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.

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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The Mill

September 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The sound of the alarm clock gradually bringing her back to consciousness meant she must have finally fallen asleep. She groaned, propped herself up on her elbows and brushed the long blonde hair out of her face so she could read the time. The last time she’d looked at it, it had read 7:34 A.M., and she had yet to get a lick of sleep. Now the clock read 10:07, meaning the damn thing had been buzzing for the past seven minutes…and that she had yet another night that may as well have been sleepless.

Kelly Baker let out another groan and reached out her left hand as far as it could reach, her slender fingers coming just short of the nightstand where the pesky clock laid. Her confusion wearing off and turning to frustration, she rolled onto her back, propped herself up against the headboard, and slammed the top of the clock with the bottom of her fist several times, hitting just about every button on the thing but snooze. Now beeping instead of buzzing, she grabbed it in both hands and yanked it towards her, tearing the power cord out of it’s socket. She was about to throw it across the room when she stopped herself short, gently placing the clock back onto the nightstand.

Sighing, Kelly rubbed her face. She had a headache that raged as fiercely as the alarm clock, and though she wanted nothing more than to crawl back under the sheets and sleep the day away, she knew it was as hopeless as her chance of having another steady relationship. She tossed the remaining covers off and climbed out of bed.

Kelly slept naked, and the cool air of the apartment instantly chilled her to the bone. Making her way to the windowless bathroom across the hall, she pulled the aspirin out of the medicine cabinet and tossed two in her mouth, reconsidered, and popped in a third. Normally a girl that would swallow them one at a time, she poured herself half a glass of water, and swallowed all three at once. She studied her tired face in the mirror for a moment before turning to the shower stall. She turned on the hot water in the shower, the pipes creaking in disagreement as she did, and exited the bathroom as the water warmed up.

Though Kelly had been living in the apartment for a week, she had done little unpacking and nothing was where it was supposed to be save for the furniture, which her dad had helped her put in place the day she moved in. Ordinarily, her living space was very neat and orderly, but the apartment was still in awry, boxes upon boxes stacked and placed wherever they would fit. The spare room was packed with them, a few had wound up in the narrow hallway or in the master bedroom, and the rest were upstairs in the middle of the living room. Despite having the past several days off, she had done virtually no unpacking, spending most of her days haphazardly going about, and today, in all likeliness, would be no different.

The Harwick Mill Apartments were a far cry from the lifestyle she was used to in her parents’ home. Built in the early 1900’s, the building had once been a textile mill at the center of the Harwick Brothers operation, and the entire town, for that matter. The sprawling brick building took up nearly an entire block, and with it’s three stories and countless large arched windows, at one point it had been the most awe-striking building in town, and probably was up until it closed down during the depression.

Over the years since they were abandoned, many of the old factories and warehouses associated with the Harwick Brothers Company had been lost. At least two burned to the ground, one only ten years ago, and several were demolished to make way for newer projects. Several more factories still lay in disrepair, overgrown, and with fences and and warning signs that seldom kept kids from vandalizing the properties into even further degradation, a poignant reminder from a time long passed that nothing lasts forever.

It wasn’t until the late 70s that the restoration project took place; the very restoration that turned the decaying Harwick Mill into the Harwick Mill Apartments. Several other buildings were converted into storage units, offices, and various small businesses. The buildings that once made this Connecticut town rich now served the needs of the lower income residents.
Apartment number 123 was on the interior of the building facing the courtyard, as were all the odd-numbered apartments, and she was glad for that, for she would take the green lawn over the parking lot any day of the week when she looked out her window. And though her apartment was a two-bedroom unit, they charged her the price of a one-bedroom unit. Probably because that was all it was worth, and judging by the lack of people around, she gathered they needed all the tenants they could get.

With the shower still warming up, Kelly briefly returned to her room, grabbing her undergarments and her outfit for the day, coming from the same cardboard box as the outfits from the past three days. The box was marked ‘sweats’ and today’s outfit (that being the one that was closest to the top) was her black and pink volleyball warm-up suit she hadn’t worn since her team made it into the semi-finals her senior year of college. That had been two years ago, when she was twenty-one and things were alright in the world. Well, in her world at least. She thought of the friends she had then, of her drive to do well both as a key member of the volleyball team and towards doing well in school.

The hot water wouldn’t last long, maybe five minutes if she was lucky, and she hurried back to the bathroom. She jumped in the shower, and directed the shower head at her forehead, hoping it would make the headache go away. A cold was coming on, for she’d had a sore throat all day yesterday, and a sore throat had always meant a cold was just around the corner for Kelly Baker. She got them at least twice a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. She thought of Brian, of how she was supposed to be moving in with him, not into this apartment. Doing so was the last thing she wanted to do, but with her parents moving up to Vermont for retirement, it was the best she could do on such short notice, for there were few places that even fit into her budget, and the Mill had been the most viable option, the closest to work. And it was the cheapest, though Kelly now knew why.

After drying herself off, Kelly donned her clothes, not expecting the warm-up to fit as well as it had two years prior, even though she was just as slim now as she was then. She’d lost a little weight since then, and she imagined she probably lost most of it in the past week. She zipped the jacket all the way up, fixed her hair with her hand, and declared herself ready for the day. There was no point in doing anything else if there was no one in your life to dress up for. Though she knew she should at least be happy her outfit fit her as well as it had two years ago, a sudden longing, not only for her relationship with Brian or for the comfort of her parents’ home, but for just being a girl.

Kelly was twenty-three, over a year out of school with a BA in English, and she knew it was passed time to grow up, but…well, being an adult sucked. Being an adult and supporting herself had always been in the future, a thing that never seemed like it would come. And when it did, she would have her steady boyfriend Brian Jackson at her side every step of the way. Or so she had thought, until he dumped her two weeks prior without really giving her a reason why, other than ‘it’s not working for us anymore’, which isn’t a reason.

Brian had gotten a job offer as a CPA up in Mass, while Kelly was still working as a waitress at Chester’s Grill, where she’d worked since she was eighteen, and she had just assumed she wasn’t good enough for Mr. CPA anymore. Initially it had devastated her, and she was heartbroken and didn’t understand what it was she had done. But over the past few days, those feelings had been mixed with bitterness and anger, some of it towards herself, but more and more towards Brian, and the other woman in his life she could only assume existed. She often pictured her as a slutty, bipolar nurse named Samantha. Good, she hoped it was true, because it was no more than Brian deserved.

Kelly made her way to the stairs, being joined by a draft of cool air the entire length of the hallway. She gave a brief glance at the hatchway on the landing halfway up the stairs. Located out of reach of what her five-foot-seven frame could reach without a stepping stool, she had yet to open it, and intended to put a picture frame over it, because a cold draft came out of there, too, it seemed. She supposed if she ever had something valuable enough, it would be a good place to hide it, if she ever felt inclined to get a stool and do so. Of course, if Brian was here, she wouldn’t need the stool. She scowled at the thought, and made her way upstairs to fix herself breakfast in the kitchen, which hadn’t been as warm as she had hoped.

Because of those windows. Kelly was no expert on the matter, but she would eat her panties if those windows weren’t original to the building. They were yellowed beyond belief, scratched, even cracked in some places, and the green paint looked like it hadn’t been touched up since the place had been restored. The four windows upstairs were terrible; the two windows closer to the kitchen had gaps between the frame and the brick wall large enough for her to stick her pinky through in places, and she could only imagine the amount of bugs that must get in when the weather was warmer. And whatever heat didn’t escape through the windows that were taller than her instead uselessly heated the upper portion of the ten-foot high ceiling of the upper level. While the two windows in each bedroom downstairs were smaller and slightly better fitted to let a little less air in, there was a constant draft of air being pushed down the staircase every minute of every hour of every day. And this was only late October. Kelly could hardly imagine how cold it was going to be come winter.

Aside from the windows, her biggest complaint with the place since she’d moved in had been the random noises she heard at all times of the day, but seemed to be particularly prevalent at night. Though some seemed to be coming from apartment 121, the unit behind her kitchen, most of them came from the floor above her apartment. She knew there was no one living up there, for all of the apartments on the premises occupied just the first two floors, but it certainly sounded like someone was constantly moving stuff around up there.

And then there were the statues. Even the unartistic eye like her own could see the great love and detail put into each and every one of them, and though they were fascinating, she also found them creepy and unsettling. Like she was being watched by them. Most of them were out in the courtyard, but she knew there were at least a few throughout the building. There were two of them in the lobby, of which she believed to be the Harwick brothers, and another of a young girl in the pool room. She knew it was irrational, for if you had bottomless pits of money as the Harwick family once had, you could collect whatever it was you wanted, as many as you wanted, and she gathered one of the Harwicks, or perhaps a descendant, had a love for such statues, and gotten them made in honor of those important to the business, and perhaps their loved ones.

