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The Thief in the Yellow Robe

October 30, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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My training in Comparative Literature — my miserable graduate school experience in particular — taught me that there is much productive work to be done outside of one’s own academic department. You learn new things by diving into other disciplines. In turn, you come away with fresh ideas; and in turn, those can be synthesized into worthwhile discourses that can open exciting, untraveled pathways for your field. There is good reason why some of the most influential thinkers in the study of literature — Freud, Marx, Foucault, Derrida, to name a few — all came from fields seemingly unrelated to it.

Therefore, when I found that half of my department’s faculty — the half that apparently had no hand in my hire — despised me for reasons of varying merit, I began to look to other departments; if not for friendship, then at least for a less hostile work environment. I settled upon the Theatre Department. Although I had never formally studied drama, I had been involved in my high school’s theatre troupe long ago, and felt that my cursory knowledge and the innumerable plays I had read over the years would serve me well in any conversation among the professors. And indeed they did. I became fast friends with much of the Theatre faculty. When I was not teaching, and not trapped in my building by my bi-weekly office hours, I whiled away the time in the Q— Fine Arts Center, chatting up my colleagues, watching rehearsals, or even guest lecturing on Spanish and Russian tragedians.

Among my closest companions was one Professor B—, a gifted teacher and a playwright of some small renown. She had been granted tenure several years before my arrival at the university on the strength of a trio of semi-historical plays she had written. After that, she had, by all appearances, run out of ideas. Although she numbered among the university’s finest educators, and despite her many successful stagings of classic dramatic works, her output of original plays had clearly stalled. A persistent rumor — albeit one of considerable gravity — claimed she would not earn promotion to full professor as a consequence of her years-long dry spell.

I could only think of what a tremendous shame it would be not to raise Professor B— ‘s rank. Certainly I was prejudiced in her favor, but my favor came less from the caprices of human attraction, and more from what I had seen of her as a teacher. In addition to her unparalleled skill in the classroom, she handled student crises with the greatest expertise, where a lesser mortal would have failed or been driven to wit’s end.

One such instance I remember in particular. A graduating student, bedraggled and in tears, sought her counsel while the two of us enjoyed our lunches beneath the Q— Center’s proscenium arch. I wished I had not been there to intrude on the conversation, but he began to spill out his story before I could make myself scarce. The student claimed that one of the other drama professors, after granting him top marks on a final project, had proceeded to steal the script he had submitted, turning it into a soon-to-open Broadway production whose writing credits were in the professor’s name. The poor student only found out from an actor friend of his in New York City, whose familiarity with the student’s project caused her to mention it during a phone conversation. What could be done? Who would believe him if he brought forth the accusation of plagiarism?

Professor B— thought long and hard about the question. Then, to my utter astonishment, she advised the student not to raise a ruckus. I prepared to interject, but before I could, Professor B— said something that I have kept with me ever since:

“It is less discouraging to be stolen from,” she said, “than to need to steal.”

Indeed, she went on, this student was clearly a talented writer; the professor’s theft constituted his proof. Let him write more. Meanwhile, the professor’s inevitable failure to produce quality plays in the future — coupled with knowing his accolades came from a work not his own — would be a vengeance more emotionally devastating than any the student could inflict.

Her recommendation succeeded. The professor, tormented by a string of flops and critical pans, quit the trade a broken man. The student, taking up his pen with renewed fervor, went on to write several extremely successful plays that continue to run in theatres across the country. In the meantime, Professor B— had spared the offending professor further ignominy, and protected the student from a protracted legal battle he may not have won. The more I thought about her sage advice, the more I wished that I, too, could be so far-sighted and effective. I would have modeled my own advisement after hers, if only I knew how to practice it.

Thus it was with great distress that I watched Professor B—‘s chances for promotion slip away as no new writings materialized with the passing months; and my concerns grew all the more acute when she disappeared a couple of days after the semester’s end. She would answer neither phone calls nor emails, and her house remained empty each time I tried to pay a visit. I told myself that, in all likelihood, she had retreated to some secluded haven, devoid of cellular reception and Internet connections, where she could work on a play without distraction. Even so, a dark inkling led me to wonder whether she might have suffered a mental breakdown from the mounting pressure to compose another worthy drama. Her absence and silence did little to dispel my fears.

Professor B— returned several weeks later, offering no explanations. She did not need any. For when I next saw her, during a chance encounter in the university library, she held in her hands a sheaf of papers bound with brass fasteners — a completed manuscript! Leaden pouches sagged beneath her eyes, and her hair looked disheveled as if by a sudden wind, but I imagined her frantic efforts at writing were to blame for her haggard appearance. After all, I, too, had endured many a binge-writing session in my time; I knew what kind of toll it exacted. Furthermore, when Professor B— gave me a comely, victorious smile, and thrust her manuscript into my hands, any worries I had for her well-being evaporated. She would be fine, I thought; any energy she spent on her play would be returned to her tenfold.

She said I could keep the manuscript to read at my leisure, for she already had several hard copies in her possession, in addition to myriad digital backups. At the same time, she swore me to secrecy regarding its contents. A production was already in the works, she said; with the aid of some of her most promising graduate students, she would stage it before the next semester’s end. Of course, I was welcome to watch their rehearsals — provided I remained equally as reticent as I did concerning the script. I gave her my word that I would keep the door of my lips, and looked forward to reading her latest masterpiece.

That night, instead of pursuing my own research, I sat at my desk with the manuscript, as I knew I could accomplish nothing else until I read Professor B—‘s latest work. What an opportunity I enjoyed! Was this what it felt like to read a play by Ibsen or Miller before it appeared on stage? My excitement darted through me like an electric current as I glimpsed the first page, where the play’s title, “THE THIEF IN THE YELLOW ROBE,” seemed as freighted with meaning as the epitaph on an ancient grave.

I must admit that I could make little sense of Professor B—‘s title. It alluded to no literary work or figure that I knew of, and as I read more, its referent became still more opaque — for no character approximating a thief, much less one clad in yellow, appeared in the play! The action, from what I could determine, consisted of the nonsensical banter of a group of courtiers at a lavish banquet. Their exchanges appeared coherent at first, but devolved long before the end of the first act. They barely seemed to converse with one another, each spoken line a virtual non sequitur to whatever dialogue preceded it. It was as if Professor B— had written a complete draft of the play that included an additional character — whom she removed upon its completion, leaving the rest of the script intact. The resultant text was not without humor, but I felt more bafflement than levity upon finishing it.

What was I to make of such a work? At first, I imagined that poor Professor B— truly had cracked under her creative stagnation, and that I beheld the product of a damaged mind. I soon scolded myself for the thought, however. It was perhaps more plausible that Professor B—‘s play tackled the theatre of the absurd with a nuance beyond my powers of analysis. After all, Beckett — rather notoriously — had brought forth plays that eroded language and meaning. In a similar vein, the promised antagonist in Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano never materializes, except for a single mention in the largely incoherent exchanges between the play’s characters. The point behind such plays might initially seem inscrutable, but inscrutability and nonexistence are different things entirely. My responsibility as a reader was to find the point, not to pronounce it absent. Moreover, the work I read was merely the embryo of a finished play. The script furnishes a mere fraction of the actual performance; the lighting, sounds, set design, costumes, makeup, and acting all lend something to the play’s meaning. Having only the text to consult, then, left me at a disadvantage. Therefore, I placed my trust in Professor B—‘s abilities, telling myself that The Thief in the Yellow Robe would prove far more understandable — if not downright illuminating — once she brought it to the stage, and joined it to the other trappings of the theatre.

Although rehearsals began within the week, I chose not to drop in on Professor B— and her students until their early dress runs. By then, I reasoned, the play would carry some semblance of its true form, but nonetheless remain distinct from its final version. As such, without spoiling all I would behold on the play’s opening night, I could see something markedly different from the text I read, and perhaps come closer to fathoming Professor B—‘s peculiar genius.

I sat in on their second dress rehearsal, taking advantage of the auditorium’s unoccupied front row. Professor B— welcomed me, but sat a short distance away in order to take notes on the performance. The house lights went out, and the curtain rose, revealing a set designed like a grand medieval hall. The student actors, all in period clothing, managed to inject quite a bit of character into their bizarre lines.

“Such bounty,” said the queen, a young actress made old by some makeup wizardry.

“Let him feast!” replied a noble lady, portrayed by the knockout blonde that every theatre troupe seems to have.

“I’ll bring the wick,” a portly nobleman put in, as if it were a witticism.

As the play progressed, I noted that each ingredient in the production seemed of the highest quality, but added little to my understanding of the script. Everything onstage thrummed with life, yet remained incomprehensible. With some imagination, the play I watched could have passed for something by David Lynch, if ever he tried his hand at live theatre. Alas, unlike a work of Lynch, I could not determine what part of my brain I needed to deactivate in order to appreciate Professor B—‘s play. I began to worry that The Thief in the Yellow Robe would flop — an unprecedented occurrence in Professor B—‘s career — and wondered whether such a blemish would fatally stain her record.

Despite my misgivings, I made sure to attend the play’s opening night. If Professor B— were doomed to failure, the least I could do was to stand by her side, and offer my solidarity. I must confess that, before I reached this conclusion, I battled some serious indecision, and my delay cost me. In the time it had taken me not to act, the show had almost sold out, and the best ticket I could buy would grant me a seat on the upper mezzanine. When I arrived at the theatre and claimed my spot, I was so high above the action that I felt like a bird lost in the rafters. A sea of people murmured and shifted in the packed auditorium below, while the proscenium arch’s heavy curtain undulated with a rhythm like breathing.

Somebody tapped me on my shoulder, and when I turned to look, who did I find but Professor B—! Waving, she gave me an impish grin. I asked her what in the world she was doing up here, when surely she ought to be down in the front rows. She laughed.

“What good could I do down there?” she asked. “It’s out of my hands now. Besides, I prefer to watch all of my plays from the mezzanine. It’s a vantage I seldom have the chance to enjoy during rehearsals.”

We persuaded the man to my right to switch seats with her. The two of us sat shoulder-to-shoulder as the house music faded, and the light slowly retreated into the dimming lamps. A spotlight activated with a sound of pounded metal, beaming a harsh circle onto the rippling curtain. The audience applauded as the curtain lifted, exposing the detailed banquet hall. A noble strutted into view, delivering a familiar monologue. More actors joined him as the drama unfolded, but as each one spoke their lines, I counted down the moments left until the script fell apart. How would the audience respond? My nervousness was palpable, but Professor B— seemed unfazed. I could not imagine the source of her confidence.

The queen’s second monologue wound to its close. It marked the point of no return. Once the prince began to speak, Professor B—‘s career would be over…

Before the prince could make his nonsensical interjection, a figure wearing a yellow hooded robe that completely obscured the face and body beneath glided onto the stage from the left wing. A fine mist billowed from under the robe’s folds, coating the ground the figure trod. What a marvelous effect — and undoubtedly a challenge to mount. In a haunting voice that sounded at once female and male — as if a man and woman spoke the same words simultaneously — the figure serenely recited a monologue whose words were pure poetry. The beauty of it all threatened to overwhelm me. Was this the character from whom the play derived its name? It must have taken nothing short of brilliance to conceive of and create such a being. Here, at last, was the saving grace of Professor B—‘s drama.

I placed my hand on her arm, and congratulated her for such a masterstroke. When she faced me, however, she wore a stricken expression. She staggered to her feet, and began to wind her way through the occupied rows toward the exit. The players onstage continued their performance, seamlessly incorporating the figure in yellow.

Had the months of intense stress finally broken Professor B—, now that she was out of danger and loosened her guard? I followed in her wake, catching up with her in the hallway outside. She shook violently, and steadied herself against a wall. I helped her to stay upright, and asked her what was the matter. There was no cause for despair in this moment of triumph.

She turned to me, intense fear smoldering in her eyes. “That person,” she said, “wasn’t in my rehearsals.”

How clever of her! I remembered that the script seemed to allude to an unexpected guest. What better way to emphasize that feeling than by forcing a surprise on her cast? I had heard of directors using unorthodox means to coax memorable performances from their actors, albeit never in a theatrical context — only the antics of Tarkovsky or Kubrick sprang to mind. I congratulated her on joining their elite ranks, if not surpassing them.

“You don’t understand,” Professor B— said, her strained voice scarcely louder than a whisper. “I’ve never seen that figure before, either. I have no idea who might be under that robe.”

“Whoever it is,” I said, “he or she seems quite familiar with your play.”

Professor B—‘s jaw began to tremble. She bit her lip. Her body threatened to convulse.

“It’s… It’s not my play.”

My face must have betrayed my shock, although I fought to suppress it, lest I cause her any further distress.

“I translated it,” she stammered, “but… I didn’t write it. I… I found it. A typed Latin manuscript, buried in the periodicals section of the university library. No binding. No call number. Nor was it on file in our database. It was as if someone had left it there and forgotten…”

Or left it there deliberately, I didn’t add.

“And I was so desperate,” she continued. “You know I wouldn’t have done it, unless…”

I had no words to offer her.

“My students all know how to improvise,” said Professor B—, “so they’ll carry the show if I let them. But I have the worst feeling about this. I… I have to stop the performance.”

We descended to the ground floor, Professor B— several strides ahead of me. As she rounded a corner toward the dressing rooms, I approached one of the auditorium doors. Curiosity had overtaken me, and I had to know the state of the play. I gently tugged on the door so as not to distract the audience. It would not budge. I applied more force, and still it remained firmly shut. Muffled voices filtered through from the other side. What was going on?

I made my way to the dressing rooms, where Professor B— berated the stage manager.

“Who’s that out there?” she demanded. “Why did you let him onstage?”

“He — she? — didn’t come through this way,” the stage manager said. “I thought it was your idea, and it fit the play so well, I…”

Professor B— shoved the stage manager aside, taking his two-way radio. In her haste, she had knocked it off-frequency, and could not find the channel to communicate with her technicians. She threw the radio aside, and it broke into pieces on the floor.

“I’ll need to go out there,” she said. “I must give them some excuse for calling off the show…”

“The auditorium doors are locked,” I told her. “Be careful not to cause a panic.”

“They are?” she cried. “But, I didn’t… Who… Oh, god!”

As she darted off somewhere I could not see, I peered out from the wings. The figure in yellow stood in the center of the stage, while the cast had arranged themselves in various postures of submission nearby, the mist coiling around them. The dialogue proceeded as expected, except for the robed figure’s two-voiced contributions. The air around me felt chilled, but my lungs tingled and burned as I breathed it. The audience looked on, enraptured.

“I am no thief,” the yellow figure intoned, “for one can only steal what is not given.”

“I give you my eyes,” said the queen.

“These ears are yours,” said a nobleman.

“Take my heart,” said the princess.

The cast began to claw at themselves. I heard the slick sound of rending flesh, and urged myself to turn away, but I could not pull myself from the grim spectacle before me. Nobody in the audience made a sound. They seemed every bit as entranced as I was.

“Drop the curtain!”

I heard Professor B—‘s voice in the catwalk high overhead.

“Can’t you hear me? Drop the curtain!”

The cast lay in a viscid heap on the stage, the robed figure towering above their fallen bodies. Their mutilations looked so severe as to be fatal. A single cast member seemed to breathe, but her breaths were shallow and labored. The figure paid the bloodied students no heed. One yellow sleeve had risen in a peremptory gesture. It looked empty and hollow. Then it pointed toward the audience.

“Even my sovereignty hinges on the charity of my subjects,” said the figure. Though the melody remained in its voices, the poetry of its words seemed to have vanished. “Without their compliance, I am nothing.”

To my horror, the cast managed to speak.

“We will what you will,” they murmured.

Without my volition, I, too, had mouthed those words.

The eviscerated cast stood up in unison, their wounds dripping. The fat man who promised his heart held it in his hand, and a gaping hole bore through his thick chest. How could he stand? My fright was worse than any I had known, but I could not avert my eyes. The cast reached into the deep gashes they had torn into themselves, and each drew forth a pristine blade from the opening that glistened in the spotlights. They lined up beside the robed stranger in two jagged flanks, and turned toward the audience.

“Drop the curtain!” Professor B— shouted.

“I take only what my people offer me,” said the figure in yellow, “and only if they be blessed with abundance.”

“Such bounty,” said the blinded queen, her age makeup melting off her face in grotesque streams.

“If my people will me to eat,” said the yellow figure, “then I eat.”

“Let him feast!” said a noble lady, whose patchy scalp oozed where she ripped out her flowing blonde locks.

“And if my people build me a sacrificial pyre,” the figure proclaimed, as the cast advanced toward the edge of the stage with their weapons drawn, “then I light it at their command!”

“I’ll bring the wick,” said the heartless nobleman.

I heard the singing of sharp metal as the gored cast prepared to pounce on the audience. Then a crashing noise thundered in the catwalks. The heavy proscenium curtain fell unrestrained from the arch above, its anchor ropes trailing after its weighted base, and cracked against the stage floor with a noise like breaking bone. A rush of scorching air knocked me onto my back, slamming the stage door behind me. It rattled in its frame as fierce winds lashed the wood.

Roaring applause erupted on the other side.

Wincing with pain, I raised myself, and stumbled toward the door. Its knob felt warm in my palm. I pulled it open. Professor B— stood on the other side, staring at the stage.

The set remained intact. But none of the actors could be seen. Piles of ash lay inside their rumpled, bloodstained costumes.

Except for the flowing yellow robe.

It was nowhere to be found.

Credit To – Lex Joy

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October 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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“Swallow something, canned, frozen,
Ungodly festering source.
Dragging and kicking and screaming for more,
That burns, burns, burns, burns.”

– Made Out Of Babies, “Cooker.”

“I’m not going to sleep well,” thought Olas to himself. He was sweating through his shirt to the point where peeling it off would take more effort than was worth the discomfort. He stumbled through the darkness of his warping apartment, arms alternating between leaning on the impossibly distorted walls for support and clutching his abdomen in pain. His skull felt like it was full of butterflies; his stomach filled with hornets. With every step towards his bedroom Olas became more and more delirious, until at last he fell face first into his mattress with only the vaguest of memory as to what had even occurred to make him feel so nauseous to begin with. Olas inhaled deeply, and in the vortex of his mind, the stupor got the best of him. A moment later, all thoughts faded.

It wasn’t the sound that woke him, but rather the smell. The scent of bile assaulting his olfactory nerves as the excess vomit climbed through his nasopharynx startled Olas awake before his own retching entered consciousness. He pushed himself to his knees, spitting gastric juices and wiping his sleeve across his mouth for maybe a full minute before he even noticed his new location. Olas blinked twice, not sure if he was hallucinating or if he was really even awake, but regardless, the sight was unsettling.

It looked almost if someone had attempted to decorate an abandoned subway maintenance tunnel with wallpaper and antique furniture, but never bothered to care about the issue of mold or termites. The tunnel seemed to continue like this infinitely in both directions, lit only by the periodic industrial bulbs and tacky lamps that blended with the steam leaking from a few of the copper pipes that lined the walls as far as the corridor would take them. Olas lifted himself to his feet cautiously and justifiably nervous given the circumstances. He began to walk, not sure as to where or what he was expecting to find. An exit perhaps? Or possibly a sign indicating what this strange place was supposed to be or where. “I’m still dreaming.” He told himself, only partially believing his own words.

Olas walked for what felt like an hour before he began to hear something besides the slow hiss of steam or the ambient hum of the lamps. A meaningless echo of something at first, becoming the distinct noise of a laugh, or what was ostensibly a laugh. Actually, more like two. One the soft giggle of a young woman, the other a deep metallic growl of a large animal. The sounds steadily increased in volume and clarity as Olas continued along his route until finally a door unexpectedly halted his progress. It was a wooden door, the kind found on the interior of a house and juxtaposed to the concrete exposed beneath the peeling wallpaper that had been a constant until now. At eye level, there was a sign that read “Café Eµclid”. The queasy feeling in Olas’s stomach returned, but he shrugged to himself before knocking. As soon as his knuckles connected to the wood, the giggles ceased.

The door creaked open, and Olas couldn’t stop himself from falling backwards in fright. The occupant was an odd sight to be sure, warranting a second glance from Olas. Standing on the precipice of the tunnel and the room behind, stood a small girl, no older than fourteen, with white-blonde hair and wearing a brown cardigan beneath a pine green apron. Unusual, but not inherently disturbing. What had caused Olas to stumble was the fact that this otherwise ordinary girl had eyes of pure black, wide and whiteless like two balls of polished obsidian. The second distinguishing feature was her number of limbs. There were eight in total; two legs, six arms. She smiled down on Olas, reaching out one of her numerous hands towards him.

“Hello there Nicholas!” She greeted in a two toned voice, a doubling effect of entirely separate individuals speaking in harmony. It became painfully clear to Olas that there was only one source for the noises heard earlier. “I’ve been expecting your company for quite a while. Please come in, we have much to prepare before the feast.”

Olas hesitated to respond, needing a moment to recite his mantra that this was all just a dream, a very lucid dream brought on by experimenting with far too many foreign ingredients, the thought of which brought some sense to his current situation. The memory returned suddenly of what had brought him to this nightmarish world. The “Novum Saporem” it was called, or more commonly “Strange Taste,” and to the few who have ever read its pages, it was the Necronomicon of cook books, containing ancient recipes of Egyptian barbeque, to special chemical notations seemingly written in the distant future, to preparation techniques for aquatic species unknown to Earth’s biosphere. Part alchemy, part el Celler de Can Roca, it was occultist cuisine at its finest. The ancient and mysterious grimoire itself was written in 2006 by Josh Wriggly, the mad fry cook of Dino’s Diner, during a state of hysterical vision brought on by huffing too much paint thinner. The resulting hallucination was of arcane glyphs ascending from a vat of chicken gravy.

Olas purchased it for seventy five cents at a Quaker book sale the previous Tuesday. The last recipe he had attempted translated from an alien language had called for a crystal of bismuth, a nine volt battery, a pentagram drawn in snake blood, and one liter of Dr. Pepper. The title of this particular cocktail translated to “A sleepless dream.”

“What are you waiting for silly?” The arachnoid girl asked Olas’s blank face lost in thought. Olas stood up on his own, rubbing his forehead in a futile attempt to relieve his throbbing headache.

“I’m sorry, who are you?” He asked, not sure what else to do.
“My apologies Nicholas, my name is Abigail Von Strudelherst, the demon guardian of esoteric foodstuffs and chief saucier of the Domain of Krivbeknih. You did summon me, did you not?”
“I guess so?” Olas didn’t know how else to respond, and figured it best to simply agree noncommittally until he knew for sure what was happening.
“Oh you guess so?” Abigail continued. “Nobody ionizes that much Dr. Pepper inside of the sigil of pagan nonsense by accident you know.”

Olas shrugged, and beginning to feel oddly relaxed in the demon’s presence, followed her into the atrium of yet an even larger chamber. The atrium itself resembled something between a hip downtown coffee house and a gothic cathedral; pillars of charcoal dark stone lined in gargoyle carvings and comfortable looking upholstery, as well as countless glass counters displaying exquisitely designed cakes and pastries. All of this was secondary however to the Escher esque geometries of the architecture itself, which oscillated with an emphasis on vertical development, the arches and stain glass windows set at angles too impossible to comprehend outside a realm of pure mind. The sheer force of cognitive vertigo elevated Olas to a state of irresoluble awe.

“This can’t all be in my head. Where am I really?” Olas asked in an involuntarily loud voice. Abigail turned to Olas with all six hands planted firmly on her hips and wearing an expression of discontentment. Her twin voices proceeded with an emphasis on the deeper variant.

