Don’t You Just Hate Car Trouble

January 12, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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All too often, my nights would end with a freezing walk to the nearest payphone to reach out to a friend for some help. My car was a piece of shit. To be brief and spare you the mechanical jargon, it had a nasty habit of dying on me. Being a native to mountainous regions of Montana, this was a death sentence come winter. The snowy roads that cut through the American wilderness had long distances between cities. You could drive for miles and miles without ever seeing a sign of another human being. If you were unfortunate enough to experience some car trouble along the way, you’d have quite the long, and potentially treacherous walk before you reached any civilized portion of the landscape.

Luckily for me, I was located in Baker, a small town with a great community, and everything you’d need to get by: a gas station, schools, and even a few stores, so I didn’t need to drive around much anyways. Baker is a quaint little place where people tired of the mundane city life dream of vacationing. The beauty of the rural Montana landscape could fill a thousand art galleries. Great as this town is, it’s just great as a vacation destination. Being such a simple place, Baker doesn’t offer its residents much. For me, growing up in a small rural town wasn’t all that I could have ever hoped for. I wanted to see towering skyscrapers, colossus stadiums, and experience the spectacular flashy lifestyle of big cities like Los Angeles and New York.

I was stuck in Baker though. I was 22, and working in an oil field. I didn’t have some promising job that would send me all over world, or even out of the state for that matter. College was a no-go since my parents were of the working class, and the nearest college was hundreds of miles away from Baker. Things seemed bleak for me, until just a few weeks ago when an old childhood friend of mine, Dave had reached out to me. Somehow, Dave had made it out of Baker, put himself through school, and through some kind of business venture, had done quite well for himself. Now financially established, he was going to open a small diner in the much larger city of Billings, Montana. I couldn’t believe it. I can still vividly remember our childish conversations around the Nintendo 64, about the experiences we were going to have once we got out of Baker. At the time, our naïve promises held no real weight, but Dave stuck true to his dream, and he made it happen. Beyond that, after all of this time, Dave hadn’t forgotten about me.

The diner was set to open in less than a week, so Dave invited me to travel to Billings as soon as possible. Although it was a crappy fry cooking job at an even cheaper wage than I was getting paid at my current job, the prospect of traveling to a big city to work with an old friend was not a proposal I was about to wait on. After all, Billings had colleges, and so much more people to meet. The probability of finding an actual career or even finding someone to start a relationship with was an actual possibility now. I understand how wishful my thinking was to anyone who hadn’t come from a similar background, but coming from a place where opportunities like this were far and few, this was the break I had been dreaming of.

Since Billings was a little over 220 miles away, I thought it would be a good idea to ask a local friend to drive me there, instead of risking it with my own beat down car. He agreed, although a little bitter out of envy that I too had made it out of Baker. Later on that night, my ride Jacob, some family and friends, and myself had a little get together; a “going away party” of sorts. As the party died down, Jacob and I sat together on my front porch. He confessed to me that he didn’t want me to go. Even though we didn’t hang out much anymore, I understood. Good friends were hard to come by in a little town like Baker, and I would have been salty about it too if things had been the other way around.
The next morning, I knew that the next conversation between Jacob and I would be pretty awkward on account of the whole sappy, alcohol induced, “I’m gonna miss you.” talks we exchanged with each other. Regardless of all that, my anticipation for new life experiences overshadowed my apprehension, and I gave Jacob a call around 4pm. I expected Jacob to be just getting off of work, but to my surprise, he was still seemingly drunk from last night. He started to berate me, and put me down. “You’ll be back you fuckin’ loser. You’ll come back and I won’t be here for you.” I slammed the phone back on the receiver, and went to my room. I was so angry at my friend’s selfishness that I rounded up my things and threw them into my car. I didn’t care if my clunker could made it or not, I was at least going to try to get out of here. With all of my belongings packed up and ready to go, I started my car and began my 220 mile trek to Billings, Montana at around 5:30p.m. Since the sun sets about an hour earlier than that in the winter, it looked like I was going to make this drive in the dark. The thick snow that blanketed the surrounding landscape only further contributed to the riskiness of the situation.

After about 20 minutes of driving in my calculated, angry state, I settled down and recalled that this was a turning point in my life, and as such should be welcomed with a pleasant, peaceful journey. I put my anger behind me, reclined my seat a bit, and put on some soft music. Suddenly, the trip became a therapeutic godsend. I wasn’t even thinking of the new, exciting opportunities that awaited me in Billings, I just sat down, shut up, and appreciated the tranquility of it all. Before I knew it, I had arrived in Forsyth, Montana to fuel up and get quick bite to eat. I left home in such a hurry that I hadn’t gotten the chance to eat something before I headed out. Satisfied from a nice hot meal, I hit the road to tackle the remaining 100 miles or so left on my trip. Conditions were decent, and my car was performing much better than I ever could have hoped for. After driving uphill for quite some time though, that was no longer the case.

The weakened sound of my waning engine snapped me out of my euphoric state and brought about the gravity of the whole situation. Instantly, I processed all of the factors. The snow, lack of an emergency cell phone, and the immense emptiness of my surrounding area. My mind raced as I racked through my thoughts to remember the last time I had even seen another car: Not since Forsyth about 40 miles back. Not a single car or person since then. My stomach dropped, revealing the surprisingly deep void in my gut. Immediately it had all come to me, this wasn’t some insincere teenaged statement you make to your parents by running away, just to come home a pathetic 20 minutes later. This was a full scale, absolute, life threating situation. There was a very real potential that I could die out here. My terror escalated as I counted all of the possibilities, to the point where I found myself again afraid of childhood fears like the dark, and of monsters.

A mere 8 miles after my epiphany, my car let out a thud, and then sputtered to a slow winding death. There me and my car sat, in the middle of the road in a blackened forest. The gently rhythmic pitter patter of the snow pellets appeased me into a hypnotic state of shock for a minute, maybe more. Gradually, the creeping cold that began to envelop me awoke me from my episode of comatose. Pellet by pellet, it came back again: reality. The danger. The fear. After some time had passed, I realized that I didn’t have time to be frozen by fear anymore. The time had come to establish goals, and act on them. My first goal was to clear my car off of the road. The visibility was quite terrible by this point, the last thing I wanted was for some innocent traveler to smash into my obstacle of a car, and render the both of us helpless out here. I removed my seat belt, grabbed my jacket, and hopped out of the car.

Upon examination of the scene, I saw I was on a slight incline, so negotiating this maneuver in the snowy blitz would prove to be quite difficult. I placed my car in neutral and began to slowly guide the car towards the side of the road. The weight of the vehicle and slipperiness of the sleet-laden road caused me to begin to lose my footing. Now running backwards at nearly full speed, I stumbled and lost my shaky grip of the car. I fell to the ground on my back, and quickly sat up to turn and witness what would become of my vehicle. In the darkness, all I could see was the reflection of the moonlight on my car’s glossy white exterior. The car bulldozed on and continued to accelerate down the slope until finally being swallowed whole by the darkness of night. I heard it continue to wind down the hill until the violent sound of a distant impact haunted my ears. I got up and ran over to the grizzly site. With the aid of my flashlight, I found that my vehicle had ended its ride at the trunk of a large tree.

In my survivalist state, I did my best not to dwell too much on the carnage that I had just witnessed. My next move was to gather my most essential supplies from the vehicle, and establish a safe way to wait for a passerby. I must have known in the back of my mind that my car wouldn’t make it because I had brought tons of water, hand warmers, flashlights, a magnesium fire starter, rope, you name it. I tried to pop open the trunk, but the wreckage had destroyed it, so I moved inside the car to gain access via the backseat. I folded down the backseat and reached my arm through the opening and retrieved my backpack of survival gear. Amidst this terrifying trial I was facing, I managed somehow to appreciate the surprisingly decent job I had done in preparation. Everything was neatly contained, and readily accessible from this one bag.

Since I was alone, and with relatively few supplies, I knew that staying inside the car was a bad move. The snowfall was getting worse, and I knew that nobody would ever find me if my car got completely engulfed by the snow. My best course of action was to wait outside my car and try to stay warm until I could flag someone down. And that’s exactly what I did. For over 2 hours I sat in the blistering cold and waited for any sign of another person. Not a single living creature passed me by. This land was completely vacant. I was losing hope, I couldn’t sit here and wait for much longer. I can’t say that I was surprised, I knew as soon as my car had died that I had made a fatal mistake, and that this was going be a fight for my life. But I have got to say, it’s a frightening thing to see your car begin to vanish right in front of you little by little. If I had foolishly chosen to stay in my car for this long, there’s a chance that I never would have made it out of that vehicle alive.

I was done sitting. It was time to move on, if nobody was going to find me, then I was going to find them. I decided to head back toward Forsyth, because I thought that I had seen a small rest stop just about 6 miles up the road. Making that kind of a hike for me would have been difficult in the best of conditions, and given the current circumstances this was destined for failure, but it was much better than just sitting there and waiting around to die.

The first mile was easy. I was in full on survival mode, I couldn’t be bothered by any other thoughts, I was only thinking about what I needed to do next. I needed to trudge on, and find some way of contacting a loved one to come to my dire need of rescue. But my transition from survival mode back to normal scared and worried mode was coming through in waves. Terrified for a brief moment or two, then the horror would be cast out by my unconscious in order to make a productive effort at survival.

Nearing the second mile, I found myself again at the “terrified” end of the cycle. The adrenaline had departed far sooner than I was comfortable with. The expansive darkness that I found myself in was so unlike its daytime counterpart that it seemed to be an entirely different world. As a result, I found myself like a baby, scared of the unknown qualities of an unfamiliar new world. In the daytime world, I knew that monsters, ghosts, and all things supernatural did not exist, but under the veil of snow, and shrouded by the intense absence of light, I just didn’t know that with certainty anymore.

Walking down the absent street, I swayed my flashlight from left to right. First checking the foreground, then pushing my sight as far back into the brush as my flashlight would allow. From left to right I repeated this process for three and a half miles, with nothing to occupy my thoughts but stories of ghosts, zombies, killers, and other staples of the horror genre. Each time I brought my flashlight to the opposite side, I flinched in fear of what my eyes might meet. After about three and half miles down the road, I had seen nothing, until finally my eyes laid upon an amazing scene. About 300 yards off the side of the road sat a small, dimly lit cabin. The billowing cloud of smoke that rose above the house’s chimney was such a sight for sore eyes that I could almost feel the warmth from this far away. In utter excitement that my trip could potentially end over two miles sooner than I had projected, I made a mad dash for the cabin.

As I drew nearer to the small structure, details that were unseen from afar began to come increasingly visible. The house was in a pretty advanced state of disrepair. The home was slouching to one side, and its wood was heavily distressed. I was beginning to fear that house was abandoned, but then I remembered that the house was lit, someone had to of been inside. This realization frightened me even more, because whomever or whatever was dwelling in the house was obviously not the owner. No homeowner could allow their house to become so crippled with neglect.

I was just scaring myself, I needed to pull it together. My next hope at finding someone was over two miles up the road, and I didn’t know how long I handle the freezing weather. I pushed my fear and doubts deep down inside me, and mustered up the courage to knock on the door. Knock! Knock! Kno- I shuttered in pain as a sliver of the decrepit wood splintered into my fist. I shut my eyes tight as I attempted to pull the fragment from my hand. After a few seconds of gnawing, I opened my eyes and realized that the door was creaked open. I was sure that nobody had answered the door, surely they would have said something. Seeing the decaying state of the home, I realized that I may had accidentally broken their door. Balling up my fist in my sweater for protection, I proceeded to knock on the much sturdier door frame this time, and got to work conjuring up an apology for damaging the door. Much to my surprise, nobody came. Seconds turned to minutes, knocking turned to pounding, and calling became pleading. I walked around outside the home investigating to see if there were any other signs that someone was there. But still, nobody responded to me. The house was empty.

Within 30 minutes of arriving on the property, I was beginning to contemplate just walking in. If someone were to stumble upon my home in similar circumstances, and them getting inside could have meant the difference between life and death, then I would understand, I would have to. Besides, “Just look at this shitty home” I said to myself, “the person staying here probably doesn’t even belong here. What’s the difference if I squat here too? At least long enough to get myself warm, so that I can make the long trip to the rest stop.” I continued to ration with myself. 5 minutes later, I just couldn’t resist anymore.

After announcing, “I’m going to have to come inside, it’s an emergency!” I carefully pushed open the creaky door and stepped in. Immediately, a wall of warmth embraced me, and not long after, so did the smell. This place certainly was abandoned. It smelled like the people who lived here before had gone without clearing the fridge, or taking their pets with them. My face contorted in disgust, and I scrunched my nose in an effort to ward off the putrid stench. I swung my head from side to side, searching for the source of the grotesque odor. My slow, methodical footsteps came to a standstill when I realized the horrifying environment that I had found myself in. The shack in which I was residing was obviously occupied by some kind of dark summoner. Sacred jewels and pendants were abundant amongst the coffee table. Mysterious patterns of blood droplets filled pages scattered throughout the room. At the farthest wall opposite the front door stood a large shrine with an indecipherable character at its peak. Candles, pages, and other offerings accompanied the perplexing altar. Taking in the scenery, I tried my best not to theorize where the aroma might have been coming from; I really didn’t want to know. My knowledge of the occult, witches, and all things supernatural was limited to what I had seen in horror films, and those silly, late night History Channel specials, but I was absolutely certain that whatever had been going on in this house was not something that I wanted any kind of involvement with. Standing in the middle of the small room, I peered around for a phone. Along with the horrifying scene of bloody manuscripts and other cult paraphernalia, I observed that the house was only lit by the fireplace and candles. I concluded that it would be foolish to continue my search, as the house most likely did not have running electricity. I didn’t complain, I was just glad that I had yet another excuse to get the hell out of there. By this time, I had more than enough justification to turn around and freeze my ass off in even the worst of blizzards.

