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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Child of God

October 25, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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August 1st marks the tenth anniversary of the day the hunters came, though none of my family celebrates this anniversary. I’m only telling this story because I owe it to those men who saved us that day.

I’ll be honest. It was my fault. It was all my fault.

Ten years ago I was a sadly unpopular, unattractive, loner girl in my high school. I had no friends growing up in rural Montana and no extended family to visit. I was raised by a single mother all of my life and together we both took care of my younger brother, Matthew.

My mother took us to a small Catholic church every Sunday for mass even though I never really believed in any religion. Apparently she baptized me as a Catholic but I don’t consider myself beholden to the church.

So, being a sixteen year old girl with no friends and no boyfriend, I desperately wanted someone to talk to. My mother was always working and my brother was only twelve which made it hard for us to relate to one another. One day on my way home from school, I stopped by the local bookstore and started looking for books about witchcraft. I (stupidly) thought that I could “summon” a ghost or supernatural entity which could eventually become my friend. I imagined befriending a ghost of a girl who died around my age so at least I could have someone who would understand the girl problems I was dealing with then.

I know, when I look back, I was naïve; but I was desperate for a companion and confidant.

I started reading into this pagan belief system called Wicca and though I thought the idea of practicing “white magic” (or what is considered benign magic) was cool, it didn’t offer me any solution to finding a friend. About two weeks after delving into Wicca, I went back to the bookstore to find a book about “black magic” (or what is considered malign magic) because I learned that black magic and necromancy are the schools of sorcery that would help me conjure a spirit.

All the while my mother had no idea, mainly because she was busy, but also because I didn’t tell her so she wouldn’t throw away my books because she was a devout Catholic. Although, when I look back now, I almost wish she found out and stopped me before I went to far.

So there I was, a teenage girl learning about the devil’s arts to raise the ghost of a dead girl in order to have a friend.

I was actually scared at first when learning these rituals and spells. Some seemed so silly that I almost didn’t believe they would work, but other spells had a feeling of absolute seriousness such as the ones involving animal sacrifices and self-mutilation.

I did my best to research before trying anything out because I didn’t want to slit my hands or arms for no reason, but when I found the spell that I was looking for, I was more than horrified.

Before I had to make the sacrifice, I had to pledge my faith to “The Darkness” and had to chant every night for hours on end using pentagram symbols and candles. I lived in a small home but in Montana we had five acres of wooded land behind us, so I would go into the woods at night to do my chanting. It was difficult at first because I was afraid of every sound I heard coming from the shadows, but after a month of performing my minor rituals, I became more in tune with the darkness.

I started to feel more depressed, but comfortable in my depression, and I would constantly think about morbid things. I would draw pentagrams in class when I was supposed to be taking notes and my whole being really changed. People started to notice me at school for the wrong reasons. I didn’t dress like a stereotypical gothic person, but I did wear darker colors and had some kind of malevolent energy always about me. I stopped smiling and laughing and I became more reclusive than I already was. But when I was in the midst of all this, I didn’t really notice.

Eventually it came time for me to summon my spectral friend. I went to the graveyard on a Friday night and had found the headstone of a girl who died when she was seventeen years old. I won’t give her full name out for the sake of respect for the dead, but I knew her as Jezebel.

It was a terribly gruesome rite I had to perform, but by that time, I had undergone such a transformation of character that I didn’t even feel remorse. On Jezebel’s gravesite, I chalked a pentagram, lit my candles, and slit the palms of my hands. Then I took the stray kitten which I found wandering around the outskirts of town (this was common for stray cats and dogs to loiter in the boondocks of my town) and I slit her throat. My blood and the kitten’s blood mingled on the soil of Jezebel’s grave and after reciting certain incantations, her shadowy form rose from the earth.

I was shocked that it worked but even more frightened of her. I expected to see a whitish or bluish spectral image of the girl whose grave I had defiled, but I never saw Jezebel that way. She was always just a black shadow; she had the shape of a teenage girl, she had the voice of one too, but never had a face. It was as if she was a perpetual silhouette which made it slightly difficult to befriend her. She had no eyes that I could look into and see a reflection of my own sorrow, nor did she have hair I could braid or a smile that I could find solace in; she was just pure darkness.

Despite her off-putting essence, she was kind to me. She followed me back home and found peace inside of our one story house. Jezebel liked to stay in my closet and would only come out at night and follow me to the woods to watch me continue performing rituals to confess my ever growing faith in the darkness that had brought her to me.

All was well for a few months until I began to notice her increasing affection toward my younger brother. I told her that Matthew was only twelve years old, but she took a weird liking to him anyway. Eventually she would leave the closet in which she slept only to stare at my brother while he was laying in bed. I asked her to stop, but she wouldn’t. She kept telling me that there was something “special” about his soul that she found so endearing.

Soon enough, Matthew began to hear something follow him around the house during the evening hours and he would complain to my mother who only blamed his young imagination. I can’t remember how many times he told my mother about feeling something following and watching him, but it seemed like far too many times to be ignored.

Despite all this, I stayed quiet, not wanting to reveal my secret involvement with necromancy and Jezebel. I tried to comfort my brother by telling him there was nothing to worry about, but he refused to believe me.

I had another talk with Jezebel about staying away from Matthew, but she didn’t take my words seriously. Instead, she became violent and knocked my nightstand over along with the pictures and glass of water that were on top of it. Now I had started to fear Jezebel, but sadly, it was much too late.

That very night, around three o’clock in the morning, Matthew woke my mother and I up with a hysterical scream. My mother rushed into his room not knowing what to expect, but I stayed in mine, not wanting to see what had happened.

According to my mother, she saw a black shadowy form grasping onto Matthew’s arm as he tried to leave his bed. At that instant, she threw a book from his desk at Jezebel and she relented her hold on my brother. Then I heard Jezebel speaking some strange language (which I later found out was Latin) and when I finally left my room, I saw my mother laying in the fetal position weeping incessantly. I began to cry too from the shock of seeing my mother so defeated. Jezebel left Matthew’s room and began to run to every door in the house; opening and shutting each door six times before moving on to the next one. As she did this, her voice morphed from the teenage girl’s to what can only be described as a voice of a demon. Jezebel kept repeating something in Latin which to this day I do not know what it was (nor do I want to know) and finally I grabbed the keys to the car and dragged my mother and brother outside the house and just started driving no sooner had the last car door closed.

Since I had no friends nor family to retreat to for safety, I just kept driving until my mother regained enough of her composure to instruct me to drive to the church. Once we got to the small church, my mother pounded on the door like she was about to be murdered. Soon enough, Father Preston opened the doors and took us all in.

My mother explained what had happened between sobs and our priest allowed us to stay the night in the church. We all slept on the pews until we had sufficient rest and when we awoke, Father Preston had a talk with all of us.

“I know Mary (my mother’s name), that you believe you saw a demon, but to be sure, we will all go to your home after you’ve had breakfast and I will perform a blessing.”

