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Among the Trees

February 26, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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For several nights I have seen a man vanish into the woods behind my home; a man that I do not recognize. It started three nights ago. I thought nothing of it at first; perhaps he was a homeless man living in some clearing in the woods, or possibly a drug addict looking for a secluded place to practice his sickness. Either way, I did not read into it very much. But, eventually, my curiosity got the best of me and I began to wonder what it was that he did beneath those dark branches.

He appeared every night, at exactly nine o’ clock, in my backyard, walking toward the edge of the woods. I would watch from my bedroom window as he stood there for a moment and then proceed into the dark canopy. He walked slowly and with conviction, walking to a destination completely unknown to me. Eventually I would lose sight of him among the black trunks of the pines and my interest would make my mind race. Where was he going? What was he doing? The answers to these questions would, unfortunately, be revealed to me.

Another queer facet about the man’s nightly journeys was that I never once saw him emerge from the forest in the morning. At first I thought that he merely left while I was asleep, but I once woke up earlier than usual to test this thought. Even then, I did not see him come forth from the woods. This intrigued me greatly and I soon found myself wanting to follow the man, to know where it was that he went each night.
The following evening, I decided to follow him from a distance. I slept during the day, so that I may have the energy to complete my excursion, and woke up around six. As with every other night, the man appeared in my backyard at nine walking towards the woods. Once I saw him, I got dressed and set off after him.

By the time I had made it outside, he was a good ways into the forest, but I could still see his black silhouette moving among the trunks. I followed him for some ten minutes before he stopped suddenly. He did not move, but instead just stood there. I ducked below a bush to avoid him seeing me and knelt there perfectly still. The man stayed like this for a minute or so and then resumed his walk. At his continuance, I broke my cover and began my stalking once again.

It was not long before the man stopped once again, quite abruptly this time. As with the last occurrence, he merely stood in place, not bothering to look around, but rather listen to his surroundings. Without sufficient cover around me, I decided this time to lay down on the forest-bed, hoping that the darkness would blend me with the soil. I lay there for a little while, wondering when the strange man would resume his journey, when I heard a crack from behind me. I started slightly and then looked to see what had produced the disturbance. Seeing nothing, I looked forward again, but the man was gone!

Somehow, he had slipped from my sight while I was not looking. I thought that he must have snuck away as soon as he heard the noise that broke the nightly silence. I rose from my earthly hiding place, looking for him between the trees. He was not to be seen anywhere. With nothing to go on and without sufficient lighting to study the ground for prints, I decided that it was best to go home for the night. I immediately went back the way I came, wondering the whole time how the man had gotten away from me so quickly and without making a sound. Upon reaching my home, I decided that I would try to follow him again the following night.

I slept most of the next day, not waking until about three o’ clock. I waited with anxiety until nightfall for the strange man to appear. Nine o’ clock came around and the strangest thing happened: the man did not show up! Night after night, the man would appear in my backyard at exactly the same time, but not this night. This baffled and bothered me, perhaps more than it should have, and I spent most of that night trying to figure out what it meant. The only explanation that I could come up with was that he had decided to stay away for some time, having caught me following him the night before. I wondered if I would ever see him again or, more importantly, know what it was that he did on his nightly wanderings.
Three nights passed without an appearance from the nightwalker, as I had by then nicknamed him. I was sitting in my study, which faces the woods, with the window shades open and the lights dimmed. At nine o’ clock, I instinctively looked out the window. There at the edge of the woods was the man! My heart jumped and I put on my jacket with haste. Once again, the man began his trek through the trees and I followed him, keeping more distance between him and myself this time than the last.

It seemed like hours the amount of time I spent following him. The fog was heavy that night, which I think helped me follow him without fear of being noticed. He walked deeper into those woods than I had ever dared, or thought, to explore. I began to worry if I would be able to find my way out of the forest, or if I would have to spend the night beneath those menacing branches. After some time, the man came to a small clearing. He stopped there at the tree line for a while before emerging into the thick fog that clung to the grass in that open area. I moved towards the clearing, hiding behind a tree that was just on the edge.

Looking forward, I could see the man clearly, due to the light of the full moon. He was walking toward a particularly large tree on the other side of the clearing. It was very old, by my judgment, with gnarled branches that groped at the night sky, with not a single leaf to be seen on them. The most abhorrent feature, though, was the wide hollow in the middle of its fat trunk. The man stood before this hollow, staring into its dark abyss, not moving a muscle. I could faintly here him muttering something, but I could not make out what it was that he was saying. When I heard him speak no more, the man began to remove his clothing, revealing a most horrid sight.

The man was completely covered in pus-filled boils. They dotted every single part of his exposed body, giving him the appearance of a rotting plague victim of old. The sight of this revolted me, as I had never before seen such a disgusting example of human disease. Once the man was completely naked, he moved towards the tree and climbed into the hollow that he had for so long viewed with intent. Once inside, he turned around and sat there, completely enveloped by the gnarled wood of that most ancient tree. It was at this point that the most horrifyingly grotesque thing that I could never have even imagined happened.

The tree began to shake, its branches twisting and turning in the night air, yet without a breeze to cause their action. The trembling continued down to the trunk, which began to swell and contract in a horribly unnatural fashion. It was then that the man inside began to scream as the tree began to, as it seemed, eat him. Pus and blood flowed forth from the hollow as the man inside was crushed and churned within. The screaming turned to gurgling as it combined with the groaning of wood and the squelching of flesh, along with the occasional cracking of bone. I ran at this, terrified out of my mind. The entire time that I was fleeing, I could hear the horrid sounds of death behind me and the forest seemed alive with terror. Tripping and falling, I ran back to my home.

That terrifying night has haunted me ever since. I no longer feel safe in my home, as I feel it is too close to the forest that is the cause of my nightmares. But the most frightening thing about the entire ordeal is that the man that I saw consumed by that evil tree, the man that for all reasons should not be alive, still appears at the edge of the woods, at exactly nine o’ clock each night.

Credit To – Marcus Porche

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The King of Worms

February 25, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Nature is said to be the holder of true beauty, there are people who swear by this and believe it so foolhardily. I believed this too for a time, I never knew of what was truly waiting for all of us in the places we expect to be our escape. I came to learn that nature, just like everything else, has two sides. I peered into the darkest shade that it could hold and my eyes have been stained ever since. This must make no sense to you at all, but I need to explain to you my story, I need to tell you about what I had found.

You see, I’ve always been an avid outdoorsman. In the forests and fields of grass is where I would find peace of mind. The natural world was my escape from the hectic life I was always surrounded by, there was just something about the open freedom of the outdoors that called to my soul. In my hometown I grew up next to a lush green forest, during those days I would spend hours trekking through every inch of it. I had gotten to know the land so well that I had created a map of it in my own head. There were times when I’d spot wild bear or moose, and up close they are rather terrifying but they still possessed that wild innocence that rang true for all wild animals.

It wasn’t until graduating my senior year of high school that I had left my hometown. All the memories that I made there in the trees and grass were left there to stay while I went off to college. It was a frightful experience at first, especially since more than half the women on campus were bombshells and all the guys were jock headed idiots. My first year there went by rather smoothly but I came to find that my parents could no longer afford to pay for my room and board. It was during my second year of college that I had to get a part time job, not to mention I had to ace all of my courses or the scholarship I received would have been for naught. It is easy to picture the stress that was pulsing through me, to make things ever more worse I still knew nobody at campus aside from another shut in like myself. His name was Richie, he and I were much alike and I guess you could even say we were friends. He helped me a little with my schoolwork and I helped him with his, we sort of bonded through that in a way.

I was about halfway through my 2nd year, I was on top of my studies and my job had become easy enough to where I could just blank out for the duration of it, but the stress still piled up day by day. When it finally reached the near breaking point I would do what I had done during my days back home. I would head into the forest preserve near my campus and wander around for a few hours. The forest near campus was vastly different from the one back home, but I had still figured out the layout of it. Just like magic, after I had finished my walk through the forest all of the accumulated stress would vanish from me. During finals I would often go into the preserve 3 to 4 times a week.

Then, there was one day when I discovered a new place in the forest that I never knew was there. I had passed through the exact area nearly a dozen times, and each time I saw the same tall oaks that pierced through the dirt and climbed vastly upward. But during this trip through the area I spotted it. I must have been a mile deep inside of the forest when I could smell this nauseating stench floating through the air. It smelt like the bloated raccoons we would find dead on our porches back home.