Suddenly, I heard a loud slam. I jumped. My heart pounded faster than I knew it capable of, and I whipped my head around to see what had caused the noise. The rhythmic crunch of feet on the snow scurrying away from the door filled my ears. I tensed up and attempted to process what was going on. Immediately, I realized that I didn’t need to know what was going on, I just needed to run. I threw my body around, and sprinted for the exit. A sensational feeling of satisfaction overwhelmed me as my shoulder reduced the feeble door to pieces. Keeping all of my momentum, my body flew out of the dreadful dwelling. In an instant that feeling was replaced by pain and terror as a hand emerged from the home and clutched a vicious hold on my head. The sharp, brittle nails buried themselves deep inside my scalp and extracted a handful of hair and tissue. The creature’s tearing jerk on my head pulled me back and caused me to lose all forward momentum. I fell to my back, striking the porch staircase with such force that all wind was sucked from my body in an instant. Panicked, I shot up to my feet, turned around and threw a punch with all of the vitality I had left in me. In the small window of time before my strike reached its target, my eyes caught a glimpse of the horrifying beast. Its body type was similar to a tall woman, about equal to my height, 6’1”. Its hair was matted and thrashed about, partially obscuring its face. The creature’s arms were unproportionally long for its already tall body. Its hands too, were long and thin, and dripped with blood from the havoc it had just wreaked on my scalp. The being did not wear clothing, its naked breast, and waist shape supported my inference that this monster actually used to be an ordinary woman. Although I only saw the abomination for a mere fraction of a second, my ability to recount its details is a testament to just how shocking its appearance was. Finally, my fist clashed with the creature’s face, and threw the monster to the floor. The unknown nature of this mysterious beast’s abilities convinced me that I shouldn’t stick around to find out. So immediately after impact, I turned around, and ran back to the road that I had walked in on.

I ran with such vigor, and determination that I almost didn’t recognize myself. Even in dire circumstances of life and death, I don’t think anyone else has ever dug down as deep as I had that night. I maintained a full sprint for the remaining two and a half miles until arriving at my destination, a small rest area with a gas station and a diner.

Upon arrival, both places were closed, as it was probably around 1am by now, but I was able to place a call to my parents back home at a payphone. They answered with a swift, “Hello?” after just a single ring. They were worried that I hadn’t called them by now, and felt that something had gone wrong. After my intentionally brief explanation that my car had broken down and that I was stranded, they told me that they were on their way. “Drive safe mom, love you.” I murmured before hanging up the phone. It was so hard to withhold my full experience from my mom, but I decided not to tell her. Not out of fear that she would think I was crazy; I really didn’t care what anybody believed, but because I didn’t want her to make a dangerous rush on the way over. The last thing I needed was for her to be so worried that she drove recklessly and got in an accident. I made it this far to reach my rescue, and I wasn’t going to let anything impede on me getting home safely this time.

For an hour and a half, I sat completely still at the bench next to the payphone. I wasn’t bothered. I wasn’t freezing. I wasn’t exhausted. And I wasn’t scared. My mother pulled the car over nearby, and my father retreated from the vehicle and ran up to me. “What the hell are you doing sit right out in the snow? You’re gonna…” he exclaimed, my strong embrace interrupted his more than appropriate statement. I must have held him for too long, and too hard, because normally, he would have pulled away within a few seconds. But he didn’t. My mom exited the car, and I shared a passionate hug with her as well. Wiping my tears, I motioned them into the vehicle, and we pulled away from the rest stop.

The car ride home must have been incredibly difficult for my parents. The scenes that I painted, and the horror that I described was probably unlike anything they had ever heard before. I told them first about the car, then I told them about my walk to the shack, and finally, I told them about my experience with the witch-like creature. They must have thought I was crazy until I showed them the horrible mess that my head was. My mom nearly slammed on the brakes, and exclaimed that we needed to get to a hospital. I pleaded with her to keep going, I wanted to get far away from this place before we stopped and did anything. To my mom’s credit, she listened; we drove for an hour before I was comfortable with looking for a hospital.

At the hospital, they explained the dire situation I was in. I was suffering from blood loss, hypothermia, and frostbite on the skin where the monster had attacked me. And now I’d like to retract a statement that I previously had made, I actually did care what the doctors believed, so I decided not to tell them my story about the creature that had attacked me. These people actually had the power to institutionalize if they thought I was insane, so I told them that I had gotten attacked by a mountain lion. Somehow, I convinced my parents to give the same story if the doctors asked.

Upon awaking after hours of treatment, a nurse informed me that a fragmented nail of the, “mountain lion” that had attacked me had been removed during reconstructive surgery. My jaw dropped. The possibility that I could have some real life proof of whatever that thing was, was staggering.

“Can I keep it, please?” I shouted.

The nurse gave a puzzled look and said, “I’ll check with the doctor, but I can’t see why not.”

Minutes later, she returned with the foreign material in a clear canister, and handed it to me.

“You sure that’s from a mountain lion? I have seen a few mountain lion nails in my days, but none of them ever looked like that.” said the nurse.

“No, I guess I must have been wrong, it was so dark out there, you know.” I replied.

“Whatever that thing was, you’re lucky to be alive.” she said.

“That’s one thing I can say for sure…” I said under my breath.

Back at home a few days later, the pain was subsiding, and I had a lot of questions that needed to be answered. I didn’t really know where to start, though. Even in a big city I’d imagine it’s quite difficult to find good information on this kind of thing. Not having much to go on, I set out for Susan’s house. Susan was the town nutcase, at least, that’s what her reputation was. My mother always told me and my friends to stay away from her when we were kids. I never thought that all these years later, she would be the person I needed to see the most.

I arrived at her front porch, and hesitated to knock. The last time I knocked on an unfamiliar door it ended with a monster tearing away at my scalp. However, I recalled that if I didn’t get in contact with this woman, I might never find out more about what I had encountered, or if I was in future danger. Like I said, my lack of knowledge on the vile creature left me unsure of its true ability. If I was ever going to have a chance at peace of mind, then I needed to talk with Susan.

I quivered, and proceeded to knock on the door. Knock! Knock! Knock! A few moments passed, and then I heard the sound of the door unlocking. An old woman creaked the door open some, and peered out through the opening.

“Yeah?” said the old woman.

“Um, are you Susan?” I replied.

“Yeah, why? Who are you?” responded Susan.

“Susan, you don’t know me, but I’ve been living in Baker a long time, and recently I had a very strange experience that I think you might want to hear.”

She didn’t say anything back. Fearing that she would shut me out, I pleaded with her.

“Susan please, I hate to waste your time, but I have some questions to ask, I’m afraid for my life. You are the only person I could come to.”
With that the old woman shut her door and walked away. I was not about to give up though. I extended my arm, ready to knock on the door again. Just as I lifted my arm, I could hear footsteps again growing closer to the door. This time, Susan unlatched the door and welcomed me in. As soon as I entered her home, she made a command to stop with a motion of her hand, and I heeded her direction. From a nearby shelf, she produced a thin incense stick, and a small bottle that appeared to be some kind of potion. She handed me the container.

“Do not sip. It is bitter.” said Susan as she motioned me to drink.

I halfway thought she was kidding, but I was so desperate for answers that I didn’t mind the humiliation, I took the shot of liquid in my hand and swallowed it. The taste made me cringe. Susan then proceeded to take her stick of incense and blow in wisps at my head, heart, and each of my hands and shoulders.

“This is for my protection, not yours.” she explained.

I gave a nod in respect, and allowed her to continue on with various ritualistic gestures. When she had completed, she invited me to sit at the couch across from her.

“Tell me, what have you experienced?” asked Susan.

“On a trip to Billings, my car broke down and I was stranded in the woods a few nights ago.” I explained, “In an effort to find aid, I stumbled upon a peculiar shack that had ritualistic items like bloodstained scrolls, pendants, and a candlelit shrine. Upon realizing that I was in danger, I tried to leave, but a woman with long arms and sharp nails attacked me. I was able to escape, but I fear that this is not over. I am afraid she will come back and haunt me, or even worse.”

“How long ago was the attack?” Susan replied

“About three days ago.” I answered

“So you have been experiencing hallucinations, and other paranormal phenomena then?”

“No, I haven’t, but the fear that I am not out of danger keeps me awake at night.”

“Young man, you had an encounter with the Amwisak.”

“What is that?”

“The Amwisak are a group of dark summoners. They were once members of the Native American Chippewa tribe here in Montana, long ago. When a great snowstorm fell upon this region over 200 years ago, many children and infants within the tribe did not make it. Angered and desperate, a small group of tribeswomen prayed to the dark gods to revive the young ones who were lost. Their results were potent, and the children were miraculously revived. When the rest of the Chippewa tribe discovered the truth about how they were saved, they killed the children, and cast out the band of dark women. Now isolated from their former tribe, the women honed their craft and expanded their mystical capabilities. They used their powers to transform themselves into fearsome creatures that haunt, curse, and even kill. You have experienced firsthand how wicked they can be. Young one, though it may appear that my knowledge is omnipotent, do not be fooled, for I am puzzled.”

“You are?” I questioned. “Why?”

“People who are attacked by the Amwisak rarely live to tell about it, and above that, those who survive suffer curses and haunting dreams for the rest of their lives. But you tell me that you do not encounter the same hardships. How can this be?”

I racked my mind for reasons why I wasn’t having such challenges. I almost wanted to give myself the credit, as it was my determination and strength that helped to ward off the foe, and get back to safety. I quickly checked my ego, and rejected this idea. I couldn’t possibly be stronger than a group of women who transformed themselves seemingly through magic.

“Tell me.” she continued, “Did you take something from the beast. A sacred necklace? A scroll?”

“Certainly not!” I replied hysterically. “As soon as I understood the danger of the place I was in, I tried to leave.”

But then I remembered that I had taken something from the creature. Even if not purposefully, I had in my possession one of its own talons.

“Wait…” I muttered as I reached into my coat pocket.

My hand touched the clear plastic container that encapsulated the monster’s nail given to me by the nurse at the hospital. I retrieved it from my pocket.

“What is it?” Susan inquired with wonder.

“They found this in my scalp during the surgery,” I said, “I think that this is its nail.”

She looked surprised. I began to open the container when suddenly Susan stumped my action with a quick swat of her hand.

“Stop!” she exclaimed. “You mustn’t handle it. There’s no telling what mysterious powers this fragment can hold. One thing that is clear though, is that you must keep this piece safe with you forever. This claw is what saved you from her. Without it, she is incomplete, and therefore powerless.”

Suddenly it was all coming to me, Susan was right, this nail is what saved me from her. It helped me to find the strength to deal a shocking blow to the creature. It helped me to run the long distance to the rest stop with incredible quickness and endurance. It aided in calming me on my wait at the payphone, when normally I should have been consumed by fear and pain. And it saved me from being cursed or haunted for the rest of my life like the others. All of this I explained to Susan.

“It’s apparent that even after being severed from its keeper,” said Susan. “This object still possesses supernatural powers. Although I cannot prohibit you from experimenting with its energy- for you have righteously earned it, allow me to provide you with some sage advice: Beware things in which we do not fully understand.”

I left Susan’s house with a new sense of power, and peace of mind. All of my questions were not answered though. What was the shelf life of the witch’s nail that I possessed? Would it fade away in a matter of weeks? Or would it last forever so long as I did not touch it, and use its powers as my own? Although I understood little about its mystical qualities, I felt a sense of confidence that I was going to be okay. The Amwisak were scattered all over Montana, that’s a fact that I now had to live with, but I was convinced that as long as I kept this fragment in my possession at all times, the Amwisak could not harm me.

While my experience at the shack in the middle of nowhere undoubtedly changed me, it did not leave me crippled, haunted, or living with intense paranoia for the rest of my days. It helped me to experience a sensation that I’ve never had before: absolute power, endurance, and will. In the moment, I experienced relative numbness, but looking back, I feel proud at what I had accomplished. Having conquered this most extreme of trials, I was ready to continue on with my plans to head to Billings to create a new life for myself, now unafraid of what challenges I might face.

Credit To – Frankie Navarro

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The Devil’s Perfume

January 11, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Growing up in the south, in a pretty religious family, folklore is always around. Being Mexican to boot, these stories were always a constant reminder to be a good child. My grandfather believed in this, wholeheartedly. He loved telling us that if we didn’t behave El Cucuy was coming to get us.

El Cucuy was the boogie man. Just like La Llorona was a woman who wept to lure children to the river to drown them as she had done to her own children. How were these age appropriate stories? My grandfather insisted that he saw La Lechusa – a witch turned into a large white owl – roaming in the backyard once.

I started to keep track of when he mentioned one of these names. If my cousins and I were too loud, El Cucuy was coming. If we ran around outside, Le Lechusa would take us away.

In my grandfather’s last few years of life, he never spoke of any of these ghastly creatures anymore. Albeit, we were older and less noisy around him. We would laugh as we’d recall him yelling at us, all the while my grandfather remained silent. Before his health started to decline, he would speak in hushed whispers about things… things that scared him.

What I remember most during his last year was that he was always afraid of the dark. He spent his nights pacing the house. He would call relatives at 3 – 4 am to see what they were doing. Like clockwork, he called my parents house.

3 am phone call. 4 am phone call.

One morning in the summer he didn’t call. He didn’t call because he said he smelled something. The story he told my grandma is one that is hard to believe…

He was walking the house, making his rounds. A slight shuffle in his house slippers over the tiled floor. Ssst ssst ssst ssst. He never really picked up his feet. Ssst ssst ssst ssst. He was moving from the kitchen dining area to the front living room. Sometimes when the street light is on, you can see the street from one side of his yard to the other. Cars lining the streets in front of houses where people were sleeping. All but one person.. or so he thought.
He heard something he wasn’t sure of. Was it talking or mumbling? Maybe it was humming? No one should be awake at this hour. My grandfather shuffled to the front door. That’s when he saw… Her.

A woman, dressed in dark clothing, walking down the middle of the street.

Ever curious, my grandfather opened the door. He stood behind the screen door in silence as the wind picked up and he smelled it.

In an instant, he smelled something foul. A wall of sulfur. And just like that, it was gone, leaving only a lingering smell of roses. He didn’t say anything, didn’t move. Then She turned to him.