Still, perhaps what she found most disturbing about them wasn’t the statues themselves; rather that the statue population seemed to be higher than the population of actual, living people. And frankly, she wouldn’t mind seeing more people about, especially at a time in her life when she’d never felt more vulnerable. She supposed what she really needed was a friend she could trust, and though she had acquaintances at Chester’s, she didn’t have anyone she really confided in as a friend since high school. Well, anyone other than Brian, and she supposed that had been her own doing.

Though the kitchen was probably the highlight of the apartment and fit her needs, perhaps Kelly’s favorite feature in the entire apartment were the shelves on the far wall of the living room area, which took up two thirds of the entire upper level. The darkly-stained shelves started about waist high and went up almost all the way to the ceiling. Even with all the books, movies and other knick-knacks she had, she didn’t think she’d ever have enough stuff to fill those shelves, which was a good thing, because there was no way she could even reach the top shelves without a ladder or climbing up the shelves themselves. Deciding she needed something to keep her mind occupied today, she reckoned she could do something with those shelves.

All she felt like for breakfast was a plain bagel, and walking around with it on a paper plate, Kelly found the two large boxes of books right off, and started with that, deciding to put the books on the far left corner away from the windows where she would likely spend most of her time reading in her chair. She would have to go digging up the lamp later to put on the table next to the chair so she could actually see the books when it got dark.

Kelly started with the paperbacks, which ranged from Stephen King to Nora Roberts, arranging each by author, starting on the lower shelves and working her way up. She thoroughly dusted and cleaned each shelf before placing her books neatly, and though it wasn’t much, it was enough to keep her occupied from thinking about either her headache or that dick. It had gone unhindered until she reached the fourth shelf.

Kelly had to stand on her tip-toes just to reach the fourth shelf, and without standing on the bottom shelf, she could do little more than dust the very edges. But when she began placing the books on the shelf, starting in the far left corner where the shelf met the brick wall wall, the book wouldn’t push in, as if something was blocking it, and Kelly pulled it back out. She realized she’d have no choice but to climb up there and find out what the obstruction was that was interrupting her otherwise steady progress.

Above her, something metallic clanked onto the floor, and she perked up, looking at the ceiling. She paused a moment, listening intently for any other noises, then shrugged it off.

Kelly nimbly climbed up on to the first shelf, which was solid enough to support her weight thanks to the brick ledge below it, and she nearly lost her balance as she did so, but was spared from falling when she grabbed onto one of the shelves that was thankfully screwed in tight. She squinted at the corner where the obstruction was, inching her way down, but still couldn’t quite see what was there, so she reached back there and withdrew whatever it was hiding in the shadows. She nearly screamed when she saw it, but then quickly realized it wasn’t real.

It was a mouse. Or a sculpture of one, at least. It was light as a feather, even though it looked heavy. Minus being entirely brown, the mouse looked every bit like the real deal. She jumped down from the shelf and blew off the dust and a cobwebs, and spent a good moment further looking it over. It was extremely detailed. Someone certainly put in a lot of work making the little mouse.

Kelly brought the mouse over to the kitchen sink, spending a moment to rinse the little guy off. She looked closer and was startled by it’s shockingly realistic little face, and for a moment she was convinced it was going to spring to life and chew her face off. She almost dropped the mouse at the thought, but then gathered her senses. It was just a decoration. Still, it had a uncanny resemblance to the human statues throughout the apartments, despite not being human, that is. While she was pondering this, there came three steady knocks at the door.

Leaving the kitchen, Kelly gingerly set the mouse down on the banister, and looked over at the door curiously. She wasn’t expecting anyone today, and her first thought was that it was Brian, and he would be in tears, begging forgiveness. Then she could slam the door in his face, to tell him she would never take him back, whatever would make him feel her pain. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she had the thought of seeing one of those statues from out in the courtyard on the other side of her door, and she hesitated a moment before continuing on. It wasn’t Brian in tears, nor was it an axe-wielding statue from hell coming to chop her up into pieces. It was Melinda Harwick, the owner and manager of the apartment complex.

Kelly thought she might have preferred the murderous statue.

Under ordinary circumstances, she would have felt chagrined to be seen looking the way she did, but these were anything but ordinary circumstances. That aside, she had little like for Ms. Melinda Harwick, as the sign at the desk in her lobby read, and cared little for what the snobby old hag thought of her. Short and stubby, the woman always wore her signature white Victorian hat, a large diamond necklace, and enough perfume to choke an elephant. Kelly was certain she could almost smell her perfume through the door, about the only thing in this place that was even remotely air-tight.
Kelly had twice visited the witch’s office since she arrived, once the day she arrived to get her key and be seen to her unit, and then to file a complaint only two days ago about whoever was upstairs making too much noise when she was trying to sleep. Ms. Harwick had explained that the noises were likely caused by her brother, Boris, also the maintenance man. When Kelly asked to speak to Boris about his hours of operation, Melinda had only commented that Boris was not much of a people person, but that she would pass the message along. Kelly had gotten the vibe that she had been little more than a waste of the woman’s time. The last thing the woman had said before Kelly had left, was: ‘You don’t come to live at Harwick Mill for comfortable living, you come here for the experience.’ Kelly had no reply to that, though reckoned her face had given away plenty of what she had been thinking.

Perhaps she had now come to apologize for her rudeness or to offer an explanation for said disturbances, if it was indeed her brother Boris. And the more Kelly thought about it, there just might be a correlation between her pompous attitude towards the tenants of the mill and the lack of residents therin.

Kelly contemplated seeing how long it would take for her to go away, but she found herself opening the door instead.

“Good afternoon, Miss Baker. Sorry for dropping by without notice, but it’s standard procedure for us to come by and check upon our tenants. May I?”

“Uh, sure.” Kelly said, gesturing to the boxes in the middle of the room “Don’t mind the mess, I’m still unpacking.”

“Oh, no worries, sweetie. I’ve seen my fair share of people moving in my day.”

The tea pot whistled, and Kelly had no choice but to mind her manners. “I was just making myself some tea, but there is probably enough hot water for two. Would you care for a cup? I have green and black.”

“No, but thank you, Miss Baker.”

“You can just call me Kelly,” she said, making her way to the kitchen. She wasn’t going to give up her tea on her behalf. “Would you like to sit down?” Though what she thought was ‘please leave’. “Here, I’ll move some boxes if you-”

“Not necessary, thank you Kelly. I’ve been sitting on my buttocks all morning. I need to stretch my legs for a while. Besides, I won’t be taking too much of your time, I don’t think.”

Kelly just nodded and took a sip of tea. The woman simply stood there for a moment, studying the younger woman, seemingly apprehensive about taking a single step further into the apartment, which was just fine with Kelly. Melinda broke the silence between them. “I used to play volleyball too when I was about your age. I was quite good, if I say so myself. Actually, I..” Melinda’s eyes focused on the top of the stairs, and she gasped. “Oh, my. Would you look at this,” She said, making a move to the top of the stairs, picking up the mouse from the banister. “Where did you get this?”

Kelly had temporarily forgotten all about the curious little mouse, and then pointed at the shelf which now held over forty Stephen King novels. “I just found it a little while ago, when I was arranging my shelf,” she took another sip of her tea. “I guess it must have belonged to the previous tenant and was left behind by mistake. Easy enough to miss, I guess, it’s small, and the same color as the shelving.”

“I thought he was long lost,” Melinda said, looking upon the mouse in awe. “Oh, sweetie, this is a good omen.” She paused a long moment, seemingly forgetting Kelly was even there, her eyes transfixed on the mouse, before she looked up again. “This belonged to my grandfather. My great-grandfather made this for him. This was his first casting.”

“First casting?”

“Yes. Well, have you time for a little history?”

“Sure.”

“Well, as you may or may not know, my great-grandfather was Edgar Harwick. He was the younger of the two brothers who founded Harwick Brothers, Herbert being the elder. They were in the textile industry, and beginning in 1901, the two of them constructed and operated this mill and many others in this area of town. Business flourished, and so did the town. Farmland gave way to homes for the families of the workers, and the town prospered, and for a time, was quite famous, at least in New England. It was such a beautiful town, then. Now it’s over-run by shopping malls and chain restaurants, the old mills and what they did for this town long forgotten. Many town residents don’t even know these mills exist.

