Red Lights

February 13, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Every family has its stories, those events that have passed on into almost legend, and my extended family is no different. Some families have stories which they laugh about, which are brought up with regularity at gatherings, stories that they share with others.

Ours is not one of these stories. If it’s discussed at all, it’s spoken about in hushed tones, with sideways glances at me in particular. I never bring it up myself unless directly asked, and I’m lucky enough that I can get away with telling people that I was too young, that I don’t remember any details, that it’s just a blur in a distant memory from my youth.

But that’s a lie.

I remember almost everything. I remember every time I have to look at myself in the mirror; and the nightmares still make me sit bolt upright in bed at night, gasping for breath and terrified. The event that became family legend took place two decades ago now, when I was about eight years old. We were heading for a short family getaway to our family’s cabin. To be honest, it was more of a holiday home than a ‘cabin’, my grandparents had bought it when my father was still young and it had been in the family for years. My brother and I called it the ‘cabin by the woods’; it made it sound more exotic. My grandfather used to take my Dad and his siblings up there when they were young, hiking through the woods, fishing & swimming in the nearby lake – and my Dad & his brothers & sisters now did the same with their own families.

We started the trips when I was about six – Mum, Dad, me and my little brother Peter heading up to the cabin for the odd weekend getaway. I vaguely remember a few of those earlier trips, I recall swimming in the lake with Pete one time and both of us being scared to go too far out because that was where the lake-weed started growing and you couldn’t see the bottom.

The cabin was right on the edge of the woods, right along the boundary of the treeline; fields and farmland on one side and heavy woodland on the other. The farm next to the site was owned by the Johnson family, old friends of my grandparents. We’d always stop in and say hi to Mr & Mrs Johnson on the way up to stay, occasionally we’d have dinner there. My Dad and his siblings had played with the Johnson kids when they were younger, but their children had grown up and moved away and it was just the parents left at the time. Mr Johnson kept an eye on the cabin when our family wasn’t using it.

Dad had pulled us out of school a few days before the weekend; we packed up the car and left early on the Thursday morning. It was late summer, the leaves were just starting to change colour and the air was becoming crisp and cool in the evenings. I remember being excited for the trip, I was looking forward to adventuring in the woods and Pete wanted to go swimming. Mom had warned us that it might still be too cold to get in the lake but we insisted on packing our swimsuits anyway, just in case.

“Marty! Pete!” My Mom was calling to us to head out, but Pete and I were in the car and ready early, eager to set off. Pete had decided he was going to put on his swimming trunks underneath his pants so that he’d be ready to go at a moment’s notice once we were there. The drive was uneventful; we napped in the back of the car. I remember waking up as we pulled up the gravel driveway to the cabin. Dad must have picked up the keys from the Johnsons on the drive in while I was still asleep. We bumped our way up the long, twisting driveway that ran along the treeline. We slowed to a halt outside the cabin, Pete and I looking excitedly out of the car windows. It looked just like I remembered it, framed by big trees, with a clear area in front of it which attached to the field that bordered the woods. The Johnsons’ fenceline ran along the edge of the woods, and normally there would be stock roaming around in in the field, (They had sheep and some cattle) but today it was empty.

Pete was bouncing excitedly in his seat. “I wanna go swimming!” he yelled.
“We need to unpack the car and set everything up first, bud”, Dad replied, opening his door and getting out.
Mom got out as well and unbuckled Pete. I got out on my own and looked around. Everything was as I remembered it. Looking off to the side of the cabin, I could see the gaps in the trees where twin paths forked off, one leading into the woods and one leading the other way, down towards the lake. There was a white blaze painted on one of the trees, marking the start of the path.
“You know, I could take them,” Mom said to Dad. “We can always unpack later, we’ve got plenty of time.”
Dad opened the trunk and grabbed his and Mom’s bags out. “Ok. Let’s just quickly dump our bags inside, and we’ll get changed and go down to the lake.”
“YAAAAAY!” Pete deafened us all, and began to run around the car until Mom snagged him in a hug. Dad grinned, and hefted the bags across the covered porch to the cabin’s door. Dropping them to one side, he fumbled with his keys and opened the door, then froze in the doorway.

“Dad?” I asked, unable to see past him into the shadowy inside
“Get your brother and get back in the car” Dad said, without looking at me.
“Right now, Marty.” Dad cut me off, using his ‘serious voice’.
“Dear…?” Mom sounded concerned as I grabbed Pete and pulled him towards the car while he protested loudly.
“Where’s the axe kept? Where did we find it last time?”
“Oh God, what’s wrong?” My Mom’s voice rose slightly, as Dad came back towards the car and hefted the tire iron out of the trunk, striding quickly back towards the open door.
“The place is all messed up. I think there might have been a break-in”
“The axe was in the laundry last time I think… Be careful…” she trailed off, sounding worried.
“I’ll be fine. Stay here.” Dad quickly kissed her on the cheek before stepping through the open door, tire iron half-raised in his right hand. Mom paced back and forth by the car, clearly concerned, and we sat in the back looking towards the cabin. We sat there for what seemed like an age, becoming more and more worried as the seconds went on.
“What’s happening, Marty? Is Dad OK?”
I tried to reassure Pete. “Everything’s fine. Dad’s tough, there’s nothing that he can’t deal with.”

