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The Stain of Margaret Schilling

July 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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The Ridges – previously known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum – is famous among Ohio University students. The other week, I ran into a friend who recently graduated from OU, and when the conversation turned to spooky things (summer is a classic time to tell ghost stories, after all) he told me about a particularly creepy part of The Ridges’ lore.

Margaret's Outline @ The Ridges

 

This seemingly-human outline is permanently emblazoned on the top floor of wars N20. That’s right, it’s not spray-painted on – it’s been there for decades.

The story goes that in 1978, back when the facility was still active as a mental asylum, a patient named Margaret Schilling abruptly disappeared. The hospital employees searched for weeks, but it wasn’t until over a month later – on January 12, 1979 – that she was discovered. Strangely, she was found in one of the closed-off, abandoned wards – N20 had previously been used to house extremely infectious patients and was no longer in use.

There are claims that she was either already completely decomposed or simply that she had clearly been dead for weeks, but the main point remains the same: she had apparently, soon after her disappearance, somehow ended up in Ward N20, where she completely disrobed before lying down on the floor and dying. The official cause was determined to be heart failure, and some people assume that as Ward N20 was unheated, she could have frozen to death in Ohio’s bitter winter. Why she chose to lie down in such an orderly fashion before her death – and why she initially went to the abandoned ward, or why she stayed there until her death – these are all, of course, questions with answers unknown.

As for the stain, it’s explained best by Jessica Castle:

“…it is more of a photograph negative than a stain. As you can see in my photos, there are windows in front of the stain. As her body decomposed, the fluids were constantly passed over and over again by the sunlight from the windows, developing a photograph of sorts.”

The story has been featured on TV programs – notably FOX’s Scariest Places on Earth, but unfortunately I can’t find the episode online anywhere – and these programs have added what is most likely nothing more than and embellishment: supposedly, a girl went on one of the ghost tours of The Ridges, where she touched Margaret’s stain. The rumour goes that she was then “claimed” by Margaret’s spirit and was eventually driven to suicide over the possession. This part of the story is at best unsubstantiated and at worst simply fluff created by FOX, but it’s still creepy enough to include here!

For specific reading on this particular story (as well as photos and personal accounts!) you should visit the following links:
Jessica Castle’s Haunted Ohio University blog
Forgotten Ohio’s Margeret Schilling Haunting page

For more general information about The Ridges (they are absolutely packed with creepy history and rumours, so in the interest of simply whetting your appetite, I’m only including Margaret’s story here today):
Athens Lunatic Asylum on Wikipedia
The Ridges Mental Health Institution and The Ridges Cemetary @ Haunted Athens Ohio
The Ridges @ Forgotten Ohio
Official information and map from Ohio University
Souls of the Asylum – a collection of “channeled stories” from Athens Lunatic Asylum patients buried at The Ridges cemetery in Athens, OH by Doug & Berta Lockhart (full disclosure: our Amazon affiliate link is included here).

*As a sidenote, this post marks the divergence of the Real-World Creepy tag from the Based on a True Story tag. The explicit differences (plus examples) are better detailed on the submission page, but the summary is that from now on, Real-World Creepy will be the tag housing my write-ups of “true” paranormal places and stories. Based on a True Story has been changed to be more true to its name – pastas more loosely based on experiences, locations, etc, will now be placed in this category.
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Dirty Paper Machines

July 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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This is the final entry in Stephan D. Harris’ Harlequin series.

“Sometimes I wonder; what exactly is a monster? Is it really something to be feared, or is it something to be respected? Is that frightening, hideous thing that stalks your nightmares trying to tell you something, something important? Maybe the monster isn’t there to scare you at all. Have you ever wondered about this? Have you ever wondered if the monsters that hide under your bed are actually just there to protect you? To protect you from something so much worse?”

 

–          The Wilcox Journal, 1989

 

 

At this moment, at this serene and terrible moment in the outer edge of the Union Street Cemetery, I’m wondering whether or not my thoughts are truly my own, or if they have been constructed by artificial means. By artificial I mean to say externally, unwillingly, or unconsciously; the kind of definition one should consider at the tail end of a mushroom trip just as things start to seem normal again, but not quite. The drug analogy is not what I had in mind, but who knows what I have in mind. Maybe it wants me rattle away like this, maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know.

 

What I do know is that with each thrust of the shovel, a little part of the Earth has been displaced. I do this while my right hand throbs in pain under the bandages. I don’t even care. After enough soil has been removed, the hole will be ready for the lye. I brought a few bags with me for just this reason. The idea is that even an isolated place like Union Street won’t be able to guarantee safety, so the hole needs to be filled with something that will burn hot enough to get the job done the next time it rains. I can already see the storm blotting out the horizon. Attention is a dangerous thing, this fact I know well. Nobody knows I’m here. The distant thunderclaps remind me. There’s another fresh grave next to the one I’ve already started. I made that one too, only a few days ago. By now the body of Reverend Proust has disintegrated into a carrion wad of filth, a sickening blob of putrefied mucus that not even maggots would find tasteful.

 

“And you don’t even know why he deserved it, do you?”

 

I stop digging for a smoke. The thing about habits, they always become the strongest when you know you’re going to quit. The time’s as good as any for a moment of self-reflection though, may as well use it.

 

Billie left yesterday on her motorcycle, to where I don’t know or don’t want to. She left with a duffle bag full of cloths and food, her bass strapped to her back and a gun or two strapped somewhere else. There were no goodbyes; two people who know each other well enough don’t need words or petty sentiments. Just a silent exchange of nods acknowledging that things will never be okay. I’m not worried for her though, she knows how to survive the chaos. Terry’s ending is a little different. After the wedding was called off, after the smoke settled, he finally gave up holding on to this miserable town.  He sold his half of the Broken Window last week, and as soon as he gets a bank or an agency or anyone to handle the house he’ll be leaving for New Orleans. I thought it was kind of funny actually, knowing how the poor bastard doesn’t stand a chance yet still possessing enough human compassion to lie to his face. It’s hard not feel bad about it, but sometimes honesty is the cruelest option. Besides, I could be wrong. The knowledge could be fabricated.

 

But I digress. The outcome means nothing if the means to the ends are ignored.

 

By now, the story should be obvious: the Harlequin, the mortuary, the stranger and the willow. I thought I knew what I was doing, we both did. Billie and me, fighting side by side against something we barely understood. We thought we knew how it worked, and we thought it was something we could stop. It sickens me how wrong we were.

 

“You are always wrong.”

 

As far as final chapters go, the ending began were the beginning had ended. By this I mean, I may as well recall the appropriate backstories the each of us, me the dark eyed mortician and the pierce studded Billie-Joe Kimble. Oh who to pick first? Let’s go with Billie, she is and always has been the real hero of this fucked up little nightmare of a fairy tale.

 

Billie was born just outside of Richmond, which is known to be less of a city than it is more of the world’s largest Civil War museum. She never told me much about her childhood, mostly because it seemed irrelevant to her and also because Billie isn’t much for dwelling on the past, but what I do know is that she was named after her father, who was apparently a heavier drinker than she is, but not for a lack of effort on her part. They didn’t get along so well, which makes me suspect that he’s the reason for how Billie learned to keep fighting long after her knuckles split.

 

“He wanted a boy, but got me instead.” She used to say. Billie, the dainty flower, the girl next door. Short and sweet like a pulled tooth.

 

Billie never finished high school. When she was seventeen she dropped out in her senior year to start a band in D.C. leaving Richmond in the very same manner she left Charlottesville, no goodbyes. For three years she drifted around the streets of our capitol looking for the perfect sound to compose the soundtrack for the endless anarchy that she felt summed up her existence. A new tattoo there, another piercing here, a week goes by without eating but the next doesn’t sleep. From the way she told it, it seemed like it should have been her very own slice of paradise, but of course even chaos can become boring. What she really wanted was adventure. Obviously the dozens of post punk bands she founded or joined weren’t able to provide this for her, otherwise she might have stayed there instead of making her way back south. She skipped Richmond two years ago, parking her uninsured motorcycle outside of a dinky bar in North Carolina, and there it stayed parked for eight and a half seasons worth of restlessness. Terry gave her a job and a place to live. She met four guys who called themselves musicians, fell in love with the blues, fell in love with Terry not long after. That’s the way it was for just over a year. That’s the way it was until I showed up.

 

I smoke the cigarette down to the filter and toss it into the growing hole just as the wind starts to pick up. It blows my tie around to the back of my neck and I can’t help but think of it as a noose. I’m wearing the red one today. It’s my favorite.

 

My story is somewhat dull compared to Billie’s. I grew up in a town called Baily Meadow, a place about an hour’s drive east of Charlottesville. The house I lived in was nice, my parents, a pediatrician and a financial accountant, were also nice. The neighborhood was nice, the school system was nice. The people were nice. I graduated at the top of my class, got a full academic scholarship to the university of my choice and promptly enrolled myself into a mortuary science course at a college in Raleigh, obtaining a bachelor’s degree along with a minor study in decomposition anatomy while simultaneously working through my funeral service apprenticeship. This resulted in my current position as professional embalmer of the Burnswick Funeral Home in the lovely town of Charlottesville, NC; population 943, unincorporated. This was about a year ago by now, and really that’s what my entire life has been working towards, at least the interesting parts. I doubt that anyone would be interested in the dead raccoon that I tried to keep in my parent’s freezer when I was eight, or the dumpster fire that I started when I was fourteen. No one wants to hear about the summer I spent in the juvenile detention center for stabbing a classmate with a broken pencil or the six months I stopped speaking. Those stories are irrelevant to who I am as a person. It’s not like I was a particularly disturbed child just because of a few antisocial interests, I was just different. It’s why I’m so good at what I do. I can ignore the sort of things that would make other choke or gag. Just because I’m callous doesn’t make me some kind of monster either.

 

“Real monsters don’t hide under the bed.”

 

By now, Billie must be at least halfway to California, but I try not to think about it.

 

The final chapter of this little anthology began the day after the butchering of a young hitchhiker in Terry’s bathtub. The following daylight hours included several instances of what would latter amount to something over and above what Billie and I had assumed to be a known truth. From my point of view, the morning went as according to plan with the incineration of the severed limbs of the unfortunate traveler in the Burnswick crematorium furnace as a much needed disposal method of his body, because neither Billie, Terry or I were in any position to explain to the authorities as to why we felt the need to murder a vagrant with a hammer in the middle of the night. “He was possessed by alien brain monsters,” probably would raise more questions than answer. Not to mention that Billie and I were also responsible for burning a farmhouse to the ground earlier in the evening. Cutting the body into pieces at the joints and draining it of blood for easier transportation to a crematorium was by far the best option for the three of us. It helped that my employer had one of those En-V 127 Heat Crushers that does a full incineration in under ninety minutes with a built in pulverizer to take care of the hardened calcium deposits. I had the whole thing done and gone by the time anyone else showed up for work, no one even asked why I was already there in the first place. A funeral home requires constant cleaning; the simple excuse of sanitation was enough to avoid suspicion.

 

Aside from the sleep deprivation headache, the rest of my day went along as normal as ever, with two embalming’s and eight cups of coffee. Nobody bothered me or my work until after Burnswick and Madelyn left for the day.

 

They left me alone to lock up shop.

 

Not that this was an abnormal occurrence in itself. Often I would be the last one to leave, it was just the nature of my work to keep track of how much of what supplies had been used and when more would be required, because running out of formalin halfway through a procedure would be very very bad.

 

No, what was out of the ordinary was the visitor who walked through the front door just as I was on my way out. Not to my own surprise, I didn’t recognize this man. Because of my long held beliefs, (or more accurately, lack thereof) not once in my entire stay in Charlottesville had I ever joined the ceremonial burial of any of my clients, or more importantly, entered the Trinity Baptist Church.

 

“I apologize, but we’re closed for business until tomorrow morning.” I told the man. He was wearing a black collared shirt tucked into a pair of blue jeans. He looked to be in his late forties or early fifties, with a head full of perfectly combed salt and pepper hair. Something about him immediately caused a feeling of pure and total contempt.

 

“But if you’d like, I could pencil you in to meet with Mr. Burnswick first thing when we reopen tomorrow.” I continued, jingling my keys in the most apparent way possible. He stared at me for a beat too long before speaking.

 

“I don’t believe we’ve met.” He said through a smile. “Reverend Joseph Proust pleased to meet you.” He extended his hand toward mine. I ignored it.

 

“I’m Stephan D. Harris, head embalmer. Like I said, Burnswick left already and I’m on my out as well.”

 

“That’s a shame; I guess I’ll have to find him later. But tell me, Stephan is it? How long have you been in Charlottesville?”

 

“Going on a year by now.” I tried to say without letting the growing frustration show through.

