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Darkness

June 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I think it was several weeks ago when it started. The electronics in my house started flickering on and off. At first, it was just a minor annoyance. I’d be on the internet, and my computer would shut down. Or I’d be cooking something in the oven, and it’d turn off halfway through. I called an electrician, who said that the wiring in my house was in tip-top shape. Not believing him, I called several more electricians, all of whom said the same thing. I tried using less electricity in the house, thinking I was overloading it. Eventually, I learned to live with it.

What sparked my attention was when my co-workers began to complain of the same thing. The woman in the cubicle over from mine confided in me that her iPod had died, with a full battery, then resumed working minutes later. Soon, we were hearing bits and pieces about it on the news. They told us that the problem would be fixed soon, and nothing more. I soon found out that it wasn’t just our area afflicted. Many areas across the country- and, later on I’d find out, across the world- were being affected.

Things began to get worse. By now, many were used to just one or two of their electronic devices not working at once. But when they began to all shut off at once, and then not work for hours on end, the panic grew. There was no explanation. The media couldn’t tell us why, the electricians couldn’t tell us why. Then the generators started failing. Most schools and office buildings, and even some private homes, have generators for when the electricity goes out. The generators were working just fine, and then, like their electronic relatives, they began to not work. Children had to go to school in complete darkness on some days. I even remember having to navigate my way through my office building with a flashlight; before the flashlight stopped working, of course.

When the lights stopped turning back on, people began to panic. No matter what was done, some homes were completely left in the dark. Panic set in. Without any media access, people were quite literally in the dark about things. Then the madness started. People screaming that they were hearing or seeing things. The woman in the cubicle over from mine had a manic episode. I assume that it was fairly bad, because she stapled her own eyelids. Or so I heard, since by then our building had completely lost power.

Society began to break. Electronics keep our species in touch, in the light, and entertained. Without these things we weren’t seeing what was happening in the world. I stopped going to work. No one was really going anywhere anymore; people were staying at home, stockpiling food and survival necessities, and taking care of their loved ones who were suffering from delusions. During the day- the only time where there was light, now- I saw a man collapse on my lawn. I rushed out to help him, but as soon as I got near him, he started screaming and clawing at the air.
“Oh god, the lights! We need the lights! Turn them back on, please!”
I was afraid to approach him. I took a few steps closer, until what he said stunned me.
“They’ll come if we don’t have the lights! Come for us all! Man, woman, child!”
I felt my hair stand up on end. I’m a rational, church going man, but the way this man was screaming, the way his eyes looked, I felt that he may not be just suffering from a delusion.
I would have asked the man more, but he collapsed, his heart giving out to another attack. He lay on his face in the light of my lawn. I didn’t want to leave him there, but I couldn’t call the police, and I’d never seen his face in this neighborhood. I ended up dragging him to the police station across town, even though I knew the cops wouldn’t be there. By the time I made my way back, the sun was setting, its yellow and orange penumbra stretching over the horizon as night approached. I felt my hair stand on end again as I rushed to my house, slamming the door shut behind me.

An hour later, I was almost drifting off to sleep- I didn’t do much else, these days- when a godless shriek of pure agony ripped the air like a cleaver through steam. A bloodcurdling scream, coming from a few houses over. I shot up in bed, and bolted to the house. A few others joined me as we waited to see what was wrong. However, no one came to the door, no one cried for help. One of the men who had come to help decided to check it out. He busted down the door, and disappeared into the darkness inside. A few moments later, we heard his scream, too. But, as we were closer this time, we also heard brand new noises.

The sickening suction and then tearing sound of flesh being torn from bone, of two-toned inhuman laughter, of blood splattering the walls like the canvas of a modern artist.

My next memory is arriving back home. If I think deeply on it, I remember seeing one of them, through one of the house’s windows. Just it’s bright golden eyes, of course. The being itself was black, matching the darkness it lives in. Of course, it did have those teeth. Oh God, those teeth. When it smiled at me through that window, I saw them. Shiny and white and sharp, the entrails of innards of its victims hanging from them like streamers.
And now here I am. I’ve locked myself in my room, only the moonlight from my yellowed circular window to guide my pen as I write this.The panic outside is audible; they’re trying to fight whatever that monster was, but failing. I hear more and more screams as those who were too brave or too stupid (One part brave, two parts fool) to run attack the beast. I’m almost certain that if I looked I would dry heave, the scent of blood was almost pungent in the air, even at this height. Could they really take pleasure in killing these humans? What kind of monster would enjoy that? More crunching of bones, more blood staining the streets. It’s all I’ve had the pleasure of listening to for the past few hours. I’m surprised I haven’t completely lost my goat, yet.
I’ve had time to think, too. This is why we’re afraid of the dark. These things ARE the dark, the worst of it. They’re the reason that children have to sleep with a nightlight on. Light kills them. That’s why they don’t attack during the daylight. Or whenever there’s even the smallest amount of light, even coming from a computer screen. They’re careful about appearing to humans- When it’s not mealtime, of course- but now I know why everyone’s afraid of the dark when they’re a kid. I remember, now, seeing one of them out of the corner of my eye when I was five years old. My mother told me I was just seeing things, that it wasn’t real, that it didn’t exist.

If I can hold out for a few more hours, daylight will come. Maybe help will come. But they won’t be able to attack me. I’ll be safe. But that probably won’t happen, since I can hear them downstairs, now. I can hear them as they run through the rooms searching for their next game. Next kill. Next feast. They’re knocking over tables and chairs, tearing up the walls. They’re coming for me, and that deadbolt locked door isn’t going to hold them off. I’m going to suffer the same fate as those people in the streets.

The quiet thud of my pen dropping onto my bed jolts me upright. I toss the padded paper aside, grabbing onto the Chefs knife that I had taken upstairs with me I wait.

I can hear their claws scraping at the door, tapping the knob and receiving a pleasant clinging noise. Like when you hit a spoon and a pan together. I hear another two toned giggle, one tone as pleasant and innocent as that of a child, the other as dark and as sinister as the devil himself.
I grip the knife that I had stolen from the kitchen on my way up, clutching it with a sense of false courage. I know that this won’t do anything more than the guns did in the street. Absolutely nothing.

My knuckles are white, and I know I should be focused on survival, but all I can think about is why? Why did this have to happen? What turned the lights out? Was it just our time as humans to go? Was it just time for our species to end?

My thoughts were traveling at a speed I could barely comprehend, and then they all stopped as the horrific creaking noise of my door opening slowly tears through my pseudo confidence, my eyes meeting one of theirs. I drop the knife, fingers losing their ability to hold on any longer.

They’re approaching me, moving slowly, their teeth curled in hideous grins. I fumble for the knife, swinging it wildly as they approach. It moves through their bodies like air.

It’s funny, the last thing I remember is my mother telling me that they aren’t real. That they don’t exist.

And you can’t kill what doesn’t exist.

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The Man in the Road

June 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I sat quietly, sipping my glass of wine and wishing desperately that the evening would come to an end. Two of my friends, Brad and Laurie, had been invited to a get together with another friend of ours. He lived across the river in St. Louis and we hardly got to see him, so when he invited us to a wine tasting he was hosting we jumped at the chance, Brad being kind enough to give us a lift. The guests were mostly old friends of the host and as such shared many of his old war stories; stories of his drunken youth filled with all manner of crazy stunts and funny events. I was sitting apart from the crowd because I had very little to offer in the conversation; my childhood, by contrast, was very tame and I always felt a little embarrassed trying to compete.