I remember Dad once telling me that I had an over-active imagination, and this was one of those situations where it was free to run wild. Even as I spoke, I found myself imagining all of the horrific things that surely lurked inside the cabin just waiting for Dad to stumble upon them, and I could feel my fear levels rising. In my mind I saw dark shapes moving about in the gloom, silently stalking my father – and how they would come for us once they’d gotten him. I looked back towards the cabin, and suddenly the curtains in the front window were flung open, Dad looking out the window. We saw him walk around to the door and come back outside holding an axe, which he propped up against the front of the cabin.

“Looks like everything’s fine, guys; you can come out of the car now.” He went and talked to Mom. “How about you take the kids down to the lake while I get everything straightened up?” He explained to Mom that the place was a bit messed up, but not too badly. A fallen branch had smashed in a window at the back of the place, and he thought that a raccoon or something had gotten in and turned over some things while hunting for food. He’d found the axe in the laundry, where it was meant to be. Dad thought that it must have happened in the last day or so, after Mr Johnson had come to turn the power & water on. The scary things I’d imagined quickly receded in my thoughts, but I remember still feeling vaguely uneasy. Pete was still excited to go swimming, so Mom got our swimming stuff and the three of us headed down to the lake while Dad went back inside.
“We’ll be about a half-hour, dear!” Mom shouted to Dad as we headed around the cabin and down towards the woodland path that would take us to the lake.

Swimming was fun; I remember splashing around in the water with Pete while the sun shone brightly down on us. We were lucky that it wasn’t starting to get really cold yet, since we were just getting into the start of autumn. Mom read her book on the shore while Pete and I swam around in the shallows, once again avoiding the lake-weed. Eventually Mom called us back in and we got dried off and headed back up the track to the cabin. Dad had cleaned the place up, and nailed an old board over the broken window at the back. He told us to grab our bags and go set up in our bedroom.

We grabbed our gear and ran through the lounge area down the hall to the bedroom. Pete immediately claimed the top bunk, struggled up the ladder, decided it was too high and that he’d fall out in the night, and then claimed the bottom bunk. We unpacked our sleeping bags and then ran back down the hallway into the lounge. Mom and Dad had finished unpacking the rest of the car, they’d stowed the food in the kitchen and Dad was setting up the portable grill out on the porch.
“Can we go exploring!?” I asked excitedly. I liked the woods; I remembered playing games in them last time with Pete, pretending we were mighty heroes defending a fortress from an invading barbarian horde. There was a spot I had in mind where the narrow, winding path opened up, leading into an area where the trees widened out and there was space to run around and play. I recalled a bank on one side of the clearing, which we’d climbed to make our ‘fortress’.
“Sure,” Dad smiled. “But,” and he was using his serious voice again, “I want you to look after your brother. Don’t let him out of your sight. Don’t be away too long, stay on the path, and don’t go any deeper than that clearing we went to last time.”
“Don’t worry Dad!” I yelled, grabbing Pete and running off together while Dad was still talking.

We sprinted towards the path that would take us into the woods, and were suddenly plunged into darkness when we hit the treeline. I realised that we’d been standing out in the bright sun and it was just taking our eyes a second to adjust. Pete stooped to pick up a hefty stick.
“This is my sword!” he yelled. To be honest, it was much more of a mace than a sword, the ‘pointy’ end was a bit bigger than the end he was holding, and quite knobbly. He had to hold it with both hands to easily control it.
“Nice.” I grinned. “I’ll find one of my own.”
We headed down the path together, going deeper into the woods. The path snaked around between trees, over rises and down through small gullies, and the occasional tree had a white blaze painted on it as a path marker. It was cool, with the bright sun being blocked above by the tree canopy. A few minutes later, the path opened up and we stepped into the clearing. The tree canopy still blocked out most of the sky, but was thin enough so that the clearing was fairly well-lit.

We ran around and played for a while, taking turns to guard and assault the ‘fortress’ and then both guarding it while we repelled the invading forces. After a while we were breathing heavily from all the running around, and we sat down for a break.
“Where does that path go?” Pete was looking around, pointing towards the far side of the clearing.
I looked in the direction he was pointing, and spotted a tree with another white blaze painted on it on the far side of the clearing. The path was hard to spot next to the tree, it seemed to be quite overgrown and the tree that was marked was gnarled and twisted, with only a few leaves still attached. It was covered in moss or lichen, which made the blaze a lot harder to see than normal.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Let’s find out!” I stood, picking up my ‘sword’ stick, and Pete picked his up too.
“Didn’t Dad say not to go any further?” Pete sounded worried that we’d get in trouble.
“Come on, we’ll be fine…” I was using my ‘big brother’ powers of persuasion, knowing that Pete would cave in and come with me if I headed that way. I was soon proven right, as we headed towards the path together.

We were less than a minute past the gnarled marker tree when a sense of unease settled in. The woods felt different, there was less light and the trees were closer together – they seemed to be fighting each other, clawing their way up towards the light. I no longer felt the confidence that I had before, and I gripped my stick a little tighter, taking some comfort from its weight.
“Marty, did you hear that?” Pete asked, clutching at my arm.
“Hear what?”
“I… I don’t know. Like, something moving around? Something big, I think…” He trailed of as we slowed our pace to a near-crawl, and I listened hard. I hadn’t heard anything, but at that moment I realized I couldn’t hear much of anything at all. The woods were normally full of sounds, the rustling of wind through the trees, birdsong and the like; but it seemed eerily quiet all of a sudden. We heard the snap of a twig behind us and froze in place; the hair on the back of my neck prickling and standing on end.