“I know you’re not illiterate. The sign said Café Eµclid, so that’s where you are. If you mean temporally, then I suppose we’re somewhere outside of the central finite curvature of space. If you wanted an address, we’re just beneath the city of Dis.” The malevolence left her tone, shifting back to an equilibrium of sorts. She jumped excitedly. “We’re going to cook some food! It’ll be great, follow me!” One of her hands grabbed Olas’s right as she began to enthusiastically lead Olas through the labyrinth of tea shelves and altars. Together, they made their way to the double stainless steel doors, passing through into the kitchen of the immense structure.

For the most part, it was a kitchen, the kind found in most standard restaurants with a minimal degree of dimensional anomalies: There were racks of spices, meats, vegetables, and cookware. There were ovens and stoves, blenders and juicers and strainers and mixers, sacks of grains stacked high to the ceiling, sinks and pots and knives polished to a mirrors shine. Typical eatery goods, but also not lacking in the unusual items of interest, such as a device that may have been the product of a fever dream construction between a steam engine and a French press with the aesthetic influence of Nikola Tesla. Also some of the smoked meat appeared to be derived from primate. Olas barely had a moment to let it all sink in before Abigail clapped her hands in anticipation.

“Now, onto the formal introductions in the manner to which I am accustomed.” She began, handing Olas a spotless white toque. “Tradition dictates that the visitor prepares a meal for the host. I will observe your technique and return the gesture in kind.” She stated very matter-of-factly. “You are welcome to any and all resources available, and to a few which are not. Tick tock, I’ve grown quite famished since your… arrival.” She licked her lips and released a single hollow growl.

Olas worked at a hurried pace, tossing selected ingredients into a large brass cooking pot as they crossed his path. A head of cactus from the crisper, a brick of goat cheese, a dozen eggs, badger milk, a sack of flour, baking powder, olive oil, other oil, jalapeno peppers, tequila, bacon, a handful of live scorpions, and million other little things that caught his eye. Taking his supplies to a counter, he expertly began to mix a batter while scooping out the innards of the cactus before tossing it into a bowl of tequila. When the batter was good and thick, the next step was to heat the oil to a low boil while keeping time with which item needed chopping in what order. He started with the scorpions for the simple convenience of preventing them from crawling away, moving on to frying the bacon and peppers once the creature were fully immobilized. After perhaps an hour had passed, Olas wiped sweat from his brow and finally presented his culinary creation to the childish abomination.

“Wonderful,” She exclaimed, “I was beginning to grow impatient.” She inspected the meal briefly, sniffing the deep fried exterior before nodding approvingly. In one fluid motion, she devoured the fire stuffed cactus in a single jaw detaching bite, belching loudly immediately afterwards.

“My turn.”

Abigail raised her arms abruptly, crossing them over into imaginary lines, symbols of chaos and magic. Like the director of a psychotic orchestra in the midst of a lynch mob, she conjured flames and sharpened blades to fulfill her unreal wishes. The kitchen exploded in mad energies around Olas, who fell to the tiled floor in an attempt to avoid the flying hazards that spun wildly through the air. Abigail cackled in her joyous lunacy, turning her attention towards the strange piston device, the very same whose purpose, until now, remained obscured.

“Behold my omnipotence!” She screamed, hands waving in every direction as floating nonsense arranged her prep work.
“Behold my boiler!” The steam gauge assembly groaned as Abigail revved its diesel engine. Pistons blasted heat, compartments and hoppers filled with grains and fruits while tubes pumped miscellaneous fluids past grinding gears and meats that roasted over open flames produced a gyrating prism.
“Behold my flavors!” She demanded, as the finished product was dressed and plated for Olas. It had been a mere twenty seconds since she had started her absurd performance, and the dish served would, under any other circumstance, require a dozen men and at least three months of elaborate planning.

“Frittata?” Olas inquired, hesitant to ingest a single bite after having witnessed the process firsthand. He was fairly certain that ectoplasm may have been used as a dairy substitute.

“Portabella lobster frittata with two ounces of silver-baked caviar, garnished with Phobian whitegrass, seasoned with quadsodiumthantrite and served with a driveling of sauce béchamel, which I altered with addition of basil and ectoplasm as the thickening agent. Also I threw in some leeks just for the hell of it.” Her gaze insisted on her own masterpiece.

Olas took a bite and nearly died of existential ecstasy.
“It’s like there’s a party in mouth and everyone’s a cannibal! This is the greatest thing I have or will ever taste if I live for a hundred billion years!” Olas realized that he was talking instead of eating and almost punched himself for his own stupidity. Abigail waited silently as Olas made alternating sounds of chewing, sobbing, and laughing. A few minutes later, Abigail snapped her fingers, sending the dinning wares off to autonomously cleanse themselves.

“Now that the customary pleasantries have come to pass, we may continue with plans of this fine evening.” The kitchen lights where suddenly darkened, replaced violently with stove flames, throwing shadows across the tiled walls. The mood shifted as abruptly as the lighting. Olas’s face began to crack a look of concern despite the remaining taste in his mouth, but just barely. “You have arrived at a very opportune time young Nicholas. A once in a millennium event actually; The Feast of Beast it is called in your peanut brained language.” She giggled coyly, before noticing the expression of apprehension on Olas’s face.

“Oh don’t give me that look mister. You knew what you were getting yourself into when you opened that dusty old tome. Apocryphal knowledge comes at a price obviously.” A disturbingly wide grin stretched across the little girl’s face. “Plus a twenty percent tip, if you’re classy that is.”

“What does this feast involve?” Asked Olas, quite sure that he wouldn’t enjoy the answer. Abigail maintained her smile.

“Oh, just a bit of garlic, a few chopped carrots, a mortal sacrifice, and a scalloped zucchini or two. You can handle that right?” Olas’s eyes widened, backing away, slowly at first as the image sunk into his mind’s eye, then turning for a run. Before he could even reach the kitchen doors he was caught; ensnared in a roll of cheesecloth in a way befitting Abigail’s arachnidan appearance. He was dragged screaming in fear across the floor back towards the meat locker.

“Stop, please don’t do this!” He cried. “You can take it back, the book. I don’t need it anymore!”
Abigail just laughed in her dueling sinister voice. In her eyes, Olas was nothing more than a slab of meat to be tenderized.
“I will rend your fat human. And it will be delicious.” She stripped Olas of cheesecloth and clothing, throwing him onto a hook as though he were weightless. Olas panted through a clenched jaw as the cold steel pierced his thorax. His breath was dampened by the strain of a collapsed lung.
“Good, very good.” Abigail said, poking at Olas’s abdomen. “Organs fresh as these will cover tonight’s dinner rush.” Olas coughed blood onto her face. She happily licked it from her chin.
“I promise… I promise I won’t cook anymore. For anyone, just let me go.” He begged.
“Ha! I’ll be getting that either way stupid. Now shut up and accept your slaughter little lamb. You’re dying for art. Or gluttony. Whatever.”
Becoming uninterested in the young chef’s pleas, she focused her attention on a rack of utensils.

“Hmm, cleaver…or mallet? Or perhaps something pronged. Serrated? Souffle torch maybe? Rakshasa does enjoy a crispy skin.” She paused a moment in thought. “Ah, of course, the melon baller! How could I forget? Those eyes aren’t going to scoop themselves…and yet…you know what, let’s try them all!” Selecting a different tool for each hand, she returned to face Olas, eager to resume the butchering. Olas knew it was useless to bargain, but tried his best anyway.

“Please, I… I can help you.” He stammered.
“Help me? It took your species two hundred and fifty thousand years just to figure out how to boil water. You’re not even good enough to stir the soup.” A serrated knife embedded itself just below Olas’s diaphragm, twisted, then extracted as quickly as it had entered. Olas’s body convulsed in agony.
“Hey look at that, frittata!” Abigail grabbed a handful of the acid soaked omelet from Olas’s open stomach, shoving it by the fist load into her mouth, unfazed by blood or enzymes.
“Bu… but…” Olas was experiencing such obscene feelings of burning pain that speaking was almost entirely out of the question. No choice but to abandon all hope.
Abigail twirled the melon baller between her fingers.
“Don’t blink now, wouldn’t want those eyelashes getting everywhere.” With a twitch, the blades darted towards Olas’s soft flesh.

“BUT YOU ATE IT!” He screamed as the metal tools approached his face in his final, labored effort to save himself. A knife froze midair, no more than a centimeter from his trachea.
“Y… you ate it. I made it and you swallowed.”
Abigail blinked.
“Yes… and your point is what exactly?”
Olas caught what little breath he could.
“Did you like it?” He managed to ask, after a short respite.
Abigail furrowed her brow.
“Of course I liked it. I would have spat it out if I didn’t. In fact, it was probably the best tequila pepper bomb that I’ve had since Senor Diablo himself graced my kitchen with his cloven pezunas.” She paused once she realized the words she spoke. Olas had managed to prove himself useful, albeit in a small, easily disposable sort of way. She growled in resentment.
“Fine. I’ll grant you a favor. Make it count.”

Olas sighed painfully in relief, and made the obvious request to be returned home, back to a world he could be sure was not part of some elaborate nightmare or metaphysical plane of reality. He expressed his desire, and it was done. Abigail nodded in agreement, set aside the blades and torches, procuring a single onion it their place. She held it up to Olas’s nostrils.

“Peel the onion, and smell the ether. Layer by layer, to taste something deeper.” She chanted as she removed dry skin of pale violet. Olas’s eyes shuddered, his body numbed, and the meat locker faded to black.

Olas awoke in a gasp of terror, still sweating thick rolling beads that soaked his mattress. But it was his mattress, and his bedroom. He blinked once, twice, just be sure that everything was back to the way it should be. He checked his watch, and confirmed the hands by the first rays of dawn that passed through his window. Hardly believing it, Olas took his time standing to his feet, making his way to the bathroom to wash the sweat from his face.

Not knowing what to do after splashing cool water over his head and neck, Olas noticed how the pain in his stomach had been replaced with hunger. He walked to the kitchen.

The sight of cabinets and tile caused his heart to skip a beat, but after a moment of cautious inspection, Olas relaxed. There was no pentagram, or bismuth, or cheesecloth. There was no Novum Saporem: the only book to be found was a tattered copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty”. Nothing supernatural or horrible whatsoever. It was just a kitchen, a simple, familiar kitchen. Olas chuckled to himself in relief. Clearly it was all just a bad dream brought on by spoiled produce, nothing more. He could kick himself for letting it get to him so early in the day. Olas went along and opened his refrigerator to figure out what he should have for breakfast.

At first, Olas was confused. He was certain that he had stocked the shelves of his fridge the previous day, but it was almost entirely empty, save for a single…

His face froze, ice raced through his veins at the sight of a single, half peeled onion. To its side, a small florid note. “Welcome home.” It read. Olas realized his flaw, asking only to be returned back to his apartment, a request fulfilled to the letter. And to add insult to injury, she used the loophole to steal all of his groceries.

He didn’t even have time to scream before the hands grabbed him from behind.

Credit To – Stephan D. Harris

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The Stalker – Part 2

October 29, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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Note: This is the second story in a two-part series. Please read The Stalker – Part 1 if you haven’t already!

My bus arrived late the next morning – a blessing to me since I probably would have missed it otherwise. I barely managed to stumble out to the bus stop after sleeping through my alarm, hair a mess and still wearing the same clothes I had fallen asleep in the night before. I checked my phone as the bus rumbled towards the school: I had no fewer than 200 new text messages, all presumably from Emi, along with 20 missed calls from the same. I sighed heavily and rested my head in my hands, massaging my temples glumly. My dread at the prospect of seeing Emi again had not abated since last night. I honestly had no idea how I felt about her – I had liked her enough in the beginning, and that hadn’t entirely gone away, but she was really beginning to freak me out. Overall, I suppose I just felt as though I was in way over my head. I needed to find some sort of diplomatic way of telling her to back off, but neither assertiveness nor diplomacy were exactly my strong suit, and I just kept drawing blanks every time I tried to think of something.

I was the last one off the bus when we arrived at school; I just couldn’t muster the willpower to get up and move my legs… at least until the bus driver snapped at me to get the hell out. I shuffled into the building glancing fearfully around me like a paranoid person, hoping to be able to avoid Emi until class started. Unfortunately, she yet again managed to see me before I saw her, and my stomach dropped as I heard a loud call of “Over here, Zachy!” approaching from my left.

I was too tired to take in the specifics of her latest fuzzy, neon-green monstrosity of an outfit as she approached (aside from noting vaguely that she looked like she was late for a 3am rave). She cut her way through the crowd of students to my side with startling efficiency. Taking the initiative for once, I headed off whatever comments she had been planning to make by starting with: “Look, I’m really sorry about last night; you really surprised me and I think we probably ought to –”

“Oh, it’s okay!” she interrupted chipperly, ignoring any notion of slowing down by enveloping me in another painfully awkward hug, this time adding a quick peck on the cheek as she withdrew. I flinched backwards involuntarily. “I totally get it. You’re shy! That’s really cute.” She grinned playfully and winked at me.

I shook my head exasperatedly, starting to feel more annoyed than fearful. “No, I really don’t think you get what I’m –”

“I brought you something to eat!” she interjected again, pulling a white cardboard box out from under her arm and flipping it open to reveal a half dozen pink-iced donuts with rainbow sprinkles. “To make up for scaring you off last night. Dig in!” she said with a bright grin.

What was her obsession with feeding me? Given what I had seen and read in her room last night, I was seriously beginning to suspect that this woman was trying to slip me roofies. “No thanks,” I responded, “I really don’t like –”

“Donuts?” she interrupted for a third time. “Don’t give me that, Zachy! EVERYBODY likes donuts!”

Frosting,” I finished curtly. “I don’t like frosting.”

“Oh, that’s no problem! You don’t have to eat the frosting. Here… I can even lick it off for you!” she said with a playful grin. Damn, didn’t this girl have any boundaries at all? There was no way I was eating anything that she had licked. I was just about to tell her so when, thankfully, the bell for first period rang, which I latched onto as an excuse to get the hell out of there.

“Sorry, gotta get to class. Always takes me forever to open my locker and I don’t wanna be late. See you later,” I finished rapidly, starting to turn and walk away even before the last sentence was out of my mouth.

“Wait, Zachy!” she exclaimed, following after me through the burgeoning crowd, “Did you get any of my messages last night?” I felt one of her hands grasp my upper arm tightly, while the other suddenly slid into my jacket pocket and… withdrew my cell phone! She released my arm and I spun quickly to face her, now seriously miffed.

“Hey, that’s mine. Give it back!” I exclaimed, my voice rising in anger against her for the first time. She ignored me and continued reading through my messages as if I hadn’t spoken.

“Oh, Zachy, you didn’t even read a single one? I poured my heart out to you and you don’t even care at all,” she chastised me, face drawn into an exaggerated pout. Her voice was a grating whine that sounded more like a sardonic parody of dismay than the real thing. “You’re a real meanie, you know that?”

“Give. It. Back.” I growled, glaring with as much authority as I could muster.

“Oh, fine!” she huffed, tossing the phone back at me carelessly. Caught off guard, I fumbled with the phone and barely managed to catch it before it hit the tile floor. “You’re lucky I still like you even though you’re mean. See you after class, dummy,” she finished, turning and flouncing away with a supercilious flip of her pigtails.

Yeah. Lucky freakin’ me.

I stumbled into homeroom with a sigh of abject relief, slumping into my desk chair and letting the relentless drone of the teacher lull me into a relaxed stupor. When it came time to go to the science class I shared with Emi, I deliberately waited until the last minute to get there, then chose a seat as far away from her as possible. A little cold, I know, but she had crossed a line. I was hoping for, and fully expecting, this science class to be thoroughly uneventful – but I guess we all know how that goes. About halfway through the lecture, the monotone voice of Mr. Michaelson was suddenly interrupted by a loud noise… emanating from my pocket. The classic Final Fantasy victory fanfare – my text ringtone – echoed starkly through the otherwise silent classroom. I jumped violently in surprise, and Mr. Michaelson turned to glare at me angrily.

The ringtone went off again, and I fumbled my phone out of my pocket quickly, trying frantically to silence it as the rest of the class stared and giggled. In my panic, it took me ten or fifteen seconds to figure out how to turn the ringer off properly. Finally managing to silence the thing, I glanced across the room to see Emi blinking at me innocently, her own phone open and glowing in her lap. “Sorry,” she mouthed with a shrug, though I didn’t think she looked sorry. My face flushed with anger and I was about to mouth something very rude back at her, but was interrupted by a loud admonition from Mr. Michaelson.

“Mr. Thompson! Care to come to the front of the room for a moment, or is my lecture interrupting your socializing?” I bit back my anger and shuffled sullenly to the front of the room. Long story short, he took my phone for the remainder of the day and assigned me after-school detention, right in front of everyone. I kept my gaze planted firmly on my own feet as I trudged, scowling, back to my desk. I could have fucking sworn I’d turned off my ringer last night and never turned it back on. Did Emi accidently turn it on when she took my phone? Did Emi intentionally turn it on when she took my phone? Was this some kind of weird revenge thing for not answering her messages? It made me mad just thinking about it… mad, and a little bit irrationally scared. Just what the fuck had I gotten myself into…?

I darted out of the classroom as soon as the bell rang, intent on avoiding any sort of interaction with Emi for the rest of the day. My last class before lunch was English, and at the end of that period, I asked the teacher if I could stay in our classroom during lunch and do some make-up work where it was quiet. The teacher, a pleasant enough older woman, agreed, saying that I could stay and study for as long as I wanted but wasn’t allowed to eat in here. I sat at my desk pretending to study until she finished collecting her things and left. Then, as soon as she had disappeared down the hallway, I quickly snapped off all of the lights and sat down cross-legged behind a file cabinet, hidden from anyone looking in the windows. Once again, I felt like a Class-A coward, but I had the distinct feeling Emi was going to come looking for me, and I did not want to be found.

I withdrew my old Gameboy Advance from my bag and flipped it on, settling in to play Pokemon in my hidey-hole for the next hour. Several times I heard what sounded like high heels clicking down the hallway outside the classroom, and saw dark silhouettes cross past the windows. Every time this happened, my heart jumped a little bit in my chest, though logically speaking there was no reason to think that any of the footfalls or shadows belonged to Emi. At least, not until the classroom door creaked ajar, letting a sharp shaft of light into the room, and a voice called from the breach: “Zachy! You in here?”

I froze, quickly clicking off my game so that the light from the screen wouldn’t give me away. I tried to be completely silent, sitting stock-still and holding my breath anxiously. Emi just stood in the doorway, not saying anything, for several seconds. The light from the hallway cast her spindly, elongated shadow halfway across the floor. Then, I heard the “click…click…click” of her high-heels on the tile as she took three curious steps deeper into the room. My heartbeat sped up as an irrational wave of fear broke over me, and I silently pressed myself closer against the wall, praying that she’d just go away. After another few endless moments, my prayers were answered as I heard her footsteps click back towards the doorway. She shut the door with a dull thunk behind her, plunging the room back into relative darkness, and I listened with utter relief as her footfalls receded back down the hallway.

The remaining fifteen minutes of the lunch period passed without incident, though I was afraid to turn my game back on. When the bell rang to signal the return to class, I turned the lights back on, gathered my things, and darted to my next class as quickly as possible. Luckily it was only a few doors down and I managed to avoid being ambushed on the way. Afternoon classes passed as they usually did, in a haze of useless information with unrelated worries constantly intruding on my ability to concentrate. When school finally ended, as much as I would have liked to just go home and collapse, I was almost glad that I had detention, because it meant that Emi would have to walk home without me. I reported to the principal’s office with my detention slip, and he gave me back my phone and assigned me to an hour and a half’s worth of cleanup duty – punishment and free labor, two birds with one stone, I thought bitterly, slipping the phone into my backpack.

I was given a broom and dustpan and instructed to cover several rooms on the south end of the school building, including the band room. I remembered Emi mentioning that Aliyah was in the marching band, and I wondered optimistically if I might run into her on her way to or from practice… maybe we’d even wind up riding the same late bus home! However, when I went in to sweep up the band room, I found it completely empty, and deduced unhappily that practice must have been cancelled today. Man, I could not catch a break!

I sighed heavily and started in on the cleaning. The place looked as though it hadn’t been swept in months; some of the dust-bunnies were evolving into dust-elephants. I hummed to myself a little bit to pass the time as I chipped away at the menial labor; then, realizing I was completely alone, started singing out loud. I don’t know how long it was before I noticed it over the sound of my own voice… the faint tapping issuing from behind a door labeled “Low Brass Closet.” I fell silent and stopped what I was doing, staring at the door.

Tap, tap, tap… no, it definitely wasn’t my imagination. A chill drifted down my spine. What could that possibly be? I leaned my broom against the wall and took a couple of tentative steps towards the door. The tapping grew louder, more insistent. I hesitated. Tap, tap, TAP, TAP, THUD, THUD… the sound escalated from tapping to banging, heavy and frantic. Part of me wanted to bolt, but part of me was strangely mesmerized. Hands clammy, heart accelerating, I turned around and retrieved the broom; then, holding it out in front of me like a baseball bat, I started towards the door.

THUD, THUD, THUD… I crept slowly closer, heart in my throat, a little voice in the back of my head telling me that this was stupid, but something else, some inexplicable instinct, driving me on. As I drew within a few feet of the closet, I started to hear something else under the banging. It sounded like… a muffled cry, choked and barely audible, yet still obviously panicked and fearful. The moment I realized this, my initial fear was dispelled like a misty veil, and a very different kind of fear suddenly filled me. I dropped the broom and practically ran the remaining steps to the closet, recklessly yanking open the door.

There, suddenly illuminated in the spill of fluorescent light from the band room was… Aliyah! I gasped sharply, my hand flying to my mouth involuntarily.

Aliyah lay prone on the floor of the cramped closet, arms and legs bound tightly with thick, rough-looking ropes. Flat gray duct tape covered her mouth, wrapping at least twice around her head, and her eyes were covered by a dark blindfold. Her cries increased in volume and intensity as she heard the door open, and she began to squirm and flail backwards ineffectively, obviously in a complete panic. I just stood there, dumbstruck and staring, for longer than I’d like to admit, but eventually my paralysis lifted.

“Aliyah!” I shouted concernedly, rushing forward with the intention of untying her. She jerked backwards with another muffled shriek, kicking her legs violently in my direction. Her right foot caught me in the shin, almost causing me to topple forward on top of her. “No, hey! It’s me, Zach! I’m here to help!” I protested, moving towards her more cautiously now. My shin was throbbing, but I ignored it. “I’m going to untie you, okay?”

Aliyah continued to moan and shake with fear, but she didn’t try to kick me again as I reached over warily to remove her blindfold. Her head flinched backwards as my fingers brushed the side of her face. Gently, I pulled the smooth black fabric up off of her head; her eyes blinked rapidly in the sudden light, then turned to stare at me with abject terror. “Just hold on, I’m going to get these things off of you,” I reassured, “Let me untie your arms, okay?” She looked at me for another moment, still trembling all over, then nodded jerkily. I reached down and started fumbling with the knots securing her arms behind her back, pulling at them uselessly for several minutes before finally loosing them and pulling the coiled rope off of her wrists.

Her hands flew immediately to her mouth, scrabbling frantically at the duct tape wrapped around her head. I tried to help her find the end of the tape but she slapped my hand away, still jumpy and obviously preferring to do this by herself. After several minutes of watching her struggle with the tape, breathing heavily through her nose, she finally found purchase and started haphazardly unwrapping the gag. She let out a small, sharp yelp of pain as she ripped the last of the tape off of her mouth, then took in a deep, shuddering breath.