“In the years before the Harwick brothers immigrated to the United States, Edgar had lived outside of England for a number of years, working as a blacksmith’s apprentice in Austria owned by a man I only know by the surname, Schmidt. I don’t know what drove him there, or what it was he did, but what I do know is it was there that Edgar developed his inspiration for what he would later accomplish.

“Anyways, Edgar had arranged for a private shop for him to be built before the construction began. Thus, before the mill even opened, Edgar began experimenting with making little toy animals, if you can consider them toys. He spent many a long night, as well as company time and resources, experimenting and modifying his own technique from what that Austrian fellow had taught him many years prior. He had set up his workshop, here in the mill, roughly right above your room here, actually, and spent more and more of his time there, making toy animals. You see, Edgar was never fond of the textile industry to begin with, it was Herbert who really drove the business forward, Herbert who had the vision and the work ethic. Though Edgar had gone along with it for a time, he had a different vision in using the company’s success to help fulfill his dream. And what Edgar saw as his own dream, Herbert saw as a useless hobby. He argued that the toys would net the company no money and that there would never be any money in it.

“You see, as detailed as they were, they weren’t statues of bronze or gold or beautiful sculptures carved from marble, Herbert saw them as cheap knock-offs of the real deal, kind of like how we view Chinese products these days, if you will. What they were actually made of, I can’t say. But no one was going to pay any kind of money for what Edgar was trying to do, and in that regard, Herbert was absolutely right.

“But he continued on in private, working only at night when his brother had gone home, until at last, he had his first success. This very mouse was the very first toy he made, sometime around 1904, and he gave it to my grandfather, Benjamin, when he was only a young lad of five or six. Needless to say, Herbert found out that his brother had indeed continued to work on his toy-making, supposedly saying what Edgar was doing was disturbing, and threatened him. He woud have to dismantle his workshop, or get ejected from the company altogether. Edgar begged for him to reconsider, but he did not, and he was given a week to comply.

“Herbert died in an accident, right here in the mill only a few days later, before the news of the disagreements between the brothers could become more public knowledge. And though Edgar was never considered in any investigation, some of us know better. That he murdered his own brother so he could pursue his dream,” she smiled softly, as if condoning her great-grandfather’s actions, and Kelly got an uneasy feeling from that smile, but brushed it off. She was intrigued.

“Go on,” Kelly said, leaning against the wall at the top of the stairs.

“I’m not sure I should. You see, most of the rest can only be considered a rumor. Little fact meddled with mostly fiction. I will go on, but only if you promise to keep this between just us girls.”

“I’m not a journalist. I won’t be twisting your words and reporting it to the world the way I want them to see it.”

“Very well then,” she cleared her throat. “What I do know is that a few weeks later, Edgar’s very first human statue was produced, that of none other but the late Herbert Harwick. He’d done it out of spite, of course, but he’d done it nonetheless, and he realized that if he couldn’t do it to make money, he would at least do it for his own enjoyment, and no one was there to stop him or tell him what to do. Rumor would have it that he exhumed Herbert’s body, and used his very body as the foundation for the statue, covering him in some kind of tar that made him look and feel like a metallic statue when it hardened. It was said that was how all of his products were made, and was how a novice like himself with little metal-working experience was able to make such accurate and detailed works of art. Ignorance at it’s best, of course, for no one could possibly accept that he knew something they did not. It was even said that he went around, murdering those he didn’t like or who got in his way and turned them into statues. Rubbish, of course, but it does make a good story, as morbid as it may be.”

There was a loud bump coming from above them, as if a table had fallen over. Kelly raised her nearly empty tea mug with an expression on her face that said ‘see what I mean?’ But the expression on Melinda’s face remained solemn, one that seemed to blame Kelly for the interruption of her story, not the noise that had actually caused it.

“Anyways, Herbert had left the business in good shape, and it was able to run with minimal effort from Edgar thereafter. Regardless of how they were actually made, he continued to make human statues, mostly of random people, or maybe people that never existed at all. He did make them of both his wife, who died of the flu, and teenage daughter, who drowned, both of whom sadly passed before his time. Edgar died in November 1920, a few months before the birth of his grandson, my father, also an Edgar. He left the business, and the secrets of his hobby, with my Grandfather, Benjamin. It was he who made the statue of Edgar himself, the very one that now sits in my lobby, along with that of Herbert, Edgar’s first statue. And though Ben too made several others and carried on the tradition for a time, he died suddenly in a car accident in 1929, thirteen years before I was born. Coupled with the Great Depression, Harwick Brothers began it’s rapid downwards spiral and was closed for good in 1932, long before my young father could learn the ways of things. So the business died with my grandfather, as did the family tradition in making these beautiful statues. But they’re all still here, a testament to the will of Edgar Harwick.”

Kelly was wide-eyed and Melinda had a look of satisfaction about her.

“I’m sorry. I’m sure that story won’t allow you to rest easier or help you get over your cold, any time soon, but truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve told anyone the full story and I feel better after telling it. Thank you for listening, and thank you for finding Wiggles.”

“Oh,” Kelly said, assuming she was referring to the mouse. “Sure thing.” She was going to ask Melinda how she knew she was feeling crappy, but supposed between the bags under her eyes and the sniffling, her body spoke for itself. Melinda was a sharp woman who didn’t miss a beat, even if she pretended to.

“I’m sorry, I came here to check up on you. Is there anything I can do for you?”

Kelly had already mentioned the noises, had already gotten an unsatisfactory answer and probably the best one she was going to get without going up there herself. And now that she heard the story, she really didn’t want to ask why there were noises coming from where Edgar’s private shop used to be. Or perhaps, still was. She decided to mention the windows instead. “It’s drafty in here, even with the heat cranked up. It’s always cold downstairs, and the draft actually blows my hair when I’m walking up the stairs. And in the upstairs windows, these ones here, there are actually gaps in-between the window frame and the brick walls in places.”

Melinda paused, as if considering. “If your mother ever taught you how to eat, you might welcome a little breeze,” she said, a thin smile forming on her lips. Kelly wasn’t sure whether to take it as a compliment or an insult, but decided it had been Melinda’s idea of a joke, and that it was probably meant to be both. Kelly smiled softly, unsure if she was supposed to or not, before Melinda continued. “I’ll ensure your windows get some fitted plastic molding to help resolve your issue. That should definitely warm it up in here some, it certainly did for Mr. Johnson down the hall, who complained of the same issue last winter. I do apologize for the inconvience. Is there anything else?”

“No. No, I guess that’s it really. I’m just…well, I’ll get used to it.”

“Yes, Kelly. Moving into a new and unfamiliar place is never easy. Despite whatever may be troubling you in your life, such a drastic change in lifestyle so suddenly can be a shock to the body. Especially here. It’s like taking a step back into history, to over a century ago. It certainly gives me that vibe, and you’re probably getting it too, whether you know it or not. But you’ll settle quite nicely. It might take a month or two, but you will.”

“You’re probably right,” Kelly said.

“I must get going,” Melinda said. “I’ll just leave Wiggles here with you for collateral. You keep him safe for now, and when your little draft issue is resolved, I will come and reclaim him. Deal?”

“Uh, yeah. Deal.” They shook on it, and Kelly wanted to tell her to take the damn rodent with her, but held back. She did want to have her windows fixed before winter came, and thought that rejecting the notion may offend Melinda and she would freeze to death this winter.

Kelly opened the door for her guest, to which she was not uttered a thanks, and Melinda was gone as swiftly as she had come. Sighing in relief, Kelly dead-bolted the door, top and bottom, and looked at the mouse that was once again in her hands. It had a very eerie presence to it now, and she strongly considered running down to the lobby and giving Melinda the mouse back, telling her how she wasn’t worthy of such a historical artifact or something to that effect.

She had never opened the inconveniently-placed hatchway above the landing of the stairs before, but decided now would be an ideal time.

Standing on the desk chair she placed on the landing, Kelly began prying at the hatch, and found it was more stubborn than she had anticipated. Alas, after several moments, the wooden hatchway door popped open and she was greeted with a blast of cool air.

The claustrophobic crawlspace was just big enough for her to crawl through and turn around on her hands and knees, if she so desired, and though it couldn’t go too far, she was unable to see exactly how far back it went without a light, and it did not have a switch built in that she could see. She couldn’t think of a more suitable place for a creepy little mouse, so she popped it in and, with less difficulty than it took to remove it, put the hatch cover back on, making sure it was nice and secure before she stepped back, satisfied. This way it would be both protected and out-of-sight. She could use the former as an excuse if Melinda ever came by asking where it was.