Pete slowly turned his head to look at me, and I slowly turned to look at him. His eyes were wide and I could see he was breathing fast, and I realised that my own heart rate had risen as well. The woods seemed even darker than they had been moments ago, the shadows deepening and pressing in almost menacingly. We turned fully around at the same time; and were confronted suddenly by a tall figure looming over us.

“BLARGHBLARGHBLARGH!!!” It was Dad. We both screamed as Dad yelled and waved his arms in the air, and then he started to laugh at us.
“Heh heh heh, you should have seen the looks on your faces! He chuckled to himself.
“Daaaaaaaaad!” we exclaimed, breathing hard in fright.
“I thought I told you not to go any further than the clearing?” He didn’t sound too impressed. “Come on, your mother’s got lunch ready. Let’s not tell her how far into the woods we’ve come, OK?”
Pete and I nodded our agreement, and we followed Dad as he turned to head back down the path. As we walked back towards the clearing, I heard rustling behind us. It was like Pete had described, something big moving through the brush. Pete and Dad were laughing about Dad scaring us; I don’t think they heard anything. I kept walking, looking back over my shoulder as I went; but couldn’t see anything in the shadowy undergrowth. I quickened my pace to catch up.

The rest of the day was fun; we headed back to the cabin, had a late lunch, and then spent the rest of the afternoon down by the lake. Later that night Pete & I had been sent to bed, and as we lay in our sleeping bags, I heard something outside.
“Pete, can you hear that?” I asked. I got a snore in response, he was already asleep. I slid down from the top bunk and rummaged around in my backpack, grabbing my flashlight from the bottom of it. I flicked the switch and nothing happened, so I shook it around and the light flickered on, casting a weak cone of light across the room. I opened the curtains and looked out of the window.

The woods loomed out of the darkness, the beam of the torch just making across the clear area to the first trunks of the treeline. I shone the light back and forth, playing the light across the treeline, and something flashed in the darkness. It was only for a second, but in that instant there were twin red spots pointing straight at me out of the darkness, like cats-eye reflectors on the road. They would have been a couple of feet off of the ground level, and then as soon as they appeared they were gone. I heard rustling, which rapidly faded away. Whatever it was had gone, heading away from the cabin and into the woods. I turned off the flashlight; slowly closed the curtains and backed away, climbing back up onto my bunk and into my sleeping bag. I stared at the ceiling in the dark, clutching the flashlight and listening hard, trying to hear anything outside over the noise of Pete snoring softly.
“Just the raccoon, looking for more food…” I whispered to myself. It was a long time before I fell asleep.

I woke up during the night. I lay in bed, trying to decide if I could go back to sleep or if I needed to pee, and decided on the latter. I slid down out of my bunk, being careful not to wake Pete. Still slightly groggy from sleep, I stumbled down the hallway and into the bathroom, where I relieved myself. I was heading back down the hall to the bedroom, when I heard something from the lounge, further down the hall. I froze in place, listening hard. There was something in there! I crept ever so slowly down the hallway, passing the door to our bedroom, and peered through the doorway into the lounge. I relaxed when I realized what the noise must have been.

The front door was open, creaking slowly back and forth in the cool night breeze. It must have not shut it properly and it had opened in the wind. There were no lights on, but the lounge was half-illuminated by moonlight coming through the windows and through the cracked-open doorway. I stepped into the room, intent on heading to the door to shut it, and then once again froze a few steps in when I perceived I wasn’t alone.

Parts of the room were lit from outside, and this made it hard to see into the gloom of the other parts that the light didn’t hit, but there was something in one corner of the room. I couldn’t make out anything as I peered towards the shadows, but as the door creaked slightly more ajar once more in the wind, I saw the red lights staring out at me from the dark. With a thrill of horror that sent the hair on my neck standing on end, I realized that they weren’t lights at all, they were eyes! I took a step backwards, and as I did, the red-eyed creature in the shadows glared out at me. I could see a faint outline, a shape in the darkness, but nothing clear. Whatever it was, it was a lot bigger than a raccoon.

I opened my mouth to yell, but all that came out was a whimper. The breeze stopped and the door creaked once more, slowly closing this time. As the door closed, the beam of light that was coming through the gap slowly narrowed, and then disappeared as the door came to rest against the jamb, just short of clicking completely shut. As the light disappeared, the red reflection in the creature’s eyes faded from view, and I realized to my horror that I could no longer make out its shape in the darkness! I took another step backwards, and the thing growled at me from the shadows; a low, throaty rumble that filled me with dread. I heard the clack of nails or claws on the hardwood floor as it took a step towards me, and I finally found my voice, screaming at the top of my lungs as I closed my eyes and covered my head with my arms, turning away from whatever the thing was and trying to cover up, to protect myself.

As I screamed my lungs out, I heard my parents yelling in alarm from the bedroom down the hall, and scrambling sounds of them and my other relatives trying to get up quickly to come and see what was wrong. I heard the door open again in the wind, and opened my eyes to see the end of whatever the thing was disappearing outside. It was big, at least dog-sized, but apart from a split-second glimpse of dark fur or hair I couldn’t see anything that would tell me for sure what it had been. My parents burst into the room, Dad running to grab me and Mom turning on the lights. They held me close, asking what was wrong, Dad was saying something about how I must have been sleepwalking and had a nightmare. Pete came in as well, and as the family gathered in the lounge, everything seemed much less scary in the light. Maybe it had just been my imagination?