Father Preston decided to fast since he intended to bless our house, so after my mother, Matthew and I ate food, we drove our separate cars and arrived back home together. My mother was noticeably disturbed and Matthew was unusually cautious, but I was nervous that the priest would find out why Jezebel was there in the first place.

So Father Preston entered first and we all followed, and the house seemed normal then. There was an air of “heaviness” he said, but I didn’t notice it because of how involved I was with the darkness at that point. Nothing was out of order beside the beds not being made since we left them in a disheveled state the night before and Jezebel was no where to be found. I was smart enough to hide my chalk, candles, knife, and book outside in the woods where no one would find the evidence of what I was doing, but even still, Father Preston looked visibly bothered by my bedroom and closet, but he said nothing. He blessed the house in its entirety and gave my mother what would be only a fleeting sense of relief.

After the ceremony was finished, we all talked outside by his car and he told us what he thought.

“I did feel as if there was some being that was lurking around the house, but I couldn’t discern any evil that would mark this entity as being demonic in nature.”

My mother then replied,

“Well, I appreciate everything you’ve done for us Father, I hope we haven’t been too much of a bother on you.”

He then replied once more before he left.

“Nonsense Mary, looking after my children of the church is never a bother to me. Please, don’t be afraid to come to me again if you ever need help.”

Then he left, and my mother and brother did feel slightly relieved after the event. Yet I was still unnerved at the way Jezebel acted the night of the incident. Soon enough evening arrived and when I realized Jezebel wasn’t in my closet, I snuck out my bedroom window and went to my ritual spot in the woods. Sure enough, I found Jezebel and now her voice was again that of a teenage girl’s. She told me how disappointed she was with me and she accused me of being a terrible friend because I didn’t want her around my brother. Needless to say, her words cut me to the core because she was the only friend I had and I had let her down. After an hour of talking and me asking her forgiveness, I finally gave Jezebel permission to be around my brother.

If only I knew what this permission actually meant to her and what it would mean for Matthew, I never would have allowed it. That was the last restful night any of us would have in that house until the hunters came.

The next night, my mother and I again woke to the dreadful screams of my brother, only this time I reacted sooner. I almost wish I hadn’t left my room because I saw something I wish I could forget. Matthew’s body was lifted twelve inches in the air, hovering over his bed and all the while, Jezebel in the deeper demonic voice told my mother and I to leave the room.

“Leave Mary! Leave my room! Marissa gave him to me! She gave him to me!”

After we heard those words, my mother instantly fainted and I could do nothing to help her. I knew I couldn’t help my brother because Jezebel was right, I had given her permission to be around my brother and I could only cry after knowing what I had actually done. The only action I could take was to drive to the church and get Father Preston so he could save us from the horror that was Jezebel.

I drove maniacally fast even though I still only had my learner’s permit at the time and when Father Preston opened the church doors to see me standing there alone, without me having to say a word, he knew something was wrong. He grabbed his Holy Bible, holy water, his crucifix, and a coat and drove us in his car.

It was the most awkward car ride I’ve ever had and probably will ever have. Neither of us spoke the entire seven minute drive and I felt so disgusted with myself because I was bringing our old town priest into a situation that he didn’t know I created.

I have many regrets in regards to this entire experience, but this had to have been the biggest regret. I didn’t tell Father Preston about Jezebel, didn’t tell him how she came to be in our house, nor did I tell him how she had rightful control over my brother. I wish I told him before he learned it all from Jezebel herself.

So we walked into the house and at the end of the hallway we could see my mother’s legs around the corner where she had fainted and we heard the deafening noise of a door constantly opening and slamming. It was dark, but I could plainly see fear in Father Preston’s eyes when he became immersed in the nightmare with us.

Father Preston was a kind, old priest who had lived in our town for two decades and it was clear to see that he had never dealt with any evil of this magnitude before. I struggle to find words that could fitly describe the fear that I felt when I realized that our priest was physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually incapable of defending us against this monster.

After he endured the initial shock of entering the house to the sight and sounds that greeted us, with shaking hands, he opened his Bible and began to recite verses with an equally shaken voice. After only a few minutes of reading select passages from the Bible, Jezebel became irritated and decided to confront us, only this time, we were not facing her shadow.

Matthew was crawling on his hands and feet toward us from the hallway and growling the entire time. As he came nearer, we could see from the scanty light of our nightlight plugged into the wall that his eyes were pitch black and his face was unnaturally contorted in a way that barely resembled my younger brother.

Finally I broke down. I couldn’t hide my secret any longer because of the harm she was causing us. So I fell to my knees and started to cry out to Jezebel, pleading for her to leave us alone.

“Please Jezebel, please don’t hurt us! Please leave us alone! Please don’t hurt my brother!”

Jezebel, now using her girl voice, I assume to mock me, said,

“But Marissa, you gave him to me. Remember Marissa? You gave him to me.”

At such words Father Preston stopped praying and looked down at me. He put his hand over his face as if he was ashamed for what evil I had invoked. With faint words muffled even further by my weeping, I pleaded with our priest,

“Please Father, please help us.”

He found the strength to open the bottle of holy water and he cast the blessed liquid upon my brother while reciting more prayers. His body began to flail about and he growled even more until Jezebel finally had enough. Still in my brother’s body, she left through the back door, but not before opening and shutting it six times before she left. I knew she had fled to the safety of my ritual grounds but I also knew that she was not going to be gone for long. After Jezebel departed for the night, before checking up on my mother, Father Preston knelt to the ground in front of me and roughly grabbed my shoulders. With tears pouring down his face, he shook me with what strength he had left and chastised me saying,

“What have you done girl?! What have you done?!”

I could only reply while looking away from his face,

“I’m sorry Father, I’m sorry.”

Then we attended to my mother and when she conscious again, he drove us back to the church and spoke to us.

“Mary, I am sorry for doubting you, but I am now certain that your home is plagued by a demon. This demon was summoned by your daughter Marissa for reasons only she could tell us.”

He then looked at me demanding a reason for my sacrilegious actions and with my mother looking while now crying, I told them the truth.

“I wanted a friend. I performed a ritual to summon the ghost of a teenage girl so I could finally have someone to talk to.”

I then cast my head down, refusing to look at their harsh disproval and what words I heard next I don’t quite remember. I think I’ve done well enough to forget the chastising words of my mother and our priest. All I remember after that was the conversation about a solution to the problem.

“Mary, I’m terribly sorry, but I am too old and unpracticed in the workings of demons to rid this hell spawn from your home by myself.”

My mother then replied,

“What about the Bishop? Can you call him and ask him to do it for us?”

Then Father Preston continued,

“I could contact the Bishop of our diocese and tell him what has happened, but without more and substantial physical evidence, he would not be able to come out here to deal with this demon. It could be months before the church approves of any considerable action in regards to this problem.”

Now my mother in dire straights, pleaded with our priest and asked,

“Can you please call him anyway? There has to be something he can do. You saw that demon, Father. We can’t go back home, we just can’t.”

Father Preston took a deep sigh and relented saying,

“I will call him.”

We left his office and sat in the pews again for at least half an hour before he called my mother and I back in to tell us what could be done.