An old woman, small in stature, with no real facial features he could recall. A darkness covering her face although she was within the beam of the street light. She was wearing a black veil, lacey, framing her oval shaped face. She looked right at him as she tried to get near. Her feet shuffling toward the edge of his driveway.

Ssst ssst ssst ssst.

Immobile with fear, my grandfather stood at the door, the smell of roses growing stronger as She approached. Her face beginning to compose features. Eyes, dark and set deep under her brow. Small mute mouth. Sunken cheeks that seemed to tug her face even more into an oval shape. Too elongated to be real.

As She approached the driveway, She stopped. The humming was back. Was she talking? Was she singing to him? My grandfather watched as She tried to step onto his property. She struggled. Something was preventing her from walking up the driveway.

Seemingly forced to remain on the street, She stopped humming. Her face was that black hole. The eyes… were they glowing? Was the jaw that far stretched down into a snarled howl shape?

The sulfur smell was back. She, this creature, was unable to cross over onto my grandfathers property. And with a screech, She moved back into the middle of the street

Ssst ssst ssst ssst.

This creature began its humming down the street, seeming to vanish in the darkness that went beyond where the light street could reach.

This went on, every early morning, for several weeks.

My grandfather never told a soul the first few nights. Who would believe him that he saw the Devil in the street at 3 am? The sulfur rose smell lingering in his nostrils so much that he began to overly use his nasal spray. He used these menthol inhalers, one every month. After his visitor’s appearance, he was using one a week until he was placed into ICU on his deathbed.

That holiday season, my aunt saw a woman, walking the streets at night when she went to the kitchen for water. She heard a song that she didn’t understand, with the smell of roses. When she approached the door, the woman stood at the driveway and sulfur stained the air. My aunt was too afraid to get any closer to the door and went back to her bedroom.

February of 2009, my grandfather laid with monitors hooked up to him. Delirious from pain medications and his body deteriorating, he began to say he could smell the Devil’s perfume. He was adamant of that rosy sulfur smell in the air. That She went roaming the streets, singing to people to take; sings to them to walk out of their homes. He said the creature would come out of the walls at the foot of his bed in ICU to visit.

This was the first time my aunt heard of someone else speaking of the woman walking the streets, smelling the roses and sulfur. This was the first time something this far-fetched was ever uttered aloud within the family. Everything was always some folklore story. But this? This happened to two different family members.

March of 2009, my grandfather passed away. I had to fly in thinking I wasn’t able to say goodbye, but he held on for me. When I heard the stories of this Devil in disguise, I shrugged it off with a smirk.

‘Oh right, like that *really* happened? Pfft!’

‘No, it’s for real, I saw it…’ My aunt loved to exaggerate but the look in her eyes made me skeptical.

That night, I dreamt of the story, as if I was there. I could smell the roses, the sulfur. I saw this small, frail woman walking the street under the street light. When she turned to me in my dream, her face was a black void.

At my grandfather’s funeral, the priest spoke of life and how in death we’re reunited with our loved ones and are at peace. I couldn’t shake that feeling of my dream. At the cemetery, by a crooked mesquite tree off in the distance, there was a woman. Small in stature, skinny….

Where were her feet?

Was she looking at me…. How? I couldn’t see her face…. It was broad daylight and I couldn’t see her face.

I smelled roses.

The wind whipped up and it was warm… and briefly, I smelled it. I smelled the sulfur. There was nothing around but empty fields. Where was this sulfur smell coming from?

I looked around and then back at the tree, but she was gone as was the smell.

Every now and then I hear a sound, like shuffling feet… ssst ssst ssst ssst…. and I smell roses…. ssst ssst ssst ssst…. if I close my eyes, I can see that small figure in black…. ssst ssst ssst ssst…. I open my eyes before She looks at me… ssst ssst ssst ssst….

Is that the Devil’s perfume I smell….?

Credit To – My grandpa, Senor Gonzales

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The Silence of the North Woods

January 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The first thing I remember of my arrival in Ahtunowhiho, the small Native American village in the northern reaches of Minnesota, was the smell. The familiar aroma of soaked dirt permeated the air and was instantly noticeable as soon as the doors of the cramped, twelve-seater plane were opened. The runway that we landed on almost looked like it could have been constructed a month ago. Not at all because it looked new, but because it looked so…basic. Like it was built for my arrival only. The dirt runway stretched about 950 meters and was accompanied only by a small, one-story concrete building. I had come to this godforsaken no-mans land in order to do research for a book. I was an aspiring author and planned on writing a fictional story set in the wild and needed inspiration. I was also interested in the local legends of the area and the mysterious deaths that were rumored to have taken place near the town.

I was not excited about camping in the coldest regions of the country and being torn from my luxuries for 2 months, but I did it in the name of gathering useful information and becoming inspired. What I experienced though, is something I can barely bring myself to recollect.

A thick pine forest surrounded the runway entirely, with only one solitary trail leading to the main village. I could see patches of unmelted snow that punctuated the landscape and gave the entire area a perpetual moisture. I was still taking in the surroundings when my bags were stripped from my hands and loaded into a pickup truck by a thick, robust man who looked to be about 6’6. Just as my mouth opened to object, a much smaller man stepped out from the truck and came to meet me. “Patrick MacLaren?” He said curtly. “Y-Yes?” I was too startled by the bear of a man who had loaded my bags to give an articulate response. “Afternoon, I’ll be helping you settle in. As soon as your possessions are taken care of we’ll take a drive to the town.” The Bear never said a word and effortlessly tossed the rest of my luggage (which I had considered quite heavy) into the bed of the pickup. The shorter man motioned for me to get into the passenger seat of the truck and shut the door. The Bear hopped into the bed of the pickup and I swear to God the entire vehicle lurched like a boulder had been dropped in. The shorter man hopped into the driver’s side, and before I had time to say anything, hit the gas like he had no time to waste.

“Now that we’re off, I suppose we have time to give you the details. My name is Adrian, I’ll be showing you around and getting you settled in your new lodgings.” I continued scanning the forests. I could just barely make out small clearings that were spaced out every couple hundred yards. “Alright,” I responded “Hey, how did you know my na-” I stopped. Something had just briefly flashed through my peripheral vision. As I turned to look, I was greeted with the same comforting but somehow menacing pines. “Your name? Easy. You’re the only one who’s come here in weeks. We don’t get many tourists around these parts. There was only one name on the ledger and only one man on the plane. I put two and two together.” This left me unsettled, but it made sense. The town is secluded, and had little to offer a normal person.

We soon arrived at Ahtunowhiho and I was checked into the Inn. My room was a loft on the second floor and every item in it seemed to be cloaked in a thin layer of dust. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll only be staying here for one night” I was brought down to the lobby to meet my guide. The man I’d be sharing a tent with for a month. “Patrick,” the short man said “This is Abraham, he’ll be your guide in the wilderness and he’ll give you an insight to the more….in-depth aspects of our culture.” I extended a hand, which he firmly shook. “Nice to meet you.” Abraham said with a nearly expressionless face. “Well then. Now that the introductions are over, I’d say you both better get a good nights sleep. You’ll need it.”

The frigid morning air chilled me to the core. Even under 3 layers I was shivering and could barely feel my nose. Abe and I set out on a small trail and walked for about an hour before we got to our camp site. Something wasn’t right. My guide seemed tense. Overly so. Constantly whipping his head to face something that I never could see, never letting his guard down. Our camp site was in the middle of a large clearing next to a half-frozen lake. I didn’t like being in the dead-center of the meadow; it made me feel so..vulnerable. After the tent was pitched I went on a short walk around the vicinity. I couldn’t shake this feeling of being followed. This eerie veil hung over the very atmosphere of the place. Every time I was sure something would be behind me I would turn to find absolutely nothing. Yet every time I tried focusing on the beautiful scenery, the more haunting it became.

By nightfall I was already regretting this trip. In addition to the lingering paranoia, winds had picked up. Not strong, but just enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand upright. We made a fire and cooked some beans in a pot, but whenever I finally felt relaxed, i’d see something that would make my blood run cold. A figure just barely visible darting into the forest, a twig snapping a few yards behind me. Just something, that would put me on edge again. Abe and I climbed back into the tent and bundled ourselves into sleeping bags. It felt good to be out of the open, but the sobering reality that the only thing separating me from the outside was a thin piece of fabric settled in as well.

I fell asleep surprisingly soon but was woken up by the wind. It was no longer an eerie breeze, but a vehement, blustering storm. The tent was flapping and shaking wildly, and I could hear the trees and grass swaying and rustling violently. I tried to ignore it and buried myself in my sleeping bag, but several minutes later, I heard something that guaranteed me no sleep for the rest of the night. I could hear the wind calling something. The only way recognized this was because the wind had a pattern. The whistling repeated in a way that was unmistakably a voice. After listening for several minutes I could make out what it was calling. DeFago. I had no idea what it meant, but it sounded like a name. “De-FAAAay-go, De-FaaAAAAay-goooo.”

I could barely contain myself. I rolled onto my other side to face Abe. “Do you fucking hear tha-” When I looked over at him, he was huddled in the corner of the tent, shaking, with his head buried in his knees. “Abraham, What the hell is this?!” He didn’t look up. “Hey, you alright? what the fuck is going on?!” Still nothing. I moved toward him and touched his shoulder, which caused him to snap his head up at me, with a look of the most genuine terror I have ever seen. “W-We have to go, have to go now. Now. Have to go. We have to go now.” He stammered. “It’s not safe, we have to go.” As he said this he began to get up and move toward the tent flap.

“Stop, no! We are not going out there. I don’t know what the hell is happening but going out there is the last thing I am doing.” He was not phased by this whatsoever and continued crawling over me. As he reached for the zipper, I grabbed his arm. “Abe! You cannot leave me out here!” He continued to wrestle with the zipper and I grabbed his other shoulder and tried to keep him settled. He grew even more frantic and delivered a strong kick to my chest. I let go of him and fell back down to the tent floor. He opened the tent flap and ran off into the night. “Are you insane?! You can’t leave me out here!” I screamed out at him. I quickly lost sight of him. When I looked out into the night, I was stunned by what I saw. The air was still. The trees and grass were motionless.

“This is impossible.” I thought. Seconds ago the entire tent was being ravaged by a windstorm. Even worse, the wind became silent. I heard screaming, and identified it as Abe. It drew off into the distance and became inaudible. I wanted to cry. I zipped the tent flap up faster than I had ever done anything in my life and huddled in the corner, listening to the intense silence that hung over the outside.

I awoke surprised. Not startled by anything, but surprised. Surprised that I somehow fell asleep, even while gripped by the most intense fear I have ever felt in my life. After making sure that there was nothing outside waiting for me, I gathered my courage and stepped outside. The morning air was crisp and as freezing as ever. My mission was to make it back to Ahtunowhiho. I didn’t bother getting the tent. I simply did not care. All I grabbed was my knife, a jacket, and a few granola bars before heading out. I noticed that, in the patches of snow, there were foot prints. At first resembling human footsteps, but then becoming…distorted. They became longer, more stretched out. After a while I was sure that they were not foot prints coming from a human, not even an animal. The longest set of these prints I saw was roughly five feet. In fact, my own imagination couldn’t create a monster with feet of this caliber.

Then it dawned on me. They weren’t foot prints. I mean they were at first; I could see the pattern of the bottom of Abe’s boots imprinted in the snow. But the long ones? Absolutely not. No, they were drag marks.

The long tracks in the snow were evidence of Abraham’s futile resistance of being pulled and dragged by something. “Oh my God,” I whispered to myself. I sprinted out of the meadow with a pace that would rival olympic. I turned what was once an hour long hike into a 35 minute dash. I wanted to throw my guts up by the time I reached the village. I was greeted by several caring townspeople and was escorted to the local tavern for some hot food and a drink.

An older native of the town sat down with me and listened to my account of the events. “I swear to God, my life, and every dead ancestor I have ever had, that what I am saying is true.” I expected skepticism, but received genuine concern from the man. I think this may have troubled me even more.

“I see.” He responded. “The- the name. What was the name being called?” I tried to recollect what I had heard. “I don’t know. Defay- something? DeFayg..DeFago. DeFago! That’s it.” The look on the man’s face told a story on it’s own. “Why? Does that mean something? Is it important at all?” The man remained silent for a few seconds before responding. “DeFago…was a prominent hunter. He lived many years ago. Before I was born. One night, he never returned. The same night, a horrible storm came over the entire region.” He quickly ended the sentence and looked down at the table, looking as though he had made a mistake. I was frustrated at this horribly vague and seemingly useless information. I could tell he was hold something back. Something important. “And? What happened? How is that important? What the hell does this all mean?” I responded rather aggressively. The old man sat still as a statue for what seemed like ages, but finally whispered “The Wendigo…” Every head in the tavern simultaneously turned and glared at the back of the man’s head. And then turned to me.

“What the hell is the Wendigo?” The tavern patrons continued glaring at the both of us with a twisted look of suspicion and fear. Even The Bear looked worried. Reluctantly, the old man responded “It is something we try to escape…” My look of confusion at his answer must have spurred him into elaborating, “The legend holds that it survives on the flesh of humans. It may have even been human once before, but no longer. It is a vile creature that stands taller than any man and can strip the flesh from bones. It grows stronger with the very acknowledgement of it’s existence, and seems to have returned from whatever darkness it has hidden in for so long.” He paused, “Before, the Wendigo only took several people a year. We simply accepted it as life.” The man turned to face the rest of the tavern goers, “Over time, the town vowed to adopt a silence. Never to speak of or even acknowledge the Wendigo, and soon, miraculously, the abductions waned.”

I looked up form my food, trying to process what I was hearing “And DeFago?” The man nodded, “DeFago was the one man who attempted to conquer the Wendigo. Like I said, he never returned.” But there was one more thing. One thing that didn’t add up. Abraham.

Why was he so disturbed? Why was he driven insane by the wind and why did he frantically dart into the night like a madman? “What did Abraham have to do with any of this?” A somber look came over the man’s face. “It’s time for you to go home. Adrian can arrange for your flight to be rescheduled for tomorrow morning.” I got up to leave and as I walked through the door, the bar patrons never shifted their gaze from me.