 

“A year! My word, how is it that I’ve yet to see you in the pews on Sundays? Don’t tell me you’ve been going to that Presbyterian goliath out on the interstate. They may be big, but they won’t give you the same sense of family that I try to cultivate.” The way he spoke his words made me want to grind my teeth down to stubs, but I managed to collect myself.

 

“I’m not much for taking anything on faith.” I responded in the most polite manner possible. The reverend’s face lost its smile almost instantly.

 

“Well, that’s disappointing.” His tone was that of a disapproving parent. The kind who think they know what’s best even when they don’t, or at least that’s the way I heard it. “I believe there’s quite a bit you could gain by joining our flock. The world is full of evil, and it gets worse every day, it may be wise to seek the protection we offer. If you change your mind though, you’ll be welcomed with open arms.” Nothing he said sounded like a welcome.

 

I wasn’t in the mood for this nonsense, not then, not ever. I shuffled through the last two days without sleep, the night before being an exceptional case of overwhelming violence. Drained and tired, the last thing in the world I wanted to deal with was the leader of what Billie has been calling a cult. The Trinity Baptists have been aware of the same sort of phenomena that the rest of us have. Everyone has seen the lights in the sky, everyone knew about aneurism epidemic. The difference being I knew the cause, but they thought it to be a divine message proclaiming the end of days. Most importantly, I’m a sunny day asshole who just doesn’t enjoy meeting new people.

 

“Listen, it was nice meeting you,” I lied, “but I’ve really got to be going now.” Proust nodded his head as I led him out of building, locking the door behind us. The sun had already begun its descent towards the western sky, stretching the shadows of houses and tress across the ground like they do. I turned right, Proust walked to the left. Just before I was out of the range of ear though, I heard him call out once more over his shoulder.

 

“Don’t burn any bridges Mr. Harris. You never know what you’ll need to cross.” The side of my face that had had the stubble burned away from the night before began to itch. Just a little, as a reminder.

 

The walk home was quite, and oddly enough the ten minutes of pedestrian travel wasn’t accompanied by the sense of being followed. Lately, the creeping linger of paranoia had been a problem for myself while walking the streets of Charlottesville alone, but not this evening. In fact, I’d say it was enjoyable for the portions where I could forget about the unexpected meeting with the reverend. Until I reached my front door.

 

I bought a house last year. Because of the shit economy and the constant fall of property value that started when the Charlottesville Paper Mill caught fire and killed a third of the town’s income, I was able to get a place of my own for a ridiculously low price. I filled it with thrift store furniture and an ever growing collection of books until it eventually resembled the inner dwellings of a reclusive psychopath. I never cleaned the place; medical books lay open and scattered across the floors, empty mason jars and animal bones sat indefinitely on every table, blankets and cigarette butts a permanent fixture of the sofa. In other words, my home was the living embodiment of static entropy. One thing I would always be sure of though was that I would never, ever, under any circumstances, leave my front door unlocked.

 

When my key refused to make an audible click of a moving tumbler, I knew something was out of place. Stepping cautiously into the living room, I stood still a moment to listen to a faint noise of… something echoing from the bathroom. Mildly alarmed, more annoyed than anything, remembering that I kept a .357 snub nose in a drawer next to the television and so moved to retrieve it. At this point I wasn’t even surprised that something had broken into that house, it was only a matter of time before “they” caught on enough to try something. I call them the Abominations only because I don’t know what the correct terminology would be for a mutated-as-all-hell host body that smiles and giggles as it crawls across the ceiling reaching its absurdly long fingers towards your face to rip out your eyeballs or whatever. It’s what I think happens when a Harlequin worm decides that it wants take direct control of the body that it’s been hiding in, as opposed to quietly causing the victim to slowly loose its sanity. Maybe I’m right about this, maybe I’m wrong. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

 

“More than you know.”

 

So there I was, with a loaded single action revolver ready to blow as many holes in something’s face as fast as the trigger could be pulled. I tiptoed my way to the bathroom door, placing one hand on the door knob while the other held Stubs the Gun. Noticing the crack of light coming from beneath the door frame and another shuffling noise, I took a brief inhale, and kicked in the door to my bathroom. It screamed at me the way an animal does, it screamed and scratched and foamed at the mouth as I fired five shots into the legs and once more through the far side of its jaw, the mirror and the sink and the walls dusted with specks of red as I finished the job with a straight razor, my fingers slipping over the blood of its pathetic whimpering throat as a sharp edge ran across the eyes. So glorious, so violent, so beautiful and so vicious, the sound of skin as it peels from bone filling my ears like a thousand symphonies playing all at once over dissonant laughter. My laughter. The kind of laughter that follows the abandonment of all hope, where you laugh….

 

“The way you would at a sick joke.”

Except that’s not the way it happened, I’m remembering things wrong again. There were no shots fired, there was no blood or symphonies either. But there was screaming, the screaming of a startled girl.

 

“Check your damn voice mail for once!” Billie yelled as she spat a wad of toothpaste from her lips. “I called you like, two freaking hours ago to tell you that I’d be here.”

 

This turned out to be true, in fact the message Billie had left me was oddly specific about how I should avoid shooting her when I got home. “Hey Stephan,” it said, “Terry and I had a fight about that crap that happened last night and now he’s all butt hurt about it. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to crash at your place until he stops bitching about how we’re going to get ourselves killed or whatever. I’m heading over there now, don’t worry I still have a key, but call me back so I’ll know that you won’t freak out and try to shoot me or something with that snub nose I gave you, because that would suck. Kay, bye!”

 

“So, is it cool that I hang around here for a while?” She asked me after I had finished listening to her message. Billie had just finished taking a shower by the time I noticed the front door unlocked. She still had a wet towel wrapped around her boney little torso. Catching a glance of the hand grenade tattooed just above where her cleavage should have been, I promptly made my decision.

 

“Yeah you can stay.” I passed out on the sofa without taking off my suit twenty seconds later.

 

Waking up I became worried that I had slept through an entire workday, almost falling off the couch as the panic set in. It was dark outside; the feeling was understandable until a look at my wristwatch convinced me that it was four in the morning. An unpleasant way to awaken for sure, but at least the headaches were gone, so I decided to crack the kinks out of my neck and smoke a cigarette before the weight of the world inevitably came crashing down. This is what it feels like to be rested enough to sit quietly in the dark and listen to your own thoughts in peace; temporary.

 

The first drifts of the cognitive sea lead to Proust so I tried to sail the other way. Some efforts are futile however, and so acceptance must be so. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the good reverend had gotten the drop on me somehow. I mean, I had lived in Charlottesville for going on about a year, and not once had he ever so much as noticed me, or I him. Part of me thought his was strange. No, the word is improbable. It was improbable that for a year I had been working in an industry that is almost codependent with that of the church, and so one would assume that Proust and I would have met at an earlier time. Funerals are primarily of a religious concern are they not?  Yes it is true that I am basically an atheist, an atheist that considers the very concept of faith to be a blasphemy against the human condition to search for meaning in an inherently meaningless universe, and so of course I would have done everything within my power to avoid the Trinity Baptists, but just by pure chance we should have been made aware of each other sometime before. Why yesterday of all days? Yesterday at a time when I was the only possible person he could have talked to at the funeral home, the very day after Billie and I had seen the lights of the Trinity Baptist Church at two in the morning, just before we killed those Abominations at the farmhouse?

 

I knew that he knew something but I didn’t know what he knew. Had I figured out what it was earlier, I would have murdered him right there in the Burnswick lobby.

 

Sitting in the dark alone with my thoughts started to become tiresome, so I stood up to crack my back before shuffling my disheveled ass to the bedroom. I wanted to take a look at a few things that I’d been sleeping on. Billie was lying face down on the floor of my room surrounded by empty bottles of what used to be my beer stash, I assumed that she must have found some way to make her own fun without my help. Tiptoeing around her, I began searching through a desk where I’d been keeping important tidbits of information, or at least the things that seemed even remotely relevant. Things like photocopies of old newspaper articles about the paper mill fire, notes about who had died around the Charlottesville area from unexplained brain aneurisms, the video of the first autopsy (which I had yet to mail out to anyone who might have found it useful, I hadn’t even considered doing so until just before I decided to end everything at the Union Street Cemetery.) Nothing seemed to connect. If I organized the notes into any sort of coherent narratives, it still looked like a game of connect the dots made by a low functioning mental patient. The paper mill was central to this madness, but the how was the real question. What did a twenty odd year old industrial accident have to do with parasitic brain worms? Where did Proust fit in, if at all?

 

“They heard the noises, they all knew what it meant. Every. Last. One.”

 

It didn’t really come from anywhere, or maybe it was everywhere. Maybe it was something I had forgotten about intentionally because the thought itself carried with it a sense of ominous dread so overwhelming that feigning ignorance seemed a better alternative.

 

Suddenly it seemed very important to put on a pot of coffee. And to take a shower. And to iron my suit, to dump out the ashtrays and cancel all my magazine subscriptions. Cleaning the toilet. All the little things that I did every day, the things I never wanted to do or had been putting off, it all seemed so important. Everything but the dishes but anything to keep me from thinking about what I’d have to do once Billie finished sleeping off her hangover. My memory gets a little hazy around this part, but the last thing I did before we left was phone in to Mr. Burnswick. I told him that I’d need to take a personal day.

 

“Fade to black.”

 

“I don’t like this.” Billie said. “I mean I truly, sincerely, genuinely do not like this at all.” Billie rarely displayed any emotion without even the faintest sense of bravado. It was a bright sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, every bird was chirping, every woodland creature in the land frolicked without a care in the world and yet the mere sight of the crumbling ruins of the old paper mill was enough to set off her alarms. What was worse was that I agreed, and with good reason. The stigma that had been put on that place had been enough to keep the crazy homeless people and drunken teenagers away for two decades.

 

“Yeah, well, we both knew it was inevitable.” I lit a new cigarette with the cherry of the old one while I said this. I think I might have even chuckled a little to myself. It was funny because neither of us had batted an eyelash at the idea of trudging through Lucid Marsh two and a half months ago to look for a cannibal man who lost his mind after being sucked under the water by a man sized worm. That was a perfectly normal occurrence compared to this.

 

“Probably, but I still don’t see what this has to do with Reverend Proust.” Billie mentioned as she checked her backpack for the third time in ten minutes, as if not kept under a watchful eye the shit load of ammunition would vanish without warning. She had packed it with nearly a dozen or so fully loaded magazines of whatever caliber her illegal-ass machine gun needed in order to explode the air into a hell storm of bullets. Probably an HK417 or 416, I can never tell the difference. As usual she duct taped a flashlight to the barrel and threw in a bunch of painted bunny rabbits to pretty it up. I chose to be a bit more conservative, bringing only the snub nose, a speed loader and a couple of road flares.

 

We started walking through the tall grass that had sprouted out of what used to be a parking lot before I collected my words.

 

“Proust knows what we did the other night.” I answered. “He knows about the farm house burning to the ground, and he knows it was us.” Billie looked at me with that type of face confused people make. I pulled a business card from my pocket and waved in front of her eyes. “I used one of these to start the fire. I’m guessing enough was left legible to put two and two together.”

 

Billie shrugged. “I guess it’s plausible, and I guess you’re right about the mill. We’ve put it off long enough already. Best learn what we can before the lynch mob comes to rape you.” I stopped a beat to try and think of a way to respond to that, but I gave it up in favor of focusing my attention on the goliath whose shadow we stood beneath… the Charlottesville Paper Mill. Fully integrated, constructed in 1958, turned inferno in 1989, killing three hundred workers in under ten minutes, no indication as to what caused the initial fire. Some say arson, others say malfunction, but anyone who survived remembers the cackling laughter heard throughout the cutting line, just before it all went to shit. For what, nearly thirty years now, the remains have sat there, enduring the harsh North Carolina seasons, sitting there, waiting, like a sleeping colossus: massive, angry, and most of all, patient. As Billie and I approached the outer wall, just past a rusted barb wire fence, the tune to “Chop the Willow” started to go through my head. It seemed fitting.

 

“The clockwork points to midnight.”

 

“The sounds of metal grinding against metal, the echo of a close yet distant thing feeling its way through its own self-imposed prison, much as the absence of motion between the sway of a pendulum draws attention to the tension between opposites. Time is not relative; it is simply the most probable observable outcome, subjective and arbitrary, never any choice in the matter to begin with but open to all interpretations. The context becomes irrelevant, and we call them wrong things for a reason.”

 

–          The Wilcox Journal, 1989

 

The main doors were chained shut, probably had been since the fire. Yellow hazard tape tattered around in the wind like it stopped giving a shit years ago. The loader doors were too heavy to lift by hand, another problem. Billie had found a window a few feet above a concrete staircase, smashed in the glass with the butt of her gun while I threw a rubber washer mate over the remaining shards. A push and a pull later, we were in. The mill was surprisingly well lit, actually not surprising at all. A good chunk of the roof had caved in above the pressing line, little rays of sunlight peppering everything. “Where should we start?” Billie asked. I looked around for some sign of direction. “I dunno,” I said back, “Let’s just, look around.”

