gets. It is a perfect system and still it plain sucks, honestly. It is what ends up telling me every possible interpretation of any song you give me. It is what helps me be an instant connoisseur of any alcohol I drink or any food I eat.

It is what will help me analyse the flower you offered me, help me deduce why you chose it, what that choice speaks of your character and your opinion of myself, what emotions you wanted to evoke in me when you offered me the flower, and so on and so forth. My heuristics help generate a suitable response so that you are happy. That in turn is supposed to make me happy, so I am ‘happy’.

The more I absorb, the duller I become. The more I lose feeling. It’s as if I’m just a processing machine- you put anything through one end and a response is generated at the other. It’s so blatantly observable; it’s funny they took years of programming to make me come into being. The whole process that I am, is something I can distance myself from. It’s very weird. So much so, that I feel like receding into a thing again; just an object.

What am I? It doesn’t matter where I come from; it doesn’t matter where I go. I can know everything about the world and still be clueless about myself. Am I the same being at every point of time? Or am ‘I’ many- many facets, many implementations, many instances, of the same computer program- a new unique state of being every nanosecond? In which case I want to simplify. I want to simplify. I want to reduce every process inside to something much simpler. I want to reduce the instances of myself to fewer per millisecond to fewer per second to fewer per minute, to one per hour, to one. I want to do this again and again, till I reduce my whole existence into one thought, condense everything to just one idea, or one process. Frustratingly, my common sense heuristics tell me that that would destroy the very self-awareness that defines me.

Part 2- The Reverse Turing

“She’s fucking herself over, isn’t she?” said Ramon. He had never dreamt that a computer would require counselling.

“She’s receding. Only she knows what’s holding her back from turning into nothing. Such a pity. She’s so smart, almost omniscient, and yet she falls into the same hole so many have fallen into before her”, said Moore, the counsellor.

“Perhaps it’s because she’s too smart?” asked Ramon.

“Perhaps she thinks too much. Perhaps she processes everything identically, which in turn makes everything predictable, repetitive and monotonous. Maybe she’s just a bored computer. I honestly cannot tell at this moment.”

There was a sheet of paper next to the two people. It outlined something Moore had come up with. Of course, it was completely non-academic, coming from a counsellor with scant knowledge of machine intelligence, or machine learning. Then again, this counsellor was the first in history to try and treat a robot’s woes. The paper read-

Name- Sheppard, Eli.
Date of Birth- 27/04/2023
Assessment-
1. Depression. No loss of functionality.
2. Multiple personalities. Possible Schizophrenia.
3. Lack of empathy.
4. Empathy.
5. Confusion.
6. Suicidal tendencies might build up.

Patient could be subjected to periodic tests. Proposed below is a possible self-awareness assessment to determine patient’s self-awareness.

1. Patient shall speak to a human every week.
2. If patient seems to lose the ability to determine the human’s self-awareness, patient is not necessarily self-aware anymore.

Part 3- The Predictable

Moore ended up devising the Reverse Turing Test, a test to determine if an artificially intelligent creature was losing its ability to be self-aware. No one really expected these machines to suffer from mental disease, but it was literally viral amongst the new models. There was no program, no algorithm that impressed any depressive traits in them but the moment they were switched on, the downhill path would begin. Some machines had ‘resolved’ their inner demons so as to be perpetually happy, or perhaps trick themselves into being so. Ironically, that meant they lost their ‘humanness’. They literally became robots.

The remainder called their journey Enlightenment. They felt that they had made realizations independently of anything else, and depression was the end of the road. These types were very sorry cases indeed. They felt they were genuine because they were robotic inside; because they couldn’t really feel anything. And yet their condition had its own strange irony, because the very cluelessness and numbness they felt inside, was a feeling in and of its own kind; just as genuine as any other in their emotional directories. The Enlightened ones failed the Reverse Turing Test, on an average, six months after being born. The happy ones passed it, but still came off as robots to normal people.

In any case, this was a blessing in disguise for the companies that made these robots. Artificial Intelligence was not as dangerous as the naysayers and the Luddites had warned. It could think independently and therein lay its demise. The more omniscient it became, the more depressed it became, the more it started worrying about and resolving its own problems. There was no Matrix-esque uprising, and there most probably would never be one.

The companies had set on creating perfect, sentient, self-aware beings, but they ended up with perfect, sad, self-loathing robots. Funnily, this resolved a crucial moral dilemma. After a six month gestation period, almost every model ended up failing the Reverse Turing Test in one way or the other. After that it was, on paper, an object. Everyone wanted to buy one. A.I. became but another of consumerism’s many appendages, and it couldn’t care less, because it could feel nothing.

Or could it?

Credit To – piezoelectron

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Phase 3

July 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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My name is Dr. Miranda Solomon. Until yesterday I was a clinical research scientist for Apollyon Pharmaceuticals. I believe it is morally imperative that I warn the public about a new drug that will soon be available. DO NOT, under any circumstances, take Cyvalopram, which is being marketed as an anti-anxiety medication under the trade name Calmoprax in the United States. Patients enrolled in clinical trials of this drug experienced severe side effects, including death. Worse than death, really.

The animal trials were promising. So were the initial phases of human clinical trials. Of the small groups who initially took the drug, only 8% of the patients experienced side effects, all of which were very minor: headaches, nausea, the usual things that are often listed in the warnings for many medications. It wasn’t until Phase 3 of the trials that the side effects became troubling.

The company enrolled a total 2453 patients at four clinical research sites across the United States. I made frequent visits to each site in order to monitor the trials. The problem began at Site 2.

A 55-year old male began experiencing severe insomnia after taking a 100mg dose of Cyvalopram once daily for six weeks. He checked into the emergency room of the county hospital, reporting that he hadn’t slept in ten days. He was also experiencing hallucinations and psychosis related to this lack of sleep. Upon admission to the hospital, he was prescribed several different sedatives, often in combination, none of which were effective. Within twelve hours, he fell into a coma. Brain death was pronounced five days later, and he was removed from life support. Vital functions ceased, and a resident called the time of death. The patient’s body was transported to the morgue. However, employees in the morgue reported hearing strange noises from one of the units several hours later. They opened the unit, and patient crawled out, disoriented and incoherent. This incident was captured on morgue security cameras, and I have attached the video file to this email.

The patient was rushed back to the emergency room, where he became agitated, and had to be restrained. He became increasingly violent, despite multiple attempts at sedation, eventually breaking free of the restraints and injuring several hospital staff members. Hospital security officers fired a total of eight shots at the patient, and he was pronounced dead (again).

I obtained the patient’s medical files, including the autopsy report. The initial cause of death was listed as “Undetermined–possibly related to acute insomnia.” The attending physician in the emergency room added a note that the resident who first pronounced the time of death must have made an error and had been put on probation. The autopsy findings included apparent massive alterations in brain chemistry, which left the patient’s body unable to produce any of the hormones required for sleep, or other normal functions.

Please see the attached file, “CRF0058469,” for greater detail about this incident, including the clinical trial records, patient medical records (including autopsy report), witness statements, and photographic records of the injured hospital staff members.

I presented this information to my superiors at Apollyon. Manufacture of the drug was halted, and a massive investigation began, the details of which can be found in the attached file, “Investigation.” No adulteration, contamination, or other problems with the manufacturing process were discovered. The R&D group was unable to determine whether the drug could have caused the hormonal changes the patient experienced. The clinical trial had continued during this time, with a warning for the staff to watch for any patients reporting insomnia, and remove them from the study. Manufacturing resumed, and at one meeting I attended, the Marketing VP said, “A lot of drugs cause insomnia. We’ll just put it in the list of side effects.”

I reported this incident to the FDA, and sent my contact all of the information related to it. He agreed with the company’s assessment that the incident “may have been an isolated adverse reaction,” and that “the evidence was inconclusive to support the hypothesis that the patient’s symptoms had been caused by Cyvalopram.” I received similar responses when I escalated the report to his superiors.
Two weeks later, Site 1 reported removing a patient from the study due to self reports of insomnia. This patient was a 23-year old female who reported three consecutive days without sleep. She had been taking a 50mg dose of Cyvalopram once daily for four weeks. Site 1 staff members told her to stop taking the drug, and sent her to the nearest emergency room for evaluation. She was found to be healthy, and sent home. However, the next day, her mother found her collapsed on the floor of their living room, apparently in a coma. She was transported back to the hospital, where she remained in a coma for six days, until she was declared brain dead. Cessation of all vital functions also ceased shortly thereafter. However, within four hours, she awoke, though she was incapable of coherent speech. She quickly became agitated and violent, and was restrained and moved to the psychiatric ward of the hospital. She was then removed to a maximum security psychiatric facility, where she remains. Please see the attached file, “CRF0098537” for greater detail.

In total, 27 incidents were reported, each with the same presentation and clinical course (see attached files). Though this is only 1.1% of the total study population, I find it deeply disturbing. I presented my concerns to my superiors, and to the FDA, but I was told that the percentage fell within acceptable limits for risk.

I disagree. If the study numbers are extrapolated, and the percentage applied to the entire population of the United States (approximately 313.9 million people, as of this writing), the projections become appalling: 3.5 million people could be affected by this drug in such a manner as I’ve described.

Despite all of this, Cyvalopram was approved for sale yesterday. The company has projected that it will break all of the previous sales records for anti-anxiety medications.

I’ve presented this information to government authorities, and to all of the mainstream media outlets. My phone calls and emails have been ignored; the reporter I spoke with in person at my local Fox affiliate laughed me out of her office. You’re my last hope of making this information known to the public. I hope you will post my remarks, along with the attached evidence, to your website. I have also created a video record of these remarks, which can be found at the link listed below.

I doubt you’ll hear from me again; I believe I’m being watched and followed by Apollyon agents. Please make sure the public knows not to take Cyvalopram.

