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Face Your Fears

October 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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The sun was just setting on a clear and brisk fall evening as Diane began making her way home through the winding, cobbled streets of the city. In the countryside, it might have been a lovely twilight, but much of its beauty was lost here. The tall brick buildings crowded close to both the streets and each other, obscuring the sunset and plunging the ground below into deep shadow. The streetlights had already been on for quite some time. They cast sickly yellow pools of artificial light around their immediate area, but somehow never managed to bridge the gap between adjacent lightposts entirely. They were bright enough, however, to hide most of the stars from view, leaving the sky above the city a dull, undifferentiated gray slowly fading to black. Incidentally, if one were to gaze up at this uninspiring sky while walking between the close-set buildings – and if the haze and shadows were just right – the tops of the structures would seem to lean in and reach towards each other ever so slightly, as if trying to enfold the street like a giant hand and block out the sky completely. It was enough to make even a deserted street seem unbearably claustrophobic.

Diane did not gaze up at the uninspiring sky as she walked home. She also did not gaze left, or right, or anywhere else except forward and slightly downward, fixating on the cracked and uneven brick road immediately ahead of her. Walking the city alone at nightfall could be dangerous, and she knew it. And while it was not quite late enough to mark the transition from mildly risky to downright stupid, it was still plenty late enough for Diane to feel uncomfortable. She walked briskly, ignoring the shadows of strangers passing on either side of her, the lights and laughter from pubs and shops lining the street, and the dark, gaping mouths of the shadowy alleyways in between. She wanted nothing more than to be at home, curled up in front of the fire with a good book; and she silently cursed her poor planning as the streets darkened around her.

Gradually, such that she could not pinpoint exactly when it began, Diane became aware of a feeling of trepidation exceeding her usual late-night jitters. A shiver drifted down her spine and she quickened her step, trying to pinpoint the origin of the feeling. It was the sort of feeling one often experiences when alone in dark places: a slight increase in heart rate, a prickle of goosebumps, a creeping sense of unease… and above all, the vague but undeniable feeling that you are being watched. Such feelings are often triggered by something – a movement caught from the corner of the eye, an unexplained noise, a cold breeze, and so on. Diane couldn’t tell what the trigger had been this time, and it bugged her. Around her, the city went about its usual evening routine, not quite bustling but not yet quiet, seemingly oblivious to the presence of one specific young woman among the many citizens going about their business. Still, the sense of being watched would not leave Diane, no matter how much she tried to rationalize it away. It tugged at the corners of her mind, raising the hairs on the back of her neck and sending waves of tension throughout her body.

Almost home, she thought, just a few more minutes of walking. Just got to get home. But the uneasy feeling only gained momentum as she hurried down the night streets towards her warm little townhouse. Diane became increasingly alert, listening vigilantly to the sounds of the city: the whistle of the wind through the buildings, the boisterous merrymaking from the pubs, the hushed conversations of passerby, the buzzing of the streetlights, her own footsteps echoing across the cobblestones… wait. She was suddenly seized with a flash of intuition. Her feeling was not merely one of being watched… it was one of being followed. As she focused down to the sound of her footsteps, she thought she heard a strange echo in them. Although she walked this same road in these same shoes almost every day, there was something unfamiliar in the pitch and timbre of her footfalls, something foreign. As if someone was walking completely in step with her, following just behind her…

The mere thought was enough to ratchet her vague uneasiness up a notch into real fear. Heart beating fast, palms sweating, she steeled herself and glanced around backwards to glimpse her pursuer.

No one.

The street behind her was almost empty, the closest other pedestrians being a group of three apparently tipsy young men staggering away in the opposite direction.

Just my imagination, she thought, but oddly this thought did not bring relief, for the feeling persisted after she turned back around. If anything, it grew stronger. She felt the weight of another’s gaze fixed on the back of her head. Her mouth grew dry. Her hands trembled. The clicking of her footsteps seemed to swell to the exclusion of all other sound, a hollow click-clack, click-clack projecting into a silence that now seemed as heavy and suffocating as a down blanket. She listened desperately, trying to catch her phantom pursuer in a misstep, or at least to pick out the foreign sound that had made her suspect his (her? its?) presence in the first place. But the difference was impossible to pinpoint with her rational mind, despite the insistence of her subconscious that something was amiss. Attempting to confuse her pursuer (if indeed there was one), she walked a bit faster, then rapidly slowed, then did a series of little off-beat trips, skips, and hops. All of which availed her nothing, except perhaps to make her look completely ridiculous to passerby. And yet the strange echo continued, nebulous and elusive, fraying her nerves and feeding the mounting dread that now possessed her.

Ever since Diane was a child, she’d had a very active imagination. As a young girl she was afraid of the dark and the quiet more than anything else, for her mind would fill it with waiting monsters and phantom noises. Every night after her parents put her to bed, she would switch on the little lamp on her bedside table and sleep with the light on. If her parents noticed, which they sometimes did, they would come in and turn the light back off again. She hated it when this happened, for if she awoke with the light off, she would never be able to reach over and turn it back on again. The six-inch gap between her bed and her nightstand became an unbridgeable void of dark menace; the young Diane was convinced that, the moment she tried to reach across, monstrous hands would reach up from under her bed, grab her exposed wrist, and drag her screaming into the shadows. Only the magical rectangle that constituted the top of her bed was safe, acting on the monsters as a circle of salt might act on a witch. And even the bed might not be safe if a REALLY BAD THING was lurking in the darkness. There amongst the vague, half-imagined terrors of a child’s imagination would Diane lie, mute and paralyzed, sleepless until the morning sun finally shone through her bedroom window. It was horrible. And God forbid she should have to use the bathroom.

Yes, Diane knew that she had an overactive imagination. But she thought she had conquered it years ago. She was a grown woman now, not a child; she shouldn’t be imagining things. And yet, the certainty of being observed…followed…hunted refused to disappear. Someone or something was following behind her, some deep intuitive part of her knew it. She was not a child anymore, and with every passing moment, she became more and more certain that she was not imagining this. And she became more and more afraid.

Maybe whoever it was just ducked into an alley or dodged out of sight the last time I turned around. That’s possible, she thought. With this in mind, she bit her lip, steeled herself… and without warning whipped around as fast as she could, turning her whole body to face her assailant.

Nothing. An empty street.

The sight of the dark, empty passage behind her nearly sent Diane into a full-blown panic attack. The shadows, the buildings, the very air itself seemed to pulsate with malicious intent, as if the city she now saw was merely a thin veil draped over a writhing, seething mass of… It was suddenly very difficult for Diane to breathe. A weight pressed against her chest and her eyes welled with terrified tears. Her body shook like a leaf. It took every last iota of her self-control not to shriek like a madwoman right there in the middle of the street. She was suddenly seized with a strong and urgent compulsion to GET INDOORS, to seek shelter from the terror, however irrational, that seemed to stalk the streets. She turned quickly back around and darted into the nearest lit building, letting the door slam behind her without turning back. She collapsed against the wall next to the door, eyes closed, breathing like she had just run a marathon. For a few moments she just stood there like that, calming herself down and trying to regain control of her breathing. Only then did she open her eyes to survey the room she had just entered.

Diane had, in her terror, stumbled into a small pub. The place was a bit dingy and not particularly well-lit, but at least it was brighter than outside, and the few patrons seated in small groups throughout the establishment seemed friendly and respectable enough, at least upon first inspection. A couple of them were glancing over in her direction, their curiosity perhaps aroused by her strange, panicked entrance… or perhaps simply by the fact that she seemed to be the only woman in the place except for one slightly harried-looking waitress. Diane still felt a bit uneasy, both from the attention and from her feeling of being followed in the street, but coming inside had managed to dissolve the worst of her panic. She did not in the least feel ready to venture back out into the street, though, so instead she sat down quietly at a vacant, two-person table near the door and tried to collect her thoughts. After a minute or so, the waitress she had noticed earlier came by and asked Diane politely if she would like anything to drink. Diane requested just a cup of hot tea please, if they had it; and the waitress gave her a kind, understanding smile and a pat on the back of the hand before bustling off to fill the order.

By this point, Diane felt much better, although the lingering feeling of being watched still persisted in the back of her mind. She was seated with her back to the front door and window of the pub, and a small part of her was still convinced that someone or something was looking in on her through that window. However, she pushed this idea away as firmly as she could, telling herself that she was being ridiculous, that it all must have been nothing more than her imagination. She had gone a fair ways towards convincing herself this was true when a man slid casually into the seat across from her.

Well aware that she was the only female patron in the pub, Diane opened her mouth to tell the man that she was not interested in flirting, but stopped when she got a closer look at him. The man was a lot older than she had expected, old enough to be her father. He had short, graying brown hair and a slight stubble across his cheeks, and the skin around his bright blue eyes was wrinkled not only with age, but with the kindly and wise smile that stretched across his face. Overall, he had a caring, patriarchal aura that – along with the golden wedding band she noticed on his left ring finger – suggested to Diane that this was not some young, self-styled Casanova looking for a date.

“Fergive a stranger fer soundin’ nosy, but… Are ya doing a’right, lass? Yer lookin’ a mite troubled, an’ ya stormed in here earlier like you was in a downright panic.” His voice was deep and rugged, but also soft, carrying a lilting accent that was somehow soothing to Diane.

“Oh, I’m doing alright,” Diane responded sheepishly, “Just… had a bit of a fright on my way home. Nothing really; just my imagination I suppose. Bit embarrassing, actually. I just wanted to… stop in, get a bit of a hot drink and calm down before heading back home for the night.”

The man nodded understandingly, taking a short gulp from his own mug as the waitress returned with Diane’s tea. As the waitress left, he responded, “Yeh, these city streets c’n be a touch dauntin’ at night, what with everythin’ bein’ so damn packed in. Not all safe fer a young lass walkin’ alone, either,” he added with a stern look. Diane nodded her understanding and sipped her tea with an embarrassed blush, looking down into her cup rather than at her companion. “What was it put such a fright inta ya, anyhow?”

