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Cancer Staging for Beginners

May 17, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I tried not to notice it. I pretended it wasn’t there. I wore long sleeve shirts, and I never looked down. If I didn’t think about it, I hoped, it would cease to exist.

But I couldn’t forget it. At night my arm would throb in bed like the stain in the Scottish play. Spots don’t come out.

Wednesday I decided to actually look at my arm for the first time a little over two weeks and, upon close inspection, any thought of a future as a non amputee ended. The thick black circle I had been trying to pretend wasn’t there just was, was actually completely there, in a very present kind of way. Inches below the center of my bicep, it was the size of a Krispy Kreme donut with same sort of strange shine to it. A slightly raised appearance almost suggested it was swelling inside. The edges were rounded, not erratic like the pictures melanomas I had found on that evening’s increasingly ragged image searches. But what else would it be?

I didn’t want to call my doctor. I didn’t even have a doctor. Just a clinic, where I saw a rotating cast of semi qualified residents who toiled for low wages, solved mundane problems and lost sleep. I didn’t want to make an appointment there and have to talk to somebody.

I didn’t want to see what someone’s face looks like when I’m being told I’m going to die.

Hopelessness has limits, so I finally called to make an appointment. The scheduler asked me why i needed to see the doctor and, in a moment of horrified honesty, I mumbled that I had a growth on my left arm. Like a black donut. Giant.

She interrupted me- “Which arm? Left or right?”

“Left.”

“Please hold.”

The line went to something classical. Cellos and violas and a feeling of disconnect.

“Still there?”

“Still here.”

“Look, the doctor has a recommendation for you. A specialist for things like this.”

The oncologist’s office was right on the edge of a bus line, on the edge of gentrification. The elevators in the lobby had cones in front of them and signs suggesting they were no longer working. The lights flickered, making it feel like a stop motion movie. I took the stairs to the 3rd floor.

The waiting room was crowded, with barely enough seats for everyone, and the temperature was insane. High 50s? I thought I saw someones breath.

I looked at my phone mindlessly while waiting to get called back. I thought I would have had issuance forms to fill out, so I hadn’t brought a book, but I wasn’t given anything. I just said who I was and they told me to sit down. I didn’t sign a thing.

My arm kept spasming. I was in long sleeves to cover it up, which was awful. The Fourth of July was only two days away.

Everyone else, I realized, was wearing long sleeves too. I told myself they had simply dressed appropriately. The place was arctic, after all. They all knew that. Except the girl behind me, at the desk, she said it was her first visit…

I looked over at her, trying not to be noticed. She was wearing a cardigan.

My name got called. I stood and followed the nurse to the examining room.

It was standard white, with the scale and the table and the biohazard trash. There was a mirror and a window behind me. My arm was pulsing, like a second heart.

The nurse barely spoke to me, just told me to sit on the table and the doctor would be in soon. She was starting to walk out and she hadn’t asked any questions. I asked if she wanted to see my arm.

She looked– repulsed. “No. The doctor wil look at that,” and she hurried out, into the room almost directly across the hall.

She didn’t close the door completely shut behind her. I could see her walk into the room across from mine in the reflection of my room’s mirror. In the other room was the girl in the cardigan. Except she had taken it off.

I couldn’t see everything in the room, but I could see scraps of image, the nurse walking back and forth, the girl’s shoulders. Her arm. And the growth on her left arm.

It was like mine. The same size, the same deep black almost purple color, that jelly like seeming consistency. I could feel it throbbing like mine.

I heard footsteps down the hall, watched as a lab coat slid into her room. I expected to hear that low HPPA murmur as soon as he stepped in but, no. Nothing. I heard her start to talk and then in the mirror I saw a knife.

It was bright and shiny and he moved so fast before she could even cry out. I saw the knife go up and down and up and down and a sprinkler turned on for a moment, a dizzy spray of bright scarlet that splashed out in clear, brilliant streams.

And the black thing on her arm opened. An eye was there. Red vein laced, pupils dilated, fluttering back and firth like a seizure patient.

The blood stopped and the blackness returned over the eye, like a lid closing for sleep. I heard the harsh sound of old pipes as a faucet was turned on.

I rushed to the door and pulled it closed. I couldn’t bear to look my arm. It felt like it was trying to run away underneath my sleeve. I grabbed the biohazrd trash can and pressed it against the door, then the examining table.

Someone outside pushed, confirming my hope the door opened inward instead of out. The doorknob rattled; noise mingled with panicked cursing.

It was the third floor, but looking out I could see a dumpster nearly directly under me. I tried the window. The door started slowly opening behind me. The window raised. And I was gone.

The dumpster was full of red bio bags, lumpy, and horrifying. The alley smelled like rot. I climbed out and ran without looking back. I remembered my myths.

I caught a bus 3 blocks away and rode it blankly for almost an hour. I got off in a neighborhood I didn’t know and almost immediately pulled up my sleeve. The growth twitched and flexed. Bright white glimmered and then a strange pink forked thing appeared, moving up and down. And I realized: I didn’t have an eye.

I had a mouth.

And it was hungry.

Credit To – O.H. Manchester

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The Blood Donor

May 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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“Donate Blood. Save Lives. We Pay High.”

On any other day, I wouldn’t give much concern about this sign, but today was especially bad. All I sold today were a handful of packs of cigars. I haven’t had anything to eat all day. It was getting late, and helping save a life should make me feel a bit better.