Something about these kind gatherings always made me very self-conscious, but I was here to visit a friend so I put on a brave face and tried to mingle with little success. Every conversation I tried to take part in was alien to me, tours of duty in the military or one night stands and drunken revelry. I mostly just stood amongst the group and listened, occasionally trying to add to the merriment but only proving, if only in my own mind, how very much I didn’t belong. I eventually ended up sitting by the glass sliding doors that led to the back porch, all around me people where laughing and talking about old times and good friends now far away, and even though I longed to be a part of it I couldn’t work up the nerve. I sat quietly sipping my wine and waiting for the others to decide to go when the lights suddenly flickered and went out. A few people cursed at the sudden darkness while our host fumbled for a flashlight, As I stood up to help him my gaze turned to the sliding door and to a dark figure just outside the fence. I lingered for a moment just staring at him; he was standing just out of the light of the street lamps, which were flickering themselves. I couldn’t make him out in the darkness but I could tell that he was very tall and he was facing the house. The figure stood perfectly still as I watched him and even though I knew I was just as hidden in the dark as he was, I felt like he was watching me. This entire event only lasted a few breaths and as I turned to help find some form of light the power kicked back on; I turned to look back toward the tall figure but he was gone.

Eventually the party wound down and the guests began to leave; Brad, Laurie and I lingered a little and thanked our friend for a lovely evening before departing, I never did mention the strange figure to anyone that night, in hindsight I wish desperately that I had. I sat in the back and talked to my friends as we started through the thick woods that lead us to the highway. The road that passed through these woods had no street lights and the road itself was very narrow, it was a wonder there weren’t more accidents on it. I was sitting in the back talking to Brad, who was driving, and Laure in the passenger seat when Brad suddenly yelled. The car swerved sharply as Brad tried to avoid the tall man that had appeared from nothing in the road and as we screeched past him he was illuminated for a brief moment. All I could make out as the car sped past was that he was tall and wore a black suite but could make out no further details as the car started to roll.

I can’t recall how many times we rolled, I had slammed my head hard against the roof after our first roll and things became very fuzzy after that; I do remember wishing I had buckled my seat belt and the sudden landing. The car made a sickening sound as it hit, the screaming sound of metal on pavement and a thud as one the occupants landed outside, thrown out during our violent accident. Sight returned to me slowly and I found I was half out the window of the overturned car, but I could hear a quite sobbing somewhere in the dark. I looked around and saw the car, mostly whole but many chunks had been torn free almost like it had been gnawed by some terrible creature. I saw Brad lying on his back toward the front, his head was bleeding heavily and his right arm was bent in an impossible angle, I couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not. The dark woods hid everything beyond the wreck in an inky sheet of night, it may as well been the void of space outside the dimming glow of the headlights. I tried to pull myself up to check on my friends but the moment I tried to move I saw pain, not felt it mind you, saw it flash before my eyes in a spectrum of pale colors as I tried to move; even the thought of movement hurt.

I lay in the road by the car for who knows how long, I was still half in the window trying to muster the strength to crawl out when I saw Brad move. At first I was relived, he had to still be alive if he was moving, but the way he moved wasn’t right. He moved in short jerks, his body slowly turning until his feet where out of the beam of the headlights and pointing at the inky dark beyond. I lifted myself up as best I could to try and make sense of what was happening; Brad’s limp form jerk once, then twice, and then like a bullet rocketed off into the darkness. The movement was so sudden I questioned if I had seen it at all. I tried to move again but was rewarded with those flashes of pain; I only managed to get out of the window and into the street, that’s when I heard the crying grow louder and more urgent. At first the crying was a tired kind of sob not the balling of a child, like a person who had been through too much suffering in too short a time, now it sounded frantic and panicked. I heard a brief scuffling out of sight on the other side of the car then a silence. I held my breath waiting for what I don’t know and after a few short seconds that stretched forever, the night air was pierced by a shrill cry.

To call the stillness that followed silence would not have done it justice, this silence had weight to it and I felt it on my chest as I looked around me and saw the light of the headlights growing dimmer. I noticed then that there was no sound at all, not even the sound of insects or the nocturnal animals of the woods, something was near the wreck, hiding just out of the shrinking circle of light, some unnatural thing that even the beasts of these dark woods feared.

Forgetting my pain I started dragging my body closer to the front of the car, I had the insane notion I would be safe if I stayed in the light. Just as I reached the front of the car a sudden and sharp pain shot through my head, it was so abrupt and intense that my vision blurred into one solid color. My vision cleared quickly but the intense pain remained, as I looked around me I noticed the headlights had dimmed even more in the short time, they were slowly going out, the dark void of the woods slowly moving in on me. It was then that I noticed a faint figure in the dim light, It was just enough in the shadows that I couldn’t see it clearly but it had the shape of a tall man; he stood perfectly still just staring at me. At first I had hoped he was there to help, some kind passerby that saw the wreck, but the longer I looked at him the more wrong he seemed. I could tell he was tall, unnaturally tall in fact and his limbs seemed stretched and oddly proportioned for any normal man. I tried to call out for help, to him or anyone who may hear me I can’t remember, but the only sound that I could manage was a raspy croak; in response to which he only tilted his head to one side. As soon as he tilted his head, the vision blurring pain returned, now more intense than before. My vision didn’t clear completely this time, but still I noticed the man had gotten closer only I couldn’t recall him moving at all, he just seemed to appear closer to me in the brief moment I lost my sight. As he stood in the ever failing light of the car I could see him clearly now, he was clad in a dark suite with a white shirt and red tie, which seemed even more surreal with his inhuman proportions, but as I was soon to learn these where his tamest features. My gaze slowly rose to his face and at first I couldn’t take it all in, my mind reeled at the sight of its face, or lack thereof. Where a face should be was a blank mass of flesh in the vague shape of a human head which was tilted slightly to one side almost quizzically as he looked down on me.

Having seen the whole of him I tried to scream but couldn’t even muster the croak, just then the pain grew even more intense and once again my vision blurred. As before, the tall man appeared closer to me but never moved, he was right over me at this point; my vision stayed fuzzy around the edges clearing at random now. As he stood over me he began to twitch slightly, his faceless gaze never leaving me as the headlights flickered; wispy dark shapes began to form around him and I thought vaguely of smoke as the shapes turned into writhing tendrils. The tall man quickly moved toward me and the tendrils reached out as the head lights finally flickered out; as the inky black enveloped me another sharp cry filled the dark woods, I finally found my voice to scream.

Credit To – Elijah M

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The Autopsy of Cole Ryder

June 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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“Cole Ryder. Age 23. Death by multiple lacerations to chest, reaching as deep as his lungs. Poor bastard looks like someone cut him open multiple times with a damned sword. No visible signs of struggle, indicating that he was either drugged before hand, or was hit unexpected.” the coroner recorded, working together with the officers to try to piece together the final moments of Cole’s moderately short life.

