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Creepypasta Contest: Gaming Pasta Challenge

April 19, 2016 at 12:00 AM

As mentioned in the April Discussion post, this month we are having a writing contest!

I’m going to just go ahead and copy/paste what I wrote before:

If you’ve been active in the creepypasta community for a decent amount of time, it’s highly likely that you’ve encountered gaming pasta. Such stories are often referred to as “Haunted Cartridge” pastas due to how many of them involve protagonists who, for some reason, are willing to pay for obviously counterfeit versions of old NES games and then have to deal with the consequences of whatever weird angry gaming spirits they’ve invited into their console of choice.

The genre gets a (largely deserved, let’s be honest) bad rap mostly due to how many gaming pastas are nothing more than retellings of the original, more novel haunted game stories. For example: while Pokemon Black was novel at first and did creep some people out, the countless “Pokemon Blood Orange” or “Pokemon Burnt Sienna” spin-offs that sprung from its loins got really tiresome, really fast. Likewise with the “Ben Drowned” rip-offs – people started churning out variants that essentially were just mad libs, replacing just the game and Ben’s name. There’s really no faster way to kill a creepypasta subgenre than overloading readers with a glut of indiscernable copycat stories – even when a decent and/or original entry appears, readers seem to be too jaded from the ” crappypasta overload to give anything in the genre a chance.

With all that said, I do believe there is hope for gaming pasta. Even if it doesn’t receive many additions, I do retain the Haunted Games tag for a reason – there are those of you out there who truly do enjoy your creepy video game stories, and when they’re done well, I fully agree that they can be enjoyable.

So this month, I have a challenge for all you writers out there: write and submit a good gaming pasta.

From April 19th until May 5th, I will open up a special submission form where people can submit gaming pastas only; anything unrelated that gets sent in via this form will be deleted. The moderation team and I will read through all of the submissions and pick three winners that we feel best accomplished the goal of writing a good gaming pasta. The top three submissions will have their story hosted here, of course, and the top-ranked eligible author will also receive a Legend of Drink Gaming Cartridge Flask:

The Legend of Drink

  • The mods and I will be reading and discussing the submissions amongst ourselves as time allows. Please allow up to a week after contest submissions close for us to choose our winners.
  • Only ONE winner will receive the flask. In order to receive the flask, you must have a shipping address in the US/Canada and be 18 years of age or older. If this doesn’t apply to you but you still wish to submit a story to the contest, that’s fine, just know that you won’t be eligible for the physical prize – it will be given to the next placed author that fulfills the eligibility requirements. However, your story will still be eligible to be declared the overall winner of the contest.
  • TO BE CLEAR: DO NOT SUBMIT YOUR CONTEST ENTRY VIA THE NORMAL SUBMISSION FORM. USE THE FORM ATTACHED TO THIS POST. Submitting your story to the wrong form is likely to result in your story not being read until after the contest is over, as it won’t go into the priority contest queue.
  • Just because I know some of you will read that last sentence and think you have a clever plan to get your non-contest story read quickly: if you submit a non-contest story using this form, it will just be deleted. Don’t try to game the system, it won’t work.

The form is attached to this post under a cut and can be accessed by clicking here (or simply by clicking the post title).

I look forward to seeing what you guys can produce!

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July 2014 Creepypasta Book Club: Cults, Conspiracies & Secret Societies – PLUS “The Secret World” Giveaway [Winner Chosen, Congrats to Kristela!]

July 1, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Welcome to possibly the longest-named post on the entire site! It fits, because this is going to be a long post – I’ve got a lot of ground to cover about the whole book club idea before we begin. Exposition, go!

Today we’re going to start the “creepypasta book club” that was discussed in previous announcement posts. If you’re not familiar, the idea is to read some books together that will help cultivate inspiration and nurture more original ideas in our writers. I don’t believe that I’m overestimating when I say that lately, a solid 75% of the incoming submissions are simply retreading the same few topics – I suppose that, for whatever reason, serial killers, haunted games, and fanfics of previously-created Creepypasta “characters” are extremely trendy right now.

The problem is, though, that after the 5000th rip-off of Jeff the Killer or the latest attempt to copy-and-replace Ben Drowned with the writer’s favorite game franchise, these stories get mind-numbingly boring. New ideas and inspiration are CLEARLY necessary now, because I for one am absolutely sick of reading about serial killers. I’m not sure if it’s just because they’ve been so in lately in pop culture (what a strange thing to say, but it seems to be true – Hannibal, Dexter, Jeff the Killer, so on and so forth), but we’ve gone way past the point of oversaturation.

You guys need to find something new to write about.

So that’s where this book club idea comes into play. Every month, I’ll select a general theme and give you guys one or two books to read. Now, to avoid confusion, this won’t be about reading already established “creepy” fiction like King or Chambers. Though we may do that another time, the book choices for the inspiration club will be, primarily, nonfiction (though some selections will definitely be “nonfiction” – we’re going to indulge in some pseudoscience and conspiracy books because, after all, we’re trying to get ideas for fiction anyhow). This will hopefully allow you guys to expand your comfort zone of creepy into realms like secret societies, cryptozoology, high-risk exploring like mountaineering, ancient cultures and pseudeoarchealogy, aliens, mysterious disappearances, and more.

The other added benefit of using nonfiction is that spoilers won’t be a concern. Since this post’s comments will act as the discussion forum for our book club, we need books that people can easily discuss at all sorts of different points of progress without ruining each other’s experience.

So, yes, to alleviate some of the confusion and concerns that initially came up when I presented this idea:

THIS POST is your book club. The comments here are where you should air out all your thoughts and ideas that spawn from reading the suggested books. There’s no requirement for how fast you progress through the book(s), whether you read both books or only one, or even if you finish the book(s) or not, so please feel free to jump in and discuss the books whenever you’d like.

If this takes off and you guys want it, perhaps in the future we can try and organize some sort of chat at the end of the month, but for now please don’t worry about that and just post here whenever you have things to talk about regarding this month’s books.

Okay, all that said – here are the two books I’ve selected for July 2014. As stated in the title, this month we’re going to explore the world of cults, conspiracies and the theorists who love them, and secret societies.

It should be said that these books were chosen with mature readers in mind. If you are under 18, please do check with your parent/legal guardian before reading these books. I’d really prefer to avoid a pitchfork-mob of angry parents who find this topic inappropriate for their kids. I’d also like to say that the opinions expressed in the books are, of course, the opinions of their authors and the people profiled only – I’m not advocating or co-signing any of the groups covered in these books. I’m not telling you to believe in the Illuminati or anything, I just think such topics are a cool and fun thing to learn about and will probably inspire some people to write better pastas.

The first book is by Jon Ronson, a British author/humourist that I personally really enjoy. Them: Adventures with Extremists is exactly what it says on the tin – Ronson meets and spends time with a lot of famous faces in the world of conspiracy theories and extremist beliefs. David Icke, Alex Jones, Omar Bakri Mohammed, and more – as Ronson says, the only criteria was that the people/organizations he features have been called ‘extremists’ at some point in their careers. Each episode gives you a look into the beliefs, day to day lives, personalities, and habits of the the various extremists that he profiles. If you’re interested in writing a character-driven story about conspiracies, cults, or societies, this book will be helpful. It also tends to be rather irreverently funny, which is a plus.

As a bonus, Jon Ronson was recently on WTF with Marc Maron, where he gave some behind-the-scenes details on this book (they also delve into The Psychopath Test, another book I’m considering for future months if this book club turns into a long-term thing) as well as more personal opinions and anecdotes. You can stream/download the episode here for now (it will eventually become a premium-only episode, so keep that in mind – based on the pattern, I’m guessing it will go premium-only sometime in August).

If you want to go more in depth, the second suggestion is Arthur Goldwag’s Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies: The Straight Scoop on Freemasons, the Illuminati, Skull & Bones, Black Helicopters, the New World Order, and Many, Many More.

