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The Dead Zone

July 21, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I’ve lived in Central Florida my whole life. Disney World, mosquitos, the beach and flip flops are a way of life. I’m used to the sticky hot humidity, the gator filled swamps and the tea stained water of the St. Johns river. This is where my tale takes place; horrifying and unbelievable, yet true …

I don’t know when I first heard tale of the Dead Zone, a stretch of interstate four between Sanford and Debary Florida. Legend has it that the founders who settled in the area became ill of Yellow Fever residing in the mosquito infested lagoons and scrub of palmettos, which is where they succumbed to the abyss named Death and found their final resting place. For over a century, their plots were marked with wooden crosses and they owned their own place amongst the moss draped oaks. There’s lots of tales surrounding these graves; some say a man tried to remove the fencing that was at some point placed around the markers and that very night his house burned down. Another account alleges that a curious young boy tried to dig up one of the graves and was killed by a drunk driver shortly after. Myth or truth, i’m not sure. Many years later, when the developers came in and wanted to build what us Floridians call I4, they were sworn to build the road around the graves of the settlers, as to not disturb them. They agreed with a handshake and a smile, but as we all know, their intentions were set before the empty promise was made. Instead, they opted for what was easy and logical, disturbing and paving overtop of the burial site. The tale goes to tell of ghostly sightings, travelers dealing with late night car troubles and more accidents on that stretch of road than you can imagine, all at the consequence of the deceitful agreement that disturbed the dead.

Now, I’ve never been one to really buy in to the paranormal and I’ve driven this stretch of road hundreds of times. I’ve witnessed several accidents and broken down vehicles on the shoulder but never did I feed into the “Dead Zone” theory. If every disturbed grave became a ghost story, we’d have more tales to tell than we could keep up with. But, what I witnessed with my own eyes, driving that stretch of busy road, peering over the St. Johns River bridge, is something I will never forget, something I cannot shake and something that has forever changed me and my view of the paranormal.

It began over a year ago when I had just started a new job. I had to drive past the Dead Zone, exiting right across the bridge at the Sanford exit. I4 can be a white knuckle experience, especially if you have to drive it daily, but the part I always enjoyed was approaching my exit, breathing a sigh of relief that I had not been victim of any road rage or accidents and peering off the bridge into the murky brown waters below. Something about the way the sun shone down, reflecting itself in sparkling ribbons across the gator infested stretch, lily pads dancing with every swirl and breeze across the water, boats drifting lazily while fishermen cast another line, made me feel at peace. It was early on that I noticed the two houseboats floating aside the lily pads. I had seen them before, many times in fact, but it was after starting the job and having it be a part of my daily drive that I began to wonder how long the boats had been there. They looked abandoned, old and decaying. I remember thinking “who comes to rescue deserted vessels or do they float along until they sink?” …

The houseboats troubled me, for no apparent reason other than the fact that they had become a stationary landmark on the waters that upset my peaceful feeling with a darker and more foreboding impression. I could imagine what horrors lay behind the surface and in my mind’s eye I saw a mummified corpse, jaw locked open, forever staring into eternity. Abandoned. Forgotten. Surely the owners of the boats hadn’t jumped into the waters and swam to shore and left their boats cast off into the lily pads to sit until … Until what? I could only imagine the poor soul who decided to one day board the craft to discover my dreamed-up corpse. Perhaps, more than one corpse.

And then just like that, one day, one of my sinister houseboats were no longer there. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I was sure it had been there for as long as I could remember and there was no way the motor on the boat would still run. It had been there the previous morning, though I couldn’t be certain that it had been there on my way home as I was going in the opposite direction and could not see to that side of the bridge. I tried to imagine what had gone down as I made my way to the office and parked my car. A coworker of mine was exiting her car as I pulled up and I decided to ask her if she had ever noticed the boats, since she drove the same stretch of road that I did. I made my inquiry and to my surprise she informed me that she had noticed the boats and she had also seen a tenant of one of the boats out on his deck, sweeping. I was shocked. Never, in all the years I had seen the boats, had I ever witnessed a living soul on or around them, but she swore to seeing what appeared to be an older gentlemen on it’s deck.

“He was definitely there” she stated. “I know what you mean about the boats looking abandoned but there was for sure a man on board, sweeping off the deck. Have you noticed how the lily pads have gotten thicker around them and are almost vining up the boat?”.

I had not noticed, Not really. I knew the boats were in the thicket of lily pads but I hadn’t noticed them getting thicker. No, my attention seemed to be on the boats and only the boats anymore. I no longer watched the sun dappled waters and the fishermen’s lines. Now, I watched the boats, searching for signs of life, imagining horrors that I had drummed up in my mind. And now that there was just one boat, I couldn’t fathom where the other boat went. Perhaps, whoever comes for old abandoned boats had finally come and taken it away and would be back for the remaining boat another day.

Weeks went by. The houseboat didn’t occupy all of my thoughts but I did perk up when approaching the bridge and I did make sure to be in the far right lane for the full length of the bridge till my exit. I wanted to see the boat. I had to see the boat. I wanted to see if there were signs of life or movement or anything to prove that it actually had someone aboard. The lily pads did seem to thicken and the words “vining up the boat” seemed fitting. They appeared to be growing right up the side. I didn’t think that lily pads could do that. I thought they grew on top of the water but did not have the ability to vine out or attach themselves to a boat. Some days I thought surely my eyes were playing tricks on me.

Then one day, there was a man! Yes, a man aboard the boat with what appeared to be a broom pushing the lily pads off the side of the boat back towards the water. I tried to slow a bit before reaching my exit. I was in shock that for one, there was actually a person who must have been living inside of the boat, yet I had never before seen and two, that the lily pads seemed to be infesting the waters by the boat and overtaking its side. The man continued to push at the lily pads and I watched until I had to turn into my exit and could no longer see him or the boat.

Day by day I grew more uneasy when reaching the bridge. I never saw signs of life near the boat again but I still continued to watch it. I guess you could say I was fascinated by it and my mind worked up horror tales that gently rocked the waters of my mind, although I supposed it was just a dilapidated home on the water for some lonely old man. It did seem that the lily pads were making themselves even more of a nuisance and eventually they reached the front railing of the boat and were tangled all around it. Each day they seemed to claim another inch of it’s surface.

My horrors came to life one humid August morning. There were very few cars on the road at this early of an hour and the only reason I was coming in to work so early was to make up for some hours missed earlier in the week. The sun had barely breached the horizon, leaving shadows in the corners where the predawn light still couldn’t reach. I approached the bridge with sudden apprehension, as if my mind knew there was something sinister going on before my eyes could bear witness. As soon as I could see the water, I saw the mass of lily pads that had grown up over the top of the boat. The entire boat seemed to be covered by them and they were seething, writhing and wrapping themselves tightly around the vessel. In a matter of seconds, the boat appeared to give in and with a screech of twisted metal and a loud crack it was crushed as though it were nothing more than an aluminum soda can pulled down into the murky waters. The last thing I saw before reaching my exit was a bubbling, rippling mass and a few gentle waves that rocked the surface where the boat had been just moments before.