Despite my protests, my parents eventually decided I’d just had a nightmare, and everyone eventually went back to bed. Mom stood by my bunk and whispered soothing things to me as I dropped back into slumber. I awoke the next morning to sun streaming through the windows, immediately feeling much better in the daylight. The events of the previous night seemed far away, like they had been a dream, and I wondered if that’s all that it had been. Everyone else seemed to already be up and about; it was just me in the room. I got up and got dressed; and headed out into the lounge, where everyone was gathered having breakfast.
“Good morning honey,” my Mom called to me. “Did you sleep all right?” I replied that I was fine, and set about getting some breakfast.

The rest of the day (and the next couple of days as well) were fairly uneventful. We swam in the lake while our parents read their books, and then Dad came in to throw us around in the water. We walked through the woods several times, taking different trails. Pete & I ran around like madmen out front of the cabin, playing tag and every other game we could come up with while Mom & Dad relaxed on the front porch. The nights though… I had bad dreams, dreams about a dark shape scrabbling around outside. I’d wake up and listen hard in the gloom, trying to figure out if the noise was just the trees or something else.

Saturday came, which would be our last night at the cabin. We’d be packing up and leaving in the morning. In the afternoon, Pete & I had gone back to the clearing in the woods, playing Star Wars this time – we were taking turns using the torch as a lightsaber. We must have played for hours, as I noticed the daylight was just beginning to turn to dusk; the woods growing dimmer as the light fled. For the life of me, I’ve never been able to explain what came next. I wish that we had just walked out of those woods, back to the cabin. But we didn’t.

You see after that first night, I’d been afraid. Whatever the thing had been, it had shaken me badly; but I was one of those kids who had to know everything. And I had an idea about where I’d find out for sure – deeper into the woods, where I’d heard something that first day.

I stared across the clearing at the gnarled tree with the faded white blaze, and decided that I was going to look before Mom & Dad came for us. Pete had piped up, saying it was getting dark and we should start heading back, dinner would be ready soon. I told him my plan and he shook his head vigorously. He didn’t want to go deeper into the woods. Once again, using my big brother powers of persuasion, I convinced Pete that he’d get in trouble if he headed back alone, as our parents had told him that he had to stay with me at all times.

I turned on the torch again, Pete hefted his ‘sword’ stick and we set off together, heading past the gnarled, twisted tree that marked the path deeper into the woods. We walked in silence, carefully picking our way along the path in the dark, my crappy torch lighting the way for us. Every now and again it would flicker, so I’d give it a whack and the light would come back. I found myself wishing I’d packed spare batteries for the trip; we must have drained the power while we were playing with it. The evening was getting rapidly darker, the moon coming out and casting some dim light through the gaps in the trees.
“Marty, I don’t like this,” Pete said apprehensively after about a minute on the path less travelled.
“Neither do I, but we can’t turn back now” I replied. Looking back, I just can’t understand why it meant so much to the 8-year old me. By this point I was starting to doubt the intelligence of the plan, but I was too headstrong to admit it and turn back.

We continued along the path, my torch’s light picking out the roots and branches that we needed to avoid. I felt apprehensive, and I’m sure Pete felt the same. This part of the woods had been bad enough in the daylight for the brief period we’d spent in it, but it was a hundred times worse at dusk. I was jumping slightly at every shadow, every branch that reached out of the darkness at us. Eventually, the path turned sharply and I lit up a gap between two trees that opened up into a second clearing. We stepped into it, and I noted with some relief that there didn’t seem to be a path out the other side – I couldn’t see a white trail blaze on any of them. I breathed a sigh of relief, deciding that we’d gone far enough and we could turn back now. I started to turn, and Pete grabbed my arm.
“What?” I looked down at him. “Don’t be scared! We’re leaving now”.
“Th-th-th-there’s something over there,’

He raised a shaky hand, pointing across the clearing. I looked across to where he was pointing, freezing in place when I realized he was right. There was something over there, lurking in the shadows. There was a little bit of light from the rising moon, but it wasn’t a full moon yet and the trees were a lot thicker here than in the other clearing, so it wasn’t much help. The thing growled, sending the hair on my neck standing on end. As Pete & I both took an involuntary step backwards, I managed to lift my arm to shine the torch in the direction of the growl. Red eyes reflected the light brightly back at me.
“Oh, shit…” I whispered to myself, as the full nature of my stupidity hit me. In my efforts to prove to myself that I was brave, I’d taken myself straight into harm’s way. And what was worse was that I’d taken my little brother; who I was meant to protect, along for the ride.

The thing stayed just out of the weak range of the torchlight, the dim cone of light just enough to make out it’s outline against the trees behind it as it padded back and forth, a low warning growl rumbling continuously in its throat. I could see it only a little better than I had been able to in the house, just an outline, and the red reflection of the light in its eyes. It was powerfully built through the shoulders and forelegs, a small head on a large frame that tapered down towards its back legs. Maybe it had a tail? I couldn’t tell in the dark, all I could really see was those damn eyes. It just seemed… wrong somehow, twisted like the tree that marked the entrance to the part of the woods it seemed to live in. Pete was beginning to hyperventilate and my heart was hammering at a million miles an hour, but I knew I needed to try and stay calm to try and get us out of this mess.
“Pete?” I asked, not taking my eyes off of the red eyes being reflected in front of me.
“What?” He stammered.
“We’re going to back away slowly, OK? Just stick with me, we’ll be fine. It doesn’t like the light”. I was praying that I was right; the thing seemed reluctant to come into the torchlight.