Unlike THEM, this book isn’t really a narrative – rather, the author has researched many of the world’s more infamous and interesting cults, conspiracy theories, and secret societies, and he’s done nice write-ups on each. The entries are organized thematically and can easily be read out of order if you’re so inclined. Beyond the organizations in the title, he also covers the origins of the Assassins (it’s not just a random word), Area 51 and all it encompasses, the Yakuza, the Kennedy assasinations, etc etc and so on. This book is really useful and interesting if you’d like to get a sort of crash course in this month’s topic.

Lastly, to celebrate the first book club post, I’m giving away ONE online game code for Funcom’s online game The Secret World.

Since the raffle is over (congratulations to Kristela A. for winning!), I’m putting the rest of this entry under a cut. The main page has so many stickied posts at the moment that I think it’s necessary to de-clutter wherever I can.

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How to Write a Vidya Gaem Pasta

April 1, 2014 at 2:00 PM
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(A last hurrah to the Haunted Game ‘genre’, as it were.)

So, you’re wanting to write a video game crappy – erm, creepypasta? Think you have what it takes? To be honest, you probably don’t. But fear not! With just the submission form (who needs proofreading? Or drafts? Hell, who needs edits? Not you, that’s for sure!) and this handy guide, you’ll be writing terrible pastas in no time!
Wait, did I say ‘terrible’? Like, out loud?
I meant ‘beautiful’.
Yep.
Totally.
————–
First of all, you’re going to have to pick a topic! Maybe you should go for something well known? Maybe try your hand at more obscure games? It’s your choice! Let’s get creative!
(And by ‘get creative’, I mean ‘write the same shitty pasta that’s already been written a thousand times before’. But that doesn’t matter. Whatever.)
>Try a Pokemon pasta! They were the most popular video game pasta subject for a reason, you know. Don’t know anything about Pokemon? Doesn’t matter – just as people who have never played Pokemon can pick it up easily, you don’t need to know anything about it to write a pokepasta! Just throw in some peekachoos and charozords and you’re all set!
>Maybe a Minecraft pasta? Just like how you can do so much in Minecraft, you can write so much about it too! ..Or you can just write about Herobrine! ‘Who’s a hero brown,’ you ask? Why, only a slightly original monster that was mutated into a cliched horror monster by thousands of bad fan misinterpretation!
>Try your hand at a Legend of Zelda pasta! Hey, you remember that one ‘ben drowned’ pasta you read about a year ago? Well, let’s write that again, but with all grammar or decent writing absent! I’m sure it’ll get thousands of upvotes! (read: downvotes)
>Something a bit more obscure? Why not? You could be contributing to the large amount of stories that only make sense to a small, unknown group of people! A scary story… about lawyers? Farming? Why? Why the hell not?

Wow, that took a while! Time for deciding the name of the pasta! This is nice and simple!

[GAME NAME]: [DESCRIPTIVE WORD] [WORD RELATING TO THE PASTA]

Sounds relatively simple! Let’s try it out a bit!
Pokemon: Bloodied Diamond
Minecraft: Curse of Herobrine
Ace Attorney: The Demonic Testimony

Do you like those names? I like those names. Let’s move on!

Of course, your main character has to get their game in some way. What’s that? Introducing the character? No, no, no, no, no. You’re doing it all wrong.
>”I got it from a garage sale/market sale/yard sale” – The oldest and best one in the book. If 99% of people write it this way, then it can’t possibly be bad, can it?
>”Some shady guy/girl/being of unidentifiable gender gave it to me” – Sometimes, we just want to skip the boring introduction and get straight to the action, and there’s no better way to do it than this.
>”I downloaded it online” – Who goes to garage sales anymore? Keep up with the times with this new, hip trend!

Moving on to step number three – of course, because this is a creepypasta, the game has to be haunted, right? But what’s it going to do?
>Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary – because hey, if you put in no effort here, you can use that effort later, right? That’s how it works, isn’t it? Right? Right?!
>A couple of graphical glitches – because nothing makes your viewers tremble more than the screen flickering a little or some colours changed. This is a true fact.
>Noises. – More specifically, weird noises. Glitchy sounds. Muffled screaming. The usual.
Okay, those are some basic ones, but why not step it up? Add some blood! Lots of blood! Also, make sure to use some of these words at least three times in the story…
>Hyper-realistic
>Bloody
>Demonic
>Ghostly
>Scary
Alright, we’ve got some scary shit going on, but if the main character ran away now, the pasta would stop half-way, right? Let’s choose an excuse for them to stay around.
>”I thought it was just a glitch”
>”I thought it was just a glitch”
>”I thought it was just a glitch”
Just kidding. You get no choice on this one. Trust me, this is for the better.
Alright, now just fill in the rest of the story using more glitches (as always, consider adding more blood and hyper-realism to your story), until WHAM! Something really scary happens! This can be anything – hell, it doesn’t have to be scary. Just as long as your main character responds fittingly. Or, alternatively, not-so-fittingly.
How will your protagonist respond to the sheer creepiness? How will this story meet its conclusion?
>Throw their console out – Destroy their DS! Pulverise their Playstation! Erm, throw a TV out the window? Whatever. It works.
>AND THEN THE PROTAG DIED – Dead things are creepy. People dying are creepy. Why not kill off the protagonist? I’m sure that, with the large amount of characterization we gave them earlier, it will really shock the readers. Honest.
>YOU’RE NEXT – Did you know that all creepypasta readers have a constant fear that there’s a monster behind them? Use this to your advantage? Everyone’s terrified of walls!

Alright, now we have the main story and –
Oh?
Did you think that was finished?
Oh no, this is the fun part. Now we add some… er… personality to your story. And by ‘personality’, I mean ‘bad writing skills’. I mean, let’s face it, nobody really misses punctuation. I sure don’t.
Choose one of the following typing quirks – I mean, writing styles.
>capital letters. get rid of all your capital letters. no-one likes them at all. too old fashioned.
>WHY NOT HAVE LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS? BE NEW AND DANGEROUS. MAKE YOUR ENTIR STORY CAPITAL LETTERS. (Obviously, don’t use this one with the previous one.)
>Make Every Capital Letter Refined And Pronounced. This Makes You Seem Posh And Smart.
And at least one of these. You can have more, if you want to be EXTREME.
>Motherfucker, let’s get some fucking swears up in here. Swears are bitchin’ as shit. It makes you sound fuckin’ hip and cool. Fuck yeah.
>No punctuation ever at all because seriously having things just constantly flow is so much easier and better in every way wow
>Waht if you where unabel to spel things right? Sonds fun!
———————
Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve most likely just finished writing your first video game pasta! Now just publish your beautiful (read: horrendous) story (read: crap heap), and watch it get thousands of upvotes (read: downvotes) like it deserves! Good luck!

Credit To – Yu “The Operator” Meigns

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Succession Of Nightmares

August 8, 2012 at 12:00 AM
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Nightmares.

We all have them, one time or another.

Everything has a dark side, our dreams were meant to be a place of jubilation, and contain our most wonderful fantasies.

This is kinda like an award. Some of us work our asses off all day long, and then come home to a nice cozy bed. Sleep by itself is a nice gift for our turmoils, but dreams make sleeping hard for us to want to wake up sometimes.

But there is of course a darkside…there is always a darkside.

Nightmares have a certain way of creeping up on us when we don’t want them to…its almost like they know…

Some may say that nightmares are our own fault. Watching scary movies, or reading scary stories can fuel our nightmares.

But….what if there are things out there…that can control our dreams?

What if there are beings who can purposely give us nightmares.

What if these things are there to drive us insane…to the point where we want to sleep forever.

Now is when I tell you about my nightmares…

A couple weeks ago I started to get really into reading creepy stories. All humans have this certain want of excitement…but sometimes we take it way to far. You know what I’m talking about. Surfing videos on the internet late at night, reading creepy stories, or making our own stories.

