Vantablack

March 5, 2017 at 12:00 AM

I am here to discuss my experiences with a band, known as Vantablack. They are a progressive death metal band, based in my hometown of Battered Grove – a small, but lively, town in New England. The band consists of five members: a drummer, two guitarists, a bassist, and a vocalist. Beyond their roles in the band, I know little about them. They’ve exclusively played shows at my hometown venue since they formed a few months ago – nowhere else, but I’ve never seen them in town before. I still don’t. I don’t even know their names. The band and its members are shrouded in mystery. The only thing I’m certain of is what I’ve witnessed.

Before we get into the details of what I’ve experienced, let’s talk about Battered Grove’s local music scene. The bands here and in the surrounding towns are predominantly metal or, at least, metal in some form. Their genres range from extreme metal, death metal, and black metal to metalcore, deathcore, and even grindcore. If you aren’t familiar with these genres, don’t worry. It’s not important to understand the context of my situation. I’m just trying to paint a clearer picture for those who are familiar.

These bands play at our local venue, Garrett’s Locker. It’s a small, run-down place, but it’s ours. A great place for kids to have fun. I go there every chance I get. Watching bands, in addition to moshing, is a great stress reliever. But it’s more than that. Being at a metal show is a thrilling experience. The environment is positive, the people are friendly (for the most part, occasionally, there’s a moron who likes to crowdkill every chance they get), and the music is phenomenal. It’s a heavenly assault on the ears and an alleviating comfort to the soul. There’s nothing else like it.

In more recent years, financial issues have led the venue owners to allow in touring bands. These bands have a bigger draw than locals, and more people equals more money. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your head above water, especially when it means saving the place, but I miss when the venue was ours and only ours. It was like a secret club, almost, a place for local musicians only. Our escape from the day to day troubles of the world. I mean, it still is all of that, but the touring bands bring fans with them that just don’t give a shit. Scene girls that care more about who’s cuter, rather than the actual quality of the material. I’m not judging. I just miss the old crowd.

One day, I noticed an invite on Facebook to an event page for Garrett’s Locker. It was a show, but not just any show. It was an “ALL LOCAL METALFEST JAMBOREE!!!”, as it said on the page. All locals, huh? I was intrigued. I hadn’t been to a show at Garrett’s with all local bands in years. This was great, I thought. I looked at the lineup to see who was playing. I recognized every band on the bill, save for one. Vantablack. They must have been new, I thought. But new local bands almost always were openers. Vantablack was headlining the event. I found this very odd, but I assumed they paid the promoter for the spot or something. Things like that happened occasionally. Rarely, but they happened. I figured this must have been one of those times.

Fast forward to the day of the show. My friend, Billy, and I showed up early, as we usually did. We always loved to hang out in front of the venue for a while before the show started. It gave us a chance to meet friends and meet some of the bands during load-in. We already knew all of the members in these bands, having seen them play for years. Instead of a meet and greet, it was more like a family reunion. But at every family reunion, there are always new relatives to meet. You know, those cousins you never knew you had? That was Vantablack.

While talking with the lead singer of my favorite local band, a bus pulled up. Thinking it was an actual bus using the parking lot to turn around, everyone got out of the way. Instead of turning around, it parked. That’s when I noticed the lettering on the side of the bus, “VB”. That’s when I knew that it belonged to Vantablack. This was a surprise. No local band, or even touring band, had ever showed up to Garret’s with a bus. It was always either multiple cars, a couple of pick-up trucks, an SUV, or a van. Having an actual tour bus was impressive, especially for a local band. This, coupled with the fact that no one else knew anything about the band either, caused everyone to stare. We were waiting to put a face to the name, so to speak. We were waiting for the big reveal.

With equipment in hand, five cloaked figures came off of the bus in an orderly fashion and walked into Garrett’s. When I say cloaked, I mean cloaked, hood and all. I couldn’t even make out a single face. Strange is an understatement. It was downright bizarre. Billy agreed, having seen nothing like it, and he’s been to more shows than I have. Besides confusing us, Vantablack’s “grand entrance” succeeded in making people interested. It was all anyone could talk about the whole night. The mystery surrounding the band was enough to make everyone insatiably curious. I have to admit; I was looking forward to seeing what they offered.

The night was going well. I met new friends, enjoyed the music of some of my favorite bands, and moshed to my heart’s content. It was shaping up to be one of the best shows I’d ever attended. All of my favorites had taken the stage, and the only thing that would make the night better is if Vantablack lived up to the hype. Having not emptied my bladder all night, however, I took a bathroom break right before their set.

The bathroom for Garrett’s Locker was actually in another building, connected to Garrett’s via a long and narrow hallway. This meant a bit of a walk was needed to get there and back, which was part of the reason I hadn’t gone all night. When I finally arrived at the bathroom, I noticed something weird. Among the many band stickers on the wall by the sink, there was something else. Carved into the wall was the letters “VB”, followed by a strange symbol. I figured that one of Vantablack’s members had put it there. It was kind of fucked up to carve it in the wall, though, and besides, what was the purpose? Carving your band’s initials and symbol into a bathroom wall isn’t exactly the greatest method of promotion. I simply brushed it off and finished my business before returning to the show.

Upon returning, I could hear the music as it filled the room. Vantablack had already begun their set. From the sounds of it, they were good. Not just good, but great, even better when I got a view of the stage. The members were dressed up in dark, brooding get-ups. Some of their clothing included gauntlets, spiked boots, chainmail, and horned helmets. The vocalist was wearing what looked like samurai armor. They all had different styles, but all of their clothing and armor was black. To be honest, they looked like villainous characters right out of an RPG. It was awesome.

This is where things get a little weird. I was so caught up in the music and the band’s appearance that I didn’t notice what was going on in the room. Looking down at the crowd, I realized what everyone was doing. They each had their left arm in the air and were swaying back and forth in unison. It looked as though they were in a trance. I’ve been to a lot of metal shows, so I know how things should operate. Movement from the crowd is always sporadic and unpredictable. This was not the case. Everyone was perfectly synchronized. No moshing or dancing, just swaying together like zombies. And let me tell you; it was fucking creepy.

After noticing the seemingly hypnotized audience, I caught up with Billy to see what was going on. I noticed him standing in the back of the crowd, so I went over to him and asked what he was doing. I received no response. I kept yelling in his ear, but he wouldn’t reply. I eventually became aggravated and shook him. Nothing. No reaction. Just constant swaying. Everyone, swaying. I looked over at the sound guy and the person running the concession stand. They too were moving back and forth, mesmerized by the music. I was baffled.

I watched the rest of Vantablack’s set from the back of the room, not knowing what the hell was going on. Eventually, they played their last song, and just like that, everyone snapped out of it. Looking dazed as ever, they all wandered out of the room and to their cars. Billy was my ride home, so I followed him.