Quickly I came to see where the smell was coming from, in the midst of the other trees I saw one that stood from the rest. It was by itself, the ground beneath it had a dark and old looking color to it, and the tree itself was black. The bark upon it was falling off as if the tree had been dead for decades. The branches somehow were attached to the base and the roots were still firmly knitted into the soil beneath it. A tree this age should have fallen a long time ago, so to see it still standing threw me off. There were other things wrong about it though, things that made no sense to me. First off this tree was of a different breed, it was like no other tree in the forest and I had never see a tree like this one before. It didn’t even look to be natural in form; it had grown like a twisted mound of snakes. Upon inspecting the tree closer my eyes begin to water from the strength of the stench and I noticed a green like pus to be dripping from its sides along with maggots festering in the ground beneath it.

I gave the tree a single look around, it took me nearly 15 steps because of how massive it was, but upon reaching the exact opposite of where I started I found a carving in the wood.

‘Within the forests of the deep
Lies the king of worms
An ancient and prophetic beast
Inside his body is a grossly squirm
You can smell his rotten flesh
And taste it in the air
You can hear his maggots twitch
And can feel his longing stare
He seeks you
He needs you
Another king is born
For if you ever see him
Into the worm king’s throne you shall be sworn’

After reading the final word upon the tree I was struck with a burning headache. My head throbbed and pulsed with a heavy beating and it felt like someone was playing around inside of there with a hammer. The pain was so intense that I fell to the ground; the maggots wiggled around me hand as I stood up and violently shook them off of me. I stumbled my way through the trees, using them as crutches to stop myself from collapsing. To me the walk back felt like an eternity but upon checking my watch it took me only 20 minutes to get back to the car, and when I took my first step onto solid ground the headache vanished. All of the pain had disappeared and I felt fine. I stood there in the lot near the forest entrance where my car was parked, staring into the forest for nearly ten minutes. Watching and waiting I hoped to see something, I hoped to see some odd apparition but there was nothing. Perhaps the smell had caused the headache. I stopped pondering on the question and I got in my car, but as my head turned I swear I saw a black mass in the corner of my eye. I looked back but there were just trees and thick brush.

The drive back to my campus apartment was odd. The whole time I couldn’t shake this weird feeling, it was like the kind you get when someone watches you but for some reason it felt like the trees themselves were watching me. I felt like the whole forest was observing me. I could feel emotions surging through my body, anger and sadness and various others swept over me like I was suffering from bipolar disorder. It only got worse as I got closer to home; I began to hear whispers of my name originating from clusters of grass and bushes, the trees were speaking too, I could hear them grunt and groan at me. Insanity is what any sane person would view this as, but that wouldn’t make any sense considering the situation. Why now of all times would this be happening? Why would these voices and whispers suddenly pop into my head?

These thoughts along with hundreds of others raced around inside of me as I began to feel a sense of dizziness, my hands were still on the wheel and my car was speeding down the rode. My vision was getting hazy and my pulse was racing as I tried to stay awake. It wasn’t long until my eyes blurred completely and I fell asleep. But when I awoke I found myself sitting in my car with the engine turned off and parked out front of my apartment. I had no memory of driving there; I was still miles away from the apartment when I had blacked out. I should have crashed my car, to be here in front of my apartment made no sense. When my mind had finally settled I came to realize that the voices were gone, but a new horror emerged. My hands were gripped tightly onto the steering wheel and they were cold and clammy. A faint yellow tinted sweat dripped from them and I felt even more drip from my brow onto my lap.

I slowly got out of the car and noticed my clothes and seat were wet from my profuse sweating. I stood but my legs were shaky as if I had been standing on them for hours. I sat down in my bed and felt a huge weight leave my chest, I hadn’t noticed it but my breathing had been off and only now did it return to normal. I tried to get out of bed but my muscles were extremely weak. I was barely able to lift myself an inch before falling back into my bed. All of the lights were off and from my window I could see that the sun was setting, I tried again and again to lift myself but all I accomplished was tiring myself out. The lids of my eyes carried more weight than ever, soon they shut on there own and despite my best efforts I fell asleep in my sweat drenched clothes.

I awoke in the middle of the night to the same stench I had smelt in the forest. My eyes slowly parted the darkness away and basked in the shadows of the night. The smell was stronger than before; it made my eyes water and a lump formed in my throat. I listened to the silence and found the heavy breathing of something unnatural. It sounded like muffled gurgling you would hear of someone gagging on water. It bubbled and popped and grew closer to my bed. I tried to move but my body was still weak and frail. All effort in my body stopped when it appeared at the side of my bed. The only thing I could move were my eyes and they stuck onto the black beast. It stood tall enough to scrape my ceiling with its head, and its body was a tangled mass of vines and other plant like growths.

The only thing to signify that it was human were two eyes that burned deep in what I assumed was its face, but all I saw was more black and wet lumps. It stood over me for hours before it finally smothered me with one of the arm like appendages it had. I felt the moist and wretched tentacles reach inside of my throat and nose as I choked for air. I could not struggle as I felt the growths go deeper inside of me but mercy was shown to me for I did not endure it long before passing out.

The rising sun awoke me, I was still in my bed and I had found new energy as I stood up from it. I searched around my apartment for any traces of the beast and it wasn’t until I reached my front door that I noticed that the wood around it had nearly rotted away, and the doorknob was badly rusted. My knees gave out and I fell to the floor, my hands went through the wood and hit the concrete base, there was a trail from the door to my bed. The wooden floor was rotting as well. Before I could bring myself up I started to cough heavily and black liquid shot from my mouth and onto the floor.

I coughed stronger with each heave until eventually black chunks came flowing out and splattered across the floor. The black mush got all over my shirt and I ran to the shower. Once the water was warm enough I hopped in and washed it all off of me. It was sticky and hard to get down the drain, I continued to cough up more of it but it washed down into my tub. After minutes of coughing it finally stopped and I managed to squish most of it down the drain with my foot. I lathered shampoo into my hair and tried to get that sweaty feeling off of me.

When I ran my fingers through my hair it fell out in large clumps, I watched as it gathered at the drain, when I felt the skin on my scalp I stopped and got out of the shower still dripping wet. I dried myself with the nearest towel and as I rubbed it against myself peels of skin came with it. Underneath I could see all of my muscles and fibers but they were black and deep green. I got dressed in my bathrobe and ran out of my apartment, as I rushed through the halls I could hear people complaining of an odor. I ran past them and made my way up three flights of stairs before getting to Richard’s door. I knocked as loud as I could, the third time when my fisted hand hit the door I heard the bones snap as it hung on to a few pieces of skin. Richard answered and was shocked to see me in such a state. The blood ran from his face and his skin became as pale as my own, he grabbed a few blankets and wrapped them around me.

I could hear his voice but it didn’t make sense to me, I just heard noise. I formed the words “hospital” with my mouth but I could not hear if I had said them. The vibrations coming from my mouth were strong enough to slide my throat out of place; any further attempts to speak were impossible. Down the stairs we went as he held onto me. From the look of his face I must have smelt pretty terrible since he had his shirt over his nose. Students from other rooms came out to look at me as we got into his car and sped off racing to the nearest hospital. He rolled the windows down to rid himself of my stench and when he did this I heard the voices again. The trees were speaking to me, but this time their voices were clearer and their intent was understood.

“King of Worms, let us rejoice”

“Our lord and master”

“Protect us and watch us”

“Join us”

“Become our king”

The speaking wouldn’t stop, I heard a voice emit from each and every tree. We must have been going 60 MPH down the empty road when he looked over to me. I stared forward and watched as from the forest the black mass came and stood at the end of the road. We slammed into him and the car collapsed like a tube of toothpaste. My head slammed against the dashboard. I felt wet tentacles wrap around me as the sound of metal being ripped echoed through my ears. Richie’s head was smashed open against the wheel as chunks of brain blanketed the windshield. The cold vines wrapped around my legs and the stench I once hated seemed like flowers in a meadow. The sun was setting now and as it pulled me by my leg from the car I could see it much more clearly. Maggots were rampant across its body and dead animals protruded from his back with a half dead doe exiting his shoulder. My back scraped against the pavement as it dragged me into the forest.

Police sirens were heard in the distance and the beast let go of me. It escaped into the forest and the police gathered around the scene. Not shortly after an ambulance came to carry me the rest of the way. The doctors were shocked when their IV fluid turned black upon sliding the needle into my arm. When they wrapped a rubber cord on my bicep to expose a vein, the cord cut right through my flesh but no blood spilled from my body. Most of the nurses fled in terror as maggots pushed themselves from my pores. The doctors soon quarantined me and watched me decay from behind plastic sheets. I could no longer speak so one of the doctors gave me a piece of paper to write on. He left the room along with all the others to discuss my case. And in the corner of my eye I saw a black mass emerge from the shadows.