I waited a moment for her to catch her breath before asking in a soft, tentative voice, “What happened to you?”

“I-I don’t… know,” she stammered out, still panting heavily. “I was here alone… picking up my stuff… when all of a sudden…someone grabbed me. Their hands were… over my mouth… and there was this weird smell… and then… then I was alone in the dark. Groggy… couldn’t breathe… couldn’t move… tried to… bang on the door, but… took a while to… get my strength back. God, Zach, when you opened that door… I thought – I thought you were…” she cut off mid-sentence, shuddering violently and casting her eyes down into her lap.

“It’s okay,” I soothed, “Everything’s going to be okay. We’re going to finish untying you, then we’re going to go to the principal’s office and get everything sorted out, get you home. Okay?”

“Y-yeah,” she stuttered back in a small, quiet voice, reaching down to undo the bonds around her legs. She let me help this time and we had them undone in just a couple of minutes. She got up slowly, leaning on me for support and testing her weight on both of her legs before letting go. Her knees trembled for a moment but she kept her footing. She closed her eyes and took a deep, steadying breath, then grabbed my hand and walked with me out the door towards the principal’s office. I was torn between intense worry and a flush of small, guilty pleasure at the fact that she was actually holding my hand. We reached the front office at the end of the hallway far too quickly for my liking.

She stopped in front of the principal’s door and I followed her lead, glancing over at her quizzically. “Thank you,” she whispered softly, not looking me in the eye, then rapped quickly three times on the principal’s door before I could respond.

The rest of the evening was spent in a blur of questions and explanations as Aliyah and I tried to describe what we knew of the situation first to the principal, then to the three police officers he summoned to the school upon grasping the seriousness of what had transpired. The police questioned us both separately and then together, hammering us hard for any details we could remember. What time was Aliyah attacked? Who all was still at the school? What time did I find her? Did we know anyone who might have the means or the motive to do this? I had my own suspicions about that last one, but in the end I decided to keep my mouth shut. Maybe that was irresponsible, but it wasn’t as if I was certain of anything, and I really didn’t feel the need to stir up any more trouble by pointing fingers. The officers remained calm and neutral throughout the questioning, but I could sense the suspicion in their gazes when they looked at me, and it made me deeply uncomfortable. They probably wouldn’t believe a word I said anyway.

By the time we were finished with the police, it was practically 9 o’clock at night, full dark and freezing. Aliyah and I were each escorted home by one of the officers. I spent the car ride in terse silence, staring out the window to avoid looking at the policewoman sitting next to me in the driver’s seat. I spoke only to point out the entry to the housing development I lived in, and ask her to drop me off there. Before I left the vehicle, she handed me a business card and said: “If you have any information that might help us with this case – anything at all – please call and let us know at any time.”

I nodded seriously, taking the business card and sliding it into my pocket. Then, wordlessly, I slipped out the door into the cold night air, heading off down the street towards my home without looking back. I shuddered, half with cold and half with relief, as I heard the cruiser pull away from the curb and rumble back down the road. I was cold as balls, but I was finally alone again under the glow of the streetlights, able to take a breather and try to regain some sense of normalcy amidst this shitstorm in which I’d found myself. I walked at a leisurely pace, calming my mind and gathering my thoughts.

It MUST have been Emi that attacked Aliyah, I thought. In spite of what I had tried to convince myself while sitting in that room with the police – that this was just a paranoid theory, that Emi didn’t have the means to do something like that – I was ninety-nine percent sure that the crazy, pink-haired bitch was somehow behind this. It was just too much of a coincidence, Aliyah being attacked and tied up in a closet the day after Emi had threatened her. Not to mention that Emi had been acting erratically today too… hell, she had been acting erratically since day one, I just hadn’t noticed or paid enough attention to it. What was her endgame, I wondered? What would she have done to Aliyah if I hadn’t found her and let her go? Had Emi only meant to lock her in the closet overnight – not an attempt on Aliyah’s life but just a really mean prank? Or was she planning on coming back to do something… else?

I shook my head, exhausted and scared, as I neared my destination. At least I knew that Aliyah was safe for the night, having been escorted home by the police. Suddenly, I became aware of a low, almost imperceptible buzzing sound, audible only because of the perfect silence surrounding me. It might have been going on for quite a while without me even noticing it. For a moment, I couldn’t place the noise, and stood puzzled trying to pinpoint its location. Then I realized that the sound was coming from my backpack, and it hit me – my phone, on vibrate, buried deeply under my books and gym clothes, was ringing. A feeling of dread formed in the pit of my stomach, and against my better judgment I stopped and withdrew the phone from my pack. BUZZZZ…BUZZZZ… BUZZZZ… The phone vibrated constantly, almost violently in my hand, no longer muffled now but loud and insistent. I stood and stared at it hypnotically for what must have been several minutes as message after message scrolled across the screen:

Calling – Emi

Missed Call – Emi

Calling – Emi

Missed Call – Emi

New Text Message – Emi

New Text Message – Emi

New Text Message – Emi

Eventually I broke my trance for long enough to navigate to the main menu… there were OVER ONE THOUSAND new messages in my inbox, with more coming in every minute. BUZZZZ… BUZZZZ… BUZZZZ… My heart dropped and my stomach heaved with a sudden sense of vertigo, terror, and disgust. Some small part of my mind snapped in that moment, and I chucked the phone as hard as I could away into the underbrush, letting out a small, strangled yelp of helpless frustration and fear. I covered the rest of the distance home as fast as I could without flat-out running, not even bothering to note where the damned phone had likely fallen.

I tried to hit the hay almost as soon as I got home, but even though I felt strung-out and exhausted beyond belief, I just couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned for hours, my mind racing with uncomfortable, worrisome, and downright scary thoughts, yet somehow managing to generate nothing at all productive. I was in way over my head. I felt stuck. I had no idea what I should do.

Eventually, when the sun first started peeking over the horizon, I decided to just get up and drag my ass to school. A big part of me wanted to skip school entirely, but between the transfer and my lackluster class participation lately, I knew that I really couldn’t afford to. Besides, there was a paranoid little part of my mind that wanted to see Aliyah again with my own eyes and make sure she was safe. The thought of seeing Emi, though, was almost enough to give me a panic attack. I figured I could probably spend lunch locked in my English room again if necessary, but what should I do about this morning…? Maybe I could get there before her and just hide out until class started. It was pretty early; my bus wouldn’t be here for another hour, and the buses wouldn’t start arriving at the school for at least another hour and a half. If I left now I should be able to beat them.

With that in mind I got up, quickly changed into a new set of clothes, and headed for the school. The temperature was brisk but thankfully warmer than it had been over the past several days. I traversed the distance between my place and the school in record time, arriving to find the parking lot mostly empty and the building dark. No sign of Emi, thank God. I was a little worried that the front door might not be unlocked yet, but it was.

Upon entering, I deliberated briefly on where I could find a good place to hide for the morning, then decided to head for the men’s room. No chance of being found in there. I took a seat in one of the small, graffiti-covered stalls, locking the door behind me, and withdrew my old GBA from my backpack. Ah, video games, how many uncomfortable situations have you helped me suffer through in my life? I spent the next hour and a half or so immersed in a world in which small elemental monsters obeyed my every command, I was powerful enough to destroy a large criminal organization, and the closest thing I had to a deranged girlfriend was my cheery rival. When the bell finally rang to send everyone to class, I felt a certain sense of sadness and resentment at being dragged back into the real world.

Not worrying about being late, I waited until the halls had cleared and class had begun before darting out of the men’s room and making a beeline for my locker. As I approached, I noticed a strange smell hanging in the air, becoming stronger the closer I got to the locker. It smelled like some kind of perfume or air freshener or something, a cloyingly sweet aroma of artificial strawberries. Just the sort of thing Emi would wear, I thought with a grimace. Had she been hanging out around my locker all morning? Was that what this was? God, if this was the scent she left behind, the girl herself must smell like a perfume shop exploded. Now glancing around me warily, I spun the tumbler of my combination lock right, then left, then right again, resulting in a gratifying click as the lock snapped open. I grinned a little – this was the first time I had gotten it open in less than five tries, and I felt pretty pleased with myself – but my smile wilted the second I opened up the door.

Even before the locker door swung fully open, the fake strawberry smell was instantly overpowered by another scent – the peculiar, half-savory, half-sweet smell of rotting meat. There was also a sharp metallic edge to the scent, undeniably signaling blood. I drew back in surprise, but was unable to react quickly enough to prevent myself from pulling the locker door all the way open. There was a soft sliding sound and a sickening *plop* as several large, slippery reddish masses fell out of the locker onto the tile floor. The three-foot-tall space was stacked almost half full with similar objects, lumpy and shining with blood. For several moments I stared into the locker in abject confusion and shock, heart pounding. My palms grew sweaty, and I felt myself begin to salivate. The smell was so strong now, so strong that it almost made me dizzy. How had that strawberry perfume ever covered it up?

Against my better judgment, I leaned in closer, examining the slabs of raw meat (for I was now certain that this was what they were) stacked up inside my locker more carefully. In the cramped and shadowy space, I could make out what looked like several livers, constituting the bulk of the ghoulish pile. Among them were interspersed a few small, bean-shaped kidneys and… holy shit… hearts, real hearts, dark red and dripping with blood. A small, rational part of my mind noted with some measure of relief that they were too small to be human hearts – at least, I thought so – but that didn’t do a great deal to calm me down. I looked down at the pieces that had fallen to the floor: same thing, hearts, kidneys and livers, lying in a pool of blood and other unidentified juices.

An icy spike of fear drilled down my spine. I withdrew slowly from the bloody, viscera-filled locker, backing into the opposite wall before I’d even realized how far I’d gone. Hearts, livers, kidneys… oh, no… I looked back into the locker, raising my eyes above the pile of raw giblets for the first time to notice a message scrawled in blood on the back wall:


Those two words, their sickeningly familiar loopy script dripping inside a large, crudely-drawn heart shape, told me all that I needed to know about the culprit. I bit my lip, trying vainly to puzzle out what this meant and what I needed to do next, when suddenly a hysterical shriek echoed down the hallway to my left. I snapped my head around to face the noise and saw a blond girl (no doubt another latecomer to class) standing petrified at the end of the hall, her books scattered about her feet, staring at the bloody locker in terror.

Things happened pretty quickly after that. Concerned teachers emerged from classrooms all along the hall. Curious students jostled for position at the windows and in the doorways. There was a lot of awkward, hurried stuttering as I tried to explain to three teachers at once what was going on, being consistently interrupted by one or the other. Eventually I was carted off to the principal’s office for the second time in 24 hours, where I endured repeated questioning from both him and the school guidance counselor. I tried to pay attention to their questions and advice, but my mind kept wandering back to that viscera-filled locker. Hearts, livers, kidneys… hearts, livers, kidneys… No. No way. It had to be a coincidence. If (as I was nearly certain) Emi had indeed put those organs into my locker as some kind of twisted prank or gift, she probably just chose hearts because she thought it was romantic. Livers because they were easy to buy at the grocery. Kidneys because… oh, hell, some reason. Nothing to freak out about beyond the fact that some crazy chick had shoved organ meat in my locker, and honestly, wasn’t that bad enough?

I didn’t accuse her, though. Even when the administrators asked me if I knew who did it. I’m not entirely sure why I refrained – I certainly had no idea how to deal with this on my own – but somehow it felt like getting them involved would create more problems than it would solve. I guess I’ve always had issues with trusting authority. After my long chat with the principal and counselor, the police were summoned to deal with the viscera (and, I suppose, to make sure there were no human remains mixed in), and I was sent back to class.

About halfway down the hall from the office, I realized with a sudden jolt of horror that it was currently third period. Science class. With Emi. I briefly considered going back to the office and telling the counselor I needed the rest of the day off, claiming mental trauma from the locker incident. She’d probably buy it. However, my reasons for wanting to be here hadn’t changed since this morning: I was on thin ice in most of my classes already, and I hadn’t seen Aliyah yet today either. My stomach lurched as I was struck with the unpleasant, paranoid idea that her remains might have been mixed in with the meat in my locker. I shook my head sharply, trying to dispel the thoughts as if they were a fog in my mind. Nope, I was definitely staying. I was going to have to confront Emi at some point anyway; might as well be in a safe, structured environment.

Steeling myself, I approached the science classroom and slid in as quietly as I could through the back door, hoping not to draw any ire from Mr. Michaelson. Of course, the only open seat left was next to Emi. I walked stiffly over to the desk and sat down, pointedly avoiding looking at her. I stared straight ahead, pretending to pay strict attention to the lecture. Emi poked me in the shoulder, obviously trying to get my attention, but I acted as if she wasn’t there. She poked me again, and again, harder. She poked me with her pencil so hard that it hurt. “Psst, Zachy!” she whispered, leaning in as closely as she could to my ear without attracting attention from our classmates. I continued to ignore her, even when she slid a folded-up note in front of me, then another.

We sat there like that for several minutes, the awkward tension between us almost painful in the air. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her raise her hand.

“Yes, Miss Jackson?” Mr. Michaelson called on her, sounding a bit exasperated.

“I need to go to the restroom!” Emi chirped with her usual inappropriately perky attitude.

“Go ahead,” he acceded, waving her off wearily. I allowed myself a quick, surreptitious glance over at her as she stood and flounced out the door, voluminous skirts trailing behind her. As I turned my gaze back to the front of the room, however, my eyes fell across her science notebook, lying open on her desk. I couldn’t exactly read it from where I sat, but I saw something that looked like my name scrawled in the top corner of one page, along with several tiny heart-shapes. Struck by a sudden, morbid curiosity, I glanced around warily, verifying that no one in the classroom was looking in my direction, then quickly swiped the notebook off of her desktop. I placed it in my lap, hiding it carefully in the shadow of my desk, and re-opened it to a random page.

I had to stifle an exclamation of unnerved surprise as I stared down at the pages. There were a few science notes there, surely enough, but most of the thin, college-ruled paper was covered with repeated scrawlings of “Mrs. Zachary Thompson” in various sizes and styles. That, and a lot of little hearts. I flipped through several more pages incredulously, finding only more of the same, interspersed with a few disturbing, full-page drawings of what I could only assume was supposed to be me, often in highly compromising positions. “MINE FOREVER” was scrawled in large, uncharacteristically spiky letters across several of the drawings and pages of text.

My heart pounded wildly in my chest as I attempted to quiet my increasingly fast and heavy breathing. I felt like I was about to have a panic attack. I closed my eyes and counted to ten, focusing on my breathing. Quietly, I closed the notebook, and was about to slide it back into its place on Emi’s desk when I caught sight of the illustration on the back cover… and felt my blood turn to ice.

Sketched in exquisite detail on the yellowish paperboard, looking like something out of a horror magazine, was a drawing of a monster. The creature stood amidst a cluster of bare, spindly trees, staring out at the viewer. It was vaguely humanoid in form, but severely hunchbacked, its vertebrae protruding like small spikes from its spine. Its body was almost entirely hairless, skin grayish and rough. Wicked-looking claws protruded from its disproportionately long fingers, its lanky arms hanging down so that the tips of the claws brushed the ground. Its legs, arched like a wolf’s, were wiry and well-muscled, but the creature looked desperately emaciated, its ribcage protruding exaggeratedly over a scrawny abdomen. Its mouth was enormous, lower jaw hanging loosely down past the middle of its chest, and the gaping maw was filled with long, sharp, jagged teeth. It had no nose to speak of, just a pair of rough holes in the middle of its face, and its eyes were sunken black pits that stared soullessly, hungrily ahead out of the paper.

For a moment, I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe. I just froze, a feeling of unreality surrounding me like a numbing cocoon. My hands began to tremble, hard enough to cause the drawing I held to shake wildly. This seemed to snap me out of my hypnosis, and I drew in a sharp, ragged gasp, heart now racing as if I had just run a marathon. I looked up to find several students now staring at me quizzically, but I was beyond caring. I raised my hand shakily, mentally pleading to be noticed quickly.

“…Mr. Thompson?” the teacher called on me, concern crossing his face as he noticed my obvious distress.

“May I, ah, go use the restroom?” I managed to stammer out, my mouth dry as cotton.

Mr. Michaelson looked at me seriously for a moment, as though he was considering saying something, then just nodded and said curtly, “Go ahead.”

I was up and heading for the door before the words were even out of his mouth. I managed to hold myself to a walk until I exited the classroom, but as soon as I got out that door, I flat-out bolted, feet slapping the tile heavily. I ran down the hallway, through the cafeteria, and straight out the front door, continuing across the crowded parking lot and down the sidewalk towards home, all without slowing. The whole time, one single thought was running on an endless loop in my head:

SHE KNEW. Somehow, that fucking bitch KNEW.

Eventually I grew tired and slowed to a walk, chest heaving, thoughts still swirling uselessly in my head. It was at this point that I noticed the fucking notebook was still in my hands, and I chucked it disgustedly into the ditch by the sidewalk as if it were some sort of venomous animal. I walked the rest of the way home in tense silence, trying futilely to find answers to the half-formed questions burning in my mind. How? How did she know? How could she possibly have found out? Did others know? What was she planning to do? What was I planning to do? What could I do?

I reached my place in a little under half an hour, but almost automatically I kept walking, deeper into the woods, leaves crunching and twigs snapping under my feet. I don’t know if it was just nervous energy or what that compelled me to keep moving, but I just couldn’t bring myself to stop. I walked for nearly an hour, forging straight ahead through the cold and the mud, before finally pulling myself to a halt in a small clearing amidst a stand of pine trees.

This was stupid. What was I doing? I just kept walking and walking, thinking and thinking, and not getting anywhere on either front. I was burnt out. I needed a release. More than that, I suppose, I needed to EAT something. It had been far too long since the last time, I knew that. I hadn’t hunted since I left Atlanta. Fuck, Atlanta. Ever since that incident I had been afraid to even try it. Damn, what a shitstorm that had been. It’s not like it was even my fault, those hikers had been trespassing on government property. It was a fucking nature preserve for God’s sake, nobody was supposed to be there! I shook my head as if to ward off the memory, running my hands through my hair anxiously. Well, I was going to have to get back out there eventually, and I really needed it now.

I turned my head left and right, surveying my surroundings and scenting the air carefully. Nothing but the smell of the forest extending away in every direction. I had walked for an hour to get here, after all, I should be far enough away from civilization for this to be okay. Summoning my resolve, I took a deep breath, stared up into the tree-ringed circle of clouds above me and… let go.

Slowly, I felt my back arch and elongate, curving into a hunched conformation. My arms and fingers also stretched and grew, knuckles popping satisfyingly as they reached closer to the ground. Claws sprouted from each fingertip with a sharp *snick* sound. My legs arched into a wolfish posture, balancing my weight on what would have moments ago been my toes. I moaned softly with satisfaction as my jaw popped and sank, opening my mouth wider than any human’s could go. I felt amazing. Stress and tension I didn’t even know I’d been carrying seemed to bleed out of my body as I transformed, stretching muscles that hadn’t been stretched in ages. I felt like that genie from Aladdin, emerging from his lamp for the first time in eons. “Ten thousaaaand years can give you such a crick in the neck!” or whatever it was. I realized that I now felt fully relaxed for the first time in weeks.

Just as relaxing as the bodily changes were the mental ones. When I transformed, my mind regressed to a more instinctive, animal state. I lived purely in the moment, untroubled by guilt about the past or worry about the future. This was a great feeling, but it was also highly problematic since I couldn’t exactly exercise good judgment in this state – especially when it came to deciding what to hunt. What to kill. Hence, the incident in Atlanta. Oftentimes I’d considered just staying like this, running off into the woods and living wild like an animal for the rest of my life. But I really did like being a human, for the most part, and I didn’t want to give that up. So, I kept on convincing myself that someday I really would be able to settle down somewhere, get into a safe, functional routine and live without having to worry about any… unfortunate malfunctions… occurring. Though sometimes I couldn’t help but feel like I was just deluding myself.

None of that mattered now, however. Now there was just the wind and the woods, the feel of the dirt and leaves between my toes, the scents of soil and plants and fresh prey in my nostrils. I ran with a loping gait through the barren trees, free and focused, body buzzing with the feeling of being alive. After a while, I came across a deer and chased it for what felt like nearly a mile, finally running it down and raking my claws across its throat. As it lay twitching and bleeding out on the forest floor, I gutted it expertly and devoured first its liver, then its kidneys, and finally its heart. The soft meat and fresh blood slid rapturously across my tongue, filling my empty, rumbling stomach with a warm, satisfied feeling… but not nearly enough. As always, I left the rest of the carcass for the scavengers and set off in search of more prey.

I ate from two more deer, a raccoon, and finally what I believe was an enormous black dog before my hunger was quelled and I resumed my human shape. I walked home at a leisurely pace, guided by my nose and by the stars, for night had fallen while I was hunting. Luckily, my exploits had brought me back closer to my place than I had been when I transformed, so it was a short walk.

The large drainage pipe in which I had made my home was located right behind a nice new housing development, just a few yards into the woods off of some couple’s backyard. (Luckily they didn’t have any little kids to come nosing around “exploring”). It wasn’t the nicest place I’d ever found to stay in, but the pipe seemed to have run dry some time ago, and it was at least four and a half feet in diameter, offering shelter from the elements and prying eyes. I had room for a nice, soft sleeping bag, my trunk full of clothes, my bookbag, and (thank goodness) a battery-powered space heater. All obtained through less-than-ethical means, but hey, it’s not as though Wal-Mart was going to be driven out of business by one needy shoplifter.

I collapsed into the sleeping bag, exhausted but happy, thinking more clearly now than I had been in days. If Emi knew what I really was – and that now seemed certain – there was only one thing to do. I felt a guilty little flutter of anticipation deep in my stomach and tried for a moment to suppress it, then sighed and decided to just let it be, licking my lips contemplatively.

This wasn’t going to turn into Atlanta all over again, I told myself. That was the important thing. This time there was going to be planning. This time I wouldn’t be caught red-handed. I was NOT going to have to move again. I would take care of this carefully and quietly, and after a while everything would go back to normal. I hoped.

I fell asleep composing my plan for the next day, reaching a level of forethought which I felt was sufficient before finally drifting off. I woke up late the next morning, but that was alright, I only felt the need to be on time for one class – third period science. I walked to school slowly, going over the details of my (admittedly rather simplistic) plan repeatedly in my mind. I arrived at the school building just a few minutes before third period and picked up my late slip from the office, waving off the staff’s concerned inquiries regarding my health and mental status after my panicked exit yesterday. I told them that I’d just been a bit overwhelmed and needed some time off, apologizing for not going through the proper channels, and luckily they didn’t pursue the matter any further.

I went straight to the science room after that, not even bothering to check and see whether my locker was clean yet. About half the class, including Emi, was already there, and I took the seat directly in front of her. Quickly, I scrawled a short note in large, legible letters on the back page of my science notebook:

Dear Emi: These past few days have been a bit rough, but I think I’ve finally realized my true feelings for you. I love you, and I want to be with you forever. If you feel the same way, please meet me tonight at 10pm on the back woods trail in Valley Park. There is something I need to show you. Come alone, and don’t tell anyone where you’re going – they won’t understand our love. It must be a secret between just us two. Forever yours, Zach.

