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Tropical Storm Fay

December 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The events in this story occurred on a warm & humid night in late August of 2008, the night after Tropical Storm Fay ripped through our town in Gadsden County, Florida. Looking back on this, I will say that the terror of that storm was nothing compared to what followed the night after the storm passed through our area.

The days prior to this storm making landfall here was a scary time. We had “heard” that it was coming in this direction, and we prepared for it, but in the back of our minds we thought, and hoped, that it would head elsewhere.

I mean, after all, this area had not been hit directly by any hurricane or tropical storm since Hurricane Kate in 1985. Considering this is Florida, this area had been lucky for the past 23 hurricane seasons and we had hoped to stay that way. However, there was something quite unusual about the path of this storm. It seemed to have made a deliberate path that covered the entire state of Florida.

The night after the storm was a very peculiar and unnervingly silent night. After the storm, the sheriff of our county ordered a mandatory curfew, asking that everyone please ensure that they remain indoors after dark until things were restored back to normal. Because of this, there were no cars on the highway which made it even more silent.

We live very close to a river that runs through this part of the county. Although the river is not close enough to see from the house, and a considerable walk through the woods, the storm had caused it to swell into a raging and violent river that was now literally in the woods behind our house.

Besides the distant sound of the raging water and the occasional eerie whisper of the wind blowing through the pines, there was nothing. It felt as if I was the last person on earth, but little did I know, I was not alone! Since the storm had passed, my parents decided to go stay with my elderly grandmother who lived alone and needed someone to be with her until the power was restored and things were back to normal.

I was 19 years old at the time, so this was ok with me, although the thought of being alone in the dark seemed a bit unnerving. There had been warnings on the radio of looting in the area, so as a precaution we mounted two outdoor trail cameras outside. We live in a highly secluded and wooded area, so I hoped that the chances of anyone coming here was low. One of the cameras was mounted above the back door and it was motion activated, therefore anyone (or any “thing”, in this case) coming up to the back door would trigger it to flash and take a picture. The other one was pointed towards the screen door of the front porch.

I was sitting in the living room, had a few candles burning in the room and the living room windows open. The storm had left behind a warm and sticky humidity in the air, and since the lack of power meant no air conditioning, the only relief was to have the windows open. I only wanted windows open in the room that I was in currently because the warnings on the radio had me pretty nervous.

As I was sitting there, trying to read with what little light the candles provided, I began to hear the faint sound of leaves crackling, as if something was coming. At that moment it sounded far away, but just close enough for me to hear it. I immediately blew out the candles as I instantly feared that it was the looters they warned us about on the radio. If that was the case, I did not want them to see me through the windows. I crouched down against the wall, sitting in complete darkness looking towards the window, hoping that maybe I could see if someone passed by.

I sat there, continued listening for the sound but it seemed to have stopped for a few minutes. In some attempt to comfort my worried mind, I began thinking “perhaps it’s wildlife trying to get away from the swollen river”. Just to be safe and certain that it was not a person, I continued sitting there. For a while, all I could hear was the faint sound of the river rushing through the trees in the woods behind the house and the whispering pine trees swaying in the wind, the only two sounds that remained in my world at this dark and scary time.

For what felt like an hour, but was really only a matter of minutes, I started to hear the sound again, but this time it was closer. In addition to this, the sound of crackling leaves was not only closer but I began hearing this awful sound that sounded almost like that of a squealing pig or wild boar. The sound stopped for a moment, I thought perhaps it really is a wild boar, which is not uncommon in this area. I sat there, quite freaked out at this moment, and it was then that I realized I had not locked the back door.

I decided to get up and make my way back there to lock the door before whatever it was had a chance to get in.
When I walked towards the back, I saw a flash through the window which indicated that something was already at the back door, it was the flash from the outdoor camera mounted above the back door. Frozen in fear, I stood still for a moment in dead silence when I heard the sound of heavy boots in the utility room where the back door was. At this moment I felt sickly and terrified as I knew I was no longer alone, and that now someone was in here with me.

Was it looters? Was it someone here to cause me harm? All kinds of thoughts racing to my mind, including where I was going to run to.
I could barely make out the sight of a tall figure standing at the doorway. I had a flashlight in my hand, I turned it on and shined it towards the door to the utility room. It was then, I saw it, still today the most terrifying sight I’ve ever seen, burned into my mind forever. There stood a tall figure with the darkest pits in its eyes, a head full of small and goat-like horns, and hooves as its feet but yet when it walked it sounded as if a heavy man with boots was walking? Every time it exhaled, it sounded as if it were grunting.

It immediately charged at me, making a wheezy squealing sound. I ran into the guest bedroom, which was right beside where I was standing.
I ran in, slammed the door shut, propping against it to hold it closed. I was expecting a struggle, or at least for it to make an attempt to get in. Instead, after slamming the door all I heard was silence. Where did it go? Or more seriously, where did it come from? It appeared to come from the greatest depths of hell, was this satan himself?

For what felt like an eternity, I sat quietly against the door, waiting, hoping it was gone. I didn’t sleep at all for the remainder of that night. After daylight came, I decided that I had to at least check the house. I slowly opened the door, an inch at a time, and saw nothing there. I took one slow step at a time throughout the house and noticed nothing other than the back door wide open, swaying in the wind.

My thoughts were that nobody would believe this harrowing story, but I knew if I could retrieve the photo from the back door camera, then just maybe it would show everyone this hideous creature.

Several days later when power was restored, I connected the camera to my computer to pull up the photos. To my dismay, there was indeed one photo, but what it displayed was not what I saw in front of my very eyes. It showed a blurry orb-like object passing in front of the camera.

Still today I wonder, “What was it?” “Where did it come from and where did it go?” I never before saw anything like that here and never again has it showed its ugly face. However, I am forever haunted by it, I still wake up a lot of mornings at exactly 3:33 AM, coincidence? Every time I awake to the sight of 3:33 AM on my alarm clock, I have to wonder “Is it here?” “Is it somewhere close by, watching and waiting?”

Did this entity come here to send a message, or did it come to send a warning? Was it related in any way to this storm that seemed to deliberately trace its way to me? Perhaps these questions will never be answered, or perhaps the next time you awake at 3:33 AM, it could be somewhere in the room with you, hiding in the darkness around you, watching and waiting to show itself! I worry what kind of events will come along with the next big storm, but I will never forget what I saw the night after Tropical Storm Fay!

Credit To – Allen Q.

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Predator/Prey

December 29, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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After a night of carousing with his buddies, Billy was ready to head home.

“Are you sure you want to walk home by yourself?” asked Todd, “You’ve heard the rumors, right?”

“What rumors?” ask Billy.

“You know, the problem…with vampires.” He said that last word almost in a whisper.

“Oh God! Really? I can’t believe you’re taking that seriously.”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“Because it’s ridiculous, that’s why! I need to scoot. It’s so late, the sun’s almost up.”

Todd shrugged. “Suit yourself, but if you get killed tonight, don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

“I won’t say anything! I’ll be dead!” Billy called back as he started walking. The echoing laughter from the guys made him smile.

He hadn’t been walking long when he heard something rustling in the dark. He stopped and looked around. The noise also stopped. He cursed his own paranoia and continued, but he couldn’t shake that…feeling. A moment later, he heard it again, louder. His fear turned to anger.

“Who’s out there?!” he roared. Nobody answered. He told himself he was just being stupid and the best thing to do either way was get home as quickly as possible. He was just about to turn around when something charged him from the shadows. It happened so fast, he had no time to brace himself as the hulking figure hit him like a freight train. The next thing he knew, he was pinned to the ground by a burly man with a look of crazed hatred on his face. His eyes burned with a mixture of fury and disgust.

“Who the hell are you?” Billy demanded.

“Who do you think?” he said in a low, hoarse voice.

And then, Billy knew. This was the killer everybody had been whispering about. The vampire problem wasn’t just a rumor. The man reached in his toolbelt and took out two items that sent a wave of panic through Billy. He squirmed violently, but it was no use. His attacker was too strong. He shoved the wooden stake against Billy’s chest and raised the hammer high. Billy screamed in terror, his fangs glistening in the moonlight.

Credit To: E. Alan Rahn

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Playing with the Devil (A Hitori Kakurenbo Short Film)

December 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Figuring out what to do with your little sister’s new Christmas doll? Look no further…

Presenting “Playing with the Devil” short film based on true accounts from Hitori Kakurnbo. While home alone, three sisters conduct a Japanese ritual of Hitori Kakurenbo or “One Man Tag” with their beloved doll. Terror ensues as the girls realize that one should never play a game with the Devil.