“Oh, like I said, nothing really,” Diane responded, “Just a… creepy feeling I got, nothing to worry about.”

The man set down his mug and leaned his chin on his hand. “Why don’tcha tell me a bit about it, lass? Talkin’ bout these things has a way o’ makin’ em feel better, sometimes.”

Normally, Diane wouldn’t want to reveal something so embarrassing, particularly to a stranger, but she still felt in need of a bit of comfort, and the man seemed so sincere… she wound up telling him the whole story. Surprisingly, instead of nodding his encouragement or even looking amused at her folly, the man’s face seemed to grow darker and more troubled as Diane’s story progressed. When she had finally finished, the man sat there in silence for more than a minute, biting his lip and staring into his mug. Finally, Diane felt the silence had gotten too unnerving, and said to him, “Ummm, sir…?”

“Oh,” he exhaled in surprise, looking up from his mug, “Oh, sorry lass, I dinna mean to ignore ya. It’s jus’…”

“Just what?” Diane asked, a creeping feeling of dread starting to seep back into her body.

“Well… ya hear stories ‘round here, lass. Superstitious nonsense, the most of ‘em, but… there’s no denyin’ there’s some stuff what happens roundabout these parts at night that jus’ ain’t been explained. An’ what ya jus’ told me sounds an awful lot like one old story I hear now’n’ again…”

An icy chill went down Diane’s spine. “What story?”

The man drummed his fingers nervously on the table, looking torn. “Look, I don’ wanna put a fright in ya fer no reason lass, but… I was raised in a real superstitious family, and curse me if it ain’t been passed along enough for me to think… that it’d be riskin’ your safety not to tell ya.”

“Tell me what? Please, I want to hear this. Even if it is just superstitious.”

“Well, as tales would have it, there’s this… thing what comes around the streets a’ night, in the city like this. Some kinda monster, or ghost, but nobody knows what it really is, or what it looks like. An’ every now’n’ then, fer some reason it’ll… latch on… ta somebody, an’ follow ‘em around, walkin’ right behind ‘em as they go about their business.”

“Catch is, y’see… it ain’t really real. At least not in our world, not normally. I don’t get all that weird metaphysics stuff ‘er nothin,’ but supposedly it’s on some kinda other plane, for the most part. One what overlaps with our world but ain’t really a part of it… like it’s below what we c’n see an’ feel, and most people go through their lives hardly even knowin’ it’s there. Unless somethin’ there takes a shine to ya. Even then, it can’t do much… it can see ya, an’ it can follow ya around, but it can’t really harm ya, see, ‘cause it’s not really there. In fact, some people don’t notice it followin’ em at all, jus’ go on ‘bout their evenings without a care in the world. But others… people who’re more sensitive, more open ta stuff that ain’t exactly rational an’ concrete, they’ll notice it followin’ em. They’ll feel a cold chill on their backs, a sense of bein’ stalked… like a sixth sense or somethin.’ May even hear it followin’ em, jus’ a bit, or catch a quick glimpse of it, jus’ for a moment out the corner o’ their eye. Never more’n that, ‘cause it’s not really there, remember? At least not yet.”

Diane gulped. “…Yet?”

“That’s why it’s the sensitive ones what have to worry about it, see? If you don’t notice it, it c’n follow ya ‘round till the cows come home an’ not make one lick of difference. If ya do notice it, though, if ya start feelin’ it, and seein’ it, and expecting it… well, it starts gettin’ more real to ya, dunnit? An’ as it starts gettin’ more real ta you, it starts gettin’ more real period.” The man paused for a moment. “You said ya looked back at the thing twice, didn’tcha lass?”

Riveted by the man’s story (and practically speechless with fear) Diane simply gave a series of quick, twitchy nods in response.

“Well, don’t get too scared now, lass, but… they say it’s the lookin’ what gives it it’s real strength, lookin’ back an’ expectin’ with all yer heart to see somethin’ there. That brings it closer ta this plane, makes it more solid. The firs’ time ya look back at it, it immediately starts to feel more real to ya. Whatever spooked feelings ya may’ve had before, they’ll go up tenfold after ya look back. The footsteps’ll get louder, the glimpses clearer. You’ll be more’n’more convinced that somethin’s followin’ ya around.”

“Same thing happens the second time ya look back. Fear gets jacked up another notch. Monster gets closer an’ more solid. Start’s followin’ right behind ya, breathin’ down yer neck. It knows it’s gettin’ near the kill. They say the trepidation’s near unbearable, ya feel compelled to look around one more time… but that’s the one thing ya should never do. ‘Cause that third look is all it takes to bring that thing full on into our world. Real an’ solid as you are. Turn around that third time, an’ you’ll be lookin’ it straight in the eye.”

“No one knows exactly what you’ll be lookin’ at, mind you. Some say it don’t even have a form of its own ‘till you give it one, an’ that when you do, it’ll be yer worst nightmare. Your own personal boogeyman… whatever thing, real or imaginary, scares ya the most on God’s green earth, that’s what it’ll look like. But o’course, that’s all speculation, ‘cause so far as I know there ain’t no one what’s seen that thing an’ lived to tell about it. That’s the only thing ‘bout it that’s for sure… it’s a murderous, evil thing with an unholy hunger fer human flesh an’ bone. The moment you see it, it’ll seize on ya an’ tear ya limb from limb, rip ya apart an’ disembowel ya while yer still alive an’ screamin,’ savin’ yer head fer last. Only thing what the police’ll find of ya when it’s done will be some ripped up, bloody clothes an’ maybe a few slivers o’ bone.”

“Some say that ain’t even the worst part though. Some say that after it’s done devourin’ yer flesh, that thing’ll steal yer very soul an’ drag it into that other world it comes from, an’ there it’ll torment ya fer all eternity. Still jus’ speculation but… it’s ‘bout as plausible as anythin’ else in the story.”

By this time, Diane was as white as a sheet and trembling in sheer terror. She felt certain that the awful monster the man had described was exactly what was stalking her. The story had reiterated exactly how she had felt while walking out on the street a few minutes earlier. “W-what do I do?” she asked the man in a pleading voice. “How do I get away from this thing? Did I lose it by coming in here?”

The man shook his head mournfully. “Prob’ly not, lass. From what I heard, it don’t give up that easy. Even if it didn’t follow ya in here, which would explain ya feelin’ a bit better, it’s probably still standin’ outside waitin’ for ya. It’s smart. It knows this ain’t yer home. An’ it’s real determined. It wants ya; I’m sure you could tell.”

Diane hid her face in her hands and let out a quiet sob. Yes, she could tell. She could feel its horrible eyes on her through the window even now, boring into the back of her head. “Then what do I do?” she asked, her voice trembling with repressed tears. “How can I make it go away? There has to be a way, there just has to be!!”

“There is, lass,” the man told her in a soothing voice, “And it’s a plenty simple thing, too… but it won’t be easy. Remember, that thing ain’t real ‘till you look back at it that third time; it can’t hurtcha unless you do that. What ya have to do is go home. Go out there an’ walk straight down that street to yer house. And no matter what ya do, no matter what ya see or hear, no matter how strong the compulsion hits ya, you MUST NOT LOOK BACK. Ya already looked back twice, once more and it’ll have ya fer sure.”

“Go home an’ walk into yer house, but don’t look back jus’ yet. Not even ta lock the door behind ya. That thing don’t care ‘bout locks an’ doors, not really, an’ yer not safe even in yer own home. Not ‘till ya complete the ritual. It’s like knockin’ on wood or throwin’ spilled salt over yer shoulder, it’ll drive the bad things away. What ya gotta do (without lookin’ back, mind you) is go to yer bedroom an’ find somethin’ precious to ya, some kinda personal talisman. For lotsa people, it’s some religious thing… a Bible or a crucifix, some such, but it doesn’t have to be. Just has ta be meanin’ful to you. You find this talisman, an’ you turn it over in yer hands three times, while repeatin’ the followin’ incantation three times: Tenebras non timeo, quia nihil residet. I think it’s Latin er somethin.’ Anyway, once ya do that the monster should be driven away, an’ you can go ahead an’ open yer eyes an’ turn around. Then go lock up yer doors an’ go straight to bed, an’ everythin’ will be better in the mornin.’ Havin’ failed once, the monster ought never come after ya again.”

The man paused and appraised the terrified young woman sitting across from him. “Think ya can do that, lass?”

Diane took a deep breath and sipped down the last of her hot tea, trying her best to calm and center herself. With some effort, she stilled the trembling of her hands and let her heart slow down to a reasonable speed. Biting her lip and gathering all of her resolve, she looked the man straight in the eye and said, “Yes. I can do it.”

“Good. You look like a strong an’ smart woman ta me, lass; ya’ll do jus’ fine. Just remember not to look back, no matter what.”

“Can you… could you maybe come with me? Walk me home? It would be easier with someone by my side to talk to.”

The man shook his head. “Sorry, lass, it jus’ don’t work like that. Ya started this thing alone, ya gotta finish it alone. But you can do it. I believe in ya.”

Diane bit her lip and nodded. “Okay, I think I get it. Thank you.”

“No problem at all, lass. Think yer ready?”

Squeezing her fists tight and gathering all her courage, Diane nodded again, once, with finality. Then she stood up.

“Good luck to ya, lass. Ya should be okay goin’ out the door, but once ya’ve turned down the road towards yer house, don’t look back the other way again for anythin’.”

“Alright… goodbye then. Thank you so much.” And with that, Diane turned and strode purposefully towards the door. As she reached it, she realized somewhat sheepishly that she hadn’t even asked the man his name. However, she did not go back to ask him – she felt that, if she turned away from this door now, she might never be able to muster the courage to go through it again. Steeling herself as if for a dive into cold water, she pushed open the door to the pub and walked briskly back out into the street, head down, turning immediately to her right… the direction of home. There was literally no turning back now.