On the drive home, I mentioned to Billy that I tried to get his attention during the show. He acted like he didn’t recall this. But what he remembered was Vantablack. He wouldn’t shut up about how great they were. It’s all he talked about the whole ride home. He even ventured to say they were his favorite band now. That struck me as highly unusual. I’d known Billy for years. I also knew his favorite band. He would never put another band above them, especially after only seeing them play once. I didn’t voice my thoughts to Billy, though. I just wanted to go home and sleep and forget about the whole thing. And I did, until the next morning.

I woke up the next day, sore. My arms and legs were in pain from the night before. Moshing will do that to you. Because of this, I popped a few aspirin before starting my daily routine. Everything was back to normal, until I checked my phone.

I had a few Facebook notifications. Nothing out of the ordinary at first, a like here, a comment there. One notification, though, was an invite from Billy to like the page “Vantablack”. I then remembered the peculiar show they put on and how they hypnotized my friends. I decided to do a little research.

I visited the Facebook page and checked out their music. They had one release, The Nihilist. It was free to download and contained five songs, all of which I recognized from the previous night. One that really stood out to me was “Knowledge of the Damned”. This was the song they were playing when I entered the room. All songs were professionally recorded and sounded as high-quality as any touring band’s music would sound. I was impressed, but that wasn’t what I came to the page for.

I scoured the page for any answers to what happened the night before. I found little. The page had just been created. There were no posts or pictures. Still, they had roughly 200 likes. This was also about the number of people who had attended the show. No new band could gather likes that quickly. It was unheard of. Something still wasn’t adding up.

As I sat there, completely baffled, I noticed Vantablack make their first post. It was for a show the following day. It read “VANTABLACK SECRET SHOW: TRUE FOLLOWERS ONLY”. The title was odd. I clicked on it to find out more. These were the details provided:

Welcome to your new belief-system! This is an opportunity to show Vantablack you are a true follower. Rules are simple. Find a stygian tome. This will be your ticket into the event. It also contains the event’s coordinates. Tome locations are outlined below.

Several locations were listed, including the Grovewood Cemetery, right near my house. I didn’t understand the secrecy or the meaning of the event, but I was compelled to find out more. Something wasn’t right, and I wanted to know exactly what it was. I thought that, perhaps, the secret show would shed light on the situation. As such, I decided to find a “stygian tome”.

I searched for a few hours in the cemetery before finding what I was looking for. Leaning up against one of the gravestones was a small, brown, leather-bound book. I picked it up and inspected it. It lacked any noticeable features, aside from the black silhouette of a ram’s head embossed on the front. Inside, there was a single page with the show’s coordinates, followed by several blank ones. Despite the lack of characteristics, the book was very nice. Vantablack was going all out for this show. It made me want attend the event even more, if only out of pure curiosity.

The next day, I punched the coordinates into a GPS app on my phone. The place was in town, but seemed to be in the middle of the woods. This made me hesitant, but morbid curiosity outweighed my concern. I would have to walk there, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. A hike wouldn’t be the worst thing for me. Giving myself enough time to get there before the event started, I set off into the woods behind my house.

It took nearly two hours to reach the spot. There were no trails, so I fought with branches and briers most of the time. It was hell, but I made it there in time. Upon arriving, I noticed something right off the bat. I saw no instruments or equipment. Kind of hard to play a show without those, right? What I didn’t know, at the time, was there would not be a show, at least not of the musical variety.

The members were standing near a large tree, wearing those cloaks they adorned when first entering Garrett’s. Others were showing up. I watched as they walked over to the members, handed in tomes identical to mine, and then stood in a circular formation. I followed.

The circular formation was purposeful. On the ground in front of us was a large design, spray painted in red on the ground. It was the symbol I had seen carved into the bathroom wall contained in a circle. Before I could contemplate its meaning, I noticed Billy walk up and turn in his tome.

I was about to wave and say hi to Billy, but I quickly discarded the thought and chose not to. He looked different. Different, but familiar. It was the same look he had when swaying during Vantablack’s set. I then looked around and realized that everyone looked like that. They were all in a trance, just like they had been during the show. I was the only one out of place.

In an attempt to follow the pack, I decided to sport a similar expression on my face. I had to blend in with the “true followers”. I couldn’t risk getting kicked out, especially after I’d traveled so far. Shortly after I did this, the vocalist stepped forward and removed his hood. The event was about to begin.

Vantablack’s vocalist spoke with authority and conviction, reciting the following at the start of the event:

“Welcome, believers. We appreciate the journey you’ve made to get here, today. We appreciate the sacrifices you’ve made in your lives: past, present, and future. We are here now to share the burden. We are here today to unite as one people. Are you with me?”

In unison, everyone replied with a loud “YES!” I failed to do so, but was sure no one noticed. For roughly an hour, the vocalist continued to speak and asked for more synchronized responses. I don’t remember much of what he said, as I was more focused on fitting in and fearing what might happen if my true intentions were discovered. I do, however, remember what happened towards the end of the event. It’s difficult not to.

At the end of the vocalist’s long and drawn out sermon, he raised his left hand and shouted “NO ESCAPE, NO JUSTICE!” which I recognized as lyrics from “Knowledge of the Damned”. The group then repeated this back. I did as well, having caught on by this point. After this, one of the other members of the band came over with the skull of a ram and placed it at the center of the symbol. The vocalist stepped forward until he was directly behind the skull. I didn’t know what to expect.

At this point, Vantablack’s vocalist called out names. Full names. How he had that information, I didn’t know, but when he called out a name, that person would step up to the skull and face the vocalist. Billy was the first one called.

Still hypnotized, Billy walked up to the skull and held out his arm. I was confused by this. The vocalist then pulled out a dagger from within his cloak and sliced Billy’s arm, allowing the blood to drip onto the skull. Billy didn’t react. I did instead. I shook in fear. Was my arm going to be cut as well? What if I screamed in agony? What would they do with me if they found out I wasn’t a “believer”? These were the questions that raced through my mind as I watched my friend’s blood paint the skull red.

I watched in horror as names were called, and skin from each person was torn open by the vocalist’s blade. I didn’t understand, nor did I want to. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I thought about making a run for it, but I knew I wouldn’t get far with the plethora of obstacles the forest offered. Plus, I was outnumbered. It would only take one person to catch up with me and drag me back into the ceremony. I decided to stay and play along.

My name was the last to be called. I hesitantly stepped forward and faced the vocalist. He stared at me for an awkward length of time before speaking.

“Are you a true follower?”

“Yes,” I said.

He continued to observe me and then spoke again.

“NO ESCAPE!” he shouted.

“NO JUSTICE!” I retorted, almost instinctively.

The vocalist then sliced my arm open, and my blood dripped onto the skull like the others before me. I felt the color drain from my face, but I didn’t react. The pain was great, but my will to live was greater. The vocalist smiled and allowed me to walk back to the herd. I must have played my part well.

After slicing my arm open, the vocalist concluded the event by thanking everyone for their participation. I began walking home, but started running when I got far enough away from everyone. I was officially spooked. However, I was more ecstatic that I was able to make it through the event. Who knows what might have happened had I cracked under the pressure? After getting home and bandaging my arm, I sat down and took a deep breath, thankful to be alive.