In hindsight, I’m surprised I didn’t stop my car right there in the middle of the bridge’s right lane because my mind was racing and my heart was pounding and I felt sick and uncertain all at the same time.

Did I just witness a mass of seemingly alive lily pads eat a houseboat?

The thought swarmed my mind, echoing itself over and over again as I drove down the exit ramp. As I reached the light at the bottom of my exit, instead of heading to work, I turned toward the boat ramp near where the houseboat had been anchored, driving with reckless abandon and throwing dust and gravel in my wake before coming to a halt. I don’t remember getting out of the car but I remember running toward the water. I saw no sign of the boat nor the man who lived on the boat and by now the sun’s rays were starting to peek over the treetops and land in the dark places. The tree line most likely prevented my view of where the houseboat had once been and there was no way I was going to enter the water to wade out until I could see something. The world seemed to stop for a moment and I thought I was going to faint. I could hear the rush of blood in my ears and my heart throbbing in my head but the outer world was quiet. In one rush, it all came back; the noise of the cars on the bridge, the water lapping at the shore and birds singing and chirping. I leaned forward and vomited.

I called the police once I was able to form a coherent thought. I told them what I had witnessed. I told them it was unbelievable but true. I stayed at the boat ramp until they came and took a statement from me but I could see the way the officer’s looked at each other and by the tone of their voice and the way they spoke to me that they didn’t believe a word of what I was saying. They asked if I was on any medications or had a history of mental disorders. I disputed both and pleaded with them to have divers search the water. They assured me they would look into it. I felt like I was speaking in slow motion and watching the two officers constantly exchange sideways glances made me want to punch them in the face. They didn’t believe me and it was obvious. In their defense, I probably wouldn’t have believed me either had I not been the one to witness it. Eventually, they left but not after asking if I had someone who could pick me up since I seemed shaken. I told them no, I didn’t, but I would be fine. I sat in my car and turned the air conditioning on as high as it would go and leaned my seat back. I guess I fell asleep.

I couldn’t have been asleep long but I did dream. I dreamt I was sitting at the water’s edge with people I had never met. The river’s embankment allowed my feet to dangle over the dark brown water and the smell in the air was stagnant with undertones of rotting vegetation. The world seemed muted as if in tones of sepia and my heart was beating fast. I felt nervous but I didn’t know why. No one was talking, just staring out at the water. Everything was still and silent other than the buzzing I heard from mosquitoes. The buzzing seemed intolerable as if it were coming from the inside of my head. I could feel the mosquitoes swarming and lighting on me. I slapped one from my legs and it exploded in a burst of dark red blood. I felt a trickle of sweat from behind my knees. It was all so very real. Other than being able to move my hands and slightly turn my head, I felt frozen in place. I knew I couldn’t stand up, let alone move or run. The heat was getting unbearable and the air was so thick I thought I would suffocate. I looked beside me and there was a man leaning against a tree. He was obviously not from this era as his clothes were old fashioned and dingier than anything anyone these days would wear. There were some children and a woman sitting by the water’s edge as well. They never looked my way or spoke a word, just stared blankly toward the water. Finally, the man looked straight at me with a bone chilling stare and spoke with a voice both cold and hollow, “The road to hell has been paved with lies and deceit. We no longer sleep. It never ends.” Before I even realized what was happening, he had grabbed me by the hair and pushed me forward toward the water. My hands grabbed at the dirt and leaves but the struggle was futile. I felt myself falling and hit the water, breaking the surface like crashing through a dirty window, sinking, unable to breathe, being drug deeper into the depths of water and muck …

I awoke with a start, sweating profusely, my car no longer running. No more than thirty minutes had passed since I had gotten in and cranked it up. As I set my seat back in the upright position and started to turn the key, I looked down to see a smudge of blood right where I had slapped the mosquito in my dream.

A few weeks later, while watching the news, I heard a body was found in Lake Monroe, which is fed by the St. Johns River right across the bridge I drove over daily. The body appeared to have been gnawed on by alligators which is creepy enough but what was worse was that no one had been reported missing, the body had no ID and no one could figure out who it was. He was a nobody that nobody missed. I wondered if it was my older guy from the houseboat. I guess I’ll never know.

I eventually quit the job I was working, not for any related reason, although the drive to work now brought much stress and trepidation and nausea swept over me every time I reached the bridge. I would find my eyes locked on the spot where the houseboat had once been and more than once, I came close to rear ending another car. I could hear the words, “It never ends …”, the gravel and furry in his voice as he spit them at me. Part of me thought that one day the bridge would just disintegrate as I was crossing it and I would plummet downwards to be swallowed whole into a watery grave. I now avoid this stretch of road at all cost. I’ve always heard we should face our fears but in this case, I find I can’t.

I never found out if the houseboat was recovered. I don’t think anyone ever looked for it. I called the Sanford PD once to check on the status of the report I filed. The lady I spoke with put me on hold and when she came back on the line she told me it was pending investigation then threw in a “You alright, Doll?”. I told her I was fantastic and figured I was probably the butt of a good joke to them and decided not to call back.

Aside from recounting my story to two people close to me, I’ve never uttered a word about it to a soul. Am I crazy? Did I witness something beyond the realm of reality? Or did the Dead Zone come alive and claim a few more victims? Because even though I wasn’t physically harmed, I consider myself a victim of it’s lore. I know my dream was of the early settlers. I know I witnessed a mass of lily pads come alive and swallow a boat. I know I’m not crazy. But I will never be the same.

So, if you’re ever in Central Florida and you drive the stretch of interstate four, somewhere between Orlando and Daytona Beach, know that there is more than meets the eye. There is a tale that keeps telling itself, in more ways than one and it wants to be heard. The road to hell was paved with lies and deceit. And just a word of advice: stay out of those waters … there are things more dangerous than the mosquitoes, snakes and alligators. I’ve seen for myself.

Credit: F. Maven

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Voices

July 17, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I consider myself a sensible person. I scoff at ghost stories and roll my eyes at the thought of a fourth kind. As an adult, I can easily disregard the notion that there is a supernatural realm that could affect me. But there is one problem with my current ability to ignore all things mysterious, a series of events that contradicts my disbelief.

As a child I heard things. However, I should be more specific, as I do not mean music or laughter or the innocuous, normal sounds belonging to our everyday surroundings. The “things” I heard were spoken by three distinct voices. And they had ill intentions – for me. You may be thinking, “Oh these voices could have been talking about anyone!” But they called me by name. You may also be thinking: “Children have nightmares!” And I cannot force you to believe what I have experienced is real. All I can do is share with you in the hopes that the telling of this story will provide me with some relief.