“I called the Bishop and I expressed to him the urgency of our matter and the lack of force we have in order to deal with such a malignant entity. What advice I am about to offer you is advice that is not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church in any way. In fact, the Catholic Church does not condone the advice I am about to give you, Mary, but I see no other choice. I am the only Catholic priest in our area of Montana for three hundred miles and even the closest ones to us would still not be able to fight the evil that your daughter has allowed into our world. However, there are two men who can save your family from this demon and after I tell you about them, you have the choice to call upon them or not. But if you do decide to call upon these men, know that I cannot help you any further until this is all over.”

We were taken aback by what we had heard, but finally, my mother agreed to hear of these men who could possibly be our saviors.

“Our Bishop knows of two men, brothers even, who “hunt” demons with motives unclear to everyone who has heard about them. The younger brother is a practitioner of the witchcraft called Wicca which is forbidden and condemned by the church. He has no affiliation with us, but his older brother used to be affiliated with the church. Our Bishop went to seminary with the elder of the brothers whose name no one speaks any longer and whose records no longer exist in the church, but according to our Bishop, this man was different. He isn’t even quite sure how he was accepted into seminary because he was so quiet and indifferent to preaching. Though he did exceedingly well in his studies, he never seemed fit to lead a parish or even assist in one for that matter. He also had no friends the entire time he was in school. People tried to talk to him, tried to befriend him, but he would never allow anyone to get close to him. No one was quite sure what his reason for being in seminary was, but he stayed the course. Only until the last year of seminary did people start talking poorly of him, saying he shouldn’t be there and he couldn’t offer anything to the church, and he was consequently spoken to by the elders. Now, our Bishop didn’t see what had happened, but the rumor was that after so many warnings by the elders of the seminary, this man apparently mutilated himself and possibly tried to commit suicide. Someone found his unconscious body in the men’s restroom and he was carried to the hospital by paramedics. Shortly thereafter, he was expelled from the seminary and excommunicated from the Catholic church because of his reasoning for his behavior. Some also say that he was actually pronounced dead on the school grounds but was later revived without the intervention of any medical equipment or personnel. Though this man no longer has any record or affiliation with the church, our Bishop says that some still call upon him and his brother to hunt demons that they would be unable to exorcise due to the rigorous constraints of our protocol. In all the twenty years I’ve been here working with our Bishop, this is the first I’ve heard of these men. But because they were recommended to me by one who exceeds me in wisdom, I grant you the choice Mary, to call upon these men to hunt this demon, or to wait as long as you can until we gather sufficient evidence for the Catholic church to become heavily involved.”

My mother looked at me and then to Father Preston and said,

“I’m sorry Father, but we are not strong enough to wait. We can’t wait.”

Father Preston then replied,

“I understand Mary, I was witness to the horror that now lives in your home and I am glad you have done this for your family’s sake. Give me some more time to contact our Bishop who will then contact these men for us.”

So we left the priest again but only for ten minutes this time and with a look of uncertain happiness, he told us more when we returned to his office.

“The men are flying out tonight. They are on their way to the airport as we speak, but before I let you two rest, I must tell you more about these men. The younger brother, the witchcraft practitioner, is named Marcus. I am told he is an amiable fellow who knows much about his craft, much more than a man ought to know about sorcery, and his elder brother doesn’t have a name. The Bishop claims that no one speaks his real name any longer, but instead, to those that know about him, he is known only as “Child of God.” Apparently he keeps his faith in our God, but because he is not officially ordained, he cannot be a priest; thus, he uses a title that we all bear since we are all children of God. Not much else is known about these brothers, but the advice I can give is that you leave them to their own devices. Don’t get involved with them and stay out of their way. There is a reason why our Bishop says that they are called upon in times of great trouble and urgency and it is because they can overcome these evil forces. When they arrive, they know better than to step into this church, thus, they will be waiting for you at your house tomorrow morning. Now, get some rest before the night is spent and when our Bishop calls, I will wake you up for they will have arrived.”

After he gave us all the information we needed, we were able again to rest in the safety of our church knowing that we were getting help.

Father Preston woke us up at ten o’clock in the morning and gave my mother a copy of the Holy Bible in case she wouldn’t be able to get to hers at home. He also said prayers for us all and wished us safety in the coming trials.

Finally we left and had breakfast at a local diner. We were the only ones there and neither of us said a word the entire time. After our morning meal, we drove home to find a rental car in our driveway and there waiting for us was a man in a black robe. He was holding a tome of what was presumably spells and over his shoulder he had a satchel full of his materials, ingredients, and trinkets. My mother then asked sheepishly as she had never encountered a real life witch before,

“Are you Marcus?”

He replied without a smile, but with a warm face,

“Yes I am.”

I then asked,

“Where is your brother?”

Marcus gave reply,

“He is praying somewhere. He should be done any moment.”

No sooner had he finished his sentence did we see his brother come from the side of the house. From afar he looked like Marcus as he too was wearing a black robe, but as he drew nearer, I understood why the church doesn’t speak about him. His entire body was covered; he wore a black robe, black gloves, black boots, and a black hood. He carried with him a tome which wasn’t a Holy Bible as well as a walking staff. But the most disturbing part of him was his face, or lack thereof. His head was covered by a hood and his face was covered by what seemed to be an iron mask. It was an expressionless, genderless face mask and over the eyes was wrapped a fresh strip of gauze. I could only assume that he looked somewhat like Marcus if they were indeed brothers related by blood, but the iron mask was so vexing to look at that I could never truly imagine what “Child of God” actually looked like.

We were bothered by his brother, but to be kind, my mother extended her hand to “Child of God” as if to introduce herself, but with that blank, blind face, he stared at her and didn’t say a word. Marcus then asked to go inside in order to prepare and instead of opening the door, my mother gave him the key to the house. We intended to stay outside far out of their way, but Marcus insisted that we be a part of it, or at least be inside the house while they did what is was they were infamous for doing.

As soon as we entered our home, Jezebel began to slam doors and run in front of us through the hallway. Neither Marcus nor “Child of God” were bothered in the slightest by her outrage and their calm demeanors only seemed to frighten my mother more for some reason. To ease her fear, Marcus began to ask my mother questions.

“How did this demon get here and why has it possessed your son?”

My mother reluctantly looked at me and said,

“You explain to them Marissa.”

So I had the attention of both Marcus and his brother and I told them the story of Jezebel and Matthew. As I neared the end of my story, Marcus began flipping through his tome and when he found the page he was seeking, he reached into his satchel and retrieved a vial of powder and a flask of liquid of which I didn’t ask the names or purposes. Then I heard “Child of God” speak for the first time. His voice was soft and barely audible behind his metal mask and even then I couldn’t understand what he had said because he was speaking in Latin. He said something to Marcus and then he retreated in front of the fire place where he opened his book and began to pray.

All the while Marcus and “Child of God” were preparing themselves, Jezebel, began to taunt the brothers using Matthew’s voice, her female voice, and her demonic voice. Neither of them were fazed in any way by the taunts and they kept praying and preparing in silence. Their silence was broken when Marcus finally stood up with some blue powdery mixture in his hands and called to “Child of God”.