You know how it works. You sit there, tired in front of your computer. The room is dark, the voices in your head are telling you to shut off the computer and finally get some fucking sleep. But then it happens. You find a video that has a creepy description. Perhaps a video about a ghost encounter, or a video of aliens.

This is how my nightmares started.

My friend Zack has a youtube account where he plays video games and gives them commentary. You know, a “Let’s Play.”

But one day he decided to do something different. He narrated a story off of a website called “creepypasta.com.”

I have heard of this somewhere, I know I have. Its hard to surf the interent for so many years and not hear about something so popular.

He told a story of a man called “Slender Man.” Now I had obviously heard of this character. I’ve seen the MarbleHornets videos, and I’ve seen the fan art, and the so called “pictures.”

The story was interesting, and it made me want to read more, so I did.

Within a few days, I had read all the populare stories that this website had to offer. “Squidward Suicide” “Ben Drowned” “Dead Bart” “Jeff: The Killer” “The Tails Doll” “Smile Dog” And all the Pokemon hacks.

These stories…they give you a feeling of terror. You start to notice all the small things around you, all the creaks and moans. You look over your shoulder and think you see a shadow of some sort. Nothing…huh…silly you.

You finally get the courage to go to sleep, and then you start to understand the position you just put yourself in.

I understood what I was doing to myself…but I didn’t stop.

I saw them all…I saw all the creatures from those stories in my dreams.

I saw the Smile Dog try to make me spread the word…I saw Jeff telling me to go to sleep…Squidward staring at me with his bloodshot eyes…

Jerking myself awake everytime I encountered one of these freaks got old real fast.

But then, the nightmares begin to get so much more real.

No longer was I imagining the characters from the stories…but now…my nightmares were taking their own shape. Contorting themselves to make me even more uncomfortable.

One night, I was laying soundly in my bed. It was almost like an out of body experience. You see, I had a bird’s-eye view of myself. It was as if I was laying on the ceiling. I was laying on top of the covers, and my eyes were closed. I must note that I was not breathing. No snoring, no indication of my stomach rising and lowering. In fact, I was utterly motionless.

My room was pitch black as it usually is when I fall asleep, but I could see myself perfectly. Its as if I had some type of night vision, but it wasn’t all green and shit like it usually is.

Then my eyes shot wide open. It startled me a bit. I just stared up at the ceiling. It seemed as if he was looking at me, like I really was on the ceiling.

A drop fell…a ruby colored drop of blood fell onto my face. Then another…and another…and another…
The drops began to fall slow, but then they picked up speed, similiar to when rain begins to fall.

The version of myself laying on my bed then begins to smile. The blood soaks his teeth, and started to drip into his eyes. But he did not blink or close his mouth. Just let the blood fall on him.

Suddenly, the view switched to me being on the ceiling. Now I was the one laying on the bed.

On the ceiling…was a bloody, mangled, wounded version of me. My eyes were missing, and my teeth were missing as well. But I had the same smile as the version of myself on the bed.

My hands and legs were pinned to the ceiling…almost…as if I was being crucified.

Then the view began to slowly zoom in on my face. Blood still fell, and my view was being distorted. I wanted to see what was going to happen, so I tried my best to see. The view then zoomed in on my face at an alarming rate, and then I spoke.

“I am your God now.”

I woke up. Breathing fast and hard. I felt paralyzed, like I was stuck.

I felt liquid around me. Did I really just piss the bed from this nightmare? Or….or was it blood? I quickly jumped up and found out that I had knocked over a cup of tea in my sleep, and I was laying in it.

Sometimes when I have dreams I feel as if the interactions of objects in the real world affect my dream. In one dream I was being stabbed repeatedly in the arm, and I could actually kinda feel it. I awoke to my friend obnoxiously poking me in the arm with a pen. I thought that him poking me in the arm made the stabbing from the nightmare be all the more real.

Since dreams and nightmares are derived from our brains, we can experience things in our dreams that seem real. When you eat something, you can taste it. This is because you remember how the object tasted.

This dream made me not want to sleep anymore that night, so I didn’t.

But that wasn’t the end.

I had this same nightmare over and over again for a few days. Happening the same way everytime. There wasn’t anything I could do. I couldn’t change the dream even if I wanted to.

This nightmare scared me everytime. You think I would have got use to it…but I didn’t.

I began to think about ways I could avoid this nightmare. This was my first thought.

I can’t remember ever having a nightmare while I was napping during the day. So my frist plan was to sleep during the day, and stay up during the night. Hopefully this would work.

First day, no nightmare. I was relieved. I thought that I had found the solution. I had no problem sleeping during the day, I didn’t sleep much as it was already.

Second day, my plan failed. The same nightmare happened again, but this time. There was no smiling from the body on the ceiling…actually…there were no emotions at all. My head was missing…more blood fell quickly this time making the dream end faster. My body laying on the bed looked down, and my decapitated head was laying in my lap. And it was smiling.

I’m pissed now. What, I just can’t fucking sleep anymore? Fine, I won’t. I’ll stay awake! Yes, that will work. I’ll stay awake until I pass out from exhaustion. I won’t encounter the nightmare unless I absolutely have to!

I wrote this…quite a while ago…back when the nightmares first started. It’s been about a week since I decided I wasn’t going to sleep.

I’m so tired…I don’t think I can stay awake anymore. My bed…sounds so heavenly right now. I guess my plan didn’t work how I thought it would…

I’m going to go to bed now…I think I could stay up for a few more hours but…I don’t want to.

I want to see my smile…I want to see my bloody body hang from the ceiling…It sounds so interesting to me now…Oh how that blood felt so refreshing cascading on my face.

I have a bottle of pills…extra strength…I’m going to take them all with some alcohol…

I don’t want to be awake anymore. I’ve been awake for a couple days…and I now realize how horrifying it is.

I’m seeing all those creepypasta characters in real life now…I’ve gone completely fucking insane.

I know they won’t be there in my dream…they were never there before.

I’ll sleep forever…so I can look and smile at my God for the rest of days.

I just swallowed the pills…I’m going to have a quick drink, then I’m going to bed.

Why not join me?

It will be your God soon enough.

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One For The Road

April 19, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I woke to my friend, Tom, climbing through my window. It was a summer’s night, around 2AM, and the heat had been unbearable for days. For that reason I had left my window open slightly to let what cool air there was filter into my bedroom while I slept. It was a scrambling, panicked noise which brought me to consciousness and immediately I thought someone was breaking into my home. In the darkness I couldn’t tell who it was, but as soon as I heard ‘help me’, I recognised my friend’s voice.

After turning on the light I pulled Tom into the room and sat him down on my old brown armchair, which had seen better days.

‘Close the window!’ he seethed, half shout half whisper, and completely occupied by the nighttime scene outside. ‘Switch the light off’.

‘Why?’, I asked, confused and still half dazed.

‘It might see us’.

That word ‘it’ sat in my mind, distilled and unerring. I would have laughed if Tom hadn’t had such an unsettling look on his face. I’d never known him to be spooked by anything, and to see him so visibly shaken took me by surprise and filled me with trepidation. I switched off the light and my eyes adapted once more to the dark. Tom sat there with his head in his hands, the room lit dimly by the street lights outside filtering through the blinds.

‘What’s going on?’, I said.

‘You won’t believe me’. He looked up at me and, even in the low light, I could see the sweat running down his temple.

‘Tom, whatever it is, it’s okay’.

‘No, you don’t understand’.

‘Try me,’ I said. And with that, he relayed his story in a hushed, wavering voice.

*

Tom had been out that night, no surprise really as he always enjoyed a drink. In fact he enjoyed it too much, and his behaviour of late had been erratic at best, self-destructive at worst. He’d been at the Windarm Lodge, a small old-man’s pub near the town main street. I knew why he’d been there before he even told me. His ex-girlfriend, Shelley, worked there behind the bar. A month earlier she had broken up with him; she just couldn’t take his drinking anymore.