Playing with the Devil (Award Winning Short Horror Film based on Japanese Ritual Hitori Kakurenbo)

This is a video pasta. If the embedded video is not loading for you, please click the link above to go directly to the video’s YouTube page and try watching it there.

Credit To – facebook.com/mr.bixby

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White Christmas

December 27, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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“Fuck, it’s cold.” You would think I’d be used to it by now.

Pulling my scarf a little tighter, I take one last drag off my cigarette and flick it to the ground, crushing it underfoot. I watch as it flares for a moment — a fleeting fight for life — before quickly fading to black on the frozen ground. Last one. I had checked all the nearby shops, and there were none left. There wasn’t much of anything left after the looting. Goodbye, old friend.

I give the nearby landscape a quick once over, surveying it as I do every time I come out for a smoke. Snow. Everywhere, snow. With a great sigh, I pull the glove off my right hand, fumbling in my pocket for the photo. Their photo. It’s all I have left. My girls. I stare at it until my hand begins to burn, then gently return it to my pocket, shoving my glove back on roughly. God damn snow.

Turning around to face the building, I reach for the cold metal handle, pausing a moment to read the sign on the door.

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
KEY WEST, FLORIDA

This used to be a forecast center. We’d sit around predicting the weather for locals and tourists alike — well, mostly the tourists. The locals could always pretty much predict the weather themselves. Warm. Sunny. Sometimes rainy, with the occasional hurricane to keep things lively. After the snow came, though, there didn’t seem to be much point in going through the motions of forecasting. We did it for a while. We thought the snow was temporary. We thought it was some weather anomaly that would evolve after a few days. Maybe a week at the outside. We were wrong. It’s only ever snow. Snow, and a balmy 28°F.

Turning the handle, I give the door a yank, and it opens with a groan. Everything is frozen these days, even the doors. The door is set in a wall of square glass panes, which have been covered with plastic and blankets, in an attempt to better insulate the building. I walk quickly through the chilly lobby. The coldest part of the building, it’s become something of a storage room. There are piles of things in disarray on either side of me — the only clear path is to the door. At the far end of the room is another door, better insulated than the first. Passing through, I close it quickly behind me. I hang my coat, scarf, gloves and hat on hooks opposite the door, and head down the hallway. Turning the corner, I enter the main part of the building. We call it the bullpen.

The building wasn’t always like this. It used to be individual offices and other rooms, but when the snow came, it changed everything — for everyone. Now, instead of sitting in our offices, forecasting the weather, we all sit at desks in one big space — for shared warmth, as much as anything else — and try to figure out what the hell happened.

Bill looks up as I enter the room, greeting me with a nod.

“How is it out there, John?” he asks.

“Oh, you know,” I reply. “Cold.”

I head for my desk — back center of the pen — and plop down in my chair, hoping my short break will have given me fresh eyes, but after six months of this, there is little chance of that. I lean back in my chair, close my eyes and rub my temples, internally reviewing what I know.

The presently accepted account of events goes like this. A little more than six months ago, on Christmas Day, by sheer chance — some complete and utter fluke — at precisely 08:17, GMT -05:00, everywhere around the world, you could hear the opening strains of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” All at once, everywhere in the world, every radio station, every internet music service, every CD player played that song. It didn’t matter if those particular people or cultures celebrated Christmas. It happened everywhere, without discrimination. Even people who hadn’t been listening to music swear their radios switched on. Crosby sang about dreaming of a white Christmas, and that’s what we did. Everyone, everywhere around the world, all at once, fell instantly asleep, and we all dreamed of a magical, snow covered world. By all accounts, we were only out for maybe three minutes, and, when we woke, it was snowing. Everywhere. All at once.

It started slowly. Beautiful, fluffy snowflakes fell like confectioners sugar from the sky, and soon everything was covered in a blanket of white. No one worried until the next day. Even in tropical places like this, on Christmas Day, the Christmas snow seemed like a Christmas miracle. In the harsh light of December 26th, though, it was just snow. And it was cold.

Now early July, it’s more than that. The world’s infrastructure has begun to collapse. For a while, the northernmost regions of the world fared well easily, but now they find themselves faltering as their goods and services from southern suppliers dry up. The closer you get to the equator, the more prevalent the death. We just weren’t prepared for anything like this. Give us a couple days of snow, and we’ll manage. But this. This is something else entirely, and people just couldn’t stay warm. Most equatorial survivors have set off on treks to naturally colder climates, in hope of salvation, but it’s not an easy journey, and many of them won’t make it. Even if they do, at this point, there’s no telling how much longer those places can hold out. Current models project a year at most.

Sitting up, I open my eyes and look around the room. There are three of us now, and nine empty desks. Those desks used to belong to people, but they all either headed north with their families, in search of hope, or perished in the cold. Or both. Bill and Marcus are old bachelors, and don’t have family to lose or protect. Sometimes, in moments of weakness, I envy them that. But not really. Most days, those memories are all that keep me going. I just want answers. Shaking my head, I try to dislodge the thoughts of my family. Must focus.

Marcus comes into the room and looks at me expectantly. That look means he’s been out to clean off the radar and get the generator going.

“Alright, guys.” I address the room. “Fire it up.”

Being so far south, we lost power early on. Luckily, Bill is an avid survivalist, and had a generator and a huge stockpile of gas on hand, not to mention food, and other supplies and equipment. He was the first one to leave home and set up shop here. He’s the reason we have heat. He’s the reason we’re still alive.

We do this once a week. There has never been anything. It’s only ever snow. I let the ritual continue, because it gives them hope. But it’s only ever snow.

“John.” Bill’s gruff voice penetrates my thoughts. “There’s something.”

I stand bolt upright. In six months, there has never been anything. It can’t be.

Thumbing the photo in my pocket, I quickly cross the bullpen and stand at Bill’s side. He points to an island northwest of us.

“Oh, my God.” The precipitation over Wisteria Island is gone. There is a break in the snow, but it doesn’t seem to be spreading. It’s like there’s a Wisteria Island-shaped hole on the screen.

“I’m going over there.” I run to the door and start to layer on my outdoor clothes. Bill and Marcus are close behind.

“John! Be reasonable. You don’t know what’s happening out there. We should continue to observe the event from here,” Bill pleads with me.

“You should continue to observe the event from here. But I am going out there.”

“John, there’s no need to risk your life for this. If we just use a little more caution, we can figure it out safely,” Marcus reasons.

“There’s no time, Marcus. Thank you both for your concern, but if the weather has changed somewhere, I need to know why. If we figure that out, maybe we can save some lives.” I finger the photo in my pocket again. I will not be swayed from this. I couldn’t save my family, but there’s a chance now that I can save others, and I won’t ignore that just to keep myself safe.

“Please understand. I have to do this.”

Marcus nods.

“Alright,” Bill sighs. “We’ll stay here and keep the radar going. Take these with you.” He hands me an assortment of gear, which I shove into my pockets.

“Please try to be safe,” Marcus adds.

I say my goodbyes and trudge out into the snow, heading toward the bight. Normally a twenty minute walk, in this weather, it takes much longer, and I have ample time to survey the carnage. I think the three of us are the only people left alive on the island. The continued snow has destroyed most buildings, and the continued cold has killed those who didn’t flee north. Bodies pepper the streets.

There is a marina at the end of the island. Like everything else, it’s in shambles. Some of the boats have receded into the water under the weight of the snow. Others have been used as vessels of attempted escape. As I approach the marina’s small office building, I see that the windows are broken, and the door stands ajar. I’m not the first to come in search of a boat. I grab a handful of the keys that remain in the office. I use the tag on each key to check the associated boat. Number 17, gone. Number 24, gone. Number 8, sunk. Number 14, gone. Number 31, maybe.

Number 31 is covered enough that it’s not completely full of snow. I clear out enough snow to climb in, prime the fuel line, shove the key in place and give it a turn. The key doesn’t budge. Damn.

I continue through the keys until I find another promising boat. Number 15. This time the key turns, but it won’t start.

Last key. Last boat. Lucky number 3. It’s full of snow, but still properly afloat. I dig out a hole near the controls and hop in. Key turns. I let the engine power up, and, heavy on the choke, I try the ignition. Nothing. I’m hopeful, though. Number three. My girls. This is the one. I try again, and the boat roars to life. Deeply relieved, I pull her gently out of the marina.