“Okay brother, I am ready.”

As he said this, “Child of God” stood up from in front of the fire place with his book and staff in hand and turned in our direction. The gauze wrapped around the eye holes of his mask were spotted red with blood and some began to drip onto the mask itself. At that point, I’m not sure who frightened me more, “Child of God” or Jezebel. But as he stood up, he began speaking to Jezebel in Latin and apparently said things which irked her immensely. They continued conversing with each other in their dead language until the demon finally charged toward the man in front of the fireplace. As she did this, Marcus stood in front and pushed his hands onto Matthew’s chest. A blast of powder filled the air and my brother was laying supine on the ground after having had the wind knocked out of him. Then “Child of God” took a chair and together they sat my brother’s body on it and Marcus then used some kind of white twine to bind his hands around the backrest and his feet around the chair legs. When he was able to breathe again, Matthew started to flail about, trying to break free, but the thin twine seemed to hold him in place as if they were metal handcuffs.

After they had contained Jezebel by chaining my brother to the chair, “Child of God” spoke again to Marcus in his hauntingly soft voice and Marcus translated for us.

“Do you have a garden?”

My mother looked at him curiously and with a feeble voice answered,

“Yes?”

Marcus then looked at me and gave me a command,

“You, girl, take my brother to the garden.”

I was too afraid to ask why, so I looked at “Child of God” staring at me through the bloody gauze and I just started to walk to the garden. He followed close behind me and when we reached the garden outside, he immediately walked to the rose bushes. I stood behind him as he set down his book and staff and I watched him pull out a massive hunting knife. He started to cut some of the stems off the bush and when I saw him destroy my mother’s garden, I called him out.

“Hey, what are you doing?!”

The instant I said that, he turned around and glared at me through the now bloodier gauze tape. He then pointed his finger at the door as if to tell me to go back inside. I was upset that he was killing our rose bushes, but I was too intimidated to argue with him.

A short while later he came back in the house with a tiara made from our best roses. It was actually very beautiful and well put together, it looked like something I would have liked to wear if not for the thorns in the stems. When Marcus saw this floral fillet, he just mysteriously stated his approval,

“Ah, roses. Even better.”

My mother, just as confounded as me, asked why he spent precious time making a crown of roses and Marcus told us why.

“This demon, though strong enough to possess your son, does not exude an aura that defiles all life in this house. Your roses are proof that goodness still exists midst this darkness that now has whelmed your home.”

He then took the crown from “Child of God” and then looked at me and said,

“Because this demon is spiritually linked to you, it is you who will help us destroy this demon. With your blood was this abomination released, and with your blood shall it be soon contained.”

He then quickly grasped my right hand and before I could react, punctured my palm with a thorn from the stem of the tiara. I recoiled in pain and my mother pulled me close to her to protect me from any more harm. Then Marcus took the crown of roses and gently put it on my brother’s head. My mother tried to stop him saying that the rose thorns would cut his skin, but as she said that, I think just to spite her, he jammed the fillet with great force onto Matthew’s head and then caused Jezebel in her girl voice to scream in pain. My mother was too afraid to do anything after this cruel display of disregard for my brother’s life. Then again, “Child of God” spoke to his brother and Marcus translated by asking me,

“Where do you conduct your rituals, girl?”

I said timidly,

“Outside in the woods.”

Marcus continued asking questions.

“Where are your books and tools of this devilish trade?”

So I answered again with my mother looking highly disappointed in me.

“They are all outside.”

Then his said,

“Lead the way.”

As I started to walk outside, Marcus held his brother’s book while “Child of God” dragged the chair Matthew was tied to as everyone started to follow me. All the while, Jezebel was trying to manipulate us by using Matthew’s voice to plea for help, then using her girl voice to shame me, and finally using the demonic voice to frighten us. My mother was nervous but “Child of God” tried to reassure her by saying something in Latin. Needless to say, his soft spoken words didn’t do much to calm my mother. Finally we reached the woods and my ritual site. When my mother saw the chalked pentagram, she nearly swooned and sighed,

“O goodness Marissa, how could you do this?”

I didn’t answer but instead retrieved my treasure chest that had all my candles, my chalk, my knife, and my books in it. Marcus looked inside, moved things around, and then closed the lid. Then he motioned to his brother and “Child of God” lifted Matthew and the chair and placed him in the center of the pentagram. The demon inside of him was furious and again began to flail to no avail. Now standing just on the outside of the circle, “Child of God” had his book again and began to recite prayers in Latin. As he was doing this, Marcus took a large jar of green powder and started to carefully pour it over the chalk pentagram. My mother was startled and quickly asked,

“What are you doing? What is that? It smells like gun powder!”

Marcus, without turning to look at my mother, in an annoyed voice, commanded her,

“Quiet woman!”

As each of these men were preparing for whatever rite they had planned, I noticed the gauze wrap of “Child of God” was soaking wet with blood and it seemed as he prayed longer and longer, more tears of blood dripped onto the mask. Finally Marcus had covered the entire circle and star with a thin layer of green powder and then he set my box of necromancy supplies underneath Matthew’s chair. He then took a lighter out of his satchel and lit the edge of the ring on fire. I don’t really know if that was green colored gun powder, but it smelled and burned like it. At the instant he kindled the flames, my mother tried to rush toward Matthew, but Marcus pushed his hands into her chest and knocked her flat on her back. She was heaving for air as her wind had been knocked out and I stooped beside her holding her in my arms.

Soon enough the entire pentagram shape went ablaze and then the box underneath my brother caught on fire. As this happened, my mother finally fainted from what I assume was pure panic and a lack of oxygen. I tried to turn away but I couldn’t help but look. Now in a frighteningly deep and loud voice, “Child of God” began to chant even more and it seemed like his words were some kind of acid being poured on Jezebel. Now using only her demonic voice, I couldn’t tell what she was saying to him, but it sounded like she was trying to reason with him, almost like someone tries to reason with their murderer before they are slain.

Then I watched as Marcus pulled out a small box from his satchel and walked behind the pentagram, facing his brother on the other side. “Child of God” slowly lifted his hands while still holding his staff and book, and as he did this, the fire rose higher as if he was a puppeteer pulling on the strings of the flames. Then I remember blinking because he shut the book which made a loud thud and then he held his staff over his head while walking through the fire to my brother. As “Child of God” walked toward the center of the circle, Marcus did the same from the other end. He continued to pray a little more until finally he drove the uplift staff straight into Matthew’s chest where his heart would be. Then I saw the shadowy Jezebel leave through my brother’s gaping mouth and as she finally left his body, Marcus held the small box over his face and captured her essence.

He quickly left the circle and wrapped the box in the white twine and he poured a vial of liquid over it once it was tied shut. After he doused the box in the liquid, the fire was extinguished and I saw only a circle and star of ashes where the pentagram was, a pile of ashes underneath Matthew where my box was, and ashes covering his face and head where the rose crown was. All the noise and fervor had ceased and Matthew was fast asleep. My mother was still unconscious as the hunters prepared their belongings and cleaned up the mess. Both Marcus and “Child of God” gave me their books and staff to carry for them while Marcus dragged Matthew in his chair and “Child of God” carried my mother in his arms like a dead body.