Vantablack has played many shows at Garrett’s Locker since their sadistic ritual in the woods. I haven’t gone to any of them. I wasn’t affected like everyone else was, and I think it’s because of what happens at the beginning of their sets, whether it be a spell, incantation, or ritual. I missed the start of their set that night due to my impromptu bathroom break, and that is most likely what saved me.

Despite not going to their shows, I pay close attention to their Facebook page. After every show, they gain more followers. After each surge of likes, they put on another “secret show”. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared of what’s happening to my friends, and I’m scared of what Vantablack will do next. I thought of calling the cops, but I’m too paranoid. If the members found out that I was trying to put a stop to their antics, I could become a sacrifice in one of their rituals.

I have nightmares about that day in the woods. It plays out like it did in real life, only instead of slicing everyone’s arms, he stabs them in the heart, killing them instantly. I want to run, but cannot move. After watching everyone else die, the vocalist walks over to me. Just as he’s about to deal the final blow, I wake up. Every single night this happens. Why? Why?!

The thing that scares me the most is that I keep finding myself listening to their music. It’s the only thing that seems to comfort me. And when I do, I feel the need to join them. I feel the need to be a part of their nefarious cult, and I don’t know why. I’m at the end of my rope, here, and I can feel myself slipping. Their lyrics keep ringing in my head, and I think they hold true. There is no escape, and there is no justice. I don’t think they can be stopped, and I don’t think I can keep myself from them any longer. I want the nightmares to end. I think it’s time to become a true follower.

Credit: Christopher Maxim

I Received a Mysterious Package in the Mail

January 7, 2017 at 12:00 AM

I’m a bit of a penny-pincher. I try to stick to the bare essentials when grocery shopping and I spend most of my free time earning money in other ways. I sell things, look for odd jobs on craigslist, and take surveys online. It’s more than likely due to these surveys that I even received a mysterious package in the mail. Allow me to explain.

I take countless surveys online that range from questions about my shopping experiences to very intrusive, personal queries. After roughly thirty surveys or so, most sites will send you some money, anywhere from $1 to $5 (I mostly get $2 bills). It’s tedious work, but if you have nothing else to do, why not make some extra cash? And like I said, I’m a penny pincher. It’s not that I’m greedy or anything, I just feel more comfortable knowing that I have a good chunk of money to fall back on in case of an emergency.

Now, because of these surveys, I’ve typed my address into a lot of websites. As such, I receive an overwhelming amount of junk mail. I don’t mind all that much. Between the money from the surveys and never needing firewood in the winter, it’s worth it.

One day, however, I received a package.

The package was wrapped in leather, something I’d never seen come through the mail before. Embossed in the upper left corner was a rather impressive logo. It seemed that the mystery package was from a company called “SynthetiCorp”.

Initially, I thought there was some sort of mix-up at the post office, but my name and address were right there on the package – embossed, just like the logo.

I asked my wife what she thought of it, but she offered no insight. After seeing it, she grew excited and tried pressuring me into opening it. In her defense, the thing did look… important? I guess? Like whatever was inside was at the very least, expensive.

After fending off my curious wife and mulling it over for a few moments, I decided it would be best not to open it just yet. I assumed that this “SynthetiCorp” accessed my home address in the same manner that all of the other junk mail companies did. After all, I did give my address away to various outlets, daily. Perhaps the package was a more elaborate form of the usual scams that made their way into my mailbox. It was more than likely harmless. However, normal junkmail is one thing. Packages are another.

I chose to do a little research before tearing it open.

In googling “SynthetiCorp”, I found that there were multiple agencies using the moniker. None of them seemed like scam-manufacturers, but then again, they never do. I decided to call each of them and ask about the package.

A few phone calls later and I was back at square one. None of the SynthetiCorps I called were the one that sent me the mystery box. One of the guys who answered the phone even seemed angry that I was calling, as if the number should not have been widely available. In any case, I was still dumbfounded by the package. I so badly felt the need to open it, but I wanted to also feel safe doing so. For all I knew, it could have been a bomb. Not likely, but not completely out of the realm of possibility, especially in this day and age.

I spent the next couple of hours on google, looking for the company that sent me this damned thing. I needed anything that would put my mind at ease – just enough to cross that threshold, allowing me to open it and reveal its contents. After scouring thousands of results, I found something.

There was one complaint on one review site for a company called SynthetiCorp. I scrolled down to the comment in question and this is all it said:

“Don’t open it.”

What? Don’t open it? Did they mean the package? I couldn’t wrap my head around what this meant. Aggravated, I threw my keyboard aside and went to bed.

A few days passed. After reading the alleged complaint from the random review site I visited, I was more than a bit hesitant to open the thing up. In fact, I almost put it out with the garbage. Out of sight, out of mind as the old saying goes. The only thing that kept me from doing this was my curiosity. Because of this, I left it in my car.

I tried one more time to forget about it, but this was not a simple task. I kept wondering about what might be waiting for me inside the package – an invitation to a secret society, a priceless oddity passed on from stranger to stranger, or some other type of treasure. I couldn’t help but fantasize about it. I did this so much that opening it became an inevitable conclusion.

Noticing that my car hadn’t exploded yet, and thinking a little more clearly about the situation, I decided that taking a peek inside the package would be a harmless venture. After all, the complaint I’d seen could have been about any one of the dozens of Syntheticorps out there, or, more likely, it was a fake review. Either way, it was nothing more than an eerie coincidence. At least that’s what I told myself in an effort to justify my desires. My curiosity demanded placation.

On the day in question, I arrived home from work and brought the leather-bound box inside. I placed it on the kitchen table and stared at it. I had told my wife about my plans to open it and she demanded that I wait for her to get home before doing so. I told her that I might. Truth be told, I couldn’t. I needed to solve the mystery, if only to satisfy my hunger for answers.

I grabbed the damned thing and attempted to rip it apart. The leather was tightly bound, but with some brute force and a little bit of sweat, I was able to penetrate some of the hide. I fought with it for a few more moments, tearing off pieces at a time. That’s when my wife walked in.

“I knew you wouldn’t wait for me, you impatient bastard.” she exclaimed.

“You know I can’t wait for anything You think you could give me a hand over here?”

She scoffed at me, but rushed over to help, just as curious as I was. It took us nearly a half an hour, but we managed to get most of the leather off. Beneath it was a small, wooden chest. Excited, my wife jumped the gun and attempted to open it. Her actions were futile, as it seemed to be locked.

It looked like we were back at square one, but I noticed something etched into the wood, below a keyhole. It said “House Key”. My wife and I looked at each other in confusion. I thought about it for a moment, and hesitantly reached for my keys. I looked over at my wife and we chuckled, but it quickly turned into a nervous laugh and then silence. I tried the key and to our utter disbelief, the lock popped open. There was only one thing left to do.

I opened the box up and looked inside. My wife and I stared, equally dumbfounded by the reveal. I could neither surmise its meaning, nor did I know what to do next. It was baffling.