That night, Tom had dragged a mutual friend of ours, Greg, to the lodge, under the guise of ‘a couple of games of pool and just one drink’. Come midnight, as the pub closed, Tom had to be dragged from the bar by the manager and thrown out into the street. He’d been pleading with Shelley to have a drink with him when she finished her shift. When his simple question turned into a bitter demand, he was quickly ejected.

I knew what Tom was like when he had a drink in him, which was one of the reasons I’d refused to go out with him that night. He’d been increasingly argumentative and unpleasant. The break-up with Shelley had made him even worse. We were all trying to help him as best we could. I’m not painting a great picture of him, but when he was sober he was a thoughtful and caring person, and a good friend.

After staggering down a couple of streets and lanes, Tom produced a hip flask filled with whisky which he carried in his pocket, and asked Greg to join him for a few more drinks on the way home. Greg refused, no doubt already having had his fill, and so it wasn’t long before an argument broke out. Greg was just trying to help Tom up the road, but instead received drunken insults; Tom throwing around words he’d regret in the morning. After a few minutes of a verbal bashing, Greg gave up and made his own way home.

Tom staggered along the road and cursed Shelley, Greg, and the rest of the world for refusing to have another drink with him. There was nothing else for it but for Tom to drink alone. As he wandered along an empty street not far from where I live, the rain came on, slight at first then torrential; so heavy was the downpour in fact, that he was forced to take shelter and wait for it to pass.

It just so happened that the street he was on, Serling street, had its fair share of abandoned buildings, having once housed the workers of a now defunct factory. One house in particular had an old porch which encased the front doorway on either side and had a pointed roof, which provided just enough shelter for one drunken twenty-something during a downpour.

Tom climbed a small fence and staggered across the weed filled garden to the front door.I say the front door, but in reality it had long since been broken in, no doubt rotting somewhere inside the house alongside unseen floorboards, roof beams, and memories. No matter how drunk my friend was he had no intention of exploring inside. He just wanted somewhere to stay dry, and the porch would provide enough protection for that. And so he sat on the front step, angry and embittered, the rain for the most part being rebuffed by the porch roof above.

He waited there a while, looking out across the overgrown garden to the street beyond, the rain dancing off the tarmac. It seemed clear to Tom that he was going to be there for a while longer, and so, if all else fails — drink. There he sat taking increasingly longer slugs from the hip flask: it filled with cheap whisky and Tom filled with anger at the world, at Shelley, Greg, and everyone else who ‘didn’t understand’.

Now, Tom had a habit common to heavy drinkers. When he would get to the precipice and intoxicate most of his sober mind, he started to talk to himself; and that night, after the pub and a good portion of the hip flask, he began a conversation. He cursed his friends and family, his situation. He called Shelley a ‘whore’, and, beyond all else, he hated those around him for being so perfect and lecturing him on how to live his life. At least the drink wouldn’t turn its back on him. That was something he always said he could rely on.

The rain hadn’t abated, falling with the same ferocity as it had from the start, Tom’s words swallowed up by the white noise which blanketed everything around him. Finally, after another slug of whisky, he slumped against the cold rotting porch frame, closed his eyes and began to drift off to a drunken sleep. As he did so he mumbled once more about Greg and Shelley’s refusal to join him; that it was ‘just one drink for the road’.

It was then that Tom felt a drip of rain make its way through a crack above onto his forehead, and at the same time the weight of something uncomfortable prodding into his shoulder. As he opened his eyes he felt a warm, humid breeze flutter across his face, arid and stale, far removed from the air around him which pulsated with each sheet of rain.

‘I’ll drink with you’ a gravelled voice breathed into Tom’s ear.

He turned, startled and horrified by those words, only to be confronted by an unnatural, aberrant face which rested its pointed chin on his shoulder, its body poking out from the darkened doorway behind. The face was covered in dirt and grime as if it had spent decades beneath the earth, and had the shrouded appearance of ivory cloth pulled tightly over a withered frame, implying skeletal features beneath and showing every movement of jaw and bone.

There are some sights which will sober even the most inebriated drunk, and this was one of them. Tom dived forward, falling onto a slabbed garden path thinly concealed by weeds and soil. He screamed at the top of his voice, only to be drowned out by the torrential rain, its million voices engulfing his forsaken one. Clawing at the ground he rushed to his feet and leapt over the garden fence into the street. Then, on; on into the rain, into the night, away from that house, from whatever thing had been disturbed there.

Blood coursed through his veins as he fled, and his head began to ache excruciatingly from a potent cocktail of fear and alcohol. Gasping for breath, he stopped for a moment, now far away from the house at the other end of the street. He turned to look back, but it was difficult to see, the rain hurling itself into his eyes with such force that the scenery was blurred and indistinct.

Slowly, he calmed and entered into a sober dialogue with himself about having ‘drank too much’ and ‘just seeing things’. It was then that through the bubbling wall of rain he saw something move. A figure, shrouded in darkness and cloth climbed over the fence in pursuit. Tom wiped his eyes in disbelief as it began to run towards him at speed.

Panic, absolute and controlling. Tom turned, screaming, no one able to hear his pleas for help. He kept running. He left Serling street behind, and yet at every turn the shrouded thing from the house followed. Finally, he made it to the street where I live, and clambered through the window hoping to be saved.

**

I stood there in silence. He seemed so upset, so certain, that he even had me believing his story for a moment. But then what I saw as the truth presented itself.

‘Tom’, I said gently. ‘You’re bone dry’.

‘What? No, I’m…’, he stopped as he ran his hands over his clothes and then his hair.

‘There hasn’t been a drop of rain in weeks, and tonight has been just as still as the others’.

‘But…’ He hesitated for moment, shaking his head and rubbing his mouth with his hand. ‘No, I’m telling you. This happened. That thing is real’.

‘Tom, you’ve been drinking too much, and you probably fell asleep, and in a daze you made it here’. I placed my hand on his shoulder to reassure him. ‘Please, let’s get you home. Give me a minute to change my clothes and I’ll walk you there’.

As I moved across the room Tom pulled out his whisky flask and took a big slug. ‘Maybe you’re right. Just need to sleep it off’.

I turned to put the light on, but before I had a chance to, Tom let out an almighty scream. I have genuinely never heard anything like it. Utter fear, complete and distraught. He leapt to his feet, opened my window in hysteria, and then fled into the night.

***

Two months passed, and myself, Greg, Shelley, and our other friends who cared about Tom were unable to contact him. Indeed, the only reason I knew he was alive, and not drowned in a river somewhere, was because his brother assured me he had spoken to him.

Finally, one day, Tom appeared at my front door looking in as good a shape as I had seen him in a long time. He claimed that he had in fact went through an alcohol rehabilitation program which, while he still struggled with an urge to drink, had kept him sober for several weeks. He said that the tipping point, his lowest ebb, had been that night, when he hallucinated that thing into being on Serling street. Indeed, he said that for weeks whenever he had a drink near him, the figure would appear from the darkness; following, chasing, never relenting. In the end, more than anything else, it was the fear of a mental illness taking hold and seeing that hallucination again which made him stop drinking.

I was, and am, so happy for Tom, and would hate to do anything to change his interpretation of the events. Doing so could perhaps undo his rehabilitation. I’m sure he’s right, about the whole thing being an hallucination. That seems like the reasonable and obvious conclusion to have. But I often lie in bed kept awake by an uneasy memory, unsure whether to trust my own senses. For when Tom jumped back out of the window into the night, I saw something follow him from the corner of the room.

Credit: Michael Whitehouse

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The Cats of Juniper Valley

December 16, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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They put up a tall fence covered with black tarp and topped by barbed wire, surrounding Lake Collette at the center of Juniper Valley, so that no one could see what they were doing. Two of the three local cop cars were stationed 24/7 at either end – one to the east, one to the west. This all went on for three days while some unknown, official body did what needed to be done, then, overnight, the black barbed-wire fence was gone, replaced with one of the normal chain-link variety.