We backed slowly out of the clearing and back down the path that we’d come in on. We rounded the first corner and kept backing away, I kept the torch pointed in front of us as we slowly edged down the path, hoping that maybe the thing wouldn’t follow us. My hopes were dashed when a shape appeared, and the reflection bounced red off its eyes again. It was following us, stalking along the path after us, staying just out of the reach of my torch and making its way around the odd patch of moonlight that made it through the tree canopy above. And of course, it was at that moment that the torch started to flicker and die again.
“Shit. Shit shit shit,” I cursed, whacking the side of the torch to try and hit the light back into existence, but it continued to flicker, and then it died completely as the batteries finally gave up.
“Marty…?” Pete sounded as terrified as I felt, suddenly enveloped in the dark. I heard the thing growl again, so I flung the torch in its direction and screamed at Pete to run, as I turned to do the same.

Whatever the thing was, it was now chasing us and I could hear it gaining, getting a little closer with every step. Outstretched branches tore at our clothes, one whipping into my face and cutting my cheek. I barely felt the sting, the fear I was feeling at that moment was almost immeasurable. Pete was sprinting as fast as he could, but with my longer legs I was beginning to outstrip him.
“Come on!” I urged, reaching for and grabbing his hand to pull him alongside me. “You can do it! Just! Keep! Running!” I spat the words out between frantic breaths.

I realized that Pete was still carrying his ‘sword’ stick, and without breaking stride I stretched over and tore it from his grip, flinging it behind us as we ran. I heard a meaty thud as it landed, and then growls that sounded of pain and anger. I must have hit the thing, I just hoped that it would slow or distract it enough for us to get away.

We kept sprinting down the track in the now near-dark forest, which had been difficult enough when my torch was working. As we ran, I silently prayed that we wouldn’t snag on a branch or trip on a root, as that would surely be the end of us. I silently wished I still had my torch; it would have made our flight easier. There! I saw the twisted tree, the outline just able to be made out against the dark sky thanks to the dim moonlight. By this point we were both nearly out of our minds with fear, all that was keeping me going was the adrenaline, and I knew Pete would be much the same. We were both sobbing as we ran, taking in deep, ragged breaths as we ran.

We burst into the clearing, and were about halfway across it when Pete fell, tripping over a branch laying on the ground. He landed heavily, and my momentum from running carried me well past where he lay. I skidded to a halt, turning to head back to get him; and as the thing bounded out from the path behind us I caught my first real glimpse of it, eyes widening in horror as it came into view. It was a twisted thing, like a huge dog or a wolf but… wrong, somehow. Its proportions were all off; forelegs were much longer and muscular than the hind. It didn’t run like a canine either, moving more like a gorilla charging on all fours, its long dark fur shaking back and forth as it lolloped forward towards my brother – long tongue spilling out from behind jagged white teeth in a snapping, slavering maw; and those horrible red eyes, glowing brightly with hunger in the dim moonlight.

Pete was struggling to get up; he saw the thing come from the path and then turned his head to look at me; pleading, petrified eyes locking with my own. I’ll never forget that glance. In that second I saw exhaustion, confusion and an all-encompassing fear, bordering on the brink of madness. But worst of all was the unbelieving, horrified betrayal that came into his eyes as I did the only thing that my terrified eight-year-old brain could think of – I turned away and fled, Pete’s screams echoing after me as I went, rising in pitch and seeming to go on forever, then cutting off suddenly.

I charged down the path, sobbing and shrieking as I fled, in disbelief at what I’d done and sure that the thing would come for me next. Suddenly, two tall figures burst out of the dark in front of me and grabbed me – I thrashed about and screamed, before realizing it was my parents! I could see Dad had the axe, they must have heard our screams. They frantically asked me where Pete was, but I was well past the point of being able to speak, and just flailed my arms back down the path, pointing desperately back the way I’d come. Dad sprinted past us, raising the axe as he went and Mom held me close before scooping me up into her arms and following him.

As Mom & I rounded the corner into the clearing, I could see my Dad kneeling in the centre of it. I’ll never forget the way that the moonlight glinted off the axe head as it lay on the ground next to him. I’ll never forget my mother’s screams as she saw what was left of her son. I’ll never forget my father crying on his knees; great, deep sobs wracking his heaving chest as he tried to shield us from seeing the worst of it. I’ll never forget seeing past my father and spotting Pete’s hand, skin stark white in the rising moonlight, but spattered with dark red gore. I think I passed out then.

From what I was able to gather later on, Dad stayed with Pete while Mom took me in the car to the Johnson house to call the police, and left me there as she returned with the State Troopers and the ambulance. I’d gone into shock by that point.