The beast had returned as its tentacles suctioned onto my legs again, it dragged me from my bed and set off my monitor. The doctors rushed in with blank expressions and watched as it dragged me away, when it finally took me into the shadows we were in the forest. It sat me up against the black tree I had discovered and melted away, it left behind only a crown made of roots and twigs. So now, using my only good arm I write this story. One of my eyes has melted out of the socket and the trees continuing screaming and raving at me. They announce me as their new king. But as my body rots so to does my mind, soon all of my memories will be gone, and most of them already are. The ones I grasp on to are of the events I laid out for you. Both a warning and a self-eulogy; I hope that in the end of all of this a person may find this paper. I hope that they read it and let the whole world know to stay away from the forests, to stay away from me.

For if your eyes lay even a glance upon me, if even through the corner of your eye you see my black mass, then you will start to change. Nothing will stop it, and nothing will end it, and you too will roam the forest as a slave to it, collecting the decayed until you yourself rot away and give the crown to another.

Credit To – Brandon Puff

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Game Board

February 24, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Ever since the incident I’ve been so paranoid. No one would even really explain what exactly happened that night. I couldn’t make any sense of it, even though I was there. Every single detail is still etched into my brain, but I still can’t tell anyone what happened really.

The car pulled up to the big Arizona house, in the middle of nowhere. I mean, seriously? How do people live like this? Hawaii was a good call, mom. This is depressing. I glanced between my parents as they discussed whatever about who-cares. I can’t believe they were going to leave me here like this while they took a trip to the Bahamas! Did it ever occur to them that I’d like to go with them? But no, they’d rather ship me to another state to live with my crazy cousins for a whole week. Why couldn’t I have stayed with Aunt Kayla or any of my friends back in Hawaii? You’d think that they would want that, considering the whole family-fall-out thing that happened twelve years ago. But apparently that’s not what they wanted. Here I am, in ninety-degrees-in-October Arizona. I swear, when I’m president, I’m deeming Arizona as too boring and will gladly donate it to all the illegal immigrants so they will no longer be illegal. See, I’m very generous like that. I just solved two of the world’s problems, and amazed you with the thought.

My oldest cousin, Cassadee, came out to help bring my bags into the house and I finally stepped out of the car. I headed to the back of the car, to see that everyone had already gotten all of my things. I huffed. Oh, well. I didn’t want to carry them in anyway. I took in the sight of the humongous house in front of me, my house for the next week. This is just great. I really do hope you noted the sarcasm. I ran my hands through my long brown hair and sighed. It looked like it was either three-story, or two-story with a huge attic. The front door was swung open, letting me feel a small breeze from inside the house, but as tempting as it was to just run straight into the cool simulated wind, I stayed outside until my parents came back out.

“Are you sure you’ll be fine here?” My dad asked again, and even though I wanted to scream at them to take me home, I slapped on the best fake smile I had in me and nodded with creaky motions. He smiled wearily and rolled up the window to our ’09 Chevy Silverado. Only a few seconds later, I was left to stare at the dust they trailed behind them. I turned back to the house and nearly jumped at the sight of my little cousin, Clementine, standing in her window, just staring at me. Clementine is eight years old, and creepy-looking. She had black hair in a pixie cut matched with dark eyes, and a seriously pale complexion. She was very thin and short, also. She looked like she was tapping on the window as she looked out at me, but Cassadee came back outside, so I didn’t get to react more than with a simple wave.

“Bailey’s having a couple friends over later, so I think you might just want to stay in your room tonight. Dinner is later, I hope you like chicken…” Cassadee was saying, but I let my mind wander to other things as she led me up the narrow steps to the massive front door. A pattern was inscribed into the wood on the door: a bunch of swirls, leaves, and what looked like fairies decorated it giving out the theme of a horror movie. The terrified and mutated faces of the little people carved into it didn’t help. She led me through it, with great effort on her part in opening the heavy door. It swung open to reveal a Victorian-era-styled living room.

There was nothing hanging on the pale yellowish walls, and the floor was hardwood. There was a door across from the front one that was about as big, only it didn’t have the carvings in it. It also looked easier to open, and you could tell that the room beyond that had a tiled floor. There was a staircase to the left, and it looked like it was the oldest thing in this house. It was made of wood that looked like it had been through more walking than a single family of five could do. It seemed as if anyone were to take one single step on the worn wood, it would split in two to let you fall into the deepest layer of hell. There was an old red rug on the floor, and it shared the same type of designs on it as the door had. A large love seat sat in the middle of the floor, and then there was a small couch sitting across from it, the only furniture in the room. The high ceiling and lit up chandelier led me on to believe that there was no upstairs after all, but of course there just had to be, because Cassadee grabbed onto one of my bags and started up the wooden death-trap with it, not bothering to check if I was following her. I quickly grabbed my other bag and scrambled up after her, trying to forget my fear of dying on the steps.

“Your room is at the back of the hall. We’ll come and get you for dinner when it’s done.” I nodded, even though she couldn’t see me because she was in front of me. We finally came to the top of the creaking steps and I almost tripped when I saw the hallway. It was completely different from the front room. It was completely wooden, and looked so old, like they decided they would just renovate the first room people walked into. There were doors all over the halls, and I listened intently as she named them off to me. “This room is Bailey’s, just leave her be,” she explained, pointing to the first door on the right, “she has her friends with her and likes to turn on the bitch around them.” She shot me a smile, in an attempt to lighten the mood, but it didn’t really work. Still, I smiled back at her. She pointed to the door across from Bailey’s. “That’s my mom’s study. Don’t go in there.” She glanced over the door as if it held no real importance and we continued down the hall, our feet making echoes bounce off of the floor and walls, through the seemingly empty house. She paused at another door. “This is my parents’ room. Don’t go in there either.” She gave a quick point and we started walking again. The hallway was narrow, and I swear there was this weird smell coming from the wooden walls. The wooden panels were popped out in some places, giving it an uneven look, almost like they had a rat that crawled through the walls, pushing them out. The wooden planks we walked on creaked with every step, pronouncing your presence to everyone. I was so stunned on how far back the hallway could go, too. There was so much room between each door that I guessed the rooms must be huge. There were only three more doors at the end of the hall. Two were right next to each other on our left, and one was across the hall from the one closest to us. She stopped again at that door. “This is the bathroom. And that is your room,” she said, pointing to the first door on the left, right across from the bathroom. I pressed my lips into a thin line and nodded, biting my lip. She nodded back at me and turned to leave, but I stopped her before she could go.

“Uh, whose room is that?” I asked, curiosity tugging at my insides.

She immediately started acting defensively. “That’s Clementine’s room, but you can’t go in there!” She yelled angrily, coming closer and grabbing my bags from off the floor. She’s so protective of her little sister. Gosh. She practically gives off the ‘I-don’t-really-care’ attitude when she tells me not to go into her parents’ room, but when she tells me not to go into Clementine’s room it’s like she’s my mother telling me not to swim with sharks. I rolled my eyes as she hauled my things into the room, which was way smaller than I would have thought. It only had a bed and a window that was covered in thin white curtains. Great, I get to have a sun-alarm clock.

She set the bags right next to the bed and I thanked her as she walked out the door. Yup, I’m in hell for a week. The door was painted white, but the paint was peeling, and it had the same creepy designs as the front door and the rug from earlier. The doorknob sported a fairy that seemed to look at me with sympathy as I made my way to the only source of entertainment I had, the window. It was a smallish window with white curtains that were too large for it so they flowed lazily around it. I stared outside it and watched as the sun dipped down below the distant mountains, casting a shadow on the house that started to darken my room. I sighed in frustration that there was nothing outside to look at but the desert. Why do they have to live in the middle of nowhere?

I left the window and plopped down on my bed, the only thing actually in the room. I started playing with my fingers and hummed a song that I liked. After a minute of insane nothingness, I heard a tapping. My head shot around to look at my window out of habit, but nothing was there. My eyes went wide and my heart sped up. I stood up quickly, the wooden floorboards creaking loudly under me as I do. Then my head snaps to the right of me, at the wall where the light taps were emanating from. My head spun until I figured out that that was the wall that stood between me and Clementine’s room. It was just her. I slowly started walking towards the wall, but the floor decided to announce my movement to the whole house once again and by the time I had made it to the wall the tapping had stopped. I swallowed back my childish fear and commanded my heart to slow as I lifted my finger to the wall and tapped twice, like she had. When she didn’t answer I sighed and turned back to look at the window for a millisecond before my head rounded towards the wall again. She tapped twice and I smiled. I’m not alone after all. I tapped twice again, but before she could reply to my tapping, my door opened and I straightened quickly, turning to see a confused Bailey was standing in the door.

She had grown a lot since we were kids. I was older than her by only a couple months, but the way she stood in front of me now, she looked like she was years older than her age. You could see it in her eyes and the way she carried herself. I also saw this in Cassadee, but I figured that was due to being the oldest in a family with parents who are barely around. She looked at me, taking me in for the first time in twelve years and I suddenly felt like yelling at her and hiding from her at the same time.