The blatant dishonesty of it was nearly enough to make me gag. It was completely childish and asinine, disgustingly lovey-dovey, and obviously suspicious – but I had no doubt that Emi was crazy and infatuated enough to believe every sketchy word. Taking a deep breath, I turned and tapped Emi on the hand to get her attention (as if that were necessary – she was already staring at me eerily), then surreptitiously showed her the notebook page, taking care that nobody else in the classroom would be able to see it. I watched her eyes light up as she read, lips moving to mouth the words, then stretching into an elated grin as she looked back up at me. She nodded her agreement to the terms of the note enthusiastically. Her expression was one of pure joy, and for a moment I felt a pang of guilt resonate in my heart. Then I reminded myself that she was a psychotic stalker with a monster fetish who had stuffed my locker with raw meat and left Aliyah tied up in a closet…

Aliyah. I hadn’t thought about her since discovering Emi’s drawing yesterday. How could I have forgotten? I had been really worried about her. I hoped that I would get to see her today, make sure she was okay. Now that I thought about it: Emi had left Aliyah bound and helpless in the band room on the exact same day that she had intentionally gotten me sent to after-school detention… had she meant for me to find Aliyah? If Emi knew what I was… she had left those organs in my locker as a gift… then Aliyah was… oh God, had Emi meant for me to…?

I shook my head, cutting off that thought before I even completed it. With a forced grin in Emi’s direction, I withdrew the notebook, closed it, and slid it into my backpack. I planned to burn the page with my note on it later. The rest of the science class was relatively uneventful. Mr. Michaelson gave some kind of lecture about the atom, which I absorbed exactly none of. Emi passed me several notes during the lecture, mostly flowery declarations of love which I read with a fake smile plastered on my face in order to keep up the illusion that I liked her. When class ended, I was out the door as quickly as possible, ignoring Emi’s attempts to communicate. Lying in a note was one thing, doing it to her face was a whole other matter, one that I wasn’t quite certain I could handle. I was honestly a horrible actor. Hopefully my hurried exit came off as mysterious and hard-to-get, rather than cold and uncaring.

The rest of the day was a blur of ordinary school B.S., all completely overshadowed by my worry and anticipation over tonight. I hid out in the English room during lunch again, desperate to avoid having to face Emi before… well, before 10pm. This time she didn’t come looking for me, for which I was deeply grateful.

I did see Aliyah in the hallway between two of my afternoon classes, to my great relief. I started to approach her, but stopped when I noticed that she was crying into the shoulder of one of her friends. From across the hall, I eavesdropped a little bit on their conversation: apparently, Aliyah’s beloved family dog, a six-year-old Newfoundland, had been found dead last night in the woods behind their house, eviscerated by some sort of wild animal. My heart sank as I made the connection. Great. Just great. As if I didn’t feel like enough of a douchebag already. Oh well, I suppose she’d never have to know it was me…

Finally, finally, the school day ended, and I left the building quickly through the back door, once again managing to avoid Emi. I headed straight to the park, taking the long way around. Valley Park had a two-mile hiking trail stretching out into the woods behind the park proper, and at this time of the year, it was practically deserted. By the time the sun had set (around 7 pm), it would be completely vacant. I took up position at the back end of the trail, as far into the forest and away from the park as the trail got, and began pacing nervously. Even with hours to go until our appointed meeting, I was too anxious and excited to do anything else.

Yes, excited, I admit it. I had never actually intended to do something like this before, though I knew of others who did. It was different… invigorating. I certainly didn’t plan to make a habit out of it, but under these extenuating circumstances… I had to protect my secret, after all. No reason I shouldn’t let myself enjoy it. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself during those hours I spent pacing through the trees.

In the crisp, clean forest air, I scented Emi’s arrival before I saw her. She smelled of sweat and strawberry perfume. Feeling my mouth begin to water, I froze and waited in the dark, standing amongst the trees a few feet off of the trail. Soon, I saw the beam of a flashlight waving back and forth across the dirt trail, and Emi crested the hill walking towards me. She was dressed in the same outfit as she had been when we first met, with the addition of her long, black trenchcoat. I waited for her to reach the spot on the trail directly in front of me, then called out to her quietly: “Emi! Over here!”

She turned in my direction, scanning the treeline with her flashlight, then beamed happily as light fell on me. “Zachy! Hey there! You’ve been avoiding me, you silly guy! What did you need us to meet all the way out here for? Are we running away together?” she asked with a coy smile.

“You know, don’t you?” I responded, bluntly and without preface.

“Know what?” she asked innocently, resting her index finger on her lower lip. I could tell from her tone, though, that she knew exactly what I was talking about.

“About me. About what I am.”

“I had a huuuuunch!” she responded in a singsong voice, “Guess I was right, huh? You’ve been holding out on me, you dummy; you really are an interesting guy! A real monster. I love guys like you, I just love them! I guess you could probably tell that, haha. It’s really cool to have one of you love me back, though! You do love me, don’t you, Zachy?”

I sighed heavily and took a step closer towards her. Now that I had confirmed my suspicions, there was only one thing left to do. “Yeah, about that… look, I’m sorry about this, Emi, I really am, but you haven’t exactly left me much choice…”

Saying this, I let my inhibitions go and began to transform: back stretching, jaw widening, claws clicking out along my fingers. I began to salivate more heavily as my sense of smell sharpened and I took in her exotic, savory scent. Strangely, she looked largely unfazed by my transformation, still grinning appreciatively at me. As I began to advance, my rational mind being replaced by animal bloodlust, she reached into her trenchcoat and pulled out something small and round… then threw it to the ground in front of me.

The object instantly exploded into a cloud of white smoke. As the smell of the smoke reached my nose, my animalistic mind recognized it distantly as the same stink of the purple-flowered herb in Emi’s room. Then I was on the ground, the stench consuming all of my senses, my throat closing up involuntarily. I writhed, choking, unable to get even a wisp of the tainted air down my windpipe. My vision slowly began to darken. The last thing I saw before losing consciousness completely was Emi’s dark form moving towards me through the mist, holding what looked like a short, silvery blade…

Emi Jackson whistled happily as she skipped home from the butcher’s shop with her purchase. Fresh beef livers and kidneys, just what she needed for her new guest. She had also bought herself a few microwave meals at the grocery: usually she liked to cook, but she was always really busy when she got a new housemate, and throwing something in the microwave for dinner was quick and easy. It was at times like these that she missed having her parents around to make meals for her… but if they were still around, she supposed, there wouldn’t really BE any times like these.

Her parents didn’t approve of her houseguests, you see. They thought of monsters simply as enemies to be destroyed. Hateful abominations to be killed without hesitation, just as their ancestors had been doing for hundreds of years. They had even formed an organization dedicated to the craft. Emi, however, thought differently. She alone saw the beauty inherent in the terrible, the frightening. She alone knew how to love that which everyone else despised, that which was called disgusting and evil – and she loved with great passion. How was it that no one else saw how wonderful these creatures were, how fascinating, how amazing? How could they kill them so wastefully, aiming even to drive them into extinction? Philistines! Neither her parents nor their close-minded friends could ever understand her feelings, so she supposed that their schism had been inevitable.

It really shouldn’t have been that way, though. Disowning her, excommunicating her from the guild… there was no need for all that! She was still doing her job, after all: preventing innocent people from being killed by monsters. She just didn’t feel the need to destroy the monsters in the process. As long as she could sequester them where they wouldn’t hurt anybody, what on Earth was the harm in keeping them? Those old fuddy-duddies just couldn’t handle any sort of change at all, she thought. Even if it was difficult sometimes, striking out on her own had been for the best.

Caught up in her musings on the past, Emi arrived at her house almost before she realized it. She grinned brightly as she trotted up the front steps and stepped into the house, her thoughts now turning to the present and her dear Zachy. She had seen the signs almost as soon as she set eyes on him – changelings weren’t too difficult to spot if you knew what to look for – but sometimes there were false positives, so she’d needed to make sure. Okay, so maybe trying to do it by feeding that Aliyah girl to him wasn’t exactly in line with her parents’ organizations’ values, but the poor guy had deserved a last meal if he’d wanted it! And besides, that dumb bimbo had tried to steal her man; nobody would have really missed her much, anyway.

She was sort of surprised Zachy had turned down that golden opportunity, but she supposed that was just the way he was. Honestly, the guy was a bit too much of a “sparkly emo monster” for her liking: Going out hunting animals instead of people, putting on that whole “I just want to be a normal teenager” shtick… how boring was that? I mean, who the hell actually WANTED to be a normal teenager? Lame-o! Nobody was perfect, though, and she totally loved him anyway. He might even be her new favorite.

Emi thought these things happily as she went about preparing her new favorite’s evening meal, not that much preparation was required, since he took his meat raw. Humming cheerily to herself, she grabbed the platter of liver and kidney meat and headed for the basement door. The door swung open with a gratifying *creeeaaak,* and Emi snapped on the lightbulb above the cement staircase. Her high-heeled boots clicked loudly on the stairs as she descended, alerting all those held below of her arrival.

She sighed blissfully as she turned the corner into the basement room: her guest room, her menagerie, her little slice of perfection. “Hello, my darlings!” she announced loudly as she entered. The dark stone room was lit only by a single, swinging light bulb, casting deep shadows into the corners. Thick iron chains hung from several places on the walls, and there were a dozen cages of varying sizes scattered across the room. Many of these were empty, but there were several current occupants of the basement room’s restraining devices, and they all reacted strongly to Emi’s entrance.

A creature that looked like a furry soccer ball with a mouth full of sharp fangs, chained to the back wall, let out a pitiful squeal and pressed frantically against the wall, trying to make itself as small as possible. A catlike animal about the size of a Labrador retriever, with webbed feet and small, bony horns, started clawing desperately at the lock to its cage, mewling like a kitten. A shadowy figure, visible only in the antique mirror hanging on the west wall, silently pressed itself so closely against the frame that it became only a dark black line along the left side of the reflected image. A ten inch tall imp-like creature hanging from the ceiling in a small, square cage shook its fists and began shouting rapid obscenities at Emi in a squeaky, high-pitched voice. Emi grinned. He was feisty today. She liked that.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there was Zachy. He sat, naked, along the east wall of the basement, both arms shacked and chained to the wall behind him, both legs shackled to the floor. He seemed to be in a half-transformed state: parts of his skin bore a pinkish, human hue, others were rough and gray; one eye was sunken in much more deeply than the other; his nose was flattened and misshapen; his fingers were elongated, but bore no claws; his back was hunched, but his legs were mostly human-shaped. He sat with his eyes half-closed, staring catatonically, head lolling down so that his chin rested on his chest. A steady stream of drool flowed, unnoticed, from the corner of his mouth. He offered no reaction to Emi’s cheerful cry of, “Hey there, Zachy, how are you today!” as she approached with the meat platter.

Emi sighed. She always had trouble getting the drug doses just right when working with a new species. Apparently she had overdone it. Had to be careful not to over-correct and give too little, though, or he might get loose. Oh well, she’d get it ironed out given a few weeks. She tried for a little bit to feed Zachy his liver, but to no avail: she could barely get him to open his mouth, and chewing seemed completely beyond him. Emi set the platter aside in frustration, muttering faux-exhaustedly, “Oh, Zachy dear, what am I going to do with you?” Of course, there was no response.

Even in this state, he was still soooo cute, though! Emi wiped the drool from his mouth with the back of her hand, then ran her fingers along his cheek, down his neck, and onto his chest. He didn’t even seem to notice. She leaned closer, pecking him on the cheek and whispering in his ear, “Dear Zachy, we are going to have SO MUCH fun together once I get you sober.” As she said this, she slowly withdrew a small, silver knife from her pocket and held its edge against his chest. She pressed lightly against the taut skin, then drew the blade sideways, leaving a shallow red line slowly oozing blood. Smiling, Emi turned to look at the large, elaborate tool rack fastened to the basement wall behind her: knives of all shapes and sizes, some smooth-edged, some serrated, hung glimmering darkly from the rack, along with several thumbscrews, pliers, nails, a saw, and a fireplace poker. Her smile widened. “SO MUCH fun…”

Her murmuring was interrupted by an unusually loud burst of profanity from the imp in the cage. Emi frowned. She liked that the little guy still had spirit, but that was no way to behave in front of a new guest! Seemed like some discipline was in order… Pocketing the knife, Emi rose and slowly approached the tool rack, eyes suddenly sparkling, upper lip twitching manically as her wide grin started to return. The brazen imp’s rant trailed off fearfully and he drew back against the back of his cage. Emi ran her fingers lovingly along the collection of weapons hanging from her wall.

Yesssss, today was definitely a good day.

Credit To – InfernalNightmare333

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The Stalker – Part 1

October 29, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Transferring to a new school in the middle of the semester really sucks. First off, it’s a logistical nightmare jumping into the thick of seven new classes and getting caught up with all the material that may or may not have been covered in your old school. More importantly for a slacker like me, it makes developing a successful social life virtually impossible, at least for most of the remaining year. Everyone already knows each other and has formed up their little separate cliques… the school clubs and activities are running full steam and not really gunning for new members… and then, of course, there’s the omnipresent fact that you’re the freaking “New Kid” and everybody knows it. Yeah, mid-semester transfers can be pretty crappy.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. When you’ve gotta move, you’ve gotta move, and I definitely had to move. So here I was, walking in to my first day at Black Creek High School in middle-of-nowhere West Virginia… in the middle of freaking February. I stepped off of the bus into a blast of freezing air that made me miss Atlanta more than ever, and made a beeline for the front door. Despite the cold, a fair amount of people seemed to be socializing on the sidewalk in front of the school instead of taking it indoors, and even in the roughly twenty-second span of time it took me to cover the distance from the school bus to the building, I felt several pairs of eyes turn to look me over.

Fantastic. This was a decent-sized school, so I’d hoped the presence of a new face wouldn’t attract much notice, but apparently I was wrong. Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t have been all that surprised… it was like this every time I transferred. Somehow, no matter how much I tried to keep my head down and blend in, people always noticed me. I let out a small sigh and tugged my scarf up higher around my face as I reached the front entrance and slid gratefully into the warm hallway. I could already tell that my first few weeks here were going to be a veritable purgatory of social awkwardness, but hopefully after a month or two I’d be able to settle into a relatively normal teenage life. Hopefully…

I did my best to avoid everyone’s eyes and ignore their whispers as I picked up my new locker number and combination from the office and headed there to put away my coat and backpack. It took me several tries to figure out how to work the combination lock correctly, and I may have slightly damaged my first impression with my new classmates by pounding on the door and yelling a few obscenities after the sixth try. Still, they could have lent me a hand instead of just standing there staring until I finally managed to open the thing on attempt number eleven. Given the delay, I barely managed to make it to my first class on time, sliding into a seat in the far back corner of the room just as the bell rang. To my dismay, instead of taking the obvious hint that I’d rather be left alone, my new homeroom teacher decided to greet our session with: “Class, today we’ll be welcoming a new transfer student to our homeroom. Mister –” he glanced quickly at his class roster – “Thompson, would you like to come up to the front of the class and introduce yourself?”

…Seriously? Of course didn’t want to introduce myself! What teenage kid actually WANTS to stand up and talk about himself in front of a room full of other teenagers he doesn’t know? But when a teacher asks you if you’d like to do something, they’re never actually giving you a choice in the matter, so instead of saying “no” I got up and shuffled perfunctorily to the front of the classroom, trying not to glare at Mr. Socially Oblivious as I did so. I stood in front of the whiteboard, faced forward, and gulped quietly. The entire class was staring straight at me like a bunch of owls. Judgmental, hormonal, cliquish owls. Cliché as it was, I tried to imagine them all in their underwear, but I was never really an imaginative sort of guy, so that didn’t help very much.

“Uh… hello,” I finally managed to force out, “I’m Zach Thompson. I, uh, just moved here from Atlanta, Georgia, and, um… yeah, nice to… meet you,” I finished lamely.

I then proceeded to stand there in complete silence for a full ten seconds as everyone continued to stare at me like they expected me to say something else, though I had no idea what else to say. Then the teacher finally cleared his throat and said, “Well, it’s very good to meet you too, Mr. Thompson. Welcome to our school. If you need anything, feel free to come talk to me any time.”

Yeah, I’d definitely be doing that later – not! I nodded stiffly a couple of times and scuttled embarrassedly back to my desk without being excused. For the remaining twenty minutes of class, I kept my head down and pretended to read my syllabus, ignoring both the occasional curious glances my classmates threw back at me and whatever relentlessly boring school crap the teacher was droning on about. I was out the door almost as soon as the bell rang; I didn’t try to talk to anybody and nobody tried to talk to me.

To my horror, I was put through the same awkward, humiliating introduction ritual in each of my next three classes – though luckily, aside from that, all of my teachers seemed relatively nice (if a bit distant), and I understood most of their lectures about as well as I ever did. When the lunch bell rang, I was half-relieved that I wasn’t being shuttled off to another meaningless intro-session, but mostly nervous about being thrown into the social jungle that was the high school cafeteria. Lunch this afternoon was the exact opposite of appetizing for me – the little round cafeteria pizzas looked like white rubber melted on cardboard and probably tasted about the same, while the salad bar was nothing but wilted lettuce and little packets of half-calorie salad dressing. Still, I stood in the lunch line with everybody else… it was at least something to do besides hover around awkwardly waiting for someone to talk to me, and besides, it would look weird if I didn’t get any food.

After about fifteen minutes of silent waiting, I was passed a tray and a little bottle of water and carried them over to the end of the most deserted lunch table I could find. As I sat there, sipping water and pushing piles of lettuce around my plate with my fork, plenty of people glanced over at me, pointed, or whispered, but no one came over to talk to me or even sit anywhere near me. This, too, I was used to… you know how some people have that kind of weird magnetism that draws others around them in a crowd, making them the center of attention without really even needing to say anything? Well, I had the opposite of that. Sometimes I felt like I was walking around with “Socially Awkward” stamped on my forehead – although, I suppose everybody feels that way now and again, especially when thrown into a new place. This was why I hated moving. I sighed heavily and started clumsily trying to fold my napkin into an origami crane to pass the time. I was just about finished folding out the wings when a perky, female voice suddenly addressed me.

“Hey! You must be the new boy! Zach, right?”

I looked up, surprised and pleased that someone was actually talking to me – let alone a girl – but my heart sank just a bit when I saw her. This girl was obviously the school weirdo, or at least one of them. Her hair was the sort of really dark black you could tell instantly was fake, with several shocking pink streaks in it, and it was held into shoulder-length pigtails by a pair of grinning cartoon skull barrettes with pink bows. Her skin-tight black t-shirt bore an image of a freaky-looking patchwork teddy bear with a grinning sewn-together mouth and x’s for eyes, head tilted to the side, holding what looked like a bloody scissor blade. She wore a pink and black plaid schoolgirl skirt hemmed so short that I was surprised the dress code allowed it, with knee-high black and white striped socks and big black platform boots. She carried her backpack with her, a black messenger bag absolutely covered with various patches, pins, and keychains displaying the sort of cartoony, pop-artsy kinds of characters that are somehow nauseatingly cute and genuinely creepy at the same time. She also wore a fair amount of jewelry with the same theme, and her eyes were surrounded by heavy black eyeliner and sparkly pink eyeshadow. She was really quite cute, don’t get me wrong, but she came on way too strong with the… would that be goth-lolita?… sort of look, which made her weirdly intimidating.

“Um, yeah… hi,” I finally managed to stutter out, after staring at her for a few moments too long to be polite.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Uh, sure, I guess,” I responded, though she’d already slid into the seat next to me before I even finished my sentence. Pushing her tray away a bit, she propped her elbow up on the table, rested her chin in her hand, and just stared at me in awkward silence, a bright grin plastered across her face. Thoroughly weirded out, I sat blinking at my uneaten lunch for almost a full minute before I even thought to ask, “So, uh… what’s your name?”

“Emily Jackson. You can call me Emi, though!” She paused for a second, then said, “And YOU’RE a mysterious transfer student.”

“I… what??” I responded, thoroughly confused.

“You’re a mysterious transfer student! You know, in books and anime and stuff, whenever anybody transfers to a new school at a weird time, they’ve always got some kind of secret or special powers or something. Nobody knows you, you showed up out of nowhere in the middle of the semester, so it’s mysterious! You could totally be anybody!”

I get it, she must be some kind of hardcore geek, or something, I thought. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m just a normal kid,” I responded, trying to laugh off a little bit of the awkwardness of the conversation.

“Why’d you transfer here, then?” she asked with a playful grin.

“My dad had to move here for his job,” I answered promptly. That wasn’t really the truth of the matter, but the truth of the matter was none of her business, and it was easier to lie than to withhold information – especially from nosy, gossipy teenagers.

“What’s he do?”

“He works at the chemical plant in Charleston,” I responded. I had done my research.

“Oh,” she responded, “So not a spy or an assassin or anything?”

“Definitely not,” I agreed.

“Well, that’s disappointing. I still like you, though! I bet you’re interesting,” she said with a smile.

I just shrugged and poked at some lettuce with my fork again. I didn’t feel interesting, and I honestly didn’t really want to be interesting. I just wanted to be a normal, relatively happy high schooler.

“Why aren’t you eating anything?” she asked.

“Not hungry,” I replied, “Big breakfast. Cafeteria food sucks, anyhow.”

“Want something sweet instead?” she asked brightly, pulling a large candy box out of her backpack. She opened it up and I peeked at the contents – a half-eaten array of obnoxiously bright multicolored candies shaped like happy skulls, broken hearts, and kitty faces.

“Sorry, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth,” I responded politely, though I honestly thought the candies looked like something that might have been barfed up by a unicorn. I felt a little sick just looking at them.

“Suit yourself,” she answered, popping a candy skull in her mouth and chewing. She grinned a little as she swallowed, and whispered under her breath, “Mysterious…”, then dropped me a quick wink. I pretended not to notice. “Sooooo, where are you from?” she asked next. I seized onto the relatively normal question and started telling her all about Atlanta. We spent the rest of the lunch period having a pleasant and only slightly odd conversation, by the end of which I felt I was actually starting to like her despite the less-than-ideal first impression. I was even a bit disappointed when the bell rang to return to class, a feeling which Emi seemed to mirror.

“Oh, drat!” she exclaimed. “Well, it was really great getting to talk to you, Mr. Mysterious Transfer Student! Let’s totally do it again soon. I hope we’ll get to be really good friends.”

“Oh, uh, me too,” I replied as she got up and headed for her locker. After she got a few feet away, to my surprise, she turned back, blew me a kiss, and called loudly across the room, “Bye, Zachy!”

I grimaced a bit. Zachy? That was going to need to stop. I hoped not too many other people had heard it. With a sigh, I picked up my tray and headed to the trash can to throw away my uneaten lunch. I couldn’t believe the day was only half over; I already felt completely drained. I passed through the rest of my classes in a bit of a daze, each one having basically the same good and bad points as my morning classes. I was really relieved when the final bell rang to end the school day. Following the crowd of my seemingly equally relieved new classmates toward the front doors, I decided I’d just walk home today instead of taking the bus. It had gotten much warmer now that it was the afternoon (though not nearly as nice as Atlanta), and I felt a walk would give me more opportunity to relax and think than being crammed on a bus full of loud strangers. My place was already a ten-minute walk from the nearest bus stop, anyway. I was just setting off along the sidewalk when I heard a voice call out from behind me.


I turned to see Emi bustling towards me at a half-run, her impractical T-shirt and miniskirt now buried in a long black trenchcoat. “You live out this way, too?” she queried boisterously as I stopped to let her catch up. Then, before I even had the chance to answer, “Want to walk back together?”

“Um, sure, I guess,” I responded blandly, not quite sure whether I wanted to or not, but unwilling to just flat out refuse. “How far are you going?”

“Oh, my house is right out behind Valley Park!” she replied, “What about you?”

“A bit further down the road,” I said, glad that I’d get some alone time for at least the last leg of my walk.

