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Nightmares

November 27, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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Kelly woke abruptly, sweating and scarcely holding back her screams. She sat up and threw off the blankets, remaining on the edge of the bed until her ragged breaths had calmed down and her heart no longer sounded like irregular drumbeats in her ears. She’d been having nightmares for months now, and each night they dragged on longer and stuck more vividly in her mind. A few nights ago she’d woken her parents up crying for help in her sleep, and although she couldn’t remember the dreams when she woke up, they always left her terrified and exhausted. She could barely sleep at night and was ill at ease during the daylight hours. However, she also felt childish and stupid when she realized how afraid of her own dreams she’d become, and so she hadn’t revealed to anyone just how disturbed by them she was.

Deciding she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, and having no desire to anyway, Kelly stood and walked over to her dresser. She brushed out her hair and changed into school clothes, looking at the clock for the first time that morning. It was six twenty-five; the alarm would have woken her in five minutes even if her dreams hadn’t. Turning the alarm off, she headed downstairs to find something to eat.

In the cafeteria at school later, Kelly waited in line behind her best friend Jessica and chewed her lip indecisively. She wanted to confide in her friend, to ask for advice or just seek reassurance about her dreams, but she was afraid to. What if Jessica told her she was being a baby and that they were just dreams she should get over?

Later, as she got ready for bed, she couldn’t shake the feeling of dread that had shadowed her every night for the past months. She climbed into bed but left the lamp on, feeling just a little bit better, as if nightmares couldn’t disturb her with the light to keep them away. This was untrue, of course.

She dreamed that she was walking down a street at night; all the buildings around her were deserted, abandoned, the windows shattered, paint peeling and frames crumbling. A dark shadow moved behind her; she turned to face it and her terror was so great it paralyzed her and rendered her unable to unleash the horrified scream tearing at her throat.

The thing that was stalking her was just inches from her. Its form appeared human and it was clad in a black cloak, the hood drawn over the face. However, when she saw it the creature revealed its face, which was hideously scarred from fire and covered in blood but not wounded, as if the thing had just finished smearing the stuff on its face. It was bald and barefoot, and wherever bare skin showed, the scars from being burned were evident, as was the fact that the thing was barely more than a skeleton; its skin was stretched tightly over bones that were grossly apparent.

The scarred, blood-smeared, skeletal face opened its mouth wide to reveal jagged, broken teeth also coated in blood, and released a deep rumbling laugh as its hands reached for her and scraped at her arms with claw-like fingernails. This time she managed to move her feet; she ran with terror beating in her heart, but didn’t hear the creature following her. She ran past dark buildings and down empty streets until she had to stop, had to breathe, had to rest her aching legs.

And then it grabbed her from behind.

She tried to scream but its bony hands covered her mouth. There were more of the creatures now, and they all reached for her, drawing blood as they raked her with fingernails. Then she was dragged away, kicking and screaming, down the abandoned street. When she managed to twist out of their grasp and run, they caught up with her and bound her limbs so she could barely struggle.

On they marched, and eventually she gave in and grew limp in their grasp. Tears stung her eyes. Suddenly the creatures stopped; the one holding her took a few paces forward and before she realized what it intended to do, the thing hurled her into the air. This time no one was muffling her screams as she plummeted over the side of the cliff and towards the jagged rocks and dark water below. Just when she would have hit them, she woke.

Her hands were balled into fists; her hair was tangled and she felt suffocated by her pillow, so she threw it to the floor, drew her legs to her chest and leaned against the wall. She sobbed until her eyes hurt from crying and her body was sore from it. Only then did she allow sleep to claim her once more; but this time there was darkness, for which she was grateful. She did not dream again.

The next night was worse. It was a repeat of the previous dream, only with some alterations; this time after she was thrown over the cliff, she hit the swirling black water and felt the pain of it like a giant slap. She’d missed the jagged rocks but felt herself sinking, deeper and deeper with no way to free her limbs from thier binds. As she struggled in vain and water invaded her mouth and nose, choking her, blackness crept over her vision and she awakened in terror.
* * * * *

Kelly could no longer sleep. She had lain awake in bed the previous night, exhausted beyond belief but refusing to fall asleep. The next morning she rose and dressed for school, but her actions were those of a robot; she was so tired that she barely noticed what she was wearing and didn’t taste her breakfast. Nor did she feel the cold rain outside or hear the conversations of other kids on the ride to school.

By lunch hour, her friends had definitely noticed her unusual quietness, how red and puffy her eyes looked and how she stumbled through her classes half-asleep. When she sat down to eat she felt sick to her stomach and picked halfheartedly at her food. All she wanted to do was curl up and sleep, but how could she with nightmares to torment her mind and physically exhaust her?

There was a new kid at their table today. This fact did not immediately register in Kelly’s mind, but when it did, she felt a slight spark of interest. When Jessica introduced him as Don’s friend Chris, she was compelled to introduce herself and engage in a short conversation. She didn’t miss the relieved glances Jessica passed to all her other friends, and realized that she’d basically ignored them the past few days due to her prolonged fatigue and depression.