Cole’s lifeless, blood-drained corpse lay flat on the autopsy table, with the ribbons of flesh hanging loosely – even before the coroner began his work. He was approximately 5’11″ tall, short brown hair, average build, with no tattoos or piercings. The average kind of guy you could walk past every day on the street and never take a second glance at. To society, he was just like everyone else – an invisible person, with an unimportant life.

“How can people do this to each other?” the coroner questioned aloud while removing Cole’s ribcage. As he was about to make an incision to remove the lungs for closer examination something caught his eye. He placed a hand just under Cole’s shredded left lung, and produced a bloody, airtight plastic bag. Removing the bag and emptying its contents onto a nearby sterilized desk produced a USB stick, simply labeled: PLAY ME. Breaking from the procedure, the coroner ran out of the room to the two officers working on the case, handing them this strange new piece of evidence.

“Continue the autopsy, we’ll find out what this is about.” instructed one of the officers. They turned to leave, rushing to the nearby police station to check the contents of the USB. “We’ll be back shortly.”

The coroner re-sterilized and once again entered the room to continue working on Cole’s corpse. Picking up the scalpel, he continued where he had left off, about to remove the lungs.

At the police station, the two officers loaded up the USB and checked the files. There was one single audio file, entitled ‘Current Number’. Opening the file, they could hear a voice, though it sounded slightly different than a human voice. It sounded more raspy and cruel, almost animalistic; though still in English. “Eleven thousand, eight hundred and forty-two.” the voice kept repeating, as if trying to memorise the number.

“What the hell is this?” asked the first officer. The second simply shrugged and they closed the file down. Strangely, however, there was now a second audio file on the USB titled ‘Update’.

“By the time you return, the number will be eleven thousand, eight hundred and forty-three.” It was the same inhuman voice, scratching through the speakers.

“Have you ever seen anything like this before?” the second officer asked the first. The first shook his head violently and a chill air passed through the room. “I think, perhaps we should return to the coroners office.” suggested the second.

Upon re-entering the coroners office, the metallic sickly smell of blood wafted through the air and a strange laugh could be heard from the autopsy room. Drawing their handguns from their holsters, the two men kicked open the autopsy room door to a scene straight out of anyone’s worst nightmare. There was more blood than paint on the walls and the coroner was completely missing, except for the pair of eyes, slowly rolling across the floor. Cole Ryder still lay motionless on the autopsy table, chest cavity still open and face still lifeless, though he was now caked in the coroners blood. Walking slowly around the room, the two officers stopped either side of Cole’s body, surveying everything and drawing their guns, ready to unload upon the next thing that moved. Some sick fuck had obviously done this… and the officers did not care to be the next two victims.

A spine chilling animalistic laugh filled the room, reverberating off all the walls, making it impossible to tell where the sound came from originally. “More fresh meat!” the voice exclaimed, and both men were impaled by large, sword-like claws.

Cole sat up, withdrawing his bladed hands from the officers chests. Then using his razor phalanges with utmost precision, neatly cut out the sets of eyes from the now lifeless men. Changing the scalpel like protrusions from his fingers to blades like large hacksaws, he then tore at the bodies, ripping them to pieces and splattering even more crimson stains over the walls.

Picking up the pieces of flesh that were now scattered around the room, he started placing them into his own chest cavity and lungs, which while still exposed and cut open, seemed to take on a life of their own. Thrashing around like wild animals, they consumed the raw human meat. Once he was done completely consuming the bodies, he retrieved his ribcage and pushed his chest back together with the sickening crunch of bone on bone, deleted the recording of the autopsy from the audio recorder, picked it up and casually walked back out into the world, speaking over and over into the recorder “Eleven thousand, eight hundred and forty-five.”

Credit To – Uforia

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Candle Cove: Day of the Dead

June 18, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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“Most of the laugh tracks on television were recorded in the early 1950s. These days, the people you hear laughing are dead.”
-Chuck Palahniuk, “Lullaby”

***

“We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, of course.”

“I thought that’s what your job was about: talking?”

“Actually Mrs. Chelsea, I would say that my job is about trust. I can’t expect people who don’t trust me to talk about sensitive things with me. So this session is entirely in your hands.”

“I’ll talk about it. Therapy was my idea, after all. They said that since there was just the one incident it wasn’t really necessary but…I thought it was a good idea.”

“All right then. Tell me what happened.”

“It was just a drawing on the sidewalk. A stencil, you know? Artists leave them around the city, sometimes, and I was out shopping with my family when my son pointed it out. It was a skeleton wearing a top hat, and it had the word ‘Saturday’ underneath it. What do you think that means?”

“It sounds like Baron Samedi.”

“Who?”

“He’s a loa; a voodoo spirit. He watches over the dead and he’s usually represented by a top hat and a skull. ‘Samedi’ means ‘Saturday.’ So this drawing frightened you?”

“I had a kind of fit when I saw it. They called it an anxiety attack. They even took me to the hospital.”

“And what did they find out?”

“They said there’s nothing wrong with me physically. They talked about stress and lack of sleep. And they said I should take it easy but not to worry unless it happened again. But I’m worried anyway.”

“Has anything like this ever happened before?”

“Once. The same day…that my son died.”

“You said your son was the one who noticed the stencil?”

“That’s my youngest son, Dylan. I had an older son, Jonah. But he’s not with us anymore. He was murdered five years ago.”

“I’m very sorry, Mrs. Chelsea. Can I ask if you received any psychological counseling afterwards?”

“No. I was busy with Dylan, you see. Isn’t it strange? The day Jonah died was the same day I found out I was pregnant again. And I guess I just….poured everything into managing the pregnancy. So that I wouldn’t think about anything else. And for years, I didn’t. Not until this week. Should I talk about the murder?”

“As I said, you don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to.”

“I…I’ll talk about it.

“Jonah was fifteen; I had him when I was still in high school. He was very gifted. He played the cello, and the piano, and they made him the organist at our church. That was what got him into trouble.

“The minister was friends with my husband, Jonah’s stepfather, and he loved to hear Jonah play, so he put him at the organ. Everyone loved him. It wasn’t just that Jonah was talented, he was…I guess you could say he had a performer’s charisma. I…I’m sorry, it’s hard to talk about…”

“It’s all right, Mrs. Chelsea. Should we change the subject?”

“No, I’ve already said this much. Something people liked about Jonah, he would always play the hymns but he’d play some of his own music too, before and after the service. He composed his own material; it was very strange sounding, but everyone liked it. Well, almost everyone: One day a man came to us after church and told him to stop.”

“Told him to stop playing?”

“Told him to stop playing his own music. He was very upset. He looked like he hadn’t had much sleep; he might have been drunk. He told us that the song Jonah played that day was…wrong, somehow. That it was driving him crazy. He was screaming at us in the parking lot, telling us that we didn’t realize what we were doing, that he’d spent his whole life trying to get away from that music. It didn’t make any sense.”

“Tell me about the song?”

“It was very odd, now that you mention it. It was…bouncy. It made me think of the circus, for some reason. It made sense if you knew Jonah, though; he was always playing for laughs. I heard him practicing it in his room. It made me feel…unsettled, the first time I heard it.”