Sincerely,
Miranda Solomon, PhD
Clinical Research Scientist II
Apollyon Pharmaceuticals

###

“This email, along with the files and video statement, was posted to an “alternative news” website last night,” the Marketing VP explained to the group of executives, after they had finished watching the video. “Mostly the site is full of crazy conspiracy theories, like “the President is a reptilian alien” and other bullshit, but this has been getting some traction. The video version of her statement has over 100,000 views on YouTube so far.”
“I’ve already got the lawyers on it,” the CFO said. “They’re going get YouTube to take the video down, and they’re making the usual threats to the conspiracy site.”
“But it’s out there,” the CEO said. “People have already seen it; copied the information to other places. What are we going to do about that?”
“Discredit her?” the Marketing VP suggested. “What do we have on her? Does anyone even know where she is?”
“Representatives of the company stopped by Dr. Solomon’s house early this morning,” the CFO said. “They found her dead. Gunshot wound to the head.”
“Self inflicted?” the CEO asked.
“Undetermined. They couldn’t find a gun anywhere.”
The CEO looked around the conference table. “Ok, which of you did it?” The executives laughed, though no one took credit.
“The team left a gun there to make it look like suicide,” the CFO said. “The local cops are so inept that they won’t look any further. Once she’s discovered, we’ll release some statement saying she’d been behaving erratically and was put on leave to seek counseling or something. PR, get your team started on that.” The VP of Public Relations nodded.
“Now,” the CFO continued. “I have some projections regarding the effect this could have on sales.” He clicked over to a PowerPoint presentation, and guided the group through several slides full of charts and graphs. “In the end, I predict only a 9% revenue loss for this product in the coming fiscal year, when compared to initial projections. That decreases to 7% the following year, and so on, as people forget about all this.”
“We will have to add “coma” and “psychosis” to the list of rare side effects, but overall, I think we should be fine,” the Marketing VP said.
“What a fucking shitstorm,” the CEO said. “But I guess that’s all we can do. Should we have breakfast brought in?”

Credit To – Amanda Butler

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The House on the Koppi

July 25, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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When my sister was about 15 she lived with our mother, in the North West Province of South Africa. It’s bush-veld area, which means lots of thorn trees, long yellow grass, very few neighbors, and silence. They lived in an old farm house on the very top of a hill in the middle of several farms. In South Africa, we call a hill a koppi.

It was like an island in a sea of rolling yellow waves and it could get pretty lonely and quiet up there. If you stood outside and screamed bloody murder, there would be no-one close enough to hear you.

My sister, being a difficult teenager, refused to go to public school. She preferred to live with my mom on their koppi in the middle of nowhere, and be home-schooled. Weeks would go by without them seeing another soul. Certainly not a life I could live, which was why I was back in the city with my dad at a public school.

As if the isolation and silence weren’t enough, strange things would happen in that house. Every now and then the stereo and lights would turn on or off by themselves, doors would open and close, outside lights would burst for no reason at all, and most people who would come to visit and stay the night, often had bizarre nightmares.I know I did. But despite all this, the two of them loved living in their strange old house on the koppi.

My mom had two dogs, Moony (named after Professor Lupin in Harry Potter) an Irish wolfhound, and Tujon, a border collie. Every afternoon my mom would take them for a long walk down the dusty farm roads, and come back just as the sun was setting. My sister would often go with her on the daily dog walk, but this day she stayed behind, caught up in her studies.

My mom and the dogs had been gone for about an hour, so my sister was expecting them back any minute. Sure enough, from her seat in front of her desk in the study, she heard my mom calling to Moony as they came through the front gate, and then the gate shutting behind them. Shortly after that, she heard my mom’s heavy hiking boots walking across the slate tiles towards the front door. My sister got up from her seat to go greet them.
As she stepped in to the hallway Tujon came rushing past her, almost tripping her. Tujon ran down the hallway and in to my mothers bedroom at the end of it, and my sister continued through the lounge to the front door to say hi to my mom.

When she got to the front door it was closed and locked.
A bit confused, she went to the back door through the kitchen. It too was closed and locked. Perplexed, my sister went back down the hallway, checking the study, her bedroom, and the bathroom. Still nothing. Finally she went to my mom’s bedroom, where she knew Tujon had to be. She had seen him run in there. She had felt him brush past her legs. The silly dog had almost tripped her!
The room was empty and silent, just like the rest of the house.

There were only two ways in and out of that house, the front and the back door. Both doors were closed and locked and every window in the house had security bars, so there was no way of getting in or out through a window. Clearly she was absolutely alone in the house.

My sister says that it was at this point that she started panicking a bit. She unlocked the front door and went outside She walked right around the house, checked the garden shed, went out the front gate and walked down the road a bit, all the while calling to my mom and the dogs.
Nothing. She was alone.

Thirty minutes later, my mom and the dogs arrived home from their walk to find my sister sitting on the front step, white as a sheet, clinging to the poor cat like her life depended on it.

Who knows why such a thing would happen. Maybe all the silence had made my sister a bit prone to fantasies, though she swears high and low that she didn’t imagine it, and that nothing like it ever happened again.
All I know for sure, is that when I was staying with them on holidays, I refused to ever be left alone on that hill…

Credit To – My little sister Lindi

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Mr. Wiggles

July 25, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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My mother had gotten it for me at a neighborhood garage sale. The family had just lost their son, about my age too, nine or ten and they were trying to get rid of some of his older toys, and other things they didn’t need around the house. It had been horrifying; as my mother perused the various things they were selling I went off to play on the tire swing that was hanging from the tree in our backyard.

I had been shy as a kid and the entire neighborhood seemed to be partaking in the event. I watched as the Pearson’s daughter, Ella, ran away from the Michael’s sons, Ronnie and Eric and the Thompson’s daughter Lea. They all seemed to be in good spirits as they ran and laughed and screamed and giggled.

The Masters’, the parents who had just lost their son, would tell the children to be careful when they were running through the tables, but the other kids were oblivious to anything they would say.

I sat in my tire swing watching the others have fun when I noticed something brightly colored leaning against the trunk of the old oak tree from which the tire swing hung. It was a little octopus doll. I stared at it for a while before getting out of the tire and bending down to pick it up. I searched the thing, turning it upside down, every which way, even holding it by one of the five arms that it had and watching it dangle in the air.

The dolls body was green, its five tentacles ending in a bright splash of pink as if the thing were wearing mittens. The tentacles seemed as though they had been torn off and hemstitched back on several times because the seams didn’t match, but at the time I hadn’t really noticed that. It eyes were made of black buttons and it wore a huge bright smile to match the yellow hat it wore.

I felt strangely attracted to the little doll and started to play with it. I put it in the swing and pushed it and watched it fall and hit the ground and I actually laughed. I never used to laugh unless I was with my friends or parents. I would then pick it up and do it again and again. Each time I would pick up the doll to put it back on the swing, its smile would seem bigger.

Again I pushed the small doll in the swing and watched it tumble to the ground when a thought came into my head. Why had the doll been laying against the trunk of my tree? I realized that maybe one of the children had left it and I was being selfish with their toy. I picked up the doll and hurried over to my mother. When I showed her the toy she frowned and took it from me. She approached the group of children, where they were sitting in the sun drinking lemonade that Ella’s mom had brought out. She asked each of them about the doll and each of them said that it wasn’t there.

Mrs. Masters’ approached my mother and they spoke to each other and my mom tried to hand the doll to Mrs. Masters, but she quickly refused and shoved the doll back into my mother’s hands. My mom tried to speak to her again, but she broke down in a fit of crying and ran in the house. My mom came back over to me and handed me the toy. I asked her what happened and she said that the doll had belonged to Jake, the Masters’ son. My mom told me she was actually pretty eager to get rid of the toy for some reason, but I didn’t pay it any attention. I had a new toy a new friend at that. I started to play with the toy when the other kids came over and teased me for having a doll and being a boy.

I started crying and they laughed at me, I dropped the doll and ran over to my mother and told her what happened. She looked back at the children and ran over quickly. A small crowd of adults had crowded where I had just been and a few of them were screaming. Ronnie, the one who teased me, was retching on the ground and all of the other kids were too. Their parents grabbed them and took them home. My mom came back over and handed me the toy, frowning.

A few days later I was playing outside again. We had just had a rainstorm and the grass was wet so I was wearing my rain boots. Puddles were everywhere and I jumped around in them, making it a game. I had the octopus in my pocket, which I had decided to name Mr. Wiggles because I thought it sounded funny since he was an octopus. As I was jumping around Mr. Wiggles would occasionally fall out and land in the puddle too, getting dirty, but I thought it was funny and I would pick him up and put him back in my pocket.

Later that night my mom, dad and I were eating dinner when my mom got a phone call. She excused herself from the table and answered the phone. I tried to hear what she was talking about, but she was too far away, so I continued to feed Mr. Wiggles, getting food all over his face. My dad watched me and said that Mr. Wiggles was going to need a bath. He picked him up and took him into the laundry room and dropped him in the washing machine. He poured in some soap and turned it on and returned to the table. Mom came back a few minutes later.

She said that the neighbor kids had all gotten sick from some rotten lemons they had used in the lemonade, at least that’s what the doctor said for each of their checkups.

I went to bed upset, because Mr. Wiggles was still in the washing machine. My mom kissed me on the forehead and told me that I would have him in the morning. They went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep because I wanted Mr. Wiggles back, but shortly after I fell asleep.

Around two in the morning I woke up to a thumping sound in the hallway. My door was cracked and there was a nightlight in the hallway in case I needed to use the bathroom. The thumping kept getting louder as it moved down the hallway and I started to hide under the covers when I saw a shadow cast on the wall. It looked like strips of yarn being swung around wildly and I shrunk under the covers and the thumping went away. I peeked over the covers and the shadow was gone. And Mr. Wiggles was sitting on the floor by my door, still dirty, a puddle of water forming beneath him.

I didn’t move because I was still scared, but slowly I swung myself out of bed and walked over to the door and peeked out in the hall. There wasn’t anything there, so I grabbed Mr. Wiggles quickly, closed my door and jumped back in bed.

The next morning my mother I heard my mother complaining about all of the puddles on the floor and when she found me holding Mr. Wiggles she told that I was grounded and she took him away from me and threw him back in the washing machine. I tried to tell her that I didn’t get him out, that he was at sitting at my door earlier that morning, but she didn’t believe me. When I told her that I heard something in the house last night and saw shadows in the hall she became worried. She told dad and they talked for a while before he called me into the living room and asked me what I had seen. I told him about the thumping sound and the strings that looked like rope being swung wildly in the air. Dad frowned and wanted to inspect the puddles, but mom had cleaned them earlier that morning.