Inside the box was a live rabbit. A live, freaking rabbit. Next to the rabbit was a scrap of paper. I picked it up and read it:

-DO NOT READ ALOUD OR YOU WILL SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES-

“You have one minute to act. Go to the kitchen and grab a large knife. Proceed to kill the rabbit or your wife will die. That is a promise. Do not tell her about this note. Burn it after completing the task. The clock is ticking.”

Below the text was a picture of my wife, sleeping in bed. I had never seen that picture before.

Without hesitation, I ran to the kitchen, grabbed the largest knife I could find, and hurried back over to the rabbit. I stabbed it multiple times until I knew it was dead. I expected my wife to scream, but she didn’t. Instead, she asked a question.

“What are you doing?”

I looked over at her, apologetically.

“I can’t tell you. Please, just trust me. We’ll have to bury it in the yard.”

“Bury what in the yard?” she asked, sounding a bit confused.

“The rabbit.” I said.

“What rabbit?” she asked.

“The one right here!” I gestured towards the bloody carcass in the box.

My wife shot me the weirdest look before speaking again.

“Hon… the box is empty.”

I slowly handed my wife the scrap of paper. She looked down at it then back up at me.

“There’s nothing on it. It’s blank. Hon, are you okay?”

All of a sudden I felt dizzy. I looked at the paper in my wife’s hand and it was indeed void of any writing. I then looked over at the box. The rabbit was gone. A knot formed in the pit of my stomach as my legs gave out. Light-headed and confused beyond all measure, my body hit the kitchen floor with a loud thud and I involuntarily shut my eyes. I passed out within an instant.

I awoke in the comfort of my bed, feeling groggy and sore. My wife was sitting beside me with a troubled expression on her face. She was more than likely worried, both for my physical and mental health.

“Oh, thank God! Are you alright?” she asked.

“I’ll be fine. How long was I out?”

“About twenty minutes. I was about to call 911. What the hell happened?” she asked.

I changed the subject from my untimely descent to the box. I asked her if she truly saw nothing, in which she replied, “No, nothing at all.” We discussed it a little further and while she agreed that my house key opening the box was weird, she figured that the package was some sort of misguided prank. She said she’d call the post office for more information.

While conversing about the package, I was able to convince my wife that my strange actions and fall were both due to exhaustion, having over-exerted myself at work. I conveniently left out the details on the note. I didn’t want her thinking I was a lunatic suffering from hallucinations, even if I was. She seemed to buy my story and that was that. Until the following day.

After a much needed good night’s rest, I woke up the next day feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world. I recalled what happened the night previous, but I decided it would be best not to dwell on uncertainties. My best course of action, I thought, would be to forget the whole thing ever happened. I was a sane individual, after all. The events that transpired the night before truly were a product of being over-tired. Yes. That explanation sat well with me.

While driving to work with a newfound sense of well-being, the illusion of sanity I clung to shattered abruptly. I adjusted my mirror at a red light and noticed something lying in my backseat. It was the rabbit, dead as could be, staining my upholstery with its pungent blood. I jumped and looked back at the seat. There was nothing there.

A horn blared from behind me, causing me to jump a second time. The light had turned green and I was holding up traffic. I quickly adjusted myself and drove forward, trying to gather my wits as I did. Unfortunately for me, it wouldn’t be that simple.

I kept looking at my mirror thinking I’d see the rabbit again, but I did not. I managed to calm myself down and convince myself, once again, that I was sane and it was just a trick of the eyes. And the dozens of dead rabbits on the side of the road that I passed on my way to work – that was just a coincidence. Surely, I wasn’t crazy.

I arrived at work a bit frazzled and made my way inside. The place was oddly vacant for a Saturday, but I ignored this and walked over to my office. The lack of life made sense when I opened the door.

“SURPRISE!!!”

All of my co-workers had piled into my office for some sort of celebration. They all wore festive hats and had party horns in hand. Clapping ensued as I entered the room. Before I could ask what it was all for, my boss walked over to me.

“Happy five years with the company! You’ve done great things here and we all wanted you to know how much we appreciate the work you do. Take some time to kick back and relax. You’ve earned it!”

I heard a bottle of champagne pop in the corner of the room. Still on edge from the ride over, I jumped. Everyone laughed. My boss’s laugh was the loudest and most comical which caused everyone else to laugh even harder. That’s when I joined in.

For a few moments, my worries vanished. I forgot all about the stupid package and the weird ride to work. It was nice. But nice things don’t last. Once the laughter stopped, my boss put his hand on my shoulder and spoke again.

“By the way, we got something for you! Hope you like it.”

He walked me over to my desk and everyone stepped away to reveal my gift.

“Well, what do you think?” he asked.

There, lying on my desk, was a dead rabbit.

My boss began cutting into the rabbit with a knife and passing around pieces of its flesh to my co-workers.

“I hope you like chocolate!” he said.

Maybe the thing my boss was cutting into truly was just a cake, but I was still shaken by what I was witnessing.

“Here you go, the best piece!”

My boss handed me the rabbit’s head on a paper plate. That was the last straw.

I dropped the plate, ran out of the building, got into my car, and left. I couldn’t be sure of what was going on, but I knew I couldn’t be at work. As such, I sped home, ignoring all of the rabbit carcasses I passed along the way. I needed to rest off whatever it was that ailed me.

I arrived home and stormed through the front door, startling my wife, who was sitting on the couch reading a book.

“You’re home early. Everything alright?” she asked.

“I’m taking a sick day. I don’t feel so hot.”

I almost made it up the stairs when my wife stopped me.

“Oh, I called the post office. They said that the man who sent you the package will be there to meet you at 2:00pm.”

“What? Who sent it?” I asked.

“They didn’t say. That was all they told me.”

That was bizarre. I didn’t even know the post office had the power to arrange such a meeting. Something wasn’t adding up, but then again, it made about as much sense as anything else that had happened. I decided it would be best to meet this mystery person. Maybe then I would have some answers.

I slept for a few hours and woke up to a bunch of missed calls from work, as well as a text from my boss that said “Sorry. Next time we’ll get vanilla!” I looked at the time – it was 1:35pm. That was my cue to throw on my shoes and head out. I didn’t want to miss my impromptu meeting with who I could only guess would be the CEO of Syntheticorp.

I drove down to the post office and quickly made my way in. There were a bunch of people in there picking up mail and sending out packages, so I couldn’t be sure who it was that I was meeting. Noticing that I looked lost, an older gentleman walked over to me.

“Ahh! There you are!”

The man then snapped his fingers, and as if by magic, everything stopped. What I mean by that is everyone stopped moving and silence filled the room. Everything was frozen, somehow. Baffled, I looked over to the man for answers.

“…what’s… going on here?”

“Well, I was hoping we could find that out, together.”

I had no idea what the man was talking about, so I remained silent like the rest of the room.

“Oh, where are my manners? Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Doctor Grovewood. But you can call me Doc, if you like.”

“Do you work for Syntheticorp?” I asked. “Yes! As a matter of fact, I do.”