“Dinners ready,” she said, barely moving a muscle in her face. With that she turned on her heel and walked away noisily. I swallowed and reluctantly walked away, trying my best to keep my footsteps light.

I followed Bailey down the hall, down the groaning steps, and then through the door I saw earlier, the one with tiled flooring instead of the croaking wooden floors the rest of the house possessed. The tiled room was a kitchen and dining room. It had a small dining table, set for only five, and a kitchen to the far left. There was another door to the right of the kitchen sink, and since it was so narrow I guessed it was a pantry. Bailey quickly took her place sitting in between two girls I’d guessed were the friends she had over. Cassadee was motioning for me to sit down at the only place left next to her. I quickly did a double count. Where was the other place, the one that was supposed to be here for Clementine? Wasn’t she coming down? I refrained myself from asking as everyone started to dig into their food and talk. I stayed silent though, I didn’t feel like talking. I felt sick to my stomach and can’t believe I was even able to swallow the dry baked chicken. It left a weird taste in my mouth as I gulped down some water after a few bites. After a while of talking Bailey and the two girls with her excused themselves to the room upstairs, giggling following them in their wake. Cassadee turned to me now, looking for the next subject to converse about.

“So, how’s Hawaii?” I nodded, keeping my eyes cast down.

“Fun, cool…sandy,” I said, not really wanting to talk about home when all I wanted to do right now was go there. She sighed and I finally looked up at her.

“Look, I’m sorry that you were dragged all the way here, to boring Arizona, a state no one wants to care about anymore, but I’m trying to make this at least a little bit easier on you. It’s just a week, and you pretending that your parents abandoned you here for the rest of your life isn’t helping anything.” Her eyes were hard, but they still pleaded with me to cooperate as her jaw clenched and she let out a shaky breath. My lips tightened into a thin line and my eyes found solace in looking at the ground. I swallowed and stood, walking quickly to my room. It’s their room. You can’t start labeling things as yours when you know it’s only temporary.

I was asleep in my temporary room when something brought me out of my well needed slumber. I sat up slowly, momentarily confused and covered in sweat. I blinked a couple times, trying to shake the forgotten dream of five minutes ago. The room was dimly lit by the appearance of a waning crescent moon right outside my window, being barely covered by the thin white curtains. The light coupled with the dark shadows sent an eerie chill up my spine.

The thin blanket that I brought from home was all the way on the other side of the room in front of the door. My small pillow was nowhere to be seen and I guessed it was under the bed. Somehow my bags, which had been situated next to the bed, ended up next to the blanket on the floor, some of my things strewn around the area. The sheets under me were coming undone, indicating that I must have been moving around in my sleep. I tried my best to sit all the way up and stand on the floor without making any noises, but that would always fail in this house.

I bit my tongue and hoped I didn’t wake anyone up as I crossed over to the window, loud groans trailing my feet. I pushed the curtains back and shakily opened the window. It made louder noises than the floor and I winced at the sound. Cool air from the night engulfed me, causing me to shiver slightly as I stared out at the moon and the clouds that passed over it swiftly. I looked down at the long dirt driveway, the one that led to the old gravel road that my parents had taken to get out of here. My eyes started to water at the unfairness of it all. Before my vision could completely blur over, however, something caught my eye. There was a tall figure pressed against the side of the house outside.  I could tell it was human by the way it moved, but it also looked so… unnatural. My breath hitched in my throat and my heart sped up to match the gait of a cheetah. The thing moved closer to the front door and I shook my head, trying to will it away. It didn’t seem to see me, though, because it just slipped in the front door, opening and closing the colossal wooden door with ease; which was something not even someone who has lived here their whole lives could even do. The blood drained from my face as I realized that meant there was someone in the house.

I tried to tell myself that that could’ve just been Cassadee, or her shadow that followed her around as she went outside to get something, but my mind wouldn’t really listen as I moved away from the window and backed up straight to the bed, not really caring about the noise anymore. I felt frozen to my place, thinking about the fact that someone could be in the house, ready to murder me. I tried to look at the reason, just to calm my nerves which would surly kill me before the stranger could even look at me or think of walking up the stairs. Just use your brain for once! You never heard the door, like you would if it really opened. Plus you never heard footsteps, which would be impossible to avoid in this house. And no one in their right mind would be in the middle of nowhere at this time, let alone a murderer with an axe. It’s just your weird ass mind trying to psyche you out, idiot!

I took in a deep breath, and kept it in for a second before letting it out. I’m letting this place and the heat get to me. I sat in silence for a couple minutes and closed my eyes, grateful for the quiet. After my eyes felt like they would start burning a hole through my eye lids, I opened them again, and then they widened with fright. My whole body went rigid as I heard a soft tapping come from behind me. After my brain had finally caught up to me, I sighed in relief that it was just Clementine. I leaned over the end of the bed frame that was against the wall and tapped twice, so she knew I was here and awake. She tapped once and I mimicked her, deciding to play her little game with her. She tapped twice and I copied. Then she didn’t answer. My heart dropped and I tapped two more times again just in case she didn’t hear me. Suddenly she started pounding on her side of the wall. It scared me so much that I jumped back to the other side of the bed and felt my heart drop to my stomach. Her poundings started out lightly, like a little girl’s, but then they started to get harder and harder with each time her fist met the wall. Then, to add to that, she started screaming a blood curdling banshee scream. I cringed and whimpered, bounding off the bed, out the door, and down the hall without thinking. I was too scared to think. You don’t ever think at a time like that.

I made it halfway down the hall before the screaming and pounding stopped, but then I could hear footsteps walking calmly behind me.

I didn’t dare look.

I sped my way down the rest of the hall as fast as I could, flinging open Bailey’s bedroom door. When I was inside, I slammed the door behind me and turned around. The only one in there was Bailey, and she had just woken up from a dream when I slammed the door to her room. Her room looked absolutely nothing like my room. It was all frilly and pink and everything you would imagine a teenage girls bedroom would look like. She sat up in the bed and looked at me wide eyed.

“What the hell are you doing?!” She hissed, but then she took a look around her room and started to worry. “Where did my friends go? What happened?” She looked at me and I could feel tears leaking down my cheeks. After a second her eyes widened and looked scared, understanding dawning in the blue-green orbs she possessed. “Clementine…” she whispered and the way she said it made me shiver and want to hide in a ditch to die peacefully. She stood up and grabbed my hand, pulling me to sit on the bed with her.

I didn’t know what to do, but she was looking at me expectantly so I just spilled. “I-I woke up about ten minutes ago, and I was hot so I went to open the window,” I averted my eyes from her, ashamed to say that I had seen something outside her house when in reality nothing was there, “and I saw something moving. It looked like a person, but it was too tall so I thought it was a shadow, but it opened the front door and got in. I was so scared and I just thought that maybe I was just really tired and seeing things, so I went and sat on the bed. Then I heard your sister tap on the wall, and so I tapped back ‘cause I thought she had heard me and knew I was awake or something. But then she started screaming and pounding on the wall, so I got scared and ran out. I didn’t mean to wake you up, but I had nowhere else to go and Cassadee never told me where her room was and I didn’t want to be alone…” I started crying as I finished. “I was so scared! I felt like I was gonna die,” I choked out. She squeezed my hand in an attempt to calm me.

“It’s okay, but we got to find Cassadee and get out of the house, okay?” I nodded.

“But what about getting Clementine and your friends?” Her face went completely solemn as she answered me.

“I can’t help my friends now, and Clementine has been beyond help for years now. We need to find Cassie.” She pulled me up, and I was too stunned to do anything but follow her as she pulled me out the door.

She stood outside the door for a second before she reached over and pushed on one of the panels in the walls, one that had the crooked look to it, and it fell off the wall to reveal a little compartment. In the compartment was a thin rope that ended in a knot, which she pulled on, making a bell sound echo through the house. She tensed up, but waited bravely with me still clinging onto her arm for dear life. She looked at the wall opposite the one she just pulled a rope from and I did too, not knowing what else I could do. Then, from behind the wall, we both heard a heavy thud. She jumped at it and I felt my heart freeze over as another thud sounded against the panel and it fell open, revealing Cassadee. She was on the floor, and it was evident she had fallen down the staircase, and landed against the hidden doorway unconscious. I gasped and Bailey tensed next to me. She shook me off her arm and I stood there helpless and watched as she checked her older sister. Tears dripped down her face silently as she cursed and shook her head at me. She stood and I felt completely hollow as she dragged me down the stairs, easily maneuvering around the dark house.