Outside, the storm began to pick up, and Kelly realized just how sleepy she was. She eyed the reading chair in the corner and made her way over, and snuggled into the chair, throwing the blanket on top of her. She listened to the rain pattering against the windows, and for the first time since she moved in, she slept for more than eight hours.

*****
The loud noise of something crashing onto the floor had woken her out of a sound sleep, and Kelly sat up in the chair with a start, knocking the book resting in her lap onto the floor. The apartment was almost completely dark, the little light the storm allowed through the windows barely enough to light up the room more than a foot from the wall. Save for the light from the microwave clock, she could see nothing on the opposite side of the apartment where she’d thought the noise had come from.

Kelly listened hard for a moment, without moving, and not for the first time that day, she had the sense that she was being watched. But after a brief moment of waiting and hearing nothing but wind and rain against the windows, she risked getting out of the chair. She stretched her arms and legs, placing herself in front of one of the windows as she did so, and she started shivering. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she nervously toyed with the zipper at her neck, and turning towards the floor lamp in the opposite living room corner but she knew she was more likely to trip over her crap than reach the lamp without injuring herself. She headed towards the kitchen instead, her eyes seeing well enough so that she only bumped into one box, the one that contained the rest of her books, on the way there, cursing to herself as she did so.

Turning on the overhead light in-between the sink and the small island, she looked around the kitchen to see what had fallen. Whatever it was had been too loud and too close to be in the room above her, whatever it was, it was somewhere here in apartment 123. But there was nothing on the kitchen floor that looked out of place. She poured herself a glass of water, leaning against the counter. It ws just her mind over-exaggerating the noises she was hearing, making her think they were something other than they actually were. Placing the glass into the sink, she decided nothing might make her feel better than some time out of this apartment. It was too late for the pool and exercise room to be open, but just a nice walk up and down the halls might be good therapy.

Flicking off the kitchen light and the stairwell light on, she bent down at the top of the stairs to put her sneakers on, and then stopped short when she saw the black hole in the wall to her left, level with her head.

Her eyes shifted up a little to where the dark hatchway was now opened, then down at the landing where the panel lay, and swallowed hard. She had put the panel in quite securely, she was certain, and she froze in fear, unable to look directly at the hole in the wall for a second look. She didn’t only feel someone was in there, watching her, she knew. And they..or it…was done hiding.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw two large hands emerge from the dark hole, gripping either side of the hatchway, and the low-pitch grunt was enough to confirm she wasn’t going crazy and that was what freed her legs from their paralysis.

She dashed towards the door, a mere five feet in front of her. She undid the two deadbolts faster than she had ever done anything in her life, and though the doorknob turned in her hand, the door refused to open. Something was blocking it. She screamed in terror as she pulled on the knob as it slowly began to budge as the thing heavily walking up each step, breathing loudly. Then the thing was right behind her.

The cold hand got hold of the back of her jacket collar, pulling her off her feet and away from the door with supernatural strength and speed. Kelly struggled, swinging her arms wildly, knocking something out of the attacker’s hand as she did so, the object falling onto the tile. Without loosening it’s grip, her attacker slammed her body on the ground at the top of the stairs, where she had paused to put her shoes on. It quickly managed to get both arms pinned behind her back, and kept her body forced to the ground, his inhumanly gigantic hand wrapped almost entirely around the circumfurance of her neck. Unable to breathe, Kelly did have her legs free and kicked him in the back frantically, but he seemed unaffected, and despite her urge to panic, she knew it would only be a waste of her energy.
There was something on the ground to the left only a foot away from her face, and despite her situation, she was aware she had knocked something out of his hands, and had hope that it was a knife or something she could use as a weapon.

And when she saw it, she realized it was not a weapon at all. It was the mouse. The thing must have found it in the crawlspace. If she could wiggle her left arm free, she could grab it, and maybe, just maybe drive it’s face into his eye or something, giving her enough time to escape his deadly grasp. Ushering what little strength remained within her, she managed to free her arm and she went for it, but six inches before she could even reach the mouse, his much larger hand grabbed her by the wrist and held her arm there, incidentally knocking the mouse further away, causing it to roll right-side up.

The mouse had a chip in it’s back, just above the tail, assumably forming when it had fallen onto the tile, and Kelly’s already wide eyes grew wider still. Even in the low light, she could see the unmistakable strands of hair where it had cracked open.

Kelly’s senses rapidly began to fade, and as she slipped into unconsciousness, her discovery of the secrets the mouse revealed the last thought she would ever have. Long after she was still, the big man kept his grip firm around her neck, the dead girl’s wide eyes remaining transfixed on the mouse.

The massive, calloused hand gently scooped up the mouse and held it in the palm of his hand, staring at it with equal awe and respect as Melinda had earlier that day, tenderly rubbing the crack with his finger. After a long moment of doing so, he carefully placed the fine specimen in his pocket.

In the following hours, throughout apartment 123 and 121, if either had a tenant, mysterious noises could be heard between bouts of hollowing wind. In the walls behind the kitchen of 123, the sounds of something dragging across wood, the creaking of a door behind the hatchway that was once again covered as it had been before, and the noise of someone heavy ascending a staircase. And amongst sounds produced by the rattling of windows caused by heavy winds and the creaking of pipes, one could also hear the sounds from a room that hadn’t been heard in many long years.

*Two Months Later*

Richard Jones stepped off the treadmill and sat on the bench in the corner of the room, fetching his his towel, wiping the sweat from his brow. He’d only been here for a few days, but the exercise room was something he was certainly going to get used to.

Richard bent down next to the statue in the exercise room. It was of a young woman in a sweatsuit doing a torso stretch, with one hand behind her back, the other stretched across her body, and one leg bent up over the other, which lay flat. He studied the face, and the very detailed clothing the life-like statue was wearing. Though the girl was pretty, the statue gave him the heebie-jeebies.

He supposed he was going to have to get used to it if he was going to be sharing the room with her every time he came to exercise, but if it were up to him, he’d throw every last one of the damn things in the dumpster.

Richard threw the towel over his shoulder, grabbed his gym bag, and headed back to apartment 123.

Credit To – P. R. Harving

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The Little People

August 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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For as long as I can remember, strange things have happened to me. When I was young, my mother and I lived in my grandmother’s house; a big, drafty Victorian beast of a thing squatting in the middle of acres and acres of hilly country land. My grandmother was old and couldn’t take care of herself, and I often heard my mom whispering to her friends about how crazy she was and how she couldn’t wait to put her in a home and get on with her own life.

Me, being only three or four at the time, didn’t understand. I thought my grandmother was the most wonderful person on the planet, as little children do. She told me stories about “the little people” that lived in the hills around the house, and how long ago, when she was only a girl, she’d made a pact with the little people that allowed her to live on their land. My mother once overheard her telling me one of these stories and forbade Grandma from ever telling me anything like that again, claiming she’d just scare me. I wasn’t scared – I loved fairy stories. That’s what I thought they were – Fairy stories, and I didn’t understand why Mom was so upset. She’d grown up in that same house listening to Grandma’s same stories, right? But every time I tried to ask her about them, she’d shush me and tell me I’d get in trouble if she heard me and Grandma talking about the little people ever again.

Mine and Grandma’s closeness never set well with Mom, and as a child, I never understood the reason. I knew Mom and Grandma didn’t get along, and never had, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t press the subject; I loved my Grandma and I loved her stories. My mother, who was serious and dark-featured, took after my Greek grandfather more than anyone, while I looked like my grandmother. We shared the same awkwardly big ears, fair freckled skin, and thick red hair. I remember she would often stroke my hair and sigh, saying my mother would never have been prepared for the responsibility of having red hair, so it was passed down to me. I always thought she was making some sort of joke, but her face was a little sad when she said it, so I never further questioned what exactly she meant.

When I was six, Grandma died. She’d been sick all my life, always fragile in health, and one night she went to bed and never woke up. Though I was only a child, I usually helped Grandma get ready for bed – Brushing her long, still vibrantly red hair and braiding it, helping her into her nightgown and tucking her in. Mom always got angry, saying a boy my age shouldn’t have to do those things, but I enjoyed any time spent with my Grandma. The night she died was like any other, but as I tucked her in, her thin hand suddenly grasped mine in a vice grip.

“The pact is up, Gearoid.”