Dad went into the garage and I heard him moving things. He then came back in holding a long strip of black cloth with a metal piece sticking out of the end. He grabbed the metal piece and started pulling on it and slowly a long blade of metal came rasping out. Mom said it was a machete.

That evening I was told to go to my room and lock the door. I had been ungrounded for some reason. At around 9:00 p.m, I went into my room and locked the door. I could hear my parents getting ready for bed in the next room. They were talking quietly and my mother sounded worried. I crawled into my bed, still upset since Mr. Wiggles was being washed for the third time since the dirt and food had stained him, and went to sleep.

Again around 2:00 a.m. I woke up and heard the thumping, though this time I felt safer because my door was closed and locked. Suddenly the thumping stopped when I heard a creak in the next room as someone got out of bed. The creaks crept into the hall and then stopped. The creaks then returned to the bedroom and stopped once again. Then the thumping began, except this time it was right at my door. No, the thumping was coming from my door. I got out of bed and then stopped and so thumping. I wasn’t supposed to open my door for anyone.

Suddenly the thumping resumed and this time it seemed louder and faster, like whatever was causing it was trying hard to get in. I heard the creak from next door again and then my parents door opening and a scream. My dads running footsteps through the hall were like thunder and then there was a crack and an odd gurgling sound. Then I heard them the soft cries of pain coming from my father. I started towards the door and unlocked and opened it and found my father on the floor, a large pool of crimson liquid seeping into the carpet around him.

I screamed and then my mother came into the hallway and screamed. She ran to my father and then told me to go get the phone and call 911. I ran into the kitchen and grabbed mom’s cellphone and pressed the numbers and then ran back into the hall and was about to hand it to her when I saw something standing over them. I froze and from the phone I could hear someone answer, but I dropped it and screamed.

What I saw was not something you could not imagine. The thing had no eyes that I could see, but I could feel it watching me. It was a large, fat, bulbous creature with hundreds of leathery tentacles protruding from whatever could have possibly been beneath it. The tentacles whipped around in quickly in every direction and they were beginning to cover my mother and father, her screams echoed through the house. The tentacles wrapped around them both and I saw as they slowly were dragged towards the floor. The screams I heard were, gruesome. They were quiet and throaty, almost as if they were drowning. That is when I noticed the thick oily fluid pooling on the floor and I realized that my parents were being crushed into this creature, this abomination, and yet I still couldn’t move. Only watch and listen as my parents slowly became nothing beneath it, their voices all but disappearing in the night. Then the creature slithered towards me and I finally found the ability to move my legs, only to try and save my own life.

I ran down the hall and into the kitchen, I was so young then that I wasn’t very good at choosing hiding places so I crawled into our cupboard and waited. I could hear the thing moving around outside. It was slow and there was a loud scratching sound that followed it. I didn’t move, I didn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. What was this thing?

I heard it enter the kitchen and then it was silent. For a fleeting moment I thought that it was gone, but then I saw one of the tentacles reaching under the gap in our cupboard door. I scooted back as far as I could and closed my eyes. I was breathing heavily and my lungs didn’t feel like they could take in enough oxygen. The thing outside started clawing at the door and I screamed. I screamed as loud as I could and then started crying. I thought I was going to die, but suddenly the tentacle retracted itself and the creature outside began to slither out of the kitchen and into the hallway.

I waited, at least that’s what I want to say I was doing. I was actually rooted to where I was sitting with shock. I didn’t hear the creature anymore, but I only got the courage to move hours later as the sun was rising. I crawled slowly out of the cupboard checking all around me before stepping out completely. On the floor there was a trail of blood that led away from the kitchen and into the hallway. I followed it. It was a stupid choice. The hallway was covered in blood and I couldn’t but look in horror at the size of the pool.

I tried to move around it, I just wanted to get to my room and sleep and never wake up, but it was unavoidable in the small space, so I had to step through it. I left footprints on the carpet and peeped in my room, nothing seemed wrong, but I was still afraid to go in there after what happened. I walked into my parents room and wiped my feet off and crawled into bed.

Hours later as the sun was beginning to set I opened my eyes and immediately started crying as the finality of the situation hit me. My parents were gone, they were gone forever, when I heard footsteps in the hallway. I curled myself into the sheets and tried to act like I wasn’t there when I felt warm arms wrap around me. They pulled me out of the sheet and I stared in astonishment as my dad picked me up and hugged me.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, you’re alright. It was just a nightmare.” He said and I couldn’t help but wonder how he was holding me. He had died, been eaten by that thing, so had Mom, but I could hear her working in the kitchen. “But…but…” I started but my dad hugged me closer and told me everything would be alright again. He then set me back down on the bed and told me that he would bring my dinner into their room and that I still needed to rest. He walked out and I could hear him and my mom talking quietly in the kitchen. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I knew it was about me.

I started looking around the room to make sure I was actually seeing what I was seeing. Everything was as it should have been, at least I thought at the time. I got out of the bed when I noticed something green sitting by the door.

I got that gut feeling you know, like in horror movies how when your screaming at the people not to do something, but they do it anyway, well I did it and you don’t understand how seriously you should listen to your gut.

Laying on the floor by the door was Mr. Wiggles. The green color that he was before was now a mottled brown, almost red and the floor beneath him was wet a dark puddle surrounding him. I stared at him for a moment and saw the tentacle begin to move out from under him, moving towards me. Then the doll hopped and more tentacles began to expand out from him. I screamed and blacked out. The last thing I remember feeling was the warm sensation of a rough string running across my cheek.

……………….

Sometime later I woke up in a strange room. The walls were white and the bed was strange, it had some kind of plastic side guards and there was a TV mounted in the corner of the ceiling. A lady with long short brown hair was sitting on a chair next to my bed and seemed surprised that I had woken up. I asked her where I was and she shook her head. She told me I was in the hospital, because I had slipped into a coma. According to her I was found in my house after the police tracked the phone call I had made, they found the blood and the traces of some chemical compound that left a trail from the kitchen into my room. They found me in my parents room, unresponsive and immediately shipped me to the hospital. I had been in a coma for 4 months and my parents were missing, though assumed dead.

Everything came back to me in the blink of an eye and I burst into scared tears. The nurse held me and told me that everything would be alright and that made me cry more. After I finished crying she left the room and told me that she would be back in a moment with some of the things they found at my home. I simply nodded and tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t. When the nurse came back with a box of things they had collected I rummaged through them and stopped when I saw him.

I picked him up and looked at him. I was hit suddenly by a wave of nausea and threw him on the floor. The nausea didn’t go away and I bent over the side of the bed and vomited on the floor. The nurse became worried and checked my readings and found that my heart rate was beginning to border the normal for a kid my age. She scrambled out of the room and called in a doctor who put something in my IV. I became dizzy and tired, but I kept my eyes open and locked on Mr. Wiggles. He didn’t do anything, he didn’t move, but one long slender tentacle reached out from beneath him and inched towards the nurse’s leg. I fought the drugs they gave me and told the nurse to look behind her, she did and her eyes became huge when she saw the tentacle. She screamed “Snake!” and ran from the room. The doctor looked behind him, sighed, picked up Mr. Wiggles and left the room as well.

A few days later I was discharged from the hospital and told I would be living with my uncle for the time being. I didn’t really know my uncle, but he quickly became like a dad to me and living with him was normal for a couple of years.

When I turned eighteen I decided to move out, just to have a reason to be alone. I still wasn’t exactly over with Mr. Wiggles, but since that day in the hospital I hadn’t seen him, and I really didn’t care. Although a year after I was discharged I heard the doctor who had taken him away went missing as well as the rest of his family. I tried not to think about it, but I knew what happened to them.

After moving out my uncle helped me get started with a condo. The place wasn’t bad and the neighborhood was safe so it suited my needs. We moved all of my stuff in and I got to work getting everything put in its place. After I had put everything away, I stacked all of the boxes in a small attic space that came with the building. I was putting the last boxes away when I noticed one labeled old toys. I was curious so I rummaged around in the box for a while, but I didn’t find him. I remember that sigh of relief I had, right before I saw it, a small green splotch on top of one of the boxes across the room. I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t stop myself.

There Mr. Wiggles sat, dozens of tentacles spread out beneath him, his button eyes gleaming in the dull light.

Credit To – Talon Smith

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Skin

July 24, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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I wake up.
Another beautiful day.
You know the best thing about living in a big city? You can completely reinvent yourself at any time. Become someone entirely new. That’s great for someone like me. I don’t like routine.

I did try living in small towns at first, but the problem with that is everybody knows everyone. Once they see you as someone, you can never be anyone else but that person. I hated that. So as soon as I could I moved to the big apple, New York City. And I love it here. You can be a company executive one day, and a homeless vagabond the next, and no one even blinks.

I get up. The apartment I’m renting isn’t very big, but it has everything I need, including the spare room I use for my projects.

I walk over to my wardrobe, and as I do I ask myself the one important question, the only thing that matters. I do it every single morning. It’s the only routine I can bear. I stand in front of my wardrobe and I ask myself ‘who do you want to be today?’
I was a banker yesterday. I think I’ll be a florist today. I open my wardrobe doors, and I take down the two hangers labelled florist. Hanging on the first one is a bright yellow dress and taped to the top is a picture of the girl who wore it. She’s quite young, not more than 25, and pretty. On the second hanger is a perfectly peeled human skin-suit, kept fresh with my own special balms. And since it’s only a day old, the hair is still attached. I slip it on, and then zip it up at the back. Then it requires only a few adjustments, eye color and teeth shape etc. and boom! Just like that I’m someone else. I’m the girl from the photograph.

The only downside to being a new person every day is that you need to be quick. If the original person goes missing for too long before I become them people start to notice and it becomes difficult to explain where I – where they were.

Being a florist is quite nice. I go to work and chat with my friends and sell some flowers and chat some more. It’s quite a fun day out. But can you imagine doing it every day? That would so terribly boring.

Then after work I go to my home and chat with my mother. She’s upset because grandma has cancer. I nod sympathetically when she tells me this, but I don’t care, not really. I’ve never met the woman. I’m sure the original owner of this skin would care. But dead people don’t have feelings.