“Cool! So how was your first day? I think we’re in the same science class in the morning, but I came in late today so I don’t think you saw me… Mr. Michaelson, right? What do you think of him? I think he’s a jerk; he’s got this horrible monotone and he flips out whenever anything interrupts his jabbering…”

We walked for about 30 minutes passing similar conversation, her doing most of the talking, me listening and occasionally getting in a comment or two when she stopped for breath. Honestly, after a while her voice just sort of turned into white noise and I just smiled and nodded, hoping she couldn’t tell that I was spacing out. Eventually we turned a corner onto a residential street, and she exclaimed, “Welp, this is my stop!” She gestured at a large, well-kept red brick house with a nice front yard and an attached two-car garage. I couldn’t help being a little jealous when I thought of my lodgings. Without warning, she playfully threw her arms around me in what was probably about the most awkward hug of my life so far, though I kind of doubted it was the most awkward of hers. After around five seconds, she drew back, beaming at me, and said, “Hey, I know! Let’s exchange cell phone numbers! Want to?”

I actually had to think about that for a second. I mean, Emi was nice and all, pretty too, and most guys would probably jump at the chance, but she was already seeming a little bit… clingy… for my taste, and I got the distinct feeling that getting too involved with her would be social suicide – or at least a great way to pigeonhole myself as a weirdo for the next two and a half years of my life. A second after this thought crossed my mind I felt disgusted at my own shallowness. She was the only person at that school who had been willing to give me the time of day, and here I was worrying about what everyone else would think if I was friends with her. She was probably just a little bit overexcited because she didn’t have many friends of her own, either. “Sure,” I responded firmly, digging my phone out of my bag.

So, we quickly exchanged contacts, and she trotted back to her house with another blown kiss and exclamation of “Bye, Zachy!” Crap, I’d forgotten to tell her to cut that out. Oh well, there was always tomorrow. I waved back with a smile and then headed back up the opposite side of the road towards my place, which was still a little bit of a trek away. I’d barely gotten five steps before my phone buzzed in my pocket.

EMI: heya, zach!! this thing working? 

“Yep,” I texted back succinctly, tugging up my scarf against a brisk breeze carrying the calm, mineral-heavy scent of wet soil. I had a pleasant, relaxing walk the rest of the way home despite the cold, and despite the fact that I received no fewer than fifteen additional buzzes from Emi on the way, most of which I ignored. I tried to get some catch-up homework done when I got home, but really couldn’t work up much motivation, so I wound up spending most of the evening playing games on my old GBA until it ran out of batteries. After that I decided to hit the hay early, texting Emi goodnight so that she’d know why I was about to stop responding to her steady stream of text messages. Damn, that girl could talk… I put my ringer on silent, set my alarm, then rolled over and slept like a log for the next nine hours.

When I woke up the next morning, hair in disarray and still wearing the clothes I’d fallen asleep in, I checked my phone to find no fewer than 75 new text messages from Emi, along with three missed calls. Blinking and rubbing my eyes in drowsy disbelief, I quickly scrolled through the messages to see if she’d been trying to communicate anything important:

EMI: hi zach! what color you think i should paint my nails 2nite? purple or green?

EMI: hey zachy! i’m marathoning season 2 of kuroshitsuji. bassy is soooooo hawt <3 do u liek anime?

EMI: what’s ur favorite color? mine’s a tie bt/w red and purple lol

EMI: science hw’s a total bitch, mr. m is such a tool!! what’d you put for #6?

And so on and so forth. She hadn’t stopped texting me until 3 o’clock in the morning. I rubbed my face in exhausted bewilderment, unable to quite muster the desire or the energy to respond. I stumbled through my scant morning routine on autopilot, waking up little by little as I went, and barely got out to the bus stop in time to catch my ride. It seemed Emi must ride a different bus, or get dropped off by her parents, because the bus never picked her up. I honestly felt a little relieved about that. I passed the bus ride in silence, drowsing against the hard brown vinyl seat until we were dropped off into the cold at the front entrance.

Emi accosted me almost as soon as I stepped into the building. She was dressed even more ludicrously than yesterday, in a bright orange ruffled blouse bearing a grinning jack-o-lantern face, with a tight black corset laced over the bottom half. Her legs were covered by a voluminous ankle-length layered skirt, mostly bright orange like the top but striped with black ruffles; a pair of high-heeled boots peeked out from under the skirt. All of her accessories seemed to be jack-o-lantern based, up to the orange beret perched on her head like a pumpkin cap, complete with brown stem and green leaves. Even the streaks in her hair were now Day-Glo orange.

“Good moooorning, Zachy!” she greeted, rushing up to me and favoring me with some kind of awkward running hug-tackle that practically caused me to lose my balance and fall over. My face burned as I felt – not just saw, but felt – several pairs of eyes stop what they were doing and turn to stare at us openly.

“M-morning,” I choked out, trying to pry her off of me as gently as I could.

“You get my messages last night?” she asked brightly, finally pulling back and beaming at me intently. The avid intensity of her stare was… a little bit disconcerting, to say the least. Like that picture on the “Overly Attached Girlfriend” memes. Had she looked at me that way yesterday? I couldn’t quite remember clearly. All I knew was that now I couldn’t quite meet her eyes as I shuffled my feet and muttered: “Well, yeah… I mean, I saw them this morning, but… I was kinda, um, asleep when I got them…”

“Oh, that’s okay!” she shot back perkily. “Hey, want some of my breakfast burrito? School breakfast sucks, so I got some fast food before I came in!” She proffered me the half-eaten roll of junk food. Grease dripped from the (now undoubtedly cold) mixture of rubbery-looking scrambled eggs and unidentifiable pinkish lunch meats crammed into the cheap flour tortilla. That plus the fact that someone had already taken a few bites out if it was enough to make the thought of doing so myself mildly nauseating.

“No thanks,” I responded with a gulp and a quick shake of my head. “You can keep it.”

Emi shrugged and took another bite. “Hey, what did you think of that science homework last night? You manage to get through all of it?”

“Oh, shit, that was due today? I’ve barely even started…” Way to get off on the right foot at my new school.

“That’s okay, Zachy, I’ll let you copy mine! I’m getting a B in science!” she announced proudly, digging around in her messenger bag for the homework papers.

“Thanks,” I responded, actually feeling pretty relieved by the help. I felt a little bad about how quickly I’d been judging her a few moments ago. I even let the whole “Zachy” thing slip again for the moment as she drew the worksheets triumphantly from her bag and I sat down at the nearest table and began copying furiously (though some weird, paranoid little part of my mind seemed to whisper to me with dismay that we owed her now…). I noted vaguely that her handwriting was very loopy and she dotted all of her i’s with little hearts.

Somehow, even with her gossiping into my ear the entire time, I managed to get most of the work copied before the bell rang for homeroom. Emi and I went our separate ways (though not without a half dozen perky exclamations of “bye bye!” and “see you later!” on her part), and I actually managed to get my locker open in only five tries this time. Morning classes were relatively uneventful, except that now I knew I was in the same science class as Emi. She took her seat right behind me, utilizing the position to pass me several notes during the class period – one of which featured a very unflattering depiction of Mr. Michaelson, which I promptly crumpled up and shoved into my backpack to avoid the possibility of having it confiscated.

I didn’t really feel like facing the lunch line or the staring, whispering crowd of my peers in the cafeteria that day, so when the bell rang for lunch break, I headed for the library instead. It was quieter and much more sparsely populated there, and most of the occupants seemed to be sort of nerdy, introverted kids like me. Besides, I actually did like to read, even if it was usually comic books or fantasy/horror novels aimed a little below my age group.

I sighed with relief, feeling myself relax a bit for the first time that day, as I lazily browsed the shelves of the fiction section. I actually found a fairly nice, if small, assembly of R.L. Stine books on the bottom shelf of one of the racks. I picked out a couple of Goosebumps stories and rose from my crouching position – at just the right moment to knock into someone behind me carrying a huge stack of books. The person was only knocked a little bit off-balance, but the books went flying, dropping to the tile floor with a series of loud thuds. I immediately started apologizing profusely, dropping to the floor to gather the books before even getting a look at the person who had been holding them. After a couple of seconds I became aware of another small, dark pair of hands gathering the books as well, and another voice speaking in a quick, embarrassed manner:

“No, no, it’s fine… totally my fault… wasn’t watching where I was going…”

I stopped apologizing and looked up at the person crouching next to me. By coincidence, she looked up at about the same time, and I found myself staring into a pair of large, soft brown eyes. I dropped my gaze again quickly and blushed, returning to what I had been doing. “Yeah, I wasn’t really being careful either, though, so…” I muttered, trailing off without really finishing my sentence. After what seemed like forever but was probably only ten or fifteen seconds, we finally managed to gather all of the books off of the floor and I sheepishly handed my stack back over to her. There were about nine or ten titles in all. I noted authors like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Madeline L’Engle among them, which made me feel a little bit embarrassed about my own choice of reading material… hold on, where were my books? Oh crap, had I dropped them, too…?

“Um, here, I think these were yours,” the girl said, confirming my fears by handing back the pair of battered Goosebumps to me.

“Uh, yeah, thanks,” I said glumly, blushing again. I got a better look at her as I took back the stack of books. She was a short, petite young woman with a cute round face, a crooked smile, and just the lightest dusting of freckles across her nose and dusky cheeks. Her frizzy black hair was tied back into a thick braid that fell to her shoulder blades, and she wore a fuzzy grey sweater and faded jeans. All in all, I thought she was really pretty, not to mention nice and obviously smart, and I felt like a complete dunce for both bumping into her and getting caught reading kiddie horror while she was delving into Asimov.

To make matters worse, she had obviously noticed: “So, Goosebumps, huh? Gosh, I used to be obsessed with those when I was a kid. I didn’t know the library had any.” I was glad to hear that she’d liked them too, but the addition of “when I was a kid” made my heart sink into my shoes. Then she lifted my spirits back up a bit by adding, “I’d kinda like to re-read a few when I get the chance!”

“Yeah, they’re… pretty, uh, nostalgic,” I said with a forced grin and chuckle, trying and probably failing to sound cool and unconcerned.

“Oh, my name’s Aliyah, by the way. What’s yours?” she asked.

“Ah, Zach,” I responded. “Thompson.”

“Oh, you’re the new guy, right?” she queried. I grimaced involuntarily, and she quickly added, “Sorry, you must be pretty tired of hearing that, huh?”

I just shrugged and muttered, “Yeah, well… it is what it is, you know? No problem. I really am the new guy, after all.”

She smiled and responded, “Good! Well, it’s really nice to meet you Zach. I hope it isn’t too weird adjusting to Black Creek. There are a few jerks around here, like at any school, but mostly I think everybody’s really nice. I’ve gotta go meet with some people about a class project right now, but I’ll definitely see you around, okay?”

“O-okay,” I stuttered back shyly. “See you.”

She turned around and headed to the checkout desk with her books, and I collapsed backwards against the bookshelf, weak-kneed and grinning stupidly. Maybe my first few weeks here weren’t going to be so bad after all. At least I’d met someone nice, and she actually seemed to kind of like me…

“Do you like that girl?”

The voice, only a few inches away from my ear, took me completely by surprise. I jumped involuntarily, barely holding back a startled yelp, and whipped around to face the speaker. It was Emi. Damn, how could somebody wearing that much Day-Glo orange be such a freaking ninja? She had somehow gotten right behind me, within a couple of inches of the back of my head, without me even noticing her.
“Well, do you like her?” she asked again.

Her tone was pleasant and conversational, and she was wearing her usual sunny smile, but her stare was more disconcertingly intent than ever. “I, um, well, she seems… nice,” I stuttered nervously, feeling oddly like a cat that had been caught in the canary cage, or a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. Cut it out, I thought to myself, There’s no reason to get all defensive. It’s not like you’re going out with her or anything. Shit, you just met her yesterday afternoon, and now you feel like you’re – what? – not allowed to talk to other girls? That’s ridiculous, right? …Right?

“Yeah, but do you, you know, liiiiike her?” Emi queried, leaning closer and dropping her voice to a conspiratorial whisper.

“I, ah, wasn’t really… I mean, we just met, so… I wasn’t exactly, uh, thinking quite that far ahead?” I finished, my inflection turning the intended statement into a question. “I just think she’s a nice person, is all,” I added a bit more firmly.

Emi gave me a sly smile, like you might give someone when discussing a shared secret or an inside joke. “Oh, I’m sure she is. She lives alone with her grandparents, you know. Nice little house a bit out of the way up in the hills, ‘cause they like being close to nature. She has to walk five or ten minutes from her bus stop just to get home. Usually takes the late bus, too, on account of after school band practice, so this time of year it’s getting dark by the time she’s walking up through the woods to her house.” Emi paused for a moment, and just as I was starting to wonder exactly why the hell she was telling me all of this, she dropped the bomb into the conversation:

“I bet it would be pretty easy for her to just disappear on that walk one night.”

“Whoa, wait – WHAT?” I replied, confused and now just a little bit freaked out. “Where did that come from?”

Emi just smiled again and said, “It’s true, though! I don’t know why her senile old granny keeps letting her walk that way in the dark. Trees all around to hide in, no place close enough to hear her scream… it would be so simple for somebody to just grab her and make off with her in the night – if somebody were so inclined,” she finished, batting her eyelids innocently.

My mind was reeling trying to catch up to her train of thought. I had no idea how I was supposed to respond to this. “Who would – wait – why would… Why are you telling me this?” I finally managed to choke out.

Emi shrugged nonchalantly. “Just thought you might find it interesting, is all,” she replied in a sing-songy voice. “I’m going to go get some lunch. Coming, Zachy?”

Was she kidding? Eating lunch with her was about the last thing I felt like doing right now. I clenched my teeth and shook my head mutely – the best response I could muster at the moment – and thankfully instead of forcing the issue, she just said, “Okie dokie lokie! See you later, Zachy,” then turned and sauntered away towards the cafeteria, her voluminous skirts swirling around her ankles.

This time I didn’t collapse against a bookshelf, I collapsed right into a chair. My skin felt cold and clammy and my thoughts were whirling around in my head confusedly, generating nothing productive. Was she THREATENING Aliyah? That’s what it had sounded like. Why? Because I had been talking to her? That was crazy! But hell, maybe she was crazy. Was Aliyah in danger? Did I need to do something to protect her? Whoa, whoa, slow down. Let’s not jump off the deep end right away. Emi had already demonstrated that she was weird enough, maybe she was just remarking on it, like she’d gone off on that weird “mysterious transfer student” rant when we first met. Just speculating about the kind of shit that might go on if this was one of her comic books or horror novels. Hell, maybe she was even concerned about Aliyah… no, going that far was just wishful thinking. I knew that much.

But really, even if Emi was making some kind of implied threat, what could she ever actually do about it? I mean, she was a scrawny, sixteen-year-old girl, for God’s sake! This wasn’t a comic book. You couldn’t just go out and kill somebody whenever you wanted to – it took planning, resources, some way to make sure you didn’t get caught. Sure, okay, I guess some people our age do actually snap and find a way to go out and kill people, but that’s only a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of those who have threatened to do it. And I still wasn’t sure it was even a threat.

No… no, I didn’t think Emi would do a thing like that. No need to get all worked up over nothing. Besides, what could I even do about it, anyway? I could just see myself going up to Aliyah and saying “Hey, guess what? You need to start getting a better ride home because now that I’ve talked to you, my crazy sort-of-friend Emi is probably going to try to kidnap you and drown you in a lake somewhere. My bad.” Yeah, that would just do wonders for our budding friendship. Not only would she not believe me, she’d probably peg me as the crazy one and avoid me like the plague until graduation. Nope, better to just never speak of this again and hope it went away…

By the time I managed to come to this conclusion, lunch was over and the bell was ringing to signal our return to class. I sighed and put my Goosebumps books back on the bottom shelf unread, then trudged to my first afternoon class – U.S. History, whoop-de-fucking-doo. At this point I had developed a massive headache and was completely unable to pay attention to a single word my teachers said for the rest of the day.

When classes finally ended, I fully intended to just hop straight onto my bus and ride home with everyone else, but that’s not what wound up happening. I had just joined the scattered line of students waiting to board the bus when a sickeningly familiar call of – “Hey, Zachy! Let’s walk home together again today!” – echoed in my ears. This time Emi didn’t yell to me from across the parking lot; this time she waited until she was close enough to grab my arm and drag me bodily from the bus line, ignoring my stuttering, half-hearted attempts to object.

“Actually, I… I t-think I’d rather just ride the bus today… I-I mean, its g-getting pretty chilly outside, and, um…”

“It’s okay, I’ll let you borrow my scarf!” she responded cheerfully, still maintaining her death-grip on my upper arm and pulling us towards the sidewalk. With her other hand, she removed her black-and-orange striped scarf and threw it haphazardly around my neck like a wooly python. “There! We had so much fun walking home yesterday that it’d suck not to get to today just because of the cold, right?”

I mumbled something indeterminate and readjusted the additional scarf to make it more comfortable. Emi seemed to take this as a “yes,” because she grinned at me and launched straight into her daily tirade of gossip and complaints about classes. I glanced wistfully back at the buses, which were just now pulling out of the parking lot. I felt like a bit of a coward, but I preferred to avoid confrontation if possible, and as long as Emi stuck to talking about normal things, I really didn’t mind walking with her. I did have to wonder dismally where this relationship was going, though… I mean, I couldn’t just let her drag me around forever, could I? Eventually I was going to need to draw a few lines, tell her to back off a bit; otherwise I would probably go nuts. I sighed heavily, dreading that moment already.

The walk was pretty uneventful, but I still had a feeling of intense relief when we finally reached Emi’s place. “Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” I remarked, trying not to look too eager to be on my way.

“Wait, Zachy! Do you wanna come in for a little bit?” she asked brightly.

The question hit me from out of the blue, and in my surprise I actually managed a definite answer for once: “No,” I replied bluntly, reflexively. Then I quickly softened the response with, “I mean, I have a lot of homework to catch up on, and I really wouldn’t want to impose…”

“Oh, don’t worry about that!” she replied, “My parents don’t get home until late at night, so I’m always really lonely after school! Besides, homework can wait until later, right? I mean, if worst comes to worst you can always copy mine again! C’mon, let’s go!”

“Okay, but really, only for a minute or two!” I responded, maintaining a very thin illusion of control as she grabbed my wrist and dragged me towards the front door.

“Yay!! I really appreciate it, Zachy, I hardly ever have anyone over,” she gushed. Gee, I wonder why. She unlocked the front door and pushed it open with a thud, leading us into a clean, well-kept entrance hall. She flipped on the light and shut the door behind us in one fluid motion, then ushered me directly up a carpeted flight of stairs to the second floor. What little I saw of the first floor seemed posh, well-furnished and tastefully decorated… yet oddly sterile, like a picture of a house in some catalogue that was just too perfect. It just didn’t feel lived-in. I didn’t see any family pictures either, but that was probably because I only had about ten seconds to look before being bundled up the stairs, down the hall, and into the third door on the left…

“Aaaaand this is my room!” Emi announced with a smile. “What do you think?”

The room laid out before me actually struck me speechless for a moment. This one definitely looked lived-in, just not by the same kind of people who had designed the rest of the house. The walls were painted a brilliant blood-red, except for the one directly to the left of the door, which was completely wallpapered with vintage horror movie posters, album cover art from various alt-rock and heavy-metal bands, and anime-style character decals. Another wall was mostly covered by a bookshelf stocked with an eclectic mix of comics, novels, leather-bound academic-looking books with occult titles, and several books with no titles on the spines at all. A couple of black beanbag chairs sat on a spiderweb-shaped rug in the middle of the floor, along with a small, boxy, rabbit-eared television set. Emi’s bed was in the back corner of the room, a huge four-poster covered by a velvety black canopy and dressed with a garnet-red bedspread patterned with thin black spiderwebs. An antiquey-looking black wooden writing desk sat next to it in the other corner.

This all might be relatively normal, if a little excessive, for a teenager given leave to decorate her own room; but the other decorations were frankly a little disturbing. First, there were the dolls. Lying on the bed, lined up on the bookshelf, sitting perched atop the desk: basically anywhere you looked, a pair of glassy little dead eyes stared back. A few of the dolls were more like action figures, I’d guess probably collectibles, but most of them were these creepy, voodoo-style button-eyed rag dolls. Some even had pins sticking out of them, or rough tears in their stitching through which cotton blossomed like some strange fungus. All were grinning eerily with their stitched-together mouths. Then, there were the plants. Not live ones, but dried plants, herbs and flowers, hanging in strings and bundles from the walls all over the room. The overall effect was like a cross between a teenage goth girl’s sanctuary and the storefront of a Louisiana witch-doctor.

I examined the plant nearest me suspiciously: a big bunch of dried purplish flowers tied together by their stems and hung from a nail on the wall by rough twine. I leaned closer and sniffed warily at the bundle – then drew back with a muffled exclamation, hand clamped over my mouth and nose. The putrid stench of the dried flowers didn’t carry very far, but one good whiff up close was enough to make me gag so hard it felt as though my throat had closed up. I coughed dryly, fanning the air in front of my face to drive away any lingering traces of the smell, then gulped down the relatively clean air gratefully.

“What do I think? It’s, um, certainly something,” I responded to Emi’s question ambiguously.

Emi tittered and said, “Not a big fan of the dried herbs, huh?”

“Guess not,” I responded half-heartedly. “Why do you have all of these, anyway? Are you, like, Wiccan or something?” I paused for a second, realizing how insensitive that probably sounded, then added, “No offense.”

Emi grinned and shook her head. “Nope!” she exclaimed cheerfully, pointing towards the head of her bed. I followed her gaze and… Jesus tap-dancing Christ, how the hell had I missed that when I came in?! Above her bed hung an enormous wooden crucifix, complete with a roughly carved, half-naked image of Jesus hanging from it. I wasn’t a particularly religious guy, so stuff like that always freaked me out just a little bit in the first place, but this thing was… special. First of all, it was probably the most graphically violent crucifix I’d ever seen: the carved Jesus’ hands and feet were shown nailed crudely to the cross with thick nails, creating rough-edged, bleeding wounds. Its emaciated body was covered with deep lacerations and the crown of thorns atop its head bled profusely. I mean, I knew that the point of the thing was supposed to be that Jesus suffered and died for man’s sins, but such a graphic depiction of torture just seemed… somehow cruel and sadistic to me. Needless. Secondly, and perhaps even more disturbingly, there was the thing’s face. On most crucifixes, at least those I’d seen, the face of Jesus looked peaceful and somber, forgiving, sad, or some combination of the above. The roughly carved face on this monstrosity looked… almost like it was glaring at the viewer, eyes shadowed by a heavy brow set in anger, mouth twisted into a frown. Overall, it looked more like something out of Children of the Corn than an actual legitimate religious symbol. I twitched backwards with an involuntary grimace, resolving to keep as much distance between myself and that end of the room as possible.

“So, uh… Catholic, then?” I corrected with a gulp.

Emi shrugged. “Pretty much!”

I decided against asking her how one could be “pretty much” Catholic, and instead remarked, “Yeah, I mean, this place is actually pretty nice! Definitely captures your personality.” I stepped in deeper, looking around more closely at some of the furnishings. “I’m digging the movie posters. Bela Lugosi was a kickass Dracula. And you’ve definitely got a cool set of… hold on a sec – is that a Jeff the Killer body pillow?” I inquired incredulously, coming across the ridiculous artifact leaning against one side of the bookshelf.