The most vivid recollection I have of the voices is actually the first time I heard them. At least I think it was the first time. I can now point to this event as the beginning of it all, but I know how easily my other childhood memories have blurred together and been altered unintentionally, in the years since growing up. In the interest of this re-telling, however, I can say with relative confidence that the first night I heard the voices I was seven years old. I was in an awkward phase – though in the interest of full disclosure my life has been a 24-year long awkward phase – and was still struggling with not only a severe lisp, but a stutter as well. My hair was cut in a blunt, harsh bob style at that age, adding to my peculiar look, as I was not only short, but also scrawny in the limbs with a pudgy stomach. Cute right? All awkwardness aside, I was a fairly happy child, despite a somewhat traumatizing home life that can be boiled down to “Daddy has a terrible drinking problem, but we all pretend it doesn’t exist and attend church like a good family should.” The fact that I was raised in the church makes this story even more disturbing to me in retrospect, though in my immature mind at the time I never made a connection between my religious upbringing and the demonic presence in my home.

So this vivid recollection – one seemingly average night as a seven year old, I lay safely in my racecar bed (being a tomboy had some advantages). My routine at that age included listening to religious-themed audiobook stories, which I found soothing for whatever reason. The cassette rolled, as usual, and I began to drift off to sleep, as usual. But that night I was awoken by the voices from beneath my room. Let me clarify something. My bed was positioned next to an archaic air vent, under which was the first floor of the house. More specifically, my room was above the first floor bathroom, and the style of the vent in my floor made it possible to see and hear what was happening in the room below me. The novelty of this view had grown old, and I no longer spied down to the sink (the only part of the bathroom I could see clearly) on a daily basis. So when I heard soft murmuring underneath my room, I at first subconsciously processed the voices as my parents, having a quiet discussion in the bathroom. I continued to drift.

I remember that I suddenly realized that there were more than two voices. Though my brother and sister were born by that time, neither was old enough to speak in a clearly distinguishable voice. The drifting stopped. I sat up in confusion. I would like to tell you that I panicked immediately and because alarmed – but that just isn’t how it happened. I was only perplexed, as I knew there were only two adults in my home, and there were three adult-toned voices conversing beneath me. From my position on the bed I could not hear clearly what was being said, and as I was not entirely concerned at that point, I inched off my mattress slightly, closer to the vent. I could not see down through the metal slats, as the lights in my room and the bathroom below were off, but I could certainly hear more clearly.

The following is my best possible recollection of what was said; I do not claim to remember word for word, and the phrases were spoken softly so I had trouble understanding exactly what was being said, but this narrative should give a general idea of what the voices said to me.

Male 1: She’s asleep
Male 2: We knew she’d be asleep. She’s a child. It is night.
Male 1: *soft laughter*
Female: But that’s no reason to waste time. She will wake up.
Male 2: This is kinder for (my name).
Male 1: There is no kindness.

These voices, obviously discussing me, belonged to two males and one female, though her tone was raspy and deep for a girl, I remember thinking. After the first male voice had spoken the last sentence, there was silence. I shook my head and told myself I was hearing things. Or maybe I was still asleep. I pinched a bit of my arm flesh between my fingers to wake myself up, to no avail. You may be wondering if I ran to the room of my parents for help or to alert them of what I had heard – but I did not. I had learned never to disturb them in the night, and so I tried to talk myself into a calm state of mind despite my rapid heart rate and sinking stomach.

I eventually found peaceful rest, and did not give a second thought to my nighttime terror as the next day dawned and passed without incident. That night and many nights after were free from the voices. I eventually dismissed the notion that anything had even happened; convincing myself it had been a nightmare, a bad dream.

Several weeks later, I believe, it happened again. Same set-up, so I won’t walk you through all of the mundane details. But this time the voices were making plans. You may question how I can remember this, and although I will admit I don’t remember the exact specifics, I knew that plans were being made to harm me. After this second occurrence of hearing the voices they came more often, having started to formulate their plans more concretely at that point. The plans seemed to change in nature, and I heard things ranging from burning me repeatedly, to kidnapping me, to torturing me for information about some unknown secret. It seemed to me that they did not care what the plan was, only that I was harmed. At this point it seems logical to you as readers that I should have disclosed my nighttime experiences to my parents, but I think I was still trying to convince myself that I was in the wrong – I was imagining these voices, and no one would believe me if I did not even believe myself. So I kept quiet and continued to listen to them.

I got to know them, almost as if they were friends. Thinking back I realize that I was a lonely child with few friends and a lack of love or nurturing in my home. I felt somewhat comforted by their presence after a while. The terror turned to familiarity. Sure these voices had bad ideas about me, and wanted to inflict pain on me, but they used my name. They knew where I was. They kept coming back.

One male voice, the first I had heard, was cold, decisive. He knew what needed to be done, though the plan kept changing. He always had new and more extreme ideas. He never used my name.

The second male voice seemed to have mercy. He would always mention that I needed to be asleep before they could do anything in order to make it as painless as possible. He used my name regularly.

She was malicious, graphic, and brutal. She wanted to harm me the most. She used my name occasionally, but with an edge in her voice that made me feel like my name was a dirty word.

After a while (I wish I could tell you how long, but my memories of time periods are vague and inaccurate) I started to try to stay awake for as long as I could in order to catch more of their conversations. They would repeat the plans, uttering the same phrases multiple times, almost as if they were trying to bore me into sleep, but I also somehow knew that they didn’t know I was awake. I began to think that staying awake was the only way I could prevent terrible things from happening to me. I would sit up in bed, on the edge of my mattress, legs dangling over the side, and listen to stories to keep myself awake. I would occasionally drift off to the sound of the voices, which had become almost as soothing as they were terrifying. But on nights when I could manage to stay awake until dawn, I would trudge through my day following the night of vigilant sleeplessness, proud of my ability to “beat” the voices. Even though nothing happened to me when I did fall asleep for any length of time, part of my brain told me that awake equated to safety and sleep to death.

Nights without sleep passed. The voices changed their plans. I struggled to stay awake in school. It became routine as listening to my audiobooks on cassette.

You may be wondering another thing (you may be very curious readers). Why didn’t I turn on the lights in the bathroom before bed so I could look down into the room and see whom the voices belonged to? I tried that. I would turn the light on, and one of my parents would flick it off before bedtime. I also tried sneaking downstairs and turning it on after they’d gone to bed. By the time I would reach my room and try to peer down through the rusting slats of the air vent, the light would be off again, making me wonder if I had turned it off at all. I began to feel like I was part of a twisted game that forced me to ask myself questions.

Would I fall asleep?

Why can’t I get the light to stay on?

Was I really hearing anything?

As I quizzed myself each night, lying in bed tormented by the trio of voices, the terror grew – but not because the threats to my safety increased or frightened me more. I began to question my sanity. As a young child, to become so unhinged I now realize was normal based on my belief that three people were underneath my room discussing plans to torture me. But at the time I was determined to find my fault in it. If only I could stay awake all night. If only I could see who it was. If only I wasn’t a bad girl who deserved to have these things happen to her. They seemed so sure that I needed to be hurt. I started to believe it.

I decided to sleep through the night and let them carry out their plans. I was tired. I was guilty. I just wanted the confusion to stop.