When we got back inside the house, “Child of God” laid my mother on her bed while Marcus untied Matthew and laid him on his bed. They then took their books and staff from me and without a word, began to walk outside. I followed them close behind and as I realized they had no intention of saying goodbye, I decided to give a farewell.

“Thank you for saving us.”

Marcus continued walking, just completely ignoring me while his brother, “Child of God” turned around one last time and stared at me. Through the blood stained gauze over his iron mask, I could feel him looking into my soul, and he said to me,

“I pray that I may never see you again.”

That was the first time I heard him speak English and the last. I will always remember those words he said to me because at first it stung, it felt like he hated me, but when I think about it now, when I look at my two year old daughter, I realize the sentiment is mutual. I also pray that my daughter doesn’t make the same mistake I made growing up and I pray that I may never have a reason see those men again.

Credit To – Marissa D.

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The Doll

October 22, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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Three years ago I had been asked by my employer’s to retrieve a particular item but that day I walked away with more than just a mere trinket.

I had been employed for several years at an antique store called “A Moment in Time”, and I liked my work. I got to meet many interesting people and encounter rare items of just as much interest.

Often my elderly employers, a married couple known as the Hudson’s, would send me out to pick up items that had been donated to the store. Sometimes the trip was just a few a blocks away and other times I had to leave the city for the outskirts. In the end my final trip out would take me further than I had ever imagined possible.

The item pick up seemed simple enough: Go to the house, pick up the trunk and bring it back to the shop. But when I finally got the house that day it was anything but simple.

As I drove deeper into the forest and onto the large property the birds stopped singing, the insects stopped buzzing and even the wind seemed to come to a halt. The house had clearly been abandoned and had been so for some time. What was once a gorgeous two-story log cabin on the edge of the lake was now a decaying structure overgrown with wild vines and uncut weeds that blocked out the windows on the first floor. The roof was blackened by a fire and a large gaping hold in the roof that surely allowed the elements to decimate the interior just as severely as the exterior.

Moving through the thick weeds, following what was left of the front walk, I knocked on the door but received no response. I knocked again but there was no denying that no one was in the house. I checked the faded numbers of the house’s address to the information that I had been given, it was the correct house.

As I put my hand on the doorknob it fell from the rotten door and landed on the wooden porch with a loud ‘thud’. The door slowly creaked open on its own. I peeked inside and looked around and saw nothing moving. More vines snaked along the floor like a natural carpet. There was no furniture in the whole house, all that was left was a broken grandfather clock and the long dormant fireplace. I could see that the windows in the distant kitchen area were broken and dirty. There was a single bedroom that was also empty.

Small circles on the dirty floor indicated that furniture had once been in the room but removed, and removed recently it seemed. The adjoining bathroom was a mess, the pipes were no longer dripping as rust encrusted the leaks. The medicine cabinet mirror had been broken. Checking the closets I found nothing but a stray wire coat hanger.

On the wall of the kitchen there was a phone. I picked it up and listened to the receiver but I heard nothing, no dial-tone, no busy signal. Only silence. I hung the phone up.

I called out again but the house remained silent, except for my own footsteps against the warped wooden floorboards. The staircase itself was its own story. The vines engulfed the side of the stairs and wrapped up the banister. Most of the steps were cracked and splintered, other steps were missing entirely. An ominous thought entered my mind; who put the trunk up for donation?

As I ascended the stairs I couldn’t help but feel like someone was watching me. My skin began to crawl with building uneasiness. The second floor was a room all its own, extending the entire width and length of the house itself. The hole in the roof shone a single intense beam of sunlight when the wide tree branches over the house would allow the light’s passage. In the center of this beam of light was a single trunk.

I took a step toward the trunk and heard the rapid steps of a small child running behind me. I froze and looked over my should quickly but saw nothing and all fell silent again. I called out but received no reply.

Wanting to get the trunk and get out of that house as fast as I could, I kneeled down in front of the trunk and checked the lock but it was secured. I wiped the sweat from my face and looked around in a feeble attempt to find some sort of tool to pry open the lock. As my eyes left the trunk the lock began to loudly rattle.

I jumped back and stared at the trunk, my heart pounding hard in my chest. With my shaking hand I tested the lock again and this time it was loose. I removed the lock from the trunk and took a deep breath as I slowly opened the lid.

Inside the trunk I found what looked like scraps of newspaper and a single red velvet bag. I opened the bag and pulled out a porcelain doll. I held it in my hands and studied it, the uneasy feeling returning with a vengeance.

The doll itself seemed so otherworldly. It was a doll of a small girl. She was wearing black and white saddle shoes and white stockings, with a snow white circular brimmed hat on her head. Her dress was snow white as well, reaching down to the dolls knees and half way down her arms. A red sash was tied at the doll’s waist with a red barrette clipped in her hair. Her hair was the deepest black, blacker than charcoal. Her hair reached down to her waist and it had bangs cut just over where her eyes should’ve been. The doll’s face was blank. No eyes, no mouth, no nose. Just a blank canvas that was even whiter than her dress.

I carefully slipped the doll back into the bag and set it on the floor beside me. Slipping my hand back into the trunk I checked it for other items but found only more scrap newspapers, at least I thought they were scrap. I caught a glimpse of a strange picture in the scraps and saw that it was an old article clipped from the newspaper.

The article told of a mysterious fire that happened in the house, how there was no explanation ever given and the case was still be investigated. Another article spoke of mysterious animal deaths on the property. A third clip spoke of a little girl drowning. On and on each article I picked up spoke of one tragedy after another, all happening at the house or its property. The dates stretched back as far as seventy years, and in every photo that accompanied the articles I saw the same name of the person who was reportedly responsible for all the tragedies; ‘Caroline’. As well as the same object: The doll.

I felt a chill go up my spine. I reached for the velvet bag with the doll but my hand only found the floor. I looked down at the bag was gone. A thump from behind caught my attention. I turned around and saw the bag in the middle of the floor. Outlined in the bag was the form of the doll sitting up right.

Now my heart was beating so hard I could hear it in my head. I grabbed the doll, tossed it in the trunk, slammed the lid and dragged the entire thing down the stairs. As I dragged the trunk through the front door the itself somehow slammed shut on its own. It was a struggle to lift the trunk into the back of the truck but I managed to do it thanks to the fear-induced adrenaline.

The drive back to the shop seemed to take even longer than before. All the while I kept looking in the rearview mirror at the trunk in the pickup bed. Whenever I looked away I would hear a bizarre scratching noise, like a tree branch dragging against the roof of a house.