One answer was mine so far, but it wasn’t much. I needed to press him for more information.

“Tell me Doc, what the hell is going on here?”

“I’m sorry to say, there’s no simple answer. I will, however, try my best. I just ask that you keep an open mind and bear with me.”

Doctor Grovewood cleared his throat and then elaborated.

“The life you know and hold dear is nothing but a simulation. None of this is real – not even you, technically speaking. You are a synthetic life form created by Syntheticorp. You are currently in a lab, hooked up to a computer; the one running the simulation. You are being tested for various things – we need to do this on all of our new models before entering the production stage.”

“You mean to tell me-“

“Please, let me finish.”

I bit my tongue so as to hear the rest of his outlandish story.

“When a round of testing is complete, we then proceed to waking you up, so to speak. But therein lies the malfunction. We’ve tried to wake you up several times, but you can’t seem to break free of the delusion that is this life. You become hysterical upon waking and seem to believe that everything here in the simulation is real, and the real world out there is not.”

Though I didn’t believe a word he was saying, I kept listening, if only out of morbid curiosity.

“If you keep waking up like that, it will cause irrevocable damage to your programming. That’s why we sent you the package.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, now a little more invested in the story.

“We introduced the package into the simulation to try and invoke lucidity. You see, this world is not unlike a dream. It’s our hypothesis that if we can convince you you’re dreaming while asleep, so to speak, then we can jolt you awake without causing any further damage. Does that make sense?”

I remained both dubious and silent.

“So we started off with the odd package. Not completely absurd, but still strange. Then, when you opened it, you found something even stranger, and on top of that, you were the only one who could see it. Take a look outside.”

I slowly turned my head and looked out the post office window. To my amazement, there were thousands of dead rabbits piled up in the parking lot. I couldn’t even see my car.

“Do you understand now? We thought that if we introduced enough absurdities into your life, you’d realize that you were in a simulation and snap out of this funk you’re in. They had to send me in because it doesn’t seem to be working. You’re too stubborn, it seems. We need to wake you up now so we can properly tackle this glitch that’s keeping you anchored to this reality.”

I turned back to Doctor Grovewood, astonished by what he was trying to sell me. I was close to buying it, but not quite. It would explain everything that had happened, but I wanted to make sure. Just as I was about to ask more questions, Doctor Grovewood spoke again.

“That’s all, folks!”

“What?” I asked, dumbfounded.

I looked at Doctor Grovewood closely and noticed that he had become frozen, just like everybody else. And that’s when everything started fading. I could feel myself slipping from one world and into the next.

I woke up in the comfort of my bed and noticed Porky Pig on my TV along with some end credits. Given that it was my favorite cartoon growing up, I always put on a Looney Tunes DVD before bed to help me sleep. It worked like a charm.

I got up out of bed, and then something hit me. I started remembering the crazy dream I had. As the details came flooding back, I realized something else.

I grabbed the TV remote and re-started the last episode of Looney Tunes that had played. It was a typical episode where Elmer Fudd was chasing down Bugs Bunny. I smiled. My smile turned into a laugh when everything sunk in.

I thought about the weird package, the rabbit that I killed, and the Doc. Some of the episode must have leaked into my dream. My brain used a few of the details and strung together a crazy narrative to fill in the blanks.

Amazing.

Credit: Christopher Maxim

I Went to Vote Early, but I Stumbled into the Wrong Building

December 9, 2016 at 12:00 AM

So, I voted today. Before I get started, I’d like to point out that I’m not politically savvy or community-oriented. That’s probably how I wound up in this mess. I’ve voted once before, but that was on election day, and I had a friend with me. This time around, I wanted to get it out of the way, but I had never voted early before. I didn’t know how to go about doing it all; so, I decided that a search engine would have to be my guide.

Have you ever tried to search for something on your phone, but accidentally opened Facebook instead? I have a habit of doing that, and this time was no different. I even typed my inquiry into the Facebook search bar before realizing my mistake. I typed in “vote early”. Just as I was about to close the app and open my web browser, I noticed one of the results. It was an event with the title “Battered Grove – VOTE EARLY BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE” – Battered Grove being the town I live in. I could have left it and went about my business, but I was curious.

I clicked on the event only to be greeted with little information. One tidbit that stood out was a disclaimer stating that the event page was for “Clan Members Only”. Other than that, the page had a date, time, and place for voting; November 4th, 8am – 8:45am, 54 Marion Road. Despite the weird disclaimer and small voting window, I assumed the event page was there to inform last minute voters like myself. I knew the fourth was my last chance to vote early in my state and it was the only day I could do so because of work restrictions. I saved the info into my phone and set an early alarm for that day.

Fast forward to the day in question – today. I got up early, went about my morning routine, and headed off. My phone’s GPS informed me the address was only twelve minutes away. Wonderful, but about six minutes in, I realized that it was taking me to Forsaken Falls.

In Battered Grove, there is a large area of abandoned living space that the locals have dubbed Forsaken Falls. It’s not its own town, but everyone treats it like it is. It’s comprised of a bunch of old, decrepit houses too dangerous to live in, but too ancient to tear down. Many years ago, a history buff by the name of Molly Winthrop fought with the town over their historical values. After months of bickering, documentation, and surveying the land, she won. All the buildings in that area were deemed historical monuments and thus could not be demolished.

Everyone knows the story, and usually, people stay away from that part of town. There’s no reason to go out there unless you want to see a bunch of eyesores taking up space in an otherwise beautiful town. So why, then, was early voting taking place there?

I brushed off the thought and drove out to the address. I found myself at the old town hall. This was probably the only building in Forsaken Falls deserving of the title ‘historical monument’. Still, it was abandoned. I wondered if I was the victim of some sort of prank. My car was the only one there. I was about to drive away when I noticed a small sign on the building, just above the back entrance. In crude red lettering, it said “Voting Downstairs”. Maybe I was in the right place after all.

I looked at my phone and saw it was a little after 8:30am. I quickly rushed into the building to make it in time before the polls closed. More crude signs were inside, leading me down into the town hall’s depths. It was odd, but I didn’t question it; I just wanted to get the voting done.

After rushing down a few flights of stairs, I wound up in what looked like an auditorium. I waltzed in, ready to cast my vote for the presidential election. That’s when I noticed that something wasn’t right.

I will explain the layout of the voting area for those of you who haven’t voted before. The voting area itself is usually roped off with a designated entrance and exit beside each other. To your left, a person at a small podium helps with questions or concerns you might have; it is very helpful for first-time voters. To the right and left of the voting area are two long tables. The one on the left is where the town staff sits and is cut up into precincts. You must go to the person assigned to your precinct, as they have the list of registered voters for that area and will hand you your ballot. The table to the right has sealed envelopes that contain the ballots after voting is complete. The middle-man is straight ahead – the voting booths. The ones I know are small, chest-high tables separated by makeshift drapes – like how patients are separated in hospitals.