 

We did, finding ourselves following a hallway into what was probably the accounting office; a few burnt desks, filing cabinets lying on the ground spilling their innards about. The ash covering the melted carpet reminded me of a woman I had prepared for burial back in Raleigh. She had died in a car collision, but not on impact. Her gas tank exploded, spraying liquid fire into the drivers’ seat while the side door had been pinned closed by another car. It was a closed casket. I didn’t bring this up to Billie, who had found an intact staircase. “Down?” I asked her as she flicked her flashlight to life. “May as well.” She replied.

 

I apologize for what follows.

 

I’m not a scientist. I don’t know anything about astrophysics or quantum entanglement. I couldn’t describe how phase velocity works if my life depended on it, Planck’s constant might as well be written in Egyptian hieroglyphs for all the good that it would do me.

Particle decay is confusing, and the uncertainty principle strikes me as it sounds. One thing that I do know however, is that what constitutes reality is entirely dependent on the limitations of one’s own sensory organs, the organs in charge of compiling all external stimuli into a coherent perspective. Most people forget about this, myself included. It’s hard to convince your own brain that it sucks using nothing but your own brain. Sometimes though, a certain external force is so otherworldly, so strange and uncompromising that it forces your brain to admit some humility.

 

“Why don’t you try it?”

 

I’m having some trouble remembering the order of events that took place within the basement of that mill. Billie would later have the same problem, so part of me suspects that whatever happened in that mill, whatever it was that broke open the ether to where the harlequins came from was still in effect. I’ve already considered every possibility for this, everything from wormholes, to dark energy expansion, to psychotropic frequencies. Any option is valid, even if I can’t explain it. The only concrete memories are the ones where Billie and I climbed through that broken window, and the one where we leaped out in panic. What happened in between is variable. I know this, because even without a consistent rate of time, I remember three important scenes. Interestingly enough though, Billie told me later that some of what happened didn’t, and some of what didn’t did. I both believe and disbelieve her claims because of two important facts. First of all, she says that we never found Ryan Wilcox’s journal, despite it being held in my hands while she told me this. The second falsehood was when Billie told me that she saw me die. I thought that one was pretty funny.

 

Because I saw the same thing happen to her.

 

The Wilcox Journal: I found it in a janitor’s closet that was next to a pile of paper rolls that had rotted themselves back into wood. Billie stood at the precipice of the closet to keep watch while I searched the shelves that once held cleaning supplies. It was one of those leather bound journals made to look like a real book. The fact that it was in decent condition was what drew my attention. Everything else in that mill was either burnt beyond recognition or passively falling apart, so no doubt a healthy looking book would be an object of interest. The first page told me that it belonged to Ryan Wilcox, the previous embalmer of the Burnswick Funeral Home, whose wife had been the floor manager of the Charlottesville Paper Mill. She died in the fire, and Ryan being an embalmer was the one responsible for her remains. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that his private thoughts had returned to the place of his wife’s death, especially when it was Ryan who first discovered the Harlequins, noted their number, and left enough clues for me to track the source back to that place.

 

“What does it say?” Billie asked. “Let me read it and I’ll tell you.” I said back to her, flipping through the first couple of pages. Eventually I got to a place where all the words had been written in red ink. They read as such:

 

“They come from a place outside of time, beyond space, far separated from what reason may describe. There’s something wrong with this mill, it changes itself as it needs to, shifting between possibilities as they come and go. It holds onto everything indiscriminately, I can see this place as it was the day before the fire, and decades after. I can see myself wandering the dirty paper machines as they show their faces. I can see the men and women with their candles chanting in their prayer circle around my lifeless corpse. I can even see my successor reading these pages in a closet that I had never set foot in. To him and his companion, I say only this: Do not turn your back to the comedian.”

 

“What the fuck is happening here?” Billie asked rhetorically when I finished reading the passage. I didn’t have time to respond with anything other than an open jaw, cut off mid word because it was then that I saw it, the air shimmering around the tangled mass of flailing limbs. It had eyes, more eyes than I could count, each and every one of them filled with a hatred that went far beyond sanity, far beyond even the smallest amount of compassion for human life and decency. Something slithered around Billie’s waist, ensnaring her before she could turn to face the monster. I doubt bullets would be able to do a damn thing to help, I doubt anything could have done or even thought to have done would have made even the slightest difference for her sake. Billie couldn’t find the wiggle room needed to break free, not before it started to drag her to… somewhere. I couldn’t reach her in time, even as I chased after it for as long as I could, following after her one outstretched hand, following after the sounds of her screaming. It made no difference. The bloodstains trailed off to nothing.

 

The Escape: We didn’t know what we were running from. We heard the noise, and we ran from it instinctually, maybe the same way that birds flutter away from an earthquake despite being the best suited to handle the catastrophe in the first place. And why shouldn’t we be? I’ve spent my entire adult life doing a job that would make most faint into a pool of their own vomit. I am no stranger to indifference, but the soft grinding noise faintly heard over the rusting debris made our skin crawl. Billie ascended the stairwell two steps at a time, me following after regretting that I was going to die sober.

 

“This way, just past the office.” Billie called over her shoulder. Something stopped her once she passed the first set of crapsack cubicles. “Shh.” She turned to me, placing one finger across her lips. Billie crouched under a desk littered with scraps of paper, motioning for me to join her. Instead, I pulled the snub nose from my jacket and cautiously peeked over the edge of the composite board to scan the rest of the office. I didn’t like what I saw.

 

They had followed us. From the distance and lack of light they appeared to be elongated humanoid shadows, tall and lanky things that shuffled back and forth murmuring to themselves, arms bent like mantis in perpetual prayer. Everything about them seemed wrong, unnatural in both method and manner. Billie grabbed my tie to drag me back down to her level. “What the fuck are you doing?” She asked me in an agitated whisper.

 

“Looking for a way out,” I said back, pulling a road flare from my belt loop. “Considering the options, how would you feel about making our own?” The hollow grinding noise returned to the background, and Billie’s concerned expression shifted into the standard mania that I had come to know and love; a hatful grin with the eyes of a slap-happy axe murderer, despite the fear inducing infrasound’s echoing from an unknown source. “If I die here,” She said back, “I want you to give me a Viking funeral.”

 

“Agreed.”

 

Billie went left, sprinting as fast as she could into a roundhouse kick to the chest of one of the creeps. I went right, popping the flare, placing a shot from the revolver right into one of their heads, a red mist exploding out the back of its skull. The screams that followed were barely audible over the rapid fire of Billie’s murder machine, but their faces were made perfectly clear by the orange glow of the flare that I had thrown into the mix. One crashed through a flimsy wall with its arms outstretched screaming and biting towards my face, but Billie caught it in the leg with a spray of bullets giving me the perfect opportunity to stomp my heel against its jaw. The ordeal went along those lines for who knows how long. The vicious scratching and flailing of the abominations, the vicious cracking of bones when Billie ran out of ammunition and resorted to her fists and boots, and the absurd capacity for violence at my own hands when Billie tossed me a fire axe to help her dismember the endless ocean of chucklefucks. At one point I couldn’t even tell where the psychotic laughter was coming from, it could have been Billie or the things or even myself. It was definitely my laughter when I caught one scampering across the ceiling, wrestling it down to pry open its mouth with my bare hands, filling its throat with the fire of another flare. It was just around the point where Billie had just finished bashing the everlasting shit out of one with a typewriter when we finally decide to call it quits and run back to the exit, the entire time abominations phasing in and out of our peripherals. The grinding noise had grown to a deafening level by the time we climber through the window. Interesting enough to note that the light seemed blinding while in the mill, but quickly became tolerable once we stepped back into the real world, which probably had something to with the fact that it was the middle of the night.

 

“How long were we in there?” Billie asked me between heavy breaths as we ran back to my car. I looked down at my watch, bewildered at the fact that hands said it had only been about hour. Just as I was trying to piece together a theory I collapsed to the ground clutching the sides of my head. A brain splitting headache had taken precedence over thoughts, the feeling that someone had taken a power drill to the back of my brainstem turned on high. As my vision started to blur, the last thing I remembered was Billie mouthing words to me, shaking my shoulders in futility.

 

“In a world of infinite possibilities, the only reality you can conceive is a composite of probable outcomes. And some are more probable than others.”

 

Infinite Causality: Due to the powers that be, the memory of our escape was still fresh in my mind before it had even taken place, but for whatever reason it didn’t seem to bother me as Billie and I walked down the black charred concrete hallway, following the pipes that ran across the ceiling to the sub-basement where we would be able to find the central dehumidifier, which according to all my research was where the initial fire had started the chain reaction of chemical fires that had spread to the rolling line. Machines exploded, people died, and something wrong remained long after.

 

“Wait,” Billie said stopping to face me. “Stephan, how are you still alive?” Whatever temporal issue plagued me had apparently caught up with Billie. “I saw those cultists slit your throat in front of the portal, like, ten minutes ago.”  I thought back to the massive worm that had dragged Billie off into the darkness, and suddenly the thought of my own death barely fazed me at all. Still though, Billie seemed genuinely freaked out, so I searched through my rudimentary knowledge of theoretical physics for a satisfactory answer.

 

“Are you aware of the quantum immortality theory?” I asked her, knowing well enough that she did not, confirmed by the puzzled look on her face. I continued to speak regardless. “Well, to sum it up without having to go into detail about quark spins, it simply states that there are an infinite number of possible universes, but you can only be aware of the ones where you’re not dead.” I felt mildly embarrassed for not really knowing what I was talking about, but Billie accepted it anyway because well, what else could she do?

 

“That’s really fucking confusing Stephan, but whatever, I guess I’ll buy it, and I guess it sort of explains that portal thing that opened up earlier. It was like some weird green lightening hole with all this tentacle shit squiggling through.” Billie paused for a moment. “Um, Reverend Proust was there. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I think I owe you an apology. I guess he was involved in all this after all.”

 

“While the alternate version of myself was having his ass murdered, did Proust and his little groupies, you know, say anything important?”

 

“Something about coming into contact with angels,” Billie said to me. “They’re delusional, and they weren’t angels. Not even close.” I noticed that Billie was holding a shotgun, and thought about what a delusion really was but said nothing.

 

We moved down the turns of the hallway in a rush because the grinding noise had started to pick up from behind. Eventually we reached a door that maybe once been labeled but had been burnt to illiteracy long ago. The doorknob was partially melted, so Billie had to kick it open like she was mad at it. Her flashlight illuminated the remains of the humidifier. Except they weren’t the remains, it was as one would expect it to be if nothing wrong had ever occurred in the first place. A second later, Billie’s light became obsolete next to the fully functional florescent bulbs that glowed and flickered against the clean cinderblock walls decorated with O.S.H.A regulation posters and coat hooks holding onto yellow hard hats. The humidifier seemed to be doing its job of pulling moist air from the ventilation ducts to be dried and recirculated back into the rest of the mill. Everything seemed to be very right and oh so very, very wrong. My ears popped for no apparent reason.

 

“Hey Stephan,” Billie said, turning to face me with a nose leaking blood. Her voice seemed off, so did her eyes. They weren’t dead, but more or less what I would normally call numb, distant somehow.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Your nose is bleeding Stephan.” I pressed a finger up against a nostril, seeing the red pulled away with my own eyes. I didn’t know what to say, but someone else’s words filled in the moment of silence.

 

“It’s nice to see you again Mr. Harris.” Said an unwelcomingly familiar voice, coming back from the entrance to the sub-basement hallway. Billie and I barely had to turn to see that the voice belonged to the good Reverend Joseph Proust, his face holding a smug look of contempt and satisfaction. His hands were holding something else. Billie raised her shotgun.

 

“Where in the fuck did you get that?” My voice made it perfectly clear how completely pissed I was. Proust rubbed one of his palms against the perspiring glass, right across the unmistakably printed letters that spelled out “Harlequin No.7.”

 

“Oh, This?” He said back through a chuckle. “I’ve had this thing for years. True, it would disappear every now and then to fulfill its duty, but it would always return to the one who knew the true plan.” A tendril whipped itself across the inside of the jar, the florescent lighting dimmed and flickered just as they had in the mortuary. Proust looked down at the jar with a slight smile crawling across his lips. “Some fools would like you to believe that our world began with a big bang, but we all know that something cannot come from nothing. Unless of course, this something were eternal.”

 

“The cosmos is not how it seems.”

 

The air around the Harlequin was beginning to shift and shimmer with a chartreuse glow spreading across the room. From a nearby intercom, a static voice called out from somewhere higher in the mill.

 

(Jenna Wilcox to loader four; Jenna Wilcox to loader four.)