“Yep! He’s my Jeffy!” declared Emi, grabbing the pillow away from me and giving it an enthusiastic squeeze. I swear, I will never understand women. I did my best to hold back a look of disgust as she gave the grotesque cloth image a small peck on the cheek, then threw the pillow haphazardly to the floor and stated, “I’ve got to go use the – ahem – washroom. Be back in just a minute. You stay here and make yourself at home! Just don’t mess up any of my stuff. Oh… and nooooo peeking!” she finished with a smile and a wink, sweeping out the door before I could respond. I snorted. “Peeking?” As if!

Left alone in the silent room, I meandered over to the bookshelf, examining some of the titles on display. Rosario+Vampire, a few Stephen King books, something in Latin… I stopped when I reached a series of a few untitled books, curiously choosing one from the shelf and letting it fall open to a random page. I was met with a pair of handwritten pages in what was obviously Emi’s writing, complete with little hearts on the i’s.

I felt a blush creep into my cheeks. Was this Emi’s diary? My immediate impulse was to put it right back on the shelf – respect her privacy, and all – but in the end curiosity won out, and I decided to go ahead and read a little bit. I started at the top of the page, and found myself in the middle of what quickly became apparent as a Slenderman fan-fiction. So, not her diary, then, I thought with a mixture of relief and disappointment. Still, I read onward curiously: the main protagonist was just about to be confronted by the Slenderman; he was coming through the window into the house, and… oh. Ohhhh, wow. That was definitely not the way these things normally went.

Apparently I had stumbled into not just any Slenderman fan-fiction, but a very particular sort of – ahem – explicit Slenderman fan-fiction. For decency’s sake I won’t go in to any detail, suffice to say that it involved a lot of tentacles in very inappropriate places. Equally fascinated and repelled, I flipped through the rest of the book, scanning the other stories Emi had written. Believe it or not, they only got worse from there – really sadistic stuff, involving chains and gags and… knives… holy CRAP. I only skimmed over the material, but I’ll admit that even what little I gleaned from my cursory examination had me crossing my legs protectively.

Suddenly I heard a toilet flush on the other end of the hallway, and the click of heels on the wood floor coming towards the door. I hurriedly shoved the book back onto the shelf and sidled away to the other end of the room. I took up a position near the desk, trying to look nonchalant as I pretended to examine one of the creepy-ass patchwork voodoo dolls perched on the woodwork.

“I’m baaaaack, Zachy!” Emi exclaimed as she entered, pausing and almost striking a pose in the doorway. I blinked at her, nonplussed. While in the restroom, she had removed her long ruffled skirt, leaving her wearing nothing on her lower half but a ridiculously tight pair of purple athletic shorts with a barely one-inch inseam. Well, that and her knee-high black leather boots. Her blouse hung loosely off of her shoulders and she had let her hair down out of its trademark pigtails.

“I, um, yeah, h-hey,” I responded stupidly, at a complete loss for how to respond to this latest development. I tried not to stare at her inappropriately as she sauntered across the room and flopped down onto her bed, throwing her arms up behind her and leaning back into a half-seated position against a pile of pillows. I must have failed to completely disguise my gaze, though, because Emi tittered at me and commented: “What, this? I just like to dress more comfortably in my own room, is all. Those skirts are heavy, you know,” she finished with a wink.

Those boots honestly looked less comfortable than the skirts to me, but I just kept my mouth shut and gulped nervously instead of commenting on it. My throat suddenly seemed very dry.

“Well, come on, I told you to make yourself at home! Why don’t you come sit down?” Emi cajoled, patting the space on the bed next to her enthusiastically.

I blinked confusedly again, my palms beginning to sweat. “Um, maybe I’ll just, uh, grab a chair…” I said, moving towards one of the black beanbags on the floor.

Emi snorted and shook her head indulgently, smiling at me like one might smile at a child having trouble grasping a simple concept. She rose to a more upright position, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, and said “My parents aren’t going to be home for a really long time, Zachy. And I get sooooo lonely. Maybe come over and sit with me for a weensy bit?” Then, to my surprise (though why I was still surprised at this point, I don’t know) she untied the front of her blouse, leaning forward to flash me the curve of her cleavage and the edge of her black, lacy bra.

For a few moments I just stood there gaping at her like a codfish. I couldn’t think clearly enough to formulate a coherent response. This place, this situation, the abruptness with which it had all come crashing down on me and my complete lack of experience with anything remotely similar… I was on sensory overload. It felt like my brain was short-circuiting; I couldn’t tell whether I was elated or terrified. The temperature in the room seemed to have skyrocketed twenty degrees in the past ten seconds. I looked at Emi, then my eyes darted around the room, then I looked back at Emi. What I had just read in her “diary” swirled persistently in the back of my mind as I took in first her intent stare, then the myriad glassy stares of the rag dolls and the unsettling glare of the crucifix, then her stare again.

I think that was what finally decided me: the inanimate gazes of all those dolls boring into the back of my head like hot needles, and the judging glare of Jesus Himself hanging at the head of the bed. I stammered some vaguely incoherent lie about parents waiting for me at home, then turned and bolted from the room with my tail between my legs like the yellow-bellied coward I was. I exited the bedroom at a fast walk, but by the time I reached the end of the hallway, I was flat-out running. I took the steps two at a time going down. Emi shouted something behind me as I ran, which I completely ignored, half-skidding out the front door and slamming it rudely behind me. I then proceeded to sprint shamelessly down the next three blocks, turning back when I reached the main road to find that Emi had thankfully not followed me out.

It was starting to get dark by now, and cold, and I silently thanked the powers that be that I hadn’t taken off my coat at Emi’s place. I turned and started off at a more reasonable pace towards my own home, my breath fogging in the air in front of me. After a few moments I realized that my phone was vibrating almost constantly in my pocket, buzzing like an angry hornet. There was no question as to who was texting me. I drew my phone out of my pocket but didn’t look at any of her messages, instead beginning to compose one of my own:

Hey, emi. sorry i freaked out at your place earlier. this all happened just a little too fast 4 me. i think we should slow it down & just work on being friends 4 now. hope ur not mad. see you at school tomorrow.

It took me forever to finish, as I kept getting interrupted by incoming messages and calls from Emi, but I finally got through with it, gave it a quick once-over, and hit send. I then turned the phone’s vibrate mode off, put it on silent, and replaced it in my pocket. I wasn’t sure ignoring her was the best thing to do, but I just couldn’t deal with her flood of insanity right now. The sun had just disappeared over the edge of the horizon when I got home, and even though it was early I threw my bookbag down and fell asleep almost as soon as I walked in. As I drifted off I couldn’t help but think of tomorrow with a sort of helpless dread… I had no idea how things were going to be with Emi, but I got the feeling they weren’t going to go smoothly…

Part Two can be read here.

Credit To – InfernalNightmare333

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The Lord of the Scarecrows

October 28, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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In this place, where tales of terror draw forth the most loathsome of emotions, stop for a moment, dear seeker, and reflect. Is there someone that you really and truly hate? Someone who has worsened your life by their influence? A person with whom you can never hope to get even?

Perhaps a former friend, turned to betrayal. An ex-lover, whose wanton heart left yours in pieces. Perchance an employer? A family member? A stranger who inflicted the barest of slights? Think hard, and if you come up with an answer, then know this:

You can have you revenge.

In an isolated field, in a place where civilization has worn thin into the whelming green of nature, you will find the thing you seek. It will not be an easy journey, and there is no guarantee you will emerge from this ordeal unscathed, but if you are truly serious about this hatred, if your heart burns with unslakeable vengeance, then, my child, arise one morning at dawn, and steel your will. You will need every once of determination you can draw from your reservoir of hate.

When you are sufficiently ready, go and procure a vehicle, one you won’t mind taking through rough and open country. Ensure that it is well fueled and well-maintained. You will not have the luxury of pit stops on this trip. Ideally, you should bring with you any vittles you feel you will need to sustain yourself, but if nothing else, bring with you a map or some form of location device. Becoming lost is an integral part of this process, and, presumably, you’ll want to find your way back.

After you have prepared, arise the next morning just before dawn. Enter your vehicle, and begin to drive. The general direction in which you travel is of little consequence, but you can greatly expedite this process by moving away from any urban or civic areas. The more rural your location, the closer you will be. As you drive, you must stay alert. Keep your eyes open for the signs that others do not see.

My child, you must follow the crows. Seek out the roads where they nest upon the powerlines. Turn down streets where you see them fly. You will likely become lost, and doubtless you will find yourself driving in circles, but take heart, as this is only bringing you closer to your goal.

Crows are intelligent creatures, you see. They are capable of recalling faces, using tools, and complex communication. When they see you following them, they will know what it is you seek. After a time, if you are patient, they will begin to lead you. If you happen to lose sight of them, or if, indeed, they do not appear for you at all, then the time is not yet right for your pilgrimage, and you must return home at once. You may attempt the trip again at a later date, so do not worry overmuch. True revenge knows the meaning of patience.

As the day wears on, and the crows lead you forward, you will doubtless begin to notice a shift in your surrounding area. You will find yourself in places you never knew existed, in towns ancient and forgotten, overgrown by the festering wilds. There will be no other cars at this point, no signs of life save for the crows guiding you. At this point, you have crossed over into Its domain. You are a trespasser here, and return to your world is impossible. You must persist now, whatever should come your way.

Very soon after your transition, the crows will begin to take you off the roads themselves. You will have to travel across open fields and treacherous terrain. If you were careful in your selection, your vehicle should be able to navigate most of these challenges, but eventually, there will come a point at which you can drive no further. At times, a rocky outcropping will impede your progress. At others, a roaring stream will prevent passage. Whatever form this impediment takes, you must thereafter proceed on foot.

Exit your vehicle quickly, but make not of its location. Bring nothing with you. You a pilgrim in a sacred space, the luxury of the material is no longer yours to possess. The crows will slow when they see you on foot, but they will, themselves, continue to progress. They are called here just the same as you, so be swift. No matter what, you must return to your vehicle before the sun sets. Night in this place is not hospitable to intruders, and the seething things that skitter and click in the dark places of this world are always hungry.

It may be a short distance, or it may be miles, but eventually, you will come across a thick glade of ancient trees. There will be no mistaking this location. Crows will fill the air, gathering from all directions and converging upon the blighted wood. As you pass through the trees, you will see a greater multitude of the dark fowl than you have ever seen before. They will line every branch, cover every root and patch of land. Yet in spite of their preternatural numbers, there will be a whelming quiet over the area, with the only sounds being the faint rustles of the wings of new arrivals, each eager to take its place in the arboreal auditorium.

As you reach the edge of the wood, you will find it open into a large, rectangular field, surrounded on all sides by the forest. The ground itself will be withered and barren, ringed by the blighted remains of plants that foolishly grew too close to this sanctuary. The air here will be cold and acrid, and you will likely begin to feel weak as the very ground you stand on repels the life burning impiously inside you.

It is here, in the center of this place, that you will find the Lord of Scarecrows. It will be erected on an iron cross, Its form made of hide and bone, stitched with sinew and decorated with the limbs and adornments of the local fauna. Amidst this twisting aberration, you will, however, be able to make out the distinct form of a human body, rising up in mock crucifixion, Its flesh all rotted out and dried. Over Its head, It will wear a hood made of stitched-together skin, and Its face will be completely obscured to you.

This is an ancient and sacred thing, an altar and effigy to a thing older than the ground upon which you stand. It will not do to dwell upon its nature, as this is something far beyond mortal comprehension, and to glimpse upon It would be to see into the very primordial ether of creation itself.

Steel your nerve, and approach, but be reverent. This is a church of greater magnitude than the grandest of basilica, and you will not wish to anger this idol. In Its right hand, you will see, clutched tight, a knife of blackest obsidian, wickedly sharp, with a handle carved from bone. In the other, It will bear a roll of coarse cloth. Take both, gently and humbly. It will yield them to you.

Kneel before it, and state that you wish to make an offering of a sinner, then, using the knife, make an incision somewhere upon your body. The bite of the blade will be sharp and swift, and you will bleed quite profusely. Be careful not to wound yourself fatally, lest all this effort be wasted. Gathering the blood pouring from your rent flesh, scrawl the name of your intended target upon the cloth. As you write, think upon the sins this person has committed. Every act of cruelty, ever bitterly unfair word or deed. It does not matter how trivial, all that matters now is the hate that burns in you.

It will likely surprise you with how much blood it takes to write the full name of your sacrifice, but you must persevere. When you have finished, roll the cloth tightly up, and, carefully, peel the hood up just far enough to reveal the skeletal mouth of the effigy. Insert the cloth between its parted teeth, then return the hood to its original position.

Now, slather the knife with your blood, so that the blade is completely coated. Once it drips with crimson life, plunge it into the heart of the idol, and speak these words: “My sacrifice is made.”

You are free to go, but make haste. Doubtless you will have little time left before the dying sun sets beyond the horizon. As you make your way back out through the forest, you will no longer hear the tranquil silence. The air will be filled with whispers, with the recitations of sins and wicked deeds. Do not linger here.

When you return to your vehicle, begin driving until you reach the road, then go as fast as you can toward the direction of the setting sun. The shadows of this place will begin to grow and shift, but if you have followed these directions perfectly, just as the sun sinks down, a blinding flash should consume the horizon, and when it fades, you should be back in the world of the living, your car idling on an empty, but otherwise normal street. Find your way back home, and rest. You have earned your reward.

Over the next year, the victim whose name you offered will begin to wither. All goodness and fortune will quit their lives, and every endeavor will bring to them only bitter tragedy. When, at last, they finally die, one year from the moment you completed the ritual, they will be broken thoroughly, in mind, body, and spirit. At last, your vengeance will be satisfied.

From that day forward, however, you will always be unsettled by the sight of crows, and the hushed whispers they bring beneath their ebony wings. You will feel as if they watch you, keeping track of every vice, of every sin and misstep, and not just of you, of everyone, of everything. Almost as if they existed only to observe, and to relay the wickedness of man to It that waits, with silent anticipation, to serve as its ultimate executioner.

Credit To – brahesTheorem

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October 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The Journal of Dr. Edwin King
Journal Entry 01
Day: 1
Time: 0700 hours

It’s fascinating, really, how far technology has come. It’s been just over a day and I already find myself gazing in awe upon the distant majesty of our planet Earth’s moon from the port windows in the hull. The rest of the crew tease me for my tourist-like fascination with the shimmering nebulae and deep blackness through which our vessel swims for they have made similar voyages, crawling across the rings of our known universe, countless times before. However, I believe that no amount of further training at the astronaut facility could have prepared me to glimpse the eons quite like this. For I am merely a man of science, field biology research to be specific, and I have never ventured so far as to question the contents of deep space until recent discoveries by more sophisticated branches of scientific study brought those contents to my doorstep and ironically, now I to its.

You see, within the subterranean ocean layer of Uranus’ largest moon, Titania, a miraculous organism (or rather the corpse of one) was recovered by means of an automatic probe. While organic life sprouting from within the mantles of a variety of moons and planets within our solar system is nothing novel at this point in mankind’s explorations, this particular specimen has left our greatest minds puzzled and obsessed. My reasons for never involving myself in the expeditions to gather such specimens as shriveled plant life and micro bacteria from reaches of space consist of insufficient funding as well as a general disinterest; nothing could be found within those gaseous giants which could not be scooped up from the bottom of a darkened trench somewhere or plucked from the summit of a mountain until now.

While most of the information surrounding this organism is classified, I am no ragamuffin to the scientific community, as I was chosen by name for this study. However, I should not flatter myself, as ‘study’ merely means gathering a living specimen with which more information can be gathered and my participation was requested undoubtedly due to my reputation as more of a rough and tumble spelunker than a desk-worker; I have wrestled with my fair share of anacondas so I’m not too frightened of this thing. Then again, I have only had the opportunity to view this ‘thing’ through picture and video format and even still it was found by our probe deceased with minuscule traces of organic life still active. It’s a sort of worm-like creature; gelatinous and pale purple like a large, vibrant leech or slug. One of its most remarkable traits is its lack of sight and smell which is clearly reflective of its natural habitat which is these underground oceans in which only sound and sensation can guide such an organism as this. I’ve seen similar creatures such as Axolotl and the Mexican Tetra, both of which adapted to live deep within lightless caves with remarkable sustainability and specialization; such evolutionary parallels astound me and I find myself quivering with anticipation at the opportunity to view such an alien yet familiar ecosystem so far from our verdant planet.

The true marvel lies not in the organism’s environment however, but in the organism itself. For even in death, this creature secretes a minute amount of potent, clear liquid, just enough to fill a small pipette. The liquid is not corrosive, nor organic, more like a chemical release that must be some sort of defense mechanism, mating ritual, or self-sustaining fluid and thus testing on small rodents commenced with alarming results which brought biologists such as I and my singular, designated partner on the expedition, Dr. Dwight Howard, into the picture. The testing period was brief, as the fluid samples were sparse and too dissimilar to any compound our chemists could reproduce within the confines of our Earthly laboratories. However, results were achieved, and rather unnerving ones at that. Even topical exposure of the fluid secretions would induce a slow-acting state depression in the bodies of lab mice, declining all bodily activity until it reaches an absolutely catatonic if not technically “dead” state at the end of three days. Further testing with the remaining samples would show that all bodily functions in the rodents would slowly cease to function with only vague signs of struggle from the subject. It is however unknown whether this fluid simply functions as a sedative to the typical nervous system or if it is indeed lethal and intended more as a venom, produced by the organism for defensive or hunting purposes.

My mind is a whirl with images of spiders paralyzing their prey for the painstaking feeding process, leeches and mosquitoes administering anesthetic so their hosts don’t notice their gorging, and venomous caterpillars threatening creatures many times their size, all in this alien setting which no living man has yet step foot in. We will be pioneers, Howard and I, along with our three companions piloting the ship and taking every precaution in entering the moon’s mantle; Kurt MacReady, Carl Bairnes, and Julia Willard. They’re a rather polite bunch, and they’re all respected astronauts who have been in the business since NASA was shut down back in the early 2000s, but many times I feel as if Mrs. Willard is the only professional aboard this ship. She’s a very striking woman, even when wearing the standard-issue, orange jumpsuit which the pilots always wear. She is tall, with frizzy black hair tied up atop her head, ebony skin, and deep green eyes overshadowed by a stern yet understanding brow which never fails to reassure me that she’s here to do her job without an ounce of nonsense.

Kurt and Carl on the other hand seem rather unamused to be taking the trip to Titania, as they say compared to the likes of Mars, or any of the moons of Jupiter, Titania is just another “Frozen little rock,” which they evidently do not have the patience for. Mr. Kurt MacReady is an oddly gruff character, sporting a bearded thicket upon his prominent chin and a rat’s nest of short, burgundy hair. He smells of whiskey and does not particularly look at anyone with an expression other than vaguely hazy, but he has a firm handshake and took us off the ground without any issues so I’m inclined to place my trust in his training.

Mr. Carl Bairnes however, I have no doubts in. His viridian jumpsuit is just as decorated with medals as his face is with scars; I would be excited to ask more about how each mark of achievement was earned, be it of flesh or silver. He has a small tuft of black hair atop his head and his bronze flesh is riddled with protruding veins and defined musculature however…his expression truly lets you down. His silhouette is one of some great, Native American monolith of a man whereas his eyes suggest nothing more than uninteresting vacancy; it’s as if he’s constantly distracted by some invisible fly fluttering about the room. Mrs. Willard on the other hand seems interested in the more remote moons and chiefly, in the organism itself which the other pilots seem to ignore for the most part, thinking it just another organic scrap dragged back by Earth’s many probes coming and going by the month.

Dr. Howard is rather intriguing despite how introverted he seems. He’s a tall, gangly thing who’s shockingly thin with prominent cheekbones and what seems like a perpetual frown accompanied by a skeptical, arched eyebrow which rarely falters. His skin is pale in contrast with a black dress shirt which he enjoys sporting when not forced to wear his jumpsuit…which is also black. He’s a bit eclectic, but he’s very intelligent; despite appearing wholly disinterested in the crew and the expedition itself, whenever our small talk wanders to the organism which has brought us together, he becomes very animated in vocalizing his findings which seem to perpetuate as the hours go by.

We’re still close enough to Earth to receive a communication feed which Dr. Howard seems to indulge in most of the time as he demands constant updates on the status of the current tests so he may know what to look for. So far, both he and all of Earth’s finest minds are not completely sure what to make of this anomalous creature, making progress only through suspicion and hypothesis. I should enjoy this time however; my role does not quite begin until we reach the planet itself at which point I will be conducting the act of tracking down and gathering a live specimen, and thus I have plenty of days ahead of me which will consist of stargazing and reminiscing so I expect to be writing again soon within the next day or so.

One more thing, just something that has been bothering me lately. Though I do not consider myself an anxious person, and I have never been one to turn down an opportunity to further the cause of modern science at risk of my own health, there’s something that Kurt said over our first lunch together. I had expressed gleeful curiosity at the concept of being the first to even experience how this creature interacts with human beings, if at all and he responded with what I can only describe as superstitious-sounding bitterness, he said, “I respect your enthusiasm, but we’re just the next in what will probably be a long queue of guinea pigs. Those dead rats at the facility were like the first men to drink anthrax, we’re merely giving it another try to affirm it was the poison that killed him.” I’ve never honestly had reason to doubt the decisions of my higher-ups because if they have any definite goal, it’s profit. Money in my field, however, stems from innovation and I have never encountered any issues with seeking innovation outside of a few nasty spider bites and sleepless nights in Mexico. Perhaps Mr. MacReady is not a man who’s in it for the experience, but then again I can’t shake the feeling that he may have a point. It is rather strange that we were shipped off to this distant, unexplored moon with only minor animal testing having preceded the expedition, though I’d be willing to attribute that to a budgeted time frame.

Will update soon with any further information from Earth and/or my crew mates.

– King

Journal Entry 02
Day: 3
Time: 2200 hours

We’re coming upon the fourth day of our exhibition and the hours are already beginning to bleed into one another as the pale dot of Jupiter looms unblinking within the inky sea ahead of us. Despite my pained desire to revel in my fascination in the great beyond, I have forfeited the notion that this particular group can be engaged socially; I guess I came just a few decades too late to this whole space business. For when I was a child, digging up worms in my backyard, the final frontier seemed to me like the domain of the unwavering ambitious and unmistakably wealthy, neither of which I identified with at the time. Yet as I topically breeze through the extensive scientific journals published within the last century about extraterrestrial life sent from back home, I can reluctantly admit that biology is no longer subjective of Earth and there are countless ecosystems unexplored among these gaseous giants.

I must thank Houston, however for supplying me with some form of reading material for unlike my crew mates, I’m not particularly accustomed to such prolonged exposure to…plastic. How I long to plunge my boots into some warm, marsh water and feel the thick, unfiltered air weighing comfortably within my lungs but for now I have a task ahead of me and I must make do with the information feed while it is still an available resource. You see, Houston has warned us that upon passing to the dark side of Jupiter, we will have extended beyond the reach of our furthest satellites, effectively cutting off any communication with Earth and its databases. While I can confidently say that the majority of my applicable knowledge will be readily available regardless of written resource, Dr. Howard seems to be taking the situation rather severely; he’s spent most of the past three days buried in his monitors or conference calls, ensuring that not a single stone is left face down when he reaches Titania.