I wanted answers, but I was exhausted and already overwhelmed by this impossible information. After weighing my options, I decided that I had to spend another night out in the woods. To this day I have no idea what came over me. I can’t imagine what could have motivated me to spend a night in the belly of the beast, that not twelve hours before, had abducted and most likely killed an innocent man. Whether it was the goal of being able to write about my experiences, a need for closure, or pure delirium, something, made me go back out there.

My walk through the woods was even worse, because this time I was alone. I didn’t even try to convince someone to go with me. Something told me that I had doomed the entire town just by raising this monster from the dead. Breaking the silence. The ever-present voyeuristic and dreadful paranoia was now piled on with a load of guilt. I finally made it to my camping grounds and noticed that not much had changed. The looming trees remained standing and the sickening drag marks on the snow still sat on the ground. I couldn’t take it. I kicked the snow over to erase the marks and footprints.

I followed the tracks, continuing to erase them, to the tree line. The edge of the meadow. I could see the kicked up dust and dirt in the woods. But there was something else. A massive wound on a tree. Like someone had taken a jack-hammer through it. And on another one just a few feet further, looked like a massive claw-mark. Almost like when a wolf marks their territory. But this looked as if something had just scraped it while walking through the forrest. I felt sick. I went back to my tent and waited for nightfall.

The wind picked up again. Not nearly as bad, but still enough to shake the tent. I knew it was time. I stood up and got out of the tent. The night was illuminated by a soft but passing moonlight, as the clouds repeatedly obscured it from view. This time, the wind had a physical effect. I could see the trees swaying softly and the grass pressed over in one direction. I couldn’t tell if this was comforting or not. I switched on my flashlight and scanned the perimeter. Nothing. After standing in the wind for a while longer I decided to go back in my tent and wait some more. I turned on my heel and nearly fainted at what I saw.

There it was…standing directly behind the tent. It towered at least a foot taller than me, and looked straight down with eyes like a hawk. It’s head resembled that of a human, but had teeth like a canine. In place of a nose, there was a short, bulldog-like snout, and long, wispy, facial hair sat on it’s face. I could see pointy ears poking through the long, grayish-black mane that ended just before it’s waist, with locks of hair hanging over it’s shoulders. But it’s arms. Oh God it’s arms. They were incredibly long, with it’s fingers ending below its knees. It’s fingernails looked as though they could carve through steel. The body was lean and sinewy, with a pale gray complexion hidden under a very thin layer of hair and fur. The lower body looked as though it was covered by torn cloth wrapped around the waist, and I could see a fragment of the leather jacket worn by my former guide. I knew what it was. there was no mistaking it. It was what I was told of, WARNED of.

It was the Wendigo.

My voice was lost. I could barely breathe let alone form a coherent thought. I didn’t know what to do. I took half a step back, but before my foot even touched the ground, it suddenly crouched and leaped over the tent on all fours, knocking into me and ripping through my side with it’s massive talons. I scrambled to get away and began to frantically crawl towards the tree line. Violently snarling, it grabbed my leg and pulled me back at least five feet. My god it’s strength was incredible. I was nearly lifted off the ground by the force.

I rolled onto my back and met it’s gaze yet again. I could see it’s hot breath steaming out of its nose in the cold night air. It let out a blood curdling screech and pounced for me. I rolled, with great pain, several feet away, narrowly missing the creature’s fatal strike. On its fours, it turned to face me again. I pulled out my knife, faced it upwards, and closed my eyes. This was it. I would die, but at least get one good shot in. It leaped for me, but was impeded by the blade. I heard the knife stick into the right side of it’s chest, causing the monster to release a foul screech a mere foot from my ears. It’s breath stunk of rotting flesh and stale blood and nearly made me vomit.

My ears rang, but I somehow got to my feet and began a desperate, adrenalin fueled sprint to the tree line. As my hearing returned, I listened to the monster snarling with anger behind me. I hoped against hope that it hadn’t begun to chase after me; if it did, I was done for. I made it to the edge of the forest and dodged several of the massive pines, while continuing to hold my bleeding abdomen. I could make out the trail in the dim moonlight and summed up all the strength I had to make it there.

I never slowed my pace, for fear that if I let up for even a second, I’d be back in the arms of the beast. I ran out onto the trail and was instantly assaulted by a blinding light and a force that felt as if an elephant had rammed into me. Before I knew it, I was flying, and landed with a thud onto the dirt road. I opened my eyes and saw three figures. Two of them, were natives of Ahtunowhiho, stepping out the truck they had just hit me with, the other, was the Wendigo. It was standing silhouetted against the moon at the edge of the dirt path opposite of me. It ripped the knife out form it’s chest and dropped it on the ground with almost an air of arrogance. I tried to get to my feet but felt fiery, staggering pain in my left leg. One of the men helped me get to my feet and practically dragged me to the vehicle and tossed me into the truck bed like I was a sack of potatoes. The force of landing on my broken leg brought tears to my eyes, but I was just to relieved to care. The man who brought me to the truck was The Bear. I didn’t have to see his face to know who that body and personality belonged to.

The other man stood in terror in front of the monster, raising a pistol before him. Before he could pull the trigger, the Wendigo grabbed the mans leg and dragged him off into the woods. I could hear screaming, and the sound of boots scraping against earth and snow.

I don’t remember what happened after that. I woke up in a hospital in Minneapolis, where a pretty nurse told me in a comforting voice that I was brought here by helicopter after a man found me on a trail. Apparently I was attacked by a bear on a rock climbing expedition. I knew it was completely untrue, but I just nodded my head and on the pillow.

Now i’m here, many years later, with a family of my own. I realized I could never publish what I saw in a book. If it really does grow strong with belief of it’s existence, I just couldn’t. Who knows what i’ve doomed Ahtunowhiho to after going hunting for this thing. Generations of torment from the Wendigo? I don’t know. Writing this here, putting it on this site…gives me closure in a way. Just letting it out and being able to tell my story…helps. At least here no one will take it seriously.

I learned just a few years ago, after researching the small town, that DeFago, the hunter, was Abraham’s great-grandfather, and that Abraham’s own daughter was taken by the Wendigo ten years before I arrived in the town. I felt bad that he died in the way he did, but maybe now he’s with her somewhere. I like to think that.

Some people can move on from traumatic events. I guess in a way I have. I still get paranoid when the wind picks up. I can’t stand going on camping trips, and to this day, on some nights… I swear I can still hear the wind calling my name.

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Tropical Storm Fay

December 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The events in this story occurred on a warm & humid night in late August of 2008, the night after Tropical Storm Fay ripped through our town in Gadsden County, Florida. Looking back on this, I will say that the terror of that storm was nothing compared to what followed the night after the storm passed through our area.

The days prior to this storm making landfall here was a scary time. We had “heard” that it was coming in this direction, and we prepared for it, but in the back of our minds we thought, and hoped, that it would head elsewhere.

I mean, after all, this area had not been hit directly by any hurricane or tropical storm since Hurricane Kate in 1985. Considering this is Florida, this area had been lucky for the past 23 hurricane seasons and we had hoped to stay that way. However, there was something quite unusual about the path of this storm. It seemed to have made a deliberate path that covered the entire state of Florida.

The night after the storm was a very peculiar and unnervingly silent night. After the storm, the sheriff of our county ordered a mandatory curfew, asking that everyone please ensure that they remain indoors after dark until things were restored back to normal. Because of this, there were no cars on the highway which made it even more silent.

We live very close to a river that runs through this part of the county. Although the river is not close enough to see from the house, and a considerable walk through the woods, the storm had caused it to swell into a raging and violent river that was now literally in the woods behind our house.

Besides the distant sound of the raging water and the occasional eerie whisper of the wind blowing through the pines, there was nothing. It felt as if I was the last person on earth, but little did I know, I was not alone! Since the storm had passed, my parents decided to go stay with my elderly grandmother who lived alone and needed someone to be with her until the power was restored and things were back to normal.

I was 19 years old at the time, so this was ok with me, although the thought of being alone in the dark seemed a bit unnerving. There had been warnings on the radio of looting in the area, so as a precaution we mounted two outdoor trail cameras outside. We live in a highly secluded and wooded area, so I hoped that the chances of anyone coming here was low. One of the cameras was mounted above the back door and it was motion activated, therefore anyone (or any “thing”, in this case) coming up to the back door would trigger it to flash and take a picture. The other one was pointed towards the screen door of the front porch.

I was sitting in the living room, had a few candles burning in the room and the living room windows open. The storm had left behind a warm and sticky humidity in the air, and since the lack of power meant no air conditioning, the only relief was to have the windows open. I only wanted windows open in the room that I was in currently because the warnings on the radio had me pretty nervous.

As I was sitting there, trying to read with what little light the candles provided, I began to hear the faint sound of leaves crackling, as if something was coming. At that moment it sounded far away, but just close enough for me to hear it. I immediately blew out the candles as I instantly feared that it was the looters they warned us about on the radio. If that was the case, I did not want them to see me through the windows. I crouched down against the wall, sitting in complete darkness looking towards the window, hoping that maybe I could see if someone passed by.

I sat there, continued listening for the sound but it seemed to have stopped for a few minutes. In some attempt to comfort my worried mind, I began thinking “perhaps it’s wildlife trying to get away from the swollen river”. Just to be safe and certain that it was not a person, I continued sitting there. For a while, all I could hear was the faint sound of the river rushing through the trees in the woods behind the house and the whispering pine trees swaying in the wind, the only two sounds that remained in my world at this dark and scary time.

For what felt like an hour, but was really only a matter of minutes, I started to hear the sound again, but this time it was closer. In addition to this, the sound of crackling leaves was not only closer but I began hearing this awful sound that sounded almost like that of a squealing pig or wild boar. The sound stopped for a moment, I thought perhaps it really is a wild boar, which is not uncommon in this area. I sat there, quite freaked out at this moment, and it was then that I realized I had not locked the back door.

I decided to get up and make my way back there to lock the door before whatever it was had a chance to get in.
When I walked towards the back, I saw a flash through the window which indicated that something was already at the back door, it was the flash from the outdoor camera mounted above the back door. Frozen in fear, I stood still for a moment in dead silence when I heard the sound of heavy boots in the utility room where the back door was. At this moment I felt sickly and terrified as I knew I was no longer alone, and that now someone was in here with me.

Was it looters? Was it someone here to cause me harm? All kinds of thoughts racing to my mind, including where I was going to run to.
I could barely make out the sight of a tall figure standing at the doorway. I had a flashlight in my hand, I turned it on and shined it towards the door to the utility room. It was then, I saw it, still today the most terrifying sight I’ve ever seen, burned into my mind forever. There stood a tall figure with the darkest pits in its eyes, a head full of small and goat-like horns, and hooves as its feet but yet when it walked it sounded as if a heavy man with boots was walking? Every time it exhaled, it sounded as if it were grunting.

It immediately charged at me, making a wheezy squealing sound. I ran into the guest bedroom, which was right beside where I was standing.
I ran in, slammed the door shut, propping against it to hold it closed. I was expecting a struggle, or at least for it to make an attempt to get in. Instead, after slamming the door all I heard was silence. Where did it go? Or more seriously, where did it come from? It appeared to come from the greatest depths of hell, was this satan himself?

For what felt like an eternity, I sat quietly against the door, waiting, hoping it was gone. I didn’t sleep at all for the remainder of that night. After daylight came, I decided that I had to at least check the house. I slowly opened the door, an inch at a time, and saw nothing there. I took one slow step at a time throughout the house and noticed nothing other than the back door wide open, swaying in the wind.

My thoughts were that nobody would believe this harrowing story, but I knew if I could retrieve the photo from the back door camera, then just maybe it would show everyone this hideous creature.

Several days later when power was restored, I connected the camera to my computer to pull up the photos. To my dismay, there was indeed one photo, but what it displayed was not what I saw in front of my very eyes. It showed a blurry orb-like object passing in front of the camera.

Still today I wonder, “What was it?” “Where did it come from and where did it go?” I never before saw anything like that here and never again has it showed its ugly face. However, I am forever haunted by it, I still wake up a lot of mornings at exactly 3:33 AM, coincidence? Every time I awake to the sight of 3:33 AM on my alarm clock, I have to wonder “Is it here?” “Is it somewhere close by, watching and waiting?”

Did this entity come here to send a message, or did it come to send a warning? Was it related in any way to this storm that seemed to deliberately trace its way to me? Perhaps these questions will never be answered, or perhaps the next time you awake at 3:33 AM, it could be somewhere in the room with you, hiding in the darkness around you, watching and waiting to show itself! I worry what kind of events will come along with the next big storm, but I will never forget what I saw the night after Tropical Storm Fay!

Credit To – Allen Q.

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The Devil’s Cosmonaut

December 10, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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“OPS-3 do you read? OPS-3 do you read?”

I launched myself for the radio receiver, and jerked up the mouthpiece. I wiped away the film of sweat from my forehead before replying.

“Receiving.” My throat was tight with a lump the size of a golf ball.

“It’s good to hear your voice comrade.”

“You too. How are you doing?” Leaning towards the porthole, I stared out into the cold void, hoping to catch some glimpse of the Soyuz capsule somewhere out in the twinkling stars.

“All systems great. Amazing view of the Pacific right now.”

“Have you managed to reach ground control yet?”

“Comms are still down because of the solar flares, I guess. Should be back up in a couple of hours.”

“I hope so.” The lump in my throat was getting bigger, pressing against the wall of my windpipe. I swallowed, trying to make room for my next words. “I get worried up here on my own.”

“Only seven days to go now Boris, I’m sure you can last that long. I’ll see you then.”

“I can’t wait until you get here. Talk to you soon.” I put down the mouthpiece, and turned back to the porthole, pressing my eyes into the great blackness, to the divine curve of the Earth’s glowing horizon.

Without Flight Engineer Zholobov, the station seemed very empty indeed. It was a hundred cubic metres of beeping radios, flashing lights, and often blaring alarms, but silence slid beneath these thin distractions, an ever-present threat. Soon enough, I would tune out all the noises, and fall into a state of uncomfortable, clutching, reticence.