“Hmm. And what about this man?”

“Well, that day in the parking lot he just ran off, after scaring the daylights out of us. But the next week, he came back. …with a gun.”

“Mrs. Chelsea—”

“It was the Day of the Dead. November 1st. I remember that. Someone had left something on the organ for Jonah, as a joke. You know those Day of the Dead decorations, the little statuettes of skeletons doing everyday things? Skeleton housewives cooking or a skeleton barber with scissors and a razor or—”

“A therapist.”

“Huh?”

“I have one that’s a skeleton therapist, with a skeleton patient on his couch. A client gave it to me. It’s actually quite funny.”

“Oh. Well, this one was a skeleton playing the piano. Jonah thought it was hilarious. He showed it to everyone. Nobody would admit to leaving it. Then he started playing. Everyone was enjoying it. He was coming to the end of the song, and then that man from the week before stood up. And then…”

“…where is that man now, Mrs. Chelsea?”

“In a mental hospital. I’ve visited him a few times. He cries a lot and tells me he’s sorry, but he says, ‘You must understand why. You of all people must understand why I did it.’ I don’t know why he says that. …but the thing I remember about that day now that I never remembered before is that little Day of the Dead statue. The skeleton was wearing a top hat, you see.”

“Ah. So the stencil drawing reminded you of it.”

“No, that wasn’t it. I mean, I suppose it did, but…doctor, I’ve never told anyone this before, but the day that Jonah was murdered, everyone assumed I was hysterical because of what happened, and I was, but it started before that. It started when I saw that little statuette on the church organ.

“Something about that figure, the skeleton and the hat, it terrified me. It scared me so bad that I wanted to stand up and shout to Jonah to run away from it, but I was too frightened to even move. And by the time I could, the man with the gun had already…he’d…”

“It’s all right, Mrs. Chelsea. …but you’re sure that your fear response started before the shooting? Not after?”

“Yes. Yes, I’m sure.”

“Hmm. So the skeleton and the hat: That image upsets you. Do you know why?”

“I can’t imagine.”

“Can you think of the first time you ever saw it?”

“Well… when I was a child I used to have a nightmare. There was a little girl in a room—”

“Was it you?”

“It might have been, but it was hard to tell. Whoever she was, she was in a dark room, and she was crying, and all around her there were these…I guess puppets, or dolls? And they were screaming.”

“The puppets were screaming?”

“Yes, all of them, screaming and screaming, and the little girl was crying.”

“Did you have this nightmare a lot?”

“All the time, when I was five.”

“What does this have to do with the skeleton in the top hat?”

“That was one of the puppets. That’s the first time I can remember seeing that image. Well, not seeing exactly, but that’s my earliest memory.”

“I see. What did your parents do when you told them about this dream?”

“They took the TV away.”

“Why?”

“They said that I had the dream because of something I saw on TV.”

“Do you remember that?”

“No. And I didn’t at the time either. But they insisted. It was…actually very strange, now that I think about it. It seemed to scare them, somehow. Of course, it’s hard to remember. I was so young, you know?”

“Of course. Do you still have this dream?”

“No. That is…not until very recently.”

“But you’ve had it again?”

“Yes, just after the stencil drawing, and the anxiety attack. That same night, actually. But only that once. And that was the first time in, oh, forty years, I guess. It’s normal, right, to have that dream again, after seeing something that reminded me of it?”

“We don’t really deal in words like normal or abnormal here, Mrs. Chelsea. I would say that it is noteworthy that you had the same dream after so long. But I don’t think it’s something you have to worry about. Can I ask, was anything different about the dream this time?”

“…yes.”

“And what was that?”

“One of the puppets. It looked like…it looked like Jonah…”

“It’s all right to cry, Mrs. Chelsea. Here, dry your eyes. I can imagine it was very upsetting, but it’s important to remember that dreams are your mind’s way of trying to tell us something. Can you remember any other strange dreams about your oldest son?”

“For a while right after he died I would have one where I was standing on the shore, watching him sail away on a big ship.”

“That’s a very common image.”

“No, not like this; there was something wrong with that ship. Something terrible. And the people on it with him…they weren’t people. Not normal people. I had the feeling they were, you know, kidnapping him. Carrying him away, like they were—”

“Pirates?”

“Yes, that’s it. And I heard music too: strange, jumbled circus music. It sounded a little like the song that Jonah played in church. And you know, come to think of it, he told me that the song came to him in a dream first. It might even have been a dream about a ship. I didn’t pay much attention. I remember I even faked having to make a phone call so I could leave the room and stop listening to him talk about it. Isn’t that terrible? But at the time, hearing about his dreams upset me very much.”

“Let’s move on: Have there been any other incidents lately that have upset you? Anything unusual that’s disrupted your regular routine?”

“I’m not sure what’s important.”

“Anything might be important. We won’t know for sure unless we talk about it.”

“Well, a few weeks ago—this was before the panic attack—I was at a toy store, trying to find something for Dylan. He was turning five that week. And I found this…thing. It was a doll, you know, but not a normal one. It was like a little pirate, but its head was one from a porcelain baby doll, the old kind? It looked like something a serial killer would make in their basement.”

“And that bothered you?”

“Well it was horribly ugly. I asked the owner and she said she’d found it when she was cleaning out the storeroom. She had no idea where it came from. She wasn’t sure whether she should sell it or not. I told her to throw it away. It scared me. I guess it sounds silly now. Why would something like that get to me so much?”

“To grind your skin.”

“…what?!”

“I said, things get under your skin.”

“I thought you said…never mind.

“There was something else too: As I was cleaning my son’s room the next day I thought I saw that same doll in there.”

“Thought you did?”

“As I was cleaning under his bed something caught my eye: It was that red bandana. And I saw that doll’s little face staring at me, with those cracked, painted eyes, and I swear I just about screamed. But when I looked under the bed again it wasn’t there. And I told myself I just imagined it, but…are all these things really important?”

“Oh yes, Mrs. Chelsea. I’d say we’re making great progress. With these sorts of things, you have. To go. Inside.”

“…what did you say?”

“You have to go inside. Of your mindset, you know, inside of your issues.”

“But why did you say it that way the first time?”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Doctor, I—”

“Let’s move on. It seems that your anxiety is being triggered by some very specific imagery. Tell me when else it’s come up.”

“I…”

“Tell me, Mrs. Chelsea. Please.”

“…my neighbor, she had Halloween decorations up on her house for weeks. And there was one that was a kind of skeleton that hung in her window, the sort of thing you’d buy at a drugstore this time of year. It startled me when I looked out my window and saw it. It was like it was looking right into my house. It had big glass eyes that were too large for its skull…that bothered me.

“I had such a strange feeling when I saw it. The first time I thought to myself, ‘He’s found me.’ It just popped into my head, and a second later I couldn’t have told you what it means. But that’s not what scared me.”

“What did?”

“My neighbor took all the other decorations off her house after Halloween, but she kept that one. Every morning I’d see that thing staring into my window. And finally one day I mentioned to her, very casually, you know, that it was almost Thanksgiving and she really ought to take that last Halloween decoration down. And she said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about? It’s been gone for weeks.’”

“Was it there when you looked out the window again?’

“No.”