Even at my slow pace, it doesn’t take long to cross through the 600 yards of saltwater slush to the island. I beach the boat and climb out onto the shore. It is utterly bizarre. It’s like spring has come to the island. The sky is clear, and the snow is melting — but everywhere else, the snow remains. I can stick my hand out off the side of the island and catch snow. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I walk the perimeter of the island. It’s not a big island by any stretch, so it’s a quick walk. Aside from the weather, nothing seems out of place. I stare out at the water for a while, looking towards Key West. Snow. I turn around to face the central part of this small island. The snow is melting, glistening in the sunlight and sliding off the Australian pines. Christmas Tree Island, we call it.

A particularly shiny reflection catches my eye. In the sunshine, it winks at me brightly, from the very center of the island. I rush inward to investigate, navigating the thick pines as quickly as I can. I reach the middle of the island to find a metallic object sticking out of the melting snow. It’s a circle, like a wheel of sorts. I begin moving the snow away with my gloved hands. Bit by bit, the object reveals itself. Raised platform. Bigger round object beneath the wheel. Writing: RECONSTITUTION. Latches. Hinges.

It’s a door. More precisely, it’s a hatch. What the hell? I’ve been to this island so many times. This has never been here before.

I turn the wheel, and it moves easily. Pulling on it, I try opening the hatch, but it’s stuck. The seal must be frozen still. I pull with all my strength, to no avail. I give it a kick, and then sit on the platform to catch my breath. After a minute, I’m back on my feet, pulling again. With a great pop, the hatch finally gives, throwing me backwards onto the ground. I scramble to examine the now open hatch. There is a ladder leading down into the darkness. I can’t tell how far down the ladder reaches, or what I might find once I’m down there.

Fumbling with the photo in my pocket, I gather up my courage. I’ve come this far. I climb over the side of the hatch and onto the ladder, beginning my descent. As the surface light fades, I am enveloped in darkness. It’s unnerving, but I keep moving. The descent feels neverending. Finally, I begin to see light below me. At the end of the ladder, I find myself at one end of a small hallway. The first thing I notice is the warmth. It’s warm here. There is heat. I peel off my outdoor clothes, which are, by now, nearly soaked through, and leave them in a pile by the ladder.

The well lit hallway is not very long. I follow it around a corner, where it exits into a large, bright room. The room is full of machines with blinking lights, beeping incessantly. There is an older man moving frantically about the room, fidgeting first with one machine, then another, then another, and so forth, clucking unhappily to himself. Lines are etched deeply into his face. His spray of unruly white hair makes him look like a mad scientist.

What the hell?

He is so preoccupied with his machines, he doesn’t see me. I watch him, mouth agape. I have no idea what’s happening here.

“Warning! Perimeter breach! Warning! Intruder alert!” A machine near the man responds to my presence.

“Shut up, you,” the man says, in a thick Scottish accent, banging on the machine in an attempt to silence the alarm. “I told you before, there’s no —”

He looks up then, noticing me for the first time. His eyes grow wide. Jumping to his feet, he crosses the room and addresses me angrily.

“Who are you? How did you get down here? You can’t be here!”

“Who am I?” I respond. “Who are you? What the hell is this place?”

“You first! How did you find me?” he asks accusingly.

“There is a sizable hatch in the middle of this tiny island. It wasn’t rocket science.”

“Oh, damn. The cloaking device must be on the blink, too.”

“The —? Cloaking —?”

He dismisses my confusion with a wave of his hand.

“Cloaking device. Yes.”

“Which is why I’ve never seen the hatch before today.”

“Yes.”

“Who are you? What the hell is this place?”

I repeat my original questions, and he considers me for a moment. Then he takes a deep breath, calming visibly.

“Okay. It won’t matter soon enough anyway. My name is Michael. And this is The Reconstitution.” He returns to his work.

“Reconstitution? What the hell does that even mean?”

“To reconstitute something is to return it to it’s origina—”

“No! I know what reconstitute means. What the hell is The Reconstitution?”

“Ah, yes. The Reconstitution is an automated global population management system. We’ve been around for ages, constantly evolving with available technologies. We’ve even invented a few ourselves. Our current system is really top notch. You should have seen some of our earlier implementations. They were just crude.”

“Automated global population management system? In precisely what way do you manage the population?”

“We protect the population from destroying itself.”

“You — protect —?”

“Indeed, yes. We monitor the planet’s population for signs of impending self-destruction. You don’t seem to mean to destroy each other, or the planet, generally, but that’s the way it always trends. World leaders observed this early on, and The Reconstitution was developed cooperatively among them. As I said, our early methods were — well, not what our current methods are, but we’ve always gotten the job done.”

“I’m sorry, I still don’t understand. What job is that?”

“Ah, I apologize if I’ve not been clear. We monitor the population for signs of self-destruction — we have a specific, refined criteria — and when we observe all the signs, we reset you.”

“You — reset —?”

“Indeed, yes. We reset you back to a point where you may choose a different trajectory. Don’t worry, you don’t even know. We reset you, and the world continues on. No harm done.”

“No harm —? What do you call what’s happening out there? People are dead. My family. People are dead.”

“Ah, yes. Well, it would seem our program had a bit of a hiccup.”

“A—?” I am speechless. He continues on.

“Yes, you see, when the program is functioning properly, it gives a warning signal that reconstitution is about to commence. It is programmed to choose something culturally relevant and comforting to the population. You’ll remember hearing ‘White Christmas’? Yes. Well, normally there is the warning signal, and you all fall asleep. The program resets you, you wake up, and you’re happier, friendlier, and none the wiser. The world continues on. No harm done.”

“Wha—?”

“Yes,” he continues, “This time, the program glitched. It happens from time to time, but quite infrequently. You heard the warning signal, and you all fell asleep, but the reconstitution failed, and the program became stuck. I remain down here at all times, preserved in a sleep chamber, and the program is set to wake me if it cannot correct itself after a period of six months. So, here I am!” He sounds almost gleeful.

“It —? You —?” I can barely process the things Michael is telling me. Fingering the photo in my pocket, I think of my girls. Given everything unbelievable that has happened in recent days, what makes this any different? I let it all sink in.

“What about the snow?” I ask him finally.

“Nanobots.”

“Nanobots?”

“Indeed, yes. Nanobots are our currently accepted method of reconstitution. During the process, the nanobots materialize as required, and disappear again quite quickly. While our reconstitution bots are cold and white, they’re not generally present in the quantities required to resemble snow. However, because the program glitched during their distribution process, they simply kept accumulating. Ergo — snow.”

“But I’ve seen it! It is snow. I saw it melting above us maybe an hour ago now.”

“Not melting. Retreating. I’ve been working on repairing the program, using the island as a small scale testing site for development purposes.”

This guy is mad. Utterly and completely mad. Still, it was a more plausible theory than anything I — or anyone else — had been able to come up with in the six months since the snow came.

“Let’s just say everything you’ve told me is true. How can you do this? You can’t control people like this. It’s not up to you to decide the fate of people’s lives.”

“Actually, you’re correct. It’s not up to me. It’s up to the program, and the specific criteria we’ve developed and refined over centuries.”

“So, you’re saying it’s up to a machine. A machine controls the fate of every person on this planet.”

“Indeed, yes.”

“No. No! Stop what you’re doing. I can’t let you do this.” I pull a flare gun out of my pocket and aim it at him. It’s the only thing I have that’s of any use in this situation.

Michael looks confused and alarmed.

“I’m not sure you understand. Once I fix this, and complete the reconstitution successfully, everything will be like it was before the glitch. Everyone will be restored. Your family will be restored. And they’ll have no memory of this.”

I falter. My family. My girls. I could have them back, and it would be like none of this ever happened. God, I want that so badly. I lower my gun, and think of my wife. She would hate this. She was so beautiful. She had such a good heart. This is wrong, and I know it, and she would know it. If it were her standing here, she wouldn’t even hesitate. No. I raise my gun again.

“No. This ends here. Step away from the machines.”

“I’m sorry,” Michael says. “That’s not going to happen.”

Before I can react, I see him push a button on a console, and the room begins to spin. I fall to my knees, then keel over. Everything goes black.