My name is Garrett, but Grandma always said it the traditional Irish way, Gar-roid, her lilting accent making my name seem special to me instead of the name of three other boys in my class.

“The pact is up.” She repeated herself, her voice sounding more intense than I’d ever heard it. “I’m sorry, Gearoid. There is nothing I can do. You must go from here, so they cannot find you.”

I was confused, and a little scared then, being only six. I held her hand close.

“Who will find me, Grandma? What’s wrong?”

She only clung my hand tighter, her voice a steadfast whisper. “The little people, Gearoid. The denizens of the hollow hills. The sidheóg. You must go from here.”

I wanted to ask her more, but her hand relaxed in mine, suddenly, and she was asleep. She looked peaceful, and I felt like I almost imagined the strange conversation we’d just had. I figured I would ask her more about it the next morning, but the next morning she was dead.

Grandma had left all her money to Mom in her will, but the house and surrounding land to me. Since I was too young to even think about owning a house, Mom decided we’d live there until we found better prospects. As a single mother with hectic hours at her job, a free house was too good to pass up.

I went to school, Mom went to work as a nurse, life went on. I continued to play in the hills and woods surrounding the house as I always did, despite Mom’s insistent warnings I did not. I thought she was afraid I’d fall in a ditch or accidentally get shot by hunters during hunting seasons, and my six-year-old bravado thought I was above this.

One day, on a warm August afternoon just before school started again (I must have only been eight or nine) I came back from the hills covered in scratches and bruises. She thought I’d fallen down the biggest hill leading down to the woods in our backyard until I told her “the little people had hurt me”. She didn’t believe me at first, who would? But I continued to tell her about the little people, how they came out to play with me ever since Grandma died, but they were never nice. They pinched me and scratched me and told me to leave, or else.

My mother turned white as a sheet and put down a lease on an apartment in town the very next day. Within a week we were moved out of Grandma’s house in the hills, surrounded by asphalt and car horns.
When I ask Mom about the strange things that happened to me in childhood such as this, she claims not to remember. But she always changes the subject, and her mouth gets in a tight little line. I know she remembers.

Moving into the city didn’t stop the strange things from happening to me. On the playground, I saw eyes in the bushes, watching me; I would blink only for nothing to be there. Walking home from school I would hear strange music on the breeze, music that jolted me to my bones and made my head hurt. It always sounded wrong, as if it was out of tune or played on broken instruments. Once I asked a friend if he heard the music, and he called me a freak and never walked home from school with me again. As I lay asleep in our small apartment, I would see lights bobbing just outside my window, lights that were definitely not from any of the neon signs of the inter-city. When I was ten, I wrapped myself up in my blankets and followed the lights, which seemed to whisper my name the way I remember Grandma saying it, Gearoid. My mother found me a five-minutes walk away from our apartment, about to take another step over the edge of a steep ditch. She never saw any lights, and made me an appointment with a psychiatrist the next day. I learned to keep what I saw hidden after that, and not to follow any strange lights that whispered my name.

Keeping the weird things that happened to myself didn’t stop them from happening, unfortunately. They still did, even into high school. By then I had learned to ignore them, to convince myself it was all in my head, just like my psychiatrist told me when I was a child. I never tried to figure out what was happening to me or who the “little people” were. Would you really want to know?

I was seventeen and an early senior, falling asleep in my literature class as my teacher droned on about speculative fiction. It was only when she said a word, sidheóg, that snapped me back into awareness with the force of a kick to the stomach.

“The sidheóg, in Irish folklore, are what we common people would call faeries. They have plenty of names, the Fair Folk, the Fey, the Shee, the little people. They’re not as we think of faeries today, small women made of flowers that grant wishes, but something between an angel and a demon that isn’t entirely of this world. They are cruel and delight in trickery, and can be vindictive and sadistic, particularly when their land is threatened. Most mortals, that is, you and me, can’t see them unless they’re born with the Sight. Ways to have the sight naturally were considered being the seventh child of a seventh child, or being born with red hair.”
She said more after that, but I wasn’t listening.

Little people. Between an angel and a demon. Their land. the Sight. Born with red hair.

The bell rang, and I almost fell out of my seat. I was breathing so hard and must have looked so pale that my best friend, Sarah, put her hand on my forehead to check for fever when she came to stand by my desk.

“Jesus, Garrett, are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

No. Much worse, I wanted to say, but didn’t. I just shook my head instead. “Fell asleep. Bad dream. You know how lectures get.”

She laughed, and we walked off to our lockers, with Sarah asking if I was still going to spend the night at her house that night. I said sure, and left for my car feeling like a husk with everything sucked out of me. I felt watched.

When I got home, I cursed myself for saying yes to Sarah’s offer. We hung out almost every weekend, but always at my house – A larger apartment my mother had bought further inner-city when she got a promotion a few years back. Sarah lived in a big farmhouse on the edge of the hills, and it reminded me too much of Grandma’s house for my comfort. I always made excuses on why I couldn’t come, but I’d been too distracted today to say no.

I finally knew now what had been stalking me all my life – little people, Fair Folk, whatever you wanted to call them. My grandmother’s stories suddenly made sense to me. Her father had built their house, unknowingly, on fey land. The faeries had probably tortured them and pestered them until Grandma, the only one able to see them, somehow made a pact with them to let her family live on their land unharmed for as long as she lived. When she died, it left my mother and I at their mercy. I had no clue what sort of pact Grandma had made, as she’d never said. I remembered her asking about it, but she would always pat my hand and say it was a story for another time. Now I almost didn’t want to know.

As I was waiting for Sarah to come pick me up, I heard the tapping.

At first it was faint, and I thought it had begun to rain and hit against the windows. I checked my phone, but there was only light rain scheduled for much later in the evening. I brushed it off, but it continued. It sounded as if someone were standing outside my window and slowly, rhythmically, tapping on the glass with one finger. I turned around to look at the window the tapping was coming from, and it stopped – Only to sound as if it were coming from further into the apartment. I must have spent five minutes running all over my house like a crazy person trying to find the source of the tapping, only to have it come from a different window each time I investigated. I was near angry tears when Sarah beeped her horn outside, jerking me out of my frenzy. Never had I been so happy to leave my house as I scooped my overnight bag off the floor and locked the front door behind me.

As I jogged to Sarah’s car, I chanced a glance into the bushes outside the window where I first heard the tapping and froze. There was a shadow in the bushes – The shadow of something huge and looming, gnarled and twisted. I felt the breath go out of my lungs as the shadow began to move – Away from me, further into the few trees planted around my complex. I don’t know how long I just stood there, staring into the darkness between the trees, until Sarah laid on her horn and stuck her head out the window.

“Gar-rett! Come on, you lazy-ass!” The sound of her laughter broke my trance, and I turned and ran headlong to her car, almost slipping on the pavement as I lurched into the passenger seat.

“Whoa. Are you okay? Are you sure you want to do tonight? Cause you looked pretty sick at school, and you look pretty sick now.” Her voice was almost worried, which was uncommon for loud, brash, unafraid Sarah.

“I’m fine. I just thought I saw something in the bushes – A dog, probably. The shadow freaked me out.” You’ll never know how much it freaked me out, I thought.

She shook her head as she put the car into gear. “You watch way too many horror movies, Garrett Carter. Now let’s go. I stole my dad’s Netflix password so the internet is our oyster.”

I forced myself to grin back as we pulled into traffic. I chanced a glance over my shoulder at the trees – Nothing. No shadow. I still kept my eyes on the spot until we turned a corner, and I could see it no more.

By the time we’d driven out to Sarah’s old farmhouse, the rain had begun. Sarah was annoyed, claiming her internet shorted out every time so much as a drop of rain fell from the sky.

“I guess that’s what I get for living out here with my family in the middle of nowhere,” She sighed as we unloaded the frozen pizza and french fries we’d picked up to make for dinner later.

I checked my phone to see what the weather predicted for later, but I had no signal or WiFi. Figures, as it was like she said, we were in the middle of nowhere. Her nearest neighbors were at least half a mile away.

We put dinner in the oven and set up her Xbox so we could watch Netflix, but as she said, the internet wouldn’t connect. She about threw her controller through a window but I suggested we just play video games instead, which calmed her down. We were trying to find a vampire in Skyrim when Sarah went to check on dinner, and I heard it again. The tapping. It sounded louder this time, but I figured it was just the rain until I remembered it had been raining for almost half an hour and it hadn’t tapped on the window like that once. I swallowed the panic in my throat and tried to ignore it as I fought off wolves and bandits in the game, but the tapping continued, and I realized Sarah hadn’t come back from the kitchen yet.

