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The Villages At Parkside

May 27, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Even though there’s been no need to fear it for years, kids in The Villages at Parkside still move pretty quickly past 2227 Indiana Avenue,. Mrs. Yearts still lives there, but DJ got shipped off to a military boarding school years ago, and he graduated a little before me. He stuck with that lifestyle and enlisted, or so my parents told me. DJ and I didn’t keep in touch.

DJ once ruled our neighborhood with an iron fist, at least in terms of the children. Ruled actually seems a little benevolent, a more proper term is terrorized. Terrorized with an iron fist. Built a little bigger and stronger than his peer group, he unfortunately coupled this with an almost sadistic mean streak. My father used to say that his mother treated him terribly, and DJ’s father either left or died, I never found out which. Either way he seemed determined to take it out on the world.

DJ and I actually shared something in common in that we two didn’t go to the local Catholic school just up the street from me. Nearly all the kids in the neighborhood did, and I still played on its church soccer team, so I knew most of the guys that way. But that left DJ as the real odd man out. I don’t want to provide any excuses, because I still hate the kid that he was, but now I can empathize a little better, just due to age and experience.

On the way back from one of those soccer practices a group of us left the park together and started scattering back to our respective homes. A fall sport, soccer practices often run until nearly dark, especially later in the year. We were still in middle school then, but our coach worked us as hard as any high school coach I would later play under and we didn’t go home until our water bottles lightened to empty and our legs sagged beneath us. Even though he pushed us hard, our coach remained as adamant about leaving the park before dusk, just as our parents did.
“Park closes at dusk, boys. It’s illegal for us to stay any later.” he would tell us, and even though it made no sense that a group of twelve year olds would get arrested for playing soccer in a public place designated for that purpose, we scurried home anyway and made sure not to come back, not that we wanted to.

On this particular evening we stayed right to the brink before the coach told us to pack it in, and five of us, exhausted and the last group to leave, trudged back, knocking our cleats against the curb occasionally to try and kick a little mud off. We generally accepted our neighborhood to consist of ten blocks that ran perpendicular to Bracey Avenue, which we walked down with a red sliver of a sun still at our backs. Bracey formed a kind of spine for the neighborhood with five vertebral blocks branching off, and up at the third vertebrae we could see a dark outline throwing things at trees and lampposts, a favored pastime of our old nemesis. We all nervously looked at each other. DJ was a couple years older than us, already in high school, and big on top of that. Because our soccer league grouped us by two years, the team consisted of mainly sixth and seventh graders with a couple of young eighth graders thrown in, which made us now the oldest cohort. A couple of years ago we might have waited for the kids his age to finish practice and come up behind us, but those days were gone, they all went to high school and practiced with their high school teams, no longer in our local park. DJ didn’t practice at all; we’d heard he was kicked off his school’s football team for starting fights, but no one knew any specifics or really worried about it. We did worry, though, about the large figure up ahead that we didn’t want to run into.

The other four looked to me. I, too, ranged a little above average for my age, though not big enough to stand chin to chin with DJ. Perhaps chin to nose. I scuffed my cleat against the ground. I didn’t really have any skin in this fight; DJ patrolled the space between the third and fourth streets just now and my house sat on the second. So did Ben’s, and while DJ currently occupied the left side of Bracey Avenue, Harry and Pat lived on the third street, but on the right side. Only Jake, out on the fifth street, showed open fear.

“He’s not gonna do anything.” I said. “He’s too busy throwing rocks.”

Ben, Harry, and Pat all looked relieved, but Jake surely did not. “Guys, I have to walk past him all by myself. Last time I did he ripped my soccer jersey. Plus he took one of my cleats and my dad had to go get it back.” The fear and pleading in Jake’s voice made us all uncomfortable.

“It’s not that bad.” I muttered and focused on my cleats.

“Guys…” Jake said, his eyes looking around at each of us in turn, but we all saw much more interesting things in other directions. No one moved off though, all of us knowing we needed to look out for our own.

Inspired by the classic fox-rabbit-carrot puzzle, I came up with a plan. “Guys, let’s all walk with Jake down to his house, and then the four of us can walk to Indiana, so Harry and Pat, you guys can go up your street, and then Ben and I will walk back to McClellan together. I looked around and got nods from everyone except Ben.

“I live further up McClellan than you. I’ll be the last one out on the street.” He sounded legitimately scared and I sighed, knowing I would need to bite the bullet on this.

“Fine.” I replied. “I can run faster than you, so I’ll walk up to your place with you and then run back home.”

“Ok.” Ben agreed. I swallowed, knowing that this might put me in a bad spot, but I was the biggest; maybe DJ would think twice about going for me, and I thought I could outrun him anyway.

The five of us stayed on the right side of Bracey Avenue and held our breath as we walked past DJ, but he paid us no mind, focusing his ire instead on a lamppost that showed quite a few dings already. None of us spoke the entire way to Jake’s house, but when he got there he gave us a relieved look and said “Thanks guys.” He sprinted up the steps and ran in his front door as we walked away, back down the street.

In retrospect, I know exactly what we should have done, gone up to the main road that ran past our neighborhood. It ran parallel to Bracey and could take us all safely home without ever setting foot anywhere near DJ. But that road, Hartford, was crowded and busy, and our parents instructed us to use Bracey. Neighborhood bullies scared them less than possible abductors on the main roads, and we remained blindly obedient.

“Wait.” said Harry. “Let’s cut through here.” Two yards without fences lay to our left, so we snuck through in the growing dark, over to the fourth street.
“Let’s find another yard to cut through. If the MacKenzies took Chester inside, we can go through their yard, and the house behind them doesn’t have a fence.” said Pat.
“Wait.” I said. The streets were silent except for the dull roar of cars coming from the main drag. Staying low, I crept down the street a little so I could see Bracey again. I came back and told them “DJ’s gone. I think he went home. Let’s just use Bracey.”

Pat looked doubtful, but the other two readily agreed. We got to Indiana without incident, and Pat and Harry turned off and headed up their street. “See you Thursday.” Ben called after them, and they waved their acknowledgement back.
“Maybe we can get Pat’s brother to come down to the park on Thursday.” I said hopefully to Ben.

“Pat said he doesn’t get home until after seven from football practice…” Ben replied. Pat’s brother, Chris, once ranked as our best defense against DJ. Now a junior in high school and a JV footballer he could still ward of DJ easily, but no longer had the time.

“Damn.” I said glumly. “I wish his mother would send him to military school. Everyone keeps saying she’s going too.”

Ben nodded his agreement, but didn’t say anything. That rumor circulated every couple of months, but we first heard it two years ago. DJ didn’t seem to be going anywhere. We arrived at McClellan and made a left, then stopped dead. Here came DJ, walking right towards us, maybe twenty feet away. I restarted my stride, and after a second, Ben did too, but too late. DJ smelled the fear and stopped and stared at us from three feet away on the sidewalk. We didn’t even bother to try and walk past him.

By now a pattern stood long since established, so DJ didn’t feel the need to taunt us or provoke us. “Gimme that ball.” He demanded of Ben.

Ben couldn’t help but stare at him as he handed his dingy soccer ball over to DJ. DJ took it and threw it over our heads so that it landed on Bracey. “Go get it.” he said to me.

“You don’t throw a soccer ball.” I said disdainfully. “You kick it.”

DJ faked throwing his shoulders at me like he was going to tackle me, but held back. I jumped back about three feet anyway. “Go get it.” he snarled, laughing now.

I turned and jogged towards the ball. It wasn’t terribly far away, but I could feel Ben’s eyes on my back, accusing me for abandoning him. I guess I stopped feeling them at some point because I heard Ben yell “Hey!” I kept going and grabbed the ball about ten seconds later and started running back, but too late. DJ knocked Ben to the ground the second I left and pulled off his cleats, apparently a tactic he was growing to favor. This time though, he had the cleats in hand, a clumsy knot tied between two of the laces. Ben got off the ground and ran into him full steam. It knocked DJ back a step, but he quickly recovered and shoved Ben back to the ground easily. Now Ben watched with tears in his eyes as DJ threw the cleats up in the air. They revolved around and around, nearly became tangled in a tree branch, and thudded back to earth right in front of DJ.

I got back right as DJ released the cleats and, ignoring my former admonition of him for throwing the soccer ball with his hands, heaved the ball with all my might right at him. I aimed for his torso, thinking it the easiest to hit, but I played soccer for a reason. My throw went high and hit him right in the face, then bounced upwards. Surprised at this show of defiance, he still managed to catch the ball before it hit the ground and made as if to sling it right back at me. I went up on my toes and prepared to dodge, but he pulled it down with a growl and laughed at us.
“Now I’ve got your ball too, you little dumbasses.” He threw it up towards the tree a couple times, but it failed to catch either. He recovered it each time it bounced back down, though Ben and I each made an attempt for it.

“Alright, well I’m keeping it, then.” he said, and started trotting past us, towards Bracey. For good measure, he grabbed Ben’s shoes.

“HEY!” I screamed at him, as angry and upset as I’d ever been. “That’s not yours!”

“It is now. I’m gonna throw it in the forest.”

That set me back on my heels. “You can’t. It’s after dark. You’re not allowed in the park after dark.” That simple rule defined a large part of my life.

“I go in the park after dark all the time.” bragged DJ.

“No you don’t.” I said. “No one does.”

“I do. Watch me.” DJ started back the way we came from earlier.

Ben stood behind me. “Did he say he was throwing those in the park?” The fright was apparent.

“I don’t know. C’mon. Let’s stay behind him and watch. Be ready to run.” I warned. I didn’t want to lose my cleats any more than Ben wanted to lose his.

We were only about a block from the park, but DJ went over a little further, up the street that bordered the park, away from me and Ben’s houses. I saw what he planned. The fields where we played soccer sat in a low spot, surrounded on three sides by hills, and the fourth side by a creek. Two of the hills had roads built on top of them that created the edge of the fields. But the high side was covered by thick trees and brush and abutted the road. DJ didn’t intend to go in the park. He would just stand in the road and throw the gear into the forest. When I saw this, I made a run at him, but I got there way too late. He threw the ball into the forest and laughed at me. The cleats followed, revolving around and around, before wrapping around a tree branch.

“Go get it.” he teased.

Ben and I looked at each other. We didn’t want to go in there, we weren’t supposed to, not by any means, but how could we let DJ walk away having disposed of Ben’s cleats and his ball? I trudged towards the forest determinedly. At the street there was a steep dropoff into the forest, but it was late fall and most of the brush was dead, so I thought I could see where I was going. A street lamp burned behind me, and with its help I thought I could just see the ball. DJ was big and had a good arm, but the forest was pretty thick. I turned around to find DJ looking at me expectantly and Ben right behind me.

“You don’t have to go in.” I said. “You don’t have cleats on.”

“No.” he replied. “It’s my ball.”

We went to the steep edge and started inching down it on our butts. We recognized it would be tough to get back up, but lots of dead shrubs and roots protruded around us, and in the worst case we could pick our way back down to the field and come up the same slope we used to leave soccer practice. Some of the shrubs were thorny, and we when we got to the bottom, Ben stepped on one with stocking feet. “Ow!” he exclaimed. I looked back. I could see DJs silhouette at the top of the slope behind us.

“C’mon” I said. “Let’s get this and go home.”

We started picking our way over to where DJ threw the ball when we both heard a twig snap to our left. We both froze.

“What was that?” asked Ben in a whisper. I suddenly realized how dark it was in here and how little that street lamp helped.

“Nothing.” I said, as my heart raced. “Just a dead branch falling.”

I took a step forward and snapped a twig myself, and Ben’s arm came shooting out to grab mine. I yelped at this and he shushed me. “You grabbed me.” I groused.
“Arthur, I think we should go back.” he whispered, clearly very fearful.
I felt inclined to agree. “Ok. We’ll get it tomorrow. Or get your dad to come down.”

We turned around to get back to the slope. We were only maybe fifteen feet in, but we both suddenly thought that was too far. The hill was steep and the street looked unreachable. Ben started running before I did, but he stepped on another thorn bush and came up lame. I took two steps past him before I turned around to see him limping along, maybe five feet ahead of two glowing red eyes and a pair of shiny white teeth illuminated by the street lamp.

I didn’t even yell. I just ran straight for the hill with all my strength, two hour soccer practice forgotten. Ben must have seen the fear in my eyes, must have known something was wrong. I heard his footsteps behind me until I reached the hill. My cleats dug into the same wet clay that had stuck to them so well earlier that day and I scampered up the hill, tree roots and thorns alike tearing into my suddenly bloody hands. I don’t know what happened to Ben. I don’t know if cleats might have saved him that day or if he never even made it to the hill, but I ran as fast as I could back to where we first encountered DJ before I realized what I’d done. Horrified, I ran back the other way, slowing as I approached the border street. I didn’t see DJ anywhere. I approached the edge of the park, slowly, listening for any sound. I heard one. A dull crunching sound came from below me, coupled with occasional growling. It was too much for me I turned tail and ran again, never even looking down the slope properly.

I arrived home a nervous wreck, shaking and crying, but I got my story out quickly, or at least the important part. The second my father heard we’d been in the park after dark he left me in the care of my mother and strode towards the door, pulling a sturdy walking stick out of the umbrella stand as he left. I knew that walking stick. My father bought it when he visited Great Britain, and when he came back he showed me the sharp metal tip and sheathed axe head, all designed to ward off or kill any wild animals a hiker might come across in the rural areas of Scotland, where my family was from.

The fallout from this episode was tremendous. The news services made an ungodly amount of noise about animal control. My mother didn’t let me leave the house for a month on account of their hounding. The coroner’s report came out about the first time that I went back to school, and though the coroner noted that whatever killed Ben necessarily must be the biggest feral dog ever seen, the bites and such were consistent with such an attack. Forest rangers called in from national parks combed the park for weeks, never finding so much as a track. Finally, they called the search off, claiming the thing must have moved on.

I quit the soccer team after that, and stopped seeing my neighborhood friends. They didn’t mind; I scared them all almost as much as the park now. I told my story to the police and my mother told me that a few days later DJ got shipped off to military school. A couple years later high school signaled a general return to normalcy for me, as my notoriety wore off. My neighborhood friends all went to the Catholic institutions that usually followed a career at the local Catholic school, while I continued in the public school system. I picked soccer back up in high school, and when we occasionally played their teams, my old friends didn’t acknowledge me. I returned the favor, not wanting to dredge up what happened, not wanting my new high school friends to think of me differently. I went to college, joined a frat, got a degree, and put the whole thing behind me. I moved out of my parents’ house as soon as I graduated and lived too far away to visit frequently.