***

I feel my consciousness returning. Instinctively, I bring my hand to my head. It hurts so — Oh. No, it’s fine. I must have been dreaming.

I feel another hand on my head, and I open my eyes in alarm.

“Are you alright, love? You seem to have had a bit of a start,” Stella says, kissing my forehead.

“I — I’m fine.” As far as I can tell, anyway.

The bedroom door swings open suddenly, and the girls come bounding in and on to the bed.

“It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!” they shout, jumping up and down on us.

Stella laughs happily.

“Merry Christmas, my love!” she says, kissing me softly.

What is wrong with me? I shake my head, trying to clear away the lingering feeling of unease left by the dream I can’t remember. It’s Christmas.

“Merry Christmas, my girls!” I exclaim, hugging them all. “Shall we go see what Santa’s left for us?” As we make our way down the stairs, I hear the opening strains of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” float in through our open windows.

Credit To – Ashe Abbott

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Not Afraid of the Dark

December 26, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I always have a torch in my pocket these days. I found a small LED one at an electronics store for a couple of bucks, and I keep it on me at all times. It’s actually really bright, despite the size. I bought five, the other four are placed in strategic locations around my house, so I can get to any of them quickly if need be. I won’t be caught in the dark again, you see. It’s bad enough that I see her every time I close my eyes, I don’t think I could handle seeing her again with my eyes open. But, I digress. Perhaps this would be better told from the start.

I used to work in an office building in town, for the public counter service of a Government Department that shall remain unnamed. The work was fine, it basically involved taking and checking applications, talking to the public about different services that our department provided, that sort of thing. Nothing out of the ordinary with the work, or my colleagues, who I got on very well with. The building, however…

To look at it from the outside, you wouldn’t think that it was any different from any of the surrounding office buildings. 12 stories tall, very square, flat sides etc. Nothing ostentatious, it was just a simple office building, like hundreds of others in my city. The building was slightly older than the surrounding ones, built in the 1980s (I think). There was the occasional draft, and the lights would flicker now and again, but no major problems. There were four elevators, one of which always seemed to be out of order. They’d fix one, and then another would inexplicably break. There was something with the electrics that would cause the doors to slam shut without warning sometimes, and they would occasionally drop slightly when you got in them. Nothing serious enough for the building owners to actually do anything about, but enough to be more than an annoyance.

The lifts used to give me the jibblies, even before all of this.

I used to take the stairs a lot. There were two stairwells, one on either side of the building. Both of them were fairly narrow, so if you were coming up and you met someone coming down, then you’d either need to wait in the stairwell bit by the doors into the different levels, or turn sideways and let them squeeze past. They tended to get a bit clogged if there was an evacuation for a fire alarm or something, but I was only on the 3rd floor, so it didn’t take too long for me to get from there to the ground, or vice versa. The stairwells were windowless, plain cement with pale yellow lights illuminating them, but fairly dimly. I think the building’s owners used crappy energy-saving bulbs to try and save some money.

There was a bathroom in each of the different stairwells, on every level. Men’s room in one stairwell, ladies’ in the other. The building managers installed combination locks on all of those doors after there was a peeping tom incident in the ladies’ one day, so only people who worked in the building could get in. There were different businesses and departments on each of the floors, and the locks all had different combinations, so you could only use the bathroom on your floor, you couldn’t go up or down a level to use another.

Because we were part of a Government Department, there was an emphasis on security. We all had swipe card access to get from the reception areas into the back office bit of my floor, and you also needed to remember your card if you were going to the bathroom. The doors to the stairwells had the same magnetic safety locks as the doors to the back area, and although you could get out by pushing a button to release the lock, you had to swipe your card to get into the floor from the stairwell. If you were in the bathroom there was a similar button to press to get back into the stairwell.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the trouble started. It’s not like somebody clicked their fingers and everything turned on like a light switch. I’m assuming you’ve heard the story about how a frog put in boiling water will jump straight out, but if you put the frog in cold water and bring it slowly to the boil it’ll stay in, happily boiling to death without realising. Had the situation gone from normal to messed up in a hurry, then I probably would have got the hell out of there, and quickly; but like they say, hindsight has 20/20 vision.

There was an imbalance of girls to guys who worked at my office, so I quite often had the men’s room to myself. Nothing like being able to go in peace, you know? The earliest occasion of anything weird happening I can remember, I was going off to the bathroom, which involved walking through the reception area. I pressed the button to let me into the stairwell, and was in the stairwell, keying in the code to let me into the mens’, and the stairwell door shut behind me. There was nothing out of the ordinary in this, the door was on one of those hinges which makes it close automatically. What was weird was that the second that door shut, I got a shiver up my spine. Everything was suddenly quiet, almost oppressively silent. The noise of the radio and the people in the waiting room had been completely cut off when the door shut, when normally you could hear things even when in the bathroom.

I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but I didn’t take my time as I normally might have. I got in, did what I needed to and got out of there, quickly. The feeling of unease faded as I came back into the brighter lights of the waiting room. From there, everything was normal for days, possibly weeks. I’m a little fuzzy on the actual time-frame, as a lot of the stuff that happened took place over a long-ish period of time. A few smallish things happened here and there; the odd cold spot, the odd shiver, (like when you feel you’re being watched), but I just put it down to stress, and kept going with my job and my life.

Like I said earlier, I got on very well with my colleagues and my boss. Most of us were of a similar age (mid-20s) and every now and again we’d go out for a few post-work drinks on a Friday, let loose a little and de-stress from the week. One Friday we’d closed up the public counter, and all the customers were gone, and we were packing up and getting ready to head out. I excused myself to use the mens’ room before we went out, but when I opened the stairwell door I noticed that it seemed dimmer than normal in the stairwell – the light at the top of the flight of stairs to the floor above had blown.

As I turned to the right to key in the code to the bathroom door, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, in the gloom at the top of the stairs. Something – and I can’t be any more descriptive than that – something flashed across my vision, A dark shape going from right to left from the door by the bathroom at the top of the stairs, around the corner to the next flight, out of my line of sight. It was fast, impossibly fast, like watching a movie and fast-forwarding to 4 times the normal speed. I couldn’t see any details, it was just a black shape, but it seemed darker than the lack of light surrounding it somehow. The movement was the worst though. Despite the speed, it didn’t seem to blur or sway at all, it was a scuttle more than anything.

I swung around, away from the bathroom door, and stood frozen at the bottom of the flight of stairs, staring transfixed up into the gloom at the top. I don’t know how long I stood there for, but I was frozen in place, too scared to move. The next thing I can remember, a hand clapped down on my shoulder. “(My name)! What are you doing man!?” It was my boss, come to find out what was taking so long. “There, there was… there was something” I stammered, trying to get the words out. My boss looked quizzically at me, one eyebrow raised. “What was it?” I turned to look up the stairs again. Everything seemed less dim than it had been a moment ago. “Nothing,” I replied, shaking my head. “Must have been a trick of the light. Been meaning to get my eyes tested.” “Then let’s get the hell out of here, and off for some drinks!” my boss exclaimed.

Later, at the bar, surrounded by my colleagues laughing and joking about the week’s events, everything seemed fine with the world. It was warm and bright in the bar, and my sense of dread had completely gone. Had I known what was to come, however, then I probably would have been feeling very different indeed…

Things seemed fairly normal for a while after that. I came back to work after the weekend, got on with my job, tried to put what I’d seen (or thought I’d seen, anyway) out of my mind. My job had some perks, one of which is that the Department would pay for an eye test and new glasses if you needed them, so I got that done. The optometrist said that my eyes hadn’t deteriorated at all in the five years since my previous eye test, but it was probably time for a new pair of glasses anyway. About a month after the last incident, I was heading to the gym after work, so I headed to the bathroom to get changed so I could run there. We’d turned out most of the lights, but it wasn’t dark yet outside so the place was still well-enough lit to see in, although not nearly as bright as with the lights on. Because the public reception area was shut for the day due to the time, I used the public bathroom attached to the waiting area to put on my gym clothes. I put my earbuds in, and cranked up the volume on my MP3 player, getting myself in the mood for the run, when I heard screaming.

It’s hard to describe exactly how it sounded – It was definitely female, but it sounded raw, like it came from a throat full of razorblades, if that makes any sense. It sounded impossibly loud and close, but at the same time like it was coming from miles away. I yanked out my earbuds, unlocked the door and sprinted out into the waiting room, fully expecting to see someone being murdered.