“Do you think it was ever really there to begin with?”

“I…I don’t know.”

“What else has been on your mind?”

“Dylan. He’s a very bright child, like his brother. And they look a like. But he’s not a musician; instead he draws.”

“Has he been making strange pictures?”

“How did you know?”

“A lucky guess. Do go on, Mrs. Chelsea.”

“I feel sick. I feel like…the room is moving?”

“It’s your imagination. Tell me about Dylan’s pictures.”

“They’re of…a sailing ship. But not a normal one. It has a, you know, a figurehead at the front of it that’s too big. And it talks.”

“The figurehead talks?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know that, if it’s just a picture?”

“I just know. And he’s been drawing it for weeks and weeks, over and over. And sometimes he draws other things too…strange things…terrible things…”

“But things you recognize.”

“…yes.”

“Where have you seen these things before, Mrs. Chelsea?”

“In my dreams. And…on the television. When I was five years old. The show came on everyday. And I was scared of it, but I watched it anyway. And when I tried to get my parents to watch it with me they said…they said…”

“What did they say?”

“…that there was no show. And I didn’t understand what they meant. And that’s when the nightmare began. And I remember now, that’s where I first heard that song, the strange one that Jonah played. That’s why I was upset when I heard it, because it reminded me of that show. And I though maybe that’s why the man at the church was upset by it, too. I guess as I grew up I kind of forgot about the whole thing, but…”

“But you didn’t forget, did you? You never forget the things that are really important in childhood.”

“I guess you don’t.”

“And we didn’t forget about you either.”

“What?”

“I said, they didn’t forget—”

“No you didn’t. You said ‘we.’ ‘We didn’t forget about you?’”

“…well, it’s true. We didn’t forget. We’ve been waiting for you, Janice. All this time.”

“Dr. Horace, why are you laughing like that? Dr. Horace?”

“I’m not a doctor. And you see this isn’t a doctor’s office at all, is it? It’s the cabin of a ship, that’s why it’s moving, that’s why you started to feel seasick.”

“What’s going on?!”

“You’re off on an adventure on the high seas, Janice, just like the ones on television when you were a little girl. The ones we made just for you.”

“Stop talking like that. And stop calling me that too, my name isn’t Janice.”

“But it could be! You’d make as good of a Janice as anyone. And think how much better life would be if you were? Janice never had a murdered son. Janice never had to worry that she was losing her mind. Janice only had adventures all the time.”

“But they were so awful, so frightening…”

“Well, being a child is always a little frightening, isn’t it? But you won’t be alone here; all of your old friends are onboard. And we have some news ones too. Even Jonah is here…”

“Jonah…?”

“Oh yes. He’s been just the best little crewmember for us. And he’s been waiting for you. Just think about how wonderful it will be to see him again, and to see everyone else too. All one big happy crew together.”

“But what about Dylan?”

“Your other boy? Oh, don’t worry about him. We’ll get around to him, in due time. But do you hear that, Janice?”

“I…I hear a voice…”

“And what is it telling you?”

“I don’t want to listen to it! I don’t want to be here, I want to go home!”

“This is home, Janice. This is the home we made for you, the home that’s been waiting for you, the home that you’ll be in forever and ever. The voice that you hear, why, that’s the voice of your new home. And what is it saying?”

“I…”

“What’s it saying, Janice?”

“It’s saying that…

“I have. To go. Inside.”

Credit To – Tam Lin

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Candle Cove: Down in the Dark

June 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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“Time takes it all, whether you want it to or not, and in the end there is only darkness. Sometimes we find others in that darkness. Sometimes we lose them there again.”
-Stephen King, “The Green Mile”

***

I’m a grown woman and I’m well past needing my father to come save me, but even so I wish he were here now. I guess I never realized before just how much he’s always been there for me. Sometimes I wonder—

Wait, let me start from the beginning.

When I was six years old, I became obsessed with seeing the pirate show.

I overheard a kid at school talking about it. He said it was a puppet show about a little girl who’s friends with pirates, and that it was on in the afternoon. Once I heard that, I had to see it. You know how little kids get obsessed with one particular thing for no reason? For me that thing was pirates. I’m still not sure why but, hey, I was six.

The boy did not want to tell me what channel it was on, but after I pestered him enough he gave in. After school I ran to the TV to wait for four o’clock, but when the time came nothing was there; the channel was just static. I flipped through all the stations looking for the show. The next day I accused the boy of making the whole thing up, but another girl in the class said no, the show was real, she’d seen it too. I asked her why I couldn’t find it and she didn’t have an answer. The boy said that really I shouldn’t watch it anyway, but he would not say why, and after that he stopped talking to me at all.

Every day at four I sat in front of the TV, hoping that the pirate show would magically appear. I even asked Dad to call the local affiliate and ask about it (Dad would do almost anything for me…), but they said they’d never heard of it. I was crushed.

Months went by, the school year ended, and I became less zealous in my four o’clock vigil, but I would still check from time to time. One day I went down to the basement where Dad kept the old black and white TV in his workroom. Back then I had the idea that different TV sets showed different shows, so I would always check both if I couldn’t find what I wanted on. It was four o’clock and I turned to channel 58, just like always, but this time something was different: I heard static, but underneath it, just barely there, I heard music. Strange, bouncy calliope music. And although the channel was still scrambled, I could just barely make out a picture.

There, after all this time, was the pirate show. There was the little girl, and there were the pirate marionettes, and there was the ship with the talking figurehead. It was just like the kids at school described. Of course, the picture was a mess and I could only hear half the dialogue, but I didn’t care. I was ecstatic.

I don’t remember much about the program. It was half over by the time I turned it on. The only thing I really do remember was the part where the little girl and the pirate are standing outside of a cave and the ship tells them: “YOU HAVE. TO GO. INSIDE.” Just like that. I guess it doesn’t sound like much, but at that moment I became very scared, and I turned the TV off and almost ran out of the basement. Suddenly, I wasn’t interested in the pirate show anymore.

That should have been the end of it, and in fact I’d like to think that it was. I’d like to think that what happened next was all a dream or the product of a six-year-old’s imagination. For most of the last forty years that’s exactly what I have thought, but now I’ve started to wonder.

That night, probably around two o’clock in the morning, I went to use the bathroom (I was never scared of the dark when I was a kid, and in fact I was a little proud of how I felt brave enough to wander around our old, creaky house with no lights on). On the way back, I noticed that the basement door was open, just a crack. And I heard something down in the basement: It was that strange, jumbled circus music from the show. It was still playing.

I stood there for a long time, not sure what to do. I heard the music and the voices of the characters drifting up the basement steps, plain as day. They were very loud, and there was no more noisy static. I told myself that I had simply left the television on (even though I knew I hadn’t), and that Dad had somehow missed it before going to bed (even though I knew he never would). Yes, that would almost make sense. Except that it didn’t explain why a kid’s show (which up until that afternoon seemed never to be on at all) would be on at two in the morning.

I was, as I’ve said, never a child afraid of the dark, or of much of anything else. So despite the strange circumstances, I resolved to go down and turn the old TV off and go back to bed. It didn’t seem like a completely good idea, I’ll admit, but I certainly wasn’t going to run away from a television. I opened the basement door all the way and would probably have gone down if not for the fact that at the very moment I prepared to put my little bare foot on the first basement step I heard that voice again:

“YOU HAVE. TO GO. INSIDE.”