While I’m mostly feigning busywork to seem at least slightly useful in this time of anticipation, I have learned quite a few interesting things about what organic life has been found on the likes of Mars and Saturn. Specimens have ranged from fragile microbes, alive for mere minutes before dissolving ferociously to vaguely plant-like, prokaryotic matter which crumbles into dust when exposed to oxygen but they all seem to retain similar characteristics; chemical reactions which seem inexplicable yet similar to various processes found within our planet’s atmosphere. For example, one Dr. Percival Burroughs wrote a rather dull yet undeniably informative journal exploring the interactions of a strange, organic “metal” found within the mantle of Saturn with human skin cells. Extensive experimentation beginning with swabs of skin cells and concluding ethically with active exposure to the flesh of a living human consistently displayed a violent reaction similar to some kind of hyper-accelerated lead poisoning. Now I could not tell you what use mankind would have with a rock which can wreak prolonged mental destruction upon those in contact with it, but I do hope we can manage to keep it out of the hands of the military.

It’s fascinating, really, how unknown and perplexing the substance of these alien matters can be while simultaneously mirroring effects and interactions which we can actively observe in nature. It’s got me thinking more and more about what this mysterious organism could be reflective of in our familiar environment and what it could indicate about what we’re bound to find within the depths of Titania. Dr. Howard has affirmed that further monitoring of the mice exposed to the organism’s secretions back on Earth have shown gradually decaying vital signs and general stagnation. There are countless parallels to be drawn in the face of the systematic organ failure or whatever it can be classified as, (Howard is unwilling to accept any of my theories as plausible without conclusive test results) but in my studies I have encountered one puzzlingly similar creature; the black widow spider. Its paralytic venom swiftly overtakes the body of its prey to prepare it for consumption and when introduced to the bloodstream of something far larger than it (a human), localized paralysis, extreme pain, and even death are all possibilities. While it is a frightening prospect that we may be chasing some sort of extraterrestrial killer leech, the suggestion is merely incipient and as of right now we do not know nearly enough about the current test subjects to make any surefire conclusions about the effects of the organism’s fluid.

In fact I am curious about what sort of ecosystem would facilitate a predatory “slug” which utilizes paralytic venoms to capture or immobilize prey. Few aquatic organisms rely on venoms or poisonous secretions for obvious reasons of fluids dissipating in water, so what is this creature’s function? Is it a hunter or perhaps it IS a defense mechanism, produced within the body of this otherwise hapless little alien to prevent its untimely consumption by some larger, more formidable creature which lurks within the subterranean depths of Titania. If there’s anything I learned diving in Australia, it’s that there’s always a bigger fish and I’m quivering with excitement just imagining what Megalodons may lurk past that grayish spot which is Jupiter, slowly approaching upon the indefinite horizon.

Mrs. Willard has just given us two hours before we must report to the hull for a crew meeting, and I’ll be glad to share my theories with the rest of the crew so long as Dr. Howard’s continued contact with Houston does not discredit my hypotheses. I will return with the verdict of the team and any additional resources I can manage to squeeze from Earth’s data banks before we detach ourselves from humanity altogether and venture bravely into the unknown as many have before us. Jupiter is clearly in sight now, and I’d better move to the hull before Bairnes becomes cross with me again; he’s a military man and does not have time for nonsense.

– King

Journal Entry 03
Day: 4
Time: 1900 hours

To say in short, it has been a maddening day. It began as I spoke of earlier, with a crew meeting to map out our course of action, and it concluded mere minutes ago with a raucous and meaningless quarrel between Mr. Bairnes, Dr. Howard, and myself. You see when I proposed my theory of a predatory presence beneath the crust of Titania, I was met with rather rude and unexpected sneering from Dr. Howard. He pointed out that nothing has been recovered from beyond Earth’s atmosphere outside of dead plant matter, vaguely metallic compounds, and bacteria, all of which are to be expected from such barren environments. He refuted that even if these, “slimes” (as he referred to them) were remotely worth researching, even Uranus has not shown signs of a developed ecosystem so why should its moons? I retorted that perhaps the sophistication of the organism suggests a more sophisticated environment; that there are more similarities than differences between this creature and those of Earth. However, when I began to reference my materials and experience, I was met with only further jest from Mr. Bairnes as he began laughing about, “Giant spiders and caterpillars.” (A truly mature little menagerie I have found here). And though I assured him that if my hypothesis proved true, it would be no laughing matter and that additional measures would have to be taken to ensure the safety of the crew and the expedition, none could take me seriously from thence forth. Now granted, my ideas may seem a bit drastic seeing as we have uncovered little from even the largest of planets in our solar system, but is the danger not even worth CONSIDERING?

Anyway, it took Mrs. Willard nothing more than a sharp glare to silence the two, followed by an apology for the actions of Bairnes as they apparently have a history of working with one another and Dr. Howard merely returned to his quiet demeanor of smug disinterest. Looking across the small, polymer plastic table around which our party was gathered, I realized that hers was the only face I could see patience in; Bairnes and Howard looked like sour-faced children whom had just been scolded by a teacher, and MacReady had still said nothing, too busy picking his teeth with his fingernails. (I cannot tell whether MacReady is genuinely unqualified or merely odd). Yet even still, Mrs. Willard enlightened me to the fact that Bairnes would be supplying what little protection we would need while it was to be expected of Dr. Howard and me to work together in ensuring a safe procedure. She told us to ‘get along’ to which Dr. Howard was visibly detested to.

I protested that this WAS me ensuring a safe procedure; that the prospect of potentially dangerous organisms must be addressed, but Howard was swift in rebuking me once more. We disputed the lack of evidence in what I can recall as an ungraceful manner; shouting and wagging fingers at one another to no coherent end. It was only until we received an urgent transmission from Earth about the progress of the experiments, to which Howard very proudly accepted. However, after about 10 minutes of annoyed mannerisms and a generally irritable tone of voice, he returned to the table with unnerving yet unsurprising news (to me): all subjects exposed to the organism in testing became unresponsive as of the night before with no vital signs to be recorded.

Now I’m not a competitive man by any means, and thus I was not preparing to deliver any vengeful, “I-told-you-so.” Instead I’m shaken by the implications of this recent development and what it may suggest as far as my theories about this alien ecosystem; not only are the secretions paralytic but they are lethal upon prolonged exposure. Dr. Howard’s defeat was not long lived however, as he immediately began viciously covering his tracks with excuses and accusations of which I was unwilling to pay any attention to. For not only were his shrill babblings bothersome, they paled in comparison to the realization that we were en route to a planet inhabited by dangerous creatures with insufficient time as well as materials to formulate an antidote to their venom.

Houston has ensured us that we should be safe as long as we remain within our suits and take all necessary precautions in our decent into the mantle of Titania yet these final words, repeated by Dr. Howard as he ended the transmission, echoed emptily throughout the hull. The room fell eerily quiet and the entire table shifted to look at me expectantly as if I were retaining some valuable information from them. I had a hard time vocalizing any response to the announcement, as the reality of the situation took me slightly off guard and I found myself stuttering quite ravenously until Mr. MacReady interrupted me, speaking for perhaps the second time since I met him. To me, Kurt MacReady from the beginning seemed more like an action movie protagonist than an astronaut and the manner in which he addressed the crew did nothing less than affirm my impressions. He let a heavy fist fall to the table with a startling thud as he barked at us to stop babbling and keep on task; that we have been given a very simple mission which should not be complicated by a little bit of extraterrestrial ooze. We were all taken aback by his assertiveness and not a word was uttered as he lumbered back to the cockpit having sufficiently roused us from our brief state of panic.

Dr. Howard and Mr. Bairnes simultaneously stood to leave, spitting their individual businesses they must attend to before pausing briefly and looking out towards the port windows. Mrs. Willard had already risen from her seat and was standing before the windows, gazing out into the blackness which was slowly becoming thicker around our ship as the blazing sunlight dimmed. The three of us approached the window as well, stricken with a silent hopelessness as we watched the gargantuan giant Jupiter slowly eclipse the sun, marking the twilight of our communication with Houston and anyone for that matter. The tension and concern flowed throughout the darkened hull like a thin fog, rolling in around our ankles; just gentle enough to be invisible yet cold enough for all to notice.

I have made it a goal of mine to continue work with what information we have, I’m sure Dr. Howard will do the same. Dangerous or not, we’re headed for Titania and we shall return with enough specimen to revolutionize the fields of chemistry and biology forever. Yet there’s still a chill crawling up my spine from time to time, despite all of my experience with myriads of terrific creatures. There’s still a growing blot of uncertainty upon this page of my mind that ignores my knowledge, casts my intuition aside, and makes light of my PhD. This is no Black Widow, this is no Mamba, no Killer Bee, no this is nothing remotely as dangerous, in fact its venom takes many days to become lethal…but perhaps it’s just that; that I have never seen anything like it that disturbs me so.

I plan on updating in a couple of days as soon as Uranus is in sight for I should have a better understanding of the situation when I’m given some time to make more sober deductions. I know I should attempt to share my work with Dr. Howard and perhaps come to some conclusion about how best to avoid unnecessary contact with the organism, but at the moment I’m still rather prickly about the whole situation. Nevertheless, it must be done for the sake of the expedition.

Perhaps I’ll bring him a drink or fourteen.

– King

Journal Entry 04
Day: 6
Time: 1800 hours

The past two days have been exhilarating to say the least and with all the note-taking I have done, my carpals are screaming at me to give this blasted journal another day or two’s rest. I can’t however; there’s far too much that’s been accomplished between myself and Dr. Howard since we resolved our differences over wine and a handful of Xanax yesterday. The man has a rainbow of vibrant capsules and bright pill bottles strewn out across his desk, most of which I recognized as benign anti-anxiety meds like Valium and Xanax but also more intense names such as Vicodin and Prozac. He apologized for his actions as well as the disastrous mess, explaining that he probably was not the best chemist to be sent up for this mission due to his severe anxiety and brutal migraines, but despite that he’s trying his best to carry out his duties. I had not considered these factors before and I felt rather guilty having responded so aggressively to his abrasiveness the day before; I apologized myself. At that point we concluded to exchange our research and come up with a more applicable course of action to which I was met with puzzlingly slim findings from Dr. Howard’s part. Apparently the last transmission from Houston marked a dead end for his research, as scientists from Earth had given him nothing but inconclusive data and vague hypotheses about the chemical compound in the small time he had in contact with them.

Though the organism is alien and its secretions are a compound never before encountered by man, I still found it rather difficult to believe that all of Earth’s best minds could not sort out at least some classification for it. I brought my doubts to the table and Howard responded with great distaste, claiming that he had been hounding Houston since day one in attempts to coax the flow of information along which seemed to be stopped up by something; it seemed strange that Houston would not give them even their slightest suspicions if it would mean assisting in their mission. Anyway, in our current situation of radio silence, we are forced to work with what little knowledge we have acquired on our own in order to ensure the safety of the crew and the expedition.

All Howard knew for sure was that it must be a neurotoxin which can attack the central nervous system directly by means of topical exposure. This would relate it to something along the lines of a vastly expedited form of metal poisoning which I found rather interesting, bringing up how common of a theme that seems to be among extraterrestrial matter. However, Howard refuted that conclusion on the grounds that the neurotoxins found on Saturn and the like produced a variety of other symptoms to suggest the relation to our understanding of metals, while this organism’s fluids create a slow and nearly symptomless decline in the subject’s condition. “This organism is far more sophisticated than those inanimate samples; it’s specialized and remarkably effective in its function whatever that may be,” he claimed. I realized now why he was so quick to dismiss my theories that night at our crew meeting, they seemed so obvious yet so blatantly overlooked by Houston to the point where they must have already been tested and disproved.

I posed my theory once more, “There must be a purpose however. When it’s a geological compound, its chemical properties are merely a reflection of its environment but when it’s a living organism, there’s almost always a function to such properties. Where there is an ecosystem there are bound to be predators and prey; we just have to find out which one our little alien is.” He was reluctant at first in accepting my proposed direction of study, but in time we both submitted to the inevitabilities of scant information and the vibrant, bluish-green dot awaiting our approach on the inky horizon. There is a mere 40 hours resting between us and Uranus, and another 5 will place us on the surface of its largest moon and our destination, Titania.

We began concocting a plan of action revolving around the possibility that the organism is either a threatening predator which we must not provoke, or merely a dangerous creature which we must avoid physical contact with altogether. Thinking back to what information Houston could not supply us with, we determined that the only distinction to be made would be whether or not the fluid is corrosive or if it has some delivery system within the organism. If the organism does in fact have a means of “attacking” its prey with its venom then it could easily be marked as a predator and dealt with by means of luring it into some kind of trap. However, if it is corrosive or only effective when introduced directly into the bloodstream, it will be clear that the organism has no means of utilizing the venom in an aggressive manner, rather it would be used as a defensive measure to fend off predators. If we found the latter to be true, then our only task would be to wear fully protective suits when leaving the ship to acquire a live specimen. It may just be a chore finding it within the subterranean waters if it is prone to hiding from potential predators.

We concluded our session of brainstorming and preparations with a rather satisfying consensus, achieved with such little real data on the subject. It gives me hope in fact, hope for the future when such different fields of study can come together in the name of science and the furthering of collective knowledge. It’s uplifting too; despite how vague our hypotheses may be, we still accumulated a more sound pool of theory and information than was supplied to us by all the scientific minds back at Houston. It’s so elementary, really: I will leave the ship first to study the terrain and either find an organism to bring back to the ship (as the original plan stood) OR find signs of organisms previously visiting where we will touch down. These signs will include things along the lines of disturbed water, animal-like tracks, or some sort of organic matter within the water itself with which a lower creature could exist upon. If I encounter none of these, responsibility will fall to Dr. Howard to take samples of the water itself and determine if there are traces of the alien fluid within it; if there are, we will have a means of studying its properties aboard the ship before searching for the organism itself and if not, we will at least know that the fluid either dissipates in water or that there are none of the organism living within the water. The plan is fundamentally sound, and we would only require the help of Mr. Bairnes in the event that no traces of the organism are found in the water or in my initial search, at which point Dr. Howard and I would need to venture deeper into the environment to find a living specimen in hiding.

However, upon making our victorious stride to the cockpit to announce our progress, we discovered that our news would need to wait on more demanding developments. These developments involved the status of the ship and how the expedition could be compromised if they are not dealt with immediately and before we make our final approach. Mrs. Willard, who is apparently the more able-bodied engineer of our two pilots, has declared mere minutes ago that she will be examining the exterior landing gear and that artificial gravity will remain off for the duration of the process; an irritating parameter yet necessary to make transitions outside of the ship more smooth. I will be unable to write effectively during this time and Mrs. Willard is unsure of how long the process will take, but considering how anxious I am about the precarious uncertainty upon which our ship slowly descends, I will certainly update as soon as possible with the verdict on our condition.

Our plans were introduced with the blunt demands of Mr. MacReady, “So do you two at least have a plan yet?” To which Dr. Howard and I answered with a rather anticlimactic, “Yes.” That was all MacReady and Bairnes needed to feel secure at the moment and frankly, despite our disappointment, I cannot find it in me to disagree with them; the situation seems maddening enough to be so far beyond the contact and assistance of Earth.

For now, all we can do is await Mrs. Willard’s return.

– King

Journal Entry 05
Day 7
Time: 1500 hours

Mrs. Willard returned this morning in a blaze of fury. Her face was bright crimson from the artificial oxygen or unadulterated rage, I cannot be sure, but what I can determine is that it’s no positive sign for the condition of our ship. She wordlessly trudged into the cockpit, demanding that Bairnes leave her with MacReady, taking us all aback with the abrupt change in her typically cool-headed attitude. Bairnes complied however, joining Dr. Howard and I in a curious huddle outside of the cockpit with his shoulders shrugged in obliviousness. There was no hope in eavesdropping as the doors are all sealed tightly, locking even sound into each individual room throughout the ship, so we collectively decided to await enlightenment of the situation in the hull which Mrs. Willard would undoubtedly pass through on her way out of the cockpit. As we waited, we indulged Mr. Bairnes on the details of our plan and his potential role if results come up slim to which he responded well, not having many expectations as to his role outside of appearing on the mission as a formal precaution; an “insurance policy,” as he referred to himself.

After an hour or so, the doors hissed open with an accompanied cacophony of shouting and irritable debate following Mrs. Willard from inside the cockpit. Nothing was discernable from the hull save for Willard barking a single accusation before spitefully thrusting her fist into the control panel for the door, cutting them off, “…ing conspiracy theories! We’ve got to figure this out before we take a Titanian nosedive, not point needless fingers!! I’m going back out, and I’m cutting off communication; I’m tired of this bullshit.” We all stood at her reentry like speechless children as she continued past us with her helmet tucked under her arm and without so much as a word as she turned the corner for the airlock vengefully.

The doors to the cockpit reopened as MacReady slowly lumbered out with a coiled scowl on his face and spiteful disregard in his eyes. His head turned towards the direction of the airlock, he marched over to our group crowded around the table in the center of the hull, still standing dumbfounded. Without even the slightest glance in our direction, he swiped a bottle of wine from a nearby, white plastic coffee table and with a masterful flick of his wrist he withdrew a small pocket knife from his coat and pried out the cork to take a long swig. We looked on in confusion and a sort of estranged awe at the demeanor of the man, wondering how on Earth this man was designated the pilot for such a valuable mission. As if in response to our silent criticism, MacReady addressed us with a harsh grunt as he wiped his beard on his sleeve, still never giving us a moment’s eye contact, “Quick gawking and do something productive.” As he huffs his commands at us angrily, he raises his eyes to look past us and out the Hull windows at the bluish giant staring directly back at him with such inhuman aggression. We all turned in tandem to look upon Uranus which now towered before us, with what could only be 26 or so hours remaining between us and Titania; a clock which ticks in gargantuan strokes as Mrs. Willard toils away in something we bystanders cannot understand.

As we gazed forebodingly into the unwavering eye of the planet, I heard a grunted, “Hopeless,” from MacReady as he shuffled away from the table in an echoing chorus of a pocket knife clacking shut and the distinct hiss of the cockpit doors opening and closing again. While I can’t say he’s wrong for doubting our collective ability to act in this precarious situation considering we’ve been able to do nothing since then but gossip about possible conflict between our pilots as well as MacReady’s suggested drinking habits, they haven’t told us anything about our status nor what we can do to help in the matter. However, even if our brazen captain were to indulge us as to the issues which they have encountered with the ship, Mrs. Willard has disconnected her communications with the cockpit and thus her knowledge of the ship’s condition must go unheard until she concludes her repairs; who knows how long that will take. I’ll tell you who, MacReady does, and frankly I’m tired of his childish attitude; this is neither the time nor place to be keeping secrets bottled up from those whom they would affect the most.

I must say, this entire expedition has been defined by a general lack of information. Houston has supplied us with little in the way of novel developments, Dr. Howard made few definite conclusions on his own time, and now even our engineers refuse to inform us on where we stand or…float rather. It’s driving me mad, really, as if nobody aboard this ship nor back on Earth wish to LEARN anything from this experience; I feel less like a field biologist and more like an overpaid fisherman at this point. I never thought I would be in a position to say this considering how much of an honor it was to be summoned by name for this mission, but truly I just want it to be over with. I want to find the damn thing and hurry on back so I can breathe some real, unadulterated air, maybe do some real fishing for lampreys in the Great Lakes like the old days.

Those days feel all the more enticing the longer I spend in this over sized plastic tube. Patience is running thin with the lot of us, and I only hope that Mrs. Willard finishes up by tonight and gives us a calm and collected verdict which we can work with. There should be around 30 hours remaining before we touch down on Titania’s surface and the other two have gone to their rooms for early sleep which I’m sure we all need, though MacReady still hasn’t left the cockpit. I too will retreat to my quarters as I’ve been writing for a couple of hours now and don’t feel it necessary for me to await Mrs. Willard’s return; I’m sure MacReady will be first to receive her.

So exhausted. I’ll have to update as soon as I awaken as I’m sure it will be when Willard returns with news and I have no intention of waiting much longer for our two delightful pilots to indulge us. I do apologize for my edginess, I guess we’ve all caught a bit of cabin fever in our time up here. Nevertheless, we have no choice but to stick with each other, at least until we acquire the specimen and get off the ground.

Should be simple enough.

– King

Journal Entry 06
Day: 8
Time: 0100 hours

Middle of the night, something woke me up. I swore I heard the recognizable click of a door opening down the hall followed by some footsteps. I stepped out momentarily to investigate to no avail and though I may just be groggy, nothing seemed to have changed in the hull since I had left it earlier; in fact the door leading to our quarters’ was still open as I remembered accidently leaving it. Mrs. Willard instructed me to leave it shut, but I always felt no harm in my forgetfulness, and thus made no attempts to amend the habit in the few days I would be aboard.

I’m back in my bed and beyond brutalized by tiredness. It must have been MacReady returning to his quarters, though I couldn’t remember hearing those noisy cockpit doors. Then again, it could have been only the proximity of the doors within the quarters which awoke me, and thus I wouldn’t have noticed any previous sounds. I mustn’t let it worry me, I already have far too much to think about, and things going bump in the night may drive me to borrow some “supplements” from Dr. Howard.

Let’s hope I stay asleep this time.

– King

Journal Entry 07
Day: 8
Time: 0900 hours

Enlightened, famous, perhaps even rich were among many things I had hoped to become though the process of this expedition. One position I could have never predicted myself in was hostage. That’s right, I am now a hostage on this ship, along with Dr. Howard and Mr. Bairnes at the hands of our buffoonish, drunkard captain MacReady. We’re currently seated around the table once more within the hull as MacReady stands in the corner of the room armed with irrational fury and a loaded revolver. He’s been ceaselessly barking questions at us like some crime drama cop until now and nether of my companions have been at all entertained with the performance while I must admit, I’m probably white as a sheet; I’ve never been good with authorities.

Allow me to explain in further detail, though I’m not sure how much time I have to write before MacReady feels it necessary to demand more answers from us. I woke up before the others this morning and left my quarters in the direction of the hull, hoping for new developments, however upon opening the door to the hull, there was only MacReady seated at the table facing the door. His presence startled me, but what truly took me aback was that he seemed to be awaiting my entry with a gun resting on the table before him and, as the others joined me in the doorway, preparing to enter the room, MacReady shouted at us all to stand right where we were. He then lifted the gun, rose from the table and instructed us to sit while he stood at the helm of the table. Bairnes protested, but MacReady made it very clear that tensions were higher than we had anticipated, and that he wasn’t unprepared to deal with them if necessary.

Apparently Mrs. Willard hadn’t returned to the ship last night, in fact she hadn’t at all because the line securing her to the outside of the ship had been remotely detached with Mrs. Willard nowhere to be found. MacReady claims that performing such an override while someone was attached to the line would require experience with the mechanics of the ship, implying that one of us is not who we say we are. I saw this as an opportunity to determine exactly what she was doing outside of the ship, and though it may not have been wise to assert myself to an armed man, he indulged us all the same.

He informed us that Mrs. Willard had a suspicion about the condition of the landing gear as nothing showed up for them in a diagnostic check of the ship’s systems, and she had left the ship to investigate. She had returned to the cockpit with the aggravating news that the landing gear had in fact been tampered with and reprogrammed as to avoid the ship warning us about it. This was clearly an inside job, MacReady claimed, and though Mrs. Willard disagreed with him she still went back out in attempts to remedy the situation. He grimly stated however, that she was unsuccessful, and whoever cut her line did it too long ago so that nothing could be done to rescue her from drifting to her demise. Thus MacReady believes that his suspicions have been affirmed and all that’s left to do is to find the culprit and force them to reverse the damage which they have inflicted upon the ship and ensure a safe landing which is less than 10 hours away at this point.