It was deserted. Completely empty, not a soul in sight. I looked around slowly, listening hard, trying to see or hear what had been screaming. I turned back towards the public bathroom from which I’d come, and I could see the mirror and myself in it – and I could see something dark looming over my shoulder.

I spun on the spot, bracing myself as I did so – but there was nothing there. I looked back to the mirror, but whatever had been there a second ago was gone. I scrambled for my swipe access cards, used them to open the door to the back part of the office, and ran in there, where my boss was sitting at his desk, packing up for the day. “Did you hear that!?” I half-shouted. He looked confused. “Hear what?”. “I heard someone screaming.” He got up quickly, and we walked into the waiting room, both listening hard. After minute, he turned to me. “I didn’t hear anything, (My Name),” he said. “Are you OK? you’ve seemed a little… off lately.” To his credit, my boss looked genuinely concerned. He was easily the best manager we’d ever had, and really looked after all of his staff. “If you need some time off, just let me know, you have plenty of leave saved up…” He left the offer hanging. “I… I don’t know.” I replied “I’ll let you know.” I turned, and headed for the lifts. The sense of unease and dread I had felt was back, and much harder to shake this time. What the hell was I seeing, or hearing? And what the hell could I do about it?

Like I said earlier, had this stuff happened all at the same time, I probably would have bailed on my job and tried to find somewhere else. For God knows what reason though, I decided to stick it out, see if things would get better. Benefits of hindsight, right?

Things started getting worse from there. I’d get chills walking through parts of the office, or while sitting at my desk. I put in requests to the property service to have the air-conditioning looked at, and everything came back as normal. The lights above my desk would flicker occasionally, no matter how many different bulbs I had maintenance swap out. I’d see shapes moving in dark corners on the edge of my vision, and they’d be gone when I turned to face them. My health started to deteriorate, I was jumpy and tired a lot, losing weight, and my workmates were noticing the change. I wasn’t sleeping well, my dreams were plagued by shapes moving in the darkness, just out of my line of sight. I had to leave the lights on at home when I tried to sleep, I was too scared of what would happen if I awoke in the dark.

As I mentally and physically grew weaker thanks to stress and worry about what was happening, whatever was chasing me seemed to get stronger, more real somehow. I started noticing details in the darkness – long, lank black hair, for example- nothing clear or corporeal enough for me to be able to give a real idea of an appearance, but enough to make me shudder, thinking about possibilities. More than once, I felt the brush of impossibly cold fingers across my shoulder, turning to find nobody there.

I almost quit several times, thinking back now I don’t know why the hell I didn’t just up and leave. I think I might have stayed out of a sense of misguided pride, I wanted to show I was tougher than whatever was tormenting me, or at least to find out why it was only targeting me. Nobody else had any issues at all, and they couldn’t understand my misgivings about being alone when I was at work now. I did try to look into the building’s history, but everything came up a blank. No skeletons in the closet, no suicides, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary at all. It made no sense, dammit!

Everything was about to come to a head, however, as we neared the Christmas season. One of the traditions of the workplace was a team photo every year. We would all get dressed up in our best to have the photo professionally taken, and then the photo would be blown up and hung out back. This year, though… They didn’t hang the photo. The day came and went as normal, we lined up together and had the photo taken, the photographer left, and we went about our day as normal. A week went by, and I came into work one morning, to find the team surrounding my boss’ desk, looking at something on it. As I entered, the team looked up from what was on the desk as one, and all looked towards me at the same time. Something was wrong, I could tell. Some of their faces showed puzzlement, some showed confusion, and more than a few showed some fear. Without a word, they filed away from the desk and went off to their own stations, with my Boss beckoning to me to come over.

On his desk was an A3 sized photo – the team photo. He gestured for me to take a look, and I did, naturally seeking myself out from the bunch. I had been sitting in a chair at the front row, so it was fairly easy to find myself. But, when I did… everything went cold. “What the hell is with this, (My Name)?” my boss asked, his voice quavering slightly. Whereas everyone else in the photo was completely normal and smiling brightly, my face was almost indescribable. When the photo had been taken I was smiling like everyone else, but here, here it looked like you were looking at my face through a fishbowl. I was distorted, stretched out. I looked in pain, my mouth stretched much wider than it would naturally go, eyes slightly crazed. And that wasn’t even the worst part.

There was something standing behind me. Again, to the eye it was nothing more distinct than a dark shape; no details could be made out but the way it loomed over me, it was… meanacing, malevolent even. The hair on the back of my neck rose as I looked at the photo. “I don’t have a clue, (boss’ name). Something up with the camera lens maybe?” I had considered telling him the truth, that there was something that seemed to be after me, but that’s a good way to end up as ‘the crazy guy’ in the office. As things were, I wasn’t even completely sure that I wasn’t already the crazy guy. The photo went in the bin.

The next day, I found myself posted to a different part of the office – the banking room. For security purposes, the banking room was completely internal & windowless, with swipe-card access in from the back area of the office. Once inside, the doors would lock magnetically, and you had to push a button on the wall in order to release the locks to get out. My boss thought some time away from the counter would do me some good, and he’d arranged for an appointment with work-provided counselling services for me. An hour or so into the day, I felt a chill settle into the room. I looked at the thermostat on the wall, and was surprised to see it unchanged. Then, the lights began to flicker. They flicked on and off, on and off again. I spun on my chair, looking for a cause, but finding none. I spun back towards the desk – and came face to face with a nightmare.

The dark shape was on the desk. I recoiled in horror, pushing my chair back to the opposite wall, trying to put some distance between myself and it, but the room was small, and I hit the shelves lining the wall behind me, tumbling to the floor as I did so. For the first time ever, I could clearly see detail in the darkness, which would seem to solidify for a split second after the lights flickered off, and then fade in the light when they came back on again. The figure was a girl. At least, it was the semblance of a girl, she could have been anywhere between 16 and 50. She was crouched in a squatting position on the desk, knees near her head, hands on the flat desktop, long hair hanging down over her features. She seemed to be looking past me, but then the head turned – slowly, ever so slowly – and her gaze met mine. Oh, god, those eyes! They were entirely black, but in different shades, so you could make out the different parts – where the white would normally be, the iris, the pupils. Those eyes were full of madness, of hatred; and of hunger – the perverse, unsettling hunger of a thing that desired something sitting just outside it’s grasp.

A single tear rolled down my quivering cheek as I looked up towards this horror. With every flicker of the light, she seemed to grow more solid, more real; as if feeding off the darkness and my fear in turn. Her grin crept slowly, hungrily across her face, impossibly wide, and the eyes grew more crazed and viscious and larger in turn. She opened her mouth, baring long, sharp teeth, and looked as if she was trying to say something, but all that came from her throat was a hungry, dangerous growl – like nails on a chalkboard. I tried to call out in turn, but nothing came from my throat – nothing except a pathetic, frightened whimper.

Without taking my gaze from that nightmarish face, I struggled to get my feet under me. I didn’t dare look away, for fear she would be upon me. I’d seen how fast this thing could move in the darkness. staying as close to the wall as I could, I backed slowly, ever so slowly away, towards the door. Her gaze followed me, as she cocked her head slightly to the side, as if trying to figure out what I was doing. As I reached the door, I fumbled behind me for the button that would release the magnetic lock, and hopefully release me from the confines of the suddenly oppressively small room. I reached for it – and my hand hit the light switch.

The room plunged into darkness. I froze, all of a sudden feeling hot, wet, stinking breath on the back of my neck. It smelled like death and decay and corruption, and somehow of an aching, burning hunger. “MINE…NOW…” a voice rasped in my ear. I found the ability to scream, as pain shot through my body.

I don’t remember much of what happened next, for which I’m truly grateful. I think my brain has tried to block some of it out. My colleagues heard my screams and came running. They found me in the corner of the room, flailing my bleeding arms and gibbering madly. An ambulance was called, and I was sedated and taken to hospital. I had deep scratches all over my arms and torso, and bite marks on my wrists. The doctors decided that I’d had some sort of psychotic break and done it myself, because after all – who else could have done it? There was nobody in the room with me when I was found. I tried to point out that the bites didn’t look like my teeth, and that there was no blood or skin under my nails, but they didn’t listen.

The wounds eventually healed and became scars. My boss – good guy that he is – arranged for me to work for a separate part of the department, one in the brand new, well lit building. I remained in touch with some of my former workmates, although some of them now regarded me -perhaps not too wrongly of them – as a freak.