Everything was set up as normal, but here’s the weird part. The ‘town staff’ were all wearing red cloaks. And instead of precincts, they were divided by faction. The podium had a strange symbol carved into it, and the ‘drapes’ separating the booths were of a gross, dark red hue. Something was off, but I concluded that I was the dumb one, having never voted early before. So, I decided to go along with it.

I walked past the podium and directly to the cloaked figure assigned to Faction 5, knowing I lived in Precinct 5. Instead of asking for my address or name, the person simply handed me my ballot. I gave them a weird look and took my place at an empty booth. That is when I realized that I was not in the right place.

The ballot was normal, aside from its text. In place of the presidential nominees, there were candidates for “Leader of the Clan”. The only name I remember is Abbadon. There were other positions to vote on, the nominees of which I had not only never heard of, but I could barely pronounce their names. I flipped the ballot over to reveal the questions. This side seemed normal, but instead of ‘Questions’, they were called ‘Queries’.

On a ballot, there are various questions to vote on. If enough people advocate for a specific proposition, your state’s Senate will vote for it. At least, that’s how I’ve come to understand it. On the ballot itself, the Question displays the outline of a proposed policy followed by a summary. The summary will read something like “If you vote YES on Question 3, this will prohibit farmers from using chemical-based pesticides on their crops”. I usually skip to the summary or pass the Questions altogether. These ‘Queries’, however, were impossible to overlook.

I will divulge to you the two Queries that shocked me the most. They weren’t worded exactly like this, but you’ll get the gist of it:

-Query 3-
The proposed law would allow high-ranking clan members to acquire new disciples through the local community via force. Children captured under the grounds of this law will be trained in the ways of the Clan. A potential cure for underpopulated factions.

A YES VOTE would give Clan paladins the right to kidnap civilian children.

A NO VOTE would make no change in current laws pertaining to civilian children.

-Query 4-

The proposed law would allow any Clan member to murder a civilian on sight for crimes against nature. Humanity’s destruction of the earth is deemed reason enough for the ultimate punishment. Humans will bleed for their insolence.

A YES VOTE would give Clan members the right to kill any civilian above the age of 18.

A NO VOTE would make no change in current laws pertaining to civilians.

My heart sunk after reading Query 4. What had I stumbled into?

Realizing rather quickly that I was somewhere I shouldn’t be, I slowly backed away from my ballot and walked away from the voting booths. The cloaked figures watched me. I think that’s when they too realized that I was out-of-place because they moved in my direction. I ran as fast as I could to get up those flights of stairs and out to my car.

Luckily, I made it to my car unscathed, but the cloaked figures weren’t far behind. I looked behind me for a split second and noticed the town hall doors swing open. I panicked and dropped my keys. I heard one of them scream, followed by the unpleasant sound of several people running. I thought I was done for.

I picked up my keys, get into my car, and drive off before they could get to me. I booked it out of Forsaken Falls and back to the comfort of civilization. I was shaken, but I was free.

I called the cops shortly after arriving home and told them everything. They said they would check it out. About an hour later, they called back and said that they found absolutely nothing at the old town hall. No trace of anyone being there in years. The man on the phone even accused me of trying to prank them. I assured him I wasn’t and said that I spoke the truth; he didn’t seem to believe me and hung up.

And that’s it. That’s the extent of what happened to me, today. I would have never expected a twisted cult to put parameters in place for proper voting, much less that I would somehow end up in the middle of it. The thing that gets me is that they’re still out there, doing whatever it is that they do. And if those ‘laws’ of theirs are passed, Battered Grove will be terrorized by them. I only hope that, at the very least, they didn’t get a good look at me. I don’t want to be a victim of Query 4.

Credit: Christopher Maxim

My Wife, The Fox Spirit

November 7, 2016 at 12:00 AM

It had been roughly a year. That’s how much time had passed since Jessica died. She was and still remains the love of my life. I thought that time would heal my wounds, but instead it threw salt into them with each passing moment I was forced to spend without her. I could bear the pain no longer and had to make an abrupt and permanent change. I needed to run far, far away. I needed to run back to where it all began; and so I did.

We met in Assabu, Japan three years beforehand. I remember the day clearly – half due to my broken leg, and half due to meeting Jessica. My intention was to climb to the top of Mt. Otobe. Now, I know what you’re thinking – why not Everest? Well, I prefer simpler adventure. That, and my father always spoke highly of this particular mountain, having lived in this area during his youth. He painted quite the picture, one that I longed to be a part of. It could have happened too, had I not slipped at the base of the mountain, effectively breaking my left leg.

Luckily, I had two locals with me at the time. They were there to guide me through the rough terrain. Unfortunately they could not prevent sheer idiocy. One stayed with me while the other went off for help. It would be a few hours before that help would arrive as we weren’t exactly close to civilization.

Eventually, help did arrive, in the form of a beautiful woman. She was slender, her hair was blonde, and she was American, much like myself. She came running to my aid and asked me in perfect English what had happened. I did not speak. It sounds cliche, and perhaps I was in shock from the excruciating pain, but I was captivated by her. Her presence itself was enough to make me forget about my leg and my failed endeavor. Even so, Having been in that amount of pain, lying at the base of the mountain for nearly three hours, I passed out shortly after she asked the question.

I woke up the next day in a hospital bed in Sapporo – a long ways away from Mt. Otobe. My leg felt better and had a rather large cast on it. I looked around the room to get my bearings, and to my surprise, sitting just to my left, was the woman whom had come to rescue me. Had she waited with me the entire time? Why? My inner dialogue was soon cut off by her beautiful voice.

“You’re awake! Marvelous!”

She seemed to be excited upon my awakening. I was excited too, but for different reasons. Her presence was very alleviating.

“Yes… yes… did you wait with me this whole time?”

I was curious to know how long she had been there.

“Guilty as charged. I wanted to make sure you were okay. I’m a bit of a worry-wart.”

“Well, thank you. I’m glad you stayed.”

We ended up talking for hours. We laughed about my untimely decent at the base of the mountain, we talked about our families, our homes, and even our love lives. We talked about everything. As it turns out, she did live in the United States, just one state away from me. She was there working in Assabu to treat the locals that could not venture to nearby hospitals. She actually left medical school to pursue this instead. Her kindness astounded me. There I was trying to conquer a mountain for my own personal benefit while she was there to actually make a difference and help others. I was a fool in her shadow, but she still fell for me, just as I did for her.

Despite her worldly ambitions, we both moved back to America and settled down. Love is the one thing powerful enough to make you forget the important things in life. It can also make you forget the importance of life itself, as well as its fleeting nature. After years of walking to her job at the local hospital, safely, danger finally caught up to her. She was struck by a bus that was speeding down our street. She died on impact.

I told her time and time again that I would buy her a car, but she refused. She enjoyed her strolls through our quaint, but bustling town too much. Walking to work gave her pleasure. This last walk took it all away. Not just from her, but from me. I now hate our home. I hate our town. I also hate public transportation. It was time for a change. I decided just days after her funeral to move to Assabu, Japan where we first met.