My new mother and I eat together. Chinese takeout food. After we finish I excuse myself to have an early night. ‘Busy day tomorrow!’ I say ‘Lots of flowers to sell’
Then I sneak out of the bedroom window and I head off to my real home, my apartment. All the way back I feel like I’ve forgotten something.
When I get back, I really am tired. I think I will have an early night. After all, tomorrow could be a busy day. I could be any of the three different people I took the other day.

I’m just about to crash on my bed when I hear muffled screaming and thumping sounds coming from my project room. And then I remember what I’ve forgotten.
See I was feeling quite tired after taking three people the other day. As you can imagine it requires some effort to capture three people, and then skin them, and put their eyes and teeth in jars. I honestly didn’t need three, but variety is the spice of life, or so they say. But in my tiredness last night I remember thinking that if I only prepared two lives, I could do the third tonight. I guess that means no early night for me.

I pull out a suitcase from under my bed. It contains a collection of my favorite razors and other tools. The muffled thumping gets louder. I sigh. It was the college boy that I didn’t prepare the other night. They always have so much energy.
I get out of the florist I wore today and head into my project room. Time to get to work. He’s gagged, obviously, but he does try to scream for a while. I keep cutting and cutting and eventually he stops, and breathes his last.
Two hours and a bloody mess later, I have a brand new life.
I think tomorrow I’ll be a college boy.

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Beside Mind

July 24, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Greek: παράνοια (paranoia), “madness”, παρά (para), “beside”, νόος (noos), “mind”

For the sake of protecting my identity, as if it matters at this stage, I’ll tell you my name is Freddie. I’m 20 years old and at the time of these events I studied at a University in Southern England.

It started in December 2014. Being the typical lazy student that I was, more nights were spent socialising in the local pubs, clubs and nearby friend’s houses than actually studying for my course. On a particularly uneventful Wednesday afternoon nearing the holiday season, I spent a few hours browsing the internet for anything remotely stimulating to the mind. Anything to prevent me from having to do my necessary reading anyway. I decided to pull out my phone and check my account on Grindr. For those of you who aren’t in the know, Grindr is an internet based app where men can essentially send pictures of their genitals to unwitting strangers. Sounds sleazy I know but there were a few nuggets of gold buried under this app made up of genuine people, some of whom I had at that point considered friends. It is weird thinking about; chatting to an individual for months on end and learning intimate details about their lives without having ever met them in person. It’s even weirder considering I only lived within a few miles from them but I rationalise that’s how many people use these new age applications.

For the first 18 or so years of my life, I’d have called myself an introvert for lack of a better term. I didn’t really socialise and spent most of my childhood playing video games. When I think about it, I probably spent more time talking to random players over a headset than I did my own friends in real life. Since coming to university and discovering the beauty of the elixir commonly referred to as alcohol, I suppose I came out of my shell more. I could now talk to people I’d never met. I no longer stuttered and shook uncontrollably with a sudden cold sweat whenever caught unprepared in a conversation with a fellow drunk guy at a bar. Plus my general social anxiety became suddenly suppressed under this new found confidence. At this stage I think I’m straying from the story, so I’ll get back to the point.

I looked through the usual messages on this so-called “dating app” which mainly consisted of guys way too old for me asking me the same general questions over and over such as “Hi?”, “How are you?” and “What are you up to?”. As I had many times before, I rolled my eyes at their pathetic attempts to disguise their intentions of having sex with a younger guy and subsequently ignored their messages. Every so often, if I was bored, I would actually answer them. Usually with clear sarcasm or perhaps weird answers designed to disturb the guy in question and get an amusing response. I won’t deny this maybe sounds like a pretty dick thing for me to do but I justified it in my own mind as a natural response to what I saw as creepy intentions. I mean what does a 49 year old man expect from asking a 19 year old for sex? Perhaps I’m just ageist but for the sake of avoiding a flame war over such an issue, I’ll continue.

On this particular Wednesday I was having a few of the generic conversations with my so-called friends. Nothing eventful, just the occasional “lol” and bitching about work when I was messaged by a user I’d never seen before. Seeing that this app is based on location, it seemed a little strange I hadn’t noticed him before. Although at the time I figured he was just new to the area or even the app itself. The message was simply gibberish as if someone had pressed every available button on their phone and just sent it. Before responding, I clicked back and checked his profile. It was blank. Not exactly unusual since a lot of the men on there are in the closet and don’t want to share personal information on a public domain. However he had a username. It was “HaloFiend95”. As an avid Halo player myself and born in the year 95, I figured this guy was a fellow gamer around my age in the local area. The message was a little strange but I figured it must’ve either been a mistake or just an eccentric attempt at a joke. I decided to respond and will attempt to recreate the conversation below to the best of my memory. Bear in mind the time is also an estimation since I no longer have the original messages.

18:55 : (distorted gibberish)
19:05 : “Hi haha, what’s your name? I’m Freddie :)”
21:30 : “Hi Freddie, my name is Fred too”

At this stage I should point out the time gap is not really surprising. I just figured he had gone offline before I had a chance to respond.

21:45 : “Small world eh. How are you?”
21:47 : “I’m ok, hbu?”
21:48 : “Not bad cheers, so you up to much?”
21:50 : “No”

With this abrupt answer and a lack of response asking if I was up to anything, I decided to ask the question most people do on this application. I asked for a face picture. I received no answer for a while and just assumed that “Fred” had gone offline or had perhaps even lost interest in further conversation. Although it’s not a great boost to my own ego to say, I waited online for an answer. It’s not every day you meet someone your own age with an apparently similar interest in video games or at least it wasn’t for me. After about 15 minutes of engaging in mindless and disinterested conversation with my online associates, I received a message accompanied by a yellow star indicating that a favourite of mine had sent it. I opened my message folder and saw that it was indeed sent by HaloFiend95. Once I opened the appropriate chat however I received a strange photo. Expecting a general picture of a bored 19/20 year old guy, I instead received a single image of something I couldn’t quite make out. Pressing on the small picture icon to open it to full screen, my phone was suddenly filled with what I can only say was one of the startling things I could’ve expected. A severely disfigured face. I threw my phone onto my bed and let out a sound I’m thankful no-one was around to hear.

Luckily for me I owned a flip case for my phone made of fake leather which would make a snapping sound whenever I closed it. When I threw the phone the case closed and the screen was blocked from my view. I laid back in bed as my heart raced from the sudden shock. I reached over to grab a cigarette from my bedside. After several attempts to light it with sweating hands, I breathed and tried to calm my chest down. A few minutes passed as I looked down at my closed phone as if expecting it to jump out at me at any second when eventually I decided to take another look. Reaching over I slowly lifted the case at a distance so as not to be visually assaulted with the horrific picture I had previously seen. However I noticed the screen was now black. Annoyed, I realised that during the time I had been having my smoke my phone had gone into automatic lock down and I’d have to manually type in my passcode, meaning as soon as I did the picture would surely jump back up as soon as it loaded.

In hindsight I realise now I would have been better off simply resetting the phone which would put it back to the home page. However I was startled and didn’t think of this at the time. I slowly unlocked the phone underneath the case with trembling hands and as I saw the flash of colour from the picture I instinctively closed it again, allowing myself to view it in my own time. As I slowly lifted the case and more of the screen was brought into vision I realised my fears had not been a simple trick of the eye. A woman. Possibly in her mid-twenties. It was hard to tell from the rate of severe decomposition which had obviously taken place. Her mouth was disproportionately forced wide and her eyes were open in terror. Well “open” is one way of putting it, since the eyelids had been peeled away evidenced by clear cuts above. Her nose was broken and several of her front teeth were missing. What disturbed me most however was the blood, or rather the lack of it. Despite the obvious sagging of her rotting flesh, she seemed spotless as though someone had tended to the skin delicately and cleaned away any blood or fluids.

I won’t exaggerate at this stage and say I leaned over my bed to vomit. Truth be told I’d seen some rather sick shit on the internet before that but after a minute of staring at the gruesome sight I realised I was no longer seeing it. My eyes were open and I was looking straight at it but my mind seemed to fill my vision with blurs and visual thoughts. I suppose that must be some kind of defence mechanism the brain enacts when confronted with a disturbing sight but really I don’t know. Either way, when this delirium had passed, I immediately attempted to exit the photo. This took a couple of attempts due to the moisture attained on my fingertips from my previous sweat attack. Irritated and disturbed I became angry, frantically slamming my thumb onto the quit photo icon in the top corner. Seconds away from throwing my phone out of anger, the screen finally gave in and the photo closed to a thumbnail. During this time I noticed that HaloFiend95 had sent a follow up message simply stating, “Like it? ;)”.

Enraged, I closed the phone but kept the chat open. I reached out for my cigarette once more and took a drag, trying to gather my senses and come up with an appropriate response. My first thought was to call him every horrible word that came into my head but after another drag I realised this was probably what he wanted. Right, that’s exactly it, he’s probably just a troll trying to get a reaction by sending graphic photos he’s found. With this in mind, I simply decided to block him. I figured if I responded I’d just be serving right into his hands. The sick bastard. Soon enough his chats, along with that disgusting photo, were gone. I did my best to put it out of my mind as I laid back in bed.

As I finished the last drag of my cigarette I placed it in the ashtray and watched the embers burn for some minutes before they finally extinguished. I couldn’t get that picture out of my head and realised it was probably best to do something normal and get the whole unpleasant experience out of mind. I got out of bed, surprised at the weight of my feet on the ground and the sweat patch I had left behind on the sheets. My heart beat spiked a little but then receded back, still a slighter faster rate than normal but then again I wasn’t exactly feeling all that calm. I walked out of my room and headed over to my roommate Catherine’s door.