Almost as soon as she stepped back onto the road, Diane felt the suffocating terror descend on her again, even stronger than before. The feeling of eyes boring into the back of her skull was almost painful, her brain being pierced by two icy beams. For the first time, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye, shadows that really shouldn’t be there if she were truly alone. While she was in the pub, the sun had set completely, and it was now pitch dark except for the weak, unnatural yellow phosphorescence of the streetlights. The city streets were mostly deserted, and the silence was palpable… except for Diane’s footsteps and the unnatural echoes of her pursuer.

Oh my God, those footsteps! Perhaps it was because she had heard them first, perhaps she was more sensitive to sound than sight, but the echoing footsteps behind her now seemed the most real of all. She could swear she heard solid feet striking the ground behind her, matching her gait more clumsily now than before. Sometimes an errant footfall would even strike at a different time than hers, letting her know beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone was behind her. Close behind her. Perhaps it was just the breeze, but she could even fancy that she felt cold breath on the back of her neck. The creature was so close, so close, she could tell. She felt its malice in the very atmosphere surrounding her, its anticipation and evil glee as it contemplated seizing her and ripping her to shreds, feeding on her terror and pain as well as her flesh. All it needed was one more look…

And damn it, even though she knew that look would seal her doom, in her mounting terror she couldn’t help but feel compelled to look behind her. That unseen presence breathing down her neck, piercing her with its eyes, filling her to the brim with horror… it was almost unbearable. Something about being unable to see it, unable to turn and face it, was almost worse than actually facing the thing. She supposed that was what it counted on. In any normal situation, ignoring such a strong feeling of impending danger was pure lunacy. Vision was perhaps humankind’s most important sense… when one heard a strange noise, felt a strange presence, it was a fundamental reflex to turn and look for the danger. Not to do so required the suppression of one’s strongest instincts. Although her rational brain insisted that the thing now walking behind her could not harm her unless she looked at it, some deeper, more animalistic part of her was clanging alarm bells with all its might, certain that looking was less dangerous than not looking. What if the man was wrong, what if this thing behind her could harm her, right now; what if its long claws were at this moment closing in on her jugular vein, its jaws opening to devour her whole???

Plagued by such thoughts, Diane gritted her teeth and broke into a run, not caring who might see her fleeing from nothing and think her mad. The footsteps behind her got even louder and more out of sync with hers as she ran. She was trembling all over, heart beating way too fast, terrified beyond belief. She could not help imagining the thing behind her… her worst nightmare… what it might look like. Vague memories of the imagined monsters that terrorized her childhood surfaced and coalesced. She imagined a creature with a round, gaping, bottomless maw, lined with horrible jagged bloody teeth. A creature with too many arms and legs, all bent in impossible conformations, all tipped with vicious claws. A creature with no order or symmetry, a crazed surrealist collage of terrible organs and implements of destruction. Or, perhaps most terrifying of all, a creature which lurked only on the edges of perception, amorphous, shrouded in darkness; a creature whose true form could not be imagined, for to see it even in the mind’s eye would drive one mad. Such was the creature that haunted her as a child. One which she never imagined or even tried to, one which went forever unnamed, a horrible malignant IT promising terrors beyond even her vivid imagination, beyond her worst nightmare.

Finally, Diane turned onto her own street and saw her front door, so close, just a few running paces away. Flooded with both terror and relief in equal measures, she closed the distance to her small townhouse in record speed, flying across the scraggly, brownish grass of her yard, bounding up her front steps, fumbling for a few horrible seconds with the key to her front door, terrified that she might drop it, then finally shoving it into the keyhole and violently throwing open the door. She closed the door behind her as she entered but, as per the instructions of the man at the pub, did not turn around to lock it, but proceeded straight up the stairs to her bedroom. Indeed, despite being inside her own home, she still felt the presence of the thing following her… its eyes on her back, its footsteps on the stairs… even the sound of the front door creaking ever so slightly, and if it had needed to open it to follow her in. But she was calmer now, knowing that it was almost over. She took the stairs not at a run, but at a brisk walk, and traversed the hallway to her room at the same pace. She already knew what her talisman was going to be… a treasured gift from her childhood…

Diane, you see, had not gotten over her childhood terrors of the dark and unseen monsters alone. Her parents had been loving and supportive, of course, but somehow had never known quite what to do with her. They never took her fears seriously at all… a position which only served to make her feel worse, as she was convinced that her fears were real and disheartened that her parents did not believe her. The one who actually helped free young Diane of her demons was her grandmother. When Diane was about ten, her grandfather died and her grandmother moved in to the same apartment complex as her family. Soon after, Diane happened to awake screaming from a nightmare one night while her grandmother was over visiting. The kindly old woman comforted her and coaxed her back to sleep, and the next day the two of them had a long, serious talk on the subject of fears. Grandmother took Diane’s concerns much more seriously than her parents seemed to. After a long time talking, Grandmother told Diane that the only thing she could do to put a stop to the monsters stalking her was to face them. Diane was horrified by the very suggestion. “But they’re so scary, Grandma! What could a little girl like me do to them? They’ll just get me!”

“Well, Diane,” her grandmother said, “the way I see it, there are only two possibilities. Either the dangers you fear are real, or they are the product of your imagination. If they are real, then they will find it easier to harm you if you don’t know what they are. You’re a smart little girl, with strong parents who love you very much and would do anything to protect you. I’ll wager it would be very hard for anything to harm you within the safe confines of your own home… unless you were too afraid to defend yourself from it. Knowledge is power, Diane, remember that. If the dangers are just a product of your imagination, then if you stand up tall and learn to face those fears, you’ll see that they can’t hurt you… just laugh in their faces and they’ll disappear! Either way, it’s better to face the things that scare you than to give in to them.”

The night after their talk, Diane woke up late at night, as she sometimes did, to find that her parents had turned off her bedside lamp. She thought she heard rustling and was seized with the sudden certainty that there was something hiding under her bed, waiting to grab her and gobble her up. In this situation, she would normally lie paralyzed with terror until morning, maybe even wetting her bed because she was too afraid to get up and go to the bathroom. That night, however, she remembered her grandmother’s advice. Gathering all her courage, she decided to reach across the void between her bed and her nightstand and turn on the bedside lamp.

She sat up in bed (a feat of bravery in itself) and took a few deep breaths, then, as quickly as she could, she lunged over to her nightstand and turned on the lamp. Nothing grabbed her, and the lamp cast its warm circle of light across her room. Diane was surprised and elated that nothing bad had happened. She could just go back to bed now, with the light on, and probably sleep fine… but, she realized, that didn’t really solve the problem, not all the way. Big girls didn’t sleep with the lights on; that was why her parents always turned it off. When Grandma said to face her fears, she meant all the way – and now, empowered by this little victory, might be the only chance Diane had to muster the courage to do it.

Trembling slightly, hardly believing her own boldness, Diane retrieved a small flashlight from her bedside drawer… and turned the lamp back off again. In the darkness, the unseen presence of the monster under the bed seemed to return immediately, and Diane’s heart raced with fright. But, she had to do this. Letting out a loud, high-pitched war cry to inspire herself (and alert her parents should anything actually go wrong) Diane jumped from the safe haven of her bed onto the no-man’s-land of the floor, dropped to her belly, switched on the flashlight, and pointed it under the bed.

No monsters. Just a couple of dirty socks and a toy ball she thought she’d lost. When Diane’s parents stormed into the room to see what was wrong, they found their daughter lying on her stomach on the floor, flashlight in hand, pointing and laughing gleefully at the space under her bed as if she was just the happiest girl in the world.

The nightly terrors went away for the most part, after that. To celebrate, Diane’s grandmother bought her a music box as a gift. It played the song “I Whistle a Happy Tune” from The King and I.

Now, fleeing from a monster which she could not face, Diane chose her grandmother’s music box as her personal talisman. It was her most tangible and meaningful representation of conquering her fears, so it should be perfect. She kept it on her nightstand right next to her bed, and played it sometimes when she was feeling particularly anxious or stressed… or just missing her grandmother. With a sense of profound relief, Diane picked up the music box and started to turn it over in her hands.

Then she heard it. The unmistakable creak of a floorboard directly behind her, loud and obvious in the quiet house. The most solid evidence yet of her pursuer – nearly undeniable proof that someone had indeed followed her into her home. Diane drew in her breath as a rush of adrenaline shook her to her core. Her head just faintly twitched towards the sound as the urge to turn around became almost unbearable. She had a thought, just then… an unbidden, intuitive sort of thought that seemed to rise from deep in her subconscious.

This is your last chance. Your last chance to face your fear.

But of course that was idiotic. Facing her fears may have been her grandmother’s advice, and it may have been good advice, but her grandmother had never faced a situation like this. If Diane turned around, she was dead, or worse, and she knew it. Facing this fear would neither arm her with knowledge nor make it disappear… it would only arm the monster. So, ignoring her instincts and her grandmother’s advice, Diane closed her eyes and turned the music box over in her hands.

“Tenebras non timeo, quia nihil residet.”

More creaking behind her.

“Tenebras non timeo, quia nihil residet.”

Rustling, a bump… a sound, perhaps, like a door sliding open or shut.

“Tenebras non timeo, quia nihil residet!”


Taking a deep breath, Diane opened her eyes, set down the music box, and turned around.

Behind her was only her empty room, quiet and secure in its familiarity. No monsters, no phantom noises, no unseen presences invading her mind. Diane felt a profound sense of relief and safety. She was home, safe and secure in her own home; and her pursuer was finally gone, banished, never to return! She practically skipped back down the steps to lock her front door (which, it turned out, was closed after all). After that, she took a brief moment in the kitchen to fix herself a glass of warm milk before heading up to bed.