The sign pointed into a 3-story hospital. The facade of the building was faded, probably a decade old. The interior was well-lit, and nothing seemed unusual about this place. The receptionist seemed glad to see me, and I felt a sense of hospitality, so I entered.

The receptionist, Heather, asked what I was looking for. “I’m looking to donate blood. The sign said you pay high?” I asked, quite excited.

“Yes, sir. 100 dollars a pint. I feel you’re interested. What’s your name, sir?”

“Jose. Jose Mendoza.”

“We’ll be done in under half an hour. Come this way, sir. We’ll get you prepped.” She said as she started walking down the hallway. Happy for a chance of easy money, I followed.

The hallway was empty, but for a late night shift in a small town like this, I guess this was the usual. The walls were painted with a faded shade of red, which was quite appropriate for a procedure like this. Empty rooms lined the hallway left and right, which pointed to a blood bank at the end of the corridor. Large swinging doors closed the room off from non-employees.

Heather led me up a staircase into the 2nd floor. It was like a carbon copy of the 1st, save for the blood bank exchanged for a blood testing room. Again, no sign of human life. We walked through the swinging doors into the blood testing room.

“Jose, this is Dr. Noah and Dr. Williams. They will guide you through the blood donation procedure. You’ll be safe. Take care.” Heather left, not before making an eerie half-smile. I was just thankful to see a bit of legitimacy to this hospital. These doctors seemed to be veterans in the business.

“Mr. Mendoza. Please sit. This won’t take long. We promise.” Dr. Noah said. The man had straight, flowing hair extending to his neck, with a deep, reassuring voice.

“So…Mr. Noah. You need my blood type, medical history, anything? I think I’m a Type C.” I was clueless about these things, not like I was ever able to afford to go to a hospital.

“Oh, don’t worry sir. We’ll figure these things out later. Right now we want you to relax. Feel at home.” Dr. Williams said. She put her arm over Dr. Noah’s shoulder. The two must have been long time co-workers, since they were pretty comfortable with each other.

I took my seat on the blood testing area, which had a left and right hand armrest attached to it. Next to me, on the table, was the biggest syringe I’ve ever seen. Good Lord, I could have fainted right there and then.

Ms. Williams seemed to trace where my eyes gazed at, as she tried to calm me down.

“Sir, don’t be afraid. This would feel like nothing more than a pinch of the skin. Here, put on this blindfold. It should help.”

She wrapped a black piece of cloth around my eyes, snugly fit at the back of my head. Suddenly, all my other senses started to kick in. The smell of iron seemed to be stronger now. This room must have had thousands of donations in the past.

My fingers could feel the dents and scratches on the metal armrests – signs of struggle. This is going to be painful. The touch of cold metal didn’t make me feel any better either.

“Mr. Mendoza, we shall procure the rest of the tools needed for your procedure. In the meantime, sit back and relax. We won’t be out for long.” Ms. Williams said. The two walked out of the room.

A sense of eeriness started to befall upon me. I have no idea how this procedure should go. No personal information was asked from me either. Those half smiles, giggles, signs of excitement, are making me think twice of my decision to enter. But the thought of pocketing 100 dollars and eating a nice Big Mac always counter my doubts.

Wait, did I hear crying?

The entrance door to the area creaked heavily. My ears focus hard. A child, male, seemed to be bawling as he walked in the room.

“Who’s there? What’s happening, kid?” I say, as dread and worry washes over me.

“I..I…I’m thirsty. I think I’m dying.” The child’s voice, was dry, raspy, almost like an elderly man.

“Wha…wha…why don’t you go to any of the doctors?” My fear grew ever higher.

“They can’t help me, only you can.” He was pleading, tugging at my jeans.

“What do you want, kid? Get this blindfold off me, and I can help you.” Not only was I keen on helping this kid, but also on getting out of this eerie place.

“Okay, sir. You promise to help me?”, joy finally accompanied his childish voice. He skipped behind me to remove the knot on my blindfold.

“I promise. What do you want anyway?”

Right before he could answer, the blindfold fell out of my eyes. The 2 doctors walked in. One was holding handcuffs, and the other with dozens of syringes. Then the child whispered into my ear:

“A pint of blood, ice cold, freshly drained. You can give me that, right?”

The monster behind me sneered. The shock froze me on my seat. Paralyzed in fear, the syringes pierced deep, up until every ounce of blood was drained from my body.

The last thing I heard was the monster slurping his delicious drink of blood.

Credit To – Brian Tan

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Little Sarah

May 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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“Come play with me.” That line…it’s a cliché for the horror genre, is it not? You all know what I mean, the unsettling apparition of a child, or maybe just the voice, beckoning to you. What is it about children that gives them the ability to be so damn creepy? Maybe…maybe it’s the fact that, generally speaking, children are helpless and anyone with a nurturing side to their personality wants to help them and care for them. I mean, if any one of us saw a child in trouble, I’m sure we’d rush to help in whatever way we could…and in normal circumstances, if a child said “come play with me” someone might just pass a ball around for a minute or two, maybe play hopscotch. Children are innocent, right? Safe enough to play with a child, right? I’m telling you you’re wrong.

This isn’t something I like to tell people, in fact it’s something only my mother and I know, but over the past few months it’s been building up inside of me…this urge to tell…someone. I need to tell someone what happened, even if it was nearly thirteen years ago.