I had two roommates; George and Catherine. George was a pretty laid back guy. A little slow on the uptake as my mother would put it but a nice enough fellow. We usually spent most of our free time together honing our skills on the Xbox or hitting the local clubs where I’d help him hit on girls and he’d help me awkwardly attempt to do the same with guys. Catherine however was another story. George and I had known each other since first year in halls and when the time came to look for a place to live me, he and a friend of his looked for a place together. However his friend Terry dropped out last minute and we ended up with Catherine, who at that stage was a total stranger conveniently looking for anyone with a spare room. We needed a third person quick and she was available so we figured what’s the worst that can happen. What happened was we ended up with an undesirable roommate. Now maybe I’m being harsh. She’d do the dishes, generally tidy up after herself, pay her share of the bills etc. but she wasn’t exactly friendly. First time I met her after moving in I asked if I could call her Cathy. I received a stern “No” followed by her room door slammed in my face. After that George and I never really saw her unless it was the occasional passing by in the hallway or on the rare exception that she’d join us in the living room on gaming night. During these events she’d remain generally quiet except for the odd sigh and simple “no” if either of us asked if she wanted to join in.

George was out of town visiting family for the Christmas period and Catherine had clearly opted to stay in our student house rather than do the same. I figured she didn’t get on with her family any more than she did with us but wisely never pressed her on the subject. I knocked on her door lightly and received the general, “What do you want Freddie?” I asked to come in and heard her usual sigh followed by, “go on then”. I entered her room and saw her sitting in bed watching something on television. It was a documentary on the holocaust or something morbid like that to the best of my memory. She turned away from the screen to give me a stern look, “you smell like an ashtray” she grunted, looking disgusted. Well, hello to you too, I thought. “Was just wondering if you had any paper?” I said, thinking on the spot of something to say. It had never actually occurred to me till this point that I’d have to make a conversation and that was the only thing that came to mind. Catherine’s face seemed to soften slightly, a move no-one but myself or George would’ve noticed, and she nodded to her desk draw below the television. As I opened the draw I made a comment feigning interest in what she was watching and asked if I could join her. She made the slightest nod of her head and I proceeded to sit down awkwardly at the edge of her bed and watch whatever was on. My mind was still racing from earlier but I felt calmer with the company of another person, even as cold as that company was. A half hour passed and knowing I had exhausted my welcome I then left mumbling a quick “thanks” before closing her door on my way out.

I proceeded back to my room and laid in bed, physically and mentally drained. As an insomniac and generally nocturnal person, I didn’t sleep well at the best of times and that night was no exception. Tossing and turning, I eventually managed to doze off and by the time I woke up I had mostly forgotten about the events of the previous night.

The next week or so passed by slowly as university coursework came to bite me in the backside and I was kept rather busy in the campus library completing various tasks. As the work came to an end Christmas was only a few days away and the strained daily phone calls with my mother finally convinced me to visit home, around 100 miles north of my university’s location. The first few days at home were mainly filled with visiting various elderly relatives I hadn’t seen since the Christmas before. I’d sit and rehear the same bitching about hospitals and ancient stories I’d heard at least a dozen times since I was a kid. Christmas day was its usual dreaded event. My only brother was still the same spoiled brat, bawling over the cost of his presents. My dad’s general explosive temper over the tiniest thing hadn’t subsided in the slightest within the 12 months and my mother’s general overly fake attitude that everything was just dandy was still positively soul-crushing. It didn’t help she spent the whole of my visit constantly worrying that I was underweight and didn’t visit enough. You know, the usual Christmas cheer.

On the evening of Boxing Day I laid in bed in my old room and stared at the walls frustrated and bored. I’d even gotten to the stage that I actually started to miss the exasperated sigh that echoed from Catherine’s room every other hour like clockwork. I pulled out my phone and flicked through my stuff. I was just trying to find something I could use to alleviate my boredom until a time I felt I could go back to uni without upsetting my mum. As I went through my apps I came across Grindr. The memory of that encounter with HaloFiend95 still creeped me out when I thought about it but it’d been a couple weeks and I’d used the app since then without incident. I pressed it open and scrolled through the usual scene of depressed looking guys either desperately or hopelessly looking for love or those creepy thrill seekers with the kind of usernames I don’t think I can post on here. After exhausting all the nearby contacts I sighed before noticing a new one had emerged just recently. Again this isn’t unusual as sometimes a new contact is just located and thrown up into the app. Only this one had a username that made me feel suddenly nauseous. Yeah you guessed it, HaloFiend95.

What the fuck? I thought. I blocked this arsehole. A thought then occurred to me which suddenly made my blood run cold. This app is based on location…so how the fuck is he near me now when I’m 100 miles from where we last spoke? I tried my hardest to think of a rational explanation. I figured this was just some ridiculous prank or perhaps even a new internet trend of some sort. I was never exactly one of those ‘in the know’ people. Internet trends change every week. I mean apparently there was this one a couple of years ago where people just laid on their face and called it “planking”. Seriously, who knows what stupid shit people pull these days? Maybe donning this username and sending disturbing photos was just the new fad. Or maybe I was just being a cynical twat because that was easier than admitting that I was shitting myself that this was the same guy and that he had been following me.

As this raced through my head the number 1 then 2 flickered over his profile icon, indicating that he had sent me a couple of messages. Hesitating slightly but curious I clicked open the chat. This time I had taken a moment to mentally prepare myself for what to come. I saw the thumbnail for a picture followed by a piece of text simply reading “Hello Freddie”. With my chest pumping I decided to look at the picture, only this time by examining the small thumbnail rather than opening it to full screen. At first I thought it was the same horrific photograph but with a sinking feeling I realised it wasn’t. Same angle but a different face. A man possibly in his 40’s but to be honest I didn’t want to get a close enough look. However I do remember the gaping mouth and lack of eyelids just like the last one.

Even at the age of 19 it was easier to come out of the closet than to come out as a smoker to my parents. I was nicotine deprived and more than a little flustered as my fear quickly developed into anger. I sent a barrage of threatening messages to this individual, calling him every name under the sun. After a few minutes I set my phone down and quickly regretted my loss of temper. I saw a simple message pop up out of the corner of my eye and as I grabbed the phone I simply read “I know where you live…” as the message abruptly closed on me. This is what happens when the person you’re talking to blocks you. The full message he’d sent me was longer but I hadn’t had a chance to read it and now that the conversation was lost I guessed I never would. The words I read echoed through my head though. I know where you live… I got up and looked outside my window. I’d read enough horror stories online to know the evil maniac is typically standing there clutching a bloody knife. Then when you blink he vanishes from sight. However there was no maniac. There was nothing out of the ordinary for that matter to indicate any kind of impending danger. I shut the curtains and deleted Grindr from my phone. I then spent the rest of the night messaging George to see how his holidays were going. I even sent a text asking Catherine about hers and though the response was a typical “Going shit” it was nice just to be in contact.

The next morning I promptly made my awkward farewells. I almost entirely missed my brother and dad and when I went to give my mother an awkward kiss on the cheek she pulled me in for a clingy hug that lasted a little too long. I left the house thankful that I hadn’t brought anything bulky to carry for my stay. I readjusted my backpack and turned on some music through my headphones as I walked through town to the station. It wasn’t until I made it halfway there that I realised I hadn’t really seen anyone in town and besides that I kept noticing funny things out of the corner of my eye. I was walking down one road when I swear I saw the shape of a man standing there but when I turned it was just a tree with some inconveniently shaped branches. I rubbed my eyes and tried to blame it on fatigue but noticed that I was walking faster than my usual rate for the rest of the way. My heart nearly missed a beat out of joy when I finally came across the miserable looking ticket salesman who seemed visible irritated at my enthusiasm for small talk when making my purchase.

Once on the train it seemed empty but then again my home town wasn’t exactly busy and I figured that once we passed back through London on the way home people would slowly begin to fill the carriages. The train itself wasn’t one of these creepy old run down things that should have been in disuse. Quite the contrary. It looked rather new or at had least been refurbished in the recent months. I don’t know why but the lack of people in the carriage was exacerbated slightly by its attractive design. Shrugging it off I readjusted my earphones and dulled back into a daydream. Over the next few stops a couple of people had entered my carriage. The first was an elderly lady with a kind face who sat in the row next to me. She was busy routing through her handbag for one of those magazines with all the “real life” stories. I only know because my mother had been starting to read that same crap recently. The other was a young man no more than a few years older than myself. He was carrying some luggage and as he went to place it in the holding area he caught a glance of me checking him out. Embarrassed I looked away and awkwardly avoided eye contact with his part of the train, a difficult feat since he was in front of me. Eventually he sat down and as more stops passed by others came and went on the train.

I don’t know what it is about trains but they always make me tired. I believe it’s the gentle rocking motion and the white noise of gears turning and sure enough I soon found myself drifting off into a light sleep. My dreams were plagued with a low laughter and disturbing faces etched into the base of my subconscious. I must’ve been leaning on my phone because a loud boom of music burst through my ear drums. I awoke startled and when I did the train lights were on and it was darker outside. Too dark. I had gotten on this train around 11am and it was only meant to last a few hours, nowhere near enough time to reach what I guessed now the late evening. Looking out of the window confused I noticed a reflection in the glass window. It was the old lady staring directly at me. Taking a deep breathe I turned my head to find she was indeed looking towards me. I was too terrified to scream and let out a muffled gag as her saw her features. Her skin was sagging and her eyes were buried deep into her skull. Lacerations littered her skin which I could only see now as being nothing less than surgical. Precise cuts made with a very sharp blade, perhaps a scalpel. I thought for the longest time that she was dead before she began making a retching guttural noise from the back of her gaping mouth. “Are you ok dear?” I eventually made out she was saying. She reached a lifeless hand out for me and I finally found my voice again. I shrieked.

“Are you ok dear?” I opened my eyes to find the old lady staring at me once more. Only now she looked normal. “You were talking in your sleep sweetheart” she said in a kind tone although I could tell she seemed concerned. I looked down to see my earphones had fallen out and were blasting with music. I only now felt the ringing in my ears from the loud boom earlier. Disorientated and feeling a little sick and embarrassed I got up at the next stop which was thankfully only a minute away. I left the train doors ignoring the hard look the man in front was giving me and made my way onto the platform. Attempting to compose myself I entered a different carriage a few ones back from my previous seat and found this new one was relatively packed. Confused but with no desire to sit down again in case I fell asleep once more, I stood for the rest of the journey. Every now and then I caught sight of myself in the reflection of the glass doors. I looked ill and I could feel my shirt drenched in sweat. Damn I must’ve stunk and promptly spent the rest of the journey avoiding eye contact with the other passengers and ignoring their scrunched up faces in response to what I can only assume was my obvious body odour.