I slept all night. And all the next day. And that night as well. I slept for 36 hours. I remember my mother coming in and out of the room, tenderly pressing a hand to my forehead, presumably to check for fever. Little did she know I was the healthiest I’d been in a long time. Nothing happened. No plans were carried out. I rested my mind and body. I awoke eventually and went to school. My mother asked if I felt ill. I didn’t, and told her so. The voices did not return that night. Or the next night.

They did not return in my childhood.

When I look back on that period of my life it is easy to chalk up my experiences with the voices as normal childhood fear of monsters. I wish I could. I am so solidly a disbeliever in anything paranormal that it makes no sense to me that anything in that realm could have occurred. Did any of this happen? I have given you my most honest recollections. I leave it up to you to decide. Thank you for letting me release my inner demons.

I consider myself a sensible person.

I hope I can stay awake tonight.

I need to stay awake.

Credit: Aimee

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The Old School Night Nurse

July 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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This all happened when I was 13. Things weren’t great at home, And I drifted into the habit of going out very late most nights and just walking aimlessly around, exploring the pretty dull town in which I grew up.

My parents went to bed early since they had actual responsibilities, so it was pretty easy to say I was going to watch TV at a friends house, and stay out til the small hours, creeping into bed well after midnight.

There was a girl in my classes called Janet, who I didn’t think had ever even noticed me previously; she was stunningly attractive and witty and warm and generally perfect, and I was very much invisible to girls, invisible to most people in fact. Don’t ask me how this came about as I am unsure myself, but we began to meet up on some of these nocturnal excursions, though we were never more than friends. I guess she must’ve been a fellow night-owl, or maybe she was just bored like I was.

I had no idea how to talk to girls, but I must have done something right as somehow she seemed to like me, though I am hardly what you would call a ladies man. I sure as hell liked her. We got into a routine whereby she’d slip me a note in school with something scribbled like “meet me by the shop at nine o’ clock” and we’d hang around in the dark and talk about dumb things.

It was the sort of town where everything shut down at night and so we had the roads, parks and cemetery to ourselves; she’d show me the house she grew up in and I’d tell her about some local ghosts and legends that I’d half invented myself. We’d usually gravitate towards our school, which is surrounded now by a seven-foot chain-link fence like a concentration camp, but in those days anyone could wander around the paths & grounds, with a big playing field and forest at the rear. There were benches and bike-sheds if we needed to rest or shelter. We were still just about young enough to have a good time without cigarettes and alcohol.

So one night we had arranged to meet as normal, and I I stood over the road from the corner shop that was the only place in town still open so late, sorta watching from the shadows as sometimes one of the staff would see me, and storm outside to tell me to get lost. But Janet never showed, which was the first time. I gave her another hour and left pretty hurt & angry, which in hindsight was an over-reaction; In all probability she’d wanted to come meet me, but maybe her parents had stopped her, or something had come up. Neither of us could afford a mobile phone which were still for the rich kids back then.

I couldn’t really hang around waiting any longer anyway as it was October, and cold enough so that even an indestructible teen like me could feel the chill. I wandered aimlessly until about midnight, when I wound up sat on an old bench overlooking our school, at the top of some long, gradual steps which led down to one of several entrances to the sprawling school structures.

I was miserable and dejected and could see my own breath, for like an idiot I was always under-dressed for the cold British weather, with only a thin sports jacket over a t-shirt. I was one of those kids who never needed much of a shove to sulk and strop, so I sat and shivered and felt sorry for myself. Thoughts flashed through my head of suicide or self-harm, until I noticed there was a light on, at the bottom of the steps, which, strangely, I hadn’t noticed earlier.

The dim light shone through a small window in a door which led into the school science block. This was bizarre; no-one should’ve been inside the school at this hour. I sometimes stayed late with a detention and even a couple of hours after the students left for the day, there were no cleaners or teachers left around, the place was eerily deserted and as quiet as the grave.

I decided to go and have a closer look, I don’t think I would have done if I wasn’t in such a lousy mood; I guess I figured that the evening could not get any worse. So I made my way down the steps to the pale yellow glow which seemed comforting, like a sanctuary from everything wrong with the world. My curiosity was “off the scale” too; Maybe this something exciting like a robbery in progress, or some older kids who’d broke in looking for someplace warm to get high.

The door to the school wasn’t locked, and I saw the light was coming from another door leading to a room beneath some stairs, which I hadn’t ever really noticed before. I cautiously entered into a nurse’s station of sorts, a small room with a couple of old battered school chairs and a mirror on the walk over a sink. It was stiflingly warm inside, though I saw no radiator and heard no heater. There were a couple of ancient yellowing posters on the walls about not passing on flu germs or something similar.

Just before I announced my presence, a lady appeared in a small alcove and asked how she could help.

I told her I had seen the light and followed my feet. I realised my thoughts of death and dismemberment were draining, and felt too foolish to tell her of such things. She had a manner about her which screamed that the only love she give was of the tough variety. So I said I wasn’t sure what I wanted, and politely enquired about her presence.

She told me she was always there at night, as a crisis nurse, without going into specifics, and I was too shy to ask any more questions. It was a small town, and the school also acted as kind of a community centre too, serving as a voting station and blood donation centre, that sort of thing. So to my naive 13-year old mind, her story sort-of checked out.

She was tiny, literally four feet tall, and dressed like someone from the Salvation army, with a khaki shirt & shorts, old-fashioned sandals and a dark crimson sash around her stocky chest. I never once saw her smile, but didn’t really see this as strange or unfriendly until I thought about it later, also reflecting on how her language was cold for a nurse; they always call you “love” or “dear”, ask nice friendly questions and seem to want to talk, enjoy it even. Her attitude was formal and businesslike.

There was an awkward silence before she suggested that I must’ve known know why I had arrived there, so I said that I guessed I lacked direction, which was a stupid thing to say, but it seemed appropriate somehow. She said she was part of a team, who people could turn to when they felt alone, or under-valued. Showing no emotion, she began to speak of pills which might help. I mumbled some vague agreement, a little bewildered as I knew nothing really of medication back then, and she disappeared back around the corner from where she had first emerged. I could hear cupboards and drawers opening and tablets rattling in plastic jars.

She told me she had just the thing to make me feel better, and spoke of doses and suchlike, but while she was talking in her low, soft and slightly gravelly voice, I began to pay attention to my growing sense of dread. It dawned on me that I did not like this woman at all. Something was very wrong with the entire situation. Worse, I sensed that I was in real danger there, and that I had to leave immediately.

So while she was still in the back, rummaging and muttering, I slipped straight out the door and hurried home to bed, not looking back once. I have no more memories of that night.

When I awoke, the whole thing seemed unreal, with my recollection rapidly disintegrating, details vague like in my dreams. I probably would’ve dismissed the whole thing as some bad nightmare if it were not for the breaking news at school that morning.

Janet had vanished in the night. She had gone out to meet someone and never returned. Everyone was talking about it. The speculation was predictably ridiculous, a smorgasbord of half-baked theories and vindictive gossip.