We got to the front door when she let go of me to open the giant thing. I couldn’t see a thing in the pitch black of my surroundings except for a tiny sliver of light that manifested under the door from the rising sun outside. I waited as she tried to open the door, and I could hear her struggle with it for a while, but then I heard her take in a sharp breath and curse. “Dammit, Clementine!” She sounded exasperated and sad when she said it, as if the words itself were a way to morn.

“What, Bailey?” A voice hissed from right next to me in a small voice, making me jump about ten feet in the air. Bailey went silent and everything ceased, the only thing visible was the little line of light hovering on the floor, and the only thing audible was my heavy breathing. After a minute, I felt as if I would die of suspense. What was Bailey doing? Why wasn’t she opening the door so we could get out of this hell?

“Bailey?” I asked. No answer. I waited for something to happen, but after a few minutes it felt like waiting for the sun to give birth and die. I felt a couple tears leak down my cheeks as I lowered my head in defeat.

*two weeks later*

I sighed as I turned off the TV in defeat. There was never anything good on at this time. I decided I would go check up on Jordan again.

Ever since the incident I’ve been so paranoid. No one would even really explain what exactly happened that night. I couldn’t make any sense of it, even though I was there. Every single detail is still etched into my brain, but I still can’t tell anyone what happened really. I remember being there with Bailey one second, then the next I was standing next to Clementine in the dark, and then the next my uncle and aunt walked in the house, shining light on the only person in the house anymore: me.

They walked inside and immediately pulled me out of the house with them. I turned to see where my cousins went, but they weren’t there. I was completely baffled as my uncle and aunt held me and cried. How did they walk away? Why didn’t I hear them move? Why didn’t I hear Clementine walk up next to me before everything went silent? All these questions ran through my head as my relatives pulled me by my arms into their car, driving me to the airport to meet my parents. They were also crying, and they looked happy to see me. Without acknowledging the couple that had brought me to them, they dragged me along to get on board the plane, without my things and still in my PJ’s. We didn’t talk at all on the trip home, and when we finally did get home they ignored me. My parents never ignored me, they always supported me and cared for me, but ever since we got home they’ve been very distant and won’t let me talk about Arizona. This is the first time I’ve been out of my own home for two weeks, and it’s to babysit my younger cousin, Jordan. My Aunt Kayla was going out with my Uncle Steven for their anniversary and I was their first choice to throw their kid at for the night. I didn’t mind though, it made me feel just a little bit normal for a while.

I stealthily climbed the wide, carpeted staircase and checked on the little two-year-old. When I was sure he was still asleep, I walked back to the living room and picked up one of the books off of the counter, figuring they wouldn’t mind and needing a time-killer. I plopped back down on the large loveseat and started reading when the phone rang. My eyes widened at the possibility of the noise waking up the baby so I quickly made a mad dash for the phone on the other side of the living room. I quickly pressed the ‘talk’ button, not reading the caller ID.

“Hello?” I asked, a little out of breath.

There was a pause on the other line, then a voice that I never thought I’d hear again. I could practically hear the devilish smirk in Clementine’s voice as she spoke, “Shouldn’t you check on the baby?” My heart immediately picked up to match the pace of a race cars’ engine as I hung up the phone and ran towards the stairs. My eyes were already starting to water as I reached the steps, and when I was about halfway up, the phone started ringing again. I stopped cold in my tracks and looked down at the phone that was still clutched tightly in my hands. The caller ID read, ‘WINNER’. My head started to spin and I felt as if I would pass out, but I took the bait and answered. Before I could even say anything, Clementine’s retched voice greeted me. At the same time she started talking, I heard small little taps on the door. My eyes started to pour and I fell to the stairs, sitting down so I wouldn’t pass out. “It’s just a game, you know. We’re all just pieces in a game…” She trailed off and the tapping grew to be pounds on the door, each one getting fiercer and harder than the last. “But I should have warned you,” She took another pause and when she finished her sentence she didn’t sound like Clementine anymore. She didn’t sound like a little girl anymore and I briefly wondered if the male voice that finished her sentence for her was even human. Just as the first word was uttered in that sinister voice, the front door slammed open, revealing the darkness behind it. “I always win.”

Credit To – J. Nicole Garcia

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Groupmind

February 23, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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My name is not Xin, but that is what you can call me. Everything I am about to tell you is completely true.

I believe I was born in the early 90’s. “Believe” is the right word in this scenario because my otherwise superb memory (in fact, it was once flawless) only begins in 1997. Judging by the status of my body’s growth and the growth of the children around me in those fledgling memories, I am quite confident that we were all between the ages of 5 and 7.

How they managed to erase our earlier memories I do not know, although I suspect they used the same method they used to control every other aspect of our lives: drugs. They gave us pills to put us asleep and gassed us awake. Our food was coated with chemicals that would regulate our appetite to keep our weight ideal. None of these “treatments” had negative side effects; they performed their duty with surgical precision. None of the treatments, that is, with one exception.

Most of our medications were geared toward keeping us in perfect physical condition to survive the main treatment we had all been brought there to receive. The other drug was designed to maximize the mind’s potential. It achieved that goal, in that we were all geniuses with IQ levels well above any publicly released. Yet, as I mentioned before, there were side effects.

During the first 16 years of my conscious life, I was telepathically connected to 23 other children – 12 females and 11 males. We shared every thought, every impulse. Often I saw through another’s eyes, heard through another’s ears; sometimes, they through mine. This total lack of privacy would certainly upset any average person, but to us who knew nothing else, the telepathic link was not an issue. It was a side effect of the treatment that made our lives Hell.

The treatment fused all of our minds into one chaotic super-being, but we did not really control it. Instead, the Groupmind had its own desires and it used our bodies to manifest those desires in the real world. It would assign us duties, often to be done collectively, but sometimes we worked on them as individuals, although access to the Groupmind was always there.

The Groupmind’s tasks were typically innocuous in nature, such as using our collective intelligence to calculate algorithms that would predict the economic future of China, or to design a superior jet fighter. Yet, at least once a day without fail, the Groupmind would make us do things. I hesitate to describe them to you, but the truth must be known.

Before I detail my crimes, let me preface by explaining that the strength of the emotions the Groupmind felt are unlike those ever felt by solitary human minds. The desire to instantly gratify the Groupmind is overwhelming. While the qualia is impossible to describe with words, at best it can be compared to an intense heroin withdrawal. It is not possible to distract oneself with happier thoughts, and one is unable to refrain from pacing or self-harm until one knows they will soon follow the Groupmind’s desires.

There are times when what the Groupmind wanted disgusted and even horrified me, yet I could not avoid following its will. I have hunted, tortured, killed, and even eaten hundreds of animals in countless manners according to the Groupmind’s commands. I have defecated and urinated on myself and others. I have mutilated myself and others.

In 2000 the Groupmind presented us each with something we had never seen before: a small child, probably around the age of 4. Our instructions were to rip off the child’s extremities, starting with the ears. I hesitated, but the rush of queasiness that foretells the Groupmind’s displeasure led me to quickly reach down to grab his left ear.

As I did, though, a revolutionary idea struck me. Why did this child not run or fight? Why did he simply cower like a frightened animal? Unless…like an animal, he was not Groupminded! He did not have 23 others connected to him, offering him advice from their places of relative safety.

Quickly, the Groupmind told us to murder our child, although many of us were still attacking the children’s extremities, as I knew from our telepathic bond. But I could not. I could think of nothing except the possibility that humans who were not Groupminded existed.

The backlash for thinking such a thought was immediate and painful. Yet, even through the full-body spasms that had me twitching on the floor, I could not stop thinking about it. Some people have no Groupmind! NO GROUPMIND! I almost shouted it straight into the minds of my connected peers.

They understood the implications as quickly as I did. There was a way to end our torture. We could live without the Groupmind. We decided to escape. We attacked our handlers, and quickly left our rooms. As we exited the area, the only place any of us had ever known, we realized that we were being hunted by other groups of children. 23 sets of 24, to be exact. Though we had some distance on them, most of us were not fast enough to avoid them. I felt their pain as all 23 of my peers were caught and summarily executed.

As I reached the door to the exit of the structure, which I realized was underground, I saw two signs with arrows, one pointing left, the other pointing right. The former read “Structure 21”, and the latter read “Structure 23”. In the shock of being disconnected from the Groupmind for the first time in my conscious life, and the rush of fleeing for my life, I did not comprehend what those signs meant. I do now.

There are 24 structures, each with 24 sets of 24 children, with each group of 2 dozen Groupminded. I have no reason to believe that the complex I escaped from is the only such complex of structures. In fact, my analysis of the population trends leads me to the conclusion that the program is expanding, to people of all ages. The project cannot be stopped.