Since that day, I’ve never let myself be in the dark without at least some form of illumination. Most of the time I’ll stay in brightly-lit rooms, or outside in the sunshine. She can’t get to me in the light, and although she’s strong, she’s not yet strong enough to come out of the darkness. I think she wants to get me, and if she managed to catch me and finish me off, then maybe she’ll be strong enough to walk in the light.

So you see it’s not the dark that I’m afraid of. Not at all. It’s what lurks in the dark, watching, waiting; that’s what terrifies me. I think that she’s from somewhere beyond, somewhere behind the darkness, and was trying to get from there to here.

And I think that somehow, I let her in.

Credit To – Abtrogdor

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The Advent Calendar

December 25, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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It was the Christmas of 1965, before man had landed on the moon, before the wall had fallen, before many things good and bad. For me it was the last time that I knew innocence, before the creeping shadow which engulfed my family, before the madness, before death; before. It was the advent calendar, that damned thing which I had to have. Each door a promise of Christmas, and each window a misted reminder of the warmth and kindness of the festive season.

I was nine years old, and while the parents in my neighbourhood would have had no fears for their children in the past, allowing them to play freely in the icy December streets, those days were lost like breath on a mirror. If snow had fallen, there would have been no joy; no snowball fights in the darkened evenings, no sledges sliding carefree down the fields nearby – children could not be children. Though the young may have felt apprehension in the dark, it was the parents who were the most fearful; terrified of the ultimate loss, a pain they could never extinguish.

For the previous three Christmases, without fail, the worst had happened: a child had went missing. While I was very young, I remember it all as though it were yesterday. The suburb where we lived had become the most sombre of places. Such a tragedy can do that, slowly draining away any hope or happiness from a community like blood from an open wound. No Christmas tree nor carol sang could stem the flow.

The first to disappear was Tommy Graham. He was 11 years old and although I had seen him around, I didn’t really know him personally. I remember my mother crying about it. Just the thought of something terrible happening to a child distressed her greatly, and the pain that the parents must have been going through was often on her lips. That Christmas my dad held on to me tighter than he had ever done before, and I could tell that they were affected terribly by the disappearance just as the rest of the community had been. The following year, another Christmas came and another child was taken. Her name was Cheryl, and she was only four years old; tiny and fragile. Tears were shed, misplaced rage vented towards the police who were unable to find her, and by New Year it was the commonly held view that, like Tommy the year before, little Cheryl would never be found.

I, like many of my friends, had been scared by the vanishing children. It was the first time that I became aware that adults could do harm, even to the most vulnerable of us – that children were not always safe, and that those bigger and stronger than us could have unspeakable things on their minds. Yes, I had heard the fairy tales and frightening stories of the pied piper and the bogeyman, but what was going on in our suburb was far more gut wrenching, far more real, than any tall tale.

Despite this impact, it was not until the third child disappeared that I was truly heartbroken. His name was Fin, and he was one of my friends, a close one at that. We lived on the same street, playing football in a field by his house and walking to and from school together each day. My dad used to take us to the cinema most Sundays, buying us each a hotdog, and, when we got home, mum would serve us a beautiful Sunday roast. Fin was like part of the family, and I still think about him to this day. Where would he have been now? What would he have done with his life? How diminished have we been not knowing that boy or the adult he would have become. No laughs, no tears together, just an empty seat in the cinema, a vacant desk in the classroom. I remember his blue eyes and blond hair more than anything for some reason, that and his happy-go-lucky nature. I missed him then, and even now I wish that it were not true.

Like the others, Fin had been snatched from his bed as he slept on that most peaceful of nights – Christmas Eve. His parents had tucked him in, hanging his stocking over the fireplace, kissing his forehead, whispering a Merry Christmas as he fell asleep. They woke expecting to hear the excited scampering footsteps of their son rushing down the stairs to see what Santa had brought, what wrapped secret boxes he had left by the tree; and instead were confronted with an empty bed, the loss of their only child, and an open window sucking in the biting frost of Christmas day.

The parents of all three children would not let go – could not – nor would they assume the worst. Search parties were organised, flyers were continually posted through letterboxes, pasted onto bulletin boards and shop windows across the city, and the hope was always there that somehow, somewhere, the three children would be found, unharmed, and ready to come home. That year, on the 28th of November 1965, all hope was extinguished. In an old sewage pipe across town, the crumpled fragile bodies of Tommy, Cheryl, and dear Fin, were found stuffed unceremoniously into a corroded pipe in an old sewer, rotting in the waters below. The pain was palpable, the families inconsolable, and for all of us who new any of the victims, it was to be a bleak and shadow-ridden Christmas.

Three days later the month turned. Eyes moved towards Christmas and the shaking fear that something cruel and callous lived amongst us all. Three children in three years, now into the fourth. What would happen that Christmas Eve? Which family would be broken? Which child torn from its comfy warm bed, dreaming of Santa, only to be killed and discarded like a piece of fetid waste?

My parents were nervous, and who could blame them. I sensed the change in atmosphere around the streets where I usually played; families pulling their children in earlier and earlier before the dark came. At night, on more than one occasion, I heard hammering echoing out from an unseen source; no doubt windows being nailed shut to prevent any more children being snatched as they slept.

On the 1st of December my dad hung our Christmas lights outside along the gutter of our roof; little beads of glowing colour piercing through each cold winter night. We tried to continue on as normal and think of happier times. As always, he asked me to help.

‘You’re my wingman, kiddo’, he’d say from behind his bright red scarf, clambering up a set of wooden ladders to the roof above. He had flown for the air-force before I was born and still used the lexicon of those days in the military, but I didn’t mind, it made me feel special.

In previous years I had been too small, too young to be of any real use in decorating the outside of our home. But my dad always included me. I think he just liked to do things with me, to have some father son time. Standing at the bottom of the ladders looking up at him whistling Christmas songs out loud made me feel part of the accomplishment, part of the yearly celebrations. That December was different, however; it was the first time I was big enough to go up the ladders with him, to look out at the old street below and see the occasional blink from a weathered set of lights clinging to a neighbour’s fence or home.

My mum was terrified – she had visions of us both falling to our death – but my dad always seemed sure of himself. Not arrogant, just confident, and cheerfully reminding us all that things would be okay. Looking back, I think that’s what I loved about him the most when I was a kid, the fact that he had it all in hand, and did everything to reassure his family and friends. I never felt in danger up those ladders, always loved, always safe; always. Before we came down I remember looking at the rooftops poking out in regimented lines from the streets around. I noticed that the world seemed different from up there, and that to me, there appeared to be fewer Christmas lights than ever before.

That night, I knew what was coming. My mum tucked me into my bed, as my dad finished hanging some paper ring decorations from my bedroom ceiling. I always felt that those decorations protected me somehow. I’d stir in the night, scared of the dark, and yet at Christmas time I believed that somehow those pieces of coloured paper, that blinking Christmas tree in the other room; that those symbols, those pieces of good will would keep whatever monstrosities hid in the dark at bay. My mum kissed me on the forehead and left the room, and there was my dad, standing in the corner with his hands behind his back, smiling.

‘Well, wingman, you know what time it is?’ he said as we both began to chuckle.

‘Let me see, dad, please!’ I yelled, excited.

From behind his back he produced an advent calendar. I leapt for joy across the room and hugged him before snatching it from his hands and diving back under the covers. Sitting down on the bed, dad ruffled my hair with his fingers, watching me curiously. He knew I loved getting an advent calendar each Christmas, and I had worried that I wouldn’t get one that year as he’d told me that most of the shops were sold out of them. But, dad being dad, he’d spent hours driving around until he found one, and made sure that on the night of December the 1st, the first night of advent, there it was.

The calendar was beautiful, handmade with carefully crafted drawings on its front and back. The lines and sketched colours lovingly showed a Christmas street full of lights, with houses covered in snow, and the windows beaming with a warm yellow glow waiting for the night Santa would arrive. What I loved about each year’s advent calendar, the good ones at least, was that they told a story. They showed something wonderful happening. Each door or window would be opened night upon night revealing a picture, building until that magical climax of Christmas. I loved the anticipation of the holidays, and the advent calendar symbolised the hopes that Christmas held; not just presents, although as a child that was a big part of it, but spending time with my family, seeing my grandparents who usually lived in another part of the country, and getting to eat all the chocolates and turkey I could cram into my mouth. Getting to be away from the boredom of school, getting to play with new toys, getting to have fun with my friends…
It was the thought of friends which brought me down for a moment. There I was holding an advent calendar, each cardboard door numbered from 1-24; from the 1st of December until Christmas Eve. The same night that one year previous, my dear friend Fin had been taken, murdered, and left to rot down a sewer.