But it did not sound as if it were coming from the television.

There are limits to what even the bravest six-year-old will do, and I had reached them. So I ran all the way to Dad’s room and woke him up. He listened, very calmly, to my story, and when I was done he picked me up and carried me with him to the basement door. There was no music now, and no voices, just darkness and silence. He set me down and as he prepared to go downstairs I wanted to stop him. I was sure, all of a sudden, that whatever was down there, I didn’t want my daddy to be down there with it. But I couldn’t think of anything to say. So I just watched him as he marched down those dark steps, one at a time.

I have never been as frightened as I was for those minutes that my father was down in that basement. A part of me was certain he was never coming back. I even imagined that, maybe, something else would come back instead. But I wasn’t sure what…

But of course, he came back. He said that I’d left the TV on, just like I thought. I asked him what was on it and he said, “Nothing.” Just that: nothing. And then he tucked me back into bed, and sang to me and stroked my hair until I fell asleep.

I loved my father very much.

After that I more or less forgot about the whole thing. If it ever crossed my mind in the years to come, I chalked it up as a nightmare. Dad never mentioned it either. There is one thing I noticed, though, that I never really thought about until tonight: Dad got rid of that old TV shortly after. In fact, he stopped watching television altogether, and he stopped working in the basement too. After I went to college he cancelled the service and got rid of the other TV, and as far as I know never got another one. I wonder about that now.

Just like I wonder about those times, as a little girl, when I would catch my father staring off at nothing with his head tilted a little to one side, like he was listening to something, a song or a voice that only he could hear. And I wonder whether it’s just my imagination or time tampering with my memories or if my father didn’t have a strange look on his face when he came out of the basement that night. And had his voice quavered a little? And hadn’t he been down there just a little longer than it should have taken simply to turn off a television set?

I guess those are questions only my father could have answered, and now he never will. Today was his funeral, and that’s why, tonight, for the first time in twenty five years, I’m sleeping in the old house alone. As they lowered his casket into the ground, the unwelcome image of him marching down those basement steps came back to me, and I shivered. This time, when my father went down into the dark, alone, I was sure he would not be back. That was the first time in a long time I’d thought about the pirate show or the night in the basement. I’d prefer not to keep thinking about it, especially since I have so much else on my mind, but I’m afraid I don’t have much choice.

You see, when I came in tonight, the basement door was open. I can hear music down there, and voices, ones I haven’t heard since I was six. And I’m sure that if I open the basement door all the way and stand at the top of the stairs I’ll hear another voice telling me that I have to go inside.

But I’m sure there is no television down there.

I don’t want to go. I want to run to my daddy’s room, and wake him up, and have him sing me to sleep again, but of course, I can’t. I do not think it’s a coincidence that this is happening the same day we buried him. I think, somehow, that this is something my father has been protecting me from for a long time.

Or maybe not. Maybe there was nothing sinister in the basement forty years ago, and maybe there’s nothing down there now, and maybe this is just the stress of the funeral making me crack. They tell me that grief can induce hallucinations, sometimes. It could be there’s nothing to be afraid of down in the dark after all. I would very much like to think that that’s true.

I guess once I go down and see I’ll know for sure. I guess, if I don’t come back, you’ll all know too.

Good night, Daddy. Sweet dreams. I love you.

Credit To – Tam Lin

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The Sandman

June 17, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night.”
-Edgar Allen Poe, “Eleanora”

***

“Go to bed and wait for the Sandman.”

Even as it came out of James’ mouth it seemed to him a strange thing to say, and he was not sure why he had, but for some reason it worked: Daniel went to bed.

The next morning, though, he asked: “What does the Sandman look like?”

James was making breakfast. Daniel sat at the table, short legs swinging under his chair. “Nothing, really,” James said. “It’s just an expression.”

“What does it mean?”

“Just something people say.” He put a plate of eggs in front of Daniel and kissed him on the top of his head. He thought that would be the end of it.

Until he saw the Sandman for himself.

He was getting ready for bed and stopped by Daniel’s room to check on him while he slept, as he often did. It was such a routine precaution that when he saw a pale, naked man sitting on the edge of Daniel’s bed, rocking back and forth, it took a moment for him to process what he was seeing.

He reacted the way any father would, of course: He ran into the room screaming, and for a moment he thought about attacking the intruder, but then the man on the bed turned, and that’s when James saw that it wasn’t really a man: It was a pale, slithery thing, hairless and warped, its joints turned the wrong way and its body out of shape with itself. When it moved it was like an insane marionette dancing on a stage.

James froze. The skittering thing watched him. He felt spreading warmth, and he realized he’d pissed his pants. Only when he remembered that Daniel was still there in bed, staring at the broken-shaped thing sitting a foot away, did he regain the courage to move. He grabbed Daniel and ran. In the hall he turned to see if the thing would follow them, but it didn’t. For a moment it watched and then, moving like a stop-motion nightmare, it crawled to the window and jumped out, leaving only the billowing curtains to mark its passing.

James had trouble talking to the police. He reported a break-in, but when asked to describe the intruder he didn’t know what to say. How could he make the ordinary man in the blue uniform sitting at his kitchen table while two of his colleagues searched the house understand a thing like he’d seen? He couldn’t even understand it himself.

To make it worse, Daniel’s memory did not correspond to James’: He described an ordinary looking burglar. “A man in a mask,” he said. James thought about it: Had it been a mask? No, it would had to have been a full costume, and an elaborate one, something like they would use for a movie. And that would not explain the way it moved…

But in the end he simply echoed his son’s testimony: “A man in a mask,” he said. “A burglar.” The lie unsettled him almost as much as what had happened.

The doctors said Daniel wasn’t hurt and showed no signs of molestation. James was relieved. They stayed at a motel for a couple nights until they felt ready to come home, and then James had a new security system installed, along with bars on the windows. He didn’t like the sight of them in Daniel’s room, but it seemed like the only thing to do.

James was frightened that first night back in the house, but Daniel, strangely, was not. When asked if he felt okay sleeping alone, he just said yes. In the end it was James who found himself wishing he were not sleeping alone. He was up all night listening for the sound of anything moving in the house. Although he had convinced himself that his memory was faulty and that it had been a normal (albeit probably deeply disturbed) man in his son’s room, when he closed his eyes even for a moment he pictured bloodless skin and a twisted, inhuman face. He found himself wondering, why my house? Why my family? He knew, of course, that there didn’t have to be a reason. But still, he wondered.

Two weeks later Daniel stopped talking. James didn’t notice at first; kids went through quiet phases sometimes. But eventually he tried to get Daniel to talk, and he wouldn’t. Eventually, it became clear that he couldn’t.

Back to the doctor they went. Nothing wrong with him that we can see, was the diagnosis. Was it the trauma, James asked? Could be, they said. Sometimes these things come on late. Children can be a mystery even to those who know them best. They recommended a child psychologist, whom James couldn’t afford. He could not, for that matter, even afford the bill they were giving him now.