As soon as I pulled into the parking lot of the store I ran in to inform my boss’s of the delivery. Mrs. Hudson could see I was upset, she sat me down and asked me to tell her what happened while Mr. Hudson went to check on the trunk. Before I could even begin my story I heard Mr. Hudson’s weak voice call for help as he hit the gravel of the parking lot. With Mrs. Hudson as my side I knelt down next to him and checked his neck for a pulse, but I couldn’t find one. He was dead. Mrs. Hudson began to panic, so I told her to run back inside and call 911 while I hopelessly attempted CPR.

I looked around trying to figure out what caused Mr. Hudson’s collapse when I noticed that the trunk had been opened. The lid was being held open by the lock that had been bent at an odd angle. On the inside of the lid of the trunk were tiny scratches, almost like claw marks as if something or someone, had been locked inside.

The EMT’s and police arrived at the shop but it was too late, Mr. Hudson had died from an apparent massive heart attack. As the ambulance pulled away with Mr. Hudson’s body and the police took Mrs. Hudson aside for questions, I cautiously approached the opened trunk.

Inside the trunk was the bag with the doll, it was again sitting upright. I opened the bag and took out the doll, small abrasions and dirt covered the doll’s small hands and fingers. They matched perfectly with the marks on the lid of the trunk.

The brittle paper that had been clawed began to flake away revealing the ancient wood beneath. Strange markings marred the wood, like a burned engraving. I cleared away the paper and saw a name: ‘Caroline’. I put the doll back in the trunk and tried to slam the lid shut, but it wouldn’t close anymore.

Unable to cope with the loss of her husband Mrs. Hudson closed down the shop. She died of a stroke two weeks later.

As for ‘Caroline’, the name I had given the doll, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I would dream of a faceless girl every night and I would hear tiny foot steps running through my apartment at all hours of the day. Whenever I drove by the closed down antique shop I would see her standing in the window starting out, staring with her blank eyes.

I put her ebay along with the trunk and newspaper articles. As soon as she was purchased my nightmares stopped and my apartment was quiet. But the most disturbing image that ‘Caroline’ left behind was the picture I had taken of her when I put her up for auction. At first the image seemed normal and it remained as such until she had been shipped away. I went to delete the now unnecessary photo from my laptop when I saw in the thumbnail that the doll’s face was different.

Her eyes were black hollows and she had painted ruby red lips that were twisted slightly upward in a sinister grin. I clicked on the thumbnail to enlarge the image but when I did the face returned to its blank expression of nothingness.

I deleted the image from my computer, but I couldn’t get her eyes or her smile out of my mind.

Credit To – Katie Averill

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Who’s That?

October 21, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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My basement has never exactly been a welcoming place. It’s unfurnished; there’s no carpet and the walls consist of boring, exposed bricks. There’s a set of old wooden stairs on one end that creaks whenever anyone uses them. Behind the stairs is a storage area that begins about four or five feet off the ground and goes maybe fifteen feet further back underneath the garage. The place is a dump, as my brother NEVER cleans it, and toys and tools and random things are sprawled out across the entire basement floor—and that’s an accomplishment considering how huge it is. It’s not very wide but from one end to the other it’s at least eighty feet in length, including the storage space. However it is not easy to see from one end to the other since the water heater, furnace, and other appliances sit conveniently at the bottom of the stairs to make it impossible to carry large objects like the Christmas tree up and down stairs.

Anyways, one night we had some friends over. By “we,” I mean me and my parents. They had a little girl with them, maybe four or five years old, and since my brother was elsewhere—as usual—I wound up sort of babysitting this girl while the parents chatted over desserts or something. Since the basement had so many toys, I thought it was a good idea to take her downstairs to play. Upstairs was kind of boring for a kid her age. The first thing she did when she got down there was find a large box. We had just replaced our washing machine, so its ginormous box was just sitting in the middle of the basement floor.

It was as if I had completely vanished as soon as she crawled into the box. She had entered her own little world, playing house or something. I tuned out for a while to check emails on my iPod while she entertained herself. And then she caught my attention:
“Who’s that?” She asked. I blinked.
“Who’s who?” I responded, confused.
“That man over there—the man in black,” she responded, completely straight-faced.
“There’s no one there,” I told her.
“That’s because he went upstairs,” she told me.
At this point I took the girl upstairs and sat with my parents for the rest of the evening, not saying a word about what she said.

Two years later, I had some friends over in mid-February. In Wisconsin, this means that if you were to go outside at night, you would be frozen solid in under ten minutes. So me and my friends were stuck inside and went downstairs to investigate the “haunted basement” I told them about—the above story, in fact. There were five of us, including me and my cousin. I had a tape recorder to collect audio, my cousin had a digital camera, and the others were armed with flashlights—because they wanted to turn off the lights… reluctantly.

So we pulled the strings to turn off the lights and we sat there in the pitch black basement, but only for a few seconds. A halogen light bulb began to flicker above my head almost immediately. I reach up to find that it was halfway plugged in, but still a coincidence. I hadn’t even turned on the recorder yet. So, I unplug the light and turn on my recorder and tell my cousin to do the same to his camera.

It was past eleven o’clock at night, so it was silent. Absolutely silent. Several minutes passed. We even did that thing they do on TV where you just ask questions to whoever or whatever… there wasn’t a single response. So, it turned into a bit of a joke. We started making fun of the situation and felt pretty stupid; we laughed for a while. Finally, my cousin’s camera gives a low battery warning, so we decide to take the last few minutes seriously.

“Okay, I’m going to count down from three and then let’s have it quiet again,” my cousin says, “three… two… one.” A few silent moments passed. My cousin’s camera beeps and shuts off. I turn off my recorder. We go upstairs to listen to the footage, and that was that.

Of course, the footage was rather uneventful. We listened to the entire tape, and for the longest time we heard nothing but the sounds of our own voices. Until the end:

“Okay, I’m going to count down from three and then let’s have it quiet again,” my cousin says, “three… two… one.” A few silent moments passed. My cousin’s camera beeps and shuts off. But then in the half second between the camera turning off and the end of the footage is a whisper:

“Don’t leave.”

We all stared at each other, petrified.

“Who’s that?” one of my friends asked.
“The man in black,” I told him.

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Iquarus

October 19, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I don’t know how to start my story but I guess I’ll begin with the basic information and work my way down.

I used to be a computer junkie, so I tended to spend a lot of time surfing the web… reading blogs, articles… Facebook… the whole nine yards.
But my main focus was gaming. I loved to game. World of War Craft. League of Legends… Diablo III. ESO. I could go on. I’d spend most of my time playing games when I wasn’t at work, which was just contracting work that my dad helped me find to get me out of the house. I always caught myself wondering if I’d ever break out of my borderline lethal addiction to do something with my life that actually mattered to other people, mostly because I just wanted everyone to piss off and mind their own business. My sister would say “I don’t understand how you can spend so much time on something with no actual rewarding outcome besides a couple of measly points and theoretical money.” I didn’t let that bother me though.

It was more than that. I like the graphic satisfaction of being something I’m not. Having ultimate power over actual people who are just disguised as creatures, but who are trying just as hard as I am and not getting anywhere near as close to my greatness. It was real to me. And I loved every minute of it.