But last year I drove home to the old neighborhood, the day before Thanksgiving, and as I got out of the car I saw a short, muscular figure come out from behind a large bush to greet me. DJ, it turned out, wasn’t that big, he’d been held back a couple times and I now towered over him, but that didn’t bother him. While I tried to forget that night, he spent the last decade plus trying to piece it together.

“What do you want?” I asked sharply. I didn’t know what kind of grudges DJ might harbor.

“McClellan.” He said to me. “Do you know where your street gets its name?”

I shrugged. “The civil war general, I would guess.”

He nodded gravely. “That’s right. He fought battles all along this area, trading blows with Lee. But unlike Lee, a large part of his army was made up of immigrants.”

“Irish.” I said. “Running from English laws and some earlier ones from the potato famine.” I doubted DJ could outflank me on history.

“Exactly, but not all of them. Scotsmen and Englishmen came here too, and some joined up with the army. Some of them died here.”

I shook my head. “I’ll give you that.”

He took a deep breath. “What did you see the night Ben died?”

I looked at him hard-eyed. “A bully who tormented children until he got one killed.” My voice came out cold and flinty.

DJ took a step back. He must have known that was coming, but the pain on his face still showed. “I know that. I understand that now. But I haven’t come to make amends, not yet. There’s still something else I need to do.”

“What?” I asked, my voice still frosty.

“Have you ever heard of a Barghest?” I flinched, and he knew he could continue. “Some legends say that a Barghest comes about when a Scots or Englishman is killed unjustly, or his remains go unburied, and the Barghest roams the forests and hills near his body, seeking vengeance.”

Over the past years I mostly released my memories of that night, but the demonic red eyes and glinting ivory mouth still haunted my dreams from time to time. A morbid curiosity and unlimited access to the internet told me what I didn’t want to know.

“That’s ridiculous.” I snapped. “Don’t try to blame this on some dead soldier from a bygone era. You killed Ben, by way of some animal. You just feel guilty”

“I didn’t kill Ben.” DJ intoned slowly. “I made a mistake, but I didn’t kill him. But I am going to find whatever did.”

“The rangers searched that place for weeks. They never found a thing.”

DJ shook his head. “They never looked at night. And they never went when it was hungry.”

“Hungry?”

“I looked up the records. Animal attacks and missing persons are not uncommon near that park. Don’t you remember how we were warned to stay out of it after dark? Even me, by my neighbors. Everyone knows, but no one knows why or does anything to find out. In the past century and a half since the Civil war, records indicate 16 people killed by feral animals or missing in that park. No other park in a similar setting can even match half of that. Maybe a couple of those missing people aren’t victims of the Barghest. That’s 14. That’s one every decade, except this one.” DJ looked me dead in the eye. “The Barghest is hungry. It’s out to kill. But this time, it’s getting more than it bargained for.” DJ handed me a package. “Open this if I don’t come back.”

I grimaced. “DJ….”

He turned, but I found I had nothing to say. “Good luck.” I finished.

He gave a curt nod. “Thanks.”

When daylight broke three days later and stories of an AWOL infantry man found savaged near his childhood home started appearing on the news, I went for a walk. I’d opened DJ’s package and found his years of meticulous notes and research. I could see why he thought he’d stood a chance. I stood at the same spot where he’d decreed Ben’s fate, and yes, his own and stared blankly into the woods; blankly at a pair of child’s soccer cleats, swinging in the wind on a tree branch. A scrap of DJ’s research came back to me “Barghest are meticulous hunters, never forgetting a scent, never forgetting a potential prey.”

I stared blankly at my future.

I stared blankly at a pair of white cleats stained red with blood.

Credit To – Dan M Winters

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The River

May 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The river is deep, and dark, and it holds many secrets. At least that’s what they say, and recent events have left me with a completely unshakeable belief that what they say is entirely true.

There’s a river that runs through the part of the city that I live & work in. It’s got a proper name, but everyone just calls it ‘The River’ anyway. Originally it was outside of the city limits, but as the city grew the boundaries pushed ever outwards, eventually spanning both sides and beyond. My part of the city has a lot of steel & glass & concrete used in the construction, it was built during a fairly soulless period, architecturally speaking. There are a lot of high-density apartment blocks in my area, I live on a middle floor of one of them. The apartment has a view of the river from the window; sometimes I’ll sit and look out at it, wondering what’s going on under that deceptively calm surface. I never look for too long, the river has a peculiar way of being able to give you chills. The river isn’t that wide, but it’s deep and has strong currents, especially near the bottom. Nobody swims in it, the current makes it too dangerous and the water is very, very cold; even during the hottest of summer days.

My work is in one of the office buildings on the other side of the river from my apartment. It’s close enough for me to walk, and there’s a scenic riverside pathway that the City Council built during the expansion, envisioning a bustling riverside precinct. This didn’t happen. People avoid the river if they can at all help it, but when quizzed about it nobody really knows why. You’ll get the odd tourist going for a walk alongside it, but they never linger for long. Even the ducks and other waterfowl seem to avoid it.

My walk to and from work would be probably ten minutes quicker if I went along the waterside, but I cut through the city streets where there’s people; and the only part of my walk where I get close to the river is where I cross it, walking quickly along the utilitarian concrete bridge as traffic passes. The drivers always have their eyes set dead ahead of them, nobody ever looks at the water. I tend to speed up as I cross the bridge, it’s not particularly high and there’s a well-sized concrete guardrail, but I really don’t like being above the water if I can help it. If you look over the side, sometimes the surface seems so dark that it’s almost black, and it’s impossible to see the bottom. If you really look closely, then sometimes you’ll see dark shapes moving rapidly through the gloom of the water, but it’s impossible to see if they’re just big fish or something else.

I live a fairly quiet life, all things considered. I’ve got good friends; a girlfriend & a steady, well-paying (ok, well-ish paying) office job. I like my apartment, I like my friends, I like the city I live in, I have no problems with the way things are going. All in all, I’m a fairly normal guy. But I don’t like that damn river, not one bit. I’ve never felt comfortable near it, and things have been a whole lot more unsettling since that night.

I’d stayed late at work on a Friday to finish up on some stuff I’d been putting off. Normally I’d have been outta there at 5pm and off to meet my girlfriend for date night, but she was out of town for the weekend, off to stay with her parents. The plan was to pick up some pizza or some Chinese on the way home and to settle down on the couch for a relaxing night watching crappy horror movies.

I leaned back in my chair at work, looking around the empty office. I’d just finished up the last of my paperwork, so I shut down my computer, and glanced out the window, catching the flickering of the streetlights as they came on outside. The sun was just on the verge of setting, so you could see the harsh artificial light from the streetlights in the half-darkness. I was trying to decide between pizza & Chinese on my way down the lift, and settled on a large pizza to myself as an acceptable option, making a mental note to do extra cardio at the gym the next day.

I stepped out of the lift, shouldered my bag and headed towards the building exit, wishing the night security guard a good weekend as I went. Making my way out onto the street, I took a moment to appreciate the fresh, cool air that comes with the evening of a day that’s had fine weather. I called ahead to a pizza place near my house as I headed towards the bridge, placing my order for pickup (large meat-lover’s pizza, double meat, extra BBQ sauce). I figured I’d have maybe 5 minutes to wait at the pizza place before the pick-up, and then I could head to mine and settle in for the night.

All was well as I wandered along the street, taking a left after a few blocks and heading towards the river. I noticed that I was the only person who seemed to be out and about, the entire area seemed pretty much deserted. Not entirely surprising, given that it was probably 7pm on a Friday night and I was in the business area of town, all the bars & restaurants are across the river on the side that I live. The night air was still & cool, and the sky was rapidly darkening; the sidewalks lit by the bright, harsh light from the streetlights above.

My pace quickened as I took a left and headed towards the bridge. The streets were still deserted, but I could hear faint noise from the restaurant precinct across the river. I kept my head down as I stepped onto the bridge, intently staring at the pavement as I made my way across. As I reached the halfway point, I felt a chill settle over me, and I froze in place. The noise from across the river had stopped. In fact, I couldn’t hear anything in the way of street or bird noise, I couldn’t even hear the buzz of the streetlights any more. The only thing I could hear was the water of the river rushing around the pylons of the bridge, and then I heard what sounded like a sob.

I looked towards the other side of the bridge, and then back towards the home side of the river that I was heading towards, when I caught something in my peripheral vision. I turned towards it, and took an involuntary step backwards in shock when I saw something I’d swear hadn’t been there a second ago. There was a girl sitting on the guardrail, facing towards the river, feet dangling off the side.

“Shit…” I said to myself quietly, breathing deeply and trying to slow my suddenly racing heart. “Man, you scared me! Sorry, I completely missed that you were sitting there”. I took a step towards her. “Are you ok?” She had long, dark hair that seemed to be wet, it hung down over the side of her face, hiding her features. She was wearing a simple white dress that ended at her knees, and I could see through gaps in the concrete railing that she had bare feet . Her hands were resting on the rail she was sitting on, and they too seemed to be damp, putting some moisture onto the concrete they were placed on. I couldn’t see her face because of the hair, but her shoulders were hunched forwards, and seemed to be shaking slightly; as if she was holding back tears. I couldn’t see her face to tell for sure if she was young or older, She had a slim build, I figured she was in her mid-20s at the most.

I took another step. “Miss?” I asked, reaching out a hand to touch her shoulder. She stopped shaking, and I stopped moving forward before my hand could touch her. She was… cold. So very cold that it seemed to be radiating out from her, and I drew my hand back with a shiver, grabbing it with the other hand to warm it up. She seemed to notice my presence, and straightened up, turning towards me as she did. I tensed with apprehension, suddenly worried about what her face might look like, but relaxed as it came into view. She was a pretty, normal looking girl in her early late teens or early 20s, and the only out of the ordinary thing I could see was that her eyes were red, I assumed from crying.

“Are you OK?” I asked her again. “Do you need any help?” The corners of her mouth curled up slightly in a sad, wan smile. And then she turned back, looked down at the water, gave a little hop and jumped off the side of the bridge.

I stood there for a second, completely dumbfounded. Then I heard a splash from the river below, and it snapped me out of my stupor. “Jesus!” I exclaimed, throwing off my satchel, and running towards the edge of the bridge. I looked over the edge towards the water, but I couldn’t see the girl, she must have gone under already. Placing both hands on the guardrail, I vaulted over it and plunged into the water below.

The river was cold. So, so icily cold that the shock of it drove all of the air out of me as I hit the surface and went under. I came up, gasping for air and treading water, and looked for any sign of the girl. I noticed that with some luck, the spot I was in seemed to be a fairly dead spot for the current, but I could still feel the pull of the water as it dragged me downstream, taking me under the bridge. I took a deep breath and dove under the water as I was taken under the cover of the bridge, and everything went dark as the light from the streetlights above was cut off by the shadows of the space under the bridge.

I could barely see anything as I swam around, in what I was by that point assuming was a futile hunt for the girl. To make matters worse, I could feel the current strengthening, and all of a sudden I was swept sideways as the river eddied around one of the supports of the bridge. I slammed into the support, the air driving itself from my lungs once more. The current spun me round and pinned my back to the support, my shirt snagging on some protrusion from the concrete. To my horror I realised I was stuck fast, the freezing water rushing around me in the darkness.

“I’m going to die here”.

The thought entered my brain, and I began to panic, struggling back and forth, but the current was just too strong. I was going to drown, and I couldn’t even help the girl who’d gone in before me. I could see the glow of streetlights dimly above me, but I was too deep under for the light to really penetrate the water, and I could feel blackness closing in from the corners of my vision as my empty lungs began to take in water. It felt like a fire in my chest, and I coughed underwater, but instead of the air I desperately needed all I got was more water. Even worse, I could make out shapes in the darkness. They swirled around at the edge of my vision, pressing menacingly closer, and I could feel their malignant presence. I knew that whatever these things were, they would do me harm if they could. I closed my eyes, and the darkness turned to black.

With the last of my strength, I reached up behind me and felt around for where I was snagged. With what felt like a superhuman effort, I managed to tear my shirt away from the pillar and get my feet up under me against it. I pushed off, driving myself towards the surface, reaching out above me as I travelled up. As I flew towards the surface, I opened my eyes, and saw a flash of white down low ahead of me, but there was no time to think about that.

My hand broke the surface first, and I coughed and vomited water as I gasped for air, struggling to stay above the surface. The current had me once more, and I could feel myself being dragged downstream. I could hear shouting from the shoreline downstream, but again didn’t have time to focus on it. The freezing water was fast sapping what little strength I had left, and I was still spluttering, trying to get the last of the water out of my lungs. I once again took deep breath, and dove under the surface, heading for where the flash of white had been as I’d come up the last time.

Swimming down, I was struck by the thought that this was an incredibly bad idea, but I felt I had to at least try. Looking around, I tried to spy where to head for, but all I could see was the inky murk below me. Just as I was about to give up and resurface, I spotted the flash again! I kicked hard, fighting the current, and spotted the girl, floating face-up in what must have been a dead patch of water as the river didn’t seem to be moving her downstream. Worryingly, the dark shapes I had spotted in the water earlier seemed to be circling ever-closer, just out of my field of vision but close enough for me to catch near-constant flashes of movement. I tried to ignore them and swum for the girl.

As I got close, I felt the current grab me again, sending me quickly towards her. I could see I‘d overshoot her, so swam as hard as possible and reached down, managing to snag a grip on her arm as I went past. I pulled her to my chest as I swam upwards, and caught sight of her face, which was pale against the blackness, but looked surprisingly peaceful. We travelled towards the surface together and my heart sang to see I was only a couple of feet below the surface; and then we came to a dead stop in the water. Lungs aching by this point, I looked down to see what had stopped up, and saw her eyes snap open and look at mine. They were full of terror, and I could see her lip shake as she looked down to her right shoulder. I followed her gaze, and saw that the shape of a hand upon her, grabbing her tightly; the arm extending into the blackness that all of a sudden pressed in around us.