I never told my parents what really happened, that we’d gone past the first clearing and deeper into the woods. I’d spent weeks in a near-catatonic state of fear and guilt by the time I was actually able to talk about what had happened. I told them that we’d lost track of time and were about to head back to the cabin, when the thing had come from the path and gotten Pete before I could do anything. I already hated myself enough; I couldn’t have dealt with them knowing it was all my fault. I told them that I didn’t get a good look at it. My Dad had seen a dark shape looming above the fallen figure of his son, but it had turned and ran as he came at it, and he hadn’t seen more than a flash of indistinct fur and red eyes. The police decided it had been a wolf or a feral dog, but despite a search of the woods they couldn’t catch it.

We never went back to the Cabin, and neither did any of the rest of the extended family. Dad made a brief trip up at one point to clear it out, but as far as I know, it’s sitting empty right now. Our family sold the land to the Johnsons a few years later, but I heard a while back that they’d sold up and moved away to retire, so I’m not sure who owns it at this point.

Our lives went on, forever changed. None of us was ever really the same. One side-effect is that I can’t be in a dark room with a red electrical light in it, or I start having panic attacks. There’s a lot of electrical tape covering lights on my appliances. The guilt gnaws at me constantly – it was my fault entirely, even if nobody else knows. It’s been decades but I still see Pete’s face every time I look at myself, and I hear the anguished screams of my parents echo through my head when I try to sleep. And I’m terrified that someday it’ll come for me too, that I’ll be walking through my house at night and it’ll be there like I deserve it to be – that dark, twisted thing with the glowing red eyes.

Credit: Abtrogdor

The River

May 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM

The river is deep, and dark, and it holds many secrets. At least that’s what they say, and recent events have left me with a completely unshakeable belief that what they say is entirely true.

There’s a river that runs through the part of the city that I live & work in. It’s got a proper name, but everyone just calls it ‘The River’ anyway. Originally it was outside of the city limits, but as the city grew the boundaries pushed ever outwards, eventually spanning both sides and beyond. My part of the city has a lot of steel & glass & concrete used in the construction, it was built during a fairly soulless period, architecturally speaking. There are a lot of high-density apartment blocks in my area, I live on a middle floor of one of them. The apartment has a view of the river from the window; sometimes I’ll sit and look out at it, wondering what’s going on under that deceptively calm surface. I never look for too long, the river has a peculiar way of being able to give you chills. The river isn’t that wide, but it’s deep and has strong currents, especially near the bottom. Nobody swims in it, the current makes it too dangerous and the water is very, very cold; even during the hottest of summer days.

My work is in one of the office buildings on the other side of the river from my apartment. It’s close enough for me to walk, and there’s a scenic riverside pathway that the City Council built during the expansion, envisioning a bustling riverside precinct. This didn’t happen. People avoid the river if they can at all help it, but when quizzed about it nobody really knows why. You’ll get the odd tourist going for a walk alongside it, but they never linger for long. Even the ducks and other waterfowl seem to avoid it.

My walk to and from work would be probably ten minutes quicker if I went along the waterside, but I cut through the city streets where there’s people; and the only part of my walk where I get close to the river is where I cross it, walking quickly along the utilitarian concrete bridge as traffic passes. The drivers always have their eyes set dead ahead of them, nobody ever looks at the water. I tend to speed up as I cross the bridge, it’s not particularly high and there’s a well-sized concrete guardrail, but I really don’t like being above the water if I can help it. If you look over the side, sometimes the surface seems so dark that it’s almost black, and it’s impossible to see the bottom. If you really look closely, then sometimes you’ll see dark shapes moving rapidly through the gloom of the water, but it’s impossible to see if they’re just big fish or something else.

I live a fairly quiet life, all things considered. I’ve got good friends; a girlfriend & a steady, well-paying (ok, well-ish paying) office job. I like my apartment, I like my friends, I like the city I live in, I have no problems with the way things are going. All in all, I’m a fairly normal guy. But I don’t like that damn river, not one bit. I’ve never felt comfortable near it, and things have been a whole lot more unsettling since that night.

I’d stayed late at work on a Friday to finish up on some stuff I’d been putting off. Normally I’d have been outta there at 5pm and off to meet my girlfriend for date night, but she was out of town for the weekend, off to stay with her parents. The plan was to pick up some pizza or some Chinese on the way home and to settle down on the couch for a relaxing night watching crappy horror movies.

I leaned back in my chair at work, looking around the empty office. I’d just finished up the last of my paperwork, so I shut down my computer, and glanced out the window, catching the flickering of the streetlights as they came on outside. The sun was just on the verge of setting, so you could see the harsh artificial light from the streetlights in the half-darkness. I was trying to decide between pizza & Chinese on my way down the lift, and settled on a large pizza to myself as an acceptable option, making a mental note to do extra cardio at the gym the next day.

I stepped out of the lift, shouldered my bag and headed towards the building exit, wishing the night security guard a good weekend as I went. Making my way out onto the street, I took a moment to appreciate the fresh, cool air that comes with the evening of a day that’s had fine weather. I called ahead to a pizza place near my house as I headed towards the bridge, placing my order for pickup (large meat-lover’s pizza, double meat, extra BBQ sauce). I figured I’d have maybe 5 minutes to wait at the pizza place before the pick-up, and then I could head to mine and settle in for the night.