They held an emergency assembly for everyone in our year, with a police officer stood on the stage urging us to come forward if we knew or heard of anything even vaguely strange or suspicious. Afterwards, officers spoke privately to some of Janet’s closest friends; she had quite a few, she was always very well-liked. Of course, they didn’t bother speaking to me, as no-one had a clue about our late night rendezvous. In fact, no-one even knew I existed. I did wonder if anyone would have even believed me if I had come forward to say that I’d been meeting with Janet. I probably would’ve been dismissed as an attention-seeker.

Or maybe they’d have seen me as the prime suspect. “Weird, shambling misanthrope meets popular, pretty girl.” The thought did cross my mind. And how could I have told anybody about what had happened to me that very same night? They’d have pegged me as “insane” and thrown me to the wolves, one way or another.

Strangely enough, Janet was very rarely mentioned by anyone again afterwards. No anniversaries were marked. Her close friends quickly began to talk about other things. A couple of weeks and things were back to normal.

Except… about a year later, one of our teachers took down some old posters, and beneath one was a bright scribble in permanent marker pen about Janet, some stupid insult. The teacher froze for a few moments, then remarked quietly on how she couldn’t remember Janet’s surname. Then she dismissed the whole thing and carried on with her day. I turned around to look back at the rest of the class, but no-one else was even listening.

That was the last time I heard anyone say her name. She has seemingly ceased to exist, which is strange to say the least. The police seemed to drop the case pretty soon and an internet search throws up no record of her at all. I have no way of knowing if she got mixed up with the weird old woman I encountered that night, but the whole thing seems too bizarre to be coincidental. But for all I know, Janet ran away to join the circus. It is maddeningly vague. I did discreetly ask if the school ran some sort of late-night therapy service for troubled teens, but you can probably guess the answer.

I really should’ve gone and said something to Janet’s parents, as I considered myself at least partly responsible for her disappearance. But I was far too immature and awkward to ever have confronted them. What a total wimp. And that is the end of the story. The end of Janet, I guess.

I’ve since moved to a new town but sometimes I return to revisit the places where me and Janet would go to on those few fleeting late summer nights. The school is still there. It’s been pretty heavily redeveloped in recent years, every part seems totally different except for those long, gradual steps down to the old science block. I walk past every once in a while, and I stand above those steps and stare down at the school, and I still wonder what the hell happened.

Credit: Hack Shuck

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Construction Site Entity

June 9, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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To this day, I have no idea what I saw.

People I tell seem to not believe me, but I swear this is true.

A little background before I get into it.

I am a 29 year old construction worker. Been doing it since high school. Metal framing and sheetrock mostly. I’m in decent shape, no history of mental disorders in my family. Only problem I have developed over the years is a mild case of tinnitus from being stubborn and refusing to wear ear protection. It comes during times of silence, like when I’m trying to sleep. So I try to keep the TV or a fan on to cancel out the ringing.

Work was getting very slow where I lived, so I decided to move to Virginia. I was staying with a friend who got me a sweet gig with a local construction company on Norfolk Naval Base. Huge job. Five story building, complete buildout from the ground up, good pay, not exactly close to where we were staying, but the drive wasn’t bad as long as I made it in before morning traffic. Only thing wrong with the job was the foreman was a complete asshole; always talking down to us workers in that sort of passive-aggressive tone that made me want to punch him in his face. But as long as we stayed busy, he didn’t bother with us for long. It was a huge job, and he had a lot of people to bug.
About 4 months into the job, I injured my right hand. Sliced my middle finger on a piece of metal. It didn’t hurt at all. The doctor stitching me up said it was because I cut so deep, it severed the nerves.

The next day, I had to file an injury report and everything. My boss said he was going to put me on light duty, and that I didn’t have to do anything except sweep until my hand healed. I was all for it. Same pay for easy work. For the first week, things were alright. But then it started getting boring. I mean, really boring. The days dragged on, and I wondered why they didn’t just pay me to stay home. So, naturally, I started wandering the job to kill time. Checking out all the hallways, and there were plenty of hallways. Really long and gloomy looking when they were just grey brick all around. Some at the very top didn’t even have temporary lighting, and would have been pitch black if it weren’t for the huge window cutouts on each end letting in sunlight. I stayed away from those hallways. They creeped me out.

One day, I was feeling bored, so I decided to go walking around the fourth floor. Most of the work had been finished, and there weren’t any other trades doing work there at the time, so I had it all to myself. It was around that time I noticed my tinnitus was acting up worse than usual. I figured someone must have had a generator running or something, so I started moving towards the other end of the hallway. About three-quarters of the way, my ears start painfully ringing. I tried sticking my fingers in my ears and humming, which usually does the trick, but the ringing was so intense. I started feeling nauseous, and I fell over on my hands and knees. I was slapping my ears, trying to make the ringing stop. My eyes started watering at one point because I was slapping my head so hard. I got up on my knees, still covering my ears, trying to get to my feet so I could make it to the stairwell, but the ringing was so intense, every move I made sent my head spinning. Moving slow helped, but not much.

As I turned around, I noticed someone standing at the other end of the hallway near one of the window cutouts. The sun behind him was so bright, all I could see was a silhouette. I started yelling “Help! Help!” as loud as I could, but the guy didn’t move. I thought maybe he had ear plugs in and couldn’t hear me, so I started moving towards him, slowly so my head wouldn’t spin. As I got closer, I started noticing things I hadn’t before. First, this guy was huge. Like, impossibly huge. His head was small in proportion to his body and near the top of the window. His shoulders were really wide and high, almost like he was shrugging.

His arms were long, hanging down past his waist, with really long fingers on each hand. I still couldn’t make out any facial features because of the bright sun behind him, but as I started realizing this person wasn’t normal, I slowly backed away. He just stood there, looking right at me.

I was almost to the stairs when this thing slowly cocks its head to the side, like a dog does when it’s confused, and the ringing in my ears just goes crazy. It was extremely painful. At the time, I thought my ears were bleeding. I was pressing my hands into my ears and yelling, but it was so loud, I couldn’t even hear myself yell. I dropped back on my hands and knees and threw up on the floor until I was puking air.

I looked up to see if this thing was coming after me, but I caught a last glimpse of it as it walked into a nearby room. The instant it disappeared around the corner, the ringing in my ears just stopped. Like someone hit the mute button. Needless to say, I ran the fuck out of there and didn’t look back.

I stayed away from the fourth floor for the next couple months. I told a few people what I saw, but they only pretended to be interested. It was about five months after it happened when I decided to go back up there.
I checked every room. If there were any signs of this thing, they were long gone. I went to the window where it was standing and took a measurement. The top of the window was ten foot nine inches.

I still have tinnitus. There have been a few times when I’m laying in bed at night, and the ringing gets painful, and I freak out and check every room in my apartment.

But it never gets as bad as it was that day. I really hope it never does.

Credit: OJ

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Between the Walls

May 23, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I had never been frightened by anything. Sure, I’ve always been fearful of things like terrorism, bankruptcy, drunk drivers… but nothing paranormal. Ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and the like. Not out of any misdirected bravery, but simply because of the fact that I didn’t believe they existed. How can one be afraid of something imaginary? Then I found out how wrong I had been. How very, very wrong.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to set the scene.