I never thought that one day I would throw my computer away. And not just throw it away. Throw it so hard into the dumpster, it shattered, sparked, and caused it to catch fire. Just thinking about it brings me anxiety. I trust right now my once very expensive, custom designed computer is sitting somewhere, destroyed in a landfill collecting trash scum. Good.

A few months back, I upgraded my system. I had just downloaded a new MMORPG game and I had to buy an entirely separate processor because I had modified my game so much (plus I have multiple games on my system). I’ll admit right here and now: I had done some dark things to get my computer to where it was then. Nothing evil or inhumane. Just illegal. Okay?

Normally having several games will slow your game system down dramatically but I wasn’t having that. I had spent all my hard earned money modifying my system so I could continue to rein power over all the n00bs and wanna-bes. I was king. I was to have the best system. Slow wasn’t an option. I named my system “Iquarus” because it was my favorite name. It was an older name, and it was ironic to have a modern system with an old name. It was always in my username too for my games. Granted I almost never got just “Iquarus” for my username so it was usually like “Iquarus32049812” or “IquarusKingOfLands” or something like that.

My best friend Joel and I played together all the time. We were both ranked up pretty high, and were competing for a chance to play for actual money in a tournament. And a lot of money too. So naturally, we spent so much playing that eventually people began to worry about us. We were obsessed. Hooked. The computer was our drug. Thank God we weren’t using anything stronger than coffee.

One day I was in the middle of a battle I had been going at for about an hour and a half. I was doing so well, I almost had it beat, when a black spot appeared on the screen. It was like a giant pixel that decided to block the way of my health and points. At first I assumed it was a little glitch. But it wouldn’t go away. I swore heavily at the spot, ignoring it best I could until eventually I lost the battle because it was in the way of site. I heard Joel swearing too. He was on my team, and we’d just lost an important battle that could place us in the finals. “The fuck happened, dude?” He asked with a pissed off tone.
“God damn glitch. I have to get Iquarus looked at.”

I called Geek Squad and had them take a look at Iquarus. “Well,” the tech said, “your system is overheating. When’s the last time you turned it off?”
I looked away with slight shame. “Well… probably 2 or 3 weeks.”
The guy laughed. “Gotta give her a rest kid. You could ruin this beautiful thing if you don’t turn it off once in a while.” He was right. He said sometimes the screen can get damaged if overheating occurs but it should go away in time.

The next day I turned the computer back on. The spot was still there. I felt myself get angry. That geek better be right…. I thought, I paid him $100 to give her a good look.

But the spot never vanished. It stayed there. In fact, the following day, it seemed to get bigger. Only by a few millimeters, but it was noticeable. Fuck it, I thought, and logged into my game. I wasn’t about to let a little pixel ruin my chances of winning a couple thousand bucks.

When I was on team speak, Joel gave a huge sigh. “Dude… we’re never going to make it into the finals. We might as well give it up.” I was offended by his tone. The only reason we’d lost was because of me and this stupid fucking spot. I wanted to win some money for being the best god damn game king to exist. “No,” I said angrily, “we’re going to win this thing. Come on, man.”
We began battle. We were kicking ass. We almost had the fuckers beat again. Then the spot began to flicker. But not like you’re probably thinking. The best way to describe this flicker is a slow every 3 seconds flicker… then once a second… then once a minute. Then switching between dark red…black…white…then almost like a blinding, glowing red.

I thought I was going to lose my mind. My brain was flooded with hate thoughts towards the computer company. That’s when I heard Joel say “Fucking mother fucking screen is messed up!” I guess Joel was experiencing some screen trouble too.
“Your screen’s got issues too, man?” I asked suddenly, glad I was no longer the reason of failure. “You Failed!” Appeared on the screen and I overheard glass break on Joel’s end. My guess was he’d thrown some kind of cup or bowl in a burst rage. I turned away from the computer and put my hands through my hair. Damn it was greasy. It must have been at least a week since I’d showered.

“Fuck this game, dude. My computer can’t handle the graphics and the pace of the programing is just too much.” He said, sounding like he was moments from going mad. “Let’s try a different game.” I grunted in approval then turned and looked at the screen. I leaned in closer because I wasn’t sure if I was seeing it correctly but sure enough I was. The spot had multiplied. Like chicken pox or poison ivy. It was spreading. I decided to ignore it, hoping it was some temporary glitching. I removed some other software games in hopes this would stop.

For the next few days I switched to another game and played with Joel a few hours a day. But Joel was slowly starting to distance himself from the computer. Since we lived a few towns away from each other, it was our only contact until school started up again. So naturally I was missing his presence in the games we played together. I called him one night after shutting Iquarus off and noticed his voice was dreary.
“I can’t sleep dude…” he said with a troubling tone, “I wanted to win that game. It’s haunting me. I can’t get over it.” I sighed.
“I wish the game wasn’t so lame that it was messing with my computer.” Joel stopped breathing.

“The game messed with Iquarus? Are you sure? Isn’t Iquarus like… top of the line hardware? Even…sort of illegally?” I laughed. “Yeah. But sometimes computers just can’t handle everything no matter how fancy or expensive they are.” Joel laughed. “Okay.”

Joel decided to take a bus over to my place the following weekend. He was obsessed with finding a way to play the game and wanted to figure out why my computer specifically was rejecting it. He couldn’t seem to believe that my computer would reject it.

I was worried about him though. Something wasn’t right with him. He’d claimed to be having dreams about being in the game and killing everyone gruesomely in his path so he could just win. His face was pale. His eyes were dilated. He smelled pretty bad. He wasn’t doing well. I was glad he’d decided to come over so we could spend real time together instead of obsess over this stupid game.

I’d mentioned that I hadn’t turned Iquarus on for a few days. He was thrilled about this. He begged me to turn it on since maybe that would make all the difference and maybe we could even get it up and running again. This made his eyes brighten and his face regain some color. I didn’t want to do this but if it would cheer him up, I was more than happy to give it a whirl.
When Iquarus turned on, though, the both of us had the same blood draining reaction to the computer screen. The spots had multiplied into a bizarre shape. It looked like some sort of evil pagan look a-like symbol. It gave me the chills, because the last time I’d seen it, it was only a few dots. Now it almost entirely covered the bottom half of the screen and was too obscure to shake off as a glitch. “The fuck…” I said trying to click around. When I clicked, the computer made an awful, pitchy noise but also sounded like when something electronic is malfunctioning… low pitched and almost like a whine.

My stomach turned so badly I took my hand off the mouse. The moment that sound started, Joel jumped up and fell backwards over his chair. He began to hyper ventilate and sweat profusely. I looked over at him in shock and stood up as well. “Wow…Joel are you okay?” He shook his head and I could see tears in his eyes. “Not you too… not you too…” he said over and over. I stared blankly at him for a moment and started to reach out for him but he stood up and ran out the door. “Joel wait!” I called after him but he didn’t respond. I scampered over to the window and watched him race off towards the bus stop.