I stared in horror at the hand. It was the same darkness as the water and gloom that was pressing in on us, and I could see the figure that it was attached to looming behind her, but it was too murky to make out any details. I could feel it’s presence and I could make out a vaguely darker shape in the blackness, but that was all. The girl looked back at me, grabbing me by the upper arms as she did, and opened her mouth as if to say something, but then suddenly gripped harder; almost causing me to cry out in pain which would have wasted the ever-diminishing last of the air in my lungs.

The black hand had dug it’s fingers in, and I saw what can only be described as corruption flowing from it. The girl’s flesh turned grey and started to slough off, ever-widening holes in her skin exposing clammy muscle tissue and stark white bones. Within seconds, she looked as if she’d been in the water for months. I looked in horror at her face; her skin coming away, hair falling out in clumps, eyes widening and then seeming to burst, leaving empty sockets. Her lips came away and teeth became visible, and then came apart as her mouth opened in a silent scream. I realised by this point that I too was screaming underwater, the last of my air clawing its way from my lungs.

I looked at the dark hand and then into the gloom behind the girl, and saw what I could only describe as a grin in the blackness, but caught only a glimpse as the hand gripped even harder and jerked the girl from my grip, her hands torn away from my arms with the force of it. She was pulled away into the inky water, quickly disappearing from my view. I thrashed about in the water, trying to get to the surface. I felt something grab me by the scruff of my neck, and promptly passed out from a combination of fear and lack of air.

I came to on the shoreline, a young couple next to me, one pumping my chest and the other breathing air into my lungs. I sputtered and once again vomited and coughed up water. I could hear sirens in the distance getting closer as I struggled to sit up.

“Oh, thank God!” the guy exclaimed. “Buddy, we thought you were a goner!” He took off his coat and wrapped it around me, as I had begun to shiver violently. I’d probably been in the water for no more than a minute or two, but it had felt like a lifetime and was enough to chill me to the bone. “We called for an ambulance when you went in” his girlfriend said, “They should be here in a minute”.

“Why did you jump in? Do you not know about how dangerous this river is?” he asked, looking slightly incredulous.

Trying to speak between bouts of violent shivering, I looked up at him. “There w-was a g-g-girl,” I stuttered. “She w-w-went in the w-water!”.

The couple looked at each other. “….We didn’t see any girl…” she trailed off. He spoke up, and explained that they’d been walking along the waterfront as a shortcut, and had seen me jump off the bridge, surface and then go under again. Luckily, the current had taken me close enough to the shoreline for him to grab me as he went past. He thought he might have seen something dart past in the blackness as he lifted me out of the water, but assumed it was just a fish or a bit of debris. Neither of them had seen a girl in a white dress.

The ambulance turned up and took me off to the emergency room (picking up my satchel from the bridge along the way), where they got me warmed up and released me once they’d made sure I wasn’t hypothermic. They called the police when I told them about the girl and I was interviewed by some officers, but nothing ever came of the police investigation. They had divers in the water next few days but didn’t find anything, and the search was called off due to danger and lack of evidence. My girlfriend was furious when she found out I’d almost drowned, but softened when I told her I’d been trying to save someone. She was still angry at me for taking that sort of risk, however; saying I should have just called the police.

Life returned to normal fairly quickly. I took a week off work before going back, and my life goes on as it always did before that night. I did my own research on the river, and found reports a few years old of some missing persons who had last been seen by the river, one or two of who fit the description of the girl I’d seen, but I couldn’t be sure if it was any of them.

I walk a little quicker as I cross the bridge to and from work, however, often breaking into a jog. Every now and again I’ve heard a sob or caught a flash of white in the corner of my vision, but I just power forward, never breaking stride. And I’ll occasionally see dark shapes swirling in the water from the window of my apartment, but I try not to look too closely. Like they say, the River is full of secrets, and I’m of the opinion that some secrets are best kept.

Credit To – Abtrogdor

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Lost iPhones

May 25, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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James said he found the iPhone in the lawn as he was leaving the party. Afterward, we wondered what had really happened, how he had actually found it. But then, when he told us, we had no reason to not believe his story. He was walking out, he explained, completely hammered, and there it was: a pink 5C covered with dew from being out all night.

“You stole someone’s phone? Not cool, James,” said Hayley. We were standing it in our apartment’s small kitchen, lit quite brightly by the early afternoon sun. James had just come over, but in his defense, it was probably much more like morning for him. I had only been up for a couple of hours, anyway. Spring semester had finished a few days ago and all the dandelions were coming out, yellow headed and alive in the few green spots in the city. Hailey’s internship at the museum wasn’t starting for another two weeks and my work in Professor Isle’s lab was on hold until he came back from vacation, which meant we had nothing to do except talk too much and drink too much and sleep in too much and way, way too late.

James lived in our apartment building, on the bottom floor. I knew him from my fiction workshop. He had gone to boarding schools and wrote a lot of stories about the sadness of being rich. He DJ’d Monday nights at the college station, playing hipper than thou indie rock and dub reggae. I’m making him sound a lot worse than he is. He always had good hair.

In a plot twist that didn’t surprise me at all, Hayley had slept with him (“I don’t regret it Ariel. All great lives feature things some would call failures, but we libertines call them the forge that tempers our personal steel.”) but only a couple of times. He had initiated extremely awkward hugs with me, but that hadn’t evolved into anything more physical. Thankfully.

“I didn’t steal a phone. I’m not, like, a thief.”

“And yet here you are,” Hayley said, “with that phone you didn’t buy.”

“You act like I’m breaking windows and snatching shit.”

“Are you?”

“No, Ariel. I am not breaking windows and snatching shit.”

“Thank god. Don’t think we weren’t worried,” said Hayley.

“Do you guys want to know why this phone is weird?”

“Sure,” I said, “show me.”

He slide the phone on and punched in the security code.

“Hey,” said Hayley, “how do you know the code.”

“I didn’t,” he said, tapping at the screen, “but this morning I just put in some random numbers and it, boom. It worked.”

“What numbers?”

“4444.”

“What a crappy pin,” I breathed. “that person’s email password must be password.”

“Maybe it is, but it’s not on their phone,” said James, “they don’t have an email set up, or any apps, or contacts.”

“What the fuck do they even do with their phone then,” demanded Hayley, “only make phone calls?”

“No. No calls in the history. Received or outgoing.”

“So there’s nothing on it?” asked Hayley, “maybe it’s a new phone or something?”

“It’s not a new phone,” he flipped it over. The back of the phone was covered in scratches, tiny spider web cracks running in and out. “See? Somebody has had this forever.”

“So, there’s nothing on it and it’s got a shitty password. James I hate to complain about your attempts to bring mystery and excitement into our lives and our, you know, our kitchen,” Hayley gestured at the tiny room we were all packed into , “but this isn’t exactly Cicada 3301.”

“There’s not nothing,” he said, indignant, “there’s a video. you want to see?”

“Not nothing is a double negative,” I said, “you would say “there isn’t anything” or, maybe, “there’s something on it” instead. Does that make sense?”

“I hated your pedantic criticisms in workshop, Ariel, and I dislike them in real life too. People sometimes talk because they like how words sound with each other. They aren’t always in blind thrall to the completely imaginary, class-centric, often internally contradictory rules referred to as “grammar.” Now, did you want to watch this? Because, it’s a little, umm, fucked up. To be honest.”

Hayley and I looked at each other. She shrugged.

“Obviously we want to watch,” Hayley said, “right? Why wouldn’t we?”

“Right,” I said. “Let’s do this.”

The video started to play.

Images of the ground appeared: rocks, dirt, leaves. The camera was shaky. Shoes appeared in and out of the frame, just the uppermost tops of shoes. They looked like chucks. You could hear footsteps, breathing. It was obviously someone filming themselves walking.

“Did you already watch this?” Hayley was staring at the screen, her brow furrowed.

“Yeah, I did, be quiet though.”

The walking stopped. The camera panned up and swung left, revealing a heavily forested landscape with the same path the person had previously been walking on running out into the distance, and then the camera swung to the right. There was a hill’s edge there, swelling out over a precipice, overlooking a not insignificant drop off.

“I recognize this,” I said, “where is this? Have you guys see this before?”

“Me too,” said Hayley, “it’s out in Machen park. I’ve gone jogging out there.”

“Watch,” said James, his voice tense.

We did.

The screen shook as whomever was holding it lowered it again. The breathing rasped. Then, there was another noise. Something that sounded like running. The camera swung up, there was a blur, a shadowy motion, some kind of noise, and then the person and the phone were moving. They went over the cliff, together. Then there was an awful noise and something far away, a weird familiar screaming.

The screen went black.

I looked at Hayley, who wasn’t saying a word, biting her chipped florescent green nails instead. James looked up.

“I told you,” he said, “it’s a little fucked up.”

****

Three hours later, we were in the woods.

“Bad idea, Hayley,” I murmured, walking on the path. “You’ve had bad ideas, but this is the worst.”

“Really? The worst?” She frowned. Mosquitos were starting to appear in the near dim. One bite me and I slapped it, leaving a long smear of bright red blood on my left forearm. “Ok. Maybe the worst. But don’t you want to see?”

“For sure. But I wished we had waited. Or asked James if he wanted to go.”

“He had to work,” she shrugged, “so I ain’t trying to hear that. I want to see what’s happening.”

We kept walking down the dirt trail. Most days there were joggers or other hikers, but we hadn’t seen anyone else. Everything felt static, like we were looking at a screenshot instead of real life.

“Do you think we’ll find a body?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Do you want to? It’ll be like “Stand by Me.” I’ll be River Phoenix,” she kicked a stick, “unless you want to be River Phoenix.”

“No, I’m ok. I don’t like people who die pretty and young. It makes me self conscious about aging.”

“I don’t know why people romanticize youth anyway,” she said, “it’s a hella temporary state.”

“People like to think things can last forever,” I said, then, “almost there.”

We walked ahead, toward the twist in the path where the video had been filmed. I don’t know why we were going there. It was dumb and we were young. What did we think we’d find? And why did we want to find anything?

“What did you see, when we stopped the tape for a second, right before the person holding the camera got pushed, or whatever?”

“Nothing, really,” I said, “we are almost there right?”

“I know it was just a shadow,” she said, “but I felt like I saw something.”

“Is it here?”

“Like — you know when an image gets messed up on a website? It’s just a digital scramble? Then it’s normal? It was like that — the glitch before it goes normal. But I know there wasn’t anything there.”

“Here,” I said. We turned the corner. We were at the little break in the park where the video had been shot. To the left, woods. To the right, the precipice. And there, standing in front of the cliff, was James.

He was wearing the same clothes he had been wearing in our kitchen: tight jeans, a black t shirt, black chucks. His back was to us, but I know immediately who it was. You can recognize someone without seeing a face.

In his hand, I saw a phone. He pointed it at his left, then his right.

I should had been screaming. I thought I would. And maybe some part of me believed I was. I looked at Hayley. Her mouth was open: veins popped out on her neck as her lips stretched wide and her eyes grew wider and larger. But no sound.

Something was coming.

I could feel it, in the woods, something was rushing moving towards us. To James. I wanted to scream, I felt like I was but I knew I wasn’t. It was coming.

James lowered the camera. The wind came and went by the two of us and into him. It looked like colors and decaying images, like a pixilated drawing of a tornado. It was a cartoon. It was t real. It ripped into his shoulder. I saw blood fly up and into the dead sky. He stumbled to the edge of the cliff. Then over. Then there was only the nothing of our screaming, suddenly audible and hysterical.

Everything after that turned into the slow, sick time, where events feel delayed, as if it was happening from a great distance. We ran down the path that looped down the hill, loose dirt and rocks slipping under our feet. My chest hurt, I remembered thinking as I ran; it felt tight and full of breaths I couldn’t believe I was still taking.

At the bottom of the path we jumped into the clearing where James had just fallen. But there was no James. There was no blood. Just a space where a body should have been and, in that area, a brilliant blue iphone.

*****

We got back to our apartment after eight, exhausted and suddenly cold in the night air. Cars were backing up at the traffic light, the city starting to sound louder, different, as the streetlights flooded corners. I could hear music blaring from one of the cars as I unlocked the door, Hayley following me.

Once we were inside, Hayley put the phone on the kitchen table and walked out of the room.

“Where are you —”

“I need to take a shower,” she said. “Don’t touch the phone.”

Within moments, I heard the rattle of pipes, the rushing of water. I walked over to the fridge and poured a glass of the cheap American pink wine we drank too much of. It tasted like headaches.

I finished a glass. Then poured another. Then I pulled out my phone and texted James.

“Hey. How are you.”

Then,

“What happened inthe parf”

“*park. stupid phone. what was thet?”

My phone buzzed back. A little green circle.

“who is this”

“this is Ariel is this James?”

“sorry. wrong number”

“Is this a new phone? Did you just get this number”

“No had it forever sorrry. Have a nice nightZ”

Hayley came out of her room, her hair still damp, almost a half hour later. I was finishing my third glass of wine. She said hey and I said hey back and she grabbed the wine from the fridge and walked out into the living room and I followed her. She sat on the muted grey couch her parents had let her take when we moved in and I sat on the floor, leaning against the cold wall. Another kid lived in the apartment next to us, on whose wall I leaned. I had a semi whatever crush on him. He worked nights at a gas station and smoked so much I could taste the cigarettes sometimes through the walls. Was he there, I thought. Would he still be there?

“I looked James up on Facebook,” Hayley said. Her voice sounded numb. “I couldn’t find his profile. His tumblr’s gone too. So his Twitter.”

“I texted him. Somebody sent a text back saying I had a wrong number.”

“He’s gone. He doesn’t exist.”

“We’re going crazy. People don’t just stop existing.”

“He did.”

“You’re right,” I sighed, “he did.”

“So,” she took a swig off the bottle, “now what?”

“I don’t think there’s really a manual for this sort of thing.”

“There should be,” then, hesitatingly, “what is this sort of thing?”

“Whatever it is, it’s not real. Like, this isn’t happening. I don’t think this is real.”

“It is happening, though,” Hayley murmured, holding the wine. “It’s happening.”

“I’ve been sitting here,” I started, “trying to figure out what we know, like for a fact. I thought it might help.”