This isn’t a story I’d consider telling people, but not because I’m afraid they’d think me crazy. I couldn’t give a damn about that. I don’t tell people this because it brings back some pretty painful memories for me, and even now as I’m writing this, it’s hard to talk about.

Anyway…I’ve avoided this long enough, it’s time. When I was a small girl, I lived in a trailer park with my mom and dad. I was an only child, and I had a normal life, for the most part. I don’t remember much. As I said, I was a small child. What I do know is that one night, my mother and father got into a big fight over dinner which resulted in my father throwing whatever my mother had cooked outside the back door and yelling at me, kicking me across the room at one point. The man had a temper, that was no secret, but he wasn’t usually like this, at least not around me. I don’t blame him or hate him for any of this, and to this day I’ll do anything to defend him. I love my father. However, this incident was a turning point for my mother. The next night when my father went to work, my mother told me we were going on a trip. She packed a small bag of my clothes, one of hers, and told me to grab anything else I might want. All I took was a small stuffed cat named Buttons that my father had given me for my first birthday. She called a cab and we went to a motel room for a few days. After that, she told me that we’d be moving into a new home called a “shelter.” She said there’d be other kids there, probably some of them around my age, and that I’d like it there.

She was right about there being other kids my age, and the house was beautiful. It was huge, with a playground out back and lots of room to run around. What I remember most though was the staircase.

I made friends quickly with all the kids there, but the one I liked talking to most was Sarah. Sarah was quiet and she always wore a dress and always stood at the top of the stairs and talked to me. She never did anything else really, and she didn’t talk to anyone else. I never went up to her, I just stood at the bottom and we’d talk like that. Sarah didn’t really like the other kids very much because she said they weren’t like us. She said they didn’t know what it was like to think like us. She didn’t really like that I played with the other kids, but she didn’t try to stop me either. She said she only wanted to play with me.

Not long after moving in, I met three kids that lived in the house next door. One of them was my age, the boy, and the two sisters were a little bit older. My mom said it was a good idea to get out of the house and go play with them for a while, so I did. They invited me to come inside and see their playroom, so of course I did. That sounded awesome! I’d never had a “playroom” of my own…a room especially made for playing? It sounded great!

The room itself was fairly empty except for a toy chest in the corner and several toys strewn on the carpeted floor. The walls were bare white, like the rest of the house, and the windows stood without a curtain just opposite the door. When we were in the playroom, the oldest sister walked over to the window and stared out, shaking her head. “Do you know what happened over there?” she asked. I walked over to where she was and looked to where she was pointing. She was pointing at the shelter, right in the window facing the one in the playroom. I shook my head. What did she mean? What happened there? “Do you wanna know?” She asked me, her brother and sister silent now. I simply nodded, keeping quiet so I could hear the story. “A long time ago, there was a little girl named Sarah who lived there…that was her room,” she said, pointing to the room across from where we stood. “Well…one night there was a fire. No body made it out. She almost did…they said they found her body at the top of the stairs, and that’s where she died.” I felt like I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to look out the window anymore. I couldn’t. “They remodeled the building a couple years ago,” she said, matter of fact.

“Stop being a know it all with your big words!” her brother said.

“Oh…” I said. That’s all I could say. Lucky for me, it was starting to get dark, and my mom came over to bring me back with her. I didn’t want to tell her because she might not let me play with my new friends again. I didn’t want to tell Sarah either. I stayed as far away from the stairs as I could.

The next night, the other family who lived in the house told us she and the kids would be gone for a couple of days. This meant that mom and I were, more or less, alone. I wasn’t feeling well, so a little break from other people would be nice. I laid down on the couch and mom turned the tv on for me, sitting at the other end of the couch. She asked me if I wanted to go upstairs to our room…I said no. I wanted to stay downstairs.

I must have fallen asleep. I can still remember that breathing was hard, my nostrils feeling crusty from running so much during the day. I woke up in the middle of the night to the fire alarm going off. Mom woke up around the same time I did and picked me up, carrying me outside. I heard sirens of fire trucks in the distance. I was pretty out of it when they got there, but I still remember what they said to my mom after they’d gone inside. They’d said “we couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary…I don’t know why the alarm went off.” How could it have been set off by just nothing? My mom said it was “probably just the weather” and took me back inside. I remember as she carried me back to the couch that I saw Sarah standing at the top of the stairs, watching me. I started to cry.

A week later, my mom said she found a new place for us to live, she said it would be our own apartment, not like the shelter. I was relieved…I hadn’t talked to Sarah since those kids told me about her, and I wouldn’t go upstairs alone. I hadn’t seen her since the incident with the fire alarm. However, I would hear her voice sometimes as I lay in bed at night. It was like she was calling out just to me. “Come play with me.”

The new apartment was close to the school I’d be going to kindergarten at and, like mom said, we had our very own place. There were three floors, each with one apartment per floor, and ours was on the very top. For several months, my mother and I lived peacefully in our new apartment, and I began to forget about Sarah. For several months, we were happy. I missed my father and thought about him all the time, but for the most part I was happy here.