I began to cry, and almost instinctively my dad seemed to know what was upsetting me. He asked about Fin, and when he mentioned his name I sobbed deeper than I had since his death. My poor friend who would never again go on those carefree days out with me and dad, or walk alongside me to school laughing and playing. It was then that my father explained to me something about death, words which have always stayed with me:

‘You know something,kiddo? As long as you keep the memory of the people you’ve lost in your mind and in your heart, they’ll always be alive. They’ll always be with you; so Fin is right here’, he said, pointing to my chest gently.

With those words I felt a soothing comfort wash over me, and, all cried out, my dad tucked me into bed, kissed me on the head and said goodnight – knowing to leave my bedroom door open slightly, to let some light from the hall keep my room from the dark.

He had left the advent calendar sitting nearby, its closed windows facing me from my nightstand. And yet I was exhausted, and so my thoughts drifted from what lay behind those cardboard doors to sleep, and hopefully to a more rested state of mind; but that did not occur. I woke in the night from an horrendous dream about my friend Fin, little four year old Cheryl, and 11 year old Tommy Graham, crushed down a sewer pipe; the water running over their bodies into mouths which once spoke and laughed and smiled, only then to be rendered silent by an unseen brutal hand. In the darkness Fin’s voice cried out, garbled and drowned. A word came forth and clung to me like no other: ‘run’.
I leapt out from my bed, soaked in sweat, ready to cry out for my mum and dad, but then something strange caught my attention, shaking me to the core. I looked to the advent calendar, to the drawings of cosy houses covered in snow, their windows beaming out into the cold December night; sitting there waiting almost as I had left it. Yet something was amiss, something which I had no memory of – the first advent door had been opened, the cardboard left ajar like the one to my room. Stepping forward, the sweat dripped from my hand as I pulled the door back to reveal what secrets the calendar had in store for me.

In what little light there was, I squinted, my mind slowly piecing together the picture behind door number one. As my eyes adjusted, I recoiled in horror at the sight, and screamed for my family. Within seconds the light was on and my dad appeared, picking me up, consoling me as he put me back into bed. I pointed feverishly over to the calendar, telling him that something awful hid behind the door. Of course he looked, then smiled reassuringly: ‘It’s just a happy Christmas scene, kiddo’, he said handing it to me.

Looking closely I could see that the picture had changed slightly. It depicted an old stone bridge covered in snow. Children played on top of it happily. Yes, it appeared quite harmless, quite serene. My father left and soon I was drifting back to sleep. Yet my mind hazed over with two thoughts: of Fin screaming ‘run’ in my dream, and of what I could have sworn I’d seen in that first little calendar door. The bridge was there, but underneath in the dark, eyes looked out to the children playing gleefully above; eyes which seemed wracked with rage and hate.

The next day at school went quickly, but on my way home I dragged my feet over the bitter frozen concrete paths and pavements, thinking of Fin and how he had always walked with me. As my house came into view, I smiled for a moment at the lights dad and I had hung on the roof. They warmed my spirits, but when I entered my room, my soul was chilled stagnant once more – the next advent calendar door had been opened. This time I knew, I hadn’t been there to do such a thing in my sleep as I had assumed must have happened the night before. No, someone had opened it. I touched the yellow number 2 of the cardboard door, a number which should have promised a treat or a happy picture reminding me that Christmas was near. I hesitated and then looked behind it. Another street scene played out before me. This time a small boy pulled a red sledge behind him as other children threw snowballs at each other, grinning wide and happy. At first I sighed with relief that the picture had no hidden intruder, no eyes staring out of the darkness in contempt; but just as I sat the calendar back down onto my nightstand, I saw it. The faint outline of a person looking out towards me, almost invisible, yet hiding within that Christmas scene in plain view, sitting there on the boy’s red sledge.

I closed my eyes and rubbed them, fearful that they might reaffirm the figure’s presence once more when opened. But just as the darkened eyes had disappeared from under the bridge on the 1st of December, the faint outline of the unseen pretender had moved on from the picture. I knew that no one would believe me, and even worse I barely believed it myself. My nine year old mind could not comprehend such strange and ominous occurrences, yet I was not so removed from the idea of horrid things scuttling around in the dark; creatures which even parents could not protect you from. The figure had moved on, I was certain of it, and I knew that it must have travelled and hid behind the door for the 3rd of December.

The next morning, I told myself that I would not open any of the closed doors from the advent calendar. I promised myself. Yet someone, something, was doing it for me. That night I awoke in the darkness once more. The same dream playing out, poor Fin muffled and drowned by the putrid sewage water. Crying out in the dark. Crying out, and yet warning, pleading. ‘Run’, he said. ‘Run’. Again, I leapt from my bed, and once more the calendar door for that day had been opened by an unseen force. There in the dark I looked, compelled by the fear of not looking. The terror of not knowing what was to come. For in that 3rd picture it became clear to me, something was on its way. Something unspeakable was plotting and slowly but surely drawing closer. Behind that door lay another Christmas scene, families skating on a beautiful iced lake, and under that transparent barrier between the cold air and the icy water, there was a shape. Darkened, indefinite, but malevolent, a blurred form under the ice, eyes staring up in disgust at the families who happily skated above.

I screamed again, and yet the results were all too familiar. My mum and dad arrived tired, yet never annoyed at their child for waking them in the night. Mum put me into bed, and as she did so I explained frantically to them both that something was appearing in the advent calendar, that each door held proof of something which meant to do me harm. Yet there was no evidence of it, only three open doors showing happiness and fun at Christmas. Dad said I was having bad dreams, and that he and mum would sit with me for a while until I fell asleep. I heard them whispering about work in the morning, but they were more concerned about me than losing a few hours of rest.

The next day, again, I tried to ignore the advent calendar; tried desperately to avoid its doors. And again, I failed. In the night I awoke from the same hideous dream, and yet this time, the calendar was not open. The door with a yellow number four remained closed. I hoped that whatever strange thing was in those pictures had left, that I could forget the hateful haunting eyes, and that I could return to simply enjoying the anticipation of Christmas; but just as I nodded pack to sleep, happier than I had been since they had first found Fin’s body, I heard something – the sound of a thumb or finger pulling at cardboard. I opened my eyes and stared in utter disbelief as the fourth door was pulled open by an invisible hand in the dark.

It is strange that I did not scream, but since then I have heard people say that when you are as scared as you can possibly be, that you cannot move, nor can you cry out for help. I opened my mouth, and no noise came, a paralysis of fear which was overpowering. There I lay in the night, staring wide-eyed at the fourth door, wondering what disturbing depiction it would reveal, and even more so, terrified that whatever had opened it still lurked nearby.

I wish I could say that it stopped, that the horrid revelations ceased, but I cannot. Some nights the dreams of Fin yelling at me to run came, but on others they did not. The only constant was that at some point a calendar door would be opened, whether in the morning or at night. Each door would show a happy scene, and each time something hideous, which only I could see, would be momentarily present. One door showed a group of carolers cheerfully singing at night, warmed by the glow of an open window, and at the rear there stood an outline, something watching, something waiting, something moving on relentlessly to Christmas Eve – the last door. Another picture showed a small girl, no older than poor Cheryl who had been killed, placing presents into a stocking, and yet for a moment there was the faintest impression of a hand, reaching out from the stocking towards the girl.

By the 20th the horrific pictures had intensified, as too had the dreams. Fin now screamed my name, his voice echoing up through a drain, pleading with me to ‘get away’. And as those nightly terrors revealed themselves, the pictures had taken on more weight, more immediacy, for I was certain that they now showed the street where I lived. My dad found me crying that night and when asked what was wrong, I told him. I believed that there was something evil coming. Something horrendous which had snatched a child each of the previous three Christmas Eves. The same evil which had taken my friend. That hidden horror which on Christmas Eve would come for me.