“Did it?”

“Fuck no,” I laughed and she almost did. “But this is what happened: James found the phone, leaving a party. He never told us what party—”

“We didn’t ask.”

“I know. But on television shows they reconstruct these things. So, he finds the phone, figures out the password —”

“All fours,” said Hayley, “four means death in Japan.”

“— right? Watches the video, doesn’t recognize his feet in the video? Shows it to us instead of investigating, goes to work? That’s crazy: James doesn’t fucking care about his barista gig,” I said.

“But he went.”

“He went.”

It was silent for a minute or two, the sounds of traffic and night slipping the window, as both of us sat, not saying anything. Finally, Hayley took a swig, then:

“I think I know what happened. Maybe. Wait here,” she said and she left the living room and walked off to her living room. She came back, carrying her laptop.

“Did James ever tell you about that time his school bus crashed,” she said, as she sat down and started to typing.

“He did,” I nodded, “he was like ten and it skidded on black ice. He wrote a story about it. He seemed really freaked out by it.”

She opened up the laptop and passed it over.

“Look.”

The screen was opened to an archived article from a Connecticut newspaper. James’ home state. About a bus crash. One fatality. A ten year old boy. James Han.

“What is this? Did you make this up? Hayley if you made this up I swear to god I swear —”

“I didn’t make it up. I searched for him forever and there was nothing. Like he didn’t exist. Then I found that. It just appeared in a search like it had always been there. Read it if you want. Or don’t. It’s the story he told us. But in this one he dies.”

“Just like he did in the park”

“…yeah, like that.”

“What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “but I think he was dead when we met him. And maybe the James we met was a glitch.”

“So if James was a glitch, are we? Because when I was eleven I —”

“No, Ariel,” she said, calmly, “stop. I don’t want to hear about you almost dying when you were a kid, because I almost died when I was a kid. So what does that make us?”

Neither of us said anything for a moment. Finally, I coughed.

“…do we want to look at the phone?”

“No,” she said, “not tonight. Tonight, I’m going to go take an ambien and go to bed. Let’s talk about this tomorrow. Ok?”

“Ok.”

An hour later, when I was sure she was asleep, I walked out into the kitchen. I didn’t turn on the lights. The traffic signal from the visible intersection outside the apartment glowed green through the slats of the blinds. I picked up the phone. I punched in 4444. It opened.

It was the same as the other: no information, no apps, no photos. One video.

I stared at it until I couldn’t anymore. I hit play.

Whoever was filming was running, causing the camera to bounce up and down nauseously. They were on Sigmund Street which, as one of the major streets near me, I recognized almost immediately. I had the volume down but I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear anything. The figure ran, desperate and moving from one side of the street to the other, coming to a sudden stop as they reached Eddelstein Bridge. I saw their shoes, briefly, then there was a long pause. The feet moved from one side to the other, transferring weight, tapping. And then there was something else in the frame. The screen shook, the image growing wildly pixilated, and then the riots colored turned abruptly, mechanical black.

It only took a few minutes to get to the bridge. No one was really out, since the area was mostly retail storefronts which had all been closed for at least a couple of hours at that point. My steps sounded echoey.

I could see her from far away, standing motionless in the blank night. The sky was void of clouds, letting the moonlight translate everything. Especially her.

I didn’t think she was going to move. I thought she’d be like James, but once I was almost twenty feet away, she turned.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey” I answered, “I’m sorry I watched the tape.”

“Don’t worry,” she waved me off, “I would have if you hadn’t.”

“What do we do now?”

“That’s easy. We tell each other how we died. You go first.”

“Okay,” I said, “I was eleven. It was at school. Sixth grade. I was climbing the rope.”

“I hated the rope.”

“Me too. Before this happened, even. I got to the top and — you know how it was secured to the ceiling? On that latch?”

“Uh huh?”

“It came off the latch.”

“Oh my god.”

“I fell like fifteen feet. Completely fine. No injuries. Everybody told me how lucky I was. But I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like something had fucked up.”

“Like you should have died?”

“Yeah, like there was a mistake.” A car drive by with a missing headlight, an urban cyclops, “what about you?”

“I was sixteen. In my house. I took a bottle of Prozac,” she shrugged, “I liked the irony. Whatever. But, yeah. A week later, I got out of the hospital. The doctor told me it was a miracle I was alive. But I don’t know. Maybe there was just a wrong line of code somewhere. Maybe —”

She didn’t finish her sentence.

Her screams didn’t sound real as the thing broke into her, her eyes flashing sudden vicious strange awareness as her body rose into the air, briefly, her brown and blue new balances twisting inches above the cement, and then she collapsed, twitching on the ground. When she landed I was able to move, but it didn’t matter. She wasn’t there. Just an iPhone in the middle of the street, with a series of spider hairline cracks in the case.

Around noon the next day, I had made it to the living room, staring at the ceiling. My phone buzzed. I had been texting Raj — the guy Hayley had been dating — a few minutes ago.

“yeah for sure come on over. Doing zero rn. what’s the weird thing you wavy to show me?”

“I’ll show you whenI get there,” I typed, “can I bring Hayley?”

“*WANT not wavy :/

But yeah for sure Bring her over. Who is she? I know her”

I looked at the empty spot in the living room where there used to be a grey couch.

“oh wait,” I typed, “she isn’t here rn.”

Credit To – Kevin Sharp

Note: Crossposted from /r/nosleep with explicit permission from the original author.

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Lost Tombs and Those Lost Within Them

May 24, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I could barely keep from collapsing as I ran through what seemed to be the never-ending darkness of the godforsaken catacombs. When I’d first signed on to serve as Professor Nickel’s field assistant, I’d assumed that the shrunken old man and I would spend days standing over a blanket of dirt, sifting through broken vases and old bones in search of some lost relic that the old fart would be hunting for.

He was always ranting about the “lost civilizations” and “how they need to be better explored by those with vision!”

All I’d cared about was walking away with a passing grade.

Now all I cared about was living to tell the tale!

We’d gotten separated some time ago, the old loon hopping down from a leaning column to the top of what he claimed to be a Sumerian tomb, telling me to keep up. How the old man moved like he did, I had no idea, but the jump was easily a twenty-foot drop.

Yeah, not doing that. I’d thought with disdain, having thought of the horrors my knees would face from such a height had I made a similar jump.

Now I was running for my life from some ancient Sumerian creatures that had crawled from the cracked awning of some ionic pillars, great shark-like maws wide in anticipation for what I could only assume to be dinner.

Namely me.

It didn’t matter as the creatures chasing me through the utter darkness were outright terrifying. From what I’d seen, the creatures were essentially unwrapped mummies that had replaced their funerary wrappings in place of moving along the walls like spiders. Hissing in their ancient language innumerable insults at me as they chased me around the catacombs, howling with laughter like sadistic chimps as they swung from high above, their aged claws scraping away bits of ancient plaster as they hurried after me.

Running with the two satchels of archaeologist’s tools, I quickly roll under a fallen column and soldier-crawl my way beneath a toppled statue, doing my best not to hack and cough at the dust I was kicking up.

I almost hack when I feel one of them land on top of the toppled statue, the other landing on all fours some distance away, prowling just within the light of my dropped flashlight, giving me a decent look at them.

They were obviously once human, but centuries of decay had changed that, turning them into something far worse. What funerary bindings they still possessed seemed only to exist to hold the carrion beetles that crawled all about their yellowed bones held together by the lightest of pink tendrils, thin strands of decayed sinew perhaps. Their mouths were no longer even comparable to what I possessed, being cracked down the middle and held aloft by the same pink tendrils, giving them a wide, toothy maw that nevertheless looked as if it could break stone. Their arms were covered in faded tattoos, highly intricate looking dark ink work that had probably meant something at one time. Now all I could do was stare at the bare-boned hands, the sharpened finger bones…

The one on top gave a great leap, causing more dust to rain down on me, landing next to its compatriot. This one held an old sword awkwardly with its left hand, handling the cracked leather-hilt as if it were poison.

Whatever this Ghoul had been in life, it was obviously not a soldier. It held the sword awkwardly, offering it to the other with a shrug, the two speaking in their gibberish language.

Oh, good lord, they’re thinking…

I fish into my satchel, as quietly as possible, for something that I could actually use as a weapon for when I eventually bump into one of them and can’t run. One satchel is nothing but books and brushes, so I look into the other, finding my great savior!

A steel trowel.

Six inches of sharpened steel connected to a wooden handle. That was all I had to separate me from death.

I shuffle about beneath the collapsed statue, like a sleepy turtle trying to find a comfortable spot, crawling the way I came in, squatting behind several tons of rubble in hopes of keeping the creatures far enough away from me actually to make a break for it. I slink around the corner as best I can, trying to figure out where the hell I actually am in the damned ruins. Pulling a compass and a smaller flashlight, I frown as I notice North is in the exact opposite direction I wanted it to be.

The map of the supposed “Tomb of the Ubaid Princes” that Professor Nickel had traded his watch for was worth its weight in lead in my eyes, but Nickel had been hopping with joy over the idea of a set of Ubaid tombs as of yet untapped.

I’d merely rolled my eyes.

Now I could just wring his damn neck for getting me into this deathtrap.

A crumbling of mortar tumbles over my shoulder, a hissing cadaver perched atop a column just above me, wielding the ancient looking sword within its cracked leather casing, its eyeless sockets filled with an unholy green light as it opened its mouth to an unholy size. It howls at me in anger or hunger.

Or happiness?

I have no idea, so I respond by ramming the trowel up into the creature’s chest, the steel cracking through the creatures sternum with the sound of dry timber snapping. It doesn’t seem to mind as it swings its sword at me with clumsy fumbling, falling off of the pillar as I yank the creature down with me into a wrestling match, stabbing at the creature madly as it howls in agony, its weak claws scratching at my shirt feebly as I vent my frustrations out on the unholy being.

Two more come bounding around the corner, caterwauling like a pair of mated tigers after the people who stole their cubs. The creature beneath me is barely grasping at my boots as I stand, feeling a little more empowered seeing as the damn things obviously can’t fight worth a damn. I scoop up the leather ensconced sword from the creatures twitching talons. The two creatures run at me, moving more like wolves than men, hissing their greeting as they leap over the rubble. I raise the sword more like a mallet, bringing it down to the crown of one of the mad beasts, hammering its skull more than cleaving it.

The leather cracks away more than any damage I did to the screeching corpse beneath me. This one is far stronger than the other, giving me a rather painful sense of anger at myself for being made to believe I could effectively fight these things. My leather-clad sword serves some healthy justice snapping the wrist of the second howling creature as it pounces onto my back, the thin pink veins doing little to keep the fractured bone connected to the body. The creature on my back encapsulates my head within its engorged mouth, the separated lower jaws forming a tight noose around my neck as the creature beneath me grabs hold of my wrists, their unholy shrieking becoming profane laughter as, rather than the intense pressure of a bite or the serrated edges of teeth, I feel a sudden pressure against the back of my head like I’d blocked off a water pipe. The one on my back pulls up slightly, allowing room for whatever its vomiting to move over me, and thousands of scarabs and carrion beetles begin scuttling over and under my clothes, their feathered legs leaving long shallow cuts wherever they fall.

I throw my weight back, slamming my insect-filled foe into a column behind me, a disgusting squelching noise similar to the sound of rotting pumpkins being thrown from an overpass rising from its chest, along with a series of audible snaps as I cave in its torso. It falls to the ground in a heap, wheezing out a steady stream of insects that seem to have decided to turn on him rather than me.

Thank God, because I can feel a few dozen finding spots all over my body and beginning to claw through my epidermis, seeking the warmth of the womb that my body would provide. The leering undead still grasping my wrists expands his mouth out, his hollow throat beginning to bulge as it seems he feels like sharing his personal wealth of flesh-eating insects.

Bang!

Bang!

Two shots fired from Professor Nickel’s personal hunting rifle tag the creature, once in the temple and again in the right shoulder, effectively blowing it to pieces in my very hands. While old, senile and eccentric, Professor Nickels always carries two guns with him at all times, something he’d suggested I do as well, once I actually earn some money to buy something. Slinging his Sharps Buffalo Rifle back over his back, you can just barely make out the holster to his M1911 pistol, something he tells me “one should always keep loaded when on an expedition, just in case.”

I’d assumed he’d meant bandits!

“Joshua!” He calls out from half way across the rubble-strewn room, hopping to and fro like a bullfrog after a fat firefly. “Did they get any on you?”

“Yes!” I all but screech as I feel three particularly large beetles begin wriggling their way into my skin, pushing a hole through my flesh. Three red blotches begin to form over my clothes, two over my stomach and one over my right thigh.

“Quickly, drink this!” He says, shoving a glass bottle into my hand that I happily begin fumbling with the cap. After several seconds of nervous fumbling, I growl and slam the top end of the bottle across an old mosaic next to me, breaking the bottle open wide enough for me to begin guzzling the foul smelling liquor held within.

“The larvae will die quickly enough if you’re sauced to the gills,” Nickels explains, his wrinkled face crinkling further as he smiles at me as I continue to drain the bottle, a faded paper label bearing the words “Ever” before being too rubbed out to see. With my throat on fire and my insides wriggling with parasites that were continually burrowing into me, I drop to the ground gasping for air, dropping the empty bottle into the sand.

“It will hurt like hell in the morning, let me tell you,” Nickels says with a smile, patting me on the shoulder with a gnarled hand. “The alcohol will drive them out of your body, or kill them. You’ll have to pay a nice doctor to drain your infected wounds once we get back to Baghdad in a few weeks.”

I sputter at the thought, my head spinning. “A few weeks? Did you not just see what we had to deal with?”

The old man waves his hand in the air at me as if a foul odor was passing. “Merely temple guardians, looters that fell prey to the traps around here and found themselves as guards for tombs and the like. But I have a good feeling on this one lad, a good feeling!”

“However so?” I ask, moving to my feet rather shakily, leaning heavily on my newest acquisition, the sword reaching an easy four feet in length.

“Well, that sword for one thing!” Nickels says with a wide, toothless grin. “The Ubaid weren’t known for their iron-working abilities, merely their domestic advancements; I’ve long since held belief that there was a civilization here before the Ubaid, based on their legends of metal men and the like, and that sword is quite a piece of history if I do say so myself.”