Then the nightmares started. Each and every one were the same. It started as simply me lying in bed at night. This made it initially difficult for me to tell if it was a dream or real. In the dream, I would start to drift off…until the smell of smoke came to my nostrils. At this point, I would jump out of bed, coughing slightly, and looking around. I would cry out for my mom and I could hear her calling for me, but I couldn’t get to her. I stayed in the room for the longest time, waiting for my mom or the firemen to come save me. After a while, it became obvious that no one was coming to get me, and I was starting to get light headed. I managed to get out of my bedroom door to see that most of the apartment was engulfed in flames. In the dreams, I only made it to the top of the stairs before I passed out on the floor from breathing in too much smoke. The last thing I hear over the crackling of the fire before I wake is a voice. “Come play with me. I will find someone to play with me.”

The summer before I was to start first grade, my mother announced that we would be moving, yet again, to another town altogether. I wasn’t excited. This meant I’d have to make new friends and start over again. Secretly, part of me hoped it would make the nightmares go away. Mom said that we had until the end of July to move in to the new apartment, but that she wanted me to see it before we moved in. She took us both on a road trip to a town totally unfamiliar to me, and what seemed to be a long way away from what we called home. The town was bigger than what I was used to, and I remember being excited because we passed three playgrounds on the way to the new apartment. She took me inside and we looked around. This place was my favorite of all of them. It had windows everywhere that made it look bright and sunny and above all, happy. I couldn’t wait to move, and I was sad that we couldn’t move in right then and there. After a while, mom said we had to go back home, so we went and the car and drove back the way we’d come. As we pulled onto our street, it didn’t take long to notice that something was wrong. Lined up in front of our building were two fire trucks and a police car, all with lights flashing. My mom parked on the other side of the road and went over, telling me to stay in the car. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I remember staring up at the black smoke still faintly smearing the sky and feeling my blood turn cold. It was coming from our apartment. When mom came back to the car, her face was drained of all color and she couldn’t speak right away. When she finally spoke, it was more to herself, and she could only get three words out. “Why just ours?” I thought I saw Sarah up in the blackened window of our former home.

Today, I sit at my computer writing this and thinking about her. I’m shaking, and I don’t know why. It’s months before my nineteenth birthday and I’m living with my dad, attending a community college in the area. My dad remarried years ago and now has a little girl from his second marriage. She’s quite a bit younger than me—six—and she reminds me a lot of myself at her age.

I guess she’s the reason I started to write this. I haven’t been able to get the events of yesterday out of my head. I was watching her while my dad was at work and I was outside with her while she played on the swing set. I heard the phone ringing inside, so naturally I went to answer it. This isn’t the part I can’t shake off. The thing is…when I went back outside, Rebecca looked at me and said “we have to go inside.” When I asked her why, she only said four little words before running back up the steps and in the house. Four little words, but they were enough to bring chills up my spine.

“Sarah wants to play.”

Credit To – Ashleigh Margaret

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Crawl

May 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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There are three men standing at the intersection of a sewer. One of them is very lean and very tall. In fact he looks too tall and seems to sway on his feet, as if ready to topple at the whim of a strong gust. He grips a burlap sack in his left hand. The tall man has provided the firepower.

Next to him is a greasy mustache. The mustache belongs to a stocky Mediterranean-looking fellow with shifty eyes. He digs into his backpack with concerned intent. The mustached man has provided the intelligence and the tools.

Standing apart from the first two men is the clown. Wrinkled columns of green-yellow-blue support an ashen face of sweat and greasepaint. He wears a white glove on each hand. Thick locks of crimson explode from his head, aggravating the sweating. His face is on the verge of melting. The clown has provided the distraction, but he does not look happy.

The three men face a brick wall with a hole in the center. It is less a hole than a black gaping chasm, maybe a couple feet wide and stretching to infinity. Mustache maintains that this will lead them directly beneath the bank.

Clown is not so sure. He questions the men’s collective planning. Tall Man did not bother to load any of the handguns, ensuring them that a show of force will be more than enough. Mustache has apparently forgotten to bring a single flashlight, and curses. And Clown himself wonders why he chose to dress in full clown regalia <i>before</i> venturing into the sewers.

The sewers are filthy, as sewers ought to be. A noxious gas of human excrement floods each nostril with every breath. Layered above this stench is something more, something sickly sweet. Barely noticeable, but there. Pale green light bounces from the drainage channels as rats and other scurrying things patter along the rim. Clown stumbles on the walkway in comically oversized shoes.

Tall Man avoids the sight of Clown. He harbors a lifelong distrust of clowns, a distrust so deep it ventures into the realm of irrational fear. To make matters worse, this particular clown’s breath smells like sour milk. It’s nauseating so he keeps his distance. From the corner of his eye he thinks he sees Clown glaring at him. Glaring, or smiling? Tall Man can’t be sure in this dreary dungeon. He, too doubts the wisdom of Mustache’s plan.

Mustache defends the strategy. There were bound to be setbacks, he says, but the hole in the wall still offers the best chance for a clean escape. They will have to enter one by one and crawl on hands and knees to see the other side. Once inside the tunnel, turning around will likely be impossible. Tall Man asks how long it goes. Mustache answers that it should be long, but not too long. Tall Man asks how they are supposed to see anything in the tunnel with no flashlights. Mustache answers that they don’t need to see anything, they just need to crawl. All the same, he does have a book of matches which he offers to Tall Man.

Tall Man interprets this as his cue to go first. Something about the tunnel bothers him, but he would rather get on with it than suffer the continual glares (or smirks?) of Clown. He accepts the matches and faces the hole.