I did horrible things for the Groupmind, and so will you. The Groupmind plans to dominate us all and in time it will. The Groupmind always gets what it wants. Always.

Credit To – Nonprophet

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Filth and Consequence

February 22, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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“Oh, Loki. Stop.” Jamie batted the fluffy tail out of her face. It tickled her.

The cat lazily glanced back at her from his spot on the counter and flicked his tail in her direction once more. Jamie rolled her eyes and got up from her perch on the kitchen stool to join her mother at the oven. The smell of the casserole, Jamie’s favorite, was making her stomach grumble.

“Almost done,” Pam said over her shoulder before her daughter could say a word.

Jamie wrapped her arms around her stomach and groaned loudly. “But I’m starving,” she whined, drawing out the last syllable for several seconds. Dramatically, she stumbled over to the refrigerator and began rummaging inside for a snack.

“Jamie, please. Ten minutes.”

Jamie ignored her mother. She had never been good at being patient, and while she may have been over exaggerating, she was pretty hungry. She hastily placed some cheese and a piece of ham between two slices of bread, set the sandwich on a plate, and headed upstairs with Loki at her heels.

“You’re not even going to eat that!” her mother called to her.

Jamie closed the door of her bedroom behind her to muffle the sound of her mother’s voice. Nobody could annoy her like her mother. She sat on her bed to eat the sandwich, but after a few nibbles, she lost interest. Her mother was even more annoying when she was right. Jamie looked for a place to set the plate. Her nightstand was covered with dirty dishes. She carefully stacked a few bowls and pushed them until they teetered over the edge of the wood. She placed the plate in the newly cleared spot and began to pick fleas off her cat while she waited for dinner. Less than ten minutes later, her mother called to her. Dinner was ready. Jamie pushed the cat from her lap and ran to the kitchen, leaving the uneaten sandwich on her nightstand.

Pam looked up as her daughter re-entered the kitchen and almost sighed in disappointment. Jamie had neglected to bring the plate back down. It was a habit she had developed recently. In fact, Pam noticed several new habits, and it worried her.

Jamie’s father moved out eight months ago. The marriage between Pam and Eric had been wrong from the start, and the separation was one of the few things they had actually agreed on in the twelve years they were together. However, as great as the decision was for the two adults, Pam knew that a ten-year-old would have a hard time understanding and accepting it. Eric was a good father and talked to his daughter several times a week, but Jamie was struggling with the change.

It had begun with a little weight gain. Jamie was young and active, so Pam wasn’t overly concerned, but she made a point to watch Jamie’s food intake a little more closely. It didn’t take long for Pam to notice that Jamie made snacks quite frequently and would take them to her room to eat. She also noticed that Jamie began keeping her bedroom door closed. One day, while Jamie was at school, Pam ventured in and found out why. The room was a mess. Clothes were strewn all over; the bed was unmade with blankets and pillows spilling onto the floor. Dirty dishes, many with food still on them, littered every surface. As Pam walked through the mess, she noticed bits of food scattered on the floor as if they had been tossed across the room.

Now, as Pam watched Jamie load her plate with casserole, she struggled to contain her irritation.

“What happened to all of our dishes?” she asked, her tone harsher than intended.

Jamie froze and refused to meet her mother’s eyes. She plastered an innocent look on her face. “What do you mean?”

“You’re lucky to not be eating off of the floor because we’ve apparently been robbed of plates.”

Looking down at the plate in her hand, Jamie said, “Then what am I holding?”

That was another new habit, the talking back.

“Go to your room and get all of the dishes right now.”

“I don’t have any in my room!” Jamie shouted.

Pam furrowed her brows. The lying was another. “I’m not telling you again. Bring them down or I’ll—.”

“FINE!” Jamie shouted. She turned to leave the room.

“And clean your room tomorrow! It’s a mess!”

Jamie returned to the kitchen overloaded with dishes. She had to make two trips up and down the stairs to get them all. As punishment, her mother instructed her to wash all of them by hand. Jamie absolutely despised washing dishes. For an hour, she stood at the sink, struggling to remove the hardened food. When she put away the last dish, her mother reheated some of the casserole, and they sat down to eat. Jamie ignored her mother’s attempt at making conversation.

***

That night, while Jamie was sleeping, she felt something brush lightly across her face, soft as a feather against her cheek. Instinctively, she opened her eyes and rubbed her face. She glanced down and saw Loki curled up next to her, his tail twitching while he slept. That damn cat. She turned to lie on her side, closed her eyes, and attempted to go back to sleep. A moment later, she felt it again. Sitting up quickly, she nudged the cat with both hands. With a meow of protest, Loki jumped off the bed and retreated underneath it. A soft buzzing sound suddenly broke the silence. Jamie scanned her bedroom, but the room was too dark for her to see anything clearly. The sound grew louder and again she felt the light touch on her face. She abruptly jumped out of bed and cowered in the corner.

A shadow of a figure appeared at the foot of the bed.

“Thank you,” the figure said. Its voice was rough and unpleasant to her ears.

Scared and confused, Jamie managed to whisper, “For what?”

Without answering, the figure retreated slowly until he was swallowed up by darkness. Several minutes passed before Jamie was able to move. Trembling with fear, she walked across the room and reached for the light switch. The bright overhead light made her feel brave, and she searched the room. Underneath the bed, she found Loki sleeping peacefully, either unaware or unfazed by the visitor.

After turning the light off, Jamie slipped back into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. Her eyes were wide, and her breath was shaky. She kept her gaze on the darkest corner of the room. If she really strained her eyes, she thought she could see flashes of movement.

***

By morning, the fear had worn off, and by the time Jamie got home from school, she had convinced herself the figure was part of a very vivid dream. Throwing her backpack on the floor of the kitchen, she grabbed a container of leftovers from the fridge and headed off to her room. As she reached the top of the stairs, a familiar buzzing sound filled the air. She continued down the hall and reached out to touch her door handle.

“No. No more eating in your room.”

Jamie jumped and turned to see her mother hovering over her shoulder. “Damn it, Mom, you scared me.”

“Jamie! Language!”

Jamie ignored her mother and pressed her ear to her door. The buzzing sound was faint but still audible. She glanced at her mother to see if she noticed the sound, but Pam only stood there with her arms crossed, a look of concern on her face. Jamie focused her attention back on her door and turned the knob. As soon as she entered the room, the buzzing stopped. Puzzled, she looked around.

“You’re cleaning your room today, right?” Pam asked.

“Sure, Mom,” Jamie answered distractedly.

“I’m serious, Jamie. This attitude has to stop.”

“I said okay!” Jamie shouted.

“If you don’t, I’m going to–.”

Jamie turned and slammed the door shut in her mother’s face. Like the previous night, she searched the room, opening the closet and even every drawer, but she found nothing. The buzzing sound didn’t come back. Sitting down on her bed, she absentmindedly picked at her blanket. She was seeing things, hearing things. She knew none of it was real. Her mind was playing tricks on her, but she didn’t know why or how to stop it.

“It has to be Mom’s nagging,” Jamie muttered aloud. “She’s driving me crazy, literally.”

She decided to clean her room.

***

Jamie rolled over for what seemed like the twentieth time and groaned in frustration. She was tired but sleep was evading her. She settled on her back and watched the ceiling fan for several minutes. The spinning was calming, and as she focused on the soft breeze cooling her face, she felt herself start to drift off.

A loud thumping sound made her snap to attention.

She sat up. She hadn’t seen or heard anything unusual in days. As she peered into the dark, the buzzing sound started. “Please, no,” she whispered.

Seconds later, the figure appeared at the foot of the bed.

“Where’s the food?” it asked.

“What?” Jamie squeaked.

“The food.”

“Who are you?”

“FOOD!”

“I’m sorry, I—“

“I need sustenance.”

“I don’t know what that is!”

“FOOD! I need food.”

“You’re just a dream,” Jamie stammered.

“I’m as real as you, little girl.” The figure stepped closer.

Jamie whimpered and eyed the door. It was so close. She could reach it in seconds. Her mom would know what to do.

The figure could sense the girl’s fear and moved back a few paces. “I’m sorry for being so aggressive. I haven’t eaten in days, and I am very hungry.”

“What—what do you want me to do?” Jamie asked.

“All I need is food. Can you bring me food?”

Jamie shook her head quickly. “My mom said I’m not allowed to have food in my room anymore.”

“There must be something you can do. There are others who need food too.”

Jamie was trembling uncontrollably now. There were more? “If I give you what you want, will you leave me alone?”

The figure didn’t respond.

Desperate, Jamie said, “I can sneak you food, but I’m supposed to be sleeping now. Can you wait until morning? Please?”

The figure was silent for so long, Jamie thought it wasn’t going to respond. “Yes,” it finally said, “but not any longer.”