“Well at the moment it’s my cane because I can feel a goddamned roach burrowing deeper into my gut!” I hiss at him, but he pays it no mind.

“The tomb I found, the one that you wandered away from, well it is just what I was hoping for when I saw it and the great seal over it!” He crows, dancing about me like a mad little leprechaun. “The seal predates the Ubaid by at least five hundred years, and it has markings similar to the ones the Sumer used to mark royalty. I think I found myself the crypt of a King of an Empire not yet recorded!”

“Bully for you…” I grumble, limping alongside him.

He looks up at me with a discouraging glare. “Don’t tell me you’re going to be this much of a whiner the whole expedition, are you? Because if you think those petty guardians were anything worth talking about than you don’t even want to know what is probably lurking down in that tomb we’re going to be breaching in the morning.”

I could barely keep from collapsing as I felt the first of my burrowing playmates begin to spasm from the strong grain alcohol I’d ingested. My head swimming with drunken vigor and mild blood loss, all I could do was glare at the old man as we settled into our campsite, twin pair of tents and several large chests scattered about the sandy cavern we’d climbed down into, our camels left at a small oasis some two miles East of here with a tribe of nomads that Nickels seemed to be on good terms with.

Drunkenly leaning back, I decide to take a solid look at my walking blade, brushing away the flaking leather to take a better gander at the iron beneath it. It was in near pristine condition, a few touches of age here and there, but no actual structural damage to the frame of the blade. I knew for a fact that the museum back in London would pay me an easy ten thousand quid for the thing more than enough to pay off any outstanding loans I have hovering about my head at the local gambling houses.

Despite the crazed dead and demented midget, this dig might not is so bad at all.

***

I awake to the sounds of scraping stone and the grinding of dried mortar, giving my sleep-addled mind a sharp spike of adrenaline, considering all that has happened to me so far. I push my way up, wincing at the numerous bruises and scratches that are littered over my thin frame. The fire we’d assembled atop the tomb still burned bright, shining slivers of starlight peering through the narrow crevice we’d climbed through to get to this hellish dig.

I find Professor Nickels crouched over the tomb’s seal, hammer and chisel in hand as he is lightly tapping away at the edges of the four-foot circular disk of stone. Hunched over in the darkness, the old man makes me think of the stories of gremlins, incomprehensible creatures that would come into your home at night and hide your shoes, or take your socks. The old man is goofy looking not because of his wild mane of hair sprouting from the side and back of his head instead of the top, nor because he wore glasses that had adjustable nobs on them to move lenses in and out of the frame, allowing him to examine things “in better detail”, while essentially looking like the King of the Insane Beetles.

He was goofy because he didn’t care what everyone else thought of him, and despite his low social standing amidst the Historical community, he churned out peer-reviewed research like clockwork every six months that furthered our knowledge of ancient cultures. So the eccentric midget was tolerated, and asked only to teach two classes a year, when the icy chill of winter would spread over England and him would remain cloistered within his quarters, writing and compiling notes in between classes.

“Professor, what are you going?” I ask tiredly, leaning heavily on my shining sword, which had taken quite a bit of work to get to this poor level of shine let me tell you. The Professor, after looking it over, had declared it to be from the same time period of the Ubaid people, but not of their make (metallurgy was beyond them), theorizing it came from a group that “displaced” the Ubaid through warfare, eventually creating the Sumerian culture some five to seven hundred years later, depending on who you were talking to.

“Joshua, my boy, come down and help me move the seal!” He calls to me, still squatting impossibly low for a man of his advanced age. “The mind is willing, but the flesh is withered and old; I need a young strong back to move the seal so that we can continue our explorations!”

I sigh and walk over next to him, dropping to my knees and taking as firm a grip as I could at this awkward angle and begin to shove with all my might, slowly moving the three to four hundred pound slab inch by inch. After moving it halfway open, he orders me to halt, giddy at the smell of the musty old air rising from the crypt below us.

“Why didn’t you just break the damn seal so we could just go down? Now my back feels like it’s been run through a sausage grinder.”

“Call it vanity on my part, but once we’ve cataloged what’s in the primitive tomb, I’ll want to bring that seal with me, as a souvenir.” He said with a grin. “Don’t worry; you won’t have to be my porter for that one. Plus, if we discover something down there that could be called ‘The Mother of All Evil,’ I’ll be wanting that seal intact to cover it back up.”

“The Mother of All Evil?” I repeat, looking at the spry little dwarf of a man as he flipped between lenses on his glasses, peering into the darkness beneath the seal.

“Oh my, it looks like we’ll need some rope… perhaps a hundred or so feet of it.”

“What’s down there that’s so important that we need to go deeper into this crypt Professor?” I ask, curious to what he can see with his steam-powered headgear. He looks up at me, all of his additional lenses flipping back at once, rolling back into their separate compartments.

“What I’ve been looking for my boy, what I’ve been looking for.” He says with a grin, hopping from foot to foot gleefully at the discovery. Rolling my eyes, I climb back up to our campsite to retrieve the rope and the climbers gear. Hammering in three pitons (safety first!) I loop the knotted silk rope around them and tie as harness about myself, as well as a smaller backpack rigging that I planned on tucking the good Professor into, the twisted little bastard. He happily tucks himself into the makeshift backpack, jabbering on about how important this find was, and other such nonsense.

I just wanted to live through this now, like I said.

“Professor, mind if I take your Pistol, for the time being? I feel a little… unsafe walking around with just a sword.” I ask, trying not to sound too desperate in my plea.

“You’re a young strapping buck, Joshua,” He said from his safety harness on my back, patting my kidneys to reassure me. “A sword should be fine enough for you. I never lend anything, my boy, anything at all! That’s how you lose your favorite books or good pens, you know.”

I ignore the urge to just throw the little man down the hole and just make my final adjustments with the rope and the pitons, ensuring their driven deep into a solid section of stone and not just some piece of loose tile. Strange, there are several other holes in the stone similar to the ones I’m hammering in, almost a ring of them surrounding this pit. I pay them no mind as Professor Nickels urges me to move forward.

“The ropes seem fine Joshua, just fine! Now let’s get a move on!” Professor Nickels whined from my back.

“Hey, I’m just making sure this will work alright? Whatever’s been down there had been down there since before the pyramids, according to you, it can wait another five minutes.” I snap at him, still trying to figure out how to carry my sword (which is essentially the same size and weight as the good Professor) while shimmying down a rope into a darkened tomb. I reach in my side satchel and pull out a flare, cracking it against the stone floor to ignite the magnesium and sawdust held within it, the foot long rod now glowing as brightly as the sun.

“What’s that?” Professor Nickels asks, sounding somewhat worried. “Are we being attacked?”

I can feel him pulling his rifle closer to his chest and quickly snag the butt of it with my armpit. “No, I’m just throwing a flare down in the hole, relax.”

“What? Why on earth are you wasting a flare when I already told you it was perfectly safe?” He demands hotly, struggling to break my ironclad grip on his rifle.

“Because I can’t see in the dark as you can you old loon.” I curse and, before he can reply, tuck the flare into the rope about my waist (the fiery bright end up against a boiled strip of leather I used to protect my kidneys whenever I practice boxing in between classes) before jumping down into the hole, feeling the roughened silk rope slide through my leather clad glove as the two of us scream at our rapid descent.

I ditch my sword when I see the ground is coming too quickly and grab the rope with all my might, turning us into a swinging pendulum a good ten feet from the dusty ground. My hands sting from the sudden friction, and I thank God for the fact I’d brought along all of my fighters gear, just in case.

The palms of my gloves are forever ruined, but at least I had hands.

Professor Nickels undoes his rigging, dropping to the floor lightly with a fit of giggles. “Good God, what a rush! It’s a shame we can’t do it again, eh?”

I give him a sour look that I know he ignores and pull the flare from my belt, holding it up high to take a look at what this chamber held. It was built in the shape of a bell, the base much wide than the top, with flaring buttresses and smooth stone sloping up the walls. A surprising lack of murals for such a wide chamber, but as I approach one of the walls I can tell why: hundreds of slats running along the walls, perhaps a foot deep and a foot wide, are filled to the brim with human bones.

Professor Nickels wasn’t joking when he called this a tomb.

He hobbles up next to me, studying the architecture with glee as he jots down note after note in his small moleskin journal. “Very nice, very nice indeed!” He said happily. Looking around at the vast collection of bones. “This must be a room where those sacrificed were to be placed.”

“Wait, how do you know that?” I ask, looking around for any sign of writing or any indication that this was a religious room.

“Well the only entrance is nearly a hundred foot drop, and while you may not have noticed, the center stone directly beneath the hole is made of much more durable granite, polished to a fine shine.” He said with a carefree smile. “The bones were placed into the walls after the victim had been thrown down here. I would also like to note, just to keep you alert, that none of these skeletons, no matter how incomplete, seem to have suffered any major broken bones.”

“That means something was down here to, what, sort the dead?” I ask hesitantly, looking down at Professor Nickels.

“No, I believe this is just a hobby for whatever it is they trapped down here some few thousand years ago.” Professor Nickels replied while eyeing the varying states of decomposition between the bones. “Grab your sword Joshua… we might still have need of it.”
***

The entire room was indeed built like a bell, tapered at the top, with curving walls flowing downward in a wavy pattern that suggested the site was originally a naturally existing cavern that some primitive culture had chosen to alter. The entire room is roughly two hundred feet in diameter, with four pillars acting as support for the structure forming a square some fifty feet apart from each other, and seventy-five feet or so from the Charnel-lined walls. Everything was carved from smooth granite, with few actual etchings marring in the stone, indicating the tools used to fashion the tile, and the columns were metal, not stone.

Professor Nickels was ecstatic, having pulled an oil lantern from his prodigious satchel, creating a wreath of comforting light around us. He did this not for comfort, but to study the pillars, and the drawings ever so carefully carved into them. I chose to shoulder merely my sword and stay by the old man, watching for whatever could be down here that enjoyed sorting bones.

Scribbling furiously in his journal, Professor Nickels was blathering on about how this was supposed to be the antechamber to the “River of Continued Life,” which would either represent a belief in reincarnation or a belief in an underworld reachable only by waterway. Both of these beliefs existed in this area at a later date, the rocky hills and mountains of Iraq having played host to Roman and Hindu alike. But from what little Sanskrit and hieroglyphs I knew, damned if I could say they were similar to the writings on the pillars.

My flare, slowly dying out, left a large black mark on my leather bodice, and so I chose to use it as an exploratory tool, mostly by throwing it as far as I could.

Bouncing off the wall (and narrowly flying into a slot full of femurs), the flare drops down with a clatter and rolls for a few moments, illuminating a passage by just the barest shred of shadow. I immediately break out another flare, cracking it to life with a sizzling twist and hurl it into the gaping maw of the passage, its landing kicking up a small cloud of dust and grim as it rolls about, hissing and spitting sparks. For the briefest of moments, I thought I saw the flicker of movement within the flares fluorescent glow, but thankfully it was just a cloud of detritus that had been stirred up.

“Well now this is strange,” Professor Nickels says aloud, a phrase that I can safely say is never safe to hear when you are hundreds of feet beneath the ground. “It keeps referring to a symbol that could either mean ‘Keeper Of’ or ‘Keeper from’.”

“Those are two big distinctions Professor, and I’d rather not die fighting whatever the hell acts as a Keeper to this place, only to find your supposed ‘Mother of all Evils; down here.” I reply, eyeing the passage and the two sets of light keeping it illuminated. “Check another Pillar, see if they have a different reference, a different story.”

“That might be best, as now all I am finding are references to something that I shouldn’t be reading here of all places,” Professor Nickels said with a grunt, walking over to the next pillar, the one furthest from the passage. “The symbol… it can’t be what I think it means, as that would prove this to be a very dangerous place.”

“What symbol? Maybe I’ve seen it somewhere.” I offer, thinking it worth a shot. After all, I am an archaeologist in training.

He looks at me oddly as if not looking at the man he knew me to be but with a sudden, distrusting glint. “You’ve never studied at Miskatonic University, have you?”

“Miskatonic? No, I tried to get in but my application was rejected. Their standards are too high for me to attain for now. Why?” I ask, confused. What did the infamous Arkham University have to do with knowing an ancient symbol?

“Then thank whatever God you believe in that you can’t confirm that symbol for me.” Professor Nickels utters as he pushes past me and to the next column, dropping his bag to serve as a seat as he begins scribbling notes from the pillar, his translations slow and steady.

I chose to crack open another flare and follow along the walls to make certain I wasn’t missing any other passages, slowly running my hand along the centuries old stone as I go. Cool to the touch, yet oddly bereft of any dust, or soot. The passage has been full of such debris, but it seemed as if a maid had come through just before us, tidying everything up.

I make a discovery that nearly kills me as I stumble upon a sudden drop-off, just opposite of the passage. The wall opens and goes back about twenty feet, for about thirty feet of wall space. A small stone bridge, barely three feet in width, crosses over to an alcove on the other side, where the most bizarre statue I’ve ever seen sits atop a fountain.

A creature that looks aquatic by nature, with fins and frills sprouting from its three tentacle appendages that it is using to rise from the fountain, with carved from what I could only guess to be marble. The tentacles themselves reared up, showing off what any normal squid would have but instead revealing a row of carved eyes, each set with a small faded emerald. The tentacles connected with the main body, a bulbous center followed by a long serpentine tail that it was resting upon, like a cobra raised up.

The head of the beast was lowered and shaped like a bell, with a three-foot wide lamprey mouth slowly spewing water into the fountain beneath it. One great eye, shut for reasons I could never guess, sat atop the head, but from where I stood I could see spacing for the eyelids to move, probably if a lever were turned or something.

The rest of the fountain was nothing but a great piece of art depicting a city, embossed figures running away from the great beast while smaller versions of the creature seemed to be chasing them.

“I’d say early ninth century BC,” Professor Nickels says from my elbow, eyeing the disturbing piece as well.

“What the hell is that?” I ask, waving my flare at it. “I’ve never heard of any tales of giant sea beasts that resemble that.”

To say its name is said to garner its attention, but to ease this conversation, we shall call it by the title it earned: Darkness Given Hunger.” The Professor said with a sigh, staring at the statue with the look of a man lost in a terrible, terrible memory. “If this is this far south… what this is isn’t what I was looking for.”