I sighed uncomfortably, suddenly extremely self-aware, and tore back from the porthole. Pulling myself through the stale air, I headed for the living area. The sliding door which lead to the cramped toilet compartment was half open, and it squealed as I pushed it into the closed position, the sudden noise making me cringe. The half-hearted chuckle that spilled from my lips was a force of habit; there was no-one else on the station to hear it.

I had no appetite for the generic meat in my food storage cupboard; truth be told, I hadn’t eaten more than a packet of dried apricots, a couple of crackers, and some meat spread, in the last two days. If the people back on the ground knew how little I’d eaten, they would’ve had me on the Soyuz and heading for re-entry in the blink of an eye. If I hadn’t been out of contact with them, I might have even considered telling them just to get off.

With no appetite, I decided to call it a day. It was then a simple matter of flicking off the main cabin lights, crawling into the restraints of my sleeping compartment, and praying that the station wouldn’t fall apart while I was asleep.

It was warm. Uncomfortably warm. The fabric of the sleeping bag clung to my skin, slick with sweat. I fumbled with the zip, my fingers slipping on the cold metal. The air in the capsule was like tar, and I swam through it with an uncomfortable lethargy. The thermometer displayed the temperature of 19.8 ° C, exactly as it had the day before, and the day before that.

“That’s got to be mistake.” I tapped the screen, as if that would somehow make it display change, but it just ended up leaving a sticky finger mark on the glowing green glass.

Either way, I needed a shower. I used the back of my forearm to clean off my forehead, and sighed. This could wait, it was probably just another sensor problem that I wouldn’t be qualified to fix. The whole place was probably only ever one fault from depressurizing and spiraling back down to earth, as brittle as a feather.

The violent hissing of the shower, and the cold pressure of the shower sluiced away my deep rooted misgivings. I couldn’t focus on my problems while I briskly rubbed my skin clean with the harsh soap bar. Once I was clean, and suitably refreshed, I turned the knob, and the last bubbles of water floated gently out of the nozzle. With the sound of rushing water gone, I became aware of the noises of the station again, in particular a muffled voice.

“Shit.” I banged my head on the shower cubicle roof as I attempted to spin myself round and climb out the door. It left a mark on the grey plastic. Not wanting to miss whoever was on the radio, I ignored the stinging pain, and pulled myself naked across the space station, toweling myself as I went.

“OPS-3 do you read? OPS-3 do you read?”

“Receiving Soyuz-21.” Breathlessly I muttered into the mouthpiece.

“I’d almost given up on you.”

“Sorry. I was showering.”

“Well, I’m glad I reached you. I was beginning to think we were alone up here comrade.”

“At least you’re not the only one on the Soyuz. I’m all alone out here on Salyut.”

“Ha, you are lucky my friend, Flight Engineer Rozhdestvensky is starting to drive me crazy.”

“Only six more days to go.”

“For you maybe. I have my whole mission to complete.”

I gave a sympathetic chuckle. I sympathised with Commander Zudov, I truly did. Ever since my partner Flight Engineer Zholobov had got himself a ticket home by accidently chopping off three of his fingers in the airlock door, Zudov had managed to keep my spirits up. He had managed to keep me working. He had managed to keep me hopeful. Zudov was a great man, he would be hailed as a hero back home when his mission was finished, I was sure.

“How are you doing, anyway?”

“It’s warm. It’s too warm up here. I’m not sure how it can be so hot inside, yet so cold outside.”

“Hot?” Zudov was audibly alarmed. “What’s your thermometer reading?”

“19.8 as always. It’s probably a sensor problem, don’t worry.”

“Boris-”

“It’s fine Commander, honestly. I’m only slightly too hot, a couple of degrees maybe.”

“Well, you radio me straight away if it gets any hotter.”

“Don’t worry.” He would worry, I could tell by the sound of his voice.

“Well then, I must leave you. See you soon my friend.”

“Six days to go.” I confirmed, before clipping the mouthpiece back into position on the radio set.

The rest of the day was a constant battle against heat. Communication with the ground was still out because of the solar flares, so I attempted to remedy the problem myself by hand. That started with the simple task of running diagnostic programs on the central computer, but after that denied there was any problems whatsoever, I hit a brick wall.

My mind ran, dredging up hundreds of semi-rendered memories of endless technical documents and cosmonaut manuals. The black diagrams and minute labels all seemed to melt, twisting into impossible shapes, non-Euclidian planes that boggled my mind. I couldn’t quite think in the straight lines required for a task like this at the moment; in the heat everything span or spiraled in and out in my mind’s eye. Concentration, it was safe to say, was not high.

In my head, I was back in Zholobov’s last day with me on the station. It was hotter than I remembered in the feverish flashback. Zholobov’s brow glistened as he climbed down, extending his massive frame out of the tiny airlock. He gave a relieved gasp, glad to be finally move his limbs without them slamming them against the walls. I watched him from my seat by the main control console, my eyes aching from looking at the monochrome screen for several hours.

I called out something to him, not in control of my own actions or speech. Whatever it was, for it was muted in my memory, overshadowed by what came next, made him turn. As he did, he placed one hand on the metal rim of the airlock, to keep himself steady. Zholobov replied with a chuckle and an equally muted reply. His lips were blurred in my flashback, indeed, the entire man’s outline was slightly fuzzy in my memory, but the lack of clarity was most noticeable around his face. He was now just an out of focus photograph in the dark recesses of my cortexes.

We finished talking, and Zholobov reached up for the handle on the hatch. He turned back to face me, just as he pulled, and brought down the sharp blade of metal. It dropped onto his other fingers with a sickening-

Thump.

The jarring blow shook me out of my recollection, jerking my head up into an upright position. I gasped for air, and my head instinctively turned to the scene of the accident. There was still a small blood smear down the side of the hatch. Had the noise of metal hitting metal that was still echoing in my ears been real, or was it just part of the memory? In my heat-addled state, it was hard to tell.

The thermometer was still reading 19.8.

I shook myself out of the odd stupor, which sent hundreds of tiny sweat droplets floating across the cabin. The armpits of my top were damp, as was all down by back and crotch area. The temperature must be rising.

Thump.

There it was again. Despite the heat, the sound sent chills down my spine. In any case, I knew it was just space junk or the metal expanding, but it was unsettling enough for me to give the capsule a nervous once over before returning to my previous train of thought.

“Soyuz-21 do you read?” I picked up the radio microphone, still distracted by the glare of the main console, where the display still read 19.8 ° C.

“Receiving OPS-3.”

“Any contact with ground yet Commander? I need to get a fix on this thermostat problem.”

“Negative Boris, still nothing. Is it getting worse?”

“I can cope, but if it persists for two or three days-” I trailed off, putting down the receiver to wipe my forehead again. I could just see my reflection in the edge of the porthole, and he looked very sweaty indeed. White salt crystals stuck to my forearm in the rapidly drying sweat.

“Well, we’ll keep trying. It’ll be fixed in a couple of hours more, I’m sure of it.”

“I hope so, or I’ll have to take another shower.”

“You’re still getting a reading of 19.8?” Zudov’s voice carried a note of apprehension in it, even over the airwaves.

“Afraid so.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be back in contact with the ground soon, and they’ll know what to do.”

“I’m sure it’s just a sensor problem, something minor like that.”

“Speak to you soon my friend, and drink plenty of water.”

“I will, don’t worry.” I laughed; that man was acting like my mother.

With Zudov no better equipped to solve the problem than I was, I relented to a policy of acceptance to the problem. If I couldn’t solve it, at least I could cope with it.

The heat reduced my appetite even further, but I headed to the kitchen, in hope of forcing down some crackers and water. I rifled through the storage cupboards, looking for something that wouldn’t turn my stomach, and at the lack of crackers, eventually settled on the non-descript dried beef I found in one of the white packets. It reeked of meat, an acrid pungent stink which set my abdomen churning, but I swallowed it down nonetheless.

Dried beef’s scent clung to the kitchen walls even after I had finished the package. My mouth was now even drier, so I mixed up some of the powdered orange juice. It tasted nothing like orange, in fact it was some cocktail of harsh chemicals, but it washed away the salty tang of the beef. I wiped my mouth, and discarded the plastic container, sending it trailing small globules sticky of orange liquid across the air.

After my small meal, a heavy weight was sitting on my stomach. It sloshed around in the chasms of my lower body as I moved around the station, warm and stinging. I had to clamp my throat shut to stop myself from throwing up on several occasions.

The day passed with an uncomfortable malaise that made the discomfort in my stomach and head even worse. I watched the hours tick away on the main console clock as I made my measurements, recordings of the sun, or of the box of crystals that grew in the science lab area of the station. Eventually, I could almost take the drudgery no longer. Every surface in the station was covered in sweaty palm prints by the time the day was done, and my hair was nearly sodden.

There was no way I could sleep in heat like this, I had decided, so when I couldn’t last the treacle consistency of waking consciousness for a minute longer, I relented to the sleeping pills. They sat in a tiny white bottle in the very back of the medicine compartment, and at the very start of the mission I had sworn never to take them. Unfortunately, today, there was no other option.

Dimming the station lights and crawling into the hot confines of my sleeping bag, I looked at the pale white pills in my palm. They had a slight scent of mint to them. In one decisive movement, I quashed all hesitation, all internal protest, closed my eyes, and swallowed.

I was out like a light.

The first thing I noticed when I woke up was the temperature. A gentle cold breeze lapped around my face, probably emanating from the air pumps that whirred gently on the edges of my earshot. My watch, set to Alma-Ata Time from my launch at Baikonur, warned me I had been asleep only three hours. The station was still dark as I slid open the sleeping compartment door, although I was thankful for the respite in the heat and bright light.

I stretched, cracking the vertebrae in my back. Here in the cool dark, I no longer felt feverish or nauseous, just tired. Slowly, as my eyes adjusted, I pulled myself over towards the radio set, and considered calling Soyuz-21.

The air still tasted stale; the tang of sweat and dried beef hung in it even after it was recycled hundreds of times through endless filters and pumps. Even so, there was a certain calm to the station with the lights off and the temperature down. I looked out the porthole, and even the frigid depths of the universe seemed less inhospitable; there was a gentle navy tinge to the infinite blackness, perhaps, and the glow of the stars seemed less harsh. This, along with the weightlessness and the gentle purr of the air pumps, gave the whole scene a dreamlike quality. As if I was safety cocooned in a great white chrysalis that floated through the spiraling arms of far-off galaxies, or across the peaks and valleys of great sparkling nebula. I could go where ever I wanted in this dream-space, and I was safe where ever I went.

All of that came to an end with the noise. A clatter. Movement, almost imperceptible, in the corner of my right eye. I was instantly torn from my trance, and tossed back cruelly into the physical realm. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled to attention, as I turned slowly to face the source of the noise behind me.

Nothing. Perhaps I had been imagining it, after all, things tend not to clatter in micro-gravity; they float and drift heedlessly, but never clatter. So it stands to reason it had simply been my mind playing tricks on me, manifesting noise where there was none. After all, nothing in the section of the station showed any sign of movement.

Nervously gazing round the cabin, I shook my head in disapproval of the power of my own imagination, and my initial foolishness for believing it. Nothing on the station could’ve made such a noise.

In an attempt to settle myself again, I swam over to the main console, and checked the thermometer reading. 19.8, just as I was expecting. Either the problem had fixed itself, and the temperature control had automatically reduced the station back to 19.8 degrees, or the problem was still there, but it was with the thermometer and not in fact the temperature control system. Either way, I was relieved not to be doused in sweat any longer.

I had quickly resigned myself to the fact I wouldn’t be getting any more sleep for a while, so, with a defeated sigh, I flicked on the switch for the main cabin lights. They blinked on one by one with a deep guttural hum, which was soon lost in the orchestra of other quiet whirs and buzzes. The light hit my pupils with a ferocious intensity, and I had to close my eyes to shield them. I had become adjusted to the comfortable dark, and my eyes were shocked by this new and frightening stimulus.

The next order of business was to put some clothes on; in my sleeping underwear I was beginning to feel a slight chill, and I would be lot more comfortable in something warmer.

“Soyuz-21 do you read?” I pulled up the zip on my jumpsuit as I spoke. After there was no answer, I leaned closer towards the radio mouthpiece, licked my lips slightly to moisten them, and tried again.

“Soyuz-21 do you read?”

“Receiving Comrade. What can I do for you?” The faint reply came. It was good to hear the voice of Commander Zudov again.

“Just wanted to tell you that the sensor problem is all cleared up Commander. We’re back at usual temperature.”

“That’s brilliant!” Zudov was clearly relieved. “I was worried for a minute there. How did you fix it?”

I breathed heavily, trying to form a response. The pause must have lasted a good second or two, because Zudov transmitted again.

“Boris, are you there? How did you fix the temperature problem?”

“I didn’t do anything.” I decided on eventually. “Just went away on its own.”

“Hmm.” Zudov wasn’t pleased, clearly.

“I’m glad it’s back to normal again.”

“Well yes, so am I. I’ll talk to you soon.” Zudov’s voice was slightly frosty in this dismissal.

“I’ll look forward to it.”

The radio crackled with static, before falling silent completely. I replaced the microphone, and pushed back away from the set, towards the main console, with the intent of once again checking the temperature. I gave an unconvincing laugh when I saw it was still stuck at 19.8; this was becoming my new obsession.

With the temperature back to normal, and the pain in my stomach gone, I was convinced I’d be able to make a better job of diagnosing the problem with the heating control. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and I managed to spend several hours once again vainly trying to plough my way through hundreds of wiring cases and circuit boards.

Eventually though, my frontal cortex began to throb from the sheer mental exertion of the work. It was an acute pressure that punched up my brain-stem, across my scalp, and out my eyes sockets. At one point, it became so bad, I had to let go of the manual I was reading to massage my forehead, in fear my skull would explode outwards. My vision blurred, bright red and blue patters scarring themselves across my retinas like sheet lightning. Pins and needles crawled up my legs and arms, starting in just the extremities, then soaking upwards and inwards, across my thighs and forearms.