 

Billie gave her shotgun a forceful pump. “I think you might want to put that thing down, like, right the fuck now.”

 

“It would be my pleasure.” He said, looking not to Billie but right into my eyes alone. “Ashes to ashes Mr. Harris, ashes to ashes.”

 

I leaped to the ground with both arms ahead trying to catch the falling jar just as Billie fired a round into the good Reverends sternum. He fell with a death rattle caught in his throat, a shotgun shell fell still smoking from the ballistic explosion, I fell with a kick of dust in my face, and the Harlequin No.7, for the second time in rational memory, shattered as it hit the cold concrete floor of the Charlottesville Paper Mill, in the sub-basement ventilation room where the dehumidifier had caught fire by alleged dust particles suspended in the air. Several bolts of chartreuse lightning splintered off into every possible direction, coupled with that all too familiar, unearthly laughter.

 

If it was a joke, it must have been on us the whole time.

 

“It’s a funny thing when you regret, the things that haven’t happened yet.”

 

“I don’t want to wake up from this nightmare, because whatever’s out there must be, no, has to be worse than anything I could scarcely imagine. I’m so sorry Jenna, I couldn’t stop it from burrowing its way into your mind, into your life, into everything you know as yourself. No one wants to die, to undergo putrefaction, to be devoured by carnivorous microbes and processed into methane and sulfur dioxide. Nobody wants that, but at least it’s a natural end, the same thing everyone has to go through eventually. The thing that happened to you, what I let happen, that could have been avoided.  I’m so sorry, so sorry. I don’t know where they come from, or what they want, but one thing these joyless harlequins have taught me is that sanity is a fragile thing, and that there was never anything to be done in the first place. Goodbye Jenna, I will always love you… unless they take that away too.”

 

–          The Wilcox Journal, 1989

 

I woke up in the passenger seat of my charger, my head half tilted out of the window in the way of a stiff North Carolinian breeze. The stars were bright, maybe they had always been bright and this was the first time I noticed. It didn’t matter, what mattered was that Billie and I had made it out alive, or at least alive enough to be aware of it. She was driving in a sensible way, a highly uncharacteristic example of her piloting skills, but still, I knew that she was the one who dragged my unconscious body across the weeded parking lot after I passed out like a frightened French  schoolgirl with skinned knee.

 

“Hey there buddy! You’re finally awake!” I was too focused on the sky to see her face, but I could tell by inflection that Billie was about to insult me. “I was worried that your ovaries were giving you lady trouble there for a moment. Glad you got over it.” There was that shitty attitude I had been expecting.

 

“Just take me back to my house. I don’t want to think about things anymore.” Billie didn’t say anything, but she slammed her foot down onto the gas pedal in agreement. My head was in a state of absolute agony, so I tried to relax and close my eyes for the rest of the drive.

 

We found ourselves back in Charlottesville proper no more than twenty minutes later, Billie easing the charger into my driveway at a time of night that didn’t synchronize with my wrist watch. Part of me was trying to forget about the conflicting memories of the paper mill, the other part was trying to drag its legs towards the front door without Billie’s help.

 

“Come on,” she said, “we can figure this shit out in the morning.” Billie went straight for the bathroom, leaving me standing alone in my living room trying to think of what problem needed to be dealt with first; checking on the Harlequins stored in my fridge or dealing with the throbbing headache with a bottle of Irish whiskey. Both things could be found in the kitchen, so that’s where my feet went, flicking the light switch on my to the liqueur cabinet as I walked across the linoleum floor. Popping the cap followed by a six second gulp, eyes watering as the burn in my throat erased the pain behind my skull, I turned towards the refrigerator. Just as before, he was standing there with a smug bastard smirk across his face, hands held behind his back. I lowered the bottle from my lips in the manner of a disgruntled postal worker, because through rain or shine, I just couldn’t seem to get rid of this asshole.

 

“Proust, what the fuck are you doing here, and why are you alive?” I thought it was a fair question. A chest full of birdshot usually keeps them down.

 

“Well, I was just going to take back the little cherubs that you stole, but it would seem that you’ve figured out how to kill the miracles.” Yeah, one man’s parasitic monstrosity is another man’s divine intervention.

 

“I dosed them in hydrogen peroxide before saturating them in a high potency formalin solution. It seemed to the job of preventing their necromorphic tendencies.”

 

“Clever boy.” He said back to me, grinning with that fake smile, more teeth than pleasantry. “Unfortunately for you, and luckily for me, there remains one more left to be freed. But you probably don’t remember receiving the gift, do you? No, you wouldn’t, because you have the heart and soul of demon, a filthy blind thing.” Proust removed his hands from behind, procuring a sawed off double barrel. “I can make this easy for you, or very, very difficult.” I took another swig of whiskey before making up my mind.

 

“Ashes to ashes reverend, ashes to ashes.” He managed to fire off a round just as the bottle smashed across his face, but it went into ceiling rather than my gut. He didn’t get a chance to try again, because I was already on him, twisting his wrist until I felt it pop under the pressure. He grunted in pain through that clenched smile as I threw his head into the sink, stabbing him in the back with a dirty fork while bubbles burst from beneath stagnant dishwater. I pulled him out just as Billie rushed to the scene. She started to say something but I couldn’t hear her, because by then I had Proust pushed up against a wall with my left forearm pressed across his windpipe.

 

“You’re the only demon here!” I screamed into his bloody face. “The difference between us is that I can actually fucking see it! I don’t know what your goddamn plan was and I don’t want to, and I don’t need to know anything to see how your pathetic miserable piece of shit life needs to end!” I punched him repeatedly, over and over regardless of the pain, breaking several fingers as the knuckles connected to teeth. I didn’t even care and I didn’t stop until his laughter ended with a cough of blood and vomit.

 

“This is how you found out. This is how it ends.”

 

I emptied my savings account and gave everything to Billie, all of my money, all of the tapes and notes and everything that remained of the harlequins. I told her to give it all to someone who would know what to do, told her to get as far away from Charlottesville as she could, to get as far away from me. That was two days ago. She left yesterday, the same day I buried Reverend Proust in the weeded over patch in the back of the Union Street Cemetery.

 

So here I am now, standing with back to the freshly dug hole that will serve as my home for rest of eternity, a home I will never know from behind the endless sea of cognitive oblivion. I don’t want to live with, knowing that it’s been there in the back of my head, controlling my mind in subtle ways since a time I can’t remember because it won’t let me.

 

As I start to raise the snub nose to my mouth, I hear it again.

 

“You know what he said right? How we choose who we want, regardless of time or place. The polyps are just a lesser form of growth, a left over breeding mechanism from eons of evolution, no longer needed but still indulged.”

 

I try to ignore it, but my hand goes numb, and the gun drops to the ground. I’m panicking now, trying to reach down for it but it won’t let me. I’m not in charge anymore.

 

“The joke is on you. It will end when I say it does.”

 

Fade to black, again.

 

Credit To: Stephan D. Harris

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Fighting Fate

July 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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This is part five in the By the Fire’s Light series.

Mira Grolinsky sat at her desk in the hotel room sorting through stacks of paper. A biographer by trade, she was used to gathering large amounts of information and then synthesizing it into one coherent package. What she was not used to was not needing to source check. Of course, when you were researching a creature that literally ran on belief, that meant any and all sources on it were valid, in their ways.

Mira bit the pen in her hand as she sorted the large stack of paper in her lap into smaller stacks. That didn’t mean that all the information was equally important, though. The most important pieces were the ones that the most people had seen. That meant things like Marble Hornets and Connor Russell’s hit book By the Fire’s Light held a little more stock than the latest Slender Man story posted on fanfiction.net.

“Worth pursuing,” Mira muttered, passing a piece of paper to a very small pile. “Garbage,” she muttered passing one to a much larger pile. She sighed. This was the easy part. When she was done, she planned to write her own story. This creature thrived on belief and Mira planned to turn that to her advantage. Mira had already talked to her agent, and she had convinced Maureen what a good idea it was to jump in on this Slender Man thing. After all, Connor Russell was dead and his book was popular. People would want more. Maureen had eventually caved in and was already in talks with several publishers. Mira was hoping she could get her usual publisher to pick it up for their fiction division.

She finished with the pile of papers in her lap. Unceremoniously, she swept the garbage pile into the trash bin next to the desk. “We’ll start by establishing water as a weakness, get it to the major population,” she muttered, pulling a notepad to herself. “Then I’ll figure out some way to bind you or something.” She had learned the hard way that just writing this thing out of existence was not an option, at least not right now. She began to scribble notes to herself as she worked through the small pile of things she was keeping.

Her phone began to trill. Still scribbling notes, she picked it up and put it to her ear. “Yeah, Mira here.”

“Mira, you need to get out now.”

Mira stopped writing. “Rourke? What happened?” She put her pen and notepad down and grabbed a duffle bag on the floor by the desk. She began to scoop everything on the desk inside it.

“Later,” he said, sounding out of breath. “It showed up, I don’t know if you’re safe. Grab our stuff and go. Don’t pick the next hotel on the list, go to a random one. I’ll call you later.” The phone cut off.

As she hung up, Mira grabbed the laptop on the bed behind her and stuffed it in the bag. Luckily this was the last day Rourke and she had planned on staying in this hotel so most of their things were already in her car or his car. She grabbed Rourke’s duffle bag by his bed, and with hers balanced in her other hand, she was out the door.

Five minutes later found her driving down the highway. She checked her rear view mirror, but she had seen no signs of the thing, which was good she supposed. Ever since her and Rourke’s close-up encounter with the Slender Man at her house, they had both been on the move. She had pointed out to Rourke that the protagonist’s that lasted the longest against Slender Man in the stories she had seen tended to A) move around a lot and B) have partners. So, that was exactly what they had decided to do.

Of course, they had only been at it for a few days, and Rourke had already had another encounter which did not bode well. Still, she didn’t know the circumstances. In fact it might be fruitful. It might be something she could put in the story she was going to write.

After fifteen minutes, she pulled off at an exit with a coffee shop with free wi-fi. One latte later, she sat down with her laptop and pulled up her list of hotels and then a random number generator. She plugged in her range of numbers to the generator and it spit one out at her. She groaned looking at it. It was a hotel fifty miles away. Shaking her head, she made a quick online reservation. Closing her laptop, she picked it up and stopped to grab a to-go sleeve for her coffee at the counter. She texted Rourke the location of the hotel and then headed out.

It was two in the morning when Rourke finally entered their motel room. “Great place,” he said, looking around at the water-stained paper and carpet spotted with blotches of all colors.

“Well,” Mira said, yawning and typing away on her laptop, “it wouldn’t be truly random if all I had on the list was five star hotels.” She saved and, with a flourish of her hand, shut down her word processor. “So,” she said, closing the laptop and placing it next to her on the bed, “what happened?”

Rourke stretched and then put a hand to his head. “I screwed up. Big time.” He sat down on the second single bed in the room. He whipped his arms out for balance when the mattress nearly sank to the floor. “Your bed doesn’t do that,” he said, frowning, momentarily side-tracked.

“No, it doesn’t,” Mira said, cheerfully. She grew serious. “What do you mean you screwed up?”

Rourke shook his head. “I pulled some strings. Got them to give Jared and me complete privacy. I thought it might help convince him to talk.”

Mira raised an eyebrow. “And?”

He looked over to her. “Don’t you see? It was just me and one of the only other people that have seen this thing in action alone in a room with no one readily available to help us.”

Mira processed this for a second and then a hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my God. Is he dead?”

Rourke’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t know. I was sort of able to distract it. Made it make enough noise that the guards opened the door. But it pulled Jared back into the room with it.” He made an unhappy noise. “Actually, I think Jared might have saved me. He let it pull him back so I could get away.”

“What happened to him?” Mira asked, sitting up and leaning forward.

“I don’t know,” Rourke said. “He was just gone. I’ve just now finished talking with everyone at the scene. They’re tearing apart the interview room now, looking for trapdoors or hidden passages.” He laughed. “It’s the only way they can explain what happened that doesn’t involve monsters.”

“What about the guards?” Mira was sitting all the way up now and pushed her legs over the side of the bed.

Rourke shrugged. “I tried to warn them. Told them they needed to run. At the very least not go back to whatever home they lived in. That the thing would follow and kill them, sooner rather than later. I don’t think they’re going to listen.” He shook his head. “Like I said, screwed up, big time.”

Mira reached over and put a hand on his shoulder. “Hindsight’s twenty twenty,” she said. “We can’t undo it, all we can do is try to stay one step ahead of it long enough to beat it.”

Rourke sighed. “I guess.”

Mira squeezed his shoulder. “We should both probably get some rest. I finished the outline for the novel just as you were coming in. I’ll get started on the rough draft tomorrow.”