A soft breeze and low howl whisper from the opening. Behind him, Clown stares while Mustache runs some fingers through his oily hair. Tall Man teeters for a moment, turns around, and retrieves three 9mm pistols from the sack in his hand. Easier if you take these now, he says. All three men tuck the weapons into their waistbands. Not weapons, Clown reminds himself. Merely a show of force.

Tall Man turns back around. The bricks in the wall are the color of money. The water flowing through the channels is the color of money. Even the stripes in Clown’s suit are money-colored. Tall Man sees money everywhere, except in that black hole yawning before him. That is the only way to the actual money. Lots and lots of it, the kind you can touch and smell and trade for things that make you happy. Money is the prime motivator for Tall Man, for all of them. It is worth crawling through a slimy stinking hole for, he must tell himself.

Still, he hesitates. The black circle is so sharply defined it seems to hover in front of the wall, detached from its surroundings. Tall Man stoops. And stoops…and stoops some more. He stoops down until the black circle frames his face. He raises a wiry leg until the knee can rest on the lip of the hole. With a push from the other leg he slowly enters.

Funny: when the whole of his lofty body finally wriggles its way inside, the gentle breeze dies. The low howl changes too. Earlier it was constant, but now it pulses rhythmically in his ears. Low, deep, like a distant generator. The hum-hum-hum tickles Tall Man’s brain. He crawls on.

The ground is cold, chilling to the fingertips. His knees scrape along the smooth surface. His blind hands grope their way over cement and puddles and slime and gloom. All around drip invisible drops. Drip, hum, drip, hum, scraaape: the only sounds here in the belly of the sewers, intensified by the utter lack of visual stimuli. When that word, belly, comes to mind, Tall Man begins to perceive his environment as a living organism. He begins to feel like a piece of chewed meat sliding down a giant’s intestines. Drip, hum, drip, hum, scraaape: an organic symphony of endless digestion. He crawls on.

The air grows stale. Tall Man’s knees are wet and aching. He has lost track of time and can’t tell how long he’s been crawling. A good five minutes, at least. Still there is no light at the end of the tunnel. How much further? He needs to rest just a moment. He stops crawling.

The air is heavy, stagnant, waiting. The drips and humming sound muffled now. Tall Man retrieves the matchbook, tears off a match, and tries to light it. Nothing – it’s a dud. So is the second one, and the third. Tall Man starts to panic. He wants light, needs light, <i>now.</i> He fumbles with the fourth match, anxiously swipes it along the striking surface. A fizz of sulfur spells success. But that magic spark of life reveals something astonishing.

Mere inches from him stares a pallid face, smeared with gruesome makeup. Blood-red worms burst from the head. No…not worms but curls of hair. It is Clown’s face, lurching from the darkness disembodied, every muscle locked in rigor mortis. The eyes are dim and cloudy, but fixed upon his own. The match’s flame throws drunken shadows across the peaks and valleys of the ghostly visage. It alternately smiles and scowls at Tall Man, without really moving at all. Tall Man is stiff with incomprehension. Fear tip-toes down his spine and snuggles into his guts. He feels sick. The two faces stare frozen in silence for a brief eternity.

Suddenly the clown face leans forward and blows out the match. A whiff of sour milk fills the air. The abrupt return to total blackness shocks Tall Man’s senses into operation. He immediately scuttles backward, away from the face in the tunnel. His pants begin to shred at the knees but he doesn’t care. The only thought is retreat. Faster, faster, retreat. Hands and knees splash and scrape against concrete. He imagines the clown head gliding silent through the black tube after him, smiling yet scowling. The splashes and scrapes become a frantic staccato as he goes faster, faster. His knees must be bleeding now but he doesn’t care. Retreat, only retreat matters.

And then Tall Man finds himself falling backward out of the hole in the wall, landing at the feet of Mustache and Clown. Clown, who was in two places at once. They ask what happened, and when Tall Man finally calms down he raises himself on two shaky legs. Teetering, he blurts out his story but the two men do not understand. Mustache laughs while Clown regards Tall Man with suspicion. Impossible, they say, you only spooked yourself and were seeing things that weren’t there. But Tall Man insists there is a second Clown in the sewer tunnel.

Mustache strokes his namesake with two fingers. Fine, fine, he says, I’m going through and I’ll show you there’s no damned clown in there. Tall Man almost protests, wants to tell Mustache not to leave him here with Clown, but keeps quiet.

Backpack hoisted onto both shoulders, Mustache scrambles up and stuffs his body through the opening. He begins crawling. His speed is surprising in these tight quarters. They watch his figure rapidly dissolve in darkness down the tunnel. The instant he disappears from view, the sound of his crawling stops short. After a moment of silence, Clown and Tall Man hear a steady scraping, like something heavy being dragged across concrete. The sound quickly fades down the stretch of the tunnel.

Clown got him, clown got him, mutters a wide-eyed Tall Man. Clown tells him to shut up. Then what the hell was that, squeaks Tall Man, what was that sound? Clown doesn’t answer. The two men wait there in the sewer for any sign of Mustache. None comes.

After many minutes pass, Clown has grown eager and starts to fidget. Enough of this, he says. He must be on the other side waiting for us – I’m going through. The lust for money and a penchant for rational thought have clouded his intuition. He remembers he is mildly claustrophobic, but this fact also gets swept aside by his greed. Tall Man pleads with Clown not to go, says they should call the whole thing off and leave now. Don’t be ridiculous, replies Clown. I’m going through and you better not lag far behind me. He grabs the matchbook and faces the wall with the hole. He struggles with his big shoes but finally gets a good grip and hoists himself through. Tall Man does not follow.