The next day she scrambled onto the bus and found a seat in the far back. She knew that her physical condition was deteriorating: her eyes had dark circles underneath them and they were constantly bloodshot: she’d lost the battle against sleep and had woken close to screaming a few times now.
She began to doze as the bus made its rounds and woke suddenly to find Chris sitting beside her. For a moment she stared at him, disoriented and upset that shed been woken from the only dreamless sleep she was likely to get for a while.

“Kelly,” Chris began.

She waited expectantly for him to continue.

“I know you haven’t been sleeping,” he told her. “Or more importantly, I know why you haven’t been sleeping.”

“I have nightmares,” Kelly whispered hoarsely, hugging her bag to her chest. “I can’t remember most of them, but they wake me up every night, and I can barely sleep… For a while I tried not to, but I was too tired.”

“I know. Kelly, I had the same dreams.”

She looked at Chris in astonishment. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re not the only one. And your dreams aren’t going to stop until you do something about them.”

“What can I do? They’re terrible, but I can’t make them go away.”

“Here,” Chris said, handing a folded piece of paper towards her. “This is an incantation for protection; if you remember to say it when your dream begins, it will drive the creatures away.”

She unfolded it; one word was written across the paper in a foreign language.

“It’s very simple to remember,” Chris told her, “but also powerful–it means ‘Surrender’. It will make the dreams end.”

Desperately grasping at any means to end her horrified dreams, Kelly, unfortunately, placed her trust in Chris. Little did she know, this would be the last mistake of her life.

That night sleep came slowly. She didn’t feel tired; she was charged with fearful anticipation. When she found herself in the dark, deserted street once more, Kelly stood her ground and tried to focus her thoughts. It took her a moment to remember the most vital piece of information: she was dreaming. She was dreaming, and she must stand her ground when the creatures came; she must remember to say the word that would drive them away.

When the wraithlike creatures appeared this time, with salivating dogs at their heels, she did not turn and run. Instead she faced her foes and tried to keep calm as she drew breath to utter one word. Emboldened, she suddenly screamed it at them.

the creatures stopped dead: the dogs whined and glanced at their masters as if in search of permission. Then a gaping hole broke wide beneath her feet, and Kelly was plunged downward through scorching-hot air, down, down, until-thud-she smacked into solid ground. Pain flared through the side of her body that she’d landed on, and she realized she lay upon a huge slab of smooth black stone. She spun around frantically, searching the underground cavern for an exit. Why wasn’t she waking up? Chris had said…he’d told her…he’d promised that she would awaken after facing the creatures.

And then she saw him.

Sitting on a throne carved out of the same kind of stone she’d landed upon, two cold dark eyes stared down at her. A spiked crown sat atop his head, and between his fingers he held a razor-sharp spear. A wicked grin broke across his face as the unmistakable Greek god Hades rose to his full impressive height and answered her unspoken question: “Yes, Kelly, your friend Chris has betrayed you. And you are now enslaved to me forever; you will never again awaken.”

Credit To – Weeping Willow

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It’s a Small Road

November 27, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I spot a fellow standing on the side of road, slightly obscured by the low-lying fog. He’s got his thumb stuck out – kind of gruff and dirty looking. It’s late… Hell, why not. I pull the car over and the man opens the door; he hops in without saying a word.

“It’s your lucky night,” I state, “normally I don’t pick up any thumbers.”

Despite the night being dark, I notice some bright yellow teeth in my rearview mirror. I guess he’s smiling at the comment.

“Must be. I never thumb much myself anymore.” He halts, “Not since what happened.”

“Oh?” I ask. “What happened?”

The man in backseat pauses for a moment, but with a shrug of his shoulders he commences the tale.

“It were some years ago. Late at night as you might expect. I was out hitchhiking when a man comes along and picks me up. Sounds good, huh?”

He hesitates here but when I give a grunt of approval, the story continues.

“Well this man who picked me asks ‘Dangerous isn’t it?’ What is? I asked him. He says ‘Thumbing,’ and before I can even speak the man pulls a big ol’ knife on me. He says ‘Yep, dangerous alright.’ Then stabs at me. The car is swerving all over and he’s stabbing and stabbing.”

I grunt again, becoming interested. “Well what did you do?”

“I’ll tell ya!” the man yells. And out of nowhere he thrusts his arm forward, right up against my cheek. I look down at it. The hand is gone. He pulls the arm back. “This guy cut it right off!”

“How’d you escape?”

More bright yellow teeth in the mirror again. “Well, I got hold of his hand and instinct kicked in. I bit his fingers, got two of ‘em. Car hit a tree and I made a run for it.”

I grunt again, gripping the steering wheel with my bad hand – the one missing the two little fingers.