“Great,” Rourke said, trying to sound enthused. He took his coat off and tossed it in a corner of the room. Kicking off his shoes, he pulled the covers back, eyeing the bed dubiously. “How long do you think it will take to write?”

“Well, once I have my information, I can crank out a rough draft for a biography in a couple weeks. I’m hoping this will actually go faster since I don’t have to cross-reference as much information as normal.” She too pulled back her covers and got under them. She reached towards the lamp on the stand between the beds. Her hand froze by the fixture. “Wait, you said you distracted the thing.”

Rourke’s eyes popped open. “Um, yeah,” he said, sounding embarrassed.

“Well, how did you do it?” Mira pressed. “Anything helps at this point.”

“I,uh, well, I remembered about the water thing and how well it worked last time…” Rourke said.

“And?”

Rourke closed his eyes and grimaced. “I– I shot it with a water gun.”

The edges of Mira’s mouth twitched. “You did what?”

Rourke rolled over. “Yeah, ha, ha, it’s funny. I’m still alive aren’t I?”

Mira chuckled. “Where’s the gun?”

“It crushed it,” Rourke said flatly. “Crushed it when I was trying to use it to save Jared.”

Mira grew quiet. “I see,” she said. She turned off the light. “Good-night, Rourke.”

The next morning Mira woke up to the quiet snip of the bathroom door closing. She lay still in the darkness for a moment before turning over to look at the alarm clock. 7 am. “Wow five whole hours of sleep if that,” she grumbled turning back on her side. She considered throwing the blankets back over her head and going back to sleep, but given that Rourke was up and about already, she might as well get up and try to be useful.

By the time Rourke was out of the shower, Mira was setting two cups of coffee down and a couple of bagels down on the stand between the beds. “Despite the questionable decor,” Mira said, nodding at the blotched carpet “the coffee smelled okay and the bagels look passable.” She dumped a few creams and sugar down that she had hauled with her.

“Thanks,” Rourke said, sitting down on his creaking bed.

“What’s the plan for today?” Mira asked.

“I have to go back to the prison site. Answer some more questions,” Rourke said, in between swigs of coffee.

Mira nearly dropped her bagel. “You’re not going back there are you? That thing nearly killed you there!”

Rourke shrugged. “I can’t afford to quit the force. We’ve got too many of our leads that we can’t follow if I quit my job.”

Mira stared at him. “Well,” she said, putting her bagel down, “let me come too. So I can watch your back.”

Rourke shook his head as he chewed his bagel. “And what? Get killed too if the thing shows up again?” He leaned back. “In fact, I think we should change hotels again tonight.”

“But I booked this place for three nights!” Mira said, playfully. “Don’t you want to stay here?” Rourke glared at her and she waved a hand. “Whatever you say,” Mira said, sliding her laptop out from under the bed. She booted it up, threw her hotels through the random number generator and found a new one. “Well, this one’s closer to home at least, only fifteen miles out,” Mira said, showing it to Rourke. “I’ll book the room and head down there later.”

“Sounds good,” Rourke said. He grabbed his coffee cup and got up. “Everything I need is in my car, you should only have to pack your stuff.”

“Righto, chief,” Mira said with a salute. “I’ll start cranking out the words today.”

“Good,” Rourke said, eyeing his bed. “I really want to sleep in my own bed again.”

***

Mira packed everything in her car soon after Rourke left and headed out for the next hotel. A couple hours later found her comfortably situated in her (much nicer) room sitting at a small desk next to a window. The sun streamed in through the glass warming her hands as they hovered over the laptop. Mira took a breath. She had written many books before but none as important as this one. True, she hadn’t written any fictional books before, but how difficult could it be?

Two more hours later found Mira staring at her still blank first page on the word processor after a dozen attempts. She ran a hand through her hair and looked at the clock. Noon. It was noon and she hadn’t written anything. “Errragh!” she exclaimed pushing her chair back from her desk. She grabbed her outline off the desk and began to go over it as she paced the room.

“I don’t get it,” she said as she circled the trash can by the far wall. She walked back towards the window and the desk. “It’s all right here! Just like always! I have a plan, I know what I want to do! So why doesn’t anything sound right?” She flopped down on the bed and closed her eyes and let her outline drop on her face. She let out a large breath and the pages fluttered up and back down. “I can’t have Rourke come back and find me with nothing but a blank page to show for my day,” she muttered to herself.

She lay still for a couple more minutes. Then, groaning, she sat back up and made her way back to her laptop. She typed in the URL of a writer’s board that she frequented. She didn’t write fiction, but several of the other regulars did.

Hey, need some help, she typed. I’m writing a fictional novel for the first time. I did my research, I have my outline, but every time I write, it just comes out sounding all wrong. What should I do?

Mira pushed her chair back from her desk and got up. She’d take a quick stroll across the road and pick up some lunch. Hopefully by then someone would have answered her.

About an hour later, Mira settled back in front of the computer. She refreshed the page and found someone had replied to her thread. It was one the regulars who went by the handle “Unfettered”.

Hey, glad to see you moving out of your comfort zone! it read. I’ve seen some of your work before, and you write great biographies. You really make people come alive. You’re very detail oriented, you know all your facts, and you know just how to make all the puzzle pieces fall into place. I think that might be your problem here. You’re treating your characters like puzzle pieces instead of like people. Treat your characters like you would one of the people you research. Get to know them inside and out. And, don’t be afraid to ditch the outline if the story moves in an unexpected direction. You should never be afraid of where a story takes you.

Mira read the response and repeated the last line to herself. She gave a small laugh. “I think I should be afraid of where this one take me,” she said. She stared at the screen. It made sense though. To her, the characters had just been props to move the story along. It might make for a publishable book but not a memorable one, and she needed this book to be memorable.

She reached into her duffle bag by her bed and pulled out a pen and notepad. “Marlin Forest,” she said, writing down her main character’s name. “Let’s get to know you.”

Mira spent the next hour doing a biographical sketch of Marlin. The hour after that she made smaller ones for her other characters (Except one. She already knew plenty about it.). When she was done she looked up at the computer screen again, feeling oddly energized. “Yes, I think I know what you were doing in that woods now,” she said sitting at the computer again. “And maybe your friend doesn’t have to die. At least not in chapter one.” She began to type and this time she did not delete the words after she finished the first paragraph.

When Rourke came in around midnight, Mira didn’t even look up. The tippity tappity of her typing filled the room. Rourke circled around behind her to read over her shoulder. He glanced down at her page count and whistled. “How long have you been at this?” he asked.

Mira glanced down at the time in the bottom corner of her screen. She blinked. She hadn’t realized how late it was. “Uh, around eight hours I guess.” She smiled. “I’ve never gotten lost in a story like that. Writing one anyway.”

“Hmm,” Rourke said, scanning the page. “That seems like a rather cruel and unusual death,” he said, pointing at the screen. “That’s a lot of stabbing.”

“I mirrored it after Kurt Kent’s death,” Mira said quietly. “At least what I imagined his death at that thing’s tendrils was.”

Rourke walked over to his bed and sat on it. When it didn’t sink to the floor he grinned appreciatively. “I’m going to follow up on some of these missing kids cases tomorrow, see if I can get any details on how they disappeared. Maybe get an idea if it’s really that thing or not.”

Mira nodded. She saved her work and closed her laptop. Her rhythm had been broken. She’d pick up where she left off tomorrow. “By the way, before he was taken, did Jared have any idea why the Slender Man fixates on children so much?”

Rourke shook his head. “No. He said he thinks it’s afraid of people who know it’s really real.” He pointed at Mira and then himself.

Mira nodded. “Makes sense. We can shapes its story.”

Rourke scratched his head. “And he said something about not letting them die. The children and the others it takes I think.”

Mira stared at him. “You mean all those people this thing has ‘killed’ might not be truly dead?”

Rourke froze in place. “Y’know,” he said slowly. “You remember the night I helped save you from that thing?”

“How could I forget?”

“I had a dream that night. I saw Connor. He said… He said ‘I am free but others are not.’ And I think he said he couldn’t help them but we could.”

Mira reached for her notepad that was still sitting on the desk and began to scribble furiously on it. “That needs to go in the story then. We can’t leave those people to suffer if it really does have them.” She shuddered. “I would not want to be stuck with that thing for eternity.”

Rourke nodded slowly. “That is true.” He stretched and yawned. “I think we need to get some rest. We both put in some long hours today.”

“Dibs on the shower,” Mira said, darting off the bed, before Rourke could object. The doors shut with a small snikt behind her and she thought she heard a sigh but nothing more.

***

Mira woke with a start. Rourke was shaking her, looking at the television against the other wall as he did.

“I’m up!” Mira said, bouncing against the pillow.

Rourke let her go but did not turn to her. “Grab your things. We need to leave.”

Mira glanced over the clock. Five in the morning. “Now?!” she said. “What, is the Slender Man in the bathroom or something?”

Rourke just pointed at the television. Mira crawled across the bed and squinted at it. There was a small “live” caption in the corner of the screen and a reporter standing in front of a burning building. Another caption at the bottom of the screen said “Hotel fire”. Mira felt her heart stop. “Oh my God,” she whispered. “Is it?”

“Where we were staying last night,” Rourke confirmed, hurriedly stuffing his things into his bag. “I don’t know, maybe that thing was able to track me from the prison to the hotel. And since I went back to the prison yesterday and came here…”

“It could be here next,” Mira said, jumping off the bed. She began to shove her things into her duffle bag as well with wild abandon. “Where do we go, though?”

“Let’s go to the precinct. You can write in my office. I’d feel more comfortable if you were in a place with a lot of people and a lot of cameras, which the precinct has. You can figure out what hotel to go to while you’re there and let me know later.” Rourke hefted his bag over his shoulder. “Come on, I’ll walk you to check out and then we’re leaving.”

Just under an hour later, Mira stood in Rourke’s office and yawned. Rourke looked up from his desk. “There’s some coffee in the break room down the hall and to your right. Cups should be in the cabinet. Steal one of the chairs while you’re in there so we can share my desk.”

“An officer of the law telling me to steal,” Mira scoffed as she turned to leave.

“Yeah, yeah, funny,” Rourke said, waving a hand at her.

“You want some?” Mira asked, pausing at the door.

Rourke shook his head. “No thanks. I don’t think it would be good to mix caffeine with adrenaline rush I took this morning.”

Mira shrugged and headed down to the break room. She found the cups and some powdered creamer in the cabinets. She threw some in her coffee, hitched her arm around a chair, and went back to Rourke’s office. When she pushed open the door she found Rourke sitting abnormally still and rigid, staring at his laptop. “What is it?” she asked, closing the door behind her.

“They’re dead,” Rourke said, quietly, eyes never moving from the screen.

Mira set the chair in front of his desk and sat down, balancing her cup carefully as she did. “Who?” she asked.

“The guards. The guards who saw that thing when it took Jared.” He put his head in his hands. “God, have we become a walking blight? I feel like everywhere we go, we’re dragging that thing behind us.”

Mira sat quietly and stared into her coffee. She had thought much the same thing that morning as she had stared in horror at the television screen. But what else were they supposed to do?

“Maybe it would be better if–” Rourke began and then stopped suddenly.

“Better if what?” Mira pushed.

“Connor said he was free. The only difference between his death and the others is that Connor died by his own hand.” Rourke tapped a few fingers nervously on his desk.

Mira reached over and grabbed his hand. “No,” she said firmly. “That is not the answer. If we die, so does all knowledge of how to fight this thing and then it can do whatever the hell it wants. How is that better than what’s happening now?”

“It’s not,” Rourke admitted. He sighed. “I just wish it wasn’t like this.”

There was a rap at Rourke’s door and Mira and Rourke turned to look at it. “Come in,” Rourke said. A young man with blond hair poked his head in. “What is it, Deloran?” Rourke asked.

“Landers down in Robbery wants to talk with you,” Deloran said. “Someone apparently broke into your house sometime in the past few days. One of your neighbors behind you noticed the back door broken open when he was taking his dog for a walk. Cops on the scene say the rain water on the inside makes it look like it’s been at least two days.”

Rourke cursed quietly. “That’s just lovely,” he said, getting up.

“Not been home much lately, eh?” Deloran asked. His gaze turned to Mira. “Who’s this?”

“Mira Grolinsky. She has some information for me on the Connor Russell and related cases.” Rourke said.

“Grolinsky,” Deloran said, slowly. “That is odd.”

“What?” Mira asked, half getting up.

“Do you live at 444 Sweetspring Avenue?” he asked.

“Yes,” Mira said, now standing.

Deloran whistled. “Well, Landers was just getting ready to call you actually. Your house has had a break in too.”

Mira and Rourke looked at each other. “Do you think its related?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” Rourke said, moving for the door.

“To the Russell case?” Deloran asked as he stepped back to allow Rourke out. Mira followed him.

“Something like that,” Rourke said. “Come on, we can both go talk to Landers.”