All was well as I wandered along the street, taking a left after a few blocks and heading towards the river. I noticed that I was the only person who seemed to be out and about, the entire area seemed pretty much deserted. Not entirely surprising, given that it was probably 7pm on a Friday night and I was in the business area of town, all the bars & restaurants are across the river on the side that I live. The night air was still & cool, and the sky was rapidly darkening; the sidewalks lit by the bright, harsh light from the streetlights above.

My pace quickened as I took a left and headed towards the bridge. The streets were still deserted, but I could hear faint noise from the restaurant precinct across the river. I kept my head down as I stepped onto the bridge, intently staring at the pavement as I made my way across. As I reached the halfway point, I felt a chill settle over me, and I froze in place. The noise from across the river had stopped. In fact, I couldn’t hear anything in the way of street or bird noise, I couldn’t even hear the buzz of the streetlights any more. The only thing I could hear was the water of the river rushing around the pylons of the bridge, and then I heard what sounded like a sob.

I looked towards the other side of the bridge, and then back towards the home side of the river that I was heading towards, when I caught something in my peripheral vision. I turned towards it, and took an involuntary step backwards in shock when I saw something I’d swear hadn’t been there a second ago. There was a girl sitting on the guardrail, facing towards the river, feet dangling off the side.

“Shit…” I said to myself quietly, breathing deeply and trying to slow my suddenly racing heart. “Man, you scared me! Sorry, I completely missed that you were sitting there”. I took a step towards her. “Are you ok?” She had long, dark hair that seemed to be wet, it hung down over the side of her face, hiding her features. She was wearing a simple white dress that ended at her knees, and I could see through gaps in the concrete railing that she had bare feet . Her hands were resting on the rail she was sitting on, and they too seemed to be damp, putting some moisture onto the concrete they were placed on. I couldn’t see her face because of the hair, but her shoulders were hunched forwards, and seemed to be shaking slightly; as if she was holding back tears. I couldn’t see her face to tell for sure if she was young or older, She had a slim build, I figured she was in her mid-20s at the most.

I took another step. “Miss?” I asked, reaching out a hand to touch her shoulder. She stopped shaking, and I stopped moving forward before my hand could touch her. She was… cold. So very cold that it seemed to be radiating out from her, and I drew my hand back with a shiver, grabbing it with the other hand to warm it up. She seemed to notice my presence, and straightened up, turning towards me as she did. I tensed with apprehension, suddenly worried about what her face might look like, but relaxed as it came into view. She was a pretty, normal looking girl in her early late teens or early 20s, and the only out of the ordinary thing I could see was that her eyes were red, I assumed from crying.

“Are you OK?” I asked her again. “Do you need any help?” The corners of her mouth curled up slightly in a sad, wan smile. And then she turned back, looked down at the water, gave a little hop and jumped off the side of the bridge.

I stood there for a second, completely dumbfounded. Then I heard a splash from the river below, and it snapped me out of my stupor. “Jesus!” I exclaimed, throwing off my satchel, and running towards the edge of the bridge. I looked over the edge towards the water, but I couldn’t see the girl, she must have gone under already. Placing both hands on the guardrail, I vaulted over it and plunged into the water below.

The river was cold. So, so icily cold that the shock of it drove all of the air out of me as I hit the surface and went under. I came up, gasping for air and treading water, and looked for any sign of the girl. I noticed that with some luck, the spot I was in seemed to be a fairly dead spot for the current, but I could still feel the pull of the water as it dragged me downstream, taking me under the bridge. I took a deep breath and dove under the water as I was taken under the cover of the bridge, and everything went dark as the light from the streetlights above was cut off by the shadows of the space under the bridge.

I could barely see anything as I swam around, in what I was by that point assuming was a futile hunt for the girl. To make matters worse, I could feel the current strengthening, and all of a sudden I was swept sideways as the river eddied around one of the supports of the bridge. I slammed into the support, the air driving itself from my lungs once more. The current spun me round and pinned my back to the support, my shirt snagging on some protrusion from the concrete. To my horror I realised I was stuck fast, the freezing water rushing around me in the darkness.

“I’m going to die here”.

The thought entered my brain, and I began to panic, struggling back and forth, but the current was just too strong. I was going to drown, and I couldn’t even help the girl who’d gone in before me. I could see the glow of streetlights dimly above me, but I was too deep under for the light to really penetrate the water, and I could feel blackness closing in from the corners of my vision as my empty lungs began to take in water. It felt like a fire in my chest, and I coughed underwater, but instead of the air I desperately needed all I got was more water. Even worse, I could make out shapes in the darkness. They swirled around at the edge of my vision, pressing menacingly closer, and I could feel their malignant presence. I knew that whatever these things were, they would do me harm if they could. I closed my eyes, and the darkness turned to black.

With the last of my strength, I reached up behind me and felt around for where I was snagged. With what felt like a superhuman effort, I managed to tear my shirt away from the pillar and get my feet up under me against it. I pushed off, driving myself towards the surface, reaching out above me as I travelled up. As I flew towards the surface, I opened my eyes, and saw a flash of white down low ahead of me, but there was no time to think about that.

My hand broke the surface first, and I coughed and vomited water as I gasped for air, struggling to stay above the surface. The current had me once more, and I could feel myself being dragged downstream. I could hear shouting from the shoreline downstream, but again didn’t have time to focus on it. The freezing water was fast sapping what little strength I had left, and I was still spluttering, trying to get the last of the water out of my lungs. I once again took deep breath, and dove under the surface, heading for where the flash of white had been as I’d come up the last time.