Credit To – S.R. Tooms

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HAX

November 26, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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Friday night, it’s the end of the long work week. You decide to wind down in the evening, watching a video your friend recommended. It’s about the history of cartoons. Something happy, and interesting to watch before bed. The music during most of the film is one of those catchy tunes that gets stuck in your head. Near the end of the video, it pauses, seemingly to buffer, even though the bar is completely buffered. On the screen, one of the characters has been paused and blurred. It looks sort of like a green and blue figure, looking almost as is if it was trying to dance. The video continues and it is past midnight when you decide to shut down your laptop, place it next to your bed and get some sleep.

As you are about to fall asleep, you hear that same tune from the video you had been watching earlier. Perhaps it was stuck in your head? Trying to ignore it, you attempt to sleep again, only for the music to get louder. That is definitely not in your head. You see the light on your laptop, which indicates power, shining. You open the thing, going to switch it off. The music is definitely coming from the laptop. The screen remains blank. You press the power button, keep it held down. The light on the laptop turns off. Good. The music starts up again. The light remains off. You take the power cord out of the laptop, not like that would do much, but the music still continues. Sick of hearing it, you take the battery compartment out of your laptop and set it down, completely unpowered. It begins to play again, even louder than last time. Frustration kicks in and you start to wonder if you are actually asleep. You are so very tired… The last thing you remember before falling asleep is that music, looping over and over again…

The next morning, it’s quiet. That music you were hearing had stopped. Maybe you had been dreaming all along? You head out to the kitchen and get some breakfast, start washing some clothes and open the blinds. It’s a Saturday, a day off for you, seems like a good day to just laze around and not do much at all. You go back to your room and put the battery component back in your laptop. After last night’s restlessness, maybe a funny video or two might help. You watch some of your favourite funny videos on Youtube, and you’re soon relaxed. You put one on that goes for a good ten minutes, and half way through it pauses to buffer. You look over the paused frame as you wait, the comedian on stage pulling a ridiculous face. You’ve seen this video ten times already, of not more, and something is off about this paused frame. You see something in the bottom right hand corner off the image. You look closer. It looks an awful lot like that image that the video last night paused on. Narrowing your eyes, you let the rest of the film play on.

Later that afternoon, after you had actually decided to clean up some around the house, you go back to your laptop. You turn on some silly cat movies, they’re always good for anyone who’s bored. You start to realise a pattern, each video pauses, even if it a thirty second one, they are all starting to pause. Everything else is loading as normal, fast. You sigh and look at the frozen frame of a cat in the middle of yawning. You pause in your actions, too, bringing your face closer to the screen. It couldn’t be… That same little blurred character from last night, it’s on this frame, too! The same one you saw in that other video. You close the tab and stare at your screen, something isn’t right. Something is going on. You decide to avoid any more online videos for the night.

Sunday, your last day off before work again. After going for a walk to get a few groceries, you go back to your laptop again. It is slower than usual to start up, and the speakers are turned up louder than they were yesterday. You had gotten a phone call earlier that morning from your work colleague to send in a group photo for your company’s promotional poster. As you wait for the computer to load up, it froze. The screen going blank. A single word, the word ‘HAX’ types itself across the screen. The computer returns to loading and the desktop loads. What was that? It had never happened before. You are starting to think your laptop has a virus. You have protection, it usually worked very well… You open the photo your friend had asked for, sighing, better get this sent off before the computer karks it. It takes an unusually long time to load up. When it does finally load, that’s when you realise something is very, very wrong. That same thing, the one that was in those videos that had jammed up, it was in the background of your personal file. This was most definitely some sort of virus. Perhaps like the retro harmless viruses? That flashed an image onto tour screen at random. Yeah.. That had to be it. With your nerves settled, you email the photo of and get back to putting your groceries away.

You decide to have an early night, work always starts earlier than it says. You turn off your lights and crawl into bed. The laptop next to your bed starts to make beeping noises, it starts to get quite annoying. Definitely a virus. You take the battery out again and lay back down. The noises stop for a while. But before you fall asleep, you hear a long digital buzz. You’re too tired to deal with it and nod off.

You are woken, startled by a loud, horrible electronic screech coming from your laptop. The battery is still out. You open the screen, across the screen, the word ‘HAX’ has been typed out so many times it has formed a text wall. The laptop makes one loud DING and shuts off. It’s four in the morning and you cannot get back to sleep, not after that. You watch your laptop wearily until six in the morning when you finally get up for work. The day went by rather quickly, and you were exhausted. After hours, you arrive back home, having gotten some takeaway on the way back. You sit down to eat and turn on the television. You feel a little more perked up after eating something, and notice that the family portrait above the armchair you are adjacent to is crooked, it sticks out like a sore thumb. You go and lift the photo off it’s hook, looking down at the smiling faces, you smile back, but… SMASH. You have dropped the photo all over the floorboards and stare down at it. You don’t want to believe what you are seeing. Right in the top left corner of the photo sitting on the floor, that… that thing, the thing that has been plaguing your computer, that little green and blue blur. It is inside of your physical family picture. You look back at it over and over, it’s still there. Irrationally, you stick the photo under the cushion of the armchair as to not look at it anymore. Another sleepless night awaits.
You call in sick the next day and manage to get some sleep during the daylight hours. Last night had been filled with fear, fear of the supernatural, what was going on was far from normal. After sleeping until the evening, you finally get up, sighing wearily. Curiosity the better of you. You pull the family portrait out from underneath your armchair cushion and look over it. It’s still there, it’s larger than it had been last night, now sitting right above your brother’s head. You shove it back under, feeling a lump in your throat, your anxiety rises and you put on a favourite movie, on the television, to get your mind off it. You are just that exhausted, you fall asleep to the movie, waking up later that night just to go crawl into bed and sleep some more.