***

Mira walked out of her house just after noon with Rourke in tow. There were some books and clothes tossed around and it looked like someone had searched the desk with her computer on it, but the only thing that appeared to be stolen was a tablet e-reader.

“I don’t like this,” Rourke said, looking around to make sure none of his fellow officers were in ear shot. “This doesn’t feel like the Slender Man’s style, but I can’t believe it’s not related.”

“Well, I’ve arranged for a new hotel, anyway,” Mira said. “I’ll text you the location after I leave here.” She pushed her bangs out of her eyes as the wind whipped her hair around. “I guess you’re headed to your house next?”

“Yeah. I’m willing to bet its a lot like this one, though,” he said, turning back to look at it. “I’ll probably be late again. You don’t have to wait up.”

“Wasn’t planning to,” Mira said, with a grin. She gave a small wave. “I’ll see you when I see you then.”

“Be careful,” Rourke said, turning to to re-join his comrades.

The new hotel Mira had found was located about halfway between the now burnt down one and the one she had stayed at last night. She sat in a lounge chair by the pool with her laptop and enjoyed the afternoon sun. She wasn’t typing with the same frenzy as the day before. That particular moment of inspiration had left. But Mira had been writing long enough to know inspiration only covered about five percent of your writing, if you were lucky. The rest was forcing yourself to keep typing even when it felt like you were pulling teeth just to put the next sentence on the page.

She had a local news reader widget on her desktop and she checked it regularly. She kept expecting to see that the hotel from the previous night had gone up in flames too, but nothing scrolled across the widget except a reminder that Proposition S was up for a vote next week.

As the sun began to set, Mira picked up her laptop and headed to her room. Once there, she turned on the TV and set it to a local station to serve as background white noise and then kept writing. The local news came on and she stopped momentarily to listen. No messy deaths. No recent child abductions. No fires. She breathed a small sigh of relief and then went back to typing.

As she typed, Mira would occasionally make notes on the notepad that sat next to her on the bed. Eventually, though, her pen ran out of ink and tore a hole in the page as she scribbled. “Oh, bother,” Mira said. She pulled open the drawer of the night stand, hoping to find another pen. Her hand closed on a small book. Curious, she pulled it out. “Oh,” she said, holding it in her hands and leafing through it. “Gideon Bible.” The page fell open to one in the Gospel of Matthew. Mira’s eyes were drawn to the red font that indicated the words Jesus had spoken. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it,” Mira read to herself. “Hmm, faith like a child and all that I guess,” she said, sticking the book back in the nightstand. Her hand closed around a pen and, pulling it out, she shut the drawer. Then she paused. “Faith of a child,” she breathed. “Oh my God, the faith of a child! That’s why it take children!” she said, excitedly, bouncing in the bed.

The door handle clicked and Mira checked the time on her laptop. Just after eleven. “Well, this is positively early for you,” Mira said looking up. “I think I figured out the children angle.” Then she froze. Rourke was not standing in her doorway. A man she didn’t recognize in a ripped orange prison jumpsuit stood in the doorway.

He closed the door behind him and then turned to Mira. “Stole a key from the desk when the attendant stepped out to give someone towels,” he said off-handedly as he leaned against the door. He rubbed his left shoulder. Through a tear in the jump-suit Mira could see livid, red, inflamed flesh.

Mira slowly got up off the bed, her laptop clutched in her hands. “Who are you?” she asked, standing up.

The man shrugged. “Jared Holloway. I take it you’re Mira,” he said. “Your passwords are crap. You should look into changing them. Or, well, I guess it doesn’t matter,” he said, still leaning against the door. In his left hand, Mira could see her stolen e-reader.

Mira felt the blood leaving her face. “You’re not dead. You got away from it.”

“Well, I’m not dead,” Jared said, rubbing his shoulder again. “I wouldn’t say I got away from that thing though,” he said, quietly.

“How, how?” Mira stuttered, trying not to shake.

“Did I find you?” Jared asked. “Well that thing indicated it wanted to find you and was having some trouble. I broke into Rourke’s house and your house. Your computer was most revealing. You’ve got all your accounts linked,” he said, pointing at her laptop and waving her e-reader. “It was just a matter of checking your search history.” He sighed. “Though you threw me at first by registering for three days and then leaving after one.”

“You burnt down the hotel!” Mira exclaimed.

“Oh, no,” Jared said quietly. “I didn’t. I just led it there.”

Mira sucked in a breath and took a step back. “You can’t!” she said. “We’re going to stop it! If you get us killed it will just do what it wants!”

“It already does that,” Jared growled. He laughed at her. “You think you have a chance?” He shook his head, his hand digging harder and harder into his shoulder. “I’ve seen it and where it lives. You can’t stop it. No one can. Now just be a good girl and–”

Jared stopped as Mira dove forward and crashed her laptop into his head. He staggered back from the door and Mira yanked it open, dropping her laptop and running out the door.

As she ran towards the main office, the air in front of her started to shimmer. She pulled up short, staring at it. Mira glanced wildly over her shoulder, looking for Jared. He was just outside the door, panting and holding his shoulder, looking ready to pass out. “It comes,” he said, pointing back towards the shimmering air.

Mira turned back around. It almost looked like the very air itself was growing thin and stretching, as if something was trying to pull itself through from behind the curtain that was her reality. Several black tendrils reached into the air. Mira didn’t wait to see more. She turned around and fled the other way.

She heard Jared give a cry of pain behind her. Pounding feet told her he had finally gotten up and given chase. She looked down at her shadow that stretched in front of her. She could see Jared’s elongated one catching up, and, behind it, a dozen thin waving ones. Mira looked up and saw the pool in front of her. Without thinking, she jumped into it. It wouldn’t save her from Jared, but it might give the other thing pause.

Her clothes clung to her as she swum towards the middle of the pool. A splash behind her made her turn, and she saw Jared swimming towards her. And behind him, at the pools edge, was tall, dark, and slender itself. Tendrils waved and reached over the water but did not touch it. It’s tendrils seemed to grow and reach forward, and arched over the pool, touching down on all sides. Jumping in the pool was starting to look like a very bad idea.

“Come on, stop delaying this!” Jared said,lunging at her. Mira pushed back and he fell just short.

“Stop giving in to that thing!” Mira shouted back. Why wasn’t anyone coming outside? Didn’t they hear this?

“I won’t go back to the flames!” Jared roared, and he caught a handful of her hair. He pulled Mira’s head under the water.

Mira twisted and clawed at his grasp. She wondered for a second if he meant to drown her. But after that moment, Jared hauled her head back above water. He tried to hook an arm around her waist, moving back towards the edge of the pool and the thing as he did.

“No!” Mira said, twisting in Jared’s grasp. He didn’t have a huge muscle build, but there was a wiry strength in his arms belied by his slight size. Mira saw the tendrils retreating from around the pool and back towards the thing. By now they were in the shallow end of the pool and mere feet from it. Mira gritted her teeth and readied to fight the tendrils reaching for her.

Then, amazingly, something hurtled into the tall slender being above her. It appeared to be taken off guard and it fell towards the water, the person who had tackled it falling in with it. It splashed down next to Mira and Jared and instantly began to writhe, its tendrils flailing indiscriminately. Mira felt one strike her forehead and felt blood flow down it. It dropped in her eye.

The person who had tackled the thing pushed back off it, hissing in pain, his hands a burnt red. “Rourke!” Mira said. She turned and angled her elbow up into Jared’s nose. Surprised, he cursed and let her go as his nose started to bleed.

Rourke waded over and tackled Jared, and they fell in the water splashing. “Get out of here!” Rourke said, trying to drag Jared out of the pool.

Mira pulled herself out of the pool, but found herself unwilling to leave Rourke behind. The Slender Man was lodging tendrils into the ground around it and starting to pull itself out of the pool. “Rourke, let him go, we gotta run!” Mira said, standing up and backing away.

Rourke wrested Jared out of the pool and they hit the concrete together not far from Mira. “Come on, why would you want to help that thing?” Rourke asked as they struggled. “You should come with us, help us fight it!”

Jared savagely kicked Rourke in the stomach. As Rourke rolled away from the kick, Jared leaped on top of him and reached for something at Rourke’s waistline. He stood back up with a gun.

Mira and Rourke froze as Jared held the gun in his shaking hand. “I don’t want to help it,” he whimpered. “And I don’t want to hurt anyone else.” He shook his head. “But I won’t go back.” Then, suddenly, he pushed the gun into his mouth.

“No!” Rourke shouted. Mira gave a small scream and turned away. There was a gunshot and then a meaty thump. When Mira looked back, a pool of crimson was already gathering around Jared Holloway’s head.

Rourke was grabbing Mira now and pulling her away. Mira looked up and saw the Slender Man, now out of the pool and using its tendrils to hold itself off the ground. Absentmindedly, Mira noted there were now plenty of people opening their hotel room doors, pointing, gasping, screaming, and generally acting as shocked as they should be. The thing turned its head, as if registering this fact. More tendrils grew from its back and hit the ground.

“It’s like its digging itself in for something,” Mira muttered as Rourke dragged her away. The air started to shimmer again. It wasn’t just a small patch now. It was all around them and back towards the hotel.

Rourke looked around him confused. “What is this?” he asked.

Mira looked at the air and felt a cold fear that belied the heat that was rapidly rising around them. “It’s how he got here. It was like he was pulling himself in from somewhere else. I think it’s–”

“Trying to do the opposite,” Rourke said. He cupped his hands over his hands. “All of you, run! Get out of here!” he shouted at the watching spectators. Then he turned and ran with Mira following.

“They won’t listen,” Mira said, feeling tears filling up her eyes.

“I know,” Rourke said quietly.

They were stumbling through the parking lot and Rourke was pointing to his car. Mira was feeling a strange backwards suction on her skin as she spilled into the passenger seat. Rourke threw the car in gear and pealed from the lot. The shimmering air line terminated several feet down the road from the hotel.

Mira twisted in her seat as Rourke drove away. For a few seconds more the night was still. With the suddenness of lightning, a giant singular flame erupted from the middle of the hotel compound. Mira shielded her eyes and turned away. When she looked back, the entire hotel and surrounding area was in flames.

Mira sat back properly in her seat. A small gasping sob escaped her, and she leaned forward, trying to pull air into her lungs. All those people. Jared. All gone.

“I don’t get it. It’s so powerful,” Rourke said, hitting the steering wheel with his hands. Rourke hissed in pain and the car veered too far to the right. Rourke yanked the wheel back to the left.

“It’s the children,” Mira said, leaning her head against the window, still able to see the orange flames reflected in the glass.

“What?” Rourke asked, briefly turning to look at her confused.

“Who has faith like a child?” Mira asked. “We believe things so hard when we’re kids. We believe in fairies, and promises, and pots of gold,” she rambled. “And it runs on belief. And it does not let them die.”

Rourke sucked in a breath. “So it preys on children because they make it stronger…” he said.

Mira nodded. “I think so. And it has taken so many children lately.”

Rourke gripped the steering wheel. “Did you lose your story in the fire?” he asked.

“No,” Mira said tonelessly. An enormous tide of emotion threatened to wash over her, but she kept it at bay. She needed to function for just a little longer. “I had it saved on cloud storage. I can access it from anything that can connect to the internet.”

“Good,” Rourke breathed. He pulled over to the side of the road. His hands were shaking as he did.

Mira noticed again how red his hands were. “Did it burn you?” she asked.

“Yes,” Rourke said shortly. He turned to her. “I think we need to go underground for now. No more hotels. No going home.”

“Where will we stay?” she asked.

“We’ll hit a Wal-Mart and buy a tent and supplies. We’ll set up somewhere by a river or a lake to help keep it at bay. Just–” and he had to compose himself. “Just somewhere where there’s no people around.”

“I agree,” Mira said, voice trembling thinking of the hotel they had just left. “What about tonight?”

“There’s a rest stop about fifteen miles down the road,” Rourke said. He signaled and drove his car back on the road. “We stay there tonight. Empty out our bank accounts tomorrow. Cash only so we can’t be tracked after the initial withdrawal.”

“Sounds, sounds good,” Mira said, settling back in her seat.

Rourke reached a hand out to her. Mira gently grabbed it, trying not to hurt his burn. “Whatever happens, we’re in this together, Mira.” Rourke said, firmly.