A few middle school kids dared Kevin Whitter to apply a pair of wire cutters and sneak in. My little half-brother knew Kevin; the kid claimed to have seen unmarked vans and a bevy of sunglass-wearing government agents with automatic weapons surrounding a team of scientists in hazmat suits, dragging a the carcass of a monster out of the water. The monster had ten legs, the skin of an alligator, and the body of a squid. Or the body of a shark. Or matted fur, or feathers, or teeth.

It changed per telling. And it was all bullshit. I’m guessing Kevin Whitter either chickened out before doing the deed, or else was picked up by the cops as soon as he approached the fence.

At the end of the three days, some early risers in Juniper Valley reported witnessing unmarked cars heading east on Skylark Road, towards the highway and the air force base and the Palmdale airport. Whatever government agency was operating behind the blockade, searching the lake, they were gone without a trace by the time the sun was up.

And whatever they found, they weren’t telling. The cops were clueless; all they told us townsfolk was that, due to a bacterial infestation, we were not to swim in the lake until further notice.

I will never swim in the lake again. And I hope to God they killed them all.

*****

I stayed in Juniper Valley during the summer, with my father. He and my stepmother loved it there, loved the isolation and the small-town lifestyle. Though I would hesitate to even call Juniper Valley a “town.” It’s an unincorporated cluster of ranch-style homes planted like a pimple amongst the Sierra Pelona Mountains.

In the 90’s, the population of Juniper Valley and the surrounding hills was eight hundred and change. There was one general store in town, one gas station, one church, and one dirty little inn with a bar/restaurant. Anything else one might need could be found in Palmdale, a 45-minute drive east, through miles of gridded power lines and golden flatland, dotted with silos and scrap metal.

The town resembles a bowl, with Lake Collette at the basin, and streets and houses arranged around the edges, along the slopes of the surrounding hills. Calling Lake Collette a “lake” is also stretching things a little bit. Its a sag pond, right on the San Andreas Fault, which cuts straight through Juniper Valley. During droughts Lake Collette would drain to a glorified puddle, a mossy marsh of waist-high weeds.

There were quite a few rainy years during my childhood. Lake Collette would remain a proper body of water then, even in the midst of the hot, dry summer. I’d look out my bedroom window at the lake, below the dim circles of light cast by the two street lamps on Skylark Road, pitch-black like a tar pit. On moonless nights it seemed depthless, and I felt as though it could be a kilometers-deep well. A black hole. It could suck me in, swallow me whole.

I grew up. My months in Juniper Valley became skull-crushingly boring. My dad and stepmother worked, my half-siblings went to summer school, and my friends were seventy miles away. The nearest library was almost as far, and the rabbit-eared TV picked up three channels: local access from Palmdale, the Bible channel, and assorted infomercials.

It was my step-grandmother who told me about the Willfell Animal Sanctuary. She went to church with the lady who ran the place, a retired park ranger named Kathy. The shelter was a non-profit funded solely by donations, with an all-volunteer staff. Kathy owned an acre of hillside land off Skylark Road, just west of town, a fifteen-minute walk from my father’s house.

I was thirteen the first summer I volunteered at Willfell, and I went back every summer after. They loved me there. By “they,” I mean the only two staff members: Kathy, an earthy woman in her sixties who functioned as CEO, manager, accountant, and primary caretaker of the animals; and Jacques, a 27-year-old autistic man who cleaned cages and walked dogs as part of a government-subsidized program. And I fell in love with the animals. There were about sixty of them, homeless dogs and unwanted cats.

There were two huge kennels in Kathy’s large backyard: one for dogs, one for cats. Further back, rabbit hutches. And at the far end, against the sturdy fence, a tiny stable that housed an elderly racehorse and a fat little donkey.

When pounds in Palmdale and Lancaster received animals they had no room for, they’d give them to Kathy. She’d drive her rickety, old, windowless van east to the highway, then come back hours later with new furry charges. Sometimes, she’d function as a poor man’s dog catcher – agencies would direct her towards residences from Juniper Valley to Acton, asking her to remove starving, nearly hairless dogs from gardens and pull emaciated cats out from under cars. These were the highway strays, abandoned on the 14 by individuals who no longer wished to be pet owners.

That first summer, I meet Jane Kitornes.

Jane was a friend of Kathy’s, a retired Navy nurse who worked as an at-home caregiver and took in homeless cats. She visited Willfell at least once a week, sometimes bringing large bags of cat food. Jane was a rough lady. Tanned, sinewy, wrinkled beyond her years; only ever seen wearing stained wife-beaters and baggy fatigues. She’d never married, had no family I knew of, and seemed to prefer the company of cats to humans. Kathy considered her an asset – she’d take in twenty cats at a time, accepting responsibility when we had no more room.

She owned a half-acre a few miles southwest of town, off a shabby two-lane road called Oak Tree Lane. Oak Tree Lane snakes between grey-green hills before dead-ending deep in the Angeles National Forest; rusting mailboxes stick out of the ground like flags at the head of dirt roads, leading to remote ranches and groves and campgrounds.

Jane’s cottage was at the end of one of these dirt roads, in a little clearing carpeted with knee-high weeds and prickly shrubs, surrounded on three sides by gently-sloping hills. She’d take me there, sometimes. There were always cats everywhere.

Cats inside and out. Cats on the sofa, cats sitting atop Jane’s washer, cats sunning themselves, stalking field mice and butterflies, sleeping and fighting and screwing. I’d spend hours at Jane’s house with her cats, helping her clean up and clean litter boxes, cuddling kittens from the occasional litter.

Jane liked me. Since she obviously felt little need for human companionship, I took this as the highest of compliments. Every summer, on the first day I’d see her, Jane would break out into the biggest, brightest smile that Kathy swore she reserved only for me.

“You’re like me, Marlena,” Jane would say, as I stared out the window of her 1979 El Camino. “You can cut through anyone’s bullshit and see their soul. That’s why you love animals so much. Your standards for souls are higher than most.”

*********

The earthquake hit the winter of my junior year. I remember waking in the middle of the night, roused by the “thud” of my precariously-placed math book falling off my desk. The mild shaking lasted about 3.5 seconds, then I realized I’d experienced an earthquake, rolled over, and fell back asleep.

My dad, his family, and Juniper Valley were hit a bit harder. Positioned on the San Andreas Fault and closer to the epicenter, structural damage was rather extensive. And, as the area was experiencing a rainy winter, rocky mudslides closed roads and isolated remote dwellings. The mess had been cleaned up by summer, but I noticed broken sandbag barricades and new, violent cracks along Skylark Road.

Lake Collette looked more robust than I’d ever seen it, but was surrounded by a chain-link fence. The water had taken on a greenish tinge, and hosted islands of thick, yellowish scum. For now, it was closed to the public.

I returned to Kathy and the Willfell Animal Sanctuary – with a driver’s license this time, which secured me a new responsibility. Kathy’s windowless van still had’t broken down, but she was sick of driving it all over the valley. So she handed me the keys. I enjoyed it at first. Rambling through golden plains until I saw the boxy developments of Palmdale or Lancaster; rescuing filthy, unloved creatures from the clutches of abusive owners or uncaring bureaucracy.

Jane Kitornes had all but disappeared. Her last nursing charge had passed away, and she was rarely seen in town – only at the general store, Kathy told me, and rarely. I think Kathy and I were the only people in Juniper Valley who noticed her absence. I missed Jane. I missed the way her face lit up when she saw me, and the warm summer afternoons spent in her backyard. I called her landline once. It had been disconnected.

Soon, the cats started appearing.

My third day back, I was sitting in Cathy’s office when I received a phone call from a talkative old lady in town. There was a cat in her backyard; it had been sitting in the lower branches of her oak tree for hours.