The figure vanished into the darkness, and Jamie’s body immediately relaxed. She fell backwards against her pillow and began to cry. She was terrified, unable to even move from her bed. She called out for her mother, but her voice was too feeble to emit much sound. She stayed there, weak and unmoving, until her room was filled with light from the morning sun.

From the corner of her eye, she saw movement, and she knew it was watching her. For how long, she didn’t know. She had not yet seen the figure in the light. In the dark, it was nothing but an outline, black and faceless. With a deep breath, she turned her head toward it and nearly screamed. The figure came closer, as if it wanted her to see. It was tall and slender with wings that went all the way to the floor. Its skin was like a kind of organic corroded armor with short thick hairs growing from it. Its eyes were huge, and its mouth was like nothing she had ever seen before. It appeared to be a large fly.

“When will the food be ready?” the fly asked.

Stunned, Jamie struggled to untangle herself from the bedcovers. Her mouth moved but no sound came out. The fly watched her wordlessly as she stumbled over her feet heading backwards toward the door. She didn’t want to take her eyes off of it. In one swift movement, she opened the door and nearly ran down the stairs. Her mother was standing at the kitchen counter making coffee.

“Did you sleep okay?” Pam asked.

Jamie briefly looked her mother’s way as she pulled open the refrigerator. She piled food into her arms and left the room without answering. When she returned to her bedroom, there were five additional flies, all huddled in a circle in a corner of the room.

“That is not enough,” one fly said, staring at the packages in her arms.

“I can get more.”

“Please do.”

***

To hide the new arrangement from her mom, Jamie began leaving the food under her bed or in the closet. Every day, she would come home from school and raid the kitchen. If her mother ever noticed the amount of food that disappeared, she never mentioned it. At night, Jamie could hear the flies buzzing as they came out of hiding and congregated around the food. She had sneaked a peek at them only once; there were so many of them. From then on, she kept her face buried in the pillow and her eyes shut tight. It seemed like it was hours before the buzzing stopped long enough for her to fall asleep. They rarely spoke to her.

After several weeks, however, the flies began to get demanding. She never brought enough. She never brought what they needed. The flies had rampant appetites, and it left her room a mess. Crumbs and scraps of food littered the floor. Different smells permeated the carpet. Pam was constantly griping at her about the mess, but the flies loved it.

“Jamie, you have to clean that room. I don’t know what to do with you.”

“I’ll clean it later,” Jamie promised.

“You always say that. What’s going on with you?”

Jamie knew her mother was concerned. She wanted to tell her mother about the flies, but it was an unbelievable situation. When Jamie was away from the house, she could hardly believe it herself. It was only when she heard them that she knew it was really happening.

“It’s the divorce, isn’t it?” her mother asked softly.

Jamie could only shake her head.

“Yes, it is. You’ve been so different lately. You lie to me. You talk back. I know you’ve been taking things from my purse. I’ve seen you push Loki around. You’re living in filth, for god’s sake. I’m so sorry that your father and I couldn’t make it work, but I don’t know what to do. How do I make this better for you?”

The pleading look in her mother’s eyes sent a wave of guilt through Jamie’s body.

“It’s not you, Mom. Promise.”

That afternoon, she cleaned her room.

***

Jamie knew the flies were there before she even opened her eyes, though they weren’t buzzing as usual; they were chattering loudly. In the morning light, she could see them all clearly. She watched them for several minutes. When they noticed she was awake, they swarmed her, batting their wings furiously and poking their limbs in her face.

“What did you do?!” one fly shouted.

“She wants us to die,” snarled another.

She buried her face in her hands and let them yell at her. She finally shouted, “No! Go somewhere else! I don’t want you around anymore!”

She kept her head down for several minutes. When she looked up, they were gone. Startled, Jamie walked to the spot where the flies had stood seconds before. She couldn’t believe it had been that easy.

She heard a soft knock on the door, and her mom poked her head in. “Your room looks so great, hon. Do you want some breakfast?”

“Oh, sure. Hey,” Jamie said walking closer, “what happened to your neck?”

Pam gently touched the reddened area of her throat. “I think it’s just a rash.”

Jamie moved her mother’s hair away and peered intently at her skin. A smattering of large, red bumps blemished the right side of her neck.

“It looks awful.”

“It hurts a little, but it’s fine. I put some cream on it.” Pam moved toward the door but quickly turned back around. “You know, I had the weirdest dream last night. It was so dark, I couldn’t see anything. But I could hear all of these, I don’t know, buzzing sounds all around, almost on top of me.” She shook her head. “Anyway, pancakes okay?”

Jamie stood still for several minutes after her mother left. She had a very vivid dream, that’s all. And rashes were common. No sense in making this a bigger deal than it was.

“Everything is fine,” Jamie whispered. “It wasn’t them. It’s a rash.”

She repeated those words to herself until she suddenly collapsed to the floor. “Please don’t hurt her,” she cried. “Please.”

***

“Jamie, you’re still up? I thought I heard you walking around in your bedroom hours ago.”

It was almost midnight, and Jamie was curled up on the living room couch staring at the blank television screen. Underneath the blanket, her legs were trembling. Whatever her mother had heard, it wasn’t her.

Pam motioned for Jamie to join her. “Come on. Let’s go to bed.”

“Why don’t we put in a movie and watch it in here?”

“It’s too late.”

“We can make popcorn and—.”

“I’m tired, honey.”

“What about a game—.”

“Jamie, bed.”

Jamie trudged up the stairs, her mother a few steps behind. At the top, her mother kissed her cheek and said goodnight. Jamie watched as her mother went into her bedroom and closed the door. She wondered if the flies were in there, waiting for her mother to fall asleep so they could feast.

Earlier in the day, she had resolved to tell her mother everything. She rehearsed what she was going to say and tried to predict every possible reaction her mother could have. At dinner, she had been so close, but she panicked. Her mother would never believe her. Jamie had never felt so helpless.

She flipped on the light to her bedroom and took a look around. Her room was still spotless, but it looked wrong. She couldn’t discern exactly what it was, but something had been touched. She paced around the room, pulling drawers in and out, pulling the blankets off of her bed.

She got down on her hands and knees and peered under the bed.

And she screamed.

Pam rushed into the room seconds later and wrapped her arms around her still screaming child. Jamie was thrashing around on the floor, her arms and legs beating the air wildly.

“What’s wrong?! Jamie, what is it?!” Pam desperately tried to restrain her daughter. She hugged her tightly against her chest until she felt Jamie calm down. The two of them were intertwined on the floor.

“What’s wrong?” Pam asked again, softly this time.

Jamie began whimpering and pointed to the dark space just a few feet away. Pam hesitated, but when Jamie began to cry, she reluctantly crawled to the bed and lowered her head to the floor. Jamie’s sobs grew louder as Pam stretched her arm out underneath the bed. She began to pull her arm back, and they both watched in horror as a paw, leg, and then head appeared.

Pam flinched. “Jesus.”

“They did this, Mom! I know it!” Jamie screamed.

“Who did?” Pam asked quietly, staring at her daughter.

“The flies! These big flies! I was feeding them. I’m so sorry. And it’s not a rash; they bit you. They did it to scare me, all because I cleaned my room!”

Her mother’s gaze returned to the carcass in the middle of the room.

“Are you listening? They bit you, and they killed Loki. I told them to leave us alone. I tried to make them leave us alone.” Jamie struggled to contain the sobs. “Mom?”

“Do you have a box?”

“What? Mom,” Jamie stuttered. “You believe me, don’t you?”

“I’m going to…get Loki out of here, and you’re going to clean….the rest up.” Pam gagged and held her hand over her mouth.

“Do you believe me?”

Pam sighed. “No, Jamie, I don’t believe you. You’ve been sneaking food up here for months—.”

“For them!”

“—You lie to me constantly. You cuss and slam doors in my face. But this—.”

“Mom, please!”

Pam threw her hands up in the air in frustration and left the room. She strode back in with a box in one hand and a bucket in the other. She placed the box on the ground, gently lifted Loki, and placed him inside.

“I’m calling your father,” Pam said from the doorway, the box under her arm. “We’ll need to decide what to do with you.”

“Please listen to me,” Jamie pleaded. She hugged her arms around her knees and stared up at her mother from her spot on the floor.

Pam looked at her daughter’s tear-stained face. “No. For once, you are going to listen to me. You are to stay in this room and clean up the mess. There’s a rag in the bucket for you.”

“No, don’t leave me in here!”

Pam slammed the door behind her. Leaning against it, she shook her head, unable to believe the situation she found herself in. Pam never would have believed her daughter capable of such a horrible thing, but her behavior had been so odd lately. And now she was talking about giant flies?