My family and I had recently moved to Indianapolis. We left our home of six years in Texas – the home where we had raised our two children – because of a new job opportunity. It was my job that had been the reason for moving from Ohio to Texas in the first place, but after six years we came to the conclusion that were Yankees through and through. We just weren’t suited to live in the desert of southwestern Texas.

Arriving in Indiana, we opted to rent a house temporarily. That would give us the time to complete the sale of our house in Texas and look around for a new home that our family would like – a forever home. My office was located in downtown Indianapolis, and there was a newly gentrified section of the city located within five miles. We found an old house – very old – that the owner had restored with the help of subsidies from the city council. That’s what he told us over the phone, anyway.

The first time that we arrived to meet the owner and look around, we were impressed. We had beat him to the house so my wife and I parked in the long gravel drive and exited our vehicle, our two young children in tow. We walked around the house in awe. It, like the neighboring homes, was practically a mansion. The entire avenue consisted of large, brick homes with slate roofs and scores of chimneys. Lots of limestone lintels and decorative filigrees, even a gargoyle here and there – none on the home we were looking at, unfortunately. As promised, the house was pristine. From the outside.

The landlord’s name was Lenny. He was a pretty cool guy. A bit cynical, but given the people he probably had to deal with on a daily basis, not too bad. He seemed to take to our children pretty well and didn’t mind that we had a large dog. He pointed out some of the outdoor renovations – repointing of the brick, new slate roof, and newly glazed windows. Then we went around back to enter through one of the rear doors.

When he swung open the door, it quickly became obvious that the exterior of the house was not indicative of the interior. Its beauty was indeed only skin deep. A musty odor wafted through the entryway and the interior hall was dimly lit. All of the sheer curtains had been drawn and only slivers of sunlight filtered through, motes of dust floating about. By the end of our tour, we had determined that the house was definitely in need of a lot of work, but it had a certain charm about it.

The rear entry hall was surfaced with a vintage hex pattern porcelain tile which extended into a small – very small – half bath immediately inside the entryway. At six foot four inches, I couldn’t stand fully upright in the washroom. The hallway extended forward toward the front doors, and at some point about halfway the flooring transitioned to hardwood. As the foyer opened up to the full three story height of the house, we noticed a huge stained glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It was impressive.

Just to the left, a small – and when I say small, I mean normal-sized as the rest of the doorways in the house were almost nine feet in height – swinging door led into a tiny kitchen. The kitchen had absolutely no conveniences save for a sink. It was almost a surprise that there was running water. When we pointed out that our refrigerator would obviously not fit, Lenny offered to bring in a smaller one from another of his rentals. The kitchen had three more doors: one leading into a dining room, one leading out into the backyard, and one leading down into the cellar.

The cellar was a sight! The stairwell was steep. Just one flight leading down about twenty feet to the cellar floor. Bare bulbs lit each of the eight rooms it had been divided into. This basement was one of the creepiest places in the house complete with dripping pipes, chains hanging from the block walls for no apparent reason, and a huge gravity furnace in the farthest room from the stairs. It lurked there like a colossal monster with a multitude of steel arms reaching up into the house above. The floor back there was littered with papers and boxes, and the walls were lined with cabinets that we never did dare to open.

Aside from the kitchen and half bath, the first floor of the home contained a dining room and large living area, both separated from the main hall by pairs of huge arched doorways, and both with large limestone hearths set into the far walls. I supposed that the gravity furnace was either a newer addition or that – like most that I have had experience with – did not do an adequate job of heating a large house. The bedrooms occupied the second and third floors. A niche in the wall housed an old-fashioned servant bell system. Bells on springs attached to chains leading to each of the upstairs rooms. Lenny claimed that they still worked, and we were sure that the kids would test them out.

The upstairs bedrooms were unremarkable, save for the supersized doorways and fireplaces in all of them. The two bathrooms on each floor were also tiled in the hex pattern porcelain we had seen in the entryway and had genuine, honest-to-God claw footed bathtubs.

Lenny made sure to point out another unique feature of the house. At the back of each bedroom closet lay a narrow, almost undetectable doorway. He opened one of them to show us a system of slim passages that ran behind the lathe and plaster walls and connected most of the bedrooms to each other. Why were they there? Probably for no other reason than one would expect to find something like them in a house like that.

So, as I mentioned earlier, the house was perfectly creepy in every way.

“We’ll take it!”

I figured that if I would ever experience anything spine-chilling or uncanny in any way in my lifetime, it would happen in that house. I wasn’t disappointed.

It was late fall and the apple tree in the back yard had started shedding its fruit. There were half rotting apples all over the lawn, so I was raking them up and scooping them into bags for the trash. I stopped to rest for a moment and my eyes fell to rest on the garage. Like the house, it was brick with a slate roof. It had two large carriage-house type doors. Since the drive was large enough and there was a turnaround at the rear of the house, we generally left our vehicles outside. The only time that we had even been inside the garage was when we had moved in. We had instructed the movers to store some things out there – things that we would not be needing for a while until we found our forever home. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming urge to give the garage a closer inspection.

About forty feet to a side, it – like everything else about the property – was a rather large structure. There were no doors other than the carriage doors, so I eased open one leaf just wide enough to step inside. I felt around and my fingers eventually brushed up against a chain hanging from the ceiling rafters. I yanked and a single bare bulb cast a small pool of light around me. I made my way through the garage pulling more chains and managed to illuminate most of the garage floor. All of our belongings – garden tools, lawnmower, my large shop tools, and boxes of things that we hadn’t planned to use for a while – lay against a wall along one edge of the floor. The only other thing in the garage was a four foot high pile of slate shingles in a back corner. I walked over and took one of the tiles in my hands. Heavy. The garage roof alone probably held tons of weight. I couldn’t imagine roofing the entire house in slate.

I heard a ticking, scratching sound from overhead. The ceiling of the garage was mostly open, with bare rafters through which you could see the underside of the roof sheathing. About one quarter of the rafters had been covered over with wooden planks forming a sort of floor. Probably for extra storage space. I imagined that a house and garage as old as this had been must have mice, at the very least. From the intensity of the sound, though, I could tell that it was something much bigger than a mouse – even bigger than a rat. I groaned at the prospect of having to evict a raccoon or some larger animal from the attic. I considered leaving it alone. We were just temporary visitors anyway. It was probably a more permanent resident than us. My conscience ruled against that thought. With two children who were bound to end up playing out in the garage someday, I couldn’t chance them encountering a wild, possibly rabid, animal.

I peered up into the darkness, allowing my eyes to adjust, looking for some sign of movement. There! I saw it. Quick. Fleeting. It startled me so that I dropped the slate tile I had been holding and it shattered at my feet. I had only caught a short glimpse in my peripheral vision, but it didn’t look like any animal I had ever seen before. An icy chill ran down my spine but I chalked it up to the darkness, an unfamiliar place, and a general feeling of anxiety. We had recently completed our move and moving had always stressed me out. I used a shovel to scoop up the tile shards and took them around the back of the garage, throwing them into a pile of stones and bricks that a previous tenant had heaped back there. Then I went back into the garage, turned out the lights, and closed up the door.