There was a rushing in my ears that drowned out most other sounds, but I just heard an odd, drawn-out croak on the edge of my audible range. It took a few seconds for me to realise that the noise was sliding from my own wide open jaws.

The pain was unbearable. Every second I felt like I was about to drown in a sea of swirling fractals, like the damn in my mind was going to shatter open and my entire consciousness was going to be washed away by a flood of jarring flashes. With numb hands, I flung myself for my sleeping compartment. Any second now, I knew I would pass out from the searing heat in my head, and I wanted to be in my sleeping back when it happened, so I didn’t float around the capsule while I was out.

I could barely see by the time I was in the sleeping bag, and as I fumbled for the restraints, I went. My face split apart and melt, exposing a bare skull, hard bone peeling back like warm butter. From the chasm in the front of my head, a blinding light spilt out, heat splashing across my head. More fractures opened across my temples and the back of my scalp, beneath my hair. I could see my own brain, separating into regular sections like a gelatinous white clementine.

Or at least, that’s what it felt like.

The pain was too much. I screwed close my eyes, and my mind shut down.

I awoke staring at the plastic wall of my sleeping compartment, drained. The banging in my head had subsided from the feverish dance of a several hundred strong warrior tribe in the midst of a ferocious and primal ritual to the distant crackle of thunder above a darkened grassland, accompanied by the gentle crackle of rain.

With some trepidation, I pulled at my sleeping bag, and climbed out, waiting for the pain to return. But as my sweaty fingers played around the door handle, the fear subsided, and I gingerly slid open the door, and floated out into the dark station.

The main lights were off, casting the living area and the flight deck into an uncomfortable darkness, thick as honey, and seeping from every join of the spaceship walls. It was split only by the bright neon of the station clock and the main console, which sliced through the viscous black with beams of gently sharp green, bouncing off the walls, and battling the darkness for control of the spaces above my head and below my feet.

Another creak yawned through the capsule as I pulled myself out to the flight deck, towards the radio. It still sent shivers down my spine, despite the fact I knew it was just the metal contracting due to a drop in temperature. “Soyuz-21, do you read?”

“Receiving OPS-3.” The man on the other end of the radio wasn’t Commander Zudov, and I hesitated when I recognized Flight Engineer Rozhdestvensky’s dry rasp.

“How is it going over there, Flight Engineer?” I didn’t like Rozhdestvensky. It wasn’t that he was particularly unpleasant, in fact he had been mostly amicable whenever I had talked to him. It wasn’t even his rough voice, like sandpaper in my ears. It was his quiet lack of engagement with not only the mission, but the whole of space. He always seemed distant, far far away. Not like Zudov, who was only ever as far as the radio speakers.

“All is fine Comrade.”

“Is Commander Zudov there?”

“He’s getting some sleep at the moment.”

“I see. Have you had any contact with the ground yet?”

“Sorry?”

“Have the problems with the solar flares died down? You’ve reached ground on the radio communication network?”

“Oh, yes, the Solar Flares, of course. No, we are still unable to reach them.”

“Right. Well, can you keep trying?”

“Yes, of course, it’s our top priority.”

“Okay, thank you.” I hesitated, before closing with my usual comment to Zudov. “See you in four days.”

“I suppose so.” Rozhdestvensky was distant, almost uninterested by the entire conversation.

The radio went silent, leaving me with just the hiss of dead air, which rippled gently off the skin of the capsule, so it sounded like it was coming from every corner of the spacecraft at once. It flicked off the radio, and tossed down the mouthpiece, watching it float on its coil for a few seconds, before heading away to the shower compartment.

Four days. That’s what I kept telling myself, as I sat at the main console, flicking slowly through diagnostic programs, the bright green of the screen washing over the rest of the module. I had kept the lights off, for now, just because it was so much more comfortable in the dark. With the bright lights constantly in my face, I could hardly concentrate.

“Four more days.” The sentence fragment that escaped my mouth was a surprise even to me. It was next to silent, and if I hadn’t been completely alone up here, I would’ve dismissed it as background noise. I hadn’t ever been one to talk to myself, and I was determined not to start now.

My palms, still damp from the shower, had left prints where I had been clutching the armrests of the seat, and with a start, I realised my hands had been clenched, just a few seconds ago, tightly around the plastic.

“Just four more days.”

There was something off in the cabin. I could just feel it now, the equilibrium was off. Something had been moved. In the corner of my eye. Swirling round, I scanned the living area, suddenly aware of a slight change in the capsule. Once you live in a space for long enough, you become accustomed to every tiny detail, and even the slightest differences is like a blaring air-raid siren.

The medical cupboard was open, I realised. It was only slightly ajar, maybe just wide enough for me to fit my hand into, but it was noticeable enough for me to catch it on my second glance. How had it got open?

I thought for a second, just floating silently, staring at the open cupboard. It had a sliding door, so it wasn’t something that could just drift open with a draught, not that there was one up here. How long had it been like that? It was impossible to tell.

I finally willed my body into action, done with quietly staring, and crossed over to the cupboard. Perhaps I had left it open when I got the sleeping pills out last night- My train of thought faltered. Had it been last night, or the night before that I had taken the pills? I couldn’t remember at properly, nothing was in chronological order.

I slid open the cupboard fully, and looked around. Nothing seemed out of place, nothing had moved. The sleeping pills were still politely hidden behind bandages and unlabelled vitamin tablets, keeping up with the fiction that I never used them, that I could get to sleep on my own.

“Ops-3?” I was almost asleep by the time Zudov called on the radio, my eyes barely open more than a slit. “Ops-3, do you read?”

“I read you, comrade.”

“How are you doing up there? Are you well?”

I must’ve hesitated for a second too long, because Zudov was suddenly nervous.

“What’s happened?” He demanded, before I could speak.

“Nothing, I’m fine.”

“Don’t lie to me Commander, I can tell something is wrong.”

I sighed audibly, then immediately regretted it. That would be only more confirmation to Zudov about my state of mind.

“Commander Volynov?”

“I’ve been having sleep problems.”

“Sleep problems? That’s normal, so I hear. Weren’t you briefed on that?”

“I took the pills. The sleeping pills.”

“You took them?”

“Yes, they worked fine.” We had been instructed back in Shchyolkovo-14, the cosmonaut training facility, to not take the pills unless it was absolutely necessary, and under no circumstances take more than four at a time.

“That’s it? Just taking sleeping pills?”

“No, there’s–” I hesitated again, this time because my voice was caught on the saliva on the edge of my windpipe. “There’s something else. My memory’s getting fuzzy sometimes.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t remember things properly. Today, I found a cupboard open, and I don’t remember opening it.”

There was nothing but silence, for nearly thirty seconds. I thought Zudov had abandoned me.

“Okay. Look, I have to go, I have to check our oxygen filters. I’ll talk to you soon.” Zudov was obviously distracted, and over the crackle of interference I could hear a faint muttering.

“Right. I’ll see you in four days.”

The sun was just slipping through the blue band of earth’s atmosphere, as I took a quick glance from the flight deck porthole. It was almost fully extinguished, but long tails of light flared up through the dark, the last swan song of the soon to be gone star.

Sleep is a very loose term for what I had that night. I climbed in the sleeping compartment, and stared at the wall. At some nondescript time, I fell into a semi-aware, semi-unconscious state. Not sleep, but somewhere in between, where my mind wandered.

I was awoke, again in the loosest sense of the word, by another thermal ping. There was the faint taste of vomit and chemicals on the back of my throat. My eyes were watering, thick streams of salty tears ran down my face, and soaked into the neck of my sleep shirt.

I didn’t remember taking sleeping pills, but I couldn’t deny the artificial mint that still hung in my mouth and nasal cavity. It could only belong to the pills, I hadn’t eaten anything in days, and certainly not anything mint flavoured.

With a groan, I probed the very edges of my sleeping bag, and felt the strain in my muscles. They were tense, and taut. It took some effort to get them to move, as with every slightest adjustment of my limbs came the sting of built up lactic acid.

The air in the sleeping compartment was stale, old. It felt like it had been through my lungs at least ten times before, and it hung around me with a dreadful stillness. As I pulled myself from the sleeping bag, I could still smell the musk of my skin, and my sweat. Everything reeked of it, everything reeked of me.

I opened the door, and my heart stopped. It stopped pumping, warm blood turning cold in my veins, stationary. The contents of my stomach turned to ice, a great slush of freezing water that weighed down on my body and digestive system, if only figuratively. Thousands of goose bumps rippled across my bare arms and legs, the nerves in my skin suddenly several hundred degrees below zero.

Black powder floated in a small cloud in the centre of the living space. It looked for all the world like a nebula gone dark, hundreds of tiny swirling peaks and troughs made of an infinite number of black pinpricks.

“Lord.” I breathed, disbelievingly.

The carbon filter span at the centre of it all, glinting dangerously, and disgorging more trails of carbon powder as it turned seemingly randomly through its cloud. How had it got there? How the fuck had it got there?!

“Good Lord.” I repeated, as I swam towards the cloud. I reached out, extending my hand through the dust, and clamping it around the filter. It was a small metal box, about the size of a paperback book, with an opening at one end, where the carbon was leaking from.

The filter usually sat deep within the whirring mass of the air filtration system. There was an access panel used to change it in the flight deck, and my eyes immediately flicked up towards it when I remembered its location. Sure enough, it hung open.

“Soyuz-21? Soyuz-21?!” My voice into the radio was barely more than a whisper. In my head, my mind screamed, trying to drown out the uncertain knowledge I had gained since waking up. I was looking for an explanation. Any explanation.

Perhaps there had been some micro-debris impacts that had shook the filter loose. I hadn’t felt anything, but then I would not have done if I had taken the sleeping pills. Perhaps there had been a pressure malfunction, and that had blown the access panel open, and the filter out.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. There were so many possibilities, but no answers.

“Receiving Ops-3.”

“Comrade. Vyacheslav.” I used Zudov’s first name in my strange state of shock, trying to connect with him across the void, across the great gap. “I think there’s-”

I choked up, looking at the open access panel, and the filter, which I had left floating by it. When my throat cleared, my voice was barely a whisper.

“There’s something wrong comrade. There’s something very, very wrong.”

“Commander Volynov, what is the problem?” Zudov was cold. I could hear a strange silence, as his voice echoed away around his capsule.

“I think-” I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t say a single. How could I explain? I decided to keep it simple, to ignore the terrifying implications of what had happened, to keep what I said to facts, and nothing more. “There’s a problem with the air filtering system.”

“What kind of problem Ops-3?”

“One of the carbon filters fell out. Or got knocked out. Or-” There I trailed off. After that point, the facts did not serve me very well. There was nothing I could say for certain.

“Do you think it’s fixable?”

“Of course it’s fixable, but that’s not the point.”

“Say again Ops-3?”

“I need you to contact ground Soyuz. Please, as fast as you can.”

“I can’t do that comrade, the long range communications are still out because of solar flares.”

“Okay. Thank you Commander. See you in three days.” I was cold. My spine was chilled with the sharp tingle of nerves. Zudov was never this business-like, never this disinterested, and it scared me even more than the problem with the carbon filter. If I could have seen him, I felt like he would not have batted an eyelid when I told him about it.

I was on my own, it seemed. Not even the comfort of my old friend on the other end of the radio; with Zudov in his current mood I felt like talking to him any longer would be pointless.

I began to rationalize in my head, and the primal spasms of fear inside my head began to die down, comforted by warm and concrete logic. Nothing to fear. I had nothing to fear.

I needed something to calm my nerves. We weren’t allowed alcohol aboard the station, of course, but I was pretty sure there were some anxiety pills in the medicine cabinet. Pills, it was always pills. They were in another white bottle, marked with black text. They tasted like chalk, no artificial mint this time. As I felt the large lumps slide down my throat, my heart rate began to slow.

Maybe half an hour passed before I began to really feel the effects. I could my heart beating heavily and slowly in my chest, each thump further away from the last, but heavier, the mass of muscle and veins straining to release itself from the confines of my fleshy body. Time was slowing down. As I watched the sun slowly creep up across the side of the earth, the names of all the pills and tablets I had been taking began to run through my head; Aminoglutaric Acid, Atenolol, Dekaris, Grandaxin, Oletetrine; the list stretched on and on. The names didn’t mean anything, just odd foreign words that were a problem to pronounce, and an even bigger problem to spell.

There was a small bead of sweat forming on my forehead. I could feel it, just above my left eye. There were other lightly, and I’m sure they rippled each time my heart gave another thump.

Thump.

Nothing now but the sound of my heartbeat, and the porthole in front of me. My vision began to focus inwards, the edges blurring out. I was very close to the glass now, despite the fact I hadn’t moved an inch; my field of view was rapidly zooming in on the geometric curve of the earth, as it was caressed by dark clouds.

Thump.

Everything else had passed out of my view, now just a stretched and blurred mass on the edges of my vision. I was through the glass, and now looking at the vast face of the earth, as it turned seductively into the light of the sun, that great scorched ball of searing heat.

Thump.

My journey down was starting to speed up. Still slow, at first, I barely surpassed the speed of Salyut’s orbit, but soon my acceleration brought me up to greater speeds. The blue planet loomed up in front of me, and I was falling into its great yawning maw. The void whipped past me, as my speed reached unimaginable levels. The atmosphere was beginning to glow around my vision, burning first yellow then white hot. Clouds parted, and the patchwork green of the country sped towards me, seconds from impact.

Thump.

Jerking awake, I was pulled from my hallucination by the heavy beating of my heart. The pearl of sweat on my forehead had evaporated, leaving just a tiny white deposit of salt crystals. I was fine, I was still here. Just a slight dizziness remained from my hallucination.

I needed a drink, I decided. I needed a drink and something to eat. My mouth felt like it was full of rock salt, and I really needed to wash that out. I grabbed a water bottle, and started to drink the rubber tinged water as I rooted through the cupboards and cabinets, trying to find some food that would be in-offensive to my stomach. Beef stew, it seemed, was the best choice. It came in a small tin, that didn’t require heating.