Dad reassured me that this was not the case, that I was imagining things. When he looked at the pictures on the calendar he just saw nondescript streets, anonymous faces, nothing which suggested the place where we lived. But I saw differently; the drawings clearly showed house by house, inch-by-inch, that something was drawing nearer each day, fleeting glimpses of a faint figure waiting to gorge itself once more. My dad offered to throw the advent calendar away if it was upsetting me so much, but I pleaded with him not to. I needed to know. I had to see what was coming, what was on its way to snatch me from my family as it had done the other children.

The 21st, 22nd, and 23rd of December were torturous. While I should have been excited for Christmas day, I was not – I was terrified, for I knew that I would never live to see it. The calendar door on the 21st, opened by something unseen while I slept, showed a house come into view, one with glowing lights hung around the roof gutter, and the faint outline of something terrible approaching nearby. I was certain that the house was mine, and that the light which beamed outward onto the snowy landscape was from my family. Though as I peered out into the night from my window, there was no snow in reality, just a biting wind and a frost which covered everything like a shroud. I could not see a figure out there, but I felt it, somewhere close, just waiting for Christmas Eve.

On the 22nd, the figure drew closer to our home as the snow fell around it in the advent calendar, and on the 23rd the prowler had reached the gate to our garden. That night I had such a terrible vision. In my dream I found myself lying in the dark. I could not see, and all that surrounded me was the empty coldness of winter. Pain coursed through my body and the sound of running water pushed over it, forcing me deeper into an abandoned drain. Putting out my hand instinctively, my fingers touched the frozen mouth of another child. Slowly it moved against my hand, and its stagnant lips whispered as if weakened. ‘Run. Get away.’

I did not wake screaming, nor did I leap from my bed as I had the other nights like an animal fleeing from a predator. There I lay in the silence of the night, and in that stillness, I cried. The paper chains and decorations my family had hung from my room’s ceiling proved no protection from the pain or from the thoughts of the three children, how they had been taken, and how I would be next.

And then the day had come: Christmas Eve. I was frightened, but a distance took me, one which slowed my words and left me dispassionate about the festive season, about my family. I wish I had not been that way and had savoured every moment I had left, but I was drained, numbed by the lurking fear which had haunted me for weeks. Tired of it all. A strain which no nine year old should have had to bear.

My dad knew that I wasn’t my usual self, as I normally relished Christmas Eve like most children, excited and completely enthused for what would come. But there I was outside in the cold, helping him fix part of the lights which had come unhooked in the wind. I watched my dad on the ladders once more, the wind rattling everything around – the slates on the roof, the trees, the gutter. I thought about how Fin’s family, or little Cheryl’s or even Tommy Graham’s, would have been preparing for Christmas day like we were, happily unaware of the loss they were about to undergo. At least I knew, I had foresight, each hideous picture hinting at that faint figure coming closer and closer to my home; to open my window as I slept waiting for Christmas morning. To snatch me from my bed, to slaughter me, discarding my body down a sewer pipe, used and forgotten. As the wind howled and the lights chinked and jingled together, I looked back at the gate to our garden, to where I had last seen my future attacker. I could see nothing, just an empty street on the quietest night of the year, but in that absence I could feel eyes bearing into me.

My dad climbed down the ladder whistling merrily to himself, and as I looked up at him I simply asked, matter-of-factly, if he would nail my window shut. He didn’t ask why, he knew many parents had done the same, and so we went inside as the evening rolled in, carried by the promise of frost from the outskirts of the city. Dad got his toolbox out and drove a large series of nails into the frame of the window. Once I was confident that there was no way to open it, I thanked him and asked if he would do one more thing for m; only one – to sit next to my bed all night and look over me until morning. Unlike the other nights, he did not tell me that there was no monstrosity out there, nor did he say that the world was a safe place, for that would have been a lie. He placed his hand gently on my shoulder and said: ‘If you need me, I’ll sit right here until it’s time to open the presents.’

And sit there he did. My mother came in to kiss me on the head before returning back to the kitchen where she was preparing things for the dinner next day. I so wanted to see it. Presents meant nothing to me by that night, all I cared about was being there at the family table, laughing with Gramps and Gran, and knowing that the nightmare of December, 1965, was over. I fell asleep as my dad sat by the bed, reading his book.

It must have been two or three in the morning when I woke. I was unsure of the precise time, but what I knew was that my dad was standing at my window, looking down, out to the street below. I whispered to him and asked what was wrong, but his reply was hesitant: ‘Nothing, kiddo. Go back to sleep’.

Then I heard it, certain and laboured. The sound of footsteps slowly walking up our garden path outside, shambling forward towards our home. The sound frightened me, and my thoughts immediately turned to the advent calendar, to the faint outlined figure which had haunted me. From what little light there was I could see that the door for Christmas Eve was sealed shut, yet to be opened.

The footsteps continued, one after the other, slowly, steadily. My dad stared intently outside as I asked if he could see anyone there, but he just shook his head in disbelief. The footsteps ceased and silence covered everything like the frost outside. Suddenly it was broken by three loud booming knocks. It was at our door. I cried out in terror and started sobbing.

‘It’s come to take me dad, like Fin and the others!’ I howled in utter despair as the tears slid down my cheek.

‘Nonsense. It must just be a neighbour or something’, my dad said unconvincingly.

‘No dad, it’s here to take me away!’ I screamed as I handed the calendar to him. ‘Open the last door, open it and you’ll see. Christmas Eve, each Christmas Eve it takes a child and if you open that you’ll see it, I promise, you’ll see it!’

Three more loud knocks echoed out, and for the first time in my life I saw fear flicker across my dad’s face as I could hear my mum stirring from her room, shouting through asking what was going on.
Three knocks once more, this time more pronounced.

‘Please dad, look at the door, open it and you’ll believe me. It’s here for me.’

My father’s hand trembled as it held the calendar tightly. Slowly, he opened the last door to see what was shown. ‘God no!’ he yelled out, and with that we heard the most hideous of sounds. One which was laced with dread. A click of a lock. The turning of a handle. And the front door opening to the cold. Then, footsteps climbing stairs, looking, seeking, and then slowly coming down the hall towards my room.
‘Dad please, help me!’ I pleaded as the nightmarish thing in our house drew closer.

He looked at me, trying his best to hide his fear, but I could see it etched into his face, into his soul.

‘Listen to me son, as soon as I go out there I need you to grab all your things, anything heavy, and barricade your door. Don’t let anyone in this room unless it’s me or your mother’.

I believe in that moment he saw the utter despair in my eyes, and before he left the room as the footsteps reached the room next to mine, he spoke gently, patting me on the head. ‘It’ll be okay’, he said. Then he was gone.

I did as he said, and as soon as he had left the room I moved my nightstand, my chair, my books, anything I could against the door, sobbing my eyes out, praying that my parents were safe. At first I heard nothing throughout our house. Then suddenly violent shouting erupted, a struggle quickly followed with what sounded like furniture being thrown and glass smashed, and then the worst of it – my mother screaming. She cried and yelled and agonised. And finally, I could not bear it anymore. I could not leave her alone. Clearing the things away from my door, I opened it, and wandered down the darkened hall. A cold icy air blew through the house. The front door lay open, decorations swung in the frozen breeze, and outside knelt my mother, alone, terrified, screaming into the night.

Losing a parent is hard for a child, and to do so on Christmas Eve harder still. Yet the torture of that night cuts deeper than most. Few can know my true pain. Over the years I have tried to understand it more clearly, understand what my life was before and what it is now, to little avail. I cannot give solid explanations, nor can I say that my anger will ever truly diminish. I’ve tried to live as best I can, putting the mystery out of my mind each year, each year that is, until Christmas. When the memories flood back like a comforting blanket, soon torn away by a silent hand from the dark. My own children, now grown up, have asked me why I become a little distant at this time of year, and to that I have given no real answer. All I can say is this: I do know two things, both of which haunt me to this day. The first is that no one ever saw or heard from my dad again, my mother remained tight-lipped until she died about what had come into our house that night – what took her husband – and who can blame her. I also know what the last door of the advent calendar contained, and what had frightened my dad so badly. It was a drawing like the others, a happy Christmas scene, with one horrid addition. It showed a boy sleeping soundly in his bed on Christmas Eve; a child who looked uncannily like my poor friend Fin, unaware that his life would soon be over, and that he was being watched through the frosted window by his killer – whose face looked remarkably like that of my father’s.

***
If you enjoyed this story, please consider checking out my books on Amazon. Sorry for the self-promotion but it can be difficult to get the word out there. Thanks as always, everyone.

Credit To – Michael Whitehouse

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