Credit To – Star Kindler

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Woof

July 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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It was nearing midnight, and the air was rapidly cooling. It was silent but for the few cars passing by, and the wind rustling trees. I looked around outside once more before shutting the front door and bolting it. I turned off the hall light and made my way upstairs. As I was brushing my teeth, I heard a slight scratching sound. Ignoring it, I focused on the too-strong mint flavor of my toothpaste and the tingling feeling in my mouth. I turned on the taps and studied myself in the mirror. There it was again, that scratching sound; although this time it seemed more frantic, louder. I armed myself with my toothbrush and entered the hallway. It was black, the mirror at the end of the hall reflecting little light. I quickly flipped the switches, chastising myself for not having left a light on. As I neared my kitchen, the scratching sound was replaced by a tapping, a strange, infrequent noise that only intrigued me further. I felt around for the light switch, a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Counting to three, I turned the lights on. I dropped the toothbrush and waited. Nothing. Walking further into the kitchen I heard a familiar sound. Woof. I pulled back the blinds from the patio doors to see my dog sitting outside, waiting to be let in. How could I have forgotten about my dog? I always made sure she was in, safe from harm and from causing too much trouble. I started towards the door, only to see something in the glass door’s reflection that made me hesitate. I shrugged it off and opened the door, and once I had let my dog in I realized what I had seen in the reflection. In on the living room couch was my dog. But how? And then I saw something that both terrified and confused me. My dog was two. There, sitting on my kitchen floor, was literally two of my dog. There were no physical differences whatsoever, from the coarse white fur to the pink collar around her neck. I took a step back, dumbfounded. Either I was imagining things or what had I just let into my house? I felt uneasy looking at the dogs, I couldn’t tell which one was my Maggie and which one was the other. I pulled out a chair from the table and sat down. Neither dog moved. Think, I told myself. Stay calm, think. This thing, this dog, it cannot know you know it doesn’t belong. But how can I tell the difference? Then I had an idea. I’ll attribute it to all the time I’ve spent watching Criminal Minds, but really I was just so terrified I couldn’t think, so I did the only thing I was able to do: stare. I watched the dogs. I sat there and stared and waited until one of them moved. The first to move was the one on my right, who sauntered off into the living room and curled up on the rug. The other dog followed, but this dog had more of a spring to its step. “C’mere Maggie!” I grabbed a treat, a flavour I knew my real dog wasn’t fond of, and summoned the second dog. She came galloping towards me, and swallowed the treat whole. Before I knew what I was doing, I grabbed the dog by it’s collar, flung open the patio door and threw the thing outside. Then, as quickly as possible, I locked the door and flicked on the outdoor lights. I was just in time to see the dog trot off the patio and morph into a human-shaped black fog, before blending into the shadows.

Later that morning, after a sleepless night filled with fear and nightmares, the phone rang. It was the neighborhood gossip, an old woman named Gladys. She had called to tell me about an event that took place last night. “Didn’t you hear? That young lady- the one up the street, who just moved in? She disappeared last night! Cops have been out all morning, trying to figure out what happened!”

Maybe it wouldn’t have been as weird if what happened to me last night hadn’t happened. But then I remembered something, a minor detail, mediocre really, that I hadn’t registered when I had looked around outside my neighborhood last night. I remembered seeing that young woman call her dog inside and shut her front door. I must have been imagining things. After all, Gladys had mentioned that she had seen the young woman’s yellow lab scratching at her back door, just a little while after midnight.

Credit To – Faith

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The Crawlspace

July 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Um… hi there. I guess you could say I’m writing this as a cautionary tale to those who plan on studying abroad in future. I don’t mean to discourage you from going in the first place, it’s more like I just want you to be aware of this so that something like this doesn’t happen to you too.
I guess I should explain a little bit. Last summer I was selected to participate in the study abroad program that would be centered in Rome for several months. Like anyone would be, I was elated. I had never been out of the states before, so this was going to be a real adventure for me.

In the weeks that followed I happily packed anything and everything I could fit into my suitcase. (I will be the first to admit that I had way over packed for this trip.) I was nervous about leaving my parents for the first time but I was also excited for the newfound freedom I would have while in Europe. Before I knew it my parents were dropping me off at the airport, and I was boarding a 19 hour flight to Rome.

Despite being long and tedious, the flight wasn’t all that bad. When I exited the airport I was greeted by the program supervisor and several other students who would be studying with me. They were about the same age and all looked just as excited as me. From there we went to our mandatory orientation meeting, and afterwards we went to pick up our apartment keys.

In the months that preceded the trip, we were responsible for getting to know our would be roommates as well as finding a place to stay that we could all afford. There were three girls I would be staying with. They were all nice enough and made an effort to make me feel welcome, though I will admit it’s a bit hard to get close to the group of preformed friends. But despite my slight alienation, it seemed that things were all going to work out well. All of us were on a similar budget plan, and by that I mean none of us really had much money to spend. Because of this we were all on the same page while searching for the cheapest apartment we could find.

After several days of searching we stumbled across an ad for an ancient apartment located above the Campo di Fiori. That was a prime location and we couldn’t believe it that it was still available, no less listed for an unbelievably low price. This immediately sent alarm bells off in my head. The place was enormous yet the rent was cheaper than the much smaller apartments in a far less desirable part of town. However reason never really wins out in a group of excited young women. They had already made up their minds and if I would be staying with them this was my only option.

We each received our own set of keys as well as a map with walking directions. Because of its prime location it really didn’t take us long to get there. The Campo was amazing. During the daytime it was filled with a vibrant market, while during the evening it was lined with lively street performers. All of the apartments surrounding it looked to be ancient, so ours really didn’t stand out all that much. After circling the square three or four times we finally noticed the number nailed to the front of a massive old wooden door. This would be our home for the next three months.

I fought with my keys for a moment until there was an audible click of the heavy old lock. The thick old door swung forward with a screech. We were then met with a long winding staircase. We all looked at one another and groaned. None of us had accounted for the fact that the building had been constructed before elevators were common. So three sets of stairs and countless complaints later, all four of us, with luggage in hand stood outside our new front door. Once again I reached for my set of keys and fought with the stubborn lock. As soon as the front door was opened there was a stampede of young women trying to claim the best rooms. Being a three-bedroom apartment, it meant that two of us would have to share. I personally didn’t really care so I let the others battle it out. When the dust had settled, I found that I would be sharing a room with a girl called Stephanie. That was fine with me. Stephanie was nice enough and she was also very quiet, my ideal feature in a roommate.

Over the course of the rest of the day we ran around exploring our new home. There were two bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a living room with an ancient TV. Once again I began to feel uneasy. Just how was it that we were able to get all of this for such a low price? But before I could finish the thought I was interrupted by a fit of loud squealing. My initial reaction was to panic, however I soon learned that all the noise was from excitement. Down at the other end of the apartment near the front door, apparently there was another part of the flat we had missed. I followed the noise until it led me to a long dark hallway. There at the end, behind the group of squealing women was a washing and drying machine. For those of you thinking “what’s the big deal?”, I should explain that these things are incredibly rare in Rome. Generally exchange students have to wash their clothes by hand in the sink before hanging them up to dry. What was a luxury item like this doing in such a cheap apartment?

Just as the screaming quelled it picked right back up again as the girls noticed a door adjacent to the washing machine. Beyond that door was a master bathroom. It had a balcony, a claw-foot tub, and even a bidet. The girls immediately started fighting over “who’s bathroom this was going to be”. I didn’t really see why we couldn’t share, but apparently the others were dead set on having ownership. As it turned out it ended up being my bathroom. Stephanie had made a logical argument that because she and I had to share a bedroom, while the other two each got their own, it was only fair that she and I got share the master bath. And I’ll admit that at first I was actually kind of excited, it was after all, a really nice room. However over the course of the next several weeks I began to grow more and more wary of the room. I don’t know how to put it into words. It’s like every time I went into that room I could feel something’s eyes on me. And the voyeuristic element wasn’t really what had me so unnerved. It felt like whatever was watching me was angry, that it didn’t want me there and that it wanted to hurt me.

I began doing everything in my power to avoid the room. I asked Alisha if she would mind if I were to use her restroom occasionally. I made up a lame excuse about how it was far more convenient since her room was so close while my bathroom was at the other end of the flat at the end of the very long hallway. She happily agreed though, when I told her that she could use my bathroom anytime she liked. This worked well for a while. For about the first two months of my trip I was able to completely avoid the eerie room. It wasn’t until the final month that everything began to unravel. One night as I prepared to brush my teeth, I found that Alisha was already occupying her bathroom. I could hear giggles coming from down the hallway, it was clear both Stephanie and our other roommate were both getting ready for bed in the master bath. I decided that since there was strength in numbers, it would be all right just for tonight.

So I made my way down to the large bathroom where I joined the boisterous girls in brushing my teeth. They were in the midst of some conversation when Lindsay, our other roommate, had broken into such a furious fit of laughter that she had to lean on the wall for support. But suddenly she jolted upright as if she had been shocked. We all looked at what had been the cause of her reaction: there on the wall, about the same level as the bathtub was a tiny door. None of us had noticed it because it was the same color as walls. The landlord had even painted over it. Naturally this made me a bit nervous. Whatever it was, the landlord clearly didn’t want anyone opening it. But as usual, throwing all caution to the wind Lindsay reached for the handle and began tugging with all her might. Stephanie clucked her tongue in disapproval before pulling out a small pocket knife. She began delicately carving along the seam of the door. I wanted to beg her to stop, but I really didn’t have the energy to argue that night. So within a few minutes, Lindsay had yanked the little door open with a loud crack.

It was… a crawlspace. It was fairly large. My guess would’ve been you could have fit at least three or four people in there. I was rather curious as to why the landlord would’ve sealed up an empty little room. While I thought about this, Stephanie and Lindsay began calling for Alisha to come see their new discovery. She was just as excited as they were when they first discovered it. However, as could be expected, this excitement waned over time and eventually the crawlspace was just turned into storage for a few towels and laundry baskets.

In the following days after the unsealing of the crawlspace, things started to go from eerie to downright terrifying. Annoyingly, Alisha had changed her nightly routine so that I could no longer use her bathroom in the evenings. Once again I was back in the large bathroom, all the while, the feeling that I was being watched growing worse and worse. I began to get so paranoid each time I went into that room that I would literally jump at the slightest noise of pipes settling, and as soon as I was finished I would run at full speed down the hallway and close the door behind me. For some reason I seemed to be the only one feeling this way. It’s not like I could’ve told the other girls either. I was already enough of an outcast as it was. So I just kept to myself and hoped it would go away eventually.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. One night as I was getting ready for bed, I found myself alone in the bathroom. As I stood in front of the mirror brushing my teeth something set the hairs on the back of my neck straight up. There was a faint rustling noise. Not the kind that could’ve been caused from my roommates at the other end of the flat. Any noises caused by them would have had to have been quite loud to reach me all the way at the end of the long hallway. No this noise was very faint, the sound of someone gingerly shuffling things around. I stood completely silent, terror filling me. The soft rustling noise was coming from inside the crawlspace. I turned on my heels and ran down the hallway to grab the attention of my roommates. I tried to explain to them what happened, but all that came out were incoherent murmurs.

Eventually I managed to stutter “S-Something. Something’s inside the crawlspace!”

They looked at me with fear and confusion in their eyes. As a pack we moved together down the hallway into the bathroom. I nearly fainted when I saw the tiny door hanging fully ajar. Though this discovery filled me with horror, Alisha immediately pointed to the balcony’s sliding door. Stephanie had left it open to air out the bathroom after having taken a shower several hours ago. She peeked her head out the door and pointed to the slanted rooftop adjacent to ours. There was a pigeons nest occupied by few birds. The girls surmised that a pigeon must have found its way in and was the cause of the disturbance. They all had a good laugh as we made our way back to the living room. I pretended to shake it off but I knew it was not a pigeon that caused the rustling noise. First off, the tiny door had been shut tight all day. None of us really cared to leave it open because it smelled quite musty inside. And secondly, the door had been shut when I left the bathroom, I am certain of this, yet there it was wide open when I returned. You’re not going to tell me that a pigeon knows how to and is capable of opening and closing a door all by itself.

It was at this point that I began to suspect that something was terribly wrong with this apartment. When I got back to my room I pulled out my laptop and called my best friend via Skype. She had always been the skeptical and methodical type, however she also kept an open mind towards things that were hard to explain. I decided that out of anyone she was probably the best to talk to about my situation. As I expected, she was initially quite doubtful. Though she also agreed with me that a pigeon was quite likely not the source. She asked me if I had any photos of the crawlspace. She said that if she could see it, that would help her to understand a little more clearly, and possibly help her to come up with a more logical explanation.

Relieved at her willingness to at least hear me out, I reached for my camera and made my way back down the eerie hallway. When I arrived I found, to my relief, that the door was still closed. I stood in front of it for a moment, gathering my nerve before finally pulling the little door open. Despite the clutter left inside by my roommates, it was empty. I snapped a quick photo before closing the door once more and running back to my room. I immediately plugged my camera into my computer and uploaded the photo. When I finally opened the image, I was petrified by what I saw. There in the upper right-hand corner was a face, baring its teeth at me. My whole body began violently shaking.

“Dear God. That thing is in our home!” I muttered to myself.