Ripping off the lid of the can, a small blob of brown stew was dislodged from inside, and I watched it spiral away across the kitchen. It slammed into the side of one of the kitchen cabinets with a violent splat, leaving a dark brown smudge.

Sat at the flight console, I tried to run the diagnostic program. I wanted to find out what time the filter had blown out, and why the alarm hadn’t gone off. Lines of code flickered down the screen, repeating over and over again as I tried to connect with the diagnostic system. I could hear the memory disks whirring loudly as they stained to figure out what the sensors were doing.

The computer insisted nothing was wrong. No alarms had been reported, no problems detected. Nothing. It was as if nothing had happened. The diagnostic finished, and flashed up the results. Zero errors found. I slammed the side of the screen with my fist, and it flickered, before I tore myself out of the console chair, and headed back to the living area.

I was starting to get jittery. The air was cold, or at least it felt like it. The whole incident had given me an uncomfortable feeling about the station, and the cocktail of pills didn’t help. My skin crawled just thinking about it. The small noises, the beeps and thumps, the hiss of air pumps and groan of metal, I noticed every single one now. Goosebumps rippled across my skin every time I heard something even slightly out of place.

I was a wreck by the time two hours had passed. The cumulative sum of every single tiny rattle or creak had set my teeth grating, and shredded my nerves. I was totally prepared for the station to start plummeting back towards the earth at any second. Every time the filter system gave a hiss, I was convinced a leak had sprung, and I was going to be sucked out into the cold vacuum of space through a hole the size of my nostril, squeezed into a fine red paste as I was spit out across the atmosphere, my liquidized entrails slowly spiralling across the cloudy skies.

I couldn’t take it any longer. I needed to put myself out of my misery, at least temporarily. Sleep, would be ignorance of any problem, and ignorance, I told myself, was bliss. I repeated this mantra over and over as I pulled the pills from the medical cabinet, and downed two without a hesitation, followed by a quick sip from my water bottle.

Ignorance was bliss. Blackness clawed at the edge of my vision as I climbed into the sleeping bag. The pills were beginning to take effect. I closed my eyes, and was ferried away from that ticking metal coffin in the sky.

I didn’t dream, of course, I never dreamt up there, but I enjoyed a few hours of comfortable blackness.

When I awoke, the pill bottle was still clutched in my hand. I hand it pressed up against my chest in the warm confines of my sleeping bag. There was a slight buzzing coming from the strip light on the roof I had never noticed before. It wasn’t uncomfortable exactly, just disquieting, especially having only just woken up. I studied it carefully, until my retinas were scorched blue by the bright glow. I closed my eyes, and tried to shake off its imprint on the back of my eyes.

Sweat caked itself on my body, as it always did when I woke up, and I couldn’t wait to get the sleeping garment off and have a shower. It was always too warm in the sleeping bag.

From outside the small box of my compartment, I heard a noise. An echoing thump. Just a thermal ping, I told myself, just the metal expanding and contracting outside. Nothing more. Still, I was frozen in my place, listening out for any other noise, despite telling myself there was nothing to fear.

Then came another thump. Another deep, echoing thump. The colour must’ve drained from my face, because my entire body went cold when I heard it. I almost felt the blood squeezed from my veins.

I began to squirm in my sleeping bag, trying to free my arm so I could tear off the restraints that stopped me floating around the compartment while I slept. I was aching to get out, the noises outside making me suddenly very uncomfortable.

Then came the third thump. This couldn’t be just a fluke, this couldn’t just be heat expansions. I stopped thrashing for a second, and listened.

Thump. There it was again. It was regular, some kind of repetitive banging sound. It was coming from the opposite side of the station, near the flight deck.

The next one, however, sounded slightly closer. And the one after that more so. The gaps between the bangs began to decrease, getting closer each time.

They were footsteps.

I was still strapped into the sleeping bag when I came to this realisation, and whatever chills had run across my body before now paled in comparison to this. It was like I had been dropped from my warm sleeping compartment to the dark wastes of Siberia, spinning madly as I fell. Fear and a light headed dizziness consumed me.

The footsteps were getting closer. I heard a slight pause as they reached the small step where the flight deck transitioned into the living area. Shivers wracked my body, as I fumbled with the straps, trying to get out before whatever was the source of the footsteps was reached me.

My mind reeled, unable to think over the pounding of footsteps. This couldn’t be real, this could not be real.

The straps came loose, and I wriggled out of the bag, the footsteps shaking the whole station as the got closer, great crashing impacts, just feet away now. I was sobbing, as I went to the door handle, pressing it shut in a vain attempt to keep whatever was out there from getting in.

There was one final step, as the source of the sound came face to face with the door of my sleeping compartment. Then silence. I could hear my heavy breathing, as I pressed my ear up to the plastic of the door, listening out for whatever was out there. Nothing, just silence.

Thump.

Something heavy slammed into the door, and I jumped back in terror, slamming my head and body against the back wall. The impact echoed away, and the station fell into silence once again.

Several minutes passed before I plucked up the courage to move. Not a single sound had disturbed the silence up to that point, and I had been forced to listen in terror to the sound of my desperate shallow breaths. Gingerly, I clasped the handle, and listened. Still nothing. Everything sounded calm out there.

With one movement, I swallowed, and threw open the sliding door. I winced at the squeak of its rollers. The station expanded before me, seemingly huge, dark, and empty. The whole space was stationary, and quiet. Nothing out here. I remained there for a few seconds, watching like a nervous gazelle at a watering hole, wary of predators stalking in the long grass.

Slowly, I pulled myself out. I felt like I was riddled with the eyes of hundreds, all watching me. My skin suddenly felt very vulnerable. Whatever was out here, it scared me beyond what I thought was possible. It showed me the cracks in the façade.

Slowly, I began to move towards the kitchen, running my eyes over every surface, my body weak and shaking. The air was warm, and still, and I began to steady my breathing. I kept darting my eyes though, convinced something was waiting for me, just out of my field of view.

“I think there’s someone here.” I hissed into the radio, looking over my shoulder as I did. “Soyuz do you read? I think there’s someone here.”

The response that came through the speakers was crackly and garbled, pierced occasionally by harsh electronic tones or the buzz of static, but it was recognizable. It was Tchovisky’s Piano Concerto number 1 in B- Flat Minor. I recognized it from a long time ago, from a different time. No words, just music.

“Soyuz-21, do you read?” I repeated, as the music stopped and the transmission faded away.

“Commander! Answer me!”

There was nothing, except another quick burst of the music again. It lasted a few seconds, before stopping again. Leaning down, I examined the dial, and sure enough, I was on the correct frequency.

“Please!” I begged, tears welling up in my eyes out of fear, the fear of my only lifeline to the outside world down there being severed.

Nothing, except the music. It didn’t stop this time, it carried on. It lasted a good minute, before the song reached its conclusion, and I was once again left in shocked silence.

With a numbness in my heart, I placed the mouthpiece back down on its stand, and pulled myself from the chair. I was alone up here. Or maybe I wasn’t, and whoever else was there and myself were just alone together.

It made no sense, how could someone else be up here? How could there be someone on the station without me knowing, there was nowhere to hide. I saw every inch of the pressurized space of the ship every single day-

Then it struck me. There was one place I didn’t go. Flight Engineer Zholobov’s sleeping compartment. It had been undisturbed since the day he had left. I turned around to face it, looking at the door with a new, surging intensity that I hadn’t been capable of before.

It was locked, when I tried it. I couldn’t remember whether it had been me or Zholobov who had locked it that day, although I was certain I didn’t know where the key was, even if it was still on the station. The key hole was tiny. Not wide enough to look through, and even if it had been it would’ve been too dark on the other side to see anything. I had to find a way to open it.

The kitchen was my first stop. I found the knife. It was a metal blade with a flat plastic handle, about 8 inches long, and it glinted alluringly in the powerful station lights. I pulled off the plastic sheath that covered the blade, and headed for the door.

With all my furiousity, all my fear, I pounded the knife into the door. The blade sank in maybe an inch before I pulled it out again, and gave another powerful stab at the plastic. This time the blade slid in better, all the way up to the handle, and when I pulled it out, light flooded in to the darkened compartment. Slipping my hand around the door-frame to keep myself in place, I gave a mighty kick, and the plastic cracked and splintered. It was only about a third of an inch thick, so my bare foot went through the whole my knife had wrought pretty easily, collecting several plastic splinters as it went.

Withdrawing my now stinging foot, and pulling out the splinters, I tore open the door which now hung off its rail loosely. The inside of the compartment was a dark coffin, next to identical to mine. It smelt terrible though, of dried blood and sweat and other biological things. I guessed the blood, which was now a rust covered stain on the sleeping bag which hung on one wall, had come from the night Zholobov had spent in here while we waited for a Soyuz to evacuate him. I had bandaged his hand pretty badly, and it had leaked dark crimson and translucent yellow fluids all night. He had been in such pain, I could hear him from outside the compartment, whispering to himself, and occasionally sobbing.

I had been the one who had been tasked with the gruesome endeavour of scraping his fingers off the inside of the airlock hatch.

All this came back to me as I hung nervously in the entrance of his compartment. I flicked on the light, and it spilled an appealing orange glow across the scene with a cheery buzz. The first thing I noticed were the pills bottles. There was at least ten floating around the floor, their shiny labels daubed bright reflections. I picked one up, and looked at the reflection. General Painkillers.

I gave a low whistle; there were enough painkillers to make an elephant numb, or there would’ve been, if the bottles hadn’t all been empty. Had Zholobov been taking them? Was he an addict?

Another possibility formed itself in my mind. Had he taken them all in one go? Had he been preparing himself for an accident? Had he deliberately sliced off his own fingers? With the amount of painkillers here, he wouldn’t have felt a thing as that hatch had come down on his hand.

I began to root around, worried about what else I would find. The stench of body odour was strong, I guess it had been fermenting in here for a while. Then I found the notebook. It was wrapped in brown paper, and when I found it, I was a little confused. It was small, about the size of my palm, and had a black cover.

Flipping it open on a random page, I found that it was in Zholobov’s distinctive scrawl he called handwriting. It read;

July 17th.

Boris woke up 5:45 ALMT. Took shower for 12 minutes at 5:49 ALMT. When finished, shaved for approx. 5 minutes. Missed several spots. Left shower compartment 6:05 ALMT, headed to living area. Drank approx. 200 ml of water, ate breakfast.

And so it continued. I felt sick. This was about me. This was a detailed record of my activities that day, right down to accounts of our conversations. I flicked to the next page, and sure enough, there was a description of my activities on July 18th. It was written in eye-watering detail, from the amount of time I spent on the toilet to how I ate and drank. It was almost clinical. Going through the book, there was an entry for each day since we had launched from Baikonur right up to three days before the accident. I could feel a lump in my throat, all sympathy I had held for my Flight Engineer rapidly draining away. Whatever this was, it was disgusting and invasive.

Slowly, and coldly, I wrapped the notebook back in the paper, placed it back down on the shelf, and backed out into the living area. Whatever was happening here, it Zholobov had been in on it. Why had he stopped, was the real question. Surely giving up just two days before the accident couldn’t be a coincidence.

“Ops-3 do you read? Please confirm Ops-3?” The radio was barking behind me. I ignored it, still staring at the compartment, my jaw slack. How long had it been going like that? I didn’t know. Still, I didn’t rush to answer Commander Zudov’s transmission. I moved slowly, without a definite purpose, keeping my eyes fixed on the sleeping compartment.

“What the fuck!” I swore loudly into the mouthpiece. “Where have you been?”

“Say again Ops-3? I do not understand.”

“Why have you been ignoring my transmissions Soyuz?” Rage bubbled through my voice, but I tried to keep it even for the sake of anyone back on earth who may have been listening.

“Ops-3, we have received no transmission from you since yesterday?”

“That’s a lie. You were sending out that music.”

“Listen Ops-3, I’ve talked to Flight Engineer Rozhdestvensky. We’re both very worried about you. We think perhaps you’re having some kind of breakdown.”

“Breakdown?” I murmured slowly. “No. I’m not having-”

“It’s perfectly understandable in your position Boris. Perfectly normal.” Zudov purred, his voice slow and gentle. “Nobody blames you. All the stress you’ve been put under.”

“A breakdown.” I repeated once again. Was it possible? Could I be going insane?”

“Yes. You’ve been up there alone so long. You started to imagine things. Started to see things.”

“Are you sure?”

“Perhaps we should come early Boris. Perhaps we should come and help you.” Something about Zudov’s voice hinted at a hidden malignance to his words, no longer hidden by his forced friendliness, a pretence he was clearly straining to keep up. It sent chills down my spine.

“No, that won’t be necessary.”

“I think it will Boris. I think we’ll have to set a course for Salyut-5 right now.”

“No! I mean, I don’t want to disrupt the mission.” I gave a nervous chuckle. “The mission, that’s what’s important.”

Zudov was silent for a second, considering my comments. The station was filled with the sound of static. I prayed he would agree to stay away for another two days. There was something about Zudov, something I only just noticed, that scared me, and the more time I spent away from him, the better.

“Yes. Of course you can manage two days. You should get some sleep though. Take the sleeping pills. You sound tired.”

“I’ll do that. See you in two days then.”

“Get some sleep Boris. We’ll be here before you know it.” How long had he been referring to me by my first name? That was against protocol. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

I placed the mouthpiece back on the clip, and swallowed nervously. Two days, stuck up here. I was now unsure which option was worse, being trapped up here, or being trapped on Soyuz with the smooth talking Zudov.

I mulled over what he said. It seemed entirely possible to me that I was having a breakdown. The things I’d seen, the things I’d heard. Those couldn’t be real, they couldn’t be. Footsteps weren’t possible in microgravity. That’s what I told myself.

But the implication of everything being just a hallucination was equally sinister. Was I going insane? Everything has seemed so real, when they had been happening. The notebook had felt real. The footsteps couldn’t have just been in my imagination, could they? And the carbon filter? Had that really come loose from its piping at all?