The transition was rather easy at first. My mind was focused on the move and I actually felt like I was doing something good; something that was much needed and would benefit my well-being. I was even welcomed with open arms by the locals. Newcomers were a hot commodity around those parts, and a cause for celebration. As such, I was able to meet almost everyone in my small village-like community at once, right at my door-step. It was nice.

Soon after greeting the locals, my joy was replaced with a feeling of dread. I sat in my small cottage, alone, and unwillingly allowed the death of my wife to pierce my very soul. It was almost unbearable, but not unexpected. I knew that I would have to mourn her death sooner or later, and I knew that I should. My first day in my new home was as good a time as any.

The months passed and the seasons changed. My time in Assabu was becoming a relatively easy routine to become accustomed to. Things were a little bit better, but it still wasn’t the same without Jessica. I knew that it never would be. I pressed on, knowing that this was as good as it would probably get for me. On a nightly stroll home from the local pub, however, my thoughts on the matter radically changed.

I followed the glow of the lamp posts as I made my way back home from the bar. I counted each one as I went. It wasn’t an obsessive compulsive condition or anything, it was just something that I started doing that helped me pass the time. It also allowed me to keep track of the distance between the pub and my house. There were exactly thirty-seven lamp posts along the path home, spread roughly twenty feet apart from each other. By the time I reached the eighteenth post, I knew that I would be about halfway home. On the night in question, however, I didn’t even make it that far. I reached the eleventh post and saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Something that I could not comprehend.

There, twenty feet away from me near the twelfth lamp post, was a shadowy figure. It was undoubtedly a woman, but I couldn’t quite make out her features. I stopped walking due to the odd nature of the encounter. Never in the months that I lived in Assabu had I ever seen a single person on my many walks home. Nobody else traversed the roads at night. There was never a single soul out this late other than myself. I was baffled.

While privately contemplating, the woman stepped closer into the light. This is when my jaw dropped. The woman was none other than my wife, Jessica. But how? It was impossible. I watched her casket as it was lowered into the earth. But there she was in all of her former beauty, staring at me from down the path. It was so surreal – I can’t quite explain to you how I felt, but I’m sure if you’ve ever lost a significant other, you might be able to imagine the heavy knot I had in my chest. I didn’t even get a chance to react properly before she spoke.

“Come.”

I didn’t understand what was happening, so naturally I wanted answers.

“Jessica! How is this possible? You aren’t alive. This can’t be real.”

“Come.”

She voiced the same plea, unmoved by my curiosity.

“Come…I need you.”

Again she reached out to me, seemingly in need of my company. I didn’t know what to say or do, so I just stood there in an awestruck and confused manner. While staring at her in utter disbelief, she vanished before my very eyes. What the hell? Was I seeing things? Dumbfounded, and unwilling to walk any further in the direction where she had been, I ran back to the pub. I needed to talk to someone.

Upon arriving at the pub’s entrance, I swiftly stumbled through the doorway in a hurried and fearful fashion. My friends were still there and took notice to my arrival. I sat back down with them and immediately opened up about my wife’s death – something I had never told anyone about. None of them interrupted me while I spoke. I then continued by telling them about what happened during my walk home. I expected at least one of them to crack a joke about how drunk I must have been, but they all remained silent. I too became quiet, waiting for a reaction. They all looked at each other very seriously before offering me some surprising insight.

“It sounds like you ran into a Kitsune.”

A what? I hadn’t a clue as to what they were talking about.

“What is a Kitsune?”

I looked to my bar buddies for answers as they seemed to know a lot more than I did on the subject. I listened intently while they explained. Apparently ‘Kitsune’ is a term found in Japanese folklore. It is used to describe a fox spirit that can shape-shift, fooling its victims into thinking it is human. One of my friends at the bar said that they fed on human blood, much like vampires. Another one of my friends said fox spirits had the ability to bend time and space at will. The bartender chimed in and said that a Kitsune can possess its victims as well as breathe fire, like a dragon. Their opinions were mixed, but they all agreed on one thing – all Kitsune have tails. They cannot hide them, even after shape-shifting. This is how I could identify it, if it ever crossed paths with me again.

I spent a little more time at the pub talking about the Kitsune before taking off. I didn’t exactly know what to believe upon departing. I never gave much credence to the supernatural, but it seemed that it was the only answer. The thing that I saw was either the ghost of my wife, or a fox spirit trying to lure me into a devious trap of some sort. After arriving home from a less eventful walk, I decided to do a little research.

I stayed up all night on my computer in the hopes of solving the mystery. I found that Kitsune often take on the form of a beautiful woman to lure its victims off into the night. This lined up with my encounter. I, however, found nothing about it taking on the form of a deceased loved one. This made me think that it might have been Jessica’s ghost. There was of course a third possibility. Maybe, internally, I was not coping with her death as well as I thought I was. Maybe I was slowly going insane and just seeing what I wanted to see. Something that was not there. I found myself on the fence, unable to lean towards any of the possibilities I’d come up with. No matter which one it might have been, forgetting it ever happened seemed to be in my best interest.

Days, weeks, months, and even years passed since the night I saw Jessica standing in the road. My friends didn’t ask about it again, and I didn’t bother bringing it up in conversation. I wanted to forget, and so I did. I continued to walk the streets at night, but never saw her. Sometimes I would think about what happened, but just as a passing thought – nothing more. Obsessing over it would be easy to do in my grieving condition, so I let my mind stray far away from the subject. I had almost destroyed the memory completely, until one night when it came creeping back up to the surface.

On my way back home from another night out at the pub, I counted the lamp posts, like I always did. After reaching the eleventh one, I saw her again. It was merely a silhouette at first, but I knew it was her. She was standing where she had been when I first saw her, years before. She terrified me just the same. But why? Why wait so long to come back? I was convinced that I was not going crazy at this point. Such a lapse in incidents wasn’t logical. She had to be a ghost or a Kitsune. Before I could think further on the matter, she stepped into the light and spoke.

“Come.”

I stood still and remained silent, feeling safe at a distance.

“I need you. You have to follow me.”

She began moving in my direction. I no longer felt safe. Perhaps it was my overwhelming curiosity, or maybe I was in shock, but I could not move even an inch to help myself. During her elegant stride, she continued to speak.

“Isn’t this what you want? Don’t I make you happy?”

I remained unfazed by her words, but somehow captivated by her beauty.

“We can be together again.”

She took her final step in my direction, landing herself smack-dab in front of me. I could now see every one of her features. She wore the same dress that she was buried in. This sent a chill up my spine. I brushed it off and kept observing. Her face harbored a smile – not an eerie grin of sorts, but a pleasant smile. It was one that I had seen her give many times before. Maybe this was my Jessica.

I looked her up and down multiple times. Everything looked right. The skin, the hair, the birth marks – everything. Even a shape-shifter could not imitate such fine details. She opened her mouth and spoke again.

“Come.”

She turned around and began walking forward. I looked down towards her posterior and noticed something that confirmed my suspicions. There was no tail! If I was not convinced before, I was now. This was my Jessica after all. I couldn’t believe it, but I forced myself to anyway. She was here – or at least her ghost was, and we could finally be together again. I didn’t care where she was bringing me, as long as she would stay. I was delighted to no end.