“Well, you were looking for evidence of older civilizations Professor.”

“Not this kind, and certainly not here of all places.” Professor Nickels grouses, moving over to his pack in a sudden hurry.

From deep below our feet the entire complex quaked with the churning of some unwholesome howl, along with the groaning of the very stone around us. Whatever Nickels feared could be down here, it sounded as if it just now took note of us.

How that would play out, I couldn’t say.
***

Professor Nickels had decided to drop finally his mammoth backpack to the temple floor, a sudden cloud of dust bursting up from the floor in a choking miasma that left both of us coughing. Flipping over the seal of his bag, he rooted within its cavernous interior until he yanked free two cartridges of ammunition for his M1911, pulling back the safety and checking over the heavy pistol before tossing it to me.

“While the sword’s a nice touch, I’ve got a feeling that we’ll need a bit more arms than that to deal with what we’re going to find down here.” Professor Nickels says with a wry chuckle, carefully loading his Sharp’s rifle with the inch long bullets as he spoke. “A good deal of trouble should be heading our way if my guess is right.”

“Guess? What guess? And shouldn’t we be leaving if you think we’re going to be in trouble?” I ask, fumbling with the heavy pistol before getting a good feel for it, sheathing my sword in the crumbling scabbard as I watch him pull out small green orbs, a metallic sheen glinting from the flare’s bright glow.

Grenades? “What are we going to need those for? To cover our escape?”

“We stood in front of the statue lad, shed blood over the top soil of the creature’s tomb,” Professor Nickels calmly explains. “If I’d but known this was a sight where one of these blasted things dwelt, I’d never have of brought you here. For that, I’m deeply sorry.”

“What things? This Darkness Given Hunger thing?” I ask, growing slightly annoyed at how little the dear professor was sharing. I snap my head to the side, looking down the tunnel opposite of the statue leading down, down deeper into the cold womb of the earth. A distant echo was coming from the tunnel, a wet noise… like the sound of mud dropping from the hide of an elephant, plopping to the ground in great sickly splats.

“The Darkness Given Hunger is something put to sleep thousands of years ago by ancient man, and kept in a tomb under lock and key.” The Professor begins to explain, moving away from his pack with a surprising amount of speed, back straight for the first time that I’d ever seen. “Legend’s tell of creatures made from the blood and dreams of the slumbering beast, creatures that act as both its wardens and its servants.”

“Servants? What the hell are you talking about?”

“The creature and its ilk are as close to damned gods as mankind have ever seen! They ruled over the ancient civilizations as monstrous tyrants while others merely reveled in slaughtering entire empires, feasting on our flesh and drinking our blood!” Professor Nickels all but shouts, sliding the bolt of his rifle into place. “We’re going to need to do something about this… an unholy site like this must be sealed up, locked away from people who would stumble blindly into it.”

“So the grenades?” I ask, watching as he slings a smaller pack (pulled from his larger one) over his shoulder, filling it with the small cylindrical grenades and sticks of dynamite. “And the dynamite?”

“We’re going deeper, deep enough to where the tunnel is narrow and beneath several tons of earth.” The good professor replied, shouldering his rifle. “And then we’re going to coax out some of these creatures out and kill them so I can have a look at them before blowing this place back to the bowels of Hell where it belongs.”

A horrid, gurgling screech echoes from the depths of the tunnel before us, a scrabbling of steel upon stone as… something is coming up from the unknown. “Here comes the first wave… this should tell us what we’re dealing with.”

I look at him like he’s a madman (which isn’t unusual) before moving behind a pillar, putting my back to the cool stone as I pull a new flare from my satchel, cracking it to life before spinning around the pillar and throwing it into the dimly lit tunnel, my previous flare having begun to peter out.

The thrown flare collides solidly with a wet slap against the chest if you could call it that, of unholy terror torn from the brainchild of Dr. Seuss and Escher. Two legs rising from the top of the creature’s body, multiple joints visible beneath the gelatinous skin moving in tandem as the creature shuffles awkwardly towards us, my flare seemingly stuck to its hide by viscous ooze seeping from its pores.

The main torso is nothing but a lone, unblinking eye and a series of snake-like tentacles, all ending in three pronged mouths that writhe and hiss. Its feet are boneless, shapeless blobs of protoplasm that it used to balance upon, merely sliding along the ground with its leg movements rather than lifting its feet like any other creature would. The crackling flare stuck just above its eye created a corona of light that illuminated the rest of the hall, revealing another three such creatures shambling up the hall towards us.

Professor Nickels breaks me from my horrified stupor with the loud crack of his rifle, echoing across the chamber as the high caliber round lances through the gelatinous hide of the first creature, passing through it and through another still, all without slowing them down. Cursing, he fires two more shots, blasting away large globs of their green flesh, spattering it against the walls around them as he begins firing at their legs.

But still they push on, onward into the chamber, their tentacles stretched out towards us hissing, hissing in a language that seemed too alien for me to understand, yet I understood all too well. Words of pain and suffering, of my eternal agony and of their eternal suffering flitted through my mind, images of men being torn asunder by armies of these creatures, of how the oceans would grow dark with their passing, consuming anything and everything in their path.

And of how they dreamed of doing it again.

“Focus damn it!” Professor Nickels shouts at me, reloading his Sharps as quickly as his arthritic hands can. “They get in your mind unless you focus!”

Seeing what little effect his bullets seemed to have on these gelatinous horrors before us, I move from behind the pillar, focusing on the creature with the smoldering flare charring it’s quivering mass. I fire three rounds as I calmly walk up to it, one going wide and striking the floor a few yards behind it, but the other two piercing deep into the creatures eye, a spray of writhing maggots erupting from the two holes made over the sensitive flesh. The snake-like tentacles screech in agony, growing louder in pitch as I lunge forward with my blade, hacking into the writhing mass with vigor I never knew I possessed.

The multiple maws all shriek with fury untold as I hack and tear them away from the creature’s bobbing form, firing bullets into the center of its bulbous, now deflated, eye as I slash and jab away at its tentacles as if they were mere weeds. Prof. Nickels, watching the effect of shooting them in the eye, unloads a single round into the remaining threes’ large eyes, the floor now smeared with trampled maggots and green blood.

It takes me but a moment to realize, as I’m rending into the beast, that I’m slowly growing taller than it. Looking down, I see several of the severed tendrils, now mawless but still quite flexible, wrapped around my legs and waist, lifting me high into the air above it. Confused, I drop my gun and grip my sword tightly with both hands, swinging in wide arcs to tear away the strands holding me aloft.

With mounting horror and a moment of realization, I saw the bones within the gelatinous beast, the ones that seemed to be there to grant the beast legs and a torso, begin to realign within the central mass of the blob.

Realigning into a humanoid shape.

The creature let loose a horrid squelching noise as the skeletal remains of what was once a living, breathing man burst from the gelatinous walking tomb, sharpened fingers curled into talons as it lashes out, tearing four wide strips in my jerkin with its razor sharp talons. A wet, hollow laughter fills the corridor as the maggots still spewing from the central eye began to swarm back into the creature’s feet, swimming through their host to slowly writhe and contort over the skeletal torso sticking out of the top of the stoop creature.

“Fleshlings… for the master…” The skeleton rasps with a dark voice, the maggots swarming over him, flattening out until they were bursting from the pressure to form a semi-solid paste over the skeletons body. The other three were doing the same, skeletons climbing out of the gelatinous beasts as the writhing streams of maggots fueled a horrid transformation granting them a taut skin coat as pale as the moon. “All will kneel… within his shadow…”

“Kneel to this!” I shout swinging my blade in a heavy-handed arc down into the fragile looking frame as it was climbing from its roost.

Clang!

I stare in shock as the skeleton, now more of a pasty-colored emaciated monster, writhing maggots peeking out from its empty eye sockets, stands there with both hands held high, a thin staff of green slime having jutted out from the quivering mass to block my strike, it’s hardness now equal to that of my ancient blade. As the laughing dead takes a firm grip of the staff, a wicked curved blade grows from the end of it, turning the staff into a scythe. A sickening noise akin to vomit hitting the floor echoes across the chamber as my foe tears his new weapon from his former host, his comrades creating the same weapons from their symbiotic graves.

“The Darkness… feeds… needs to awaken…” The skeletal creature rasps, limping forward towards me, dragging its heavy ended weapon along the stone floor beside it, the scratching of iron on stone grating in my ears. “Bleed… bleed for Qas!”

Bang!

Bang!

Bang!

Professor Nickels quickly begins to reload his rifle as his three shots blast away great chunks of my foes body, rending off an arm at the shoulder socket and blowing away its left lower leg from the knee down.

Undaunted, two of the other undead warriors (the third stumbling from the Professors second shot, which blew away a good portion of its upper body), scythes raised high in the air with screams on their lipless mouths’. I pull my ancient saber back, stepping to the side as a heavy ended scythe came crashing down into the stone with a heavy cracking noise. Before the creature could pull back, I swing my blade in imitation of the abominations maneuver, severing its arms at their elbows, the skeletal forearms still wriggling on the shaft of the scythe wedged into the stone floor.

“Qas… hungers for yo-urk!” The creature hisses at me before I ram the full length of my blade into its skull, the hilt shattering its aged teeth with a sickening crunch. Putting a boot to the creatures face, I hop to the left to put the wriggling undead between me and his last dangerous friend and kick him free from my blade, sending the armless body tumbling into its colleague, who mercilessly twirls its weapon and bisects its allies broken form.

“Flesh… blood… spirit…” The creature hisses as it advances on me, holding the deadly curved blade high before it, a guard flawless against anything I can do.

Bang!

… but not anything Professor Nickels can do. His rifle shot blasts the last skeletons head into disjointed fragments, a rancid green slime exploding outward from the sudden implosion caused by the .50 caliber round. The body stumbles for a moment before the eldritch energies holding it together collapse, the skeletal being falling to pieces as its composite bones are reduced to ash and grit.

The various scythes that the undead abominations had been wielding, as well as their pasty flesh that was drawn taut over their emaciated frames, began to bubble and dissolve as their evil spirits finally lose the battle to remain coherent.

“Good work,” Nickels says as he walks up behind me, reloading his rifle. He scoops up his pistol from the ground and holsters it again, giving me a wary eye. “That sword of yours better pack a wallop, because they confirmed what I feared was down here.”

“You mean…?”

“Darkness Given Hunger,” He interrupts, looking at me pointedly. “Never say his name, or his eye will be cast upon you. Even now he sleeps… hopefully.”

“Than what were those?” I ask, pointing my sword at the bubbling green muck at my feet.

“I’m no expert on the Elder Gods, but those were clearly fractured pieces of the Darkness that serve as guardians for him.” Professor Nickels says as he kneels by one of the steaming puddles, pulling a flask and a spoon from his satchel and ladling in a fair amount of the muck. “Each God has beings that serve them, which are a part of them. The followers of the Christian God call them Angels, the followers of the Yellow King have the Byakhee. If I recall, Darkness Given Hunger has the Dreamless Nightmares, or Quan-gao.”

“Yeah, I can see where they’d get that name.” I say, toeing one of the puddles with my boot. “That sounds somewhat Asiatic in nature.”

“That’s because it is,” Professor Nickels replied from his place on the goo slathered ground. “The Darkness Given Hunger was originally sealed by the Uruk, the Sumerians. How do you think they overcame the vast Ubaid empire history claims they toppled?

“I’ve never thought about it.” I admit, wincing as the Professor pulls a slicked shard of bone from the quivering mass.

“Nobody ever does. Every time a great empire fell, it was because one of these… these things awoke or arrived from beyond time and space, and undid all that man had labored so many years to create. The Sumerians buried this creature after it gorged itself upon their civilization, merely renaming themselves afterward to the Sumerians thanks to the hero who led the battles against the Quan-gao.”

“So why didn’t the Sumerians deal with all of the Quan-gao when they had the chance?” I ask, looking at the bubbling remains of the foul beasts.

“Each man slain in the Darkness’s name, or under his gaze, are pulled into his dreams and made into one of the beasts we just fought.” Professor Nickels says with a distinct shudder. “What you just did was release the souls of three men or women that had spoken his name and died by the hand of one of his agents.”

“Oh… that’s disheartening. And we’re going to go deeper into the tunnels where these things came from?” I ask a tad incredulously, pulling a pit of cloth free from my ruined shirt and wiping away the gunk from my blade.

“Just to blow the narrowest point of the tunnel closed, so that none of this can ever surface. If the Darkness awakens, the world as we know it could fade into a living nightmare.”

“Well if the world is at stake,” I say with a sigh, looking around the tunnel in search of something to plunder. “I’m going to need a shield. I can’t use a gun to save my life.”

“I know,” Professor Nickels said with a smile as he cracked his rifle into the ready position, “I saw. You do well with a blade, and if my eyes don’t deceive me, there’s a round shield just under that debris over there.”

Looking to where he was pointing, I indeed see a battered iron round shield, one that would have been used by virtually a dozen civilizations that had ruled over this area in the last thousand years, pinned beneath a large slab from the mosaic. Moving over, I wedge my blade into a crack in the detritus and heave my weight forward, breaking away the crumbling remains pinning my new prize to the ground.

Covered in verdigris and dents, the leather arm straps within the shield are surprisingly sound, with very little rot to them that I can see. The dented shields surface bears a wolf’s head symbol, perhaps linking it to one of the numerous barbarian tribes that had ravaged the lands above over the past thousand years.

How it got down here when it took the Professor and me over three days of spelunking is beyond me, but I’m thankful for it. I quickly tie the shield off on my left arm, freeing the hand to hold a flare.

While I busy myself with that, the Professor has been busy studying the remaining sections of mosaic with intense scrutiny, jotting down notes in his ever-present journal. “A group of people native to this land dedicated their entire civilization to worshiping the Darkness,” he says aloud as I’m adjusting the straps, “according to this for over five hundred years they lived in the caverns above, building this great complex to house the ancient horror while it lay dormant. Of course, they revered it as a God… and according to this it gave them blessings in return.”

“How? It’s asleep, right?”

The Professor snorts and shoots me a derisive glare. “A being like this is never fully asleep, nor fully awake. It neither lives nor is dead, it just is. Those ghouls up top we encountered were the caretakers of these sacred grounds, blessed with eternal life to serve better their God.”