From the kitchen, Pam called her estranged husband and explained the situation. She had awakened him, and he wasn’t happy about it.

“I have a dead cat in the garage right now, Eric. I would say this is pretty serious.”

Listening to the agitated voice on the other end, Pam clenched her teeth. “Fine. Why don’t you talk to her?”

“Jamie!” she called up the stairs. “Get down here! Your father wants to talk to you.”

Pam lowered the phone to her side and rubbed her eyes. She just wanted to go to bed and pretend this incident had never happened. She strained her ears but heard no movement from upstairs. “Jamie! Now!”

Her eyes fell on the water bowl near her feet, and she gagged again. “Jamie!”

“Calm down, for god’s sake,” she heard Eric say.

Fuming, Pam stomped up the stairs. The door to Jamie’s room was ajar. She pushed the door open with such force, it banged against the wall.

For a minute, she didn’t know what she was looking at. There was a mass on the floor, a black, moving mass in the center of the room. As Pam watched, a pale, white hand poked its way out and reached upwards. The mass began to rise, dropping black clumps as it ascended. Suddenly, the door slammed shut, causing Pam to turn around with a gasp. The door was covered in tiny, black flies.

Almost paralyzed with fear, Pam turned toward the mass. She suddenly knew what it was. A thousand tiny flies were moving, crawling all over, and eating their way into her daughter’s body. The flies pulled away, leaving the now lifeless body of Jamie falling to the floor.

“Jamie…No,” Pam cried softly.

The flies swarmed Pam. She waved her arms erratically trying to fight them off, but it was pointless. They attached themselves to every inch of her body, and she collapsed to the floor. As her body hit the ground, her hand was jolted open and the telephone slid away.

“…Pam? Pam? What’s going on? Is everything okay?”

“Pam!”

Credit To – Andy and Laura

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Phantasia Forest

February 21, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I remember Phantasia Forest. I bet I’m one of the few people willing to admit that, and I’m probably the only person who remembers it for all the good instead of all the bad.

I’ll never forget the summer it opened – the summer of 1954. I knew I was in for something special when I saw those massive, brilliantly-colored mushrooms decorating the parking lot. As I marched past the cement toadstools, I came upon a castle. Yes, an honest-to-goodness pink castle. My eight-year-old brain practically exploded.

The first thing that greeted you on the other side of that castle was a sculpture of Humpty Dumpty. He sat perched on his stone wall, pointing you towards the winding path that stretched from one magical scene to the next.

As you walked along, you saw a statue of the Pied Piper leading away a group of hypnotized children. Then there was a big fibreglass shoe with crooked windows and a plastic slide.

Beyond that, you found yourself in front of a two-storey house – only this was the house from “Hansel and Gretel.” The walkway was lined with monstrously large candy canes. Gumdrops were scattered across the gingerbread walls. Chocolate balconies overlooked the garden, and a chimney in the shape of an ice cream cone poked out of the sugar-frosted roof.

You could get lost exploring the gnome village – all those rustic huts and leering faces. Eventually, you arrived at Old MacDonald’s Farm, which was a petting zoo with rabbits, goats, pigs, ducks, sheep, you name it. If you wanted, you could even hitch a ride in Cinderella’s pumpkin coach!

Of course, employees were dressed up everywhere you looked – Alice, Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb, even Mother Goose herself. It was a living tribute to the imagination.

You have to understand something – before Phantasia Forest came along, theme parks didn’t exist. Back then, you were lucky to find a few kiddie parks here and there, but frankly, they weren’t much. Some old merry-go-rounds, a couple of dusty ponies, and a bunch of picnic tables covered in bird crap – that was it.

Phil Ballard dreamed of something bigger. Phil was a local businessman. Owned a few different stores around town. Everyone seemed to know Phil. Everyone loved him. Every town probably has a Phil Ballard – the upstanding citizen, always quick with a smile and a handshake.

Kathleen, his wife, was like that too. She came from a prominent family and spent a lot of her time volunteering, working with charities, hosting fundraisers. I remember my parents going to a few of those. All in all, Phil and Kathleen were the perfect couple – they had money, friends. The only thing they were missing was a little bundle of joy to call their own.

It took him a while, but Phil managed to secure twenty acres of land just off the highway. In a year, he had a park dedicated to all the classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes. The place was an instant hit. I remember the crowds of tourists – I’d never seen so many out of town license plates before. We must’ve had thousands of visitors that summer. It was a huge boost to the local economy. The hotels and restaurants all cleaned up. Newspapers were mentioning us all over the country. If Phil was a hero before Phantasia Forest, then he was a downright saint afterwards.

There was a rumor that a fellow by the name of Walt Disney had dropped by for an afternoon, looking to find some inspiration for his own little park. I’m not sure if that story is really true or not, but it should be.

Phil even had some of the employees dressed as his own original characters – a wacky lamb with the legs of a spider, a man with three twisted heads stacked on top of each other, and a cheerful little imp who wore a blood-red robe and always carried his trusty cat o’ nine tails. I don’t think any of them ever spoke, but that’s what gave them their charm. “Ballard’s Bozos,” Phil called them.

I was having so much fun that summer, I did my best to ignore the silly things some of the other kids were saying – like how the costumes for Phil’s characters didn’t have any zippers. Apparently, the rumor started when the kids overheard a few staff members talking about how no one knew who was really underneath those oversized masks.

I can’t blame the kids, but the staff should’ve known better. So Phil hired some outside help and didn’t tell anyone – it helped maintain the fantasy. Brilliant idea.

Much harder to ignore, though, was the news of Kathleen’s death. She had drowned in her bathtub after overdosing on some medication. It hit everyone like a sledgehammer. Phil, God bless him, shouldered his grief with grace and dignity. He was still the same old Phil – always smiling, always quick with a handshake.

After a few weeks, things started to feel normal again. But then came that weekend in August. I went to bed after a glorious Saturday at Phantasia Forest, expecting to do the whole thing all over again when I woke up. How wrong I was.

At first, the news said that eight kids had gone missing, but my friends told me the number was really nine. I guess numbers are beside the point. Kids were missing, plain and simple. I didn’t know any of them, but they were children just like me – innocent little children, gone in the blink of an eye. Everyone had a theory – kidnappings, runaways, mass suicides, ritual sacrifice, freaking alien abductions.

The only thing the poor youngsters had in common was their last known location – Phantasia Forest. Well, of course! All the kids were there. That hardly proves a thing. But for most people, it was enough to get them talking.

They said that Kathleen’s family never believed her death was accidental, that she was even pregnant at the time. Others said she’d been worried about Phil’s behavior for months. He was obsessed with his theme park, one story went. He was talking to himself behind closed doors, went another. The craziest one, by far, was that he believed his Bozo characters weren’t characters at all, but that they had actually climbed in through his window one night and told him to build Phantasia Forest.

What a load of nonsense. I suppose the Bozos even convinced him to kill his wife and unborn baby. The police never found a shred of evidence that Phil hurt Kathleen or anyone else for that matter.

But did the busybodies care about evidence? Not for a minute. They were all convinced that Phil had something to do with those missing kids – he buried their corpses under the gnome village, he turned them into statues, blah, blah, blah.

In less than a month, Phil had gone from the town’s favorite son to the town’s favorite boogeyman. It was all too much for him. The workers found Phil one morning in the gingerbread house. He’d slipped in at some point during the night and hanged himself. No suicide note. The townsfolk got their wish. A good man was dead.

Phantasia Forest was shut down for the winter. It reopened the next spring under new management. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. People stayed away, attendance shriveled up, and to make things even worse, Disneyland opened that same year. Phantasia just couldn’t compete.

The park was shuttered later that fall, this time for good. I kept waiting for it to be turned into a strip mall or condominium, but for some reason, that never happened. Phantasia Forest just sat there, year after year, those beautiful statues and buildings left to rot. You can still see the pink castle spires from the highway, peeking out from behind the treetops. Giant holes pockmark the fake brickwork, giving you a nice view of the skeletal rebar frames.

I’m sometimes tempted to drive down and take a closer look. Fat load of good that would do, though. They had to put up a barb-wire fence to keep out all the vandals. I suppose I should be thankful. Seeing the place abandoned and decaying, it’d just remind me of how much time has gone by, of how that little eight-year-old kid is now an old man with a bad back and an arthritic knee.

But finally, some good news – I just heard a local businessman is planning to renovate the park. He’s going to make it bigger and better than ever before. And I’ll be the first one through those castle gates, right along with my grandkids. They’re going to have the time of their lives – exploring the gnome village, climbing in and out of the gingerbread house, playing with the funny Bozos.

We’ll be there because Phantasia Forest is still a wonderful dream, and like Phil always said, “You can’t kill a dream.”

Credit To – Michael Cahill

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