Swimming down, I was struck by the thought that this was an incredibly bad idea, but I felt I had to at least try. Looking around, I tried to spy where to head for, but all I could see was the inky murk below me. Just as I was about to give up and resurface, I spotted the flash again! I kicked hard, fighting the current, and spotted the girl, floating face-up in what must have been a dead patch of water as the river didn’t seem to be moving her downstream. Worryingly, the dark shapes I had spotted in the water earlier seemed to be circling ever-closer, just out of my field of vision but close enough for me to catch near-constant flashes of movement. I tried to ignore them and swum for the girl.

As I got close, I felt the current grab me again, sending me quickly towards her. I could see I‘d overshoot her, so swam as hard as possible and reached down, managing to snag a grip on her arm as I went past. I pulled her to my chest as I swam upwards, and caught sight of her face, which was pale against the blackness, but looked surprisingly peaceful. We travelled towards the surface together and my heart sang to see I was only a couple of feet below the surface; and then we came to a dead stop in the water. Lungs aching by this point, I looked down to see what had stopped up, and saw her eyes snap open and look at mine. They were full of terror, and I could see her lip shake as she looked down to her right shoulder. I followed her gaze, and saw that the shape of a hand upon her, grabbing her tightly; the arm extending into the blackness that all of a sudden pressed in around us.

I stared in horror at the hand. It was the same darkness as the water and gloom that was pressing in on us, and I could see the figure that it was attached to looming behind her, but it was too murky to make out any details. I could feel it’s presence and I could make out a vaguely darker shape in the blackness, but that was all. The girl looked back at me, grabbing me by the upper arms as she did, and opened her mouth as if to say something, but then suddenly gripped harder; almost causing me to cry out in pain which would have wasted the ever-diminishing last of the air in my lungs.

The black hand had dug it’s fingers in, and I saw what can only be described as corruption flowing from it. The girl’s flesh turned grey and started to slough off, ever-widening holes in her skin exposing clammy muscle tissue and stark white bones. Within seconds, she looked as if she’d been in the water for months. I looked in horror at her face; her skin coming away, hair falling out in clumps, eyes widening and then seeming to burst, leaving empty sockets. Her lips came away and teeth became visible, and then came apart as her mouth opened in a silent scream. I realised by this point that I too was screaming underwater, the last of my air clawing its way from my lungs.

I looked at the dark hand and then into the gloom behind the girl, and saw what I could only describe as a grin in the blackness, but caught only a glimpse as the hand gripped even harder and jerked the girl from my grip, her hands torn away from my arms with the force of it. She was pulled away into the inky water, quickly disappearing from my view. I thrashed about in the water, trying to get to the surface. I felt something grab me by the scruff of my neck, and promptly passed out from a combination of fear and lack of air.

I came to on the shoreline, a young couple next to me, one pumping my chest and the other breathing air into my lungs. I sputtered and once again vomited and coughed up water. I could hear sirens in the distance getting closer as I struggled to sit up.

“Oh, thank God!” the guy exclaimed. “Buddy, we thought you were a goner!” He took off his coat and wrapped it around me, as I had begun to shiver violently. I’d probably been in the water for no more than a minute or two, but it had felt like a lifetime and was enough to chill me to the bone. “We called for an ambulance when you went in” his girlfriend said, “They should be here in a minute”.

“Why did you jump in? Do you not know about how dangerous this river is?” he asked, looking slightly incredulous.

Trying to speak between bouts of violent shivering, I looked up at him. “There w-was a g-g-girl,” I stuttered. “She w-w-went in the w-water!”.

The couple looked at each other. “….We didn’t see any girl…” she trailed off. He spoke up, and explained that they’d been walking along the waterfront as a shortcut, and had seen me jump off the bridge, surface and then go under again. Luckily, the current had taken me close enough to the shoreline for him to grab me as he went past. He thought he might have seen something dart past in the blackness as he lifted me out of the water, but assumed it was just a fish or a bit of debris. Neither of them had seen a girl in a white dress.

The ambulance turned up and took me off to the emergency room (picking up my satchel from the bridge along the way), where they got me warmed up and released me once they’d made sure I wasn’t hypothermic. They called the police when I told them about the girl and I was interviewed by some officers, but nothing ever came of the police investigation. They had divers in the water next few days but didn’t find anything, and the search was called off due to danger and lack of evidence. My girlfriend was furious when she found out I’d almost drowned, but softened when I told her I’d been trying to save someone. She was still angry at me for taking that sort of risk, however; saying I should have just called the police.

Life returned to normal fairly quickly. I took a week off work before going back, and my life goes on as it always did before that night. I did my own research on the river, and found reports a few years old of some missing persons who had last been seen by the river, one or two of who fit the description of the girl I’d seen, but I couldn’t be sure if it was any of them.

I walk a little quicker as I cross the bridge to and from work, however, often breaking into a jog. Every now and again I’ve heard a sob or caught a flash of white in the corner of my vision, but I just power forward, never breaking stride. And I’ll occasionally see dark shapes swirling in the water from the window of my apartment, but I try not to look too closely. Like they say, the River is full of secrets, and I’m of the opinion that some secrets are best kept.

Credit To – Abtrogdor

Not Afraid of the Dark

December 26, 2014 at 12:00 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I think that somehow, I let her in.

Credit To – Abtrogdor


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