“Oh…” And we’d killed them. “Then we better hurry, or the rest of them will notice those guards are missing and come looking for us.”

The Professor remains silent as he finished the mosaic, clearing his throat every few moments as he had to stoop to the pieces I had broken away to get a clearer view of what the pictographs read. From his face, they weren’t anything pleasant.

“Anything else I should know about?” I ask as I tighten the last arm brace over my bicep.

“Just that the Darkness slumbers so long as it is regularly fed warriors. If it goes too long without eating, it sends out the Quan-gao. If it goes even longer than it wakes up.”

“Lovely,” I grumble, adjusting my satchel along my hip to have a better sense of balance in the inevitable case of having another fight, “Well then let’s hurry and blow the tunnel closed so that it can’t get out.”
***

I move deeper down the dank tunnel, trying to ignore the saccharine scent of the dead that seems to pervade through the porous stone tunnel we’d begun descending about half an hour ago. The Professor has been unusually quiet as I move ahead of him, my tarnished shield and gleaming sword glinting softly in the light of the flare the good professor has dangled from an extended wooden rod from his satchel, held in place by the straps of his backpack and creating a peaceful glow that chased away the overwhelming gloom of the strange tunnels design.

“It’s like the stone wasn’t carved,” I muse as I slowly make my way down the smooth slope, the tunnel walls, and floor slick with the same green slime the Quan-gao had been comprised of.

“It wasn’t,” Professor Nickels said with authority, pulling a scroll from his side satchel as he spoke. “The Quan-gao are formed primarily of a weak mineral acid, something akin to Boric acid I believe, which allows the slumbering Darkness to guide his guardians in creating new tunnels for it to travel should it ever awaken.”

“Lovely,” I deadpan; slowly learning that the more I heard of this forgotten Elder God, the more I wished it remained forgotten.

“Look! Just up ahead, it looks like an opening!” The Professor says, a gnarled hand grasping my shoulder, shaking me excitedly. “Let’s go, we have much to do!”

“Shouldn’t we just set the charges here and blow the cavern closed?” I ask somewhat hesitantly as the good professor shuffles ahead of me. He shakes his head, sputtering on excitedly.

“No no no, that just won’t do! What if there are other tunnels?” He asked without looking back. “We need to ensure that we’re sealing the Darkness away for good, not just closing one of its many doors.”

I sigh at his usual impeccable logic, moving onward past his shuffling form to look to the edge of the darkened chamber, a sense of vertigo overcoming me as I stare into the vacuous void before me. A few moments later the dangling flare hanging above my diminutive professor allow me a greater chance to peer into the cavernous hollow, great pillars of stone lining the walls to hold the ceiling too high to see aloft. The floor of the cavern, a mere thirty feet from the tunnel they stood in, bubbled with darkened slime, the ooze shifting and swirling, moving like the slimy fried eggs, pushing and pulling against one another in an endless struggle for dominance.

“Well… this sure slows things down.” I say with a sigh, looking at my crazy Professor for an answer, one that he seems to have already ready as he is rooting through his satchel. The toothless man gives a cry of glee as he pulls a tightly wound orange rectangle from his bag, shoving it into my hands as he fishes out a pair of collapsible oars.

“You can’t be serious… we came to a dig in the desert, and you have an inflatable raft?” I nearly shout before he shushes me, looking across the cavern with concern. “What?”

“Nothing… I… I just don’t want to alert anything to our position.” Professor Nickels says, scratching at his neck idly as he set to extending the oars. “Roll out some rope and some pitons so we can have a safe drop down onto those waters, I want to make sure we don’t have anything else to worry about.”

“Are you serious?” I cry, pointing my sword out into the darkness, a low groan echoing through the cavern, waves of slime splashing against the rocks beneath us as if something titanic had just breached the surface of the small sea. “This right here is a big thing to worry about!”

“Now my young warrior, you have no reason to worry. Between your blade and shield and my gun, we’ll be fine.” Professor Nickels says with a smile as he slides the last piece of the oar into position. “I know you’re worried, but you must ask yourself: are you prepared to defend humanity from the otherworldly evil that lurks here, even if it may cost you your life?”

Taken aback by the strange question, I stare at my Professor with a measure of caution. “Well… of course, I mean… who wouldn’t be willing to save humanity?”

Professor Nickels serious demeanor melts away to his normally cheerful expression. “Well then, get to it! We need to be down there seeing what we need to do, not standing about like a couple of bumps on a log!”

***

After we’d scaled the slick wall to the crashing waves of darkened slime beneath us, the good Professor had pulled the ripcord on the raft, unfurling the great orange life raft in an awkward moment of sheer panic as the great boat almost overtook us and comedy as we fell from our tenuous grip on sanity and into the raft, the waves rocking us back and forth as Professor Nickels fastened the collapsible oars to the raft, moving to the helm of our teetering vessel and adjusting his glasses, peering off into the darkness.

“Full steam ahead my boy!” He says with a hearty chuckle, nodding to the oars as he moved past me towards the rudder. “It’ll take more than these withered old bones are capable of to battle these raging waters.”

“That is not water…” I grumble as a jellied glob splashes over the side, seemingly trying to stretch out in search of open skin. Taking the oars, I begin rowing as best I can against the swirling currents of the underground sea as Professor Nickels steers us along. Several times my oars slide between greasy ovoid’s, pushing them apart.

We drift for what feels like hours as my arms go numb from the strain of battling the turbulent currents, sweat pouring from my lean frame in buckets as I desperately tried to keep us on the Professors desired course. The entire time he praises me, telling me we were almost there, that we were only a few dozen yards from it.

Gasping for breath, I never thought to ask what it was.

Just as I felt my arms giving out from exhaustion, I was lucky enough to see the wicked grin the cracked across my scholarly advisers face as he lunges across the raft with his rifle held firmly between his white-knuckled hands, the butt of the gun making a shuddering snap as he beat me across my brow with the butt of the gun, dropping me back from the force of the blow, my vision swimming as I struggle to understand what had just happened.

I struggle even further when he brings the butt of the rifle down onto my face, breaking my nose and shattering my front teeth in a sickening crunch, tears streaming from my eyes as I watched him slowly pull the weapon from my face, a fractured piece of one of my front incisors sticking to the butt by a thin coating of my blood. He steps over me, shucking off his heavy satchel onto my chest, I suppose to pin me in case I had any fight left within me, as he moves to stand at the bow of our miniature raft, hands held high overhead.

“Qas!” He intones, a low moan akin to the call of a whale rising up from beneath us as he lowers his arms once more, jumping from the raft and landing on something hard just out of my sight… something made of stone? “I’ve brought you the blood of a tested warrior, one who will allow you to slumber still. Come to your servant and grant me my boon and I will render unto you the supple flesh of the young and the brave!”

This can’t be good. I struggle to move the massive pack off of me, but with between my swimming vision and my numb arms I can only flail uselessly as he hops back onto the raft with the dexterity of a man a tenth his age, rolling the bag off of me and hoisting me up onto his shoulder.

Coughing up blood and a few teeth, I look at him through the one eye that can see. “No expert, eh?” I laugh, hacking up a lungful of blood onto the back of his khaki jacket. He merely pats my aching back with a gnarled hand as he jumps from the raft, landing on a large stained stone, rounded along the edges, before dumping me onto the ground with the care of a man dropping a bag of gravel.

“What can I say boy,” He says with a smile and a genial shrug, “I’m a man who figured out a way to stay young forever while keeping mankind safe from the things that go bump in the night. I’m a bloody hero!”

As he’s saying these rivulets of blackened slime are trailing up along ridges carved into the stone, seeping and searching for my spilled blood. I wince as I feel, and hear, the caustic hiss of the ooze lashing to my leg, and then my arm, pulling me taut along the rock. I let out a wail of agony as the slime begins to suffuse over my body, eating away at my clothes and skin with a sound akin to the sizzling of a slab of meat on a grill. Just as my head begins to submerge beneath the malevolent muck, I see Professor Nickels leap back to the raft, my sword in his hand, calling out to me over his shoulder.

“Don’t worry m’ boy!” He shouts cheerfully as he begins to row away, leaving me to my horrid demise. “You’ll see me again in another fifty years!”

Credit To – Nicholas Paschall

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Ubloo, Part Four and a Half

May 23, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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This is part four and a half in the Ubloo Series. Please visit the series tag to read the prior installments!

I read somewhere that police lights were designed to flash in a manner that made the human eye incapable to adjust to them, so they would be constantly noticeable. I’ve been testing this theory for the four years I’ve been on the force and to be honest with you, I think it’s true.

Having the lights run without the sound has always been strange to me, but at this hour I don’t want to wake anyone up pointlessly. Besides, there’s no other cars on the road at this hour and if I’m being honest the lights themselves might not even be a necessity.

I got a report of loud noises and possibly gun shots at the old school. Probably just a bunch of teenagers lighting off fireworks and pretending they see ghosts and shit again.

I shook my head.

Hopefully it’s not those two stupid kids again, claiming they need to get in there to “investigate.” Those two were the worst. The Westchester brothers? Winchendon? Who the fuck knows.

My engine purred beneath the hood of my car as I sped up to where the school was. I flicked off the lights as I rounded the final corner and parked outside. I opened the door to my cruiser and got out, inspecting the gate with my flashlight. It looked like it was open. Someone must have forgot to lock it. I shook my head again. It’s like they’re asking people to break in here.

I walked up to the gate and pushed it open. I tell you, I’ve never been one to believe in the paranormal but this place did give me the creeps. I walked up the front steps quietly and listened. It didn’t sound like there were kids in there. I stood listening for another two or three minutes just to be sure, and then decided they must have left. I walked over to one of the windows and shined my light in. Everything seemed to be normal.

“Car 4 to Dispatch.” I said into my shoulder-radio.

“Go ahead Car 4.” The voice answered.

I started walking the perimeter of the building looking for signs of entry, shining my flashlight here and there.

“Looks like whoever was at the school is gone now. I can’t hear anything going on inside.”

“Roger that Car 4.”

“I’m gonna do a quick sweep to see if there’s anything here. I’ll let you know. Over.”

I walked around the perimeter of the building, which took quite a while since the place is pretty damn big. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to do it either. This place drew a lot of attention, especially around Halloween when the local myth would circulate again that this place was haunted. Kids. Mine’s never gonna turn out like that, I fucking tell you.

I had started walking around the school clockwise from the front door. I was just about ready to call it when I saw something through the window. Something just looked… odd. Like I said, I’d done this many times before so I knew it was out of place. I walked up to the window and shined my light in.

What I saw puzzled me. One of the door frames was all busted in and broken. It looked like someone had taken a sledge hammer to the sides of it.

“Fuck.” I said to myself outloud. “Car 4 to Dispatch.” I said spitefully into my radio.

“Go ahead Car 4.”

“It looks like whoever was here did some damage to the building. I’m gonna see if I can get inside and check it out. Requesting backup.”

“Roger that Car 4. Car 2 please proceed to Car 4’s position and assist.”

“Roger.” Bill said through the radio. “I’m about five minutes out Car 4. Proceeding now.”

“Roger that. Over.” I said back.

I jogged back to the front steps and un-holstered my gun. I’m not sure if it was the instincts I gained from two tours in Iraq or just the strange way that door frame was busted but something just wasn’t right here. I slowly made my way up to the front door and tried the knob. Much (but not really) to my surprise, it turned.

The door swung open gently and silently. I raised my flashlight under my pistol and scanned the foyer. Nothing really amiss here. I started walking down the hall to the right, towards the back corner of the building where the door frame was busted in.

I got halfway down the hall when I realized it was impossible to walk without creaking on the floor boards. I got anxious and sped my pace up a little.

The door frame was busted in pretty bad. It looked like whoever did it was in the room and busting it in towards the hallway. I moved into the room and didn’t have to look long before I saw the hole in the floor. It looked like four or five boards had been ripped right up, and not gracefully at that.

Slowly I walked over to the hole and shined my light through it. There was something down there, I just couldn’t make out what. I squatted down on my heels and stared for a few seconds before I realized it.

They were bones.

I shined my light around a little more. There was fucking tons of them. Admittedly though, I wasn’t that scared… until I noticed the painting.

The bones sat in somewhat of a pile, but all around that were these weird drawings. It looked like a cross between Arabic and Mandarin.

I got the chills and then pressed the button to talk into my radio.

“Car 4 to Car 2, what’s your status?”

“About two minutes out Car 4.”

“Roger. Try to speed it up. Over.”

I got up off my heels and inspected the room a little more closely. The floor boards look like the nails were pried up somewhat. Whoever did this knew where to look. Some of them were broken though, so the person must have been in a hurry, doing this frantically, almost as if—

“Fuck me, man.” I said under my breath.

I traced what I saw across the floor with my flashlight.

All across the floor were deep gouges and scratches. I inspected the ones closest. It looked like whatever it was was on two feet, but only left two scratches with each stride.

Chills ran down my spine. This definitely doesn’t feel right. Something is not right here.

I got up and followed the scratch marks out the door and down the hall. They took a right turn where it looked like something had smashed into the corner. They led down the hall and into a room on the left. I slowed my approach as I noticed that this door frame had been busted in as well, but this time it was busted from the hallway into the room.

As I stood there inspecting the frame I heard something. A faint drip, like a leaky faucet dripping onto a wet plate.

There might be someone in here after all.

I swallowed hard and then turned the corner, shining my flashlight wherever I pointed my gun. Then I saw it.

There, slumped against the wall, was what was left of a human being.

I shined my light onto his hands and saw the revolver. Suicide.

Slowly I approached the body. It looked like whoever it was had a huge bag with him, with what looked like tools inside it. I guess I know now who dug up the floor boards.

I heard the door of Bill’s cruiser slam shut outside.

It was strange. I had found suicide victims before, seen a lot of dead bodies, but I just felt some sort of connection to this one. Something I just couldn’t put my finger on.

I heard Bill’s heavy footsteps as he bounded into the foyer.

“… Jeff?” I heard him call out nervously.

“Back here Bill.” I yelled back.

I heard his heavy waddling footsteps make their way back to where I was, and heard him panting before he was even in the room. Poor Bill. Guy couldn’t run a bar tab without getting winded.