Wednesday, you head back to work, a long, weary day. You try to talk to your friend about what’s been happening, but you are just laughed at, “Yeah right!” But you’re not joking, this is something that is really, really worrying you.

You go home, unable to think of anything except the unwelcome figure in your photo. Getting home, you let your curiosity win, again. You really shouldn’t have, this time. You stare, and stare at the photo. Your brother isn’t there anymore, the… thing has replaced him, completely. You stare some more, confused and afraid, nearly jumping out of your pants when the phone rings. “…Hello?” The shaky voice of your mother is on the other end of the line. She tells you that your brother has just been killed in a freak accident. After the awful conversation had ended, you rush over to the family portrait. You wish this wasn’t happening, you really, really wish this wasn’t happening. It is sitting above your own head.

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A Hot Day

November 26, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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The day was hot. Damn hot. I think the only reason these buckets of sweat stopped leaking out from my every pore is because I’d already been drained of all the water from my body. I just sat there panting like a dog. A searing, suffocating heat. The few clothes I had on were soaked full with the foul smelling sweat. Nobody here expected this kind of weather – we found ourselves unprepared for the melting.

“You know,” Grandpa starts off, “back in my day and I mean waaay back in my day, when I was about as young as you are…” Oh great, Gramps is off on one of his boring stories again. And it’s so freaking hot today! I’m not in the mood to sit through one of these lame oldman tales, but seeing as how he’s old and might drop dead from this heat at any moment, I let him continue. He and I sat outside under what pitiful coolness the trees offered.

“Back in my day I saw a heat wave like this. Only once though. They said it was the hottest day ever recorded. And you know what, boy?”

He waited for me to look in his direction. I shrugged.

“I believed it!”

Gee gramps, thank you for that all important fact…

“There isn’t a lot of time, boy.”

“Time for wha—“ I attempt to interject, but he is already moving on.

“Ever notice how Granny never wears short sleeves?”

Come to think of it, I hadn’t. He must have observed my puzzled expression.

“From where they grabbed her.”

I felt my brows lower in confusion. “What are you talking about, gramps?”

“And that limp of hers? Notice she’s always hobbled about?” he continues, with a sort of glazed look in his eye. Perhaps the heat is already getting to him.

“Yeah, sure,” I say almost unconsciously. There is an ominous vibe between us now. I’ve never seen him like this. Something in his mannerisms is different.

“From the fall – busted her ankle real good. A tiny price, though, wouldn’t ya say, boy?”

I nodded, still unsure what the old man spoke of. He rocked back and forth in his chair. The dull squeaking of the metal legs annoyed me greatly in the heat. Then again, when it’s this blistering hot any little irritation will seem severe. His breathing even got my on nerves.

“They’re just things, boy. Nobody knows. Some say they fly, some say they walk, some say they tunnel in the ground, some say a lot of things. Some say they do it all.”

“What are you talking about, Grandpa?” I asked. He didn’t seem to register the question.

“She wanted to go, boy. I saw it in her eyes. Something, somehow she had been convinced to go. I knew right then and there that what I saw taking hold of her and what she saw, were two very different things.”’

I put my hand on his arm. “Gramps what are you—“

“It’s hot, boy!” he intoned quickly. “No touching. Stay on your side! It reminds me of that day so long ago… Hot just like this. Probably even hotter, well, maybe just as hot. You feel it don’t you, boy?”

“Yeah I feel it,” I told him, reclining back in my chair as the awkward nature of this conversation intensified. The sky didn’t harbor a single cloud. Dull blue stretches of space as far as the eye could see. No relief from the sun. Although, the heat didn’t seem to be emanating from the distant fireball. I guess it had to be. But somehow it felt like a closer source was creating this scorching, burning warmth.

Gramps lifted his arm from the chair, directing a hand toward the woods. “Some say they caused the heat. Something about them warmed the very air itself. But not me, no way, boy. I never thought they was the cause… I always thought they followed it. The things here never caused it. Something else did. They just came along with it.”

Alright… gramps’ story was becoming anything but boring. Downright unnerving in fact. He had a peculiar way of talking now which lead me to question whether he knew who was in front of him or not. “Would you like some water?” I offered.

Here I noticed Gramps would sporadically look to the sky or to the tall trees offering a bit of shade, although his face never changed as he did so. It remained just as stoic and straight as ever. I had to wonder how the man had so many wrinkles on his face in such strange places, when he never made a single expression.