When he stopped to wait for the bus, I saw him talking to himself. Occasionally he slapped his head a few times and shook while looking around suspiciously as if there were people watching him. I don’t know if it was Iquarus that had scared him but something suddenly drove him mad. I stood there for a moment and zoned out from the bizarre nature of what I had just witnessed. I wondered if I should call his dad or if maybe he was just having an episode. It was very bizarre and quite disturbing to witness.

I had begun to forget about Iquarus until she started making that terrible sound again. And it wouldn’t stop. It was continuing without reason. I tried to turn the computer off but it didn’t seem to want to shut up. In fact, trying to turn her off made the sound even worse. I even pulled the plug out but it wouldn’t stop. My dad came into the room and asked me if I was smoking cigarettes in my room again. (I had once made the smoke detector make a similar, less creepy sound by trying to unplug it when I was going through my pack-a-day phase my freshman year of high school).
I showed him the computer and he said the sound would probably die after some time, like the smoke detector. So I threw a blanket over Iquarus, put on some sound blocking head phones and fell asleep. Before falling asleep, I had texted Joel, telling him to call me when he had a chance, and that I hoped he was all right.
I woke early morning to a red glow from Iquarus. At first I thought I was dreaming until the sound was faintly resonating throughout the room. The symbol was slowly pixelating from black to red and it was flashing. It could see the shape perfectly from beneath the blanket. It was beginning to really freak me out. I pulled my blankets over my head and tried to think of something else. But I couldn’t fall asleep. It was terrifying.

Not even an hour later, I received a phone call. It was my dad, who was an EMT for the county.

“Hey sport,” he said, there was a really dim tone in his voice, “did I wake you?”

I got out of bed, shielding my eyes from the red glow, and walked out of the room downstairs to grab some milk from the fridge. “No. No I’m awake. What’s going on dad?”

He sighed heavily and cleared his throat. “I received a call this morning… to 55 Lake Drive…” At first I didn’t recognize the address.
“I didn’t realize where I was headed till I got there. It’s Joel’s house.” My stomach turned a knot. I almost hung up on him because I knew what was coming next. “We think… Joel committed suicide..” I dropped the phone and thought maybe I was going to pass out. I had just seen him. Not 24 hours ago. I heard my dad’s voice shouting so I quickly picked it back up. I’ll admit.. I’m a guy, and I have some pride. But I couldn’t refrain from the tears and shouting. “You’re out of your fucking mind, dad! Joel was a happy kid, he’d never do that! He’d never do that!” saliva and mucus drained from my nose and mouth. “I’m sorry kiddo. He was a good kid.” I hung up the phone and sat at the kitchen table for a long time. Crying. Thinking. Wondering. How could he do that? How could he kill himself? He couldn’t have. Then I wondered how he’d done it. When? He would have told me things. We were close. Best friends since first grade. The fuck Joel?

Dad didn’t come home for a few hours. I was still sitting at the table when he walked through the door. My face was swollen with misery. Joel was my only best friend. I had other friends but none like Joel. He was cool. We had so much in common. Dad sat down at the table and looked at me. “I kow you’re probably taking this harder than ever…but… there’s an investigation going. The sheriff is on his way over to speak with you,” he said sternly. I felt myself make a confused gesture with my eyebrows. “The sheriff? Thought it was a suicide?” I said shakily. “Well… they think there could be some other factors that you personally may know about.” I angrily put my hands in the air. “Like fucking what?!” I shouted, assuming they thought maybe I had something to do with it directly. My dad slammed his hand down on the table.

“You listen to me,” he said, eyes so solidly gazing into mine, it made the hairs on my neck stand up, “You just better calm your ass down. I know this is hard. I know. I saw the poor kid’s dead body, you hear? Now when the police are involved, it don’t matter what they’re trying to get outta you, you tell them everything you know, you understand?” I stared blankly at him and looked away. “Yes, Sir.”

Around 12 the police arrived at my house. The Sheriff made quite the entrance, if you know what I mean. Smacking on a piece of gum, keys jangling with every step his clunky boots made. Mustache right out of a Dirty Harry film. He tilted his sun glasses down and nodded his head towards me. “You must be Damon.” I nervously nodded and put my hands together. “Yes, Sir.” He whipped out a file from seemingly nowhere and sat down across the table from me. He opened the file and removed his glasses.
“You were close to Joel, yes?” He asked. I nodded. “He was my best friend.” He grunted.

“When is the last time you saw him?” I looked right at him and leaned forward. “Yesterday, Sir.” He gave me a questionable look. He was going to try to intimidate me, and it was insulting. I tilted my head to the side. I knew he was going to drag this out and quite frankly, I was in no mood to be fucked around with. “You gunna cut to the chase or we gunna pussy foot around all day?” I said with a cold tone, waiting for the interrogation to begin.

“Damon, you watch your fuckin tone young man-“ Dad began but the Sheriff silenced him with a gesture of his hand.
“It’s alright, Dan, if he wants to be treated like an adult, I’ll respect that.” He said tossing a series of photos onto the table. “Your friend brutally murdered himself in his bedroom at what we believe to be around two in the am.” My heart almost stopped at the sight of the photos. Red. Bloody. Terrible. Horrifying.

The Sheriff stabbed a fat finger onto the one of Joel’s bloody face. “He stabbed himself in the eyes, the ears, and finally, the throat. He bled out within the hour.” He said with a strong southern accent. “We understand he was having some anxiety towards his obsessive computer use. Know anything about that?” I held back my tears as long as my manhood would let me, but it was only so long before the lump in my throat became so painful my voice was unbearable.
“He was upset about not being able to win a tournament. But I didn’t know how obsessed he was. Not to this extent.” My tears couldn’t be held back. I felt them fall and then winced when I realized they had fallen onto one of the photos. I looked down at the photo and felt my face go white when I realized I was staring at the same evil black pattern that my computer had displayed this morning. “You done look like you seen a ghost young man, that photo mean anything to you?” I picked it up and stared at the blood spattered computer. The pattern was the same. Half red. Resembling an evil, demonic spiraled symbol of some kind.
“Was there a sound?” I said staring at the photo. The Sheriff uneasily snagged the photo from me. “What do you know of the sound?” My dad and I stared at each other for a moment then parted gazes. I turned to the Sheriff and tried to make logical sense of this. I lied and told them Joel had mentioned it to me. I told them I was convinced it was some sort of potentially untraceable hacker, and that Joel was just obsessed with his game that perhaps he was slowly developing a mental illness. So when the virus spread into the only thing that was making his life worth living to him, he lost his mind.

I’ll never forget that night Joel came over and saw the same image on my screen. I wanted to mention it but instead, I kept it to myself.
Dad suggested I get rid of Iquarus. So I did. I threw her in the dumpster and watched her catch fire, slowly burning in her evil aura from hell. With a sound so awful you’ll want to go deaf. A sight so horrible you’ll want to go blind. A presence so dark, who knows what you’ll do with yourself.
I couldn’t bring myself to post this online, I’m too afraid I will attract whatever it was again, so I forwarded this to a friend to repost. I will end by saying this: Demon. Hacker. Virus. Whatever it was. It may still be out there. Please be careful. Rest in Peace Joel.
-Damon

Credit To – Damon

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