“Oh, Fuck Jeff.” He said when he saw the body.

“Yeah, fuck is right Bill old buddy.” I said, looking the body over. “Guy ripped up the floor boards in the other room for whatever reason and then came in here and blew his brains out.”

Bill stood there in silence for a moment. Some cops just get it quicker than others. In terms of Bill and I, let’s just say that I was playing chess and he was playing checkers.

“Well, I’ll call it in to Dispatch. They need to get a forensics team in here ASA—“

A noise cut Bill off.

It was a phone. It was his phone. The dead man’s phone.

Now they tell you never to contaminate a crime scene, never to touch anything until forensics has gotten there. I had never broken any of the rules before on the job. Hell, I never even wore the fucking uniform without making sure it was ironed every morning, but something inside me, something in the back of my mind told me that I had to answer that phone.

I squatted back down and reached into his pocket where it was ringing.

“Jeff! What are you doing we can’t!—“

“Oh fuck off Bill you big pussy.” I said as I finally got the phone loose.

I looked at the front screen. There was only a first name for whoever was calling. “Eli.”

I pressed answer and held the phone up to my ear, but didn’t say anything.

There was a short pause, and then:

“Hello? Doctor?”

“This is Officer Jeff Danvers of the Tawson police force.”

There was a pause again, this time a little longer.

“Where did you find this phone?”

Whoever this Eli was, he wasn’t stupid.

“I found it in the pocket of a body at a crime scene. I’m sorry, but I think this Doctor you’re trying to reach has passed away.”

There was another pause, and I began to feel uneasy. Fuck, what was I thinking answering this call?

“I’m sorry, sir.” I said again.

“Were you the one who found him?” He asked.

I was slightly taken aback by this question.

“Found him?” I responded.

“Yes. Were you the one who first found the body??” He asked again, sounding a little more worried this time.

“Yes sir. I found the body only about five minutes ag—“

What I heard next, though I didn’t know it then, would change my life forever.

“Sweet Jesus… You poor boy.” Is all I heard the man say before the line cut out.

Credit To – DifferentWind

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Frank’s Forest

May 22, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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In the backseat of her mother’s minivan, Ashley admired the passing autumn foliage and contemplated the excitement and fear she and her best friends were sure to experience at Frank’s Forest, an attraction featuring actors as zombies, witches, and werewolves galore, all trying to “kill” the visitors.
For four years, she, Emily, Sarah, and Zoey had wanted to go to this haunted attraction. Each girl pleaded with her parents, only to hear the same answer: “You’re too young.” Now that they were freshmen in high school, their parents decided they were old enough to experience it. To make it even better, they had the opportunity to partake in the thrills and fear on the night of Halloween as well as that of a full moon.
Despite this, Ashley had a sinking worry in the pit of her stomach. Though she knew thousands of people had participated in Frank’s Forest and loved it, she was certain something would go terribly wrong.
Over the course of the past year, Ashley started seeing a therapist to discuss her increasing feelings of paranoia. At first, it was focused on the paranormal; she claimed to see countless ghosts lurking around her home. Since her parents had no reasons to believe otherwise, they kept an eye out for supernatural happenings around the house. To their dismay, her parents never experienced any ghostly activities. The spirits only seemed to want to interact with Ashley.
Once her ghost phase moved on, she felt as if someone was constantly staring at her. Whether she was in class or with her family or completely isolated in her own room, she could not shake the feeling that someone was watching her. This feeling kept her constantly on edge and would not allow her to sleep for more than a few hours at a time. She realized she must be going crazy and admitted it to her parents.
Therapy worked as long as she didn’t have a reason to have paranoid thoughts anymore. However, her feelings of paranoia only intensified when her friends reminded her of their dream to go to Frank’s Forest. Ever since that conversation six months ago, Ashley has had nightmares where she and her friends have died in hundreds of different, gory ways. These nightmares only got worse when they made definitive plans to go on Halloween night, the night of a full moon. Her paranoia convinced her there would be real werewolves there that would transform and maul all her friends and her to death.
Although her fear was petrifying at times, she refused to ruin the fun and excitement for her friends. Ashley decided not to tell them of her therapy sessions or her unshakable worries.
“Ash, are you okay?” Sarah asked tentatively from the adjacent seat.
“I’m fine; I’m just a little nervous, I guess,” she assured.
Zoey turns around from the passenger seat, glaring at her with an annoyed expression. “Why are you nervous? We finally have a chance to go, and you’re going to ruin it for all of us! Just enjoy it, won’t ya?” she demanded.
“Now, Zoey, that’s enough,” Ashley’s mom interfered.
“C’mon, Zo, don’t be rude,” Emily chimed in. “By the way, thanks for the ride, Mrs. Hamilton.”
“Yeah, thanks,” the other girls added.
“No problem, girls,” Mrs. Hamilton said, smiling as she turned down a dirt road and into an unfamiliar forest. After five minutes, the girls saw a small yet packed parking lot. Mrs. Hamilton backed into a space and turned to face the girls again. “I don’t know this area well, and it’s quite a drive, so I think I’ll find somewhere to relax until you girls are done. Just shoot me a text or call me when you’re all done and I’ll be back for you, okay?”
“Alright,” Ashley answered as her friends climbed out of the vehicle.
“Ashley… Please try to relax and have fun tonight. I know it might seem scary, but don’t freak yourself out. Your friends are with you, and they all want to have fun with you, too.”
“I know, Mom. Thanks again. I love you.”
“I love you too, sweetie.”
Once Ashley exited the van and the girls crossed the lot, Mrs. Hamilton pulled out of her spot and back down the road. After the girls watched Mrs. Hamilton leave, Sarah interrupted the silence. “We don’t want to be late, guys,” she said, gesturing toward a narrow dirt path with a “TICKETS” sign handwritten in red paint.
The girls walked silently down the path for a minute until they reached the ticket booth. Sitting inside was a woman with dark circles under her eyes and an uncommonly pale face. “Four of you?” she asked in a husky voice. All four nodded. “That’ll be $80.” Each handed her a $20 bill, which she placed in a cash register. “Behind this ticket booth is a group of picnic tables. That’s where your guides will be meeting in a few minutes. Until we meet again.” She smirked at them as they passed.
Once they are out of earshot, Zoey commented, “She was creepy.”
“Are you guys sure we can handle this?” Ashley wondered nervously.
“Of course, Ash! We’ll be fine,” Emily reassured her.
“We just paid for our tickets, anyway,” Zoey reminded her. “If you don’t wanna do it, I guess you don’t have to; you’re just out $20.”
“Look, there’s no need to make such a big deal out of this, guys,” Sarah chimed in. “Plenty of people have gone here before, and it must be pretty good if it’s still open. Let’s have fun.”
Ashley sighed and nodded. “Sorry, guys, I’m not sure why I feel this way. But I can do this.” She lied to appease her friends.
The girls approached the picnic tables, all of which are occupied by couples and small groups in their late teens and early twenties speaking of their excitement and anxiety about this upcoming experience. In total there were around a hundred fellow visitors. Once the girls found a spot to sit together, they idly chattered for a few minutes until the actors slowly approached. There were two physically fit actors and a skinny actress. One man donned a heavy mane and excess amounts of thick hair on every visible inch of skin. The other’s skin was a haunting grey color, and as he sluggishly shuffled forward, he brought the unmistakable odor of rotting flesh. The woman wore a skintight, seductive black ensemble with a velvet red cape, featuring pointy vampire teeth and sticky blood around her lips.
Ashley shuddered immediately upon recognizing the monster the actors represented; she was right about a werewolf being there, and was now absolutely convinced they were going to die. Every part of her wanted to turn around and go home, but she couldn’t explain it to her friends in a sensible way.
“Hello, ladies and gentlemen. We will begin as your guides and transform into your worst nightmares,” Werewolf introduced in a menacing growl.
“Basically, we will lead you into the area and leave you on your own,” Vampy added.
“Do any of you have questions before we begin?” Zombie asked.
Ashley called out, “How long will this take?”
The trio exchanged a look and chuckled ominously. “However long it takes. It depends on how much of a fight everybody puts up,” Vampy responded, winking at Ashley.
Ashley involuntarily shivered. By asking that question, she made herself — and her group of friends — an easy target, she was sure. “Guys, I have a really bad feeling about this,” she whispered desperately. “We can’t do this. I can’t let us do this.”
“What’s your problem, Ash? They’re actors; they’re supposed to intimidate us and make us afraid. It’s their job,” Zoey snapped quietly.
“Don’t be rude, Zo,” Emily scolded. “Ash, it’ll be okay. Do you realize how many people come to this every year and have an amazing time? Seriously, we’re gonna walk out of here safe and sound. I promise.”
“Alright, everybody follow us!” Zombie commanded as he and his comrades turned around to head back in the direction from which they came.
Ashley exhaled deeply and looked to her friends. “Here we go,” she murmured as they walked side by side, following their temporary guides.
After a silent and eerie walk deep into the woods, Werewolf, Vampy, and Zombie abruptly stopped. “We’ve arrived at our destination,” Werewolf explained. “Now, we must reunite with our comrades. All of us will return in five minutes’ time.”
“We take pleasure in hunting humans and making feasts of them,” Vampy added, smirking. “Each of us is famished. If you do not desire to become a meal, I would suggest that you hide or attempt to escape.”
“However, half our pleasure comes from the thrill of the hunt. Therefore, you cannot stick together as one large group. It would be much too simple to track you down and devour every last one of you. The people you came here with are the only ones you may stay with,” Zombie said.
“Know that our next encounter will be fatal. We — werewolves, vampires, and zombies — are the only ones who can fatally wound you. Our other friends are simply devices to terrify you. Your screams are also clear indicators of your location. If you encounter our less deadly friends, refrain from shouting out if you value your lives,” Vampy supplemented.
“We sound like soulless monsters, and rightly so,” Werewolf augmented. “Despite this, we are not completely unreasonable creatures. If your group is the last group standing, we will restrain ourselves and let you go free. Oh, and don’t even bother calling outsiders for assistance; you have no cell reception. If you don’t believe me, go ahead. Take out your phones.”
Immediately, every human pulls out their cell phone. Each one has the same message on the screen: NO SERVICE. Zoey, Emily, and Sarah look around at one another, both impressed and slightly worried.
“Your five minutes begin once we can no longer see you: a generous gift since our eyesight is much better than yours,” Zombie concluded. “I hope to see many of you soon. Good luck.” He and his comrades crept backwards until they were no longer visible.
As soon as the group was left to its own devices, couples and small groups immediately branched off and began walking away in several different directions, talking quietly amongst themselves.
“I think we can be the last group to be found if we jog instead of walk,” Zoey suggested. Sarah and Emily nod in agreement as the girls begin their run in a direction unique from the rest of the crowd, backtracking toward the ticket booth.
“What’s our strategy?” Emily wondered.
“We do whatever we can to be the last ones standing,” Ashley answered grimly, assuming her friends now agreed with her worries. “It’s good we’re heading in the opposite direction of the monsters. It should take longer for them to find us.”
As they progress, they heard the familiar sound of a wolf’s howl, a sound that stopped them in their tracks. Living in an area where it was common for wolves to appear in someone’s backyard, the girls all knew it was a genuine howl, not a human imitation. “They wouldn’t have a tourist attraction like this in a forest where there are wolves prowling around, would they?” Ashley questioned. This was proof enough for her that the werewolf was real, and if he was, so were the others.
“They must have speakers in the tops of the trees and a recording of a wolf howl,” Zoey rationalized. “Come on; we need to pick up the pace.”
The girls continue running until they heard a series of bloodcurdling, paralyzing screams from behind them. Once again, the group stopped. Ashley began to shake uncontrollably as she knew the screams were real, too. “Our five minutes must be up,” Emily stated matter-of-factly.
The others hushed her. “If they started already, we need to keep quiet and keep moving,” Zoey whispered. “We want to last as long as possible, right? We need to get our money’s worth.”
“Do you think everybody found each other back there and kept close together?” Sarah wondered softly. “How many screams were there?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. They don’t concern us,” Zoey stated diplomatically. “All I care about is us making it close to the end, if not the very end. Let’s go.”
After a few more minutes of uninterrupted silence and running, more bloodcurdling screams break out from behind them, closer this time. “Others are heading back here, which means the monsters are, too,” Zoey observed quietly. “We need to pick up the pace.”
However, before they could do that, they heard a crashing sound from directly behind them. As each girl turned around, she gasped and covered her mouth to stifle the screams. A lifeless, pale, and hauntingly thin female body lied limply inside the enormous dent of a previously healthy and stick-straight tree, featuring two puncture wounds on her neck and little trickles of blood dried onto her neck.
“Do you see the dent in the tree?” Sarah shrieks, forgetting about the importance of muted voices. “Humans can’t throw that hard, even from a short distance away. They either have a catapult, or…”
All eyes turn to Ashley as they realize her worries were both justified and correct. “I told you guys I didn’t want to do this,” she murmured as tears formed in her eyes.
As the girls’ faces slowly lose their color, they attempt to walk slowly in the directly for which they were heading. “We need to keep moving,” Emily muttered, emotionless.
“We’re not getting out of here alive, are we?” Sarah asked them.
“I don’t think anyone is,” Ashley responded honestly.
After thirty seconds of lifeless walking, they hear leaves rustle behind them. As they turn around to investigate the source of the noise, they hear it from the previous direction, as well. All four girls realized instantaneously that they were surrounded. At the moment, none of the monsters were visible yet. “Are we the final group?” Emily called out timidly. “We heard plenty of screaming going on. Does that mean we get out of here alive?”
The response consisted entirely of growls and devious laughter. “We aren’t known for our honesty,” the familiar vampire voice responded, a smirk apparent in her tone.
“Well, I’m sorry we ever doubted you, Ashley,” Zoey said, reaching for her hand as the girls felt the monsters closing in on them. Once they were finally visible, Ashley noted the clothing dampened with blood and the dried blood ringing their mouths. In the moment before the four girls were preyed upon like wild animals, Ashley felt a strange happiness, finally realizing that at least her paranoia regarding Frank’s Forest wasn’t paranoia at all.

Credit To – Melanie Adela

This is a Crappypasta Success Story – a story that was rewritten with the feedback received on Crappypasta and accepted for the main site. You can see the Crappypasta posting for this story here.

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