“The neighbors too. I didn’t much care about them, though. Just your granny when they got hold—“

“Gramps… WHAT are you talking about!” My voice sounding perhaps a bit harsher than I intended.

“You’re never the same after,” he said, almost in a whisper. “No one is. How could you be?”

“GRANDPA!” I shook his arm. “What the hell are you going on about!”

“I said don’t touch! …They, boy. They.”

“They? They who?”

“All those years ago, boy. When they came. On a hot day just like this one. Clear sky but you feel the warmth like it’s bubbling up from the ground. Like every blade of grass and pebble on the road is a hot stove.”

“That’s fine, grandpa! Yes I feel it too! Who is THEY? The FBI? A ghost? Some monster?”

“No, boy. I don’t believe in the supernatural. These things wasn’t the paranormal. They weren’t some ghost tale.” Gramps paused for a moment as he gathered a load of spit in his mouth, before forcefully expelling it from his lips with an awful sound as it sailed over my head (the loud sizzling effect as the liquid landed). “They were real. Who knows where they came from. Who knows how they came about. I just know they do come about. And when they do, boy, you don’t want to be about.”

Yup, definitely the heat. He must be off his rocker by now. I should probably take the hose to him. However, I’ll play along a bit more.

“What did they look like?” I questioned him, my palms beginning to sweat (and not just from the heat this time).

“What did they look like, boy? Something I never cared to see again. That’s what it looked like.” His unflinching resolution echoed in each of the words. My grandpa had never been a prankster. He’d never told a real joke in his life. I leaned in closer, my heart beating just a bit faster.

I looked more closely at his face, perhaps for the first time in my life, I really examined the lines. Like nothing I had ever seen in person before. At least not first hand. Extraordinary wrinkles you might say. Not your everyday old man set of wrinkles (however gross that sounds).

“Gramps,” I said, “how did you get all those lines on your face?”

And for a second I thought he almost smiled. “You don’t think they make me look perdy? Have you seen these kinds of lines before, boy?”

“Yes I think so.”

“Oh? Where at?”

And I did have a vague recollection. “They were in some book I saw a long time ago. Something about otherworldly or incredible encounters or something like that. There were several people with them in the book.”

The old timer ran a bony finger along the deepest wrinkle stretching across his jaw line. They appeared to be little valleys carved right into the skin with an almost unnatural color to them.

“Boy,” he spoke, “I made this expression one time – all those years ago, just as I moved to save your granny from being… I made it one time. And they’ve been stuck ever since.”

I stared intently at his visage. “Do you think the heat, uhh, kind of burned them on? Or what happened?”

Gramps just grunted. His favorite answer most of the time.

“You were doing what for granny?”

“It’s not something you want to know about, boy. Hot day, just like this one… They came or she went… Makes no matter. The end was the same. You could never see, but you could always feel. I think they wanted you to sense their presence. To know they was about.”

There came a slight tremor in the ground. You could feel your feet shift ever so slightly. So minor you might just as easily have missed it, if not for my heightened senses and bated breath.

“But don’t worry yourself too much, boy. Not just yet. We’ve still some time left.”

“Gramps… please,” I whined, “Tell me wha—“

A large, fast moving shadow swept over the ground. I jerked my head upward but by the time my eyes reached the skies, there was nothing. I heard a branch snap from somewhere above us in the nearby tree line. Off on the horizon, the sun began its final descent for the day.

Grandpa put his hand on my knee. His face looked calm as he stared up toward the noise.

“Why don’t you and me go inside now, boy?”

The next sound came a little closer.

Credit To – S.R. Tooms

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A Touch of Heatstroke

November 25, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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Geoff lived in London. He had always considered himself to be one of the most average people on the planet. He was of medium height, medium build, had no talents whatsoever and worked in ASDA. His life was normal to the point of boredom, and every day followed the same routine.

Geoff’s average day did not include going to the shops, but, if memory served, he was short of a few item, bread and suchlike. It was convenient to pick these things up just after work, and he could go back home without disrupting his usual program of events. As he was walking down the freezer aisle, Geoff shivered violently. How he hated this part of supermarkets. As he walked past quickly, he saw a small girl sitting on a container of frozen peas. Her skin was white as snow, and as Geoff brushed past her, her skinny arm was like ice! Her head was bent, and a shock of black hair covered her body down to her waist, but Geoff could clearly see that all she was wearing was a flimsy summer dress. Looking back over his shoulder as he turned away, the girl was still sitting there, unmoving. He shivered, and walked away.

It wasn’t until a week later that Geoff saw the girl again. This time, she was sitting at a bus stop, her feet hanging far off the ground. She was in the same position she had been in before, and once again, there were no parents to be seen. A street waif, though Geoff, pitying this poor girl. Such a hard life on the streets of London. He hurried by, and didn’t see her again. As he passed, the girl looked up. Unseen, she watched him as he unlocked the door of his house, and went in.