Nothing seemed to help. Daniel would write out answers to questions sometimes, but never more than a yes or no. When James would ask him what was wrong, or if he’d seen or heard anything that frightened him, Daniel would only stare. He seemed furtive and bemused. James found himself missing the sound of his son’s voice. Sometimes he wanted to hear it so bad that he ached. But it seemed that Daniel would not talk again until he was ready.

James had other things to worry about, too. He was convinced, beyond reason, that the intruder was not really gone. Though the alarm never went off and the locks and bars remained undisturbed, he was sure that he heard movement in the night. Not normal movement: It was a sound like a huge snake slithering through the house. When he heard it, he imagined horrible things. Nothing was ever there when he went to investigate, though he often thought he glimpsed something just out the corner of his eye, a pale foot or a misshapen shadow that would slink away as soon as he turned.

He rarely slept, and when he did he had haunted dreams.

Soon he realized he had not left the house in weeks except to go to the bank and buy groceries. He felt hemmed in. With Daniel acting mute he hadn’t had an actual conversation with anyone in weeks, so he called his mother. The connection was bad and her voice sounded faint, on the verge of being not there at all. “I guess I’m okay, Ma,” he said, pausing to wipe the sweat from his palms and then make sure he could hear Daniel playing in the next room. “But things have been a little rough. We had a break-in.”

“Oh how awful!” Mom said. “Did they take anything?”

“Nah. Just ran off. It was weird though. I haven’t really felt comfortable since then.”

“Are you still working at that hospital?”

“No Ma, I left last year, you know that.”

“Oh. Well, have you been getting out? What about that nice woman you were seeing last year, the one who played the piano?”

James scowled. She was always asking that kind of thing. Didn’t she know how hard it was being a single father? That he didn’t have the time? He was about to say so when something made him pause.

“Ma, is there anyone else on the line?”

“I don’t think so?”

James was sure he heard it, though: the short, gasping sound of someone trying to hold their breath and failing. A cold feeling crept across the back of his neck. “You’re sure nobody is listening on your other phone?”

“Dear, there is no other phone, I’m on the cell, that’s why the service is so bad.”

“Then what is—” James stopped. If the sound wasn’t coming from her end, then…

He dropped the phone and raced to the hall. The extension hung on its hook, undisturbed. Heart pounding, he hurdled into the garage; the spare phone sat on the workbench. No one was in sight. But could they have been? Could someone have been here all along, listening to his phone call, and then slithered away? Might they be here even now?

The next day he took out the extra phone extensions. He even filled in the jacks with rubber cement. Daniel watched him work, eyes curious, but James offered no explanation.

He began giving Daniel a light physical exam every week. His CNA training was a little rusty after a year on disability, but you never really forget. It was an absurd thing to do, of course; even if there was a physical cause for Daniel’s behavior, it would be nothing he could discover this way. And he was aware on some level that it was compulsive behavior. Nevertheless, it made him feel better.

One morning James set the diaphragm of the stethoscope against Daniel’s chest, but he could not locate a heartbeat. He moved his hand in search of the right spot, to no avail. Then, to test it, he listened to his own heartbeat; it came through steady and clear. But when he checked Daniel again he didn’t hear anything. A thought came unbidden to him of the Tin Man in “The Wizards of Oz,” whose chest was empty as a kettle.

A sick feeling roiled his stomach. He threw the stethoscope down and grabbed Daniel by the shoulders, looking into his face. Daniel stared back with bright eyes. He even smiled a little, with the corners of his mouth. James felt the tingle of tears. He swept his son up in his arms and hugged him, and Daniel hugged back. Then James put his shirt back on him and sent him to play. The stethoscope, he decided, was broken. He threw it in the trash.

Things got worse. James’ terrors were no longer relegated to the long hours of the night. Now it seemed that some creeping, some skittering and scuttling, some unknowable noise in some dark corner or another, filled every second of his day. The thought of how big the house really was started to weigh on him: There were so many rooms he wasn’t in at any given time, so many places someone—or something—else could be. He imagined strange figures occupying the rest of his home when he wasn’t around, melting into the walls or merging with the shadows whenever he turned on a light or opened a door. How would he know if they were there? How would he ever know?

Soon he didn’t even have to be outside of a room to imagine it. When he walked up the stairs he pictured pale figures lurking beneath them. When he went down the hall he pictured a crawling thing slithering behind the walls, shadowing his every step. If he sat too long in the same chair he imagined that it was right behind him. And he was never comforted when he turned around and found nothing there, as he could only guess that meant it had moved, swiftly and silently, behind him once again. Wherever he was not looking right now, that was where he imagined it to be.

He was losing his mind, he knew. The only thing that helped him cling to sanity was that Daniel seemed undisturbed. Other than his muteness, his behavior was perfectly normal. And whenever he seemed to sense that his father was troubled he would hug him, or squeeze his hand, or even smile. Sometimes, when he left the room, James cried.

One night he found himself creeping around the house with no lights on at two o’clock in the morning. If the intruding thing had taken to violating his daytime activities then he would get revenge by confronting it on its own terms: the night. And really, night was no more frightening to him now than day. They were almost interchangeable.

He padded barefoot down the halls, up the stairs, in and out of disused rooms. Sometimes he stopped to listen, hoping to locate it by sound; it was a stealthy, creeping thing, he knew, but it was awkward at times, and it couldn’t always keep its strangely shaped limbs from making their distinct, irregular footsteps. The smallest noise would give it away…

There was one room he suspected it spent most of its time in: the spare bedroom. Not a bedroom at all, really, more like a closet just large enough to accommodate a bed if one were so inclined. It was unpainted and uncarpeted and drafty; he’d always meant to fix it up. He didn’t come in here very often because he disliked the bare, unused look of it. It made him think of a partially dissected corpse.

He came in now, though. If the thing made its nest any one place in the house, this would be it. Of course, there was nothing there now…but that didn’t mean there was nothing there.

He cursed, running a hand through his sweat-damp hair. What was he missing? How did it hide from him? What was its secret? He peered into the room’s empty corners one by one, getting his face a few inches from the plaster and floorboards so that he could be certain—certain!—that there was no space for it to conceal itself.

The light bulb flickered. He froze. My God, he thought….it’s on the ceiling! He pictured it crawling above him like a huge, pale lizard. That’s how it gets around, he thought, that’s how it escapes anytime I should have it cornered, it just scuttles up the wall and hides right over my head! He imagined it dangling down behind him like a spider. If I turn around, he thought, it will be there, hanging with its face right next to mine. He held his breath. He did not want to turn around, but he had no choice; it was between him and the door.

With a quiet sob, he rounded on his heels.

Of course, he was alone. There was no man on the ceiling; he checked twice. Maybe it crawled out and was waiting for him in the hall…but when he checked there the coast was once again clear. It should have been a relief, but it was not. After all, it had to be in here somewhere. If the ceiling was not its trick that just meant it was something else, something even more strange, even more clever…

He went to Daniel’s room. He had had not stopped checking on him at night, like he always had. This time, though, rather than open the door he listened at it first, pressing his ear against the grain of the cheap wood and holding his breath, terrified that he would hear a skittering sound on the other side of the barrier. What he heard instead shocked him more:

Daniel was talking to someone.