Settling down to sleep for the night, Diane realized that she still felt a slight sense of tension and unease… but it was nothing compared to what she’d just experienced, and what did she expect after such a traumatizing event? Everything would be better in the morning, the man had told her so. Besides, even as a child, Diane had always felt the safest at home in her own bed. She snuggled up tightly in the covers, rested her head on her soft pillows, and was soon falling into the warm embrace of much-needed sleep…

Sometime in the middle of that night, Diane awoke from her quiet, restful slumber. She woke up slowly, as one often does from the deeper stages of sleep, and for a while was unaware of exactly what had woken her. Her mouth seemed as dry as cotton, and she felt strangely uncomfortable, but she didn’t think that was what had roused her. Finally, in her groggy, half-awake state, she recognized the sound of a music box playing. Her grandmother’s music box, playing “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” Normally, that tune made her feel happy and secure, but now, it somehow unnerved her… Coming awake a little bit more, she realized, Wait, how could the music box be playing right now? Someone would have to have wound it…

When the full implications of that thought hit her, it snapped her into full awareness like a splash of cold water. She bolted upright in bed… or would have, if she had been able. Unfortunately, she found her movement restricted, and all that her attempt to sit up accomplished was to send shooting pains through her wrists and ankles. Badly frightened now, she attempted to cry out, but found her cries muffled. That cottony feeling in her mouth had not been just from dryness – she was gagged! And the pains in her wrists and ankles… twisting around experimentally and looking down at the foot of her bed, she found that she was tied down to her bedposts with thick ropes. Just as she thought that she could not get any more terrified, she heard a sound above the music box that sent her spiraling into depths of panic she hadn’t even known existed – the chilling sound of metal sliding against metal.

Diane struggled with all her might, pulling at her bonds and making muffled noises through the cloth gag, but the ropes held tight, and no noise she made was nearly loud enough to penetrate the walls of the room. Suddenly, off to her right, a voice spoke to her.

“Ah, yer awake then. Yer quite the heavy sleeper ya know. Didn’t even flinch when I was tyin’ ya down, yet a lil’ music does the trick right quick… odd, eh?”

The voice, obviously masculine, sounded ridiculously conversational given the extremity of the situation and the disturbing content of its words. It also seemed vaguely familiar…

“It’s funny… I was sure fer a second there I was gonna be caught. When I stepped on that damn creaky floorboard, I mean. I thought fer sure you were gonna turn around; then you woulda screamed blue murder and probably woke up the whole damned neighborhood… ruined everything, that woulda! But yer good at followin’ instructions, aintcha? Never turned around once, right? Yeah, one determined wench, an’ I couldn’t be happier ‘bout it!” The voice chuckled darkly as Diane continued to struggle pointlessly, and the sound of grinding metal continued to grate on her ears.

“Determined and superstitious, yep, that there’s one helluva combination! Jus’ to put yer mind at ease, ya should know that there ain’t no ghoulies or ghosties followin’ ya from another world. Nuthin’s tryin’ ta steal yer soul. Those footsteps you heard behind ya on yer way to the pub, those were prob’ly nothin’ except yer imagination runnin’ away with ya. Those footsteps ya heard after ya stopped in at the pub though…”

Diane’s captor slowly stepped into her field of vision. It was the man from the pub, his once kind smile now twisted into a mocking grin of pure malice and predatory excitement. In his hand was a vicious-looking, freshly-sharpened butcher knife.

With a cruel chuckle, the man finished: “…well, those were me.”

Credit To – InfernalNightmare333

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The Staircase Ritual

October 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you’re at your wit’s end. You’ve been watching too many scary movies, or maybe you’ve read a few too many creepy pastas, or perhaps you’ve just been left alone with your own thoughts for far too long. You keep hearing suspicious noises, you’re not sure but you think that shadow in the corner just moved, and/or you just feel a presence other than your own and you’ve become uneasy. At this point, you just want to know — and you want to know for absolutely sure — is there something in your house? Should you be worried about it? What’s going to happen to you if you succumb to your desire to close your eyes and go to sleep?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. If you really want to know, I will now delegate to you the first of many methods. This ritual is designed to detect the activity of the supernatural, demonic and/or worse. Here’s what you’ll need:
1. A staircase, preferably one with twelve or thirteen stairs (excluding the landings) but you can do it with up to sixteen. It is highly inadvisable that you use a staircase with seventeen or more stairs or a staircase with eleven or less stairs.
2. A small, portable fan. It’s suggested one that runs on battery. If you have one, you can use a fire puffer as an alternative.
3. A cup of water
4. A handful of dirt
5. A candle. Make sure it is one that will not burn out easily. And something to light it with.
6. A picture of your house or whatever stood in the place of your house from as far back as you can get
7. A picture of your house as it is now
8. A pair of dice
9. Two watches or small clocks, preferably analog but if you only have digital, that’s fine
10. A food offering. It must be an animal product.
11. A mirror
12. A handful of ash
13. A few dustbunnies
14. A bug or another living and easily overpowered creature.
15. Something from your body (a toe/fingernail, a lock of hair, saliva, blood, a tooth, etc.)
16. Salt
17. A weapon, preferably one made of silver

To begin, you will want to prepare your stairs. You must be aware of the exact time that you begin this ritual and you must begin during the afternoon as the entire ritual must be completed during PM hours. If you have twelve or thirteen stairs you will start by standing on the bottom landing. If you have more stand on the bottom stair and place the first item on the next stair. From here recite: “It is from here whenceforth I shall commence”
On the first stair, place the small fan but don’t turn it on. If you’re using a fire puffer, fill it up with air and don’t puff it out. Place it on the stair instead of a fan. As you do so, recite: “Here is the air that mortal breathes.”
On the second stair, place the glass of water. As you do so, recite: “Here is the water that mortal drinks.”
On the third stair, place the handful of dirt. Try to spread it wide. As you do so, recite: “Here is the earth on which mortal stands.”
On the fourth stair, place the candle but don’t light it. Leave whatever you intend to light the candle with beside it. As you do so, recite: “Here is the fire that burns mortal’s hands.”
On the fifth stair, place the picture of your house from the past. As you do so, recite: “Here is the time that has come to pass.”
On the sixth stair, place the picture of your house as it is now, and roll the dice beside it. Pray that it does not come up a high number. As you do so, recite: “Here is the present and the die are cast.”
On the seventh stair, place one of your watches. As you do so, recite: “Here comes the future, the time ticks by now.”
On the eighth stair, place your food offering. As you do so, recite: “Here is the offering for Devil’s mouth.”
On the ninth stair, place the mirror. As you do so, recite: “Here is my image, in God’s likeness I trust.” [**Note, regardless of whether you are Christian or religious at all, you must recite this line as it is phrased here without any substitution, hesitance or reservations.]
On the tenth stair, place the ashes and the dustbunnies. As you do so, recite: “Here is mortality, ashes and dust.”
On the eleventh stair, place your bug. Make sure it cannot get away. It must be alive. As you do so, recite: “Here is a life I present unto thee.”
On the twelfth and final stair, place the thing from your body. As you do so, recite: “And here is the essence extracted from me.”
Step on the top landing or the final stair and turn around. Draw a line of salt across the edge of the stair/landing. Recite simply: “No further than here.”

Now leave your objects overnight. On this night, you should not notice anything suspicious or concerning. If you do, abort the ritual by putting a circle of salt around each item and around your bed as well as anyone else’s bed in your house. Leave them for the night, and then remove the items the following morning. You must completely obliterate them all. If you do not notice anything suspicious or concerning and are able to get a good night’s sleep without any nightmares or without waking up until daybreak, the ritual is officially in effect and whenever you wish to, you may complete it. It will remain in effect as long as all of the items remain on the stairs. However, none of the items should be allowed to fall from their stair or to overlap into other stairs. Do not allow the salt, dirt or the ashes&dust to spill over onto another stair. If you must, keep them in a container of some sort. The water must remain open to the air so be careful not to spill any of it. Do not leave anything besides these items on your stairs. In performing this ritual, you have banished any supernatural/demonic beings in your house to the first floor and they must get past the twelve curses you have set on your stairs before they can get to you. Believe me when I say, if they didn’t already despise you, they will now. Refrain from making unnecessary trips up and down your stairs after sundown as this weakens the curses. Depending on how strong your supernatural/demonic beings are, these curses might not hold more than a couple nights. As soon as you start to notice even the most subtly peculiar activity, immediately consider completing the ritual. This ritual CANNOT be reinforced by repeating it. If you sleep on the first floor, do the ritual backwards, starting from the top of the stairs instead of the bottom. All the same rules apply. If you don’t have stairs in your house, you can do this same ritual in a long hallway as long as you can clearly see the twelve divisions. You may mark them with tape, lines of salt (which would create a stronger barrier) or pencil, or you can place a long thin piece of wood at regular intervals down the hallway. All the same rules apply. DO NOT perform this ritual in a room. DO NOT perform this ritual outside. DO NOT perform this ritual in any small enclosed space such as a tent or a car (if it’s even possible for you to do that.)