As he closed the door, Geoff noticed a slight chill about the house, Shivering, he made himself a cup of tea. He yawned, and shivered again. It was getting late, and he had forgotten to turn the central heating up. Checking the boiler, Geoff did a double take. The boiler was on, and yet the building was cold, and goose pimples were coming up on Geoff’s arms. He stared at the gauge, uncomprehending. Then it came to him. It must be broken. Of course it was. Admittedly it had been working beautifully the day before, but all these modern gadgets broke at a moment’s notice! Geoff decided to ring the company and get them to fix it. He turned it up all the ways, and while he waited for it to take effect, he lit a fire in the unused grate in his living room, and settled down on his favourite comfy armchair. Picking up a book, he began to read.

Geoff woke up a few hours later with a start. The book was lying on his chest; open on the same page he had started reading at. As he returned it to a position he could continue reading at, he saw a white face looking in at the window. He looked up sharply. The night was dark, but the moon shone in with enough light for him to see that there was nothing there. He shuddered, and tossed another log onto the dying fire. It blazed up instantly, but no heat came off it. He read for another thirty minutes without turning a page, then put the book down, and went up to bed. As he opened the door, he cried out in shock and fear. A small figure was seated on the end of his bed, a young girl in a faded, floral-print dress. Her skin was white as alabaster, translucent as if made of paper, and her hair as dark as sin. In place of her eyes were sunken hollows, and under a sharp nose and caved-in cheeks, her mouth was a thin line of red. Geoff slammed the door shut and leaned against it, still shaking. On the count of three, he told himself. One. He could almost hear his heart race. Two. His hallway swam in front of his eyes, and his head spun. Three. He swung the door open fearfully, and peered in. The room was empty, his bed untouched. He edged slowly in, and patted the spot where the demon-child had sat, but there was nothing there, not even the small indent in the blankets where even the slightest weight would have left a mark. He got slowly into bed, and shut his eyes as tightly as he could. He didn’t open them again until morning.

It was six a.m. when Geoff awoke. Three hours before he usually got up. He had slept a fitful night, tossing and turning until the covers had been shoved right off the bed, and after that, he shivered and quaked without them, to retrieve them. He opened one eye carefully, scanning the room over and over again. The demon-child was waiting in a corner, he was sure. Yet, the room was empty, the only sound being his own ragged breathing. He opened the other eye, and swung one leg out of bed. He waited for a hand to grab his ankle, but none came. In fact, as the morning wore on, he became more and more certain that it had just been a dream- a trick of the light, perhaps. Maybe even a hallucination, and although he had never had one before, there was a first time for everything. He went about his day as normal, although there were some aspects of it that brought the previous night’s happenings to the fore of his mind. For one thing, the heat fluctuated erratically. One minute he would be red-faced and sweating, the next, shivering and chilled to the bone. For a few hours during lunch, the feeling of dread he had experienced the day before rose rapidly in his gut. He dismissed this as the heating acting up again, and the seafood he had eaten- it must have been off. Obviously this must be true, as he hadn’t bothered to check the packet before throwing it in the bin. Geoff shivered again, and turned the central heating off. He took his coat from the stand and left the house. A bit of fresh air would do him good.

He visited a local park on his walk, and was surprised to see that although there were many people there, he was the only one wearing a winter coat. True, the sun was bright and the sky cloudless, but the air was bitterly cold. He looked around in a wide arc, desperately searching for someone who shared this point of view. But there was none. He tried again, but this time, his gaze became riveted on a nearby tree. Try as he might, he could not drag his eyes away. A small figure stepped out from behind it. It was a young girl in a summer dress printed with faded flowers. Unusually, though, for all the supposed heat, her skin was white like snow, unlike the sun-browned complexions of all around her. There was something about this girl he knew, Geoff realised. An unwanted memory tugged at his thoughts, but he pushed it away. He looked away for a moment, and then looked back. She was gone. Walking up to the tree, Geoff could see no sign that there had ever been anyone there. The grass was in no way flattened and trampled, and from whatever angle he stared at it from, he could see no indication of anyone ever having stood in that spot. Again, something tugged at his mind, and again he pushed it away. A sick feeling rose in his stomach, and he backed off. Definitely time to leave, he thought. A touch of heat stroke, perhaps. He’d ring the doctor when he got home.

Upon reaching his front door, Geoff suddenly stopped. It’s all in your head, he told himself. It’s all in your head. Every instinct he possessed was screaming at him to run away, anywhere. He shoved them aside, and turned the key. The hallway was freezing cold, and an odd smell invaded his nostrils. He closed the door as quietly as he could, and looked around. Thankfully, the hall was empty. As he passed the mirror by the stairs, however, he glimpsed a small, dark-headed form in the reflection. He looked again, more closely. There was nobody there, only his own too-bright eyes staring him in the face. Then, he saw something small and dark, and almost cried in relief at his own stupidity. It was only his umbrella, leaning up against the wall. He turned the boiler on again, and sat down on his bed with his head in his hands. Gradually, so gradually Geoff almost didn’t notice, the heat crept up, and returned to normal. Feeling better now, he heated up a pizza for supper. It was only until he was in his pyjamas and cleaning his teeth, that things took a turn for the worse. Looking over into the full-length mirror beside the sink, he saw it instantly. A young child stood behind him, her faded dress blowing as if in a gale. Her arm was outstretched as she lunged for him, and her eye sockets blazed red. In his terror, Geoff saw her arm in new clarity, and his shriek was one of pure fear, for her arm was little more than bone- only her face and neck had skin of a kind, her legs too were bone. He fell to the floor, and huddled in a corner with his arms over his head. He remained in this position for some time, waiting for a blow that never came. Slowly, he uncurled and opened his eyes. She was gone. Even the rug she had kicked aside in her lunge for him was back in its place. Geoff did not sleep that night.