“I think it’s someone’s pet,” she said. “It’s too chubby to be a stray.”

This, in and of itself, was not an extraordinary event. Everyone in town knew Kathy ran a shelter, and would infrequently call her in lieu of animal control when an unknown animal became a bother. Sometimes said animal would be a neighbor’s lost pet; other times, a runaway that had wandered from Palmdale. Kathy always made an effort to find the owner. Rarely, a feral, abandoned highway stray would make it to Juniper Valley. These poor creatures were always half-dead things with matted fur and exposed, pustule-dotted skin. They usually had to be euthanized. Or died before the local vet got the chance.

At first, I assumed the calm, well-groomed, grey-and-white shorthair I found in the old lady’s oak tree was the former: a townie’s escaped house cat. I tried to coax the thing down with a can of tuna. No dice. It wasn’t remotely interested in the food – it just stared; black, depthless eyes locked on something that wasn’t me. I stood, tuna can in outstretched hand, looking like an idiot, for five frustrating minutes before giving up and going to the van to grab Kathy’s net. When I got back, the cat was gone. I never saw it again.

It bothered me all night. It was like the cat had been messing with me.

And it happened again and again. Homeowner after Juniper Valley homeowner, calling Willfell and asking us to remove a cat from their property. Always cats. Always different cats, I don’t think I ever saw the same one twice. The homeowner always insisted he or she had never seen the animal before, and they never had collars. They always appeared well-fed, if not overfed; their fur, though not show-quality, was thick and intact.

It became troubling. Juniper Valley had a population of 842; it was located forty-five minutes from the nearest town, and surrounded on three sides by hills and forest. Everyone knew everyone else’s pets, and the sudden appearance of so many unaccounted-for cats was mysterious, to say the least.

And these cats were not like any cats I’d ever seen before.

They liked fresh water. I’d find them sitting in fountains and kiddie pools. They didn’t seem to like the sun. They’d come out at night, or else be found in some shaded, dark, enclosed space. They were silent, never hissing or meowing.

They were really, really good at getting in and out of places. I found one curled up in the back of a lady’s car. Though she admitted she’d left the door unlocked, the physical act of opening and closing the door should have been impossible for a creature with only paws at its disposal.

They were smart. Supernaturally smart. At times, I fell under the disturbing impression the cat was taunting me. I’d be setting up some trap, or extending the net. The cat would sit there, calm and cool, watching intently. There’d be a minute in which I’d have some semblance of hope I’d finally catch the thing this time, and then the cat would dart out of my grasp. Or vanish the moment I turned my back.

The weirdest part was, once or twice, the cat stopped before running off and looked at me. I could swear it was laughing.

And they all shared the same icy, emotionless black eyes. I wished they didn’t remind me so much of the empty eyes staring from the euthanized corpses I saw at Willfell.

Finally, I caught one.

It was early July. I was quite pleased with my cunning. I bought one of those huge plastic storage tubs from the general store, filled it with water, stuck it in the back of the van, and waited for my feline quarry – a large, pug-faced tabby this time. After an hour of hiding in the cab, the cat climbed down from the roof where I’d found it and into the waiting reservoir. I raced to the back, slammed the van doors, donned leather gloves and prepared for a hissing, clawing fight.

But, surprisingly, the cat didn’t struggle at all. It was fully submerged in the water, curled up on the bottom of the container like a rock. I picked it up, shoved it in a cage, dumped out the water, and drove.

It wasn’t until I was halfway to Willfell that I noticed the smell. Once, my nine-year-old son dropped a fish stick in the back of my car and forgot about it. A humid summer week later, my car smelled just like that cat had.

When we got there, the chubby tabby put up about as much of a fight as it had in the van. I didn’t hold it for long – years of experience with scared animals taught me that the less time spent with claws inches from my face, the better. But the short span of time the cat was in my hands was enough to make me seriously uncomfortable. It was heavy and, somehow, doughy. My hands sunk into its flesh like silly putty. And it was cold.

I left the cat in the ‘quarantine’ cage in Kathy’s office. We usually only used the cage for animals that were obviously ill, which the tabby was not. But there was just something… wrong with this cat. Like it shouldn’t be mixed with others of its species. I gave it bowls of kibble and water, then sat down at the desk to fill out an application for a grant. Kathy was gone for the weekend, visiting her sister in Bakersfield. Jacques was in the back, cleaning out the pony stall.

I couldn’t concentrate. Not with the cat there.

I looked over my shoulder every other minute. Each time, I’d see the same thing – the flat-faced tabby, sitting in its water bowl, staring at me. It never blinked. It never moved. It didn’t even appear to breathe. The rotting, fishy odor filled the room.

Finally, I cracked. I double-checked the latch on the cat’s cage, locked the office door, and pretended to be busy feeding the dogs. I called the vet and asked if he could come by and take a look at the feline, but he said he wouldn’t be able for another week.

The next morning, I found the office window wide open, the quarantine cage open, and the cat gone. I wasn’t disappointed.

Not long after that, everyone started talking about little Charlie Henderson.

Charlie was 12, and had been skateboarding alone, shortly before midnight, in the parking lot by Lake Collette. The lake was still scum-covered and fenced off, and the occupants of the nearest homes had long since packed it in for the night. The way he told it, Charlie had been approached by a cat. He bent over to pet it, and the cat danced away, leading him to a grove of trees behind the lake.

He followed the cat. Then, suddenly, he was attacked by a small army of cats. They jumped from the trees and emerged from the shadows, latching onto his clothing and limbs and dragging him towards a hole in the fence. If a lost car hadn’t pulled into the parking lot and turned around, causing the cats to scatter and giving him time to run away… well, who knows what they’d have done with him?

No one believed him, of course. Everyone assumed he’d been attacked by, maybe, one feral cat, and his imagination had taken over. Because cats don’t corner people and jump them – that takes organization and planning, intelligence not possessed by house pets. And his story got weird, too. He claimed one of the cats had stretched itself, like silly putty, and grew an opposable thumb.

Then Jane came back.

It was a cloudy afternoon, and I was taking advantage of the slight cool-down to deep-clean the dog kennel. Kathy was gone again, in Riverside watching her granddaughter play softball. I was busy scraping dried dog crap off the concrete when Jacques ran out to tell me there was a lady asking for me. I wiped off my hands and went inside, to find Jane Kitornes staring at me from Kathy’s living room.

Jane had never been fastidious about her appearance. But, if I hadn’t known her so well, I would have assumed the gaunt, trembling figure in a stained wife-beater was a homeless woman. Her hair was a frizzy, matted mess of grey. She looked unwashed; her arms and chest were striped with lacerations of varying degrees of depth, in various stages of healing. And her eyes, which had once seemed to serve as a window to a rational, calculating mind, now allowed a glimpse into bloodshot insanity.

“Jane!” I said. “What… are you okay?”

She didn’t smile. “Do you have any?” she asked.

I frowned. “Any what?”

“Cats, Marlena,” was the curt reply. “It’s the cats. I need the cats. They’ve been wandering.”

I gave her what I hoped was a kind smile. “Okay, Jane. I can show you the cats. But Kathy said I’m not allowed to have any of them adopted without her around.”

That was a lie, but I wasn’t about to pass Jane custody of a pet rock, let alone a living, breathing creature. She was obviously not in the physical, emotional, or mental state to care for anything, not even herself.

I walked her out to the cat kennel. As expected, a small herd of dogs ran towards Jane to sniff her and beg for attention. Then, about three feet from her, the dogs stopped. They sniffed the air, whined, and loped off in all directions. Not a single one got any nearer.

Jane looked over the cats seriously, then sighed in disappointment. She shook her head, turned around, and paced back to Kathy’s house.

“You haven’t caught any,” she said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

She glared, looking through me. She could cut through anyone’s bullshit and see their soul.

“You know what I mean, Marlena. My cats. Call me if you catch one. There’s so many of them now. And they’re getting bigger.”