To complete the ritual, it is advisable that you evacuate everyone else from your house. Have them stay the night in a hotel or something. You must do this alone. Stand in the exact place where you recited “It is from here whenceforth I shall commence.” at exactly the same time when you originally recited this line when you initiated the ritual. Make sure you have your weapon in hand. You must stand there for the first hour, you must not move or be moved. Your feet must remain planted in place.
AS SOON AS the first hour ends, step onto the stair with the fan. Turn it on as quickly as possible and let it run across the stair. If you used a puffer, puff out the air that was inside it. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the second hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the second hour ends, step onto the stair with the cup of water. Leave the fan running or make sure there is no air in the puffer. Drink the entire glass of water as quickly as possible. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the third hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the third hour ends, step onto the stair with the dirt. Your feet must both be within the pile of dirt that you threw on the stair. If you put the dirt in a container, dump it out onto the stair as wide as possible to give yourself more space to stand on. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the fourth hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the fourth hour ends, step onto the stair with the candle on it and light it. You may stand beside it or hold it up to your face. Make sure it does not go out. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the fifth hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the fifth hour ends, step onto the stair with the picture from long ago. Without turning around, you must use the candle from the last stair to burn the picture. Don’t blow out the flame until the picture has been turned into ash or at least until you cannot tell what the picture is of anymore. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the sixth hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the sixth hour ends, step onto the stair with the picture of the present day. You must rip this picture as many times as the dice indicated without letting it fall apart. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the seventh hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the seventh hour ends, step onto the stair with the watch or small clock. You must turn the clock forward as many hours as the number on the dice. Do not turn it back to achieve the same number. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the eighth hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the eighth hour ends, step onto the stair with the food offering. It may have been there for a few days so hopefully it hasn’t gone too bad. You must take a bite of it and swallow. You must eat it as if it is delicious even if it is disgusting. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the ninth hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the ninth hour ends, step onto the stair with the mirror. Look into the mirror and look only at your face. DO NOT try to use the mirror to look behind you. No matter what you see in the mirror you must not look away. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the tenth hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the tenth hour ends, smash the mirror and step onto the stair with the ashes&dust. You must drop a drop of blood onto them. It must be your blood and it must be fresh. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the eleventh hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the eleventh hour ends, step onto the stair with the bug. Kill the bug. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the twelfth hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.
AS SOON AS the twelfth hour ends, step onto the stair with the thing from your body. You must swallow it whole. You must not wash it down with anything. DO NOT move from that stair for the entirety of the thirteenth hour. Stand facing the top of the stairs. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around or look behind you.

As soon as the thirteenth and final hour ends, step onto the place where you recited: “No further than here.” Make sure you have your weapon in hand. Turn around and brace yourself. Good luck.

Credit To – CousinSpookyNoodles

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Ghosts of Yesteryear: Mugsy Grey

October 4, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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First off -before we get too deep into this I’m telling you trolls and ‘yeah rights’ out there to sit down and behave yourselves. This story is true, and one any of you naysayer’s could uncover yourself given enough actual footwork and patience. Second, if whoevers reading this gets their chills from blood and guts then, as this is from real history, you’re out of luck.

But if you’re afraid of the unknown and unforeseeable then settle in. Cause it’s time to tell you about the ghosts left behind in the past, and of a specter by the name of ‘Mugsy Grey‘.

Our story begins, or maybe more accurately ends, back in the early 1930’s in the outskirts of Chicago on September the twenty ninth. Mugsy Grey, who’s real name was actually Arthur Carrie, was a two bit hood in the criminal underworld that wanted the finer things in life, but didn’t like crawling around in the muck to get it. If he had maybe his life wouldn’t have ended on a bitter note.

Although no two accounts can agree on what exactly made him do it, on September 29th Carrie took the biggest gamble of his life by “borrowing” (that means stealing), roughly fifty thousand dollars from his unsuspecting boss before running hell for leather. No doubt imagining what his employer would do to him if he ever found him again, Carrie ducked and weaved through various dives and bars, leaving a trail of misinformation and false destinations before finally running out of town with his ill gotten gains. As it turns out he wasn’t the only one running out, which is why is car crapped out along a stretch of lonely highway. After pushing the car into a decent hiding spot, Carrie began his long trek with cash in hand in the hopes of finding someway out of his predicament.

Tramping through the small hours of the night into the early hours of morning you have to wonder what was going through his mind. After all his brilliant plan didn’t so much as hit a bump but smacked right into a brick wall. His head start had dried up hours ago, he was tired and hungry, men were out looking for him (and likely to hang various bits of him from a nearby tree), the money needed hiding, and the word along the grapevine was certainly covering more ground then he was right now. To know if he ever did reach civilization he wouldn’t be able to cool his heels for long probably didn’t perform any small miracles for his temper. I could honestly say what he really needed now was a break from Lady Luck herself.

And just over the next horizon was a gas station at last. Better yet as he get closer, a car further down the road pulled in to fill up, a perfect replacement car no one would recognize him in.

Moving speedily closer he no doubt watched the not so lucky man hungrily with pocket knife in hand. All he needed was the keys, he must’ve been thinking, and he’d be safe at last and in the clear, with fifty thousand big ones paving the road to happiness. He crept closer.

The unsuspecting motorist must have finished filling up by then and was about to pay when Arthur sprang forward and grabbed the man from behind- pressing his knife to the man’s throat. What happened next should be obvious. Especially since with an irony only life can shell out the motorist turned out to be one of the very thugs looking for him.

This particular goon, having lack of direction that could rival some of the shoddiest GPSs of today, had gotten lost following one of Arthur‘s fake leads, and had spent the better part of his night taking back roads and dead ends to make a giant dog leg back to Chicago, and was probably in a really bad mood when some stupid yahoo jumped him from behind. The humor of the situation was clearly never seen by Carrie later on (however brief it was), since shortly afterwards reports began cropping up of people in that area getting attacked by a ‘grey faced mobster’. Since no one knew who he was he was finally just nicknamed, ‘Mugsy Grey‘. As to how he ‘attacked’ them, it went something like this…

Imagine you’re low on gas or something. Whatever it is you decide to pull off to conveniently nearby gas station, fill up the tank, grab a snack or decide to stretch your legs. Suddenly you’re grabbed from behind, and something long and sharp is pressed against your throat. Quietly someone says in your ear, “Gimme your keys.”

Congrats. You’ve just been mugged by a dead man called Mugsy Grey, and now have only two options. Either do what he says, or, try to get away. And you better choose fast because Mugsy doesn’t like to be kept waiting.

There are a lot of stories willing to tell you -in great detail- what happens if you pick the wrong one. How you’ll be found dead in your car with your throat cut and the initials MG written in blood on the driver’s rear view mirror. That he’ll take you with him and you’ll never be seen again. Or how he’ll follow you home and kill you in your sleep that very night. And finally, if you don’t decide fast enough he’ll kill you right where you’re standing and disappear laughing manically.

To fend him off varies on the person telling it, ranging from simply pleading for your life to being the right gender and even all the way to re-enacting the event as the thug. Generally though you’re supposed to give him the car keys since (it’s said), that’s what the thug did just before he killed Mugsy, and by doing so makes him relive his own death and vanish. But these are all just stories.

Out of all the reported sightings, a total of one hundred and forty nine in all, no one has ever died by “choosing the wrong one.” In most cases the victim dropped the keys and waited in terrified silence for their attacker to leave or just kill them, standing still for some time but none the worse for wear. The same almost goes for those who try to run, based on an actual account from a woman named Patrice Grace, who died in 1992. Luckily she had passed the story on to her grand children, one of which was kind enough to tell me.

Grace had just finished washing up it the restroom when she felt a cold breeze wash over her and then was suddenly grabbed from behind. Knife pressed against her throat her unseen mugger (Mugsy), demanded that she give him her keys. Though she said she never saw what he looked like she did say that she almost keeled over at the smell of his stale tobacco breath. Thinking quickly she told him that she left the keys in her car and needed to go back and get them. The mugger, who sounded “far away“ to her, didn’t have a problem with this but warned her not to try any funny business. Together they went outside with him holding her at knife point and halfway to the car Grace took her chances to break free. She said afterwards that she felt only a little more pressure on her throat before it vanished completely as she ran away screaming for help. When she was being comforted by the station’s staff someone noticed that across her throat was a thin red line, exactly where she swore the knife had touched her.

Accounts from those who also fought back are pretty similar to Grace’s experience, all of whom save and sound. Those who got a good look at him describe him as a thin, ‘white or grey faced’ man, with bad breath and a far away expression -some adding that he wore old looking clothes. All given the same parting gift of irritated skin along the throat where they say the knife was pressed, but would fade away in a few days time.

Mugsy Grey’s reign of terror lasted for a handful of decades before finally petering out in 1974, probably due to road changes along the highways and newly added interstates. I tried finding the gas station myself three years ago but ended up without anything to show for it. Meaning the gas station itself may have been abandoned or even torn down over the last few years. But I shouldn’t get comfortable if I was you.

In 2011, reports along Wisconsin, Illinois and -for some reason- down in Florida, describe a phantom mugger whose MO is eerily similar to an old friend. Even after some digging I’m not sure if any of them are fakes or that it may be the work of a new ghost. However. In one of the articles taken from a small Peru Illinois newspaper, it mentions that the lucky survivor escaped with only, “a visible bruise across the throat.”

Credit To – Collaborater1241

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My Grandfather Knew Why We Run from the Dark

October 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I always admired my grandfather’s courage. He had fought in the war on what we nowadays think of as the wrong side, but he had never been a believer in the cause. Sometimes a rifle is pressed in your hand and your choice is either to fire and worry about being shot from the front, or not to fire and be sure that you’ll be shot from behind.

He was young when he was drafted, barely 16. Before he left he gave his first kiss and a promise to a girl. She waited five years until the end of the war, surviving on just five or six letters that she kept as treasure.

The war ended but even the defeat was celebrated. Not openly, but in the hearts and eyes of the people. People never wage war, it is politicians that wage war. No soldier that ever stood in the line of a rifle believes that war is heroic, only those divorced from reality, those that sit in tidy offices, those dream of war.

Soldiers came home with thin bodies and bandaged limbs. They hugged their wives and women before they fell onto beds and relived the front in dreams that made them toss and turn and wake up from their own screams.

His girl watched with tears in her eyes while her sister and mother each welcomed their men home. She heard the men scream at night and each scream lodged a stone in her throat. She prayed that the man she had kissed did not have to scream and then she prayed that the man she had kissed was alive enough to scream. Then she prayed for forgiveness for her selfishness.