The next morning, when he rose from his bed, he had a new, purposeful step. His eyes gleamed with intent, and a spark of insane determination glowed behind his over-large pupils. He put on his coat and hat again, and seemed not to notice the blazingly hot day. For the first time in his life, he visited the public library nearby, and loaned a laptop. He began typing feverishly, and every now and then, would scribble something down on a scrap of paper he had with him. A smile curved his thin lips upwards, and by the time he handed the computer back, a demented grin contorted his features wildly. As he made his way home, passers-by would cross to the other side of the road before he reached them.

Inspector Shrew was a man of logic and science. He was not, by any standards, clever, but he was down-to-earth, and could tell a madman when he saw one. He had just finished a complicated case about a dog, a stolen necklace and a car door, and was feeling pretty pleased with himself. Less pleased, perhaps, when a call came in to investigate strange noises coming from an apparently abandoned house. The man who had lived there last, a man who went by the name of (here a careless tea stain had rendered the text illegible), had inexplicably vanished a month before. Although there was clearly no point, Shrew knocked politely on the neglected door. As expected, there was no reply. Why would there be? He pushed the door, and to his surprise, it not only opened, but also fell off its hinges entirely, shattering the quiet with a loud bang. Shrew stepped over the threshold, and a curious sense of dread mounted in the pit of his stomach. He loosened his belt a bit, and looked around. The foul stench of decay hit him, and he almost lost his balance. But no- it would not do to fall over in front of everyone! Shrew took a step forward. How odd! There was certainly no one there, but all the same, there was an unnerving feeling of being watched by many. Shrew banished all thoughts of that sort from his mind, and told himself not to be stupid. Of course no one was watching, he said to himself firmly. He made his way up the stairs, and along the upstairs hallway. Then, halfway down, he stopped. At about shoulder height, there were three, long, perfectly parallel gashes, as if a wild animal had been in. Shrew shivered, and for the first time in his life, fear made an unwelcome entrance. Making his way forward again, he stopped again, this time at a door. Thumps and bangs could be heard from inside, and Shrew backed away. His foot slipped on a shard of glass from the smashed mirror behind him, and he froze. The bangs stopped, and a shadow under the door ceased moving too, as if listening. Gathering all the witless courage he possessed, Shrew strode over to the door and flung it open. There was no one in there. Shrew breathed a sigh of relief, and took a moment to examine the walls. There were runes and sigils scratched into the
walls, as if by claws, and words.

Protect me from her
HELP ME
Always watching and underneath: No eyes
Don’t look or it takes you
Can’t run
Leave me alone
HELP ME
WAKE UP, PLEASE WAKE UP
Always Watching

And most disturbing of all:
TAKE ME, DEMON-CHILD

Shrew was now shaking so violently he nearly dropped his torch. He tracked the smell to where it was strongest, and flung open the cupboard doors. A body fell on top of him, maggots crawling in the empty eye sockets. The corpse’s features were, on the whole, average to the point that they would simply pass out of one’s mind as if they were never there, and even the height and build of the body were so normal, it was hard to believe there had ever been a more stereotypical human. An ASDA employee’s badge fell out of one hand, the nails so long they looked like claws. A young girl’s giggle echoed around the house. By now, Shrew had had enough. He ran out of the house as fast as the rotting stairs would let him. Upon reaching his house, he fell into his favourite armchair by the fire. The strange thing was, that although the fire was white-hot at its heart, the room was cold. Shrew made himself a cup of tea, and walked on shaking legs to his bedroom. There was a girl sitting on his bed, in a faded, floral-print dress. Her skin was white as alabaster, translucent as if made of paper, and her hair as dark as sin. In place of her eyes were sunken hollows, and under a sharp nose and caved-in cheeks, her mouth was a thin line of red. Shrew collapsed, his skin the colour of snow. When he awoke, the girl was gone, and what’s more, there was no sign that anyone had ever been in.

Credit To – Poppy Thwaites

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The Draft

November 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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“Oh, honey, don’t leave the window open at night,” my Grandma used to say to me, “you’ll let in the draft.” She was a tiny pudding of a woman, with pink lipstick and pink patches of scalp showing through her feathery hair. Toward the end there, she didn’t have many teeth, which made her southern drawl even more impenetrable to my five-year-old ears.