With that, she walked out the door. She stopped. She turned around.

“And Marlena? Watch the lake.”

I spent the rest of the day in a daze. I’d been wondering where the weird cats came from – they didn’t belong to anyone in Juniper Valley, and it was hard to believe that they’d all migrated from Palmdale. Jane took in homeless cats. Maybe they were hers. I didn’t know why they would have left food, water, and shelter to wander for miles along an isolated road and into a neighborhood, but it was at least a possibility.

That night, following a tangled motivation I couldn’t put into words, I borrowed my father’s car and drove to the parking lot by Lake Collette. Where Charlie Henderson had been attacked. I pulled right up to the fence, turned off my car, let my eyes adjust to the darkness. I obeyed Jane. I watched the lake.

I hadn’t sat for ten minutes before I saw movement. A black shape, creeping out of the shadows and approaching the water’s edge. More movement, against the clump of trees to my right.

Cautiously, quietly, I opened the car door and stepped out. I shut the door gently and tiptoed towards the fence.

A large black cat waded in the dirty lake. Its paws were inundated. It kept on going.

A subtle creak. I came closer, until I was grasping the metal links of the fence, and I felt it quiver under my fingers. I looked to my right and saw them. Two more cats. Huge cats, the biggest I’d ever seen. Cats climbing down the fence like monkeys, head first, completely vertical. One, then the other, jumped gracefully to the ground and stepped into the feeble light bleeding from the two streetlights. One was yellow, the other a tabby.

The first cat was almost completely submerged. With the lightest gurgle, it ducked under the scum-covered waterline. Into the black hole, the toothed tar pit.

The light wasn’t good at all. It looked as though the second and third cats had… had flattened when they hit the ground, like play-doh thrown at a wall. And there was something about how they moved. They jiggled, their legs bent the wrong way. Or maybe it was just the shitty lighting.

Where was the black cat? It couldn’t still be underwater.

Ripples in the lake, small islands of yellow scum shifting in gentle waves. I didn’t feel a breeze. There was something else in there.

A cadence of nerves was triggered in my brain, forgotten but immediately recognizable like a song. I was scared of Lake Collette, scared like I had been as a child, when the black water had seemed from my bedroom window a depthless well. I ran to the car. I did a donut in the parking lot and sped home.

******

The next morning was hot and bright and, under the cloudless sky, it all seemed ridiculous. I was letting the Charlie Henderson rumors get to me.

I walked past Lake Collette on my way to Willfell. I went right up to the fence. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary; no cats in sight. A light breeze ruffled the water.

I breathed in and gagged. It smelled like rotting fish mixed with a McDonald’s dumpster. It smelled like the pug-faced tabby I’d caught.

Cats don’t like water. Cats don’t swim. I’d spent nearly half a decade surrounded by cats, and the cats I’d been chasing around yards and spying on the night before weren’t… cats. That smell. The way the tabby I’d caught had felt when I held it – bloated and putty-like. Cold. Those cats didn’t purr or meow. They didn’t eat. They didn’t poop. Their intelligence. And that stare – those glassy, corpse-like eyes that seemed to take in everything and nothing.

And Jane. Her cats, she’d said. They’ve been wandering. They’re getting bigger. Maybe she was going nuts, living out there alone in the wilds, a mile away from her nearest human neighbor. The dogs wouldn’t come near her. Her own cats had been attacking her, apparently – how else to explain the scratches all over? Yet still, she was desperate to have them back.

I had to talk to Jane again.

Kathy was still gone and it was Jacques’ day off, so I planned on heading to Jane’s lonely dirt road as soon as I fed the animals. But a couple from Palmdale called unexpectedly, asking if they could come by with their daughter to pick out a pet. By the time they’d selected a Corgi mix and made arrangements to have the dog neutered, it was after five.

It was fine. It was still light out. I locked up, grabbed the keys to the van, and made my way into the hills.

My teen-aged bravado waned as I travelled farther and farther away from Juniper Valley. There’s no defined town line, but when you reach the intersection of Skylark and Oak Tree Lane you’re essentially watching civilization shrink in your rear-view mirror. I’d forgotten just how far away Jane’s shack was from anything, and just how desolate and lonely the mountain road became. I didn’t see a single other car the whole time.

Finally, I came to the rusted blue mailbox with Jane’s numbers on the side. I turned on the dirt road. The van jerked violently as I climbed up the hill. When I reached the apex, I saw Jane’s shack. Carefully, foot on the brake, I made my way down into the valley.

It didn’t look like Jane was home. There was no light coming from the windows. I pulled up closer, into the driveway, past the house, to the carport in the back. The back door was wide open, and Jane’s El Camino was there.

The cats weren’t.

No cats lounging in piles by the stairs. None prowling around the yard. I’d never been within a quarter mile of house, day or night, rain or shine, without seeing at least a few cats.

I pulled beside Jane’s car, climbed out of the van, strolled into the backyard. Jane’s empty property looked lovely in the approaching dusk. Tall grass surrounded by gentle golden hills, spindly naked trees reaching for the heavens, majestic firs meeting fluffy white clouds like an Old West movie backdrop.

She must have been hiding in the house. She must have crept up behind me. Because I don’t remember feeling the blow.

******

I woke up lying in cool, moist dirt. I was looking at water. Lake Collette? No, I saw nothing but hills and foliage in the distance. Where the fuck was I?

I sat up. My head spun; I felt blood in my hair. I was sitting on the bank of a small pond. The water was greenish and thick with algae, covered in thick yellow scum. I took a breath and lurched. The smell. Rotting fish, rotting flesh, fast-food dumpster – stronger than I’d ever smelled it before.

The water moved. Something was emerging a few feet in front of me. Swimming to shore. A black cat, paddling with uncomfortable, almost human strokes. I scrambled backwards, away from the approaching creature.

It reached land. It pulled itself onto the bank. It stood up.

Anyone who grew up watching Looney Tunes knows what a cat, in theory, looks like standing on two feet. This was nothing like that. The black cat’s weight shifted. Its belly bulged, its lower legs swelled, became shorter and fatter. The effect was the same as squeezing a stress ball. Instead of a creature with a skeleton and tendons and muscles, I was being approached by a thing, with the consistency of jelly, wearing a furry suit.

I screamed. I stumbled to my feet. Then I felt icy fingers curl around my neck.

I struggled, and instinctively horse-kicked my unseen attacker. The hand loosened, and I whirled around.

I was face-to-face with Jane Kitornes.

But it wasn’t Jane.

Her face was round and flat, boneless. The wrinkles under her eyes had smoothed themselves out, and her nose bulged like a mushroom. And her eyes…

The maniacal glint was gone from her eyes. So was the consciousness, so was the recognition, so was the vitality. Her pupils were so dilated her irises were no longer visible, and what had been white was now completely red.

Her eyes didn’t move. They were those of a corpse.

A wobbling arm extended, and I was falling backwards, back towards the pond. Towards the demented, anthropomorphic cat. I turned my body and caught myself as I slid, my left arm plunging into the murky water.

A cold weight on my shoulder, knocking me backwards. Then the cat… cat thing… was sitting on my chest. It held out a paw, then stepped on one foreleg with the other. Its paw bulged, then… reshaped itself. Its toes grew fatter, skin stretching, and a small nub popped out of the side. An opposable thumb. Like putty in a rubber glove.

Then something in the water grabbed my hand. Something soft and cold and rubberlike, slimy but very, very strong. It pulled me. It was pulling me into the water. Then something else jerked a my hair.

Jane stood over me, smiling. She bent down, hands outstretched. Pudgy, bloated hands, attached to rope-like arms that jiggled and curled and changed shape…

What happened next is a blur. I remember clawing, kicking, screaming at the top of my lungs… and then I was running, stumbling, lungs burning, stinging, aching, cursing the spongy, weeded ground that gave under my feet. I pushed through dry shrubs and jumped over tree branches, praying I was going in a direction that would lead me to humanity, and that the crinkling of grass behind me was only my imagination.