What greets Clown in the hole are drippy wet echoes, a hum-hum-humming, and an uninterrupted dark. Clown crawls on. The humming and dripping are a hypnotic beat in his ears. The blackness is disturbingly uniform. It is a blackness smothered in blackness ad infinitum. It tugs and tugs at the eyeball that would try to pierce it, coaxes it from the socket with false hopes of a murky shape just ahead. The only respite is to close one’s eyes, for at least then smoky phantasms float beneath the lids. This blackness is a solid wall upon which nothing floats. So he closes his eyes as he moves forward.

Clown wonders if he might indeed meet his doppelganger in this strange subterranean place. He hopes not and crawls on. Gradually he becomes aware that the drips and humming have changed. They sound duller, muffled. The air has changed too. It hangs with the dead weight of a dozen corpses and sticks to his skin. He crawls on. Clown’s white-gloved fingers detect a third change. The ground no longer feels like solid concrete. It is softer, putty-like. His fingertips seem to sink in ever so slightly.

When he thinks he hears a faraway scraping sound, Clown’s eyes snap back open. They throb in their sockets with anticipation, starving for some speck of light to materialize in the distance, but it never comes. As his bloodshot eyes go hungry, his mind wanders.

He thinks of hordes of rats carrying a lifeless, mustached body down the tube before him. He thinks of thousands of little teeth gnashing into greasy flesh. He thinks of soiled clown suits clogging sewer drains. He thinks…he thinks he needs to stop thinking and start crawling. But he can’t. He advances no more than two feet before hitting an obstruction.

It feels like a wall. He fishes the matchbook from a striped pocket and tears off a stick. Three failed swipes later, he tears off another. It ignites on the second attempt and shows him a solid brick wall blocking the way. This isn’t supposed to be here. How is it possible he never ran into Mustache? The sight of the bricks is unnerving. Clown bangs his fist against them, tries to wriggle one loose. They do not budge. They stand there in the orange glow quietly mocking his proud logic, daring an explanation. Clown has no explanation. The match is almost spent so he drops it and moves backward. It is the only thing he can do.

Progress is slow and awkward. The ground is more malleable than he remembers. It feels like his knees are leaving small impressions behind. He crawls as the tunnel drips and hums at him. When his feet touch another wall, Clown gasps. He draws another match, lights it, twists his head around to look. What he sees isn’t a blocked path but an intersection. Two new passages branch off to the left and right, where before there was only one straight tunnel.

It makes no sense. Then comes incoherence. Anger. Most of all, indecision. Clown must choose a path. But which one? Which one? The right. It’s as good as the left. The match dies as he scoots back to face the new chasm, then crawls ahead. The dripping, the humming, the putty floor, the breathing…the breathing? Yes. Clown swears the tunnel is breathing now. He can feel the gentle inhalation, exhalation all around him. Somewhere far off the scraping sound comes again. He crawls, and crawls, and hits his head against another wall. Another match, another intersection revealed. This one looks smaller. He squeezes his way into another right turn.

The breathing changes now. Longer and slower. And there’s the scraping again, a little closer this time. He crawls. His body sinks into the gummy floor. A few paces forward, and another intersection, another match, another right turn. A few paces more, and another. The junctions keep coming, and soon Clown runs out of matches. He always chooses to go right, but it keeps getting smaller. At one intersection Clown turns around to retrace his path and try to find a wider opening. The maze does not care. It continues to breathe and compress. As Clown crawls blind through the network of tubes, the roof begins to scratch his back. It matches every movement with a downward push, regardless of his direction.

Incoherence. Anger. Most of all, claustrophobia. Before long Clown finds himself sliding on his belly. He slithers through endless corridors even as they threaten to crush his body. He has to keep going. Keep going, it makes no sense but keep going and get out. Hopeless. The ground is sticky and holds him in place as the walls close in from every side. Clown grits his teeth.

Tall Man stands alone at the intersection. He gazes at the black hole in the wall, transfixed. Every muscle quivers with expectancy. Yet he sees nothing and hears nothing save for a low steady howl. He blinks. Shakes his head. Looks up toward a grate in the high ceiling. A sinking sun casts down shimmering motes of dust which drift in odd patterns. Tall Man sways on his feet, covered in filth and bleeding at the knees. That sickly sweet scent from before is stronger now. He turns and bolts out of the sewers. He does not look back.

Postscript

The story doesn’t end there. In the next several years Tall Man will abandon his life of crime. At first he will try to make sense of the events in the sewer. He will research a variety of paranormal topics: everything from ghosts and cryptozoology, to bilocation, to the hypothetical existence of “hot spots” on Earth where alternate dimensions are said to bleed into one another. The search for answers will yield nothing but further questions.

In a strange twist of fate, Tall Man will eventually get a job at the very bank he tried to rob. Before closing one day he’ll be asked to fetch some old documents kept in the basement. He will walk down the rickety stairs and search through boxes of poorly-kept files. Amid his searches he is going to find a rusted iron trapdoor hiding under a box. Curious, he will lift the squeaky door and discover a ladder descending into a small concrete room. He will feel compelled to climb down to this space which the basement light struggles to reach.