Of course, I didn’t know Grandma was sick then. I didn’t know that was why we went to stay with her. I just knew I didn’t like her house, so big and empty and full of creaks and echoes and wrong smells. And I knew I didn’t want to let in the giraffe.

I still see it, as vivid as my Grandma’s face or the weekly hot apple pie that didn’t quite mask the sickly-sweet stink. Every night, I huddled beneath my blankets, hands clasped tight together and eyes squished shut, whispering prayers under my breath. I didn’t dare open my eyes once my mother turned off the light, never poked my head out from the safe nest of covers. I knew that if I did, I would see the giraffe staring back at me from the darkened window.

Sometimes, I could swear I heard it—the faintest snapping of a twig outside, or a leaf brushing against the window, I tried to convince myself, but it was the giraffe. It waited outside, eyes staring and head cocked expectantly to one side, waiting for me to let it in. I wondered how long it could wait.
It didn’t look like a real giraffe. It was something else, milky and sickly, every bone jutting out from the thin cover of its moonlit skin. It can’t hurt me, I told myself, it’s so weak. It would crumble to dust if I touched it. But that only made it scarier.

I wet the bed at Grandma’s house sometimes, and my mother shouted at me. Nightmare followed nightmare, but I didn’t dare get out of bed and run to my mother’s room like at home. I knew that if I did, the giraffe would get me first. So I lay there in my soggy sheets, counting the minutes until I saw the sun’s glow through my eyelids.

“I think it’s hard on Helen,” I heard my mother tell my father one night when they thought I was asleep. “She shouldn’t have to deal with this at her age. I’ve been too harsh.”

“We knew this was coming,” my father said, rubbing his unshaven cheek. “She has to come to terms with death some time or later.”

They knew about the giraffe, I thought fiercely, my fingernails biting into my palms, and they’re just going to let it kill me. My parents won’t even try to stop it. This is something I have to face on my own.

Grandma barely left her bed anymore those days. Was she hiding from the giraffe, too? One morning, I slipped in and stood in the shadow of the door.

“Grandma?” I whispered.

She looked up at me with her dark, cloudy eyes. “Yes, honey?” Her voice was weak, every syllable heavy.

“Have you ever seen the giraffe?”

“The what, dear?”

“The giraffe,” I said in my smallest voice, hoping it wouldn’t overhear us. “You said not to open the window at night and let in the giraffe. Did you ever see it?”

She laughed, actually laughed, though it turned into a shallow wheezing. “Oh, no, Helen darling! You can’t see a draft!”

I trembled. “Then… how do you know it’s there?”

“You feel a cold wind,” Grandma said. “Honey, do you think you could go get your mother? I think it’s time for my medicine.”

In my dreams that night, the giraffe rode on the wind, galloping above roof tops like an awful, twisted Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Its eyes were pale stars and ghosts straddled its back. Its breath was like blue fire and icicles hung from its mouth. And whenever I tried to hide from it, it disappeared into the night air, only to reappear inches away from my face. I wet the bed again that night.

By the last days, all the leaves had fallen from the trees. They stood naked around the lawn, looking like skeletons. Grandma hardly looked like Grandma anymore, the times I got to see her.

I played alone in the hallway with my dolls, just outside Grandma’s bedroom. Barbie was marrying John Smith again, but I didn’t care about the wedding. I wanted to know what my parents were talking about with Grandma, why I wasn’t allowed in with them.

“It’s too stuffy in here,” I heard my father say when I pressed my ear against the heavy wooden door.

“It’s nice out, for November,” my mother said. “Maybe some fresh air would do here good.”

“I’ll open the window,” said my father.

I fell, the side of my head slamming into the door. “NO!” I screamed. I twisted the doorknob and vaulted into my grandma’s bedroom. “No, not the window!”

But it was too late. My father had already pulled back the curtain and wrenched open the window. A light breeze rolled in.

There’s nothing there, I thought, nothing but the night.

But Grandma told me you can’t see the giraffe…

She had been asleep at first, had been asleep every time I’d been allowed to visit her the last few weeks, but her eyelids fluttered open as I wailed, “Daddy, no! Close it, close it!”

“What has gotten into you, Helen?” snapped my father, grabbing me hard by the shoulder and dragging me from the window. “You’re not a baby!”

“Stephen, look,” whispered my mother.

We both turned toward Grandma. She had done nothing but lie there for weeks. Now she was struggling up to a sitting position, her chalky face tinged with purple. Her mouth opened and closed, but only a creaking sound came out. Slowly, she raised one hand from the bed. Whatever she was trying to say, I’ll never know, but even then, I could read what was in her eyes: pure terror. Then she collapsed back onto the bed, all the light gone from her eyes. Grandma was gone, vanished unseen out the window with the giraffe.

I know now that it was just a childish misunderstanding, and childish misunderstandings are supposed to be funny, or at least adorable. But when I remember Grandma’s house, the last thing I want to do is laugh. And some nights, even now, I dream of the phantom giraffe that stole away my grandmother, carrying her off into the night on a cold gust of wind. I always keep my windows shut.

Credit To – Schmergo

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