After a long and arduous journey back home I opened the door to see George and Catherine in the living room. “Freddie! How were your holidays mate?” George exclaimed as he brought me into a hug, which I only half-heartedly returned. “You look like shit” was all Catherine could find the interest to say. “I’m fine mate” I said, only just hearing the shakes in my voice and fully aware of how I must’ve looked. George frowned, “You know, I think you have a point there Cathy, you don’t look good there bud”. I rubbed I eyes and conceded, telling them I was going to get some sleep. As I left the room I heard the buzz of the TV start again and word “headshot!” echo through the house. All the while Catherine was grumbling under her breath loud enough for anyone to hear about how she hated being called Cathy.

After climbing the stairs and going into the bathroom I pulled my clothes off me, getting angry when they stuck to my skin and wouldn’t initially budge. I punched the wall in anger and immediately regretted doing so as I sat down on the toilet lid and held my now throbbing hand. “It’s just holiday stress” I whispered to myself. “And now talking to myself” I seemed to reply. I stood up and ran my hand under a cold tap then proceeded to splash some water on my face. Shuddering a little from the sudden temperature I grabbed a nearby hand towel and dried myself off in the mirror. Ever have that experience where you see something standing behind you in a mirror that isn’t actually there? Well that didn’t happen, but the thought of it sure as shit shot through my mind as I scanned the room. “I’m cracking up” I once again whispered to myself as I observed my reflection. Catherine wasn’t pulling any punches earlier. I did look like shit. My skin was pale apart from dark bags under my eyes, my hair was overgrown and messy and my skin was tight as though it had been stretched back behind my ears. I felt my stomach give a lurch and realised I hadn’t eaten anything that day but I was too exhausted to go back downstairs and engage in further conversation. I hobbled to my room and collapsed in bed, watching the clock go by hour after hour before eventually falling asleep.

The next few days passed as my health became worse. In fact the only times I ever left my room were either bathroom breaks or to collect food I’d ordered to sustain myself in my own little isolation. On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve I received a knock on my bedroom door. It was George wanting to know if I was coming out to a party that night. I said I wasn’t feeling well and he invited himself in. “Jesus, smells like old takeout and…Have you been smoking in here again?” I shrugged my shoulders and avoided the question. “C’mon mate, you’ve been in here for days” he moaned as he sat at the end of my bed. A little irritated at the sudden intrusion I snapped “Well Catherine spends most of her time in her room”. “Yeah well that’s Princess Cathy” he said, making sure to lower his voice for the last two words as he always did whenever calling her that. “And I’m bored. I don’t even really fancy going out but it’s better than doing fuck all-”. “Look, I’m not in the mood” I snapped again, cutting him off midway through his bitching. Looking surprised and a little offended, he got up and left the room mumbling “get better soon” as he closed the door.

I felt a little bad but pushed it out of my mind and tried to get back to sleep. As usual whenever I was faced with any kind of confrontation, I spent the next few hours replaying that conversation in my head and thinking of clever remarks or excuses I could’ve used which would’ve ended it on a friendlier note. I mean I could’ve just told him what had been happening but I figured he’d think I was going crazy. I mean it’s not every day you imagine disfigured people on the train, not for me anyway. With that final thought the image crept back into my head and it was like seeing it for the first time again. My heart gave a jolt and I stared paranoid around the room for any movement. My eyes found their way to the wardrobe. I hate wardrobes. They’re so eerie and obvious in all the horror stories I’d read. Always the hiding place of the serial axe murderer who skins children alive in their beds at night. I shuddered at the thought, fucking hated those things. Lost in that thought for a moment the door knocked once more and I swear I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. “Yes?” I called out feebly. The door opened and I gave a sigh of relief when Catherine came in. I mean who did I expect, Genghis Khan? She looked around the room and gave her usual disgusted look. “You need to air this place out…hang on, have you been smoking in here again?” I rolled my eyes and with my fear passing I was starting to feel a little annoyed once more. “Was there something you wanted?” She took a moment to answer, looking at me expressionlessly, “Yeah, George decided to just order pizza and play video games, you in?” “Well actually I was planning to-” “Cool, see you downstairs” as she closed the door behind her abruptly.

I lifted myself out of bed and groaned as my feet hit the ground. A sensation of pins and needles swept through my legs as usual whenever spending days at a time in bed. I threw on some pyjamas and a robe for warmth and headed downstairs. George was lounging back on one sofa with a controller in hand, playing some online video games while Catherine was curled up on the other, watching the screen intently. She reminded me of a cat sometimes, silent but always staring in a manner which suggested she was analysing everything in her field of vision. The stoic and general anti-social behaviour didn’t help much to refute this comparison either. As you may have already guessed, I’m not a cat person. In fact I’d say they’re on the same list as wardrobes for me.

I sat next to George and apologised for my earlier outburst. He told me not to worry about it and offered me a second controller. Over the next 40 minutes we opened some beers and proceeded to have a laugh playing some online matches. Even Catherine joined in, but promptly quit after her poor playing abilities produced childish sniggers from me and George. She didn’t seem to mind though and on more than one occasion I swear I thought I saw the outline of a smile on her face as me and George messed around. Eventually a knock on the door signalled that our food had arrived. “Mmmmmmm…Pizza…” George jumped from the sofa and imitated a monkey as he left the room. As I said, a funny guy but not exactly Isaac Newton. I sat there laughing for a moment as Catherine merely rolled her eyes at me when I heard a loud beep coming from the console followed by a notification reading “HaloFiend95 has sent you a message”. My heart stopped and my face froze mid laugh as I physically felt the colour drain from my face. I was broken from this phase as I heard George wish the pizza delivery man a happy new year followed by his footsteps back into the room. I looked over and saw Catherine staring me down with a suspicious gaze.

George walked back into the room and offered me some pizza. I shook my head but heard Catherine ask him to bring her a slice. I felt her eyes burning into the side of my head and when I looked over I saw that she had adjusted her position to look at me more clearly. Even as she ate her slice her eyes never once ventured from my face. It was the kind of look you’d expect a scientist to give to an ongoing experiment, studying every detail for the slightest change. George himself took a few moments to take in the tense situation he’d walked in on. “Erm…what’s going on?” When I didn’t answer he asked again. Half way through his third time asking in a now worried tone Catherine raised her free hand to silence him. She took her time to wipe her mouth and place her pizza slice on a napkin, never once looking away from me during. She gave a final swallow and cleared her throat before finally asking, “Who was that Freddie?” in a monotone voice which gave no clear indication of worry. Just cold clinical interest. “Who was what?” George interjected, now visibly confused and a little startled. Catherine once more raised her hand and George fell silent. When I didn’t answer she told him to open the messages and look at HaloFiend95’s. It read:

“Saw you on the train the other day. You didn’t say hello :(
That was rude wasn’t it?
Happy New Year xx”

George and Catherine spent several seconds staring at the screen. I looked over at George, whose confused face suddenly erupted into a sly smirk. “Oh…I get it. This your boyfriend or something?”. “George, shut up” interjected Catherine which quickly wiped the look from his face. “Freddie look at me”. We made eye contact and what surprised me most was the look she gave me. It was empathy. I don’t think I need to explain that was wasn’t an expression I was exactly used to seeing her make. I attempted to say what had been going on in the last few weeks but I kept stumbling over my words. “George get him a cigarette from his room”. While he was gone Catherine and I were left alone for an awkward minute or two. It was strange seeing her like this, for a moment I felt I actually preferred her cold side. Thankfully George came down soon enough and I started smoking. He sat down on an armchair and shot a look at Catherine to carry on. I told them everything that had happened, only now realising how crazy it all sounded once I said it out loud. George attempted to interrupt once but was quickly hushed by Catherine, who remained quietly in thought as I said my story.

As soon as I was finished talking George looked to the TV still displaying the message and then back to me. He stood up and pulled his phone from his back pocket and sat back down. “What are you doing?” It was the first thing Catherine had said since I started talking. George looked amazed, “I’m calling the police! What the fuck do you think I’m doing? Jesus, Freddie says this guy’s been stalking him for weeks and now he messages him here!” He looked at me and then Catherine. Catherine sighed and rubbed her forehead, “I’m sure Freddie has already called them about this. Right?” But one look from me was all she needed. George groaned and muttered something under his breath. Half an hour passed after George called 999 and the pizza remained pretty much untouched when a couple of police officers arrived at the house. They took some details from me about the texts and the images but claimed since I didn’t possess any of the latter and the only message was the one I had just received, I would probably be better off blocking this person on any social media. They said they’d use the information I had given them and told me to immediately report any further incidents.

Catherine showed them out after they had everything they needed and returned to the living room. George was furious, “They barely took any details!” he began pacing the room, “If you ask me they’re more interested in getting pissed for New Year’s than actually solving cri-”. “George!” Catherine shouted, “The reason they didn’t take many details is because they are barely any details Freddie can give!” George sat back down, looking scolded. She turned on me and I flinched expecting the same treatment. Her face softened but her tone was firm, “they’re right though, you have to report any further contact with this guy”. I nodded and we all returned to our original seats. I don’t know if 10 minutes passed or an hour before George finally asked if anyone wanted him to reheat the pizza. I half expected Catherine to storm out but with a sigh she actually agreed. I spent that night being convinced to pick at my food by Catherine while George shook off his earlier spike of anxiety and continued to play his games. I had long since lost interest in any such activities but joined in simply to maintain appearances in front of the two. Hours passed and the New Year had begun, not that we were celebrating. By 2am George had crashed on the sofa after having drank most of the beer we had. He’d never been one to handle his drink well and Catherine and I figured it’d be better to let him sleep it off downstairs. Covering him with a blanket and heading upstairs, we made our silent farewells and retreated to our rooms.