Later that evening, after dinner, after the kids were asleep, my wife and I sat in the living room huddled close to a fire that I had built in the hearth. We had learned that the old house got extremely cold at night, despite running the furnace at full-tilt.

“Hey, Hun. I think we might have an animal problem out in the garage.”

My wife looked up in surprise. “Rats?”

“No, no. Probably a raccoon or something. I really only got a glimpse of it, but it seemed pretty big.”

“What are we going to do? The boys… What if it’s rabid?” She looked alarmed.

“I’ll call an exterminator tomorrow. I’m not going to mess with it. Who knows what might be out there? I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

My wife smiled, and I felt more at ease. I had decided to put the problem in someone else’s capable hands. Whatever it was out there, it would soon be gone. We began to talk about how relieved we were that the move was over. The conversation turned to our next step – finding a forever home – and then led to talk of making the creepy house more livable until such time as we could move out. Painting, maybe? Replacing the carpet runner on the staircase, definitely. Just then, one of the bells in the niche jingled.

“Huh?” I got up and walked over to the front hall. The bell jingled again, and I could see that it was the one labeled “Master bedroom.” I yelled up the staircase. “Boys! Get back to bed, and stay out of Mommy and Daddy’s room!” No answer, but the bell was silent. I assumed that they got the message. When we climbed the staircase a half hour later, we looked in and saw that both boys were tucked in and sawing logs. I imagine that they were excited, but I didn’t want them exploring the house until I could check it out thoroughly. If there was a raccoon (or something) in the garage, there just may have been mice, rats, or worse in the house.

I started a fire in the smaller fireplace in the master bedroom, and we fell asleep as it waned. I was in a sort of twilight when I heard the bell jingle again. “What the..?” I crossed our bedroom and tiptoed down the stairs to the second floor. Looking in their rooms, I discovered that both boys were still tucked in. Jingling again. Now I ran down to the first floor hall just in time to see the “Master Bedroom” bell shake again. Bewildered, I headed back upstairs.

“You rang?” I asked my wife as I walked back into our room.

“What?”

“Why did you pull the bell chain? Are you trying to freak me out? Or did you just miss me?”

She looked puzzled. “Um, I didn’t pull the chain.”

I could tell that she was telling the truth. I had gotten good at reading her over the ten years of our marriage. With irritation and perhaps a bit of denial, I resolved that we did, in fact, have a rodent problem in the house. That was the only explanation, right? I pictured a mouse (or worse) scampering across the bell chain as it ran behind the walls through one of the house’s heating ducts or pipe chases. Lenny would certainly be getting an angry call in the morning. We eventually managed to fall asleep, even though we could hear one or another of the bells ring a few more times during the night.

Lenny grumbled a bit about “No damn mice… ” but he did agree to have someone come out and check. He knew a guy. Lenny knew a guy for just about everything: plumbing, yardwork, and now pest control. The exterminator set and baited a cage trap for the raccoon out in the garage. After checking out the basement and closets, he said that although he didn’t find any signs of mice or rats – scat, nests, etc. – he would set some glue traps under our furniture and near the baseboards. He said that they would be safer than snap traps, which we probably didn’t want around the kids. Both my wife and I thought of the suffering that a mouse would endure if it were caught in the glue to eventually starve to death or die of thirst, so we asked for an alternative.

The “terminator,” as my boys called him, agreed to set some bait stations instead. He said that Lenny wouldn’t be happy about the extra cost but I could see that he was pleased to be upping his sale. He said that the bait stations just held poison – out of reach of children and pets – which the pests would eat and then leave. They would bleed out somewhere within a couple of days. He promised that we would never have to see or smell the dead mice (or whatever they were). Still sounded pretty nasty, but at least we could just leave them and forget about it. Out of sight, out of mind.

We gave it about a week or so, but nothing ever showed up in the cage trap outside, and the bells still jingled all night. Sometimes in our room, other times in the boys’, yet other times in the unoccupied rooms. I called the terminator again, and he said that Lenny had instructed him to “Just put out the damn glue traps,” which he did. He also rearmed the trap in the garage with what he called “special bait,” and warned us to stay away from it.

Another few days passed with no changes. I checked hourly at first, then daily, but nothing appeared in the traps. I was determined to get rid of the varmints myself. So I got on the internet and began looking up homemade solutions. I found a really simple one that involved rubber-banding some paper over a five gallon bucket and cutting a cross in the top. I set the bait, a peanut butter and cheese cracker, carefully near the center of the cross and pushed it to the back of our master bedroom closet. The concept was that when the rodent went for the bait, he would fall through the paper and get stuck in the bucket. Sounded slow – catching them one at a time like that – but at least it would be making some progress.

Nothing happened the first night. The bells still jingled. Midway through the following evening though, I was startled awake by the sound of something falling into the bucket. Something big! Oh God, it must have been a rat! I jumped out of bed, still in my boxers and bare feet, and whipped open the closet door.

“Now I’ve got you, you little fu…”

I’ll never forget what I saw. Thinking back, I still get a chill running down my spine. Tiny hands gripped the lip of the bucket and it pulled itself up over the rim. It was not a mouse. It was not a rat. It was not a raccoon. When it had fully extracted itself from the pail, I could see that it stood about a foot high when erect. It was humanoid in form. Humanoid, but definitely not human. Pale skin hanging over a bony frame. Although it was naked, I could see no genetalia to speak of, yet I got the feeling that it was a “he.” Huge eyes that were black through and through – no irises. Its ears and nose were simply holes in its head. It had no hair, and when it turned toward me it flashed a big toothy smile. Crazy – they looked like human teeth, not enlarged canines or front teeth as one would expect a rodent or small animal to have. For some reason that made it seem even more disturbing. It waved the peanut butter cracker in one tiny hand and ran off. Ran off into the passageway between the walls, the panel snapping shut after it went through.

In a cold sweat, I ran to the bedroom door and switched on the lights.

“Holy mother of God! Shit! Fuck me!”

My wife sat up, scared by my reaction. If only she had seen it… I immediately ran to the kids’ rooms and switched their lights on. In fact, within the next five minutes the entire house was alight. Except the cellar, though. That place gave me the creeps on a good day.

The four of us had gathered in the living room. Still shirtless and shaking from the cold or the shock, I said, “That’s it. We’re not spending the night in this house. Get dressed. We’ll find a hotel.”

“Nonsense,” said my wife. “We’re not going anywhere. What the hell happened?”

I pulled her aside, out of earshot of the boys, and told her what I had seen. “Come on,” she pleaded, “think about this rationally. Nothing like that exists. It had to be a rat or something. It was dark. You were half asleep. I mean seriously, honey…”

Once again, I wanted it to be true. Even a rat seemed like a better alternative than what I had seen. What I thought I had seen. I calmed down a bit. My wife got the boys back to sleep while a made a cup of tea and settled into one of the tubs for a hot bath. After a bit, I was calmed down enough to go back to bed. As I fell into sleep, a bell jingled.