The other men, when they came, were often so thin that their women, when they welcomed them, were scared of hugging them too tightly for their spines or ribs might break. Especially those that came from the East were thin, the skin of their faces sunken into their cheeks.

Two years after the war a scarecrow knocked on her door. An old man, forty at least, the arms thin like bare bones, a hard and dirty beard that had long stopped growing for want of nutrition and his skin a gray with blue and black patches. His lips stretched into a black-toothed smile. She stepped back into the house. The door was closing fast.

“Wait,” he said. “It’s me.”

Even after hot meal and shower and shave she still recognized nothing except his eyes and the shape of his nose. It took two weeks before she thought that he was true and another two before she was sure.

Sometimes, on those days where she took him along to the market, the sellers called him her father. The man in the leather chair had to ask her twice and then demand another witness to make sure that he was the man he claimed to be and not his father or uncle or another older relative.

The war had stolen his youth.

When my grandfather spoke about the war he never spoke about his experiences. He spoke in the abstract, the way you speak about a movie or a book, not even the way you speak about history.

“They were overrun. Hundreds of kilometers, there was no resistance at all. Then General Winter, as the Russians call it, attacked.”

“The troops still got further. There were villages, poor people. It wasn’t a choice; the supplies weren’t coming. Everything was taken. All those that didn’t run were shot.”

Sometimes he talked about the early phases of the war, when everybody was hopeful, when things were going far too well and easy. He always said, not with pride but in a matter-of-fact way, that the war would have been won if it had been against one or two or five countries, rather than against half the civilized world.

But my grandfather refused to speak about the things that happened at the end and after the war. When he was asked he didn’t reply. He only shook his head and looked away.

My grandmother said that she heard strange things when he was asleep. She heard him begging for food and water, for a blanket. She heard him beg that someone stop. She heard him beg that someone let him go. She heard him beg for forgiveness.

As long as I can remember I asked my grandfather about the war. Despite his warnings, for me those were stories of adventure and courage. I only heard when he spoke about trenches and gunfire, not when he spoke about catching rats for food and drying puddle water and trousers so soiled that it was better to rub them clean with mud and dry them in the rare moments of sun than to leave them as they were.

I didn’t understand that my questions hurt him, that I forced him to relieve a time that he would have given an arm to forget.

And yet, all those times when I made him tell stories in his odd unemotional and descriptive way, he refused to speak about the end. Once I baited him enough to say that he did not remember how he got home; sometimes riding on trains and sometimes by foot, but always just following the direction of the setting sun until he stumbled upon street signs that he finally could read.

He came from far in the East. Places he either did not remember or did not want to remember. And every time I asked his stories ended with the village that they pillaged, where they condemned men and women and children to death because they themselves did not know how else to survive.

As said, I always admired my grandfather for his courage. He paid that war with his youth and on his return decided that, for this heavy price, he at least wanted to be a good man.

I could recount countless times when I saw him, an old man by then, chase down young rascals that had egged a house or stolen a handbag. He jumped in when neighbors needed help. He passed a burning house and thought he heard a child caught still inside. He told me to stay where I was and without a thought slammed his shoulder into the door until it broke from its hinges and he himself disappeared in black smoke. In the end there was no child that needed to be saved. My mother called him a fool for breaking his shoulder like that. For me he was a hero.

My grandfather taught me that we all dream of being courageous but that very few of us take our chance to be a hero when it is offered to us. In our lives we pass countless times where we could save, but we drive past and look for excuses. “I have to hurry home.” “It didn’t look that bad.” “Others were helping already.”

Being scared and comfortable is easier than being courageous. And to make ourselves feel good we imagine the heroic acts we would have done if we had had the time or if it had been that bad or if others hadn’t been there.

There was only one thing my grandfather was scared of. Dark rooms.

Their house had a basement but they rarely, if ever, used it. There were strong lights installed and the light switch was outside the basement door, but there was nothing inside except for old furniture never to be used again and a few old tires that should someday have made a swing.

My grandmother did not mind entering the basement, but he forbade her to use it.

“There are things,” he said. “That live in such darkness.”

At night he made sure that everyone else was upstairs and in their rooms. He turned the flashlight on and the living room lights off and, faster than he should have moved in his age, hastened up the stairs.

The guest room was right next to their bedroom. So many times and years I heard him run up those stairs, slam the door and breathe heavy air into his lungs. My grandmother never complained. She never told him that he had to stop or that he was risking his life.

She understood. She knew. He had told her.

My father’s parents had died in a car accident when I was young. For me they are a hazy memory, more photos than people. That might be why my mother’s parents were so important for me. They were my personal grandparents, the ones I had and the ones I loved.

They had always been very healthy. When I was young my grandfather still ran and played soccer with me. But in the last few years their age was beginning to take its toll. I noticed that they lost their ability to focus, then their ability to remember recent events, then their ability to remember me.

My grandmother and grandfather still followed their routine. They cared for themselves and didn’t need our help except for tax matters and other administrative duties that some government official had decided needed to be complicated. My parents visited often to make sure that the house was in order and food in the fridge. They kept me updated on my grandparents’ health and happiness.

For Christmas I finally managed to visit. It’s not a nice thing to admit but my parents and I – with my mother as her parents’ only child and me as my parents’ only child – made sure to be there and not have any other plans because we thought it might be the last Christmas that we would have together as a family. I was happy to see them and hug them again. I felt guilty, in a way, that I hadn’t provided any great-grandchildren yet and had not even a girlfriend or wife to present.

I was surprised how confused they were; that they did not remember who I was. My grandparents did not seem to remember my parents’ names either, but they still recognized their faces. I was a stranger, face and name alike and during the meals and songs and conversations I felt as if I was an intruder in bygone lives that they were reliving with glassy eyes.

It was the 26th of December. My parents and grandmother went to see the Christmas market. I stayed home with my grandfather and his aching knee to drink tee and play scrabble.

I was in the kitchen when he called out.


With the teapot I walked back into the living room. He sat in his armchair, upright, his eyes suddenly clear and right on me.

“Son!” he said again, loud and forceful.


“Make sure the lights are on.”

“Sure, grandpa.”

I walked towards the light switch. His eyes followed me.

“They come when the lights are off,” he said. “You know that, right?”

“I’m not sure who comes, but I’ll keep the lights on for you.”


His voice was not frail anymore; it thundered through the room.

“They come! Those things! I told you about them!”

I turned the light on.

“I don’t think you told me,” I said. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Don’t fool me, boy!”

“I’m sorry, I really don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, I told you. I know I told you. I taught you to keep the lights on.”

“You told me to keep the lights on, but you never told me why.”

There was anger in his face.

“Why? Why? I saw them and I saw what they do to us and you doubt me?”

“You saw things in the dark?”

“Three years I saw them. Three years they held me and the others.”

“I never heard about that.”

“Oh,” he said. “Then you should.”

That evening, in less than twenty minutes, my grandfather told me about his last years at the front.

One year before the war ended they were ordered to retreat. They fled in small groups through the countryside they had pillaged and burned just weeks before, past houses with the frozen dead still inside.

There was a church, he said, a large old church made of stone. It was the only building still intact in the village, the only place to seek shelter from the wind and cold.

They made a fire with old church benches and sank to their sleep right next to it. Seven men in total, two injured and moaning and the other five just scared and weak.

My grandfather said he woke up from screams all around him. The room was pitch black. The stone floor was moving under his body. He struggled to get on his feet – and only then realized that his feet were being held. The floor was still; his feet were being pulled.

Then he too screamed.

He said they were pulled down stairs. His weapon and knife were gone. Then he heard more people, moaning and screaming. A suffocating stench punched into his lungs.

He was thrown onto a heap of warm bodies. Something bit his leg and he kicked and a man screamed in pain.

The room was pitch black. Another man was thrown on him. A door fell shut and was locked.

He said they moved away from the heap of bodies, but the cold soon drove them to get closer. Every few minutes somebody screamed. He could hear flesh ripping and teeth grinding.

He said there must have been hundreds of people. He said they tried to hammer against the metal door and scream for help and the voice of an old man laughed at them from behind. He said in broken German that the door was thick and nobody there that could hear them.

But once every while the door opened. Something dark moved inside and when it came inside the room grew cold and the humans moved closer to one another. My grandfather said he felt the energy being drained from his body and a panic and dread rise in his soul.

Soon the dread started even before the door opened.

They all adapted. There was no problem with water. It ran occasionally down the walls and if it was not licked off it accumulated on the floor to join with the layers of excrement and sweat. He said that he tried to hold out, but that after days of hunger you choose desperate measures. He said that he never killed one there, that he only took pieces from those that had died or at least those that he thought had died.

Every few days more were thrown into the room. Every few days there was a struggle, some of the old against some of the new.

They tried to stay together, the brothers in arms that had fought together, but soon that too broke apart.

He said that some day the number of new people started decreasing. There were only a rare few and the numbers in the room dwindled. He sat for most of the time on a higher stone, one that the others seemed to not have found. He only climbed down when he knew that a struggle had ended, that one was dead, that something could be eaten.

But no matter the struggles, every time when the dread came and the door opened, they all huddled together. They all felt the same exhaustion and cold and panic in their souls.

And then, one day, long after no more new people arrived, when only three or four or five were left, there were footsteps outside. He was scared because he didn’t feel dread. The door opened and a man with a torch stood there. A gun fell from his hand and his mouth opened and he ran and scrambled up the stairs and he threw up while running.

The door was open. There was a glimmer of light from upstairs. That was how my grandfather left. He said he didn’t turn to look who or what he left behind. Something behind him scrambled up the stairs too, but he was the first to get out and he was the first to reach the forest and eat grass and bugs and other things that he found close to the ground.

He found a piece of cloth first, then a rotten uniform on a corpse and later, when he had scrambled far enough and when his strength returned, he found a village and stole a dry uniform from a laundry line and a bag of potatoes from the same place.