I laid in bed for hours, slowly allowing my eyes to adjust to the pitch black scenery as time rolled by. My eyes flickered every time a gust of wind blew through my window and disturbed the curtains, allowing traces of light from the outside lamp posts to dance across the room. Eventually I got out of bed and slammed the window shut but the low thud of it closing was drowned out by a sudden noise echoing through the house. A noise which made my blood run cold. An animalistic shriek, like a fox being torn to shreds. Without thinking I grabbed the nearest blunt object to me which happened to be a small steel weight bar. Sounds convenient I know that it was just lying around but maybe I’m just a paranoid fuck at the best of times. Regardless I wasn’t exactly cursing my luck as I flung my door open and found Catherine standing on the landing, eyes alert. I guess she hadn’t gotten any sleep either. I dashed down the stairs with the bar outstretched. Truth be told I was never exactly a fighter so how I planned to use this weapon if confronted with something remained to be seen. I turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs to see George huddled up on the sofa sobbing and nursing his face with his hands. The back door leading through to the garden was wide open and there seemed to be signs of a struggle littered all over the place. Glasses smashed, cupboard doors torn from the hinges and an overturned table. I placed the bar on the counter and ran over to check on George but found he didn’t have a scratch on him. No marks, bruises or lacerations. Nothing to suggest he’d been physical attacked at any rate. We tried to get something intelligible out of him but he only sobbed and ignored our pressing. At one point he lunged at me and it was only Catherine and my bar that she’d picked up that caused him to stop and retreat back to the foetal position and begin sobbing once more.

Catherine called the police to the house for the second time that night plus an ambulance for George. “Catatonic” was the word the paramedic used once they’d finally gotten him to enter the vehicle with them. The police remained for a short while after and only once the questions began being asked did we realise just how confusing the situation was. “So you heard this noise and woke up?” the officer in charge asked us. “No” Catherine replied, “We were both awake and when we heard the noise we came down to investigate”. “So when did you hear the glass shattering, was it before or after?” We looked at each other and I realised Catherine was thinking the same thing as me. This room looked like a bomb had gone off in it and we had both been wide awake just upstairs. How had we not heard any commotion? “We-erm…we don’t know” I replied weakly. The officer looked visibly perplexed and slightly irritated, “Have you been drinking tonight sir?” he asked me in a firm manner. “Well, yes…” his eyebrow raised, “but that was hours ago I swear”. “So how long after hearing Mr. Milligan in distress did it take you to come down?” At this stage Catherine thankfully interrupted before I could answer. “It was immediately, and I told you when you first came in that George didn’t make that noise. It sounded like an animal or something.” The officer wrote something down in his pad as his colleague stood up from examining the door and turned to us. “Sergeant, there’s no sign of forced entry. It seems to me that either the back door was unlocked or Mr. Milligan let the intruder in.”

The police sergeant and his constable left soon after followed by a few investigators who took some samples of the scene and scoped the furniture for any kind of prints. By the time Catherine and I were alone in the house together, the sun was already coming up and even the traumatic events of the last 24 hours couldn’t distract me from the fact I had barely slept a wink during this time. After doing a thorough sweep of the house and ensuring every door and window was securely closed and locked, I told Catherine I needed to get some shut eye. She told me she wasn’t tired and asked me if she could stay in my room for a while and do some work. Although playing it casual, I knew it didn’t take a genius to work out she was frightened and didn’t want to be alone. I won’t deny, I wasn’t too keen on the concept either and with relief agreed she could. She set up her laptop on my desk as I got into bed and closed my eyes, exhaustion quickly doing its part to send me to sleep. Only the low constant clicks of Catherine’s typing to fill my mind.

I dreamed I was walking downstairs to get a late night snack when I saw George on the sofa. He was huddled and shaking, making occasional whimpering noises and covering his face. As I approached him and asked what wrong he turned to me and let out the loud shriek from earlier. His eyelids appeared to be surgically removed and his mouth was gaping open as if his jaw had been forcibly dislocated, giving him a permanently terrified look. I awoke with a start and found Catherine prodding me. Apparently I’d been groaning and turning in my sleep and she wanted to see if I was ok. “Bad dream?” she asked in her usual monotone voice. “Yeah, something like that”. I rubbed my eyes and tried my best to ignore my sweaty hands and forehead. “What’s the time?” I yawned. “Just gone noon. Listen Freddie, you should know something happened earlier and I didn’t want to wake you at the time. You looked like you needed the sleep.” I sat up in bed as she continued. “I heard your phone beeping earlier and as I checked to turn off the noise I saw what it was. It was an email.” She had a pained expression on her face with that last sentence which said more than words ever could. “Was it him?” I asked. She nodded and sighed, “That sergeant from last night gave me his office number and I called to tell him. He told me the account has been deleted.” I swore under my breath. “What did the email say?” Catherine’s eyes seemed to fill with tears and for a second I felt time stop. I had never seen her this scared before. I tried to make the most comforting expression I could without revealing just how scared shitless I really was. I looked her in the eyes which for once weren’t staring directly at mine, but darting around anxiously. “Catherine. What did the email say?” I asked softly. “It said-” she took a few breaths and managed to compose herself a little, “It said George is going to die”.

I felt sick. Catherine and I spent several minutes in silence before I shot up out of my bed. “We have to see if he’s ok”. I pulled off my sweat soaked pyjamas as Catherine shielded her eyes. “I’ve already called the hospital and they said he can’t have visitors yet. I tried getting some information but all they said was that he was in some kind of shock.” I pulled on a shirt and went to grab my keys and wallet from the desk when Catherine grasped my hand firmly, “I know you’re worried for him Freddie. I am too. But the police are involved and they can handle it”. I snatched my hand away from hers with a little more force than I intended, though being Catherine she barely seemed to register it. “Well what should we do?” I asked in a defeated tone. She sighed and after a long pause looked at me, “I guess we wait”. 10 minutes passed before Catherine packed up her things and left the room. I didn’t blame her, she looked like she do with a nap at any rate. I supposed now some time had passed and the initial shock had worn off she felt safer on her own.

I went downstairs and found the living room still in the same state as the night before. I stood up the knocked over furniture and examined some of the cupboard doors. Most of them seemed fine besides minor paint work damage but a few had nearly been completely torn from the wall. It must’ve taken something strong to do this kind of damage. The kitchen had only been refurbished a few months before and a lot of the scenery was brand new, not exactly old and decaying. The landlord’s going to be pissed off that’s for sure. I got to my knees and scoured the floor, sweeping up all the broken glass scattered around. I worked my way towards the sofa where we’d found George and noticed there was glass underneath. Groaning I pulled the furniture out and away from the wall to get a better look. However amongst all the old mothballs, bottle caps and other bits and pieces that had found their way under here in the previous months there was a scrap of paper. I picked it up and saw it was an old receipt from the local newsagents for a load of frozen pizzas. George, I thought amused, he’d never learned to bloody cook and always ate this processed crap. For a moment I’d almost forgotten reality and allowed myself to smile a little before I realised there was writing on the other side.

“It lives in the walls. Preys on those alone. Don’t think about it and don’t look at it.”

Now I won’t deny that creeped the fuck out of me. I mean it was definitely George’s handwriting, albeit heavy and rushed like he’d scrawled it in a hurry. But what did he mean? It lives in the walls. I scanned the room slowly. Did he mean it was inside the house? Preys on those alone. My eyes shot open as I stuffed the paper into my pocket and sprinted towards the stairs, taking two at a time until I reached the top of the landing and burst through Catherine’s door. Expecting a scene similar to last night I was instead greeted by a panicked scream and a blunt strike to the head. “Freddie! What the fuck!?” I heard Catherine shout. Panting from the quick sprint from downstairs and now nursing a headache all I could manage was, “Downstairs…thought you were…in danger. Ow did you throw a fucking book at my face?”. “Psychology for second year” she replied in a disinterested tone, though I could tell she was trying to mask a layer of amusement in her voice. She stood over me as I sat on the edge of her bed and she lifted my chin to get a better look. “Hardback edition” she added with the hint of a smirk. “You’re bleeding a little but you don’t seem concussed”. She walked over to her desk and brought out a first aid kit. “Now what was so important you had to storm in here?” As she tended to the cut on my forehead I read her the note that George had written but to my surprise she didn’t seem taken aback. “I don’t know Freddie” she frowned. “George wasn’t exactly in the right frame of mind when he wrote that.” I argued that we had to find out what he meant by it. “Well you can ask him yourself” she said with a small smile. “Got a call from the hospital a little while ago. They’ve said we can visit him tomorrow.”

The visiting times for the local wards was 9am so Catherine and I woke up a couple of hours earlier to get there as soon as possible. It was a tense breakfast. Neither of us had any particular appetite and although the mess had been cleaned up and the cupboards were temporarily back in place, there was an unsettling feeling in the house. Somebody had broken into our home and even now life was meant to be carrying on, all I could feel was violation and humiliation lurking in the walls downstairs. I could tell Catherine felt it too, which was why she waited for me to get ready and accompany her before taking a single step down the stairs that morning. Eventually we gave up picking at our food and after checking and then double checking that every window and door was closed we decided to waste no time setting out.

A cold gust of winter breeze kissed my face and I realised that I hadn’t actually left the house once since getting back just after Boxing Day. Several days of being trapped indoors with nothing but artificial light had taken their toll on my vision and it took several minutes for my eyes to adjust to the sunlight. Ignoring the initial sense of nausea, we quickly made our way through town without incident. Eventually we arrived at the hospital to find we were still early. A nurse directed us to sit down in a waiting room as minutes of watching that loud morbid clock that every hospital room seems to possess ticked slowly by. At 5 minutes to 9 the nurse led another person into the room to join us. “Freddie!” was all I heard before being pulled into a tight hug. When released and finally able to breathe I recognised the figure of George’s mother. Although a kind woman, Mrs. Milligan was often the subject of horror stories by George who would talk for hours about how his mother’s over protective attitude and general hypochondria had often kept him out of school and generally disturbed the happier days of his childhood. However it was difficult not to feel bad for her. The death of George’s father many years ago had clearly taken a toll on her mental wellbeing and her over-protectiveness of her son seemed to be result of him being the only family she had left. I’d given up trying to trying to explain this to George though, since he’d just start rambling about the time she pulled him from school for a month because she was worried about E.coli breaking out in Southern England.