Every night after got progressively worse. The bells continued ringing throughout the days and night. I kept hearing bumps in the dark. Panels slamming shut. At times, I heard the closet door creak open – the proverbial “monster-in-the-closet.” I could even swear that a few times I saw it watching me from the darkness beyond the cracked door. The final straw was when I awoke one night, roused by a sound near my bed, and came face to face with it as it stared at me over the edge of the mattress. Once again, I jumped out of bed and flipped the lights on.

“That’s it you little bastard!” I couldn’t see it, but I heard it scampering toward the closet. I gave chase and saw it just as it slipped through the panel at the back of the closet and into the hidden passage. Determined to put an end to the insanity, I grabbed a flashlight from my nightstand drawer. By that time, my wife was looking at me as if I was crazy – and I considered that she may have been right. I threw on a T-shirt and ducked through the panel at the back of the closet. It was the first time I had been back in those passages. Maybe, as a younger man, my curiosity would have made me check them out the first day we had moved in; but over time, the thirst for adventures like that had been quenched by a “too-much-effort” attitude.

The passages had hardwood floors, unfinished planks widely set – not carefully like in the livable areas of the house. I saw only the backs of the walls. Lathes with plaster that had oozed between the seams before hardening. To my surprise, there were no cobwebs, as if someone had been using the passageways; but the floor had a layer of dust and little crumbs of plaster coating it. There were footprints in the dust. Not just one set running away. Not even a set coming toward the bedroom and then away. There were hundreds of footprints running this way and that. Either my little friend had buddies or he had been a busy guy.

I was so fascinated that I had about forgotten why I entered the passage when I heard another bump down the hall. My flashlight only cast its beam a short distance, but I shone it ahead and slowly walked down the hall. I had to hunch over at times, as it seemed to have been built for a man smaller than myself. I supposed that people were shorter back when the house had been built. Of course, I don’t imagine that the passages were built for comfort. I could see that they were built out of some necessity. I was a bit surprised to find that a set of narrow stairs led down to the second floor, another down to the first, and another that must have gone all of the way to the cellar.

I was constantly propelled ahead by a series of bumping noises. Whatever he was, he clearly was not afraid of me. The noises weren’t moving away from me very quickly. It was almost as if he were waiting for me to follow. As much as I wanted to avoid the cellar, I was a man on a mission. I plunged ahead until the passage at last came to an end. It wasn’t closed off at the end, but apparently opened into one of the cellar’s rooms. I noticed an iron flap-type door set high into the wall and realized that I must have ended up in one of the coal bins, built before the gravity furnace had been converted to burn heating oil instead of coal. Lenny had assured us that the door had been permanently sealed, but now I doubted it.

A dim light filled the room – moonlight filtering through the smudged and dirty glass of a high set window – but not enough to see by. I spun slowly around, shining my flashlight ahead as I turned. I was surrounded by dozens of the little creatures. They did not appear to be afraid of me, nor did they appear to be aggressive. I felt safe, even somewhat calm. Relieved to know what it was that I had been pursuing for the past weeks. Calm, that is, until one of them – the bold one that had been in my closet, I believe – “spoke.” In a gravelly, high-pitched voice it raised the peanut butter cracker and questioned, “More?”

That was all it took to send me bolting out of the room and up the cellar stairs. I slammed the door shut behind me and threw the bolt. Pouring myself a glass of water from the kitchen tap, I walked to the living room and sat down on the couch. I was breathing heavy, almost hyperventilating. Even though I knew in the back of my mind that nothing had really changed, and they apparently had the run of the house, I calmed down after a while. I never did fall back asleep that night. Not entirely. I must had nodded off occasionally, but I woke every time I heard something stir. After a fitful night, I returned to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee once the dawn sunlight began sifting through the house’s windows.

I called the exterminator at precisely 8:05am. I wanted to be the first to get a hold of him, but I didn’t want to leave a message. I needed to talk to him immediately. I was in luck, and he promised to make our house the first stop of the day. While I waited for him to arrive, I drank some coffee. As the caffeine started to kick in, I began to understand the ridiculousness of what I thought that I had experienced during the night. I convinced myself that I had merely dozed off on the couch and had a horrible dream. Yes, that’s what it had been: a dream. Nevertheless, I would have the exterminator check out the basement, as well as the rest of the traps.

I met him out back as he was getting out of his truck. I tried to speak lightheartedly as I related my nightmare. It all sounded so silly when I told the story out loud. He smiled a little, but didn’t seem as amused as I thought he would be. Perhaps the normally jovial man was having a rough start to the day.

He headed for the garage first. He opened the door just a crack and, turning on his flashlight, poked his head inside. Then he turned back to face me – a serious look on his face.

“You had better wait here. Looks like the little buggers are back.”

“What is it?” I asked with excitement. “Raccoons? Rats? Oh, please tell me it’s not rats.”

“No, not that bad.” He shook his head. “You may want to stock up on peanut butter and cheese crackers, though.”

Credit: Kenneth Kohl

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Roommate Troubles

May 15, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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This actually happened to me a few years back at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

My sophomore year, I roomed with a girl named Kara. She was a jazz vocalist, but her main interest was opera. We had a small room on the sixth floor of a dormitory called Juniper Hall. The walls were thin, and her late night singing and voice practices would keep me up late. After a month or so of lost sleep, I convinced her to move her late night practices to the music studios in the Merriam theater building a block away.

Around eight o’clock one evening, Kara announced that she would be practicing late for an upcoming recital and probably wouldn’t be home until around midnight. Great, I thought, that means I can go to bed early (I was beat… I had a horrible day in acting studio, and was ready to pass out as soon as I had dinner). She said goodnight and left, coffee and sheet music in hand.

I made some grilled cheese and soup, gobbled it down, and immediately began to prepare for bed. By the time I got out of the shower, my eyelids were so heavy I could hardly brush my teeth. I pulled on my PJ’s and crawled into the top bunk of our bunk bed. I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

I should take a second to describe the layout of our apartment. When entering the apartment, the bedroom was through a door immediately to the left. Our bathroom was inside the bedroom, just past the bunk beds (UArts is nice in the sense that you don’t have to share bathrooms).

Anyway, I woke up to the sound of the apartment door closing. I opened my eyes, and groggily checked my phone: midnight on the dot. I rolled back over and closed my eyes. I heard Kara enter the room and stop in front of the bunk bed. Checking to see if I’m actually asleep, I thought. She flopped down on the bed below me, which was strange, as she was a stickler for brushing her teeth and washing up before bed. Then again, exams were just around the corner, and we were all exhausted. The mattress below me creaked, and then was silent. I couldn’t even hear her breathing.

I started to drift off again. I was just on the edge of deep sleep when I was startled awake again by a noise.

A key in the lock. The door opening.

And Kara entering our apartment, humming an opera tune.

The mattress below me creaked.

Credit: Jessi Cosgrove

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