James recoiled for a second and then, when he’d caught his breath, he all but kicked the door in. Daniel was already awake, indeed, sitting up in bed, but he was not saying anything now. The light flashed on and James stalked halfway into the room before stopping, suddenly torn: What did he want more, to confirm that his son could speak again or to find whomever he was speaking to?

The creak of a door hinge settled the matter for him. He ran to the closet and threw it open: There was nothing inside, or at least, nothing that shouldn’t be there. He swept aside clothes on their hangars, but nothing was hiding between them. Then he dragged the toy box out and emptied it into the floor: Nothing. He combed along the bare walls and floor and, yes, the ceiling, pushing aside every last bit of rubbish and stray knick-knack so that he could be sure, absolutely sure, that nothing was hiding.

All the while Daniel watched him.

After a few minutes James was panting and covered in sweat and the closet was bare, and there were neither intruders nor answers inside. It struck him as funny, somehow, and he started to laugh, very quietly. He kicked his son’s toys out of the way as he went to sit down on the bed, dazed. He became aware, all at once, of several things, first being that he had not slept in days and was nowhere near his right mind. The second was how close he’d come to really losing it, for good.

Tomorrow, he decided, they would both sleep until the afternoon, and when they did wake up he and Daniel would get out of this creaky old house. No more staying cooped up like prisoners, and no more checkups, and no more dreams about monsters. He would even take the bars off the windows. It was time to get back to living like real people again. It was time to—

James saw it when he brushed a hand through Daniel’s hair. He pulled Daniel (a little too roughly) closer. His son acquiesced to the examination without fidgeting or complaint as James pawed the side of his head, hoping that what he was seeing would somehow stop being apparent. He stared and stared until he ached from not blinking, but there was no denying what was right in front of his eyes:

Daniel was missing an ear.

No, he realized with mounting nausea: both ears. There was no injury, no incision, no mark where they should have been, simply smooth, blank flesh. As blank as Daniel’s quiet, unperturbed demeanor.

James swept him up in his arms and ran into the hall. He was not sure where he was going or what he meant to do when he got there, he just knew that there was now nothing more important than getting his son out of that house. But their path was cut off: A naked man sat in the hallway with his back to them. No, not a man: James recognized its stretched limbs and stooped shoulders. The pale thing squatted on its haunches, rocking back and forth like it was palsied. It almost seemed to be in pain. James hugged his son closer and backed away. Then he heard Daniel’s voice: “dad-ee.”

James turned to Daniel, and he heard the voice again:

“dad-ee.”

But Daniel’s lips hadn’t moved.

James looked back at the hunched figure. Its head jerked when it talked, like a tic:

“hello. dad-ee.”

James’ mouth went dry. It took several tries before he could speak. “Don’t call me that.”

“it is. this voice’s name. for you.”

“Go away. Leave my family alone.”

“but i am. your family.”

The longer it talked the more the voice became distorted and blurred. An icy feeling nestled in James’ stomach. “Who are you?”

“someone. who came to visit.”

“Why here?”

“you. invited me.”

James’ heart thudded against the inside of his chest. “Why?”

“i had. something you wanted.”

James licked his dry lips. “You’re lying. You don’t have anything I want. I want you to leave. Leave, and never come back.”

“who. is. daniel’s. mother?”

James blinked. “What?”

“who. is. daniel’s. mother?”

“What the hell kind of question is that?”

“how. old. is. daniel?”

James blinked again. The thing’s voice caused a pinching pain in the center of his forehead. “Stop asking me these things.”

“when. is. daniel’s. birthday?”

“…I don’t know.”

“what. is. his. middle. name?”

“Shut up.”

“what. was. his. first word?”

“I said shut up!” James wanted to tear the thing apart with his bare hands. Only the heaviness of Daniel in his arms kept him where he was.

“you were. alone. you wanted. a son. so i. made one. for you.”

James’ hands began to shake. “That doesn’t make sense. Made out of what?”

“out of. myself.”

James’ stomach turned over.

“but now. i need those parts. back.”

Daniel picked at James’ shoulder to get his attention. Something was strange about Daniel’s face. “Danny? Open your eyes.”

Daniel scrunched his eyes shut tighter.

“Open your eyes. Danny? Danny. Open your eyes. Open your eyes!”

Daniel shook his head, trying to refuse, but he couldn’t hold it forever. Eventually his eyelids flicked up and James saw the truth.

Daniel’s eyes were gone.

James almost dropped him. For a second he wanted to throw his son down so that he could stop looking into those empty holes in his face. Daniel opened his mouth, as if to speak, but of course, he had no voice.

“he is coming back. to be part of me. again.”

“No. No, no, no, give him back, give him back!”

“i. cannot. it has been. too long. i warned you. this. would happen.”

“You’re lying! You’re lying, you’re a fucking liar, give me my son back, give him back!”

“i. do not lie. i. warned you. he could not exist forever. but you. do not remember. you. can only remember. what i want you to. you forget. all the times. we have talked.”

Daniel felt like a doll, or an empty bag. His hair was falling out, disappearing before it touched the ground. His hands vanished into his sleeves and his feet rolled up inside his pants cuffs. James cradled the tiny, shapeless thing. Tears streamed down his face. Soon he held a pile of empty clothes, and then those too were gone.

He looked around the house; toys disappeared, photos vanished from their frames, Daniel’s little shoes were no longer by the door. James turned toward Daniel’s room and confronted a wall where the door should be. He groped the blank surface, fingertips scrambling. He hit his head against the wall. The pain didn’t feel real. “Why did you do this?”

“it was. what you wanted. and i learned. so much.”

“This is impossible. People will ask, people will wonder: the police, the hospitals, the people in the neighborhood!”

“they. have already. forgotten him. they only. remembered. what i wanted them to. like you.”

James pressed his hands to his aching skull. “Will I at least remember him after this?”

“you. can try. but your mind. will fail you. now that everything. he was. is part of me. again.”

James sat on the floor, looking at the blank wall. Out the corner of his eye he saw the thing creep toward him and even felt its wet hand on his shoulder, but he did not look at it.

“If I won’t remember any of this,” he said, “then why tell me?”

“because. a father. should know.”

And then James was alone.

***

Abigail worried about James sometimes.

When they met a year ago, he said that he’d never been married and he’d never had kids, but there was a certain pained expression he assumed when he said the last part. Abigail knew that look: She’d met parents who lost children before. You learned to recognize it.

And there were other things about him that worried her too. Sometimes she would find him staring at a particular spot on the wall, brow furrowed in concentration. He did not seem to realize he was doing it. And of course there was the insomnia, and the sleepwalking to consider too. Yes, there was lots to worry about. But she loved him all the same.

James still said he’d never had kids, and neither had she. She’d long wanted one, but it was impossible, and she worried that James wouldn’t stay with a woman who couldn’t be a mother (though he constantly assured her that it was not so). There were times—and more and more often of late they were the nights when James took to sleepwalking, and even Abigail imagined that she heard strange, scuttling noises in the house and saw impossible shapes in dark corners—when she thought she would do anything, absolutely anything, if it meant having a little daughter for she and James to raise.

And at those moments, she became truly afraid. But she never knew why.

Credit To – Tam Lin

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