“I don’t know what they are,” he said. “But they live from the warmth and spirit we leave behind.”

I nodded.

“They live off us,” he said. “Do you understand? They need you to exist. They want to catch you. They want to drain you. They want that you forget about the light.”

“The light?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “The light. They held us in the darkness. Three years they drained me and lived off me and made me do things I don’t even want to think again.”

He cleared his throat.

“And,” he said. “I know what that dread feels like. It is not like any other. It is at the core of your being, you feel it in your spine and back and gut. Three years I felt it and after that it never went away.”

“It never went away?”

“Of course it didn’t,” he said. “Because they always stay. They always wait. They will always be there, consuming what spirit you leave behind, and hoping that one day you become careless, that you forget about the light. And then they strike.”

I glimpsed outside, where the world was slowly turning gray.

“They are here, right now?”

My grandfather nodded.

“They wait,” he said. “They come and consume what we leave. But they hope for more. They hope that one of us grows careless and ignores the dread. They wait until one of us stays when the room is dark.”

We sat quietly, his eyes meeting mine.

“Okay,” I finally said.

“Good,” he said.

He nodded silently, then looked outside. A moment later his eyes seemed glassy again.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

He turned to me and frowned.

“Who are you?” he asked.

It was the last conversation that I truly had with him. Since January his condition got worse, he talked about dead men. He spoke about hunger and fear. He asked for the girl that he had kissed when he was 16 and neither he nor she noticed that the girl sat right next to him, patting his hand.

I loved my grandfather. I miss him. I wish I had been there rather than a six hour drive away and that I could have taken care of him rather than leave him alone. I wish that it had been me or my parents and not the girl that waited seven years for his return that had to find him.

But most of all, and I know that sounds cruel and wrong and selfish, I wish that he would have died in his bed or in the hospital, during the day.

I wish so much that she didn’t have to find him in the morning, on the living room floor, with the flashlight off and his mouth wide open.

Credit To – Anton Scheller

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Away With The Fairies

October 3, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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It was the latest in a string of sweltering summer nights, where the air was thick with humidity and even the faintest breeze was an honest-to-God miracle. Outside, the lawn had withered to a sickly yellow, with earth showing through in intermittent patches like the branch of a tree peeking out from beneath its peeling bark. Although the clock above the sink read quarter of ten, the heat was still unbearable. The sun was winking out behind vistas of distant mountains, their jagged peaks silhouetted beautifully against the fiery red orb, yet its searing gaze still kept the residents of Los Alamos imprisoned within their homes. Peering outside was like viewing the world through an orange-tinted looking glass, dolls lay forgotten on dead grass, content to endure the sultry predations of Mother Nature with their plastic faces tightened in grimaces of silent displeasure. Shimmering waves of heat radiated above the deserted asphalt streets, daring any who were brave enough to come out, come out, and endure their blistering caress.

Wiping her forehead with the towel, Cara tossed it onto the draining board, turning away from the kitchen window and the view of the lifeless, washed-out landscape it offered.

Someone screamed from the living room, the sound soaring to a high-pitched crescendo before being abruptly cut off into an oppressive silence. Smiling to herself, Cara sauntered through the doorway, absent-mindedly twirling a single ashen ringlet of hair around her third finger. The white band where her wedding ring had been until last December still stood in stark contrast against her deeply tanned skin.

Dracula stood with his usual haughtiness and grace, a lithe young woman in his arms, her thin silk shift clinging to all the right places, accentuating the subtle curves of the female form with ease. Her head was tilted back, exposing the exquisite marble skin of her neck. The Prince of Darkness drew back his lips, revealing a pair of elongated canines; twins both sleek and deadly. Dracula bought his mouth down to the sweeping contour of her neck, baring those savage yet eloquent fangs in the moonlight-

‘Mum, no!’ Abby groaned, as the TV snapped off, shifting to an upright position on the sofa, ‘Turn it back on, turn it back on!’

‘You know the rule, Abs,’ Cara replied, ‘nine-thirty on a week night, no later.’

‘But Mary-Beth st-‘

‘Is your name Mary-Beth?’ Cara asked, continuing before Abby had a chance to reply, her voice soft but firm. ‘It’s on tape anyway, so you can watch the rest of it after school tomorrow.’ She shook her head. ‘I’ll never understand your fascination with those horrid films as long as I live.’

Forlorn and defeated, Abby jumped down from the sofa and headed for the foot of the stairs, before stopping to turn and look back at Cara. ‘Is he coming again tonight? Is he?’

Smiling, Cara hunkered down in front of her daughter, running a hand through Abby’s sandy curls. ‘I think, now that it’s finally out, he’ll come and take it straight away.’

Abby looked back at her with staunch defiance, that tell-tale glint of stubbornness beginning to show in her sapphire eyes. ‘I told you,’ she said, in an exasperated tone, ‘he came last night, but he didn’t stay. He’s angry with me now.’

Cara, although now a woman of thirty-two, remembered how it was being nine; old enough to know better, yet still clinging to the last vestiges of childhood magic, before they were swept away in the ensuing storm of teenage angst. Before she knew it, Abby would be more concerned with eye shadow and mini-skirts than Hammer horror and dolls. But for now, she was just Abs, her perfect princess.

‘Of course he isn’t sweetie,’ she said, ‘I’ve got a feeling he’s even more excited then you are.’


‘Promise. Now, give your mother a kiss goodnight,’ Cara looked down expectantly, and Abby dutifully obliged, kissing her on the cheek before throwing her arms around her, sending her mother tumbling onto her backside. Laughing together, mother and daughter, Cara hugged her tightly, sending her upstairs with a kiss on the nose and a reminder to brush her teeth.

Still smiling, Cara flopped down onto the sofa. Raising a child single-handedly was difficult, the long days at the factory hard, demanding work. But it was worth it for Abby, for her beautiful little girl. Give it half an hour and Abs would be asleep, then Cara would slip upstairs and replace the lost tooth with $5- from her conversations with the other mothers at work, she’d determined that this was the going rate for the first baby tooth. Lying down with her head on the armrest, Cara switched the TV back on, hoping to catch headlines on the ten o’clock news. She was asleep within minutes.

Upstairs, Abby finished brushing, flossed, changed into her pink My Pretty Pony pyjamas, and shut off the strip light above the cabinet. Now came the part she hated: turning off the bathroom light and dashing down the hall to her bedroom in the darkness.

Tonight, the sense of impending doom came not from the Frankenstein Monster, nor from the Mummy, raised from his tomb to lurk in the moonlit corridor beyond the door. No, this evening’s dread came courtesy of the Prince of Darkness himself. Surely he was waiting silently in the wings, to seize her as soon as she set foot out there, and steal her away to Castle Dracula, where she would be dragged down to the deepest depths of the yawning catacombs, or thrown to the salivating wolves that had menaced Mr Harker, their maws filled with razor-sharp teeth, ready to tear her to pieces and devour the remains.

Shuddering, Abby pulled the door open, took a deep breath, yanked the light switch off and ran. But there were no vampires, werewolves or bogeymen lying in wait tonight, and Abby threw herself into bed the second she crossed the threshold of her room, bundling herself under the covers even before the door slammed shut behind her. Fear immediately transmuted itself to safety. Here, in her own room, wrapped in her own duvet, she was safe from all the monsters on earth. She knew it, as surely as she knew who would visit her in her sanctuary later that night.


The Tooth Fairy.

He had been here last night, but Abby’s tooth had still been in her mouth then. Now, thanks to some subtle persuasion from her fingers, it lay beneath her pillow in a soft velvet pouch her mother had given her. Sliding one hand underneath to check, she was relieved to feel the soft material against her fingertips. Butterflies of excitement took flight in her stomach. But she had to sleep; after all, the Tooth Fairy only came once you were asleep- everyone knew that. With a perfunctory yawn, Abby flopped back onto her pillows, losing herself in the sweet, dreamless sleep with which the young are surely blessed.


It’s a beautiful summer day, the sun is warm and there is a gentle breeze drifting on the wind. Cara sits at the picnic bench, sorting through the food she packed for herself and Abby. She is just unwrapping some of the sandwiches -peanut butter and jelly, of course- when she hears Abby gasp.

Startled, Cara turns to look at her daughter. Abby, still with the string of her kite clenched firmly in one small fist, is just where Cara knew she would be. Only now, there is something else, standing at the edge of the tree line. Cara nearly screams, because for a second, she is sure that the shape in the foliage is humanoid: tall and thin, with an oversized head. But as soon as it steps out onto the verdant summer grass, she realises her mistake.
Standing less than five feet away from her daughter is an elk, its gnarled horns resplendent; its stance majestic and proud. Despite the natural grace of this creature, Cara feels that something isn’t right about it, that there is an underlying decay gnawing away at the flesh beneath that rugged fur. Abby takes a small step towards it, her scarlet summer dress standing in stark contrast to the elks deep brown hide, forming a surreal juxtaposition of man and nature. The elk raises its shaggy head, and Cara feels unreality wash over her in a crushing wave. Huge, empty black eyes stare back at her, absent of both emotion and warmth: twin pits of Stygian darkness.

It takes a step towards Abby; she in turn moves closer, letting the string of her kite slip through her fingers. Cara wants to shout at her, to pull her away from the not-elk, whatever it is. Instead, she finds her gaze drawn to the kite, drifting in lazy arcs across the pristine blue sky. Unable to tear her eyes away from its loops and swirls, she can do nothing except listen to her daughter scream, the dissonance carrying across the rolling hills surrounding them. The world around her begins to fade, colour and clarity blurring into an opaque darkness that enfolds her.

For several seconds Cara is disorientated. Where am I? She wonders. Why aren’t I at the park? There was something…an animal? Staring raptly around her, the murk of the living room begins to unfold, revealing all the old familiar faces: the television set her mother gave them for Christmas last year: the framed photos of Abby that adorn the walls: the bookcase in the corner crammed full of paperback romance novels.