Once there, he’ll find a bricked-over hole in the wall opposite the ladder. The implications will come in a flurry of breathless recognition. My God, he’ll whisper. At last, the other side. The mortar will be crumbling, the bricks loose. Without quite knowing why, Tall Man will begin to remove them, exposing the black hole little by little.

The fear will be gone, replaced by his long-lost thirst for answers. Tall Man will be surprised to find himself crawling through the tunnel with nothing but his lighter to guide the way. He won’t remember climbing in. It will be like a dream, with the dripping and humming ringing in his ears as before, asking him how he can be sure he ever left at all. He will crawl on.

Only when the air in the tunnel becomes leaden, only when the sounds deaden, only when the sour milk wafts through his nostrils will the creeping chill return. Then the lighter’s timid flame is going be snuffed out with a sudden rush of wind. Peals of crazed laughter will erupt from somewhere in the dark and rattle through his skull, so loud he’ll have to cover both ears. It’s so completely unexpected that he won’t be sure the shrieks weren’t his own, or an outright hallucination. Nonetheless, it will be enough to send him scurrying backwards.

The tunnel will seem different – sticky, sighing, angry. Tall Man will feel it contracting around him as he moves in reverse. Faster, faster, as before, as in a dream. Looking behind, he will finally see the dim light of the aperture. It will be closing.

At this point Tall Man’s memory will muddle. He’ll vaguely recall his escape from the writhing hole. It will feel more like being disgorged than anything. A regurgitated piece of meat, he’ll think. Tall Man will run to the ladder, turn around for one last look, and see something that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Witnesses will later tell him that he ran from the bank screaming a blood-curdling scream unlike anything they’d ever heard. He won’t remember that part.

He’ll pray that what he saw was the product of temporary insanity. He’ll try to forget the whole thing ever happened. But every time he closes his eyes, every time he dreams, the same image will come to him with terrible clarity: the hole in the wall shrunken to the size of a quarter, from which a single white-gloved finger pokes, squirms, points – and beckons.

Credit To – alapanamo

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Why Exercise is Bad For You

May 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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It all started when I got fat.
I had been wanting to lose weight for a while, but being a not-exactly-starving-starving artist, I didn’t have the money to join a gym or buy equipment of my own. Yeah I could have gone running, but who want’s to do that? Not me! Never could run as a kid so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to as an adult.
That was when I decided to check out Craigslist to see if there was any free equipment that wasn’t too ancient. I didn’t want to end up with one of those “shake the fat away” machines. You know, the one with the belt? Yeah. No thanks.
Anyway, I was lucky enough to find an elliptical that someone was giving away for free! What luck! Right? From what I saw in the pictures it looked to be a few years old. One of the speakers on it was busted but I didn’t have an MP3 player to hook into it anyway. I decided to give the “seller” a call.
After talking on the phone to a woman named Jeanette, a time was set for me to go to her home and pick up the elliptical. She sounded strangely relieved to be getting rid of the equipment but I was too excited to be getting it for free that it really didn’t phase me at the time.
So, that Friday, I borrowed my dad’s truck and some rope and headed out to get my new treasure. On the way I thought of how in a few short weeks I would be on my way to a swimsuit season bod. I already had my mind set that I would buy a cute bikini.
After driving for around a half hour, flipping a couple u-ees and stopping at stop signs long enough to be honked at, I made it to Jeanette’s. Surprisingly, she was waiting outside. I thought it was a little odd, but again, I didn’t pay much attention.
Jeanette looked to be in her mid fifties and about 5ft 6in. Her skin was a bit pale and she had dark circles under her eyes. Her hair was a little unkempt and it sort of looked as if she had just then thrown on whatever clothes she could find.
“Hi! Jeanette?” I held out my hand to shake hers.
“Yes, hello.” She said quietly.
Her handshake was soft and reserved, and she had a bit of a worried look in her eye. “Please come in.”
I followed her into the house and then into the living room. There it stood in all it’s free glory.
“Niiice.” I said, eying up the elliptical.
“Okay then. Would you like me to help you out with it?” She asked quickly and nervously.
“Oh, uh, yeah sure thanks.” I was a little surprised that she hadn’t offered any kind of reason why she would be getting rid of the machine for free, so I asked.
“Oh.” She said nervously. “It just takes up too much space and I don’t really need the money. I can’t see getting much for it anyway.”
She kind of half smiled and began to try and lift the back end of the machine. I rushed over to assist.
After a few minutes and a lot of heave hoeing we eventually got the elliptical into the bed of the truck. I thanked her once again and headed home.

The machine sat in the bed of the truck until my boyfriend made it over to my apartment. It took a few tries and some remembering of high school geometry but we successfully got it through the door and into the living room. I looked it over and, like I saw in the pictures online, the only thing wrong with it was the one broken speaker. Other than that it was absolutely perfect! Here I come beach body!
I jumped on and started pressing buttons. “Oh ok! This one tracks your heartbeat, this one shows how many calories you burn…”
My boyfriend laughed at me and told me I looked like a kid at Christmas. After a little while, he left for work and I was left to play with my new toy. I had apparently worked out a little too hard because by 9:00 pm I was pooped and collapsed on my bed. The next thing I remember was waking up to a strange noise.
In a daze, my brain tried it’s damnedest to figure out what the sound was. Was the faucet on? Was it raining outside? I opened one eye and looked at my window. I could see the moon. No clouds.
The more I came out of my slumber, the clearer the whooshing sound got, and I realized what it was. The elliptical.
“Uhhgggg! John what the hell!? I am trying to sleep!” I said, assuming my boyfriend had come back over and decided to fool around on the machine.
The whirring didn’t stop. “JOHN!” I yelled.
It still didn’t stop.
I decided, groggily, to get up and throw something at him. JOH…” I stopped mid name as I turned the corner into the living room.
No one was there. The machine wasn’t moving at all and the whirring had stopped.
“John?” I said quietly and confused.
No one answered.
I decided it must have been some kind of goofy dream. I went to my front door to make sure the lock was still on, it was, and then went back into my room. The rest of the night was quiet.