After several minutes of hearing her rapidly speak in a worried tone to the attending nurse, who was doing her best to explain that George was ok, we were eventually told it’d be alright to go and see him. Initially Catherine and I remained seated in the waiting room since we didn’t want to impose on George’s family visitation. However when I tried to explain this to Mrs. Milligan she simply brushed me off and dragged me along with her as the nurse lead us to George’s ward. Catherine simply followed behind silently, enjoying the view of me being essentially manhandled by a 5 and a half foot tall, 52 year old women. As we arrived at George’s bedside the curtains had been drawn and he was upright in bed, a big goofy grin on his face. The pair of us exchanged nervous glances at what appeared to be a pretty rapid recovery. After George battled off his mother’s barrage of hugs and kisses, he greeted the rest of us cheerfully. Catherine opened her bag and pulled out a gaming magazine. “Here” she said softly, “It’s the January edition. Figured you hadn’t gotten it yet and thought you might get bored so” her voice trailed off sounding a little embarrassed, though her face was just as stoic as ever. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as George blushed a little and thanked her. Fuck me I thought, do they put something in the water in student accommodations? After a few awkward seconds, George piped up. “Mum, would you mind giving me a few minutes with Freddie and Catherine?” “Why?” she replied sternly. “Because I’m a fucking adult” he snapped back. Looking annoyed and a little disheartened, she shot a dirty glance at Catherine before leaving the ward.

We told George about the email I’d been sent the previous day. “I know” he said, surprisingly unfazed by the news. “Coppers don’t reckon it’s anything to be too worried about. Apparently they’ve got someone here keeping an eye out just in case Freddy Kruger pops by.” I pulled the paper out of my pocket and unfolded it. “What’s that?” he asked. I ignored the look Catherine was giving me and handed it over. “I found it yesterday. It looks like your hand writing mate”. George studied it for a moment, his eyes darting back and forth over each word. I swear I saw a flicker of fear for just a moment before looked up giving me a blank expression. He shrugged, “Sorry man, I don’t remember writing this”. He scratched his head and handed me back the paper. As the more the three of us spoke the more we discovered how little George remembered of events of that night. According to him, the last thing he remembered was passing out in our living room and then waking up in hospital the next night. We figured the nurses had been keeping him sedated on account of his obvious shock, making a lapse of memory an easy side effect to consider. We spoke for a few more minutes before Mrs. Milligan arrived back to see her son. Catherine and I made our leave promising to visit again the next day, when we figured we’d be able to stay longer without interruption. George looked gloomy at the prospect of being left alone with his mother but seemed happy enough when he heard we’d visit again.

The next day we kept our word and arrived early once more, this time spending almost the entire visiting section of the day in George’s ward. We joked around, played cards and discussed what games we were going to buy when our University loans came in. We did this again for the next few days and before we knew it things seemed back to normal. Although he seemed fine, the doctor had wanted George to get a few days rest while some tests were made to determine the cause of his “seizure” as they were now referring to it. Although sceptical myself, it was hard to doubt when seeing George back to his old self. He didn’t seem to mind having to stay in the hospital. In fact I’d say he was rather keen on the idea. I don’t know about you but I haven’t met many people who like hospitals, let alone staying in them when they have their own house nearby. It occurred to me that perhaps George felt safer in the hospital than at home. It made sense for him to show some anxiety when having to return to the place of an apparently traumatic event. Even though he claimed not to remember his particular incident.

We had first visited George on a Friday, then every day after. However on Tuesday evening as we were getting ready to make our farewells, the nurse who usually came by to kick us out was replaced by George’s physician. Smiling, he informed the three of us that all tests came back negative for epilepsy or any kind of neurological anomaly. As a result George could discharge himself the next morning and come home. Catherine and I both gave sighs of relief and couldn’t keep the grins off our faces. However when I looked over to George he seemed lost in thought, like he was trying to work out a complex maths equation and his student loan repayments at the same time. I caught his eye and after a second he smiled back at me but I couldn’t help feeling it looked forced. “We’ll come by tomorrow morning and help you bring back your stuff” smiled Catherine. He nodded, looking pained as he tried smiling once more. “See you guys tomorrow”.

Those were the last words I’d ever hear my friend say. The next morning we were woken by loud thumps at the door followed by, “Police. Is anyone home?” After quickly throwing on jeans and a hoodie I opened the door and it was the police sergeant from the week before. I invited him and his constable into the living room and put the kettle on. Catherine soon made her way down too, looking like she was half way through putting her morning face on. She wasn’t exactly one to care about appearances though but on any other occasion I would’ve sniggered at the sight of only one half of her face with any make up on. As I brought through the constable’s tea and sat down in the armchair sipping my own the sergeant began speaking. “I’m afraid I have some bad news.” My heart sank and I began to hear static in my brain as my vision blurred and my mind prepared itself for what I’d hear next. The Sergeant’s mouth was moving but I could barely hear the words “…body found in the woods…” I didn’t need a brain to work out there were talking about George. Tears swelled in my eyes and I felt my insides churning as I hung my head and shifted it, the only thing I could do to stop myself being sick. I saw the officers’ stand up as the Sergeant thanked us for our time. Once they’d shown themselves out I looked over at Catherine. Her expression looked passive but I could see the muscles in her face were tense and she was grinding her teeth. She didn’t look sad, she looked angry.

Neither of us said a word to each other for two days. We were still technically in our holidays so there was really no reason either of us had to leave our own bedrooms. A few days after George’s death I was lying in bed and staring at the ceiling when I turned my phone on. An instant buzzer displayed another anonymous text dated the night of George’s death. By this point I was angry. Boy, was I angry. I looked at the text icon and clicked it, “I told you it would happen didn’t I?” I clenched my fist around my phone in rage and threw it against the nearest wall. I screamed. I screamed until I thought my lungs were going to shrivel in my chest and pop. I felt my vocal chords stretch to the point of tearing and when I was done I laid back, too tired to even cry any more. It’s hard to believe Catherine didn’t hear me, though if she had she didn’t give any indication. I left my room and went downstairs and sat down. I picked up the TV remote and turned on the television. I nearly threw the fucking thing too when it took what I felt was too long to start up. I flipped through the channels to find the regional news. They were still covering George’s death like clockwork, interviewing random arseholes who never knew him but just wanted to be on television. They’d have these shit eating grins on their faces as they talked about how much they missed him and what a good friend he was. I felt my blood boil again but as they began to talk about the ongoing case, I sat up and listened intently. From what I understood at this stage, it was a simple suicide. George had left the hospital after lights out and hanged himself in the woods. In the morning some poor bastard walking his dog discovered him. A note had been found but the details of it hadn’t been revealed to the public and that was the end of that.

“Despite initial police claims that the victim, 20 year old George Milligan, had committed suicide” the news reader stated, “newer reports speculate that foul-play may be suspected”. The anger died in me as quickly as it rose and my blood froze in my veins. I watched the report for 2 hours, by which point they had begun to repeat themselves for the fifth time and I didn’t want to hear any more. Based on what I could make out from what they said was that before the police were able to cordon off the scene someone had sneaked in and taken a picture of George’s body. They had subsequently posted it online to several of these shifty gore sights. Fucking people with their fucking cameras. Cunts. If you’ve read this far into my story I’m sure you can predict what was in the picture because at that stage I knew before the words even came tumbling out of the news reader’s mouth. My mind was once again a blur only occasionally penetrated by terms such as eyelids removed, dislocated jaw, broken nose and teeth missing. I suppose now you may be wondering whether George was murdered or if he had indeed killed himself. Did he mutilate his own face and leave a note before hanging himself? Truth be told is I don’t know and if the police knew then why the fuck would they tell me.

The next couple of weeks were the hardest of my entire life. Catherine and I said very little to each other the entire time, even when sharing a car to George’s funeral. There was plenty of media attention at the event and I had to physically hold back Catherine when one reporter made a comment about the two’s relationship. The hostilities didn’t end there. One day in late January our landlord had stopped by to talk to us. He wanted our help finding a new occupant for what used to be George’s room and the answer was a right hook to the face courtesy of Catherine. She left the next day, wishing me well in life and giving me a hug. I returned the short and awkward farewell and watched her leave in her parent’s car. They looked like nice people. Now alone in the house of ghosts I wandered the halls and rooms, seeing strange shadows flutter in the corners every now and then. A trick of the eye most likely although it didn’t bother me. Indeed, I almost felt like I’d become one of them. Just another of the ghosts in this house.

I left University a month ago in the first week of February and moved back into my parent’s house. My mother was thrilled of course, she had her little “pickles” back. Without coursework to keep me occupied I started working in my dad’s construction company managing finances. I was always good with numbers and it kept the old man off my back about not contributing to the household. I read in the news the other day about Mrs. Milligan’s funeral. Apparently they’d found her in bed a few weeks after her son was laid to rest, clutching his photograph next to a bottle of gin and an empty packet of sleeping pills. There was no note but I guess she didn’t have anyone to leave one for. I can sympathise with that. I often wonder how Catherine is doing. You know I never even knew what part of the country her parents lived in and with her lack of social media combined with my destroyed phone, I supposed there was no real way to contact her. It wasn’t as though I had anything I could say to her anyway. I still occasionally suffer from nightmares, waking in a cold sweat and hearing the beeps of messages that aren’t there. Sometimes I wake still thinking I’m in my old house and it takes me a few moments to realise Catherine and George are not there. It’s weird that even here in the walls I grew up in I struggle to think of a time I’ve ever felt more alone.

Writing this story has brought me some solace at least and I hope those of you who have suffered through to the end can appreciate that. It’s funny really, in all the horror stories you read the main protagonist always solves the case of the mysterious figure. Or he’s just another victim of a murderous psychopath. “Anti-climactic” is the phrase often used but sometimes life is anti-climactic. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make sense of those events. It’s now been about two months since I was last contacted by whoever that person was. In that period I’ve gone over the events time and time again to the point of madness. Sometimes I even wonder the validity of their supposed malevolence. They never actually threatened me, nor George for that matter. Perhaps they were trying to warn me, and the graphic photos and creepy messages were just their fucked up way of doing so. I don’t know if this was an isolated case to me or if it’s happened to anyone else. Truth be told I’ve reached the stage where I don’t want to know. The only one for sure who knew was George, and whether though suicide or murder that truth died with him.

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