I called her name, no answer. But that wasn’t too odd, Sarah had a large house and if she’d gone upstairs or towards the back of the house she probably wouldn’t be able to hear me. I paused the game and stood up, intending to go look for her, when the tapping suddenly stopped. I’d been hearing it for so long now that the absence of its sound was almost louder than the sound itself, and I froze in my tracks. I was trying to psych myself up for taking another step when thunder suddenly rumbled deafeningly, shaking the glass in the windows. I’m ashamed to say I yelled, startled, as the power suddenly clicked off.

I was suddenly alone in Sarah’s dark living room when I heard my name being called. Not in Sarah’s cheerful voice, but in a hoarse whisper that sounded like a bow being sawed across violin strings that were drawn too tight. Gearoid, it whispered. Gearoid.

I managed to talk around the lump in my throat as I fumbled my phone out of my pocket, clicking the built in flashlight on. “Sarah? Sarah!”

There was no answer but the continuous whisper of my name, and I knew I had to find the source. I somehow willed my legs to move and navigated towards the voice, my flashlight illuminating the dark halls. The whisper became louder as I neared her parents’ bedroom, which I remembered too late had the largest window in the house; A big picture window with a window seat we used to sit on and read when we were in middle school. As I slowly opened the door, thunder rumbled again and my flashlight winked out. I thought I might have hit the off button with my shaking hand, but as I raised my phone to my face I saw it had died, even though the battery had been at 92% when I arrived at Sarah’s. As I stood on the threshhold of the master bedroom, my eyes squeezed shut against the darkness, the whisper became almost deafening, and I felt a cold, stale wind blow around me.

I had to go in, and as I stepped forward into the room, the door slammed shut.

As I opened my eyes, I fought the urge to run back through the door and leave, but I knew I had to find Sarah. There, at the picture window (which was open, despite the fact that it only opened from the inside and I knew her parents would not have left it unlocked) was a creature out of my nightmares.

Its shape was large, towering almost to the top of the eight foot high window, and it was crouched in the side garden like some monstrous toad. I had expected my first sighting of the shadow from the bushes to look like some sort of Eldritch monster, but this creature looked more natural than I could imagine. Its hide looked like bark, its long, wizened arms like tree branches, the hair hanging lankly around its head like moss. It would have almost looked like an enormous stump if not for the face, which was huge and pointed with a long, witch-like nose, and a mouth full of broken, green, grinning teeth.

“At last,” the creature said in a voice like groaning trees and snapped violin strings. “We meet.”

I had been frozen solid upon first sight of the creature, but I somehow found my voice upon hearing it speak. “What the hell did you do with Sarah? Why are you here? What are you?”

The creature looked at me, simply, as if it were appraising me, then laughed. Its laugh sounded like wind shrieking through the slats of an unkempt house, and its voice was slow, as if it had all the time in the world.

“Some call me the Old Man of the Crossroads. Some call me the One Who Answers. Some call me troll.” It grinned, as if this was amusing to him. “We have come for payment. The land, the land, the land. Caoime made the pact. The land, the land, the land was hers. But no longer. It is yours, and we have come for payment.”

I stared at the thing, uncomprehending, until it dawned on me. My grandmother’s name was Caoime, and she had made her pact for the land when she was seventeen – My age. After she died, the fey waited until I was of age, and came for me. For payment. For the pact.

I kept my distance from the window. “That doesn’t answer all my questions. Where is Sarah?!” I yelled over the howling wind, but the creature just chuckled its shrieking wind laugh.

“The girl, the girl, the girl. Perhaps she is under the hill. Perhaps we shall keep her there until the payment is made. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.”
I felt my blood turn to ice. These things had Sarah, my best friend, and they seemed to have no intention of giving her back.

“What do you want? I don’t care about the land, take it. Just give Sarah back and leave me alone!”

The creature sighed, as if it were thinking. Its earthen, hulking body shivered as it scratched its chin with one long, gnarled, tree-branch finger.

“You are a strong one. So was Caoime.”It chuckled, heaving another sigh as it settled its body further into the side garden, releasing a smell of overturned earth and damp moss.

“I will extend to you the same challenge I extended Caoime. For the land, the land, the land. And for the girl, the girl, the girl. Should you beat me at my own game, the land, the land, the land, and the girl, the girl, the girl, are yours. Should you fail…” The creature trailed off and grinned, its leathery face splitting in two as it showed all its broken teeth. “You are mine.”

I felt unable to speak, unable to move, unable to breathe. The thing – the troll was going to take me, my best friend, and most likely my mom to god knows where to do god knows what to us if I didn’t accept his challenge. I didn’t know what to do.

“Well, boy, boy, boy? Is your silence a refusal?” The creature ran one gnarled hand over the windowsill, and something dawned on me.

“If you want me so bad, why don’t you just come in here and take me?” It was a foolhardy thing to say, but I figured I could run from it – It moved slower than Christmas.

My question seemed to anger it, and its mossy eyebrows met in a snarl. “I cannot come inside unless you invite me, boy, boy, boy. Your friend was kind enough to come outside to me.” It grinned then, and chuckled. My anger reignited. I needed to get Sarah back.

“Fine. I accept your challenge, whatever it is.” At that exact moment, lightning cracked across the sky and for a split second I saw the creature in its entirety, which nearly made my heart stop. It was bigger than I imagined, its back humped and covered in fungi and moss, reaching nearly to the roof of the house. I swallowed.

“Delightful. I shall ask you three questions, boy, boy, boy. If you answer all correctly, the land, the land, the land, and the girl, the girl, the girl, is yours. We shall leave you alone.” It’s cracked smile didn’t falter. “But if you answer a single question wrong…” It trailed off, one wizened hand sweeping a grand gesture. I didn’t need it to elaborate.

I nodded, not sure I trusted my voice to speak as I sat on the edge of Sarah’s parents’ bed, staring at the creature, backlit by the storm. It rubbed its gnarled hands together in pleasure.

“Wonderful. It has been so long, long, long since one of your kind accepted my challenge. Now.” It paused, as if deep in thought before beginning, its voice a low, almost melodic rumble.

“My tines are long, my tines are short. My tines end ere my first report. What am I?”

I almost felt like laughing with relief when I heard the riddle. Grandma and I would spend hours telling each other riddles back and forth when I was a child, and I had gotten so good at them I would even leave her stumped and come up with answers to her hardest mind-benders. Whenever I asked her why she was so interested in riddles, she would just stroke my hair and say, You never know when they’ll come in handy, Gearoid. You never know.

I knew now. I wondered if Grandma had told me all the riddles trying to prepare me for the troll to come and ask for payment, or simply to keep her mind sharp. There was no time to think about it now as I mulled over the troll’s question.

“Well, boy, boy, boy? Do you give up?” It sounded pleased, thinking I was so easy to break. I glared at it.

“No. I was just thinking.” I glanced past the troll, just as a bright flash of lightning forked and hit a tree not far from Sarah’s horse pasture, and my eyes widened.

“Lightning. You’re lightning.”

The troll’s eyes narrowed, and I could tell he was surprised at my answer. “Very well.” He readjusted his bulk, his contorted fingers resting on the windowsill.

“Never ahead, ever behind, yet flying swiftly past; For a babe I last forever, for adults I’m gone too fast. What am I?”

I swallowed, my eyes glued to the floor to keep away from looking at the creature in front of me. I thought of how it must have waited all this years, watching, and how the rest of the fey hated me for being on their land; for being able to see them. I thought of the strange shadows I’d seen melting across my bedroom floor at night, only to disappear when I turned on the bedside lamp. The strange laughter and broken music I heard on winter nights, always out of reach when it swirled in on the freezing wind. How many other children had made fun of me for screaming that I saw squat, froglike creatures with sharp teeth grinning at me from the woods around the edge of the playground. How I nearly drowned one summer swimming in the lake on Sarah’s property when we were barely in sixth grade, because I felt webbed fingers latch onto my ankle and try to drag me down into the darkness.

“Childhood.”

The troll’s semblance of a smile twisted into a scowl, and I allowed myself the faintest of grins. I thought of my grandmother standing in front of this same beast at my age, terrified, but willing to go to any lengths to protect her family and friends. It made my smile wider.

“You are a clever boy, boy, boy, I see. Not clever enough for my final riddle, I know you are not, not, not.” Its deformed hand raised, and though it couldn’t get into the house, its shadow stretched across the floor and sent a bolt of panic through my chest.