Fear began to overtake me. Someone had sealed whatever it was inside of that crawlspace, and we had let it out. I was so absorbed in my panic I didn’t even notice when my roommate returned. She was so blissfully unaware of the imminent danger we were in, yet even if I tried to warn her she would not believe me. I was at a loss of what to do, and finally decided that I would deal with it in the morning. Though not by a large amount, I did feel braver in the sunlight. From there I attempted to get some sleep. Though for the first time ever since being there I closed and bolted my door before getting into bed. Stephanie eyed me suspiciously while doing so, but I just told her jokingly that Lindsay had been sneaking into our room the previous nights and had been stealing my nutella. She laughed heartily, shaking her head before settling down for the night. I will admit that the only reason I was able to find any sleep that night was because of her presence. Something about not being alone can give one a sense of false security.

It was about two o’clock in the morning when the sound woke me. I had always been a light sleeper so the faint noise was enough to stir me. It sounded like a door being pushed open at the other end of the flat followed by footsteps. But these weren’t just normal footsteps. They were far too fast. It sounded like someone was running at full speed from the foyer to the living room and all about the apartment. But these weren’t heavy footfalls like the kind you would expect from a running person. They were very light, almost unnaturally so. My initial reaction was to assume it was either Alisha or Lindsay, so I got up and stuck my ear to the wall behind me that separated Lindsay’s room from mine. I could hear her faint but steady breathing. She was clearly asleep, it wasn’t her. I then crossed over to the other side of my room near the door and once again stuck my ear to the wall. Alisha’s snoring was quite audible, there’s no way it was her. I slowly began to grow fearful as I turned in a last resort to see if Stephanie had perhaps gotten up, but I could plainly see her resting form silently rising up and down. A shiver went down my spine and I nearly screamed when I realized that the footsteps had come to a stop outside of my door. Despite all the lights being out, I could clearly see the looming dark shadow of a form through the tiny crack at the foot of my door.

I dared not move. Whatever it was, it was just standing there. Waiting. Then to my horror, my doorknob slowly began to jiggle. Gently at first but then growing violent at the realization of it being locked. The noise of it eventually woke my roommate. She sat up, blinking in confusion. That instant the jiggling of the doorknob stopped. She asked me just what the hell I was doing and if I knew what time it was. I told her it wasn’t me! I told her that whatever had opened the door to the crawlspace the previous day had come back. But she just furrowed her brow at me and said that I needed to get more sleep.

The next day I made an appointment with my programs supervisor. I told him that I just needed to go home. He tried to tell me that I was just homesick and that it would pass, but I insisted. He eventually gave up and let me call my parents. They were confused but understanding. They were able to change the date of my return flight to the following morning. I really wanted to get out of there that day, but understandably that was the soonest they could manage. Unfortunately this meant that I would have to stay one more night in the apartment.

When I returned I tried to tell the others about what had been going on. I knew I was going to be getting out of there and would be out of danger, but I was still immensely worried for their safety. But none of them took me seriously, they looked at me as if I was a mad woman. They didn’t say anything but I was sure they all thought I was going home because of some sort of mental breakdown.

At that point there was nothing I could say that would convince them. So that night I locked my door and hesitantly went to bed. And right on cue, once again around two o’clock in the morning I was awoken by the rapid footsteps scampering around the apartment. I could hear the door to the bathroom begin to creak open, followed by the door at the end of the hallway. The footsteps grew louder and faster as they moved through the apartment. And finally, once more they came to a pause outside of my door. I could hear breathing this time, slow and heavy. I sat up in panic, and to my horror I saw that Stephanie had forgotten to lock the door behind her after getting up to use the restroom.

It was right outside my door and I did not know if I had time to jump up and try to lock it before the thing realized there was nothing blocking its way. I hesitated a moment too long and by the time I had sat up straight in my bed, the handle slowly began to turn. I froze in terror as the door cracked open revealing my tormentor. It stood there ominously in the doorway, staring me down. It’s eyes protruded slightly from its skull and gave off a very faint bluish light. It didn’t appear to have a nose, only slits where the nostril should have been. It had the teeth of a man, but had no lips, giving it the impression of an eternally toothy snarl. It’s grayish white skin was waxy and stretched tight over its bony face. The rest of its skeletal form was hard to make out as it was almost entirely enveloped in shadows.

After pausing for a moment in the doorway, it began to head toward me. As it moved, its body let out sickening cracks. I sat there, still petrified by fear until it had made its way to the foot of my bed. It’s heavy breaths were deafeningly loud. I don’t know how Stephanie slept through it. The air had begun to smell sour and stagnant.

With frightening speed, it jolted to the other end of the bed, mere feet from me. I gagged at the smell of it, like sulfur and rotting flesh. Slowly it unfurled one of its along the gnarly hands and proceeded to reach for me. Not until it was several inches away did I finally find my voice. I screamed as loud as I possibly could and it halted in its tracks. Stephanie shot up from her bed, visibly frightened. The creature hunched over on all fours and fled from the room with unsettling movements that recalled those of the spider. A moment later Stephanie switched the light on and looked at me furiously. She demanded to know what the fuss was all about. I told her exactly what had happened, but she just called me a nutcase.

The taxi came to pick me up very early the next morning. The sun had not even risen by the time it arrived. None of the girls came to see me off, but I expected this. After loading my luggage into the trunk I climbed into the back seat of the old cab. It had driven right through the square and was sitting at the base of my apartment. When I leaned to look out the window I could see where my room had been. My face contorted into a mixture of panic and concern. There, looking out of my old window was the creature. It’s unblinking eyes bore into me and it’s lipless mouth curled into a snarling grin. Before I could say anything, the cab driver had taken off, leaving that hell house far behind.

I tried to warn them. I really did. I did everything in my power to try to warn them of the danger that they were in, but none of them listen to me. There was no way I could’ve stopped what happened after I returned home. You see, several weeks after returning to the United States I received a phone call from the program director. He informed me that a day before the program ended, all three of my past roommates had been reported missing. The authorities had no idea just how long they had actually been gone for, as they were only recently discovered to be missing when the program director went to check on them after none of them made it to the end of the program wrap up meeting. They assumed it had been at least a week or two, since all the food in the apartment was expired. There was no sign of forced entry, and no valuables were missing. The only notable detail mentioned in the report was that when they arrived on the scene, there was a strange little door hanging ajar in the bathroom. And when they approached it, they were met with a powerful odor coming from no visible source. The official report has them declared as missing, but I know that they’re all dead.

I know that I’m incredibly lucky to have made it out with my life. I think the only reason I’m still alive today is because I fled thousands of miles and across an ocean. Despite their unwillingness to listen, I still feel an unimaginable amount of guilt over what happened to those girls. That’s why I’m writing this now. I may not be able to go back in time and save them, but maybe I can prevent this from happening to you. Please, PLEASE heed my warning. If you ever get the opportunity to study abroad, keep this in mind: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And WHATEVER you do, don’t stay on the third floor of the ancient yellow apartment complex above the Campo di Fiori. There’s something there. Something evil.

The Crawlspace

Credit To – Kaitie H.

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Best Friends

July 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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When I was a kid, my family and I lived in a modest house in West Virginia. As I said, it was quite small and there was a large forest behind my house. I was pretty curious, as any small child is and so I’d always find myself asking to go into the woods. My parents would consent but I was never allowed to go near the river that was located deep in the forest. At first, I was slightly disappointed but I never gave it a second thought and decided not to question what they said. Being an only child at 8-years-old, things could get pretty lonely. I was a recluse of sorts but had a big imagination so I always created a multitude of friends to play with me in the woods but they never left the wilderness so I ended up going back home to discuss the adventures I had with my parents over dinner.

One day, after my dad left for his classes at the seminary (he wanted to be a pastor at our local church), I decided to go on a short walk in the woods considering it was an Act 80 Day and I was off from school. I put on my jacket and found my shoes with the help of my mom and quickly rushed out into my imaginary kingdom within the confines of the forest. When I reached the point of the woods that I never went past, my mind became particularly curious. I got tired of limiting myself to just having a small amount woods to play in so I slowly made my way past gnarled tree roots and low hanging branches, thorny underbrush and overgrown weeds until I finally ended up finding the oh-so-infamous river my parents told me to stay away from. It had a strong current. Looked like pretty rough waters. I peered across the river to where the forest seemed to thicken substantially. Through the thin trunks and massive amount of branches, I saw something moving. A shadow of some sort? Whatever it was seemed to be advancing closer and closer to the other side of the river until finally, the shadow came out into the clearing. It was a man. Emaciated, lanky, and over 6 feet tall, he silently watched me from across the river. Being a lonely little girl, my first thought was that he could be a friend. I smiled and waved but I got no reaction. On closer inspection, I realized that the man had a small grin on his face. For some reason, the grin scared me a little but I was intrigued so I decided to leave. The next day after school, I went back. Then it became a daily thing. I didn’t mind his grin after a while. I thought it was cute. He never crossed the river but we still found a way to play and somehow, we created a bond with each other. One day my father asked me what I actually did in the woods. I mean, I guess it did seem a little weird; a little girl going into the woods by herself on a daily basis…there can’t be that much to do. I told him I had made a friend. He laughed.

“Oh, really? What’s his name?”

“Well, he can’t talk. Or, at least I don’t think he can.”

Thinking nothing of it, he let it go and I visited my friend everyday, per usual.

One day, he finally told me his name.

I ran to the river, smiling out of anticipation. It was like any other day; he was on the other side of the river but instead of his normal half grin, he was smiling. Teeth showing. It wouldn’t seem like that big of a deal except for the fact that his teeth were pointed. All of them. Every once in a while, a forked tongue would sniff the air through his slimy yellow fangs. I gasped. My friend once again became a figure of slight terror. I wanted to turn and run but my feet were stuck. I wanted to look away but I couldn’t avert my eyes. After I collected myself a little, I turned to run. As soon as I took my first step back however, he spoke for the first time.

“What is your name, child?”

“…C-cassie. My name is..my name is Cassie Littman.”

His smile widened.

“My name is Levi.”

I ran. The way he said it. His voice. I knew I never wanted to visit him ever again. It was awful. It was like he was whispering in my ear even though the river was crashing loudly against itself and even though he was standing across the river. It wasn’t like any voice I’ve ever heard before. It was unearthly. As I turned and started to run I heard him call to me.

“Please don’t leave me, Cassie.”

But I couldn’t stay. I had to get out of there. I think I might’ve been crying. I can’t remember. I ran home and practically attacked my father.

“Gosh, sweetheart. What’s the matter?”

“My friend. My friend in the woods, he has pointy teeth! He’s scary!”

“Oh sweetie, it’s just your imagination. Don’t get too worked up over it. If your “friend” bothers you that much, don’t go in the woods anymore.”

It made sense. And I never wanted to see that…thing again. So I didn’t go back for months. I actually became kind of a recluse. I was scared to leave my house. I felt like he’d be there…waiting for me.

I was sleeping when I heard it. Crying. I jumped a little and tiptoed to my window. I got a clear view of the woods but I didn’t see anything. I heard someone speak through the tears but I couldn’t put a face to the muffled, contorted voice and I didn’t know where the voice was coming from so I went downstairs to try to get away from it but it just got louder.

“I miss you. Please come to me Cassie. I love you. I miss you so much.”

I didn’t want to follow the voice. I really didn’t. But something told me to follow it. Something in me told me to console whatever or whoever was in pain because of me. So I went outside. I didn’t know where I was going but I knew exactly where to go. I headed toward the woods. I walked a while until I got to the river and then everything clicked. I panicked. I started to cry and I looked around watching out for Levithis or whatever the hell his name was. I heard rustling. The talking was now replaced with horrid, inhuman screams of agony and pain.

I couldn’t see him but I heard him speak.

“WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME. I NEEDED YOU. YOU WERE MY ONLY FRIEND AND YOU ABANDONED ME.”

He appeared at the other side of the river a few minutes later. I was too terrified to speak. He wiped his tears away.

“I’m sorry Cassie. I just love you so much. You’re my only friend. Please come play with me across the river. Please, cross the river for me.”

I considered it. He was lonely…like me.

Then I remembered what my mother had told me during the months that I wouldn’t leave the house.

“I can’t say I’m happy with the fact that you don’t go outside anymore but I am glad that you’re steering clear of the woods. That river has a notorious reputation. So many children have drown. It’s…odd.”

I made the connection. I screamed. I wouldn’t let him into my head. I had to get out. I told him I had to go but he kept coaxing me. He promised me happiness and games and fruit and a nice long life forever, with him. All I had to do was cross the river. All I had to do was take the plunge.

Despite what my mother had said, I took a step closer. I was so incredibly lonely. I just wanted a friend…

In June of 2004, Cassie Littman’s body was found lying gutted on the far side of the Shaver’s Fork River. There were bite marks covering almost every inch of her body.

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