Then I was on top of a hill, looking down at Jane’s shack. And then I was in Jane’s yard. I saw the van and lunged for it, threw myself in the driver’s seat, silently thanking the spirit or guardian angel that distracted me so I’d left the keys in the ignition. I slammed the door.

I looked up. Out the windshield. And into the red-and-black, empty eyes of the thing that had been Jane. It was smiling. She’d always reserved a special smile for me.

I turned the key. I gunned it.

SQUELCH!

The van jerked violently. I slammed on the brakes, kicking up dirt like smoke. I felt a sticky moisture against my cheeks. I took a breath, and barely managed to pull open the door before I projectile-vomited. Even thinking about that acidic, rotting-seafood stench induces a nauseous tickle in the back of my throat.

I’d crushed Jane under the front right tire. I’d popped her.

*****

God must have been smiling down on me that night, because the van still ran. I drove it straight to the police station. In the parking lot, I surveyed the damage. The front bumper was dented, and a headlight was out.

There was no blood. The mangled metal was splattered with glossy, opaque white goo.

I was almost completely honest with the sleepy-eyed desk cop. I said that Jane tried to drown me in the hills behind her home, chased me to the van, and then I ran her over; but I left out the part where her body had taken on the properties of pasta and silly putty. The cop asked sarcastically if I’d been doing any drugs, but radioed a car to the site.

Over the next week, I was questioned multiple times by the police. Their questions became increasingly bizarre, to the point where they were asking about toxic chemicals and lights in the sky (seriously) and whether I was, or had ever been, involved with a heavy metal band and/or a witch cult (this was the late 90’s). I was chastised for driving down a lonely backroad, alone, to approach a crazy woman. But I was never charged with a crime.

The cops were cagey, but they’d found something.

By the next morning, Oak Tree Lane was blocked off by the County Sheriffs, and the inhabitants of the hills had been roughly evacuated with no explanation. Then came more sheriffs, then the unmarked cars, then the tall, black, barbed-wire fence around Lake Collette. Jane’s death was reported as a “freak accident.”

*******

I tried to forget. I holed up in my room, watching happy movies on VHS, until my mom came to take me back to Van Nuys. I went back to school. I threw myself into studying and applying for college. When I needed to, I snuck my mom’s sleeping pills.

Eventually, however, curiosity overwhelmed my fear. I wanted answers. So I elected to spend the following summer, my last before college, in Juniper Valley with my father.

Willfell was no more. Kathy had left the animals with a larger no-kill shelter in Acton, retired, and moved to Riverside. There was a large “for sale” sign in front of what had once been her home. And it had been a dry winter. The chain-link fence, broken and bent, still surrounded Lake Collette, but the lake was little more than a puddle.

I flirted my way into a job waiting tables at the bar/restaurant (they weren’t great with checking ID’s). I spent my nights serving burgers to bored townies, trying to strike up conversations about the strange events of the previous summer – the shadowy agents, the fence, the crazy cat lady. I was offered nothing but rumors, speculation, and good old-fashioned lies.

Finally, I met a man named Aaron. He was in his twenties, chubby, and socially awkward. He worked as a counselor at a camp for disabled children. He talked about Dungeons and Dragons a little bit too much. And his uncle was a local cop. It was a slow night; I shot the shit with Aaron for awhile. When I asked him if he’d heard about the “crazy cat lady” who’d died last year, he played it off like a tabloid headline.

“What crazy… oh, that lady!” He laughed nervously. “Yeah, I heard about her. They found her body and drained some pond in the hills, and all her cats were missing. That’s about it.”

But I’d noticed his eyes widen and his hands tremble.

I guess I got lucky. Aaron’s cop uncle, apparently, had a weakness for Jack Daniels and a tendency to ignore police confidentiality when drunk. And that weakness must have been genetic, because a sloppy, giggly hour later Aaron was singing like a canary.

The night Jane had tried to kill me, two cops had been dispatched to her home off Oak Tree Lane, expecting to find an empty bottle of Everclear and a discarded bag of ‘shrooms. Instead, they found what had been Jane Kitornes.

Pieces of her were scattered across the ground like debris. They radioed for backup, and a small posse spent the remainder of the night on a scavenger hunt for vital organs. They found skin, plenty of skin. The piece that once covered her back was folded up in a torn white tank top. Her bones and organs seemed strangely melted, as though pulled from a vat of acid. Or digested. It was like, one officer had said, Jane had been skinned from the inside, then filled with acidic goo like a water balloon.

Everything was coated in a white, translucent jelly substance. The officers had taken a sample to be tested. But by the next morning, it had evaporated into a powdery white stain.

The big guns were called in. Sheriffs, agents from multiple government divisions; he couldn’t say who exactly; the local cops had been pushed out of the investigation by that point.

He had heard that, upon searching Jane’s property, they found an axe, multiple firearms, boxes of ammo, and ten cat skins buried a foot and a half deep in the backyard. Mostly with their heads detached, and all coated in the familiar white powder.

They scoured the hills behind Jane’s property, and they found the pond. The small sag pond that, according to land surveying reports, had not existed before the earthquake and the rains of the previous winter. They drained it. At the bottom, they found twenty-four more cat skins.

The insides were all gone, yet the skins were unmarred; at no point had they been cut apart or sewn together. Again, it appeared as if something had eaten or dissolved all the blood, bones, and vital organs. Except for the teeth, and the eyeballs. The eyeballs were left intact to stare hauntingly into oblivion.

Ater this discovery, they dragged Lake Collette as well. Aaron didn’t know what they’d found there. The lake was thoroughly searched, and even after the government agents left, the citizens of Juniper Valley were urged to stay away.

******

It’s been nearly twenty years. I’m a veterinarian now, a divorcee, a mother. I’ve done some digging, spent hours in corners of the internet where I’ve seen things I can’t un-see, made some new friends. But I still don’t have answers. I don’t know what changed Jane’s cats that summer. Were they infected? Usurped? Possessed?

I think it was something in the water. Hyper-intelligent, blob-like things that had lay dormant for years, brought to the surface by the earthquake, revivified by water, able to invade the bodies of other creatures. Jane had allowed her cats to wander the hills. The cats had found the pond. They’d leaned in to take a drink…

Maybe the blob-like things drowned them first, then got inside them via mouth or anus, and digested their unfortunate victims from the inside out. Then, they wore the skins like wetsuits. To exit the water, perhaps – maybe their bodies were weak against air and sunlight. To look for more prey.

Or to look for replacements. Skin and eyes decompose, eventually.

But, as they consumed cat after cat, they grew too big to stay in the sag pond. They needed a bigger body of fresh water to make their home – Lake Collette. They grew too big to fit inside a cat’s skin. They needed clothes in a larger size. They needed humans. Little Charlie Henderson.

And Jane. Jane figured it out before anyone. Jane, who could cut through bullshit and see a naked soul, realized some of her cats no longer had one. So she chased them down. She killed all she could. God knows how many there were – the ten she killed, how many more?

Finally, they got her. She – it – found me. Knocked me out. Dragged me to the pond’s edge. I was going to be its next outfit, its next meal.

But this is all conjecture. My opinion.

All those years ago, I told Aaron, the chubby camp counselor, everything. He listened, eyes widening but never doubting. The next morning, he and I took his car down Oak Tree Lane, to the rusting blue mailbox, and finally the abandoned shack where I’d passed so many teen-aged summer days. We hiked a mile into the hills, carrying two shovels and my father’s rifle.

We found the hole that had once been a sag pond, now a weeded ditch. And we got to work. It was hard work. It was dirty work. It took a few trips. But, by the end of August, we had leveled the land and completely filled the hole with dirt.

I don’t know what was down there. But if there’s more, they’re not getting out.

Credit: NickyXX

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