“The thing that all things devours; Birds, beast, tree, flower. Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stones down to meal. Slays kings and ruins towns, and beats the highest mountain down. What am I?”

I took a deep breath, my fists clenched against the quilt on Sarah’s parent’s bed. My smile had faded as the troll told the riddle, it was one not even my grandmother had alluded to. I refused to let the anxiety show on my face, but as I sat there staring at the ground, trying to think, the troll laughed. I had been silent for several minutes, and the storm was getting worse. Every second I delayed Sarah was stuck under the hill, and I had no idea what they were doing to her. They could already have my mom for all I knew, and I wondered how my grandmother did this. How did she live her life knowing there was a secret world all around her, and everything in it hated her? That she had to risk her and everyone she loved’s life just to keep them from mortal harm? She was stronger than me. I didn’t know how I was going to handle day-to-day life if I got out of here alive.

“Do you give up, boy, boy, boy? It is a difficult riddle. Do not be ashamed to admit defeat.” His green teeth showed as he grinned, and I could hear the violin strings snapping and branches creaking in his voice.

“No. I don’t give up. I just need more time.” I tried my hardest to keep my voice subdued as the troll shifted to its full height, fingers unfurling.

“Time was not in the bargain, boy, boy, boy. Either you answer or you do not.”

My teeth gritted as I opened my mouth to say god knows what, but I stopped. It was as if Grandma was sitting next to me, stroking my hair and shaking her head. The answer was right in front of you, Gearoid, you’re just too impatient to see it! She’d always say that in the earlier days of our game when I’d give up in a snit after taking too long to answer a riddle.

I knew the answer.

“Time. Time is the answer!” I stood up off the bed and grinned.

The troll scowled harder than I’d seen it, opened its mouth, and howled. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before in my life, a cacophony of broken, screaming instruments and wailing animals and crying women; As well as wind ripping through trees and ocean waves crashing against rock. The window slammed shut with a crack, a few panes of glass shattering and falling onto the window seat. The power flickered on and off crazily, the lights dimming and brightening as the troll howled.

Then, as soon as it started, it was over.

I opened my eyes from where I’d taken cover behind the bathroom door, and the troll was gone. The only proof of its existence was the faint smell of moss and lichen blowing in from the cracked window, and what I knew had happened. Sarah’s parents arrived home not long after, and found me sitting under their window clutching an iron poker from the fireplace, and their daughter missing. I think I passed out when Sarah’s mom started screaming. I don’t remember much after that.

They found Sarah later the next morning, about three miles away from her house. She wandered into a neighboring farmer’s barn, claiming she’d been abducted by strange women with deer forelegs and hooves and men with ribcages for torsos. She told the police they forced her to answer riddles to avoid them feeding her strange food and hurting her, but wasn’t able to answer all of them – The bruises all over her body attested to that. But the police didn’t believe her story. I didn’t think they would, but I knew better. She didn’t. She was new to this, she told people.

Her parents sent her to a psych ward for three months. I visited her almost every day I could, and I told her I believed her. She cried, usually, and told me about how food had no taste and she was hungry all the time, and she couldn’t sleep because of the strange music and voices calling her name. The day she was released, she looked terrible. She was skinnier than ever, with dark shadows under her eyes and hollow cheekbones. She hugged me tight, though, and told me she was sorry with tears in her eyes.

I wasn’t sure what she meant until she vanished out of her bedroom that night.

When her parents let me in her room to see if I wanted any of her things, it smelled like moss and lichen. When I left, I saw a hulking shadow under her window, and I thought I heard laughter like creaky branches and storm wind on the breeze.

Sarah never came back. I’m not sure if I should be happy or horrified that she didn’t. Her time spent under the hill changed her, made her a different person. Maybe she was happier there, now that she was one of them. I didn’t know. I’d never know, thank God, though I felt terrible for thinking it.

I had Grandma’s house torn down, even the foundation. I refused to sell the land even though I had everyone from farmers to developers begging me for it, offering me a king’s ransom for the rich soil. I wouldn’t put anybody through that. I wouldn’t will it to my children, as if I would have any. When I died, whenever that was, the pact would die with me.

I still hear the voices, the music, the whispering. I still see shadows out of the corner of my eye and I still won’t swim in natural bodies of water because water fey are notorious for trying to drown people. I still hear them calling, though I’ve gotten better at ignoring it. I won’t go to them, and I won’t listen to them.

On late winter nights, when I’m up in the wee hours trying to write another chunk of whatever it is I’m working on before my publisher’s deadline, the call is the hardest to resist. Sometimes I find myself out of my chair with my hand on the doorknob before I remember Grandma, telling me to be strong, calling me Gearoid. I remember the troll, thinking he’d won. I remember Sarah, how vibrant and full of life she had been before the hill took her. It’s enough for me to lock my doors tighter, put my headphones on and drown out whatever it is I hear.

I know they won’t ever go away, won’t ever stop trying and reaching for me, and I know no one will ever believe me. But for as long as I can remember, strange things have happened to me. And they’ve probably happened to you too. So next time you hear an unexplained noise in the middle of the night, or see a mysterious light just beyond the hill, don’t go searching for it. Don’t follow it.

Close your eyes, walk the other direction and be glad you can’t see the things that I can see.