The next morning I woke up with the sun on my face. I instantly remembered the night before but decided to shrug it off. I stood up and moaned. I was so sore but I needed to keep a tight exercise schedule if I wanted buns of steel by May.
I changed out of my pajamas and into my workout clothes, blasted some music and hopped on the machine.
As I went to press the button to turn on the machine, I noticed that there were steps logged in the system. I knew I had cleared it out the night before and shut it down. I figured it was probably a glitch; one of the reasons it was free. But in the back of my mind I still held onto what had happened the night before.
After my workout I once again cleared the screen and turned off the machine. I went into the bathroom and was about to step into the shower when I, again, heard the familiar whooshing sound.
In a towel, I ran into the living room and came around the corner just in time to see the machine moving. I froze. “What the hell did I just see!?” I thought to myself.
I gathered my courage and walked toward the machine. It was still.
I looked at the screen and it was lit up with a log of 10 steps. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Was there some kind of speed setting or something? I checked the screen, still in my towel, and tried to find anything that would be an auto setting. As I figured, there was no setting other than resistance. No speed. It was all manually powered.
I turned the machine off, and a bit shaken, went back into the bathroom and took my shower.

Later that evening, my boyfriend, John, came over after work. We had a nice meal and decided to sit down in the living room and watch a movie. I believe it was called “The Shrine”. As I recall it was a pretty freaky movie, but that could be because I was on edge all evening from my mishap with the machine earlier that day.
As we sat, cuddled up on the couch, I started to smell something. I kept sniffing to the point my boyfriend asked if I needed a tissue. I said no, of course, and told him I smelled something. He sniffed to and made a face.
“Jeeze! I know you have been working out and that is great but you really need to take showers afterword.” John laughed.
“It isn’t me!” I paused the movie.
“Well it isn’t me either!” John said.
I sniffed around the couch. It didn’t seem to be coming from that area so I got up and as Toucan Sam would say, I followed my nose. The stench brought me to the elliptical.
“What the hell?” I said softly.
“What is it?” John said from across the room.
“It is coming from the elliptical!” I said.
Just as fast as the smell came on, it was gone. I sniffed and sniffed and couldn’t find a trace. The incident from earlier and this phantom smell got me to thinking of Jeanette. She seemed so shifty. Maybe there was another reason she wanted to get this cursed gym equipment out of her house.

The next day I decided to pay an unexpected visit to Jeanette. She answered the door with a smile. She looked well rested and much less frazzled than before. As soon as she saw me, however, the happy, rested look turned into a look of worry. “Oh, hi. Can I help you?”
“Hello again,” I said smiling politely, “I was just wondering if you had a moment. I just have a couple of questions about the machine that I picked up the other day. May I come in?”
She hesitated, then reluctantly welcomed me in. “Is the machine not working? If not just take it to the junkyard. I don’t want it back.” She said quickly.
“Oh no no no.” I said, still trying to be as polite as possible, “It isn’t that at all.”
The worried look on her face turned to dread and a knot began to form in my stomach. Something wasn’t right. “Would you mind if we sit for just a moment. I really don’t mean to intrude.”
Jeanette seemed to partially snap out of her funk and said, “Of course! Let’s sit in the dining room. I’ll put on a pot of tea.”
She showed me into the dining room and told me to have a seat while she put the tea on. I sat for a few moments and then my attention was grabbed by a photo on the wall. It was Jeanette and a man about the same age. I assumed it was her husband.
A few minutes later, Jeanette shuffled into the dining room with two cups of hot tea. “Good to have on a cold day like this.” She said, trying to hide her nervousness.
I smiled and took a sip. “Is that your husband?”
It almost seemed like she jumped at the question. “I’m sorry?”
I pointed to the photo on the wall. “Oh! Oh Yes. Sadly, he passed away a few months ago.” She began to look even more nervous.
“Oh, I am so sorry to hear that.” I said, trying my best to look sympathetic. “How did he pass, if you don’t mind me asking.”
She closed her eyes, I thought she was going to start crying. I was about to say never mind when she let out a sigh. “Well,” she said. “He had gained some weight and the doctor said it would be a good idea to start getting some exercise into his schedule. You see his weight was effecting his blood pressure.” She sighed again and paused for a moment.
“He actually had a heart attack and died while on that elliptical.”
I dropped my tea.

Credit To – J.L. Kempen

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Frosted Mini Fears

May 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Today’s pasta is actually a collection of super-short video pastas from the Frosted Mini Fears channel on YouTube. If the embeds are not displaying for you (a known issue for people on some types of phones), I have included links to each video below their embeds – click said links to go directly to the video pasta’s page on YouTube.


The Age of Information


The Snipe Hunt


Window (Recut)


Window (POV)


The Strange Woman


Reffugio Lake


Locks


Signal Unknown

Credit: Frosted Mini Fears

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