It would explain why the computer never detected any faults. They had all been in my head.

There was one cast iron way to prove all this, of course. I could go to Zholobov’s compartment, I could unwrap the brown paper, and I could look at the notebook. If it wasn’t a paranoia-fuelled hallucination, all the writing would still be there. If it was just in my head, all the writing would be gone, or even better, the notebook wouldn’t be there at all.

Of course, it is never that simple. I tore open the brown paper, and there it was. With a nauseous reticence, I opened the first page, and confirmed the writing was still there. My stomach sank. With a burst of rage, I threw the book across the room. It slammed against the far wall, then fluttered away.

There was nothing I could do then. It had been there, in my hands. Solid and real. Which meant I was left with two options. Either I hadn’t been hallucinating, and the book was real, or I was further down the rabbit hole of my own head than I thought. Both of the possibilities were, unfortunately, terrifying.

I needed some time, I decided, to figure out what to do. I needed to get things straight in my head. I had to do something about this. I couldn’t be paralysed by inaction any longer, I couldn’t take it.

Slowly, I crossed back to the kitchen, my hands trembling as I pulled my body through the air. All the while my head pounded, heavy with the throb of blood. I wasn’t sure what was real anymore. Then I remembered. The pills. Zudov had told me to take the pills. Perhaps I was tired. Zudov had never lied to me before, I noted. He wouldn’t say anything that could put me in harm’s way, surely. Commander Zudov had my best interests at heart. It was no use. I couldn’t fool myself with the bullshit excuses about ‘best interests’. I knew I didn’t trust that man anymore. Not for another velvet syllable that was wrought by his distant throat, not for another instruction echoed across the void. I was done listening to him.

Internal debate finished, I steadied my breathing, and decided to look at my problem logically. I tried to block out the memories of the footsteps, and the book, and the filter, and just look at it from an objective point of view. That was pretty much all I could do at this point.

I could take the pills.

Or I could sit here in terror and confusion for two days.

I knew, like it or not, that I would have to take the pills at some point. I couldn’t stay awake for another two days, yet I couldn’t sleep. I knew that natural sleep would be an Impossibility. After everything that had happened.

So I took the pills. I washed them down with a sip of water, and soon felt myself drifting, on an ocean of sticky black tar. I took all my effort to simply pull myself back to my sleeping compartment and climb in the sleeping back before I sank into the viscous black liquid of my mind, and felt it soak into my skin, and fill my lungs.

Sleep was silent and black, as always. Once again the night passed without dreams. I was awoke once again by the hum of the strip light. It all had the stirrings of some horrible déjà vu with me. It gnawed at the pit of my stomach, all the knowledge, all the memories, and all the fear that it might happen again.

There was something else there too though. The knowledge that possibly I may not be alone up here. Something was clearly very wrong, I reflected, and my policy of ignorance had failed so badly up to this point I was nearly sick. I needed to confront it. I needed to find whatever truth lay behind the events here.

I climbed out of the sleeping compartment, and looked around. It took me a second or two to see the writing. When I did, however, my heart stopped. It was everywhere, all across the walls. Large and black, it had been smeared in some black substance, using the end of a thumb.

Christ.

I shuddered at the sight of it, seeing something wholly unnatural and wholly unknown, it was an ugly confirmation of something that had lurked within me for days. It had been easy to be unafraid of the unknown when the unknown had been crammed in a safe in the back of my mind, now with the unknown on full view in front of me in all its horrific glory it was impossible to deny my terror.

The words didn’t mean anything, no, it was there existence which scared me. They were just numbers, or random Russian phrases, but the fact that they were there-

It couldn’t be real, I decided. It could not be real. Slowly, I turned around, and climbed back into my sleeping compartment. I slid the door closed again, and took a deep breath. This was just in my head, it wasn’t real. I was just imagining, the things in my head spilling out onto the walls of the station.

When I opened the door, it would be gone, I decided. The writing would be gone. It was in my mind, and I was in control of my mind. I was in control. With another breath, I slid open the door, and looked out, praying it would be gone.

It was gone. The walls were bare. It had all been in my head. What was wrong with me? Slowly, dragging my eyes over every surface for any trace of the black markings, I pulled myself towards the flight deck, and the radio transmitter. I couldn’t do it any longer. I had to call Soyuz. I had to get off. If I didn’t, I feared the damage would be irreparable, and I would be trapped in a semi-real world of my own hallucinations for ever.

When I flicked on the radio transmitter, however, something was already being transmitted on the other side. The green lights flickered in confirmation that the set was powered up, and as soon as they did, I tore up the mouthpiece. Before I could speak however, a harsh voice jumped from the speakers.

“-Having visual and auditory hallucinations, along with paranoia and loss of appetite.”

It was Zudov. His voice relaxed me; despite my misgivings for him I knew that it was the same man I had been talking to all this time. His words, on the other hand, were troubling, to say the least. They clearly weren’t directed at me. Who was he talking to? They hadn’t informed me that communication with ground had been resumed, and I’d told the Commander specifically to do that.

“Keep observing him.” Another voice now, not Zudov, and not Flight Engineer Rozhdestvensky’s. If they were the only two people on Soyuz-21, then Zudov must be talking to someone elsewhere. Someone on the ground. There was a hiss of static, and the channel broke up into meaningless beeping. I listened in anger. I needed to know who they had been talking about, although I had a sinking feeling I already knew.

“-air is contaminated?” The channel was back, and the other man was still speaking. Contaminated? I didn’t quite catch the first half of the sentence through the interference, but that word alone was enough to spook me.

“Yes, concentration is up to 21%.”

“Carry on observing Soyuz. Nothing more.” The was a hiss, and the stranger went silent

The air went dead. I swallowed, the noise sounded deafening in the new silence. What had I just heard? Who had they been talking about?

The obvious answer was just on the tip of my tongue, but I daren’t say it. I didn’t even dare think it. It was too dangerous, too terrifying to comprehend.

I looked down at the radio set, and saw something chilling. The frequency dial had been changed. It certainly wasn’t me who changed it, I was sure of it. That meant someone or something else was here. That meant it was all real.

I closed my eyes, and turned the dial back to the familiar position. The warm hiss of static greeted me, different in tone to that on the other channel.

I had to know. I had to know who they were talking about. I had to know whether I was alone up here. I had to know if I was losing my mind.

“Soyuz-21? Come in soyuz-21?” I asked eventually, eyes still clamped firmly shut.

“Reading Ops-3. Reading loud and clear.”

“Soyuz.” I began, then stopped to take a deep breath. “Soyuz, have you had any communication with ground yet?”

There was a short, heavy pause, before Commander Zudov spoke. When he did, I could tell by the tone of his voice there was a sickening smile on his lips.

“None whatsoever I’m afraid Salyut. Still out because of these solar flares.” That was it, the big lie. The tipping point. As soon as those words reached me, I nearly broke down in despair. A little sob escaped my mouth. The man I had trusted, all this time. Had everything been lies?

“Ops-3, do you copy?” He asked eventually, and I tried to bring myself to respond.

“Am I alone up here Commander?” My voice was a hoarse whisper, barely audible above the interference.

“Alone? What do you mean?”

“I mean is there someone else on the station?”

“There’s no one up there. Only you.”

“You’re saying it’s all in my head? You’re saying I’ve lost my mind?”

“Of course not. You’re just under a lot of stress. All alone up there. It’s no surprise you began to see things. Hear things. It was only to be expected from someone in your conditions.”

“I know I’m not crazy.”

“Of course you’re not crazy.” He purred gently, his voice warm and reassuring. I was almost lulled back into trusting the man again.

“I just-”

“You’re just tired. You’ve worked hard. But don’t worry, your mission is nearly over. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow.” I repeated numbly.

I wasn’t crazy. It wasn’t in my head. That man, that voice, was lying to me. It had to be real. But what could I do? He would be here in less than a day, and after that things would be far out of my hands.

I tore open every cupboard. Looked through every compartment. Scoured every inch of the plain white metal. I searched for any slightest inclination there might be a concealed compartment somewhere elsewhere in the station. I looked for anything. Anything that could prove me right. There was nothing. I don’t know how much time passed in my search, but soon I realised looking was a fool’s errand. There was nothing to find.

“What if it isn’t human?” I spoke out loud, to my own shock. I never talked to myself. My voice was small and insignificant, even in the cramped air of the station. The idea haunted me. I had never believed in the paranormal, but my heart beat faster just thinking about it. There was clearly an entity of some kind up here, and if it wasn’t a man-

Then came the rasping. A deep wet hiss from within the walls. It was followed by another, this one sounding more like a gasp. I froze, as I listened. The regular inhaling an exhaling of air.

Something was breathing. Something inside the walls.

“Commander?” I whispered over the radio, jerking my head round as I heard another breath. It was only just audible when I was at the radio set; it seemed to emanate from the living area bulkhead. “I can hear it breathe.”

“Breathe?” The response was swift and, surprisingly from Zudov, nervous.

“I can hear it breathing inside the walls. It’s awake.” I held out the mouthpiece, and pressed down the transmit button, hoping he would hear it.

“That’s just the ventilator system.” He decided doubtfully after I had finished. “You must have ruptured a tube. I’ll take a look when we get there.”

I let go of the mouthpiece, and tried to steady my own breathing, but the great deep breath coming from the living area distracted me from my rhythm. It couldn’t just be a torn air pipe. It had to be something more. Slowly, I pulled myself up, and began to head slowly, gingerly, towards the source of the noise. The knife was still in the kitchen draw, so I withdrew it, and swung around to face the noise. It was coming from within a maintenance panel. I pressed my ear against it, trying to hear what was within. The metal was cold against my skin.

Thump. There was a loud bang from within, and I withdrew my head instantly in terror. It was followed by a desperate scratching. Fingernails on metal. I pushed myself backwards, and crashed into the wall behind me.

The scratching must’ve gone on for hours, as I sat there in sheer terror, knife raised in front of me. Eventually it began to slow, and then it stopped. Just silence remained. I slowly unfurled, tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t.

“Ops-3 come in? We are beginning our approach.” I swore loudly and viciously, tears running off my lips. Not him, not now. I was stuck between whatever horror was on the station, or whatever horror was off it.

“Fuck you Zudov!” I snatched the mouthpiece, and yelled down it, in pure fear.

“Say again Ops-3?” He sounded indignant.

“Stay away from me.” I warned, my voice shaky. All the while, the hairs on the back of my neck were beginning to stand upright. “Don’t bring that ship anywhere near here.”

“These are my orders Commander Volynov.”

“I have a knife.” I threatened, knowing my options were running out. He had forced my hand.

There was silence for a second. Time passed by like thick black tar.

“Is that a threat Commander Volynov?” Zudov was cold in his outrage, but I could hear strains of pure ferocity in his voice. “Did you just threaten me?”

Stay away from me.” I sobbed once again. “Please.”

“I’m so sorry.” He decided on eventually, and the frequency went dead.

I could see the black dot of the Soyuz capsule on the horizon of the Earth, Silhouetted in front of the glowing blue. I had maybe half an hour before he got here. It wasn’t enough; I couldn’t think anymore.

The thing in the walls was still silent again, as far as I could tell. With a beating heart, I turned back to the maintenance panel where the noise had been coming from. I jumped out of my skin when it gave a screech, followed by another. It was the sound of nails on a chalkboard, or something like that. Staring at the panel, I saw a sight I will never forget.

The screech was coming from a screw. It was turning in its socket, giving a mighty squeal each time it did. There was a clink as the screw finished its last rotation, and floated gently away from its holding. Whatever was turning the screws moved onto the second.

I backed up slowly, and clutched my knife so hard my knuckles were white. My tears were in streams down my face, leaving salty deposits on my eyelids. I gritted my teeth, it felt like the content of my stomach was about the rush up my throat. It was heavy and nauseating. Another sob wracked my quivering body.

I crawled into the air lock hatch entrance, right next to Zudov’s dried blood. I ran my fingers over the stain, and closed my eyes. In my head, I tried to drown out the sounds with desperate prayers, but it wasn’t enough.

There was a heavy clunk as I felt Soyuz impact. Cracking open one eye, I looked back at the station. Floating in the air was the now detached maintenance compartment panel, along with a handful of screws. I heard movement from within. Turning my focus back to Soyuz, I banged on the Air Lock door, then felt the hiss, as the seals began to fill. This was it.

The hairs on the back of my neck were pricking up again. I had to get out. I had to get out now. The air lock hatch hissed, and swung open. My eyes fell into the Soyuz capsule, into the tiny space were the two astronauts would be. Where the man I had been talking to for the last week would be sitting.

The capsule was empty.

Credit To – Babylon

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Knock, Knock

December 1, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Summer. For someone living in a tropical country, it means unbearable heat and humidity, even at night.

I was on vacation and staying at my uncle’s house. His house is situated in a low hill along the border of the town. They are not really isolated as they got neighbors along the way going to the top of the hill.

It was my fifth day staying there and my usual habit after dinner is to go outside in the front yard and smoke. It is much cooler there, every now and then a small breeze will come relieving me from the irritating heat.

From where I stand, you can see the other side of the hill dotted with white things with crosses. Yes, those are graves and that part of the hill is a cemetery. Other people might get scared or uneasy being outside at night and in a full view of a cemetery a stone’s throw away but I’m not. I have gotten used to it and it’s not really that unsettling as the first night I was there.

So there I was smoking and halfway through my cigarette, I saw the front door opened!

You might think I got scared by then but I was not. I just stood there calmly, looking at the open door and after a few seconds it closed. I didn’t paid much attention to what happened and go on smoking.

A minute passed by and then the door opened again and closed. Still unnerved by that second instance, I finished my cigarette and went inside the house.

On the hallway, I saw my uncle’s maid sweeping the floor. I approached her and asked,

“Did you just opened the door a while ago?”

“Yes.” she replied.

“Why?”, I asked again.

“Someone was knocking, so I opened the door but no one came in. They even knocked twice.”

I just stood there, looking puzzled at her then we both heard it as someone’s knuckle rapped on the door.

Knock, knock…

Credit To – frank0ys

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