Credit To – herchansen @ twitter

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Mermaid

July 20, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I knew it, my friends all knew it, and everyone at school knew it. But, no one would believe us. School was quiet with the truth hanging everywhere. The other students silently drifted from class to class, no one really spoke all that much anymore. Between each period, there was a brief and hushed march of bodies before the halls died again.
All but a few teachers seemed to not really care- they enjoyed the silence. The teachers who did care did not know how to help, or even what to say.
It had started a few days after Zach Thompson drowned. His girlfriend, Mallory Andrew, said that someone dragged him into the sea; pulled him right off their boat. No one was there to see it, and she could not tell anyone what the person looked like, so when Zach’s body floated in, drowned but unharmed, everyone wrote her off. A few days later, Mallory went missing. No one had seen her since.
I did not really know Zach or Mallory. A few of my friends new them though, and they seemed nice enough. No one should ever have to drown. The thought of falling into the Atlantic, the darkness everywhere, the liquid pouring into my lungs… It terrified me. I hated to think what Zach felt as his legs flailed half a mile above the nearest ground. Did he just breathe in to get it over with, or did he keep holding his breath as long as he could?
My friends who knew them joined the first wave of mourning zombies that populated the high school. They all remembered listening to Mallory’s tear-stained story of the hand, and the splash, the screaming, the eyes.
A few days later, Matt Miller was found caught in the framing of his parents dock. Apparently, Matt had gone out in the night to look at the water and fell over. The police say that is when his shirt got caught.
I did not know Matt Miller that well either. He was never that nice to me. To be honest, he was an asshole. But you never hear about that stuff after the fact. You only get to hear the nice stories about what a great person they were. It was then that the school moved in a small fleet of councilors and social workers to help with feelings. The lines to talk to someone stretched out into the hall, at first.
It was maybe a week before Aubrey Strong drowned. She was found naked and bruised along the beach. Her lungs were filled with water. Her sister, Tammy, had been there when something attacked them. She told the police it had grabbed Aubrey and ran off. A few days later, Tammy’s story had changed from “something” to “someone”. Her body was found the next day at the same beach as her sister, still wearing the same clothes from school.
The city began hiring more lifeguards, strict curfews were put in place at all beaches, and students were questioned mercilessly by police and teachers. Students stopped going to the councilors. The meetings began to feel more like interrogations than anything else.
Then, Mark Sawyer and Ashley Corry died on the same night. I was with Mark Sawyer. He was my best friend. We were playing Call of Duty and eating pizza in his bedroom. He was winning. I had been tracking him for ten whole minutes across the desert and my sight was lined up on his guy’s back. Then, the lights went out. The T.V. made a weird whistling noise before falling black and silent.
“What the hell?” I said to him as he stood up and began messing with the light switches. He never had a chance to respond. I froze in terror when I heard it slap up the stairs and saw its hand reach around the door-frame. The smell- like under the docks. Mark could not move either as the net fell over him. I listened to him scream as he thudded down the stairs, one step at a time.
I ran home. I slammed my bedroom door shut behind me. I never said a word. The next day, Mark Sawyer and Ashley Corry were added to the list of people. Both of them were found in the shallows by a fisherman. Amanda Stoner had been with Ashley Corry when it happened. She spent all day being tossed around by councilors and police officers. Amanda told them about a man who ran at them and how they had struggled with him on the beach.
I could not speak to anyone; the words refused to leave my lips. Whenever I tried, I saw Mark fall beneath the net, his fingernails scratching at his bedroom floor, and then I saw him drowning, his legs kicking in an endless void of darkness. Did he breathe in, or did he hold on for as long as he could? The teachers looked on me with pity. They did not know what I had seen. The councilors made sure that I knew their doors were always open. They did not know I had been with Mark Sawyer.
I could not say a word to anyone, anyone but Amanda.
“Hey,” I said to her at a lunch table. We had never met. She was very pretty with dark hair and brown eyes and large, gorgeous lips; the kind of girl I would usually have to build up my courage to talk to; the kind of girl I probably just wouldn’t talk to.
She looked up at me- dismissive. Then, she saw a look in my eyes. She reached out and took my hand in hers. “You saw them,” she whispered.
I nodded. Again, Amanda told her story. It was just like mine… The hand, the screaming, the eyes…
From then on, the two of us were inseparable. I sat next to her with my beige lunch tray and that was that. We waited for each other on the bus in the morning, we met again after school. At night, when we had to leave for our own houses, we sat on our phones. Eventually, we even began to talk about other things, we tried to forget… We had seen them. Everyone who saw them disappeared.
As the month went on, the drownings turned into disappearances. For some reason, the creatures were no longer happy just killing. They now took their victims away, never to be seen again. The sea left us with a new empty desk every other week or so. Amanda and I were not sure why the creatures from the water left us alone. Maybe it was because both our houses were inland, or maybe because we were the only survivors who banded together.
Fall came and the leaves transformed into brilliant New England reds and golds, leaving a sad magic in the air. When our town’s annual October Festival arrived, most people could not find the heart to attend. Our tragedy had become so long lasting, we barely even made the news anymore when a new child went missing, and a melancholy sunk its fingers into the entire town. But, Amanda and I went.
We walked close, passing beneath the large banner that hung above the boardwalk. Pumpkins and gourds and bundles of straw festively adorned the walkway, placed along the streetlights and the porches of the homes that looked out over the sea. Fishermen worked at large vending stalls, and craft displays sold wares all the way down to the docks, punctuated by the occasional carnival game or food stand selling funnel cakes and grease. But it was quiet…
Amanda took my hand and pulled me along to everything she wanted to see. We had both seen it every year before, but that day was different. When she took my hand, I felt my heart leap back to life, and when I won her a giant teddy bear, I could not stop smiling; neither could she.
Then, something happened. We began to laugh. The people around us smiled, and the moment of happiness infected everyone. The vendors began shouting to the people passing by, proclaiming their fish was the best, or how you could not find a necklace like theirs. People began coming out of their homes, the carnival games had lines stretching back into the streets, little children laughed as their parents swung them between their hands, and everyone forgot…
That night, as the sun set behind us and people began heading home, Amanda and I sat on a black bench, barely big enough to fit us both and her teddy bear, looking out across the water. I did not even realize that we had been holding each other’s hands all day. Then, she leaned in and kissed me…
It was short and sweet and when she stopped she gave me a shy, embarrassed grin. It was the best day I could remember.
In the coming weeks, the temperature began to drop and the first flurry of snow descended on our town. The disappearances began happening more frequently and sadness evolved into pure terror.
With the attacks growing in frequency, many people began to leave, some not even waiting for their homes to sell, and others leaving everything behind. I came home one day to my parents beginning a stack of cardboard boxes in the living room. Neither of them said anything, we all understood. But, all I could think about was leaving Amanda behind.
That night, awoken by the sound of a frenzied dog, I saw something from my bedroom window as I looked out across an increasingly desolate town. The front gate of the yard had been opened, its lock twisted off, the black iron smacking into the fence as the wind swung it back and forth along its creaking hinges. It walked like a man, with a slow, heavy stride. The creature was tall and bulky, its wide torso resting on legs as thick as tree trunks. I could not get a clear look through the darkness, but its eyes, the size of a small dinner plate, reflected flashes of light from the street.
I dropped to the floor and peered from the corner of the window. I watched as the thing walked towards the front door, quietly fiddled with the doorknob, and then began pacing along the first-floor windows. At each one, it tested their weights, figured out which windows were locked, and which ones were not. Then, satisfied, it walked back through the gate, back to the water.
I told my parents I had seen someone sneaking around the house in the night. They called the police; the police took my statement and a description of a large man in the shadows. My mom began packing faster that day, and my father put a hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and promised he would protect me.
I knew it would be back for me… Later on, just as the sun was beginning its decent, I packed a backpack, left through my fence with the broken lock, and headed for Amanda’s. The creatures had never attacked an adult, my parents would be fine. But for me, my home was no longer safe. They would drag me away like Mark…
“They scouted my house last night,” I said as Amanda let me inside. She was scared, we both were. She led me to her bedroom where we talked about my parents getting ready to move and she told me that her parents were planning to head up to New York.
“I can’t leave you,” she told me as we wrapped our arms around each other.
After dinner, she told her parents that I had left and hid me away in her bedroom. We stayed up late, lying on her bed, watching the movies she had on her shelves, and kissing whenever either of us built up the courage. Periodically, I would stand and look out her window to the town where the ocean fog obscured lights that lit empty streets. No one walked the stone pathways and most of the homes had all gone dark. If I stood at the right angle, I could spot the water from the ocean peacefully washing into the shore.
When we fell asleep, my arm was wrapped around her waist, and her fingers curled over my hand and rested in my palm…
The room was dark when I woke up to a dog barking in the distance. The light from the television cast the room in a pale, flickering glow. I reached out to touch Amanda, and when my hand felt nothing but the blankets, my heart began to pound in my chest. I shot up from the bed, the room smelled like stale water and the carpet was wet. I darted to the window, where along the beach I could see several figures dragging another…
Without a second thought, I raced down the stairs and slammed through the front door. By the time Amanda’s parents were flipping on the light in their bedroom, my desperation had carried me half way through town. Ahead I could hear the whispering roar of the waves, and Amanda… she was screaming.
“No,” I cried as my feet touched the sand. “Leave her alone!”
The creatures turned to look at me, stopping only a few feet before touching the water. Amanda struggled beneath the tangled weight of an organic looking fishing net, the rope of which resting in the clenched fist of the last creature. They were all large, muscled humanoids with massive webbed feet and hands. They stared at me with fish-like eyes and flattened faces; the cross between man and piranha. Each one carried a large spear that they aimed at me as I approached.
I stopped and lifted my hands into the air when one of them let out a hollow call like a whale and threatened me with a long, barbed weapon. The creature with Amanda protectively lifted her over its shoulder like she weighed nothing and held her away from me. One of the monsters moved towards me, its feet thudding against the ground and kicking up a wave of sand with each step. It stopped a foot in front of my nose and bared a row a sharp teeth, and with one of its great arms it motioned towards the net and then pounded its clawed fist against its scaled chest.
“No, no please.” I clasped my hands together and fell to me knees.
My begging did nothing as the creatures turned and continued their slow march back towards the water. I screamed for someone to help. When I saw Amanda struggle, digging her nails frantically into the sand I lunged forward only for the one who denied me to hurl my body away.
I smacked into the sand, shouting and screaming at them. Tears flooded over my face that twisted in rage.
“Take me,” I roared over the thunder of the ocean. “Take me instead.”
The creature I spoke at before turned to see me with my hands held out in front of me in surrender. It gave another hollow call halting its party.
“Take me,” I demanded again. It paused a moment, staring at me with its gigantic eyes. Then, it took a sharpened blade of corral and sliced through the rope that its companion held. Immediately, Amanda rushed from the net and flew into my arms. I held her for as long as I could, breathing her in, before the creature grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away.
Amanda screamed and chased after us only to be flung back by another of the terrible creatures. When she tried again, the one holding me aimed his blade towards her.
“Amanda, it’s OK,” I told her as my feet hit the water. “It’s OK.” The water came to my waist. “Promise me you will leave this place.”
She fell to her knees, sobbing.
“Promise me,” I yelled. She promised beneath a shower of tears and helpless screams. The water lapped at my chin as the monster continued to drag me below. I tugged back one last time to cry out above the cold blackness, “Amanda, I love you.”
Instantly, the surface shot away above me. I remembered Mark and so many others; how they fought helplessly as they vanished beneath the sea. Did they breathe in, or did they hold on for as long as they could? As I watched the world above me rip through my fingertips, falling deeper and deeper into the ocean, I could only think of Amanda. And I held on… I held on for as long as I could.

Credit To – Ryan Austin Gray

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