Bairnes grew more aggressive the more MacReady explained, demanding to know why damaged landing gear would make any difference and why someone would want to sabotage such a simple mission. MacReady explained that while the ship can enter the planet’s atmosphere with damaged landing gear and make a relatively safe descent, the ship cannot physically LEAVE the atmosphere if the landing gear cannot retract fully as the aerodynamics would be thrown off dramatically, granting the ship insufficient velocity needed to leave the moon’s gravitational field. Therefore, unless the traitor was found, there will be no leaving Titania once we landed.

Though Bairnes simply appears smug and irritable, Dr. Howard is beginning to worry me. He is obviously beginning to experience panic, and though he’s demanded that MacReady allow him to return to his room for his medication, six chambers still stand between him and his quarters. I’ve begun to notice minute twitches and ticks, and his overall demeanor is frighteningly pale and flighty as if he were slowly losing his grasp of the situation the louder MacReady’s tone crescendos.

There seems to be an argument sparking between Dr. Howard and Mr. MacReady. I’m afraid I have to put my journal down and make an attempt to calm Dr. Howard before he has a panic attack or worse, gets himself shot.

Wish me luck.

– King

Journal Entry 08
Day: 10
Time: not known

As I had expected, the air is frigid on the surface of Titania to the point where even filtered oxygen makes me shiver as it flows into my helmet. My head is dizzy and my body is numb though I can’t say so much for my companions; strewn about the hull like discarded ragdolls. I must have been unconscious for about a day, maybe more but I cannot be sure as the ship’s Earth clock along with all other automatic functions have been destroyed in the crash. Anyway, I have only had time to drag myself over to check the grim state of my companions and write this short record of the disastrous occurrences of the past day.

I’m not sure whether or not oxygen is still being consistently produced in the ship, but just to be sure I fitted myself and any living crew members with helmets. By any, I mean Bairnes and MacReady; Dr. Howard is dead by a bullet in his torso. A certain amount of hope has been extinguished with my fellow scientist’s life, as there is none else capable of identifying the hostility of this environment than he. I can examine the ecosystem as much as I like but it’s still not Earth, it’s still uncertain whether or not my knowledge even applies here; only educated analysis of the organism’s secretions can determine whether or not we should panic.

Our ship crashed rather close to what can only be described as a cave, as it is large enough for a man to enter upright and seems long enough to be an entrance to some inner cavern. This must be our drones’ means of accessing the subterranean oceans beneath the crust of the moon, by boring out a massive hole inward though it’s strange, as if this entrance had been made by multiple machines, not the single drones we sent to each moon of any given planet. Nevertheless, there will be no spelunking to be done until the rest of the crew awakens, or at least until Mr. Bairnes does; Mr. MacReady seems to be in rough shape, perhaps even critical condition from his outburst which resulted in our bumpy landing.

Dr. Howard lashed out in his immense anxiety, claiming that the mission wasn’t even worth it at this point and if the ship were to break up in the atmosphere, so be it. MacReady did not take to this well and nearly jammed the revolver down his throat, bellowing at him like some kind of rabid beast about how he must be the traitor amongst them. Bairnes reacted swiftly to the situation, bounding over the table like a burly jackrabbit, grabbing hold of the hand in which MacReady held his gun and pulling it back in an attempt to point it away from Howard but to no avail. As Dr. Howard scrambled to retreat from his chair, the surprise of Bairnes’ attack startled MacReady and clenched his finger around the trigger, sending Howard back across the floor clutching his rib cage. Bairnes and MacReady proceeded in their brawl as Bairnes disarmed our captain, throwing the firearm away and into the open cockpit where they would both scramble to gain an advantage. While they occupied themselves, I dove for Dr. Howard in hopes that the wound was not fatal and though it merely punctured his pelvis, the man wailed in pain like a pitiful creature caught in a bear trap. He was losing blood swiftly and as I attempted to raise him upright and bring him to a medical kit, the entire room was flooded with vermilion light and blaring sirens. I could hear grunts and shouts erupting from the cockpit and adding to the raucous din of stimulus surrounding us; my head was spinning.

Finally, Bairnes stumbled from the open cockpit doors, clutching his ribs with one hand through a torn up sleeve and MacReady’s pocket knife in the other, visibly caked with crimson. He blurted across the room to me with disgruntled haste to hold on to something as he himself knelt and clung to the module for the cockpit doors, they must have accidentally triggered some emergency landing protocol in their flurry and I now dizzily searched for something to cling to. I dragged Dr. Howard’s screeching corpse across the floor to the table at the center of the room which was bolted to the floor, latching my free arm around its base. All I remember is the deafening clamor of those sirens singing out in symphony with Dr. Howard’s agonizing screams. It was a hellish ride, I assure you.

And now I find myself here, after many hours of unconsciousness alone aboard this ship with the lifeless corpse of Howard mere feet away from me, gazing blankly at the ceiling, Bairnes breathing barely shallow breaths in an unresponsive state, and MacReady unconscious as well within the cockpit of the ship, bleeding out slowly from multiple nonlethal stab wounds in his legs and belly. It’s so unbearably silent now, save for a distant ringing in my ears that must be a result of the impact, but I can’t help but feel rather shell shocked from such a calamity. It’s also so dark here, on this moon which is to be expected of Titania as it is so far from the sun yet I had not expected it at all and I’m painstakingly writing by the light of a blinking emergency warning which was triggered when the entrance to our quarters was caved in during the crash. This also means that we don’t have access to Dr. Howard’s medical equipment for use on Mr. MacReady if his condition worsens. I am however reluctant to even reenter the cockpit with that violent man much less tend to his flesh wounds.

We will more than likely need to move as soon as the two awaken, as the ship will soon run out of its stored oxygen and a CO2 buildup is something which we shaken men don’t need to worry about at this point. We’d might as well salvage the mission if we can, as a rescue ship will be sent out within the next few days and if we have something to show for ourselves, this disaster will have at least not been in vain. I can only hope that the situation is not as I had feared in which case CO2 and pocketknives are the least of our concerns.

I will update if and when we find ourselves in a more steady condition though it will have to be by the light of night vision which may be difficult. I’m not sure what lies within that darkened cave in the near distance, but I can’t imagine it will hop in our laps and purr like a cat.

– King

Journal Entry 09
Day: 10
Time: must be nighttime on Earth

Blackness, nothing but all-consuming blackness. This cavern, this oceanic grotto is stunning but I wish I could enjoy it in a shade other than neon, night vision green. However, I can’t complain considering our circumstances have improved drastically from battered bodies to huddled and whimpering sods. Bairnes and I managed to drag MacReady out from the cockpit, away from the ship and into cave over the course of what must have been five hours without a budge from him outside of shallow breathing. Using half a flask of whiskey, we soaked a small stack of books and let them ablaze in what was the most pathetic fire I have ever seen, and I have camped in the Amazon before during the rainy season. My survival training has come in rather handy in this particular situation, as it was needed to patch up MacReady and maintain the fire despite it not giving off enough light to explore the shores of the water.

The ocean itself extends off into the darkness in all directions and it’s impossible to tell how deep it is nor at what point it drops off. We’re also rendered ignorant as to how safe the water is to even touch much less drink without the help of Dr. Howard whom we were forced to leave with the wreckage of our ship. Dr. Howard and Mrs. Willard were the only two individuals on this expedition whom I found myself able to speak to freely and though Bairnes has shaped up to be a rather agreeable man, I cannot find myself any more socially apt around him than MacReady, and thus the day has been long and wordless to the point where I have almost completely lost track of time.

I have informed Bairnes that I still plan on scouting the area for any signs of hostile life, or perhaps the organism itself and that I wish for him to accompany me just in case. Bairnes agreed but showed tentativeness at the prospect of leaving MacReady unsupervised which is understandable considering the damage he’s already done to our crew and the expedition; I’m not prepared to return to another standoff over the campfire with the current state of my nerves.

I figured it would prove wise to bind MacReady’s hands and search him for weapons in case he decides to go rogue on us while we’re fumbling around in the dark. Bairnes also suggested that we revoke his night vision attachment from his helmet to ensure that he does not wander off and thought I found this measure questionable, we don’t exactly have time to debate; I’d rather have peace of mind than indulge my empathetic urges right now.

As I struggle to write this by the weak, grainy glow of the night vision attachment, Bairnes is silently roping the unconscious MacReady’s wrists with a length of wire from the ship; how grateful I am that he has yet to awaken and this task had not turned into a wrestling match. Bairnes asked about the notebook earlier and I told him about the log I have been keeping throughout the expedition, how I long to return to Earth and publish it as either a progressive documentary or an action-adventure novel, whatever people are willing to believe. He chuckled at this comment and asked to read it while we walked though I refused, he seemed rather insistent on borrowing the notebook in fact; strange. Anyway, we’ll be off momentarily and though I wish I could make more meticulous preparations, there is little I can do outside of calming myself mentally as I seem to be experiencing a bit of panic; my breathing has become shallow and there is a knot in my chest which becomes tighter as the minutes lurch on. What lies on the banks of this gargantuan, stagnant pool is just beyond me but I get the feeling that something will be waiting for us and whether it is predator or prey, I am unsure.

Mr. Bairnes has returned with MacReady’s knife and his night vision attachment. Bairnes revealed that he had a revolver with him just in case and thus I coerced him to let me hold on to the knife; it’s not much but it’s far greater security than my nonexistent pugilist background. I’d better check MacReady’s vitals before we leave and change his bandages, we have sat him up next to the pathetic flare remaining of our campfire, sufficiently far from the water, I believe. God help the poor lunatic.

God help us all.

– King

Journal Entry 10
Day 11
Time: no way to tell

MacReady was right. I never thought that I would give him such credit, but now as I kneel before the darkened, wet lump that is his corpse lying face down in the water, the reality of this “expedition” sends me reeling within my own obliviousness. We came cautiously when we heard a raucous splash from the direction of the camp at which we left MacReady’s unconscious and bound person only to find his motionless body surrounded by ankle-deep water which had slowly risen to claim the fire along with the poor man’s life. He must have stood and walked a few steps before falling as we found him a short distance from where we left him, and without so much as surveying the thing, we already knew what became of him, as well as what Bairnes and I are dealing with.

In fact, the truth which MacReady was sharp enough to realize involves the dear Mr. Bairnes of whom I speak of…in fact it IS him. As we made our way along the shore, I swiftly realized that the immediate area which we surveyed was devoid of life, even the water did not make a sound, lying impossibly still; it’s as if nothing has moved within that vast ocean for years. We did find something however, something which would place my life in a precarious position of danger, teetering even now as I sit a safe distance from the water. For we did not find the organism, nor did we find some horrible, carnivorous beast; we found the last expedition.

A single, human corpse silently decaying into the earthy sand which borders the water, wearing the same orange jumpsuit as MacReady and Willard had. I leaped back at the macabre specimen out of a severe concoction of fear and bafflement; Titania had only been explored by probe…once! Yet without a doubt, before my own eyes, rests a half-buried cadaver decomposing as it should; the pale, purple skin slowly flaking off of the muscle suggests that it’s long since dead. In my befuddlement, it took me more than a few minutes to find my explanation down the cold barrel of a revolver pressed to the back of my head.

Mr. Bairnes explained that our new acquaintance is one Dr. Maria Crane, a respected woman of science and the first astronaut to touch down on the face of Titania. He explained without removing the gun from its position that we were not the first to seek out this organism, as Dr. Crane’s expedition obviously ended unfortunately as well as without a live specimen. Those underhanded bastards back at Houston played us, leading us to believe that we were venturing out into the unexplored reaches of space and be the first to risk our lives in the name of science. Instead, we were sent on what had already been proven to be a suicide mission; we were not intended to be pioneers, we’re mere grunts being sent to our probable doom with the vague hope that we’ll bring something back. And that two-faced rodent Bairnes had been working with them all along, ensuring that the crew learn nothing of Houston’s plans to draw out the organism once more with a fresh crew. The fiend murdered Mrs. Willard surely because she was the first to catch on to his putrid scent, uncovering his attempts to so-called, “Keep the crew grounded,” as Bairnes explained. I wanted to strangle that devilish excuse for a man, that cogwheel in a machine of corruption which left us stranded on this god forsaken rock in the depths of nothingness, but I had to settle for shoving him into the water when he finally lowered his weapon. He arose with the thing cocked and ready, but he struggled to hold steady as he found himself sopping wet with an exposed hand allowing water into the sleeve of his suit. Serves the moron right, should have thought about that before playing fisticuffs with MacReady back at the ship.
I however, have insufficient energy to attempt fighting fire with fists, and thus I reluctantly complied with him. As he began to describe our new course of action around finding a live specimen and awaiting a secondary expedition bound to pick up Bairnes and any potential survivors within three days, we heard MacReady and raced to find him as he is now. The water rose without us even noticing, and I would not doubt that the organism had ample time to attack the unconscious MacReady and retreat back into the tide without leaving a trace. In fact I’m afraid to examine his corpse for risk of coming in contact with the organism’s secretions, and both Bairnes and I have taken precautions to stay far away from the water from now on; I’m only thankful nothing got to him when I pushed him in…to a degree.

There’s no hope for a fire anymore as all of our kindling was drowned with the undertow which emits only gentle ripples from around the gentle silhouette of our face-down friend. We have only the dwindling batteries of our night vision to keep us from going mad in the silent pitch that surrounds us. Above everything however, more than the pristine silence, more than the frigid air, even more than this omnipresent shade, it is panic which overwhelms me most. My breathing is labored, almost hyperventilating, and I had to coerce Bairnes into resting a moment only after he became rather exhausted himself, complaining of his head “swimming.” I checked my oxygen filter yet the small display on my chest reads that oxygen is flowing steadily into my helmet, so it must be something internal. My symptoms seem to match those of a panic attack, or at least what I saw in Dr. Howard when we were still on the ship, except for one small detail…one nagging sensation which I have only now begun to notice and cannot wrench my mind from no matter how hard I focus.

Tinnitus, I believe it’s called; simple ringing in the ears. It began when Bairnes was explaining the truth to me, and I had previously attributed it to pure rage and anxiety which had begun rising within my throat the more I learned. However, even now as I scribble what I can, seated across from the pleasantly sleeping cretin that is Bairnes, the faint din has slowly arisen to the forefront of my attention to the point where I struggle even to hear myself think. My head was already throbbing but now the noise has become unbearable, like some distant squealing in the back of my head as my synapses cry out in pain. I hope that if I sleep now, some of this splitting pain will dissipate, and perhaps we CAN return to our search for the organism.

I only hope that it does not find us first and do to us what it did to MacReady. I’m beginning to see shapes swirling in my vision, I must be getting a migraine. I’m forced to cease writing and rest my head. Houston, if you ever happen upon this journal,

Burn. In. Hell.

– King

Journal Entry 11
Day: ??
Time: irrelevant

I’m alone. I’m condemned to solitude in this dripping fucking hole in a remote corner of the cosmos. I woke up, painfully, as I passed out for what must have been fifteen minutes or so upon trying to lift my head; a lot of blood must have left my head while I was laid down, and my breathing is now reduced to heavy heaving. When I finally managed to stave off madness itself in the form of discordant ringing greeting my awakening, I painstakingly pawed my way over to Bairnes to stir him to no god damn avail. I discovered him breathless, without a pulse, slumped over in a seated position like a deathly monolith before me, overshadowing me despite an encompassing lack of light with which to cast one.

I managed to make a vaguely thorough search of his immediate person for any signs of the organism but found nothing. With the final dregs of my mental strength and a blinking red light in the corner of my night vision display, I crawled in the direction of MacReady’s corpse. With what was surely a cacophony of struggled grunts, I managed to flip over the body to uncover a horrendous scene: MacReady’s head is fully exposed as his helmet is shattered open, glass puncturing his face in various places for a gory demise. However, I now understood his death; if the venom of the organism did not kill him alone, it must have weakened his central nervous system to the point where he became too weak to walk and collapsed, face down in the water, and drowned. What I was unsure of however, is whether or not his helmet broke open upon impact with the ground…or if something found its way in.

I left him however, as a small notification appeared across my vision notifying me that my night vision attachment had 10 minutes before it would shut down, its battery drained. Even in my panicked, weakened state, I remembered that Bairnes had taken MacReady’s attachment and must still have it, and thus I returned to the lifeless lump with renewed hope. However I swiftly realized that the hope was misplaced as the imbecile never shut the attachment off, thus draining the battery completely, as well as his own. To think that of all the sly, cunning scoundrels which Houston could have chosen from to accompany us in this grim expedition, they had to pick the kind of person who leaves the lights on when they leave a room or better yet, when they leave the land of the living.

With despair in my heart, lead in my lungs, and a deafening clamor splitting my ears asunder, I write to you, whomever may read this, as I await the finale of my 10 remaining minutes of sight. I have begun to come to terms with the nature of my current condition as I have lost feeling in my legs and most of my lower torso; the organism must have come in contact with me at some point or another. Breathing is nearly impossible now, my mind is screaming, and I am slowly but surely losing control of my motor functions; there’s no doubt about it, my nervous system is gradually giving way to the creature’s venom just like those vermin back on Earth. Those vermin who died in boxes in a laboratory somewhere underground, no more isolated than I am as I write within this damn cave.

There must be something I can do to survive, at least a few days until the next expedition arrives and finds me here. I have to stay awake, there’s simply no other option; if my central nervous system is failing then I cannot give in to sleep until my body forces it upon me for I may not awaken…just like Bairnes. I can barely think straight at this point…it’s very difficult to write. Maybe I’ll check Bairnes again, see if I can figure out how it got to him…Maybe I’ll be alright…

I just want the ringing to stop.

– King

Journal Entry 12

It’s inside me. I can feel it, squirming around in my ear canal, wailing like a petulant swine. It’s not tinnitus, it’s not a migraine, it has gotten inside me just like it did to Bairnes and MacReady. That’s why I could not find it on them…THAT’S why there was never any bites or anything on their skin…because it crawled in their ears while they were sleeping…it crawled in and screamed at them, but they could not hear it like I do. They did not know until it was too late.

They got to MacReady through his helmet when he must have fell and shattered it open. He couldn’t get back up because the venom was too potent and disabled his body, like a spider’s neurotoxins paralyzing its prey while it devours it alive.

They got to Bairnes through his sleeve when I shoved him into the water…that’s why his head was swimming…he heard it too, inside his head but the venom must have numbed his body so he could not feel it crawling inside as he fell asleep…It only makes sense as now I can only barely move my arms enough to drag myself along the ground.

I don’t know how it got through the seals of our helmets…but there’s no doubt about it. I can feel it lurching within my skull like a leech thirsting for my brain matter, boring its way deeper and deeper as it screeches…a noise that leaves horrific wounds within my psyche…a noise which I cannot bear any longer.

For I found how it got to me…the knife. MacReady’s knife, which Bairnes gave to me…which I had completely forgotten about. It had cut a hole in the torso of my suit as I had laid down, leaving an opening for those scuttling things to worm their way inside my suit and up into my helmet. But how…HOW? How did they get inside my helmet, I would have suffocated by now!

I know it’s in there though. Nothing of Earth, nothing of the human body could produce such a terrible, gut-wrenching wail the likes of which has been ripping my mind to ribbons.

I cannot allow this creature to have free reign within my skull…my body is going numb, I’m barely breathing, and I have mere minutes before my night vision cuts out entirely…

If that happens…I’m trapped. I’m caged within my own mind with not a single thing to accompany me but this unholy ringing. I cannot bear to imagine such a fate.

I cannot wait three days for the next expedition…I cannot spend another second with this demon writhing within me, siphoning my soul from inside me. I have to get it out.

I have MacReady’s knife in one hand, the other is readied on the release switch for my helmet.

I can’t feel anything
I can’t even hear myself scream.
There’s nothing but ringing now.

– Final entry in the journal of Dr. Edwin King

Captain Jacob Ripley
Expeditionary Log
1300 Hours

This is Captain Jacob Ripley, appointed head of this expedition to retrieve any remaining subjects of the primary mission on Titania, moon of Uranus. We had been informed of the situation and told to expect only Mr. Carl Bairnes to be present however it seems that Mr. Bairnes encountered complications as not only did we encounter the team’s desecrated spacecraft outside of the subterranean cavern, but inside we found further evidence of the expedition’s failure.

The strange thing is, we never intended for the team to encounter the specimen, as Titania’s seasons span many Earth years and during the darker of those seasons, the organism is completely inactive. The expedition was intentionally rushed out to take advantage of the inactivity, as the organism does little during this time except burrow under the “sea” floor and hibernate as they are cold-blooded. Unfortunately, what we learned about the organism when communication went dark, was that the organism contains heat sensitive cells which trigger the continuous release of what can be compared to Earth’s morphine in order to suppress its bodily functions and hibernate. On-site tests of the subterranean body of water showed dangerously high levels of the chemical, which means our hypotheses are in fact correct, and if we proceed with draining the small ocean, we can dig up more than sufficient specimens.

While Dr. Dwight Howard was found shot dead in the wreckage of the ship, we have sent out a small search party to scour the shores for Mrs. Julia Willard who seems to be missing. The other three were found around a small pile of ashes which must have been a fire before it mostly drifted out with the tide. Mr. Kurt MacReady’s waterlogged corpse was found a short distance away from the other two, the cause of death is drowning. His arms were bound with wire, so we can only assume that as the chemical-contaminated water made prolonged contact with him, it began numbing his body as morphine-like compounds do, and as he attempted to stand he would have lost his balance, falling and breaking open his helmet. At this point he would have swallowed a great deal of the water and the chemical process will have rendered him unable to control his muscles enough to flip himself over.

Fortunately, Mr. Bairnes was found heavily sedated by the chemical compound as it seemed to have soaked his clothing at one point or another as well as getting through his torn sleeve directly to skin. His pulse is barely noticeable and his breathing disturbingly shallow, but our doctors on board should have no trouble resuscitating him enough to report before returning home. Thank god he did not panic, as his condition is nothing more than a heavily sedated surgical patient. Unfortunately however, the same cannot be said for Dr. Edwin King.

Dr. King was found in a rather peculiar state, as he was completely untouched by the water as well as the chemical compound so he would not have experienced any symptoms, though his death was particularly gruesome. His helmet was opened manually and his ear canals gouged out with a pocket knife, apparently by his own hand as the knife in question was found near his corpse which ended up far from the others. Despite this despicable act of quasi-suicide, the cause of death determined by our doctors seemed to be oxygen deprivation or simply suffocation. We figured that this was due to the helmet being opened, but upon further inspection of Dr. King’s suit, the doctors digressed.

Dr. King’s helmet was dismantled in order to inspect the damage to the sides and back of his skull and clearly present along the back of the visor is a small crack. This seemingly minuscule rupture in the glass would have slowly halved the amount of oxygen intake and resulted in an unnoticeable release of air. The technicians informed me that the visor must have been damaged in the crash and thus he would have experienced more and more difficulties breathing as well as functioning as the crack widened. They also said the only indication of this given the crack would have been behind his head (essentially invisible to him) would be the sound of oxygen escaping which would have manifested as a loud, high pitch squealing noise. The noise must have driven the poor sod crazy, carved his ears out having to listen to it.

Regardless, the bodies of the team as well as that of Dr. Maria Crane (whom Houston will be glad to have found), will be returned to Earth to be cremated. All evidence of this expedition as well as that of Dr. Crane will be hereby erased with the mass retrieval of the designated specimen for research. With further testing, we may come to mass produce a new age in surgical anesthetic, pain relief, and sleeping medications. In fact, the doctors on board offered me a diluted sample of the chemical secretion to try as a form of benign headache relief. Works like a charm, save for a little ringing in the ears.

Tinnitus, the doctors said; simple ringing in the ears. Should pass with a bit of sleep.

– Captain Jacob Ripley signing off.

Credit To – Captain Boris Lightning

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