It was just a dream. Of course it was just a dream.

Somewhere above her, a floorboard creaked ever-so-subtly.

Sitting upright, her hand steals unknowingly to the curls of her hair, wrapping them around slim, elegant fingers. Was Abby out of bed? Cara sits rigid in the gloom, straining her ears. Nothing. If Abby was out of bed, Cara knows she would have heard either the bedroom door open or the bathroom light. Instead, she hears only silence. Somewhere in Cara’s mind, a long-dormant warning siren begins to sound.

No, not silence: a slight, almost non-existent groan as the heat-warped floorboards shift against one another. Exactly as they would if someone were moving stealthily across them.

Now Cara understands: Abby is in danger. From what, or who, she doesn’t know. Only that her daughter, the most precious thing in the world, needs her. Without a second thought, Cara dashes to the kitchen, striking her hip on the counter in the semi-darkness. Stifling a grunt of pain, she flounders with the wooden block, her normally lithe digits fumbling against sleek metal handles. Without pausing for a split-second, she sprints to the foot of the stairs and hurtles upwards.


Abby opened her eyes, her mind shifting from sleeping to fully awake in a matter of seconds as she realised what had roused her from her slumber. Purple light filled her vision, and for a moment it was all Abby could see, before her eyes began to adjust. Now she could make out the tall figure, standing motionless beside the bureau. Swirling shapes of iridescence twirled gracefully around him like thin ribbons, and as the Tooth Fairy stepped forwards, Abby’s jaw dropped open in wonder.

Everything swam into focus with crystal clarity now: the ornate silver wand in his left hand, his right extended towards her in a gesture of grandeur: the way the air around him sparkled and shimmered: his regal attire, purple fit-for-a-king velvets complimented by a scarlet cloak trimmed with gold. He took another step towards her, bringing him almost to the edge of the bed. His aroma filled her nostrils now, calming and sweet; a meadow of flowers in full bloom, a forest floor on a breezeless summer eve. There was more, another taste that lingered subtly beneath the currents of air that eddied around him: the scent of Disneyland and new bikes; of puppies and ponies; of childhood dreams made reality. Although she was too young to fully appreciate it, he was darkly handsome, in an arrogant, aristocratic way, with deep auburn eyes to lose yourself in; able to melt the heart of any female foolish enough to gaze into them. He reminded Abby of the princes in the Disney cartoons her girlfriends liked so much: dashing and brave, always managing to rescue the imperilled princess in the nick of time, before sweeping her into his arms with a lingering kiss.

Sitting up in bed, Abby’s hand scrambled frantically under the pillow for her tooth, for a moment fearing it was lost, and that he would once more depart in anger. But no, her fingers closed around the familiar velvet pouch. Her heart beating a frantic tattoo against her ribcage, Abby leaned forward, pressing the hand holding the pouch gingerly into the Tooth Fairy’s palm. Only as his hand closed upon hers did their eyes meet, and for a fraction of a second beneath his brow were two open graves, yawning black abysses that loomed hollow and foreboding. Then the Tooth Fairy smiled, revealing perfect teeth whiter than sun-bleached bone. All was well again, and Abby squeezed his hand, smiling back.


With her heart somewhere in her throat, Cara took the last three stairs in a single stride. The door to Abby’s room was closed, and there was no immediate sign that anything was amiss. Yet Cara remained unconvinced as she covered the remaining distance of the landing: there was danger, no doubt about it, imminent and all too real. Her intuition screamed that it was so. Her mind swam with thoughts of home invasion, burglars or -God help her- sexual perverts. She grasped the brass handle, images of escaped mental patients and deranged psychopaths flitting before her eyes. Cara threw the bedroom door open, and the terror that had seeded itself in her breast unfurled in full, threatening to drag her down and drown her in unconsciousness.

The waxing moon hung low and pregnant in the sky and its baleful light streamed in through the picture-window, illuminating a grotesque scene no fear of sexual predators or prowlers could have prepared her for. Abby was sitting upright on the edge of the bed; duvet and sheets pushed roughly aside, her face was a blissful mask of appraisal. Cara’s gaze barely alighted on her daughter, however; it was the thing standing next to the bed which caused her breath to catch in her throat and her eyes to bulge in their sockets.

The grey man was tall even with a slight hunch; he -it- would have been forced to stoop had it entered through the door.

Of course, Cara already knew that it hadn’t.

It was naked and completely hairless; its skin, pockmarked and rough, unerringly similar to the hide of an elephant, was pulled taunt over an emaciated frame –Cara could see the grey man’s ribs, three on either side- and hideously concave chest. It had no genitalia that she could see, the area where its legs met simply curved upwards in a seamless continuation of the torso. In one hand it held a sinister metal rod, dull despite the moonlight that flooded the room. Several curved protrusions jutted diagonally from its length, revolving with a slow, menacing intent that made Cara’s blood run cold. In the other it held her daughters hand, its three fingers of such a length that they easily encircled the fragile limb, with several inches to spare.

The grey man’s inverted tear-drop shaped head swivelled like that of an owl to stare at her. Having a daughter like Abby, Cara had seen countless episodes of The X-Files and creature-features galore, yet none of those had come within a mile of portraying the stark emptiness of those huge, expressionless black eyes, so clinical, so emotionless and cold. Its nose was almost non-existent, the faintest hint of a triangular dent. Beneath it was a thin, rudimentary mouth, lipless and devoid of any discernible emotion. But its eyes- dear God, if she survived this, Cara knew that they would haunt her evermore.

Despite the sheer, undiluted horror she faced, one thought remained steadfast in her mind: Abby.

That thing is holding my daughters hand.

Holding the Forever-Sharp kitchen knife in front of her, she took a step towards the grey man, unsure of whether she could actually do anything, but knowing that she had to do something. It inclined its head to the right, assessing her as an inquisitive fox would an unlatched bin, and Cara fell to her knees. The stainless steel blade jumped from her hand and skittered away across the floor, coming to rest in the domain of shadows beneath the bed. There was something inside her head, crushing her mind with the force of hundreds, no, thousands of tons of pressure; the pain was unimaginable, and unbidden her hands flew to her face in a futile bid for release. Her daughter was forgotten and the grey man no longer mattered. There was nothing except the pain that flooded her, overwhelming her senses in a fusillade of suffering. She tore at her face, raking deep gashes that immediately welled with blood. Still the agony persisted, and her frantic digits turned their machinations to her eyes, gouging and tearing with the sheer ferocity of a rabid dog.

The last image to grace her retinas was that of her smiling daughter standing hand-in-hand with something straight from the set of a late night sci-fi flick. Then the world descended into blackness and her sight flickered out like a dying street light as the tips of two artificial nails tore through her visual cortex, and Cara’s world became nothing more than pain and darkness.

From the Los Alamos Herald, August 28th, 2001:

Mother Held In Connection With Disappearance;
Police Fear Mental Instability

A thirty-two year old woman is facing scrutiny over the
disappearance of her nine-year-old daughter, after an
on-going FBI investigation revealed startling evidence of severe underlying mental disorders. Cara Moretz, a lifelong
resident of New Mexico, was hospitalized late Thursday night, after police entered her home in response to an anonymous 911 call. According to Richard Delbuana, a paramedic on-scene during the night, Moretz was found in a state of severe delirium and panic. ‘We -the attending officers, along with my partner and I- were forced to sedate her to prevent further self-mutilation; she was hysterical, raving about Martians, for Christ’s sake,’ said a shaken Delbuana, ‘there were empty red pits where her eyes should have been. Every time I close my eyes, I see that woman’s face without hers.’ The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived on scene Friday morning, and in less than forty-eight hours uncovered records indicating that Moretz may have suffered
from severe schizophrenia, paranoia and delusional episodes.
This raises difficult questions for the Los Alamos Department o-
Continued on Page 4

Credit To – Tom Farr

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The Popcorn Ceiling

October 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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After my parent’s divorce, and for too many years after, my twin sister Ginny would wake me up unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Her demeanor would always be frightened and scared when she did. It always reminded me of when we were kids and she would escape to my room, away from our drunken and abusive mother. Ginny would just sit on the floor at the side of my bed and brush at my hand as we stared at each other in a comforting embrace. Five, sometimes ten minutes would go by until she would start to pull away and I’d know it was over. We would never talk, but we never had to in moments like those. She just needed a place to escape.

A September night nearly four years ago was different. Ginny was exceptionally frightened and crying inconsolably. For the first time since we were children, I could feel her grasp my hand to wake me. Her grip was cold, damp and trembling in fear. She was so scared and helpless that I felt equally scared and helpless. This is a common empathy twins share, especially so for Ginny and I.

After 20 minutes of comforting her and holding her as tight as I could, I felt her slipping away again. This time she begged and pleaded to stay with me. We would never talk during her escapes, but this night was different. As I lunged and jumped to keep her from floating away, I lost my ability to feel and touch her. She floated up onto the popcorn ceiling and was dragged across harsh surface until she melted into the sheet rock and out of sight. The vision of her petrified face and desperately extended left hand will forever be seared into my memory.

Her husband must have been exceptionally rough that night four years ago, much like my mother often was when Ginny was a child. When I watched her fade away I knew I would never see her again. For some reason I just knew.

Confirming what I already knew, I received the bad news the next morning about her violent murder and rape at the hands of her husband. Even though I already knew the how and why, the police never could explain the scrape marks and dust on Ginny’s back. I guess I could have told them but what good would it had done anyway. Only a twin would, could understand.

I had not felt the embrace of my sister in nearly ten years prior to that moment. For whatever reason, I was able to feel her again for one last time, to be with her when she needed me most, like I always was when we were children. It never mattered that we were always a thousand miles apart.

Credit To – StupidDialUp

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