I followed Jessica in an elated, yet befuddled march. She started walking the way that I would normally go to get home. After a while, though, she took a turn. This eventually lead us to the nearby forest. I had never ventured that far, even when walking off the beaten path. Even so, I did not care. My wife was with me once again and that is all that mattered.

At the edge of the woods, Jessica stopped. While facing the forest, she spoke to me.

“Will you come with me?”

I would follow her to the ends of the earth, so there was no need for such a question to be asked.

“Of course, Jessica. I will follow you anywhere. I love you.”

She stood completely still for a few moments before responding.

“Good. Then we can begin.”

She went to take her first step into the forest when I noticed something pop out of the back of her dress. I didn’t know what it was at first, but as I continued to stare at it, I realized that it was furry. I then realized that it was a tail. A god damned tail. This was not my Jessica. This was a Kitsune. I began backing up away from it, unsure of how to proceed.

“Where are you going? You said you’d come with me. You said you loved me.”

The Kitsune took a step back away from the forest and turned around. I became frightened of her once again. Still, I stood my ground.

“I’m not going anywhere. You are not my wife.”

I was firm in my statement, but I lacked the courage to back it up.

“You will regret this.”

The Kitsune was now aware of the revelation I’d had. I watched in horror as its head morphed from that of my beautiful Jessica, into that of a fox. The transformation was grotesque and extremely unsettling to watch. The end result was a very over-sized fox head on top of what still appeared to be my wife’s body. I knew not how to react.

I probably should have run, but I continued to watch as the malicious spirit attempted to devour me, for lack of a better term. It opened its mouth wider than you could possibly imagine, revealing a plethora of sharp teeth, as well as some protruding, tentacle-like extremities. On top of this, an aura of swirling, black energy now surrounded its body. This is when I felt the suction.

I could feel myself being pulled towards the Kitsune. It started off slow, but quickly became stronger. I attempted at the very least to stay still, but it was no simple task. Everything I could see in my field of vision was being pulled forward. The grass, rocks, and dirt were all being ripped away by this monstrous gust of wind. Some trees even toppled over because of it. It was like a storm, the likes of which I had never seen or felt before. I knew that I would be the next one to be swept away by it, if I didn’t act fast.

I managed to turn myself around and begin fighting back. I fell to the ground and dug my nails into the earth. I crawled against the wind, hoping that I still had a chance to get away. It became increasingly difficult to do this, but somehow I was able to keep going. Eventually, I felt the tension break. It was like coming up to the surface quickly after being underwater. I had made it out of the fox’s grasp. I was free.

I ran and ran, hoping the spirit would not follow. I eventually made it home. I trudged inside, panting, and locked the door behind me. I drew my blinds, locked the windows, and shut myself in my bedroom. I hid there for a few hours before finally falling asleep. I didn’t recall lying down, but I remembered exhaustion beginning to outweigh my fear. Passing out was inevitable.

During my impromptu nap, I dreamt. In my dream, I saw Jessica. We were in Paris, it seemed, as I could see the Eifel tower off in the distance. She had always wanted to go there, but our time together was cut short before we had the chance to. At least in my dreams we could still travel the world.

She looked so happy. I knew it was a dream, but I still felt like she was actually there with me. We walked down the streets of Paris together, holding hands as we went. We exchanged no words. In fact, there was no sound in my dream at all. I noticed the lack of sound, but it in no way took away from the experience. Occasionally Jessica would look over at me with that beautiful smile of hers, happy to have a dream of hers realized. I was happy too. Unfortunately, happiness is a temporary emotion.

As my dream continued, Jessica noticed a vendor cart on the side of the road. It was being run by an older gentleman. He motioned for us to come over. Jessica looked at me in excitement and pulled me towards the cart. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the vendor was selling canaries that were being housed in small cages. I found this to be odd, but it was my dream, so who was I to judge?

Out of nowhere, a fox jumped up onto the cart and knocked over one of the cages. It fell to the ground and became open in the process. The fox then grabbed the canary in its mouth and ran off. Jessica was devastated. The look in her eye when this happened was a mixture of indescribable sadness and shock. Even though it was only a dream, I felt the need to do something.

I ran after the fox as quickly as I could. Somehow it managed to stay ahead of me. I kept running until eventually we reached the base of the Eifel Tower. This is where the fox stopped. Just as it did, my dream became unmuted. I heard all of the sounds of the bustling city at once. As such, I looked around at the world that my mind had created. It was breathtaking.

I turned back to the fox, but it was gone. In its place was Jessica. She stared at me with a very troubled expression. For the first time in my dream, she spoke.

“Save me?”

Immediately after she said this, a bus came from her left and struck her at a very high speed. It was just like her death in real life. I was stunned. Just as a great sense of unease set in, I woke up.

Just barely coming to my senses, I realized that there was a very loud banging noise coming from my bedroom door. It seemed that I was not alone. The thunderous sound continued for a few more seconds before stopping. I heard Jessica’s voice when it did.

“Let me in. We will be happy again.”

With one more loud bang, the door flew open, revealing that fox-headed monstrosity behind it. It charged towards me with alarming speed and grabbed me by the neck. It held me up against the headboard of my bed, and opened its mouth. I could feel it pulling me in again. I could feel its energy. Worst of all, all I could think about was the look in Jessica’s eyes right before the bus hit her. That would probably be my last, fleeting thought before dying.

I awoke in a cold sweat, moments before becoming a goner. I had still been dreaming. Thankful, but still in a mental frenzy, I jumped up and opened my bedroom door. There was nothing behind it. I looked around my room, under my bed, and in my closet. I found nothing. The Kitsune did not follow me home, it seemed. I sighed in relief. The monster was gone, but repercussions of my dream were still affecting me. I fell to my knees in dismay. It might sound a bit weird, but I think I may have fully come to terms with my wife’s death, that night.

And so, here I am, almost a year later. Despite what has happened, I still call my quaint village in Assabu, Japan home. There’s just something about it that makes me stay. It could be because it is where I met my wife, or perhaps it is the overlooking mountain that my dad used to talk about when I was younger. Either way, I won’t be leaving anytime soon. As for the Kitsune, I have not seen it since our last meeting. I haven’t even discussed my experience with my buddies at the pub. I think it is best to simply forget and come to peace with the ordeal. I do, however, wonder if I will see the spirit again on one of my late night strolls. I suppose the only thing I can do is hope that I will not. Who knows – maybe it has already moved on to its next unsuspecting victim.

One thought does cross my mind from time to time. What if the fox spirit was my Jessica all along? What if, upon dying, she somehow became a Kitsune? It sounds absurd, I know, but it’s as good an explanation as any. Maybe I should have followed her into the woods that night. Maybe I could have been happy with her, despite what she had become. Maybe we actually could have been together again, after all of the years that we’d been apart.

Perhaps… perhaps we still can.

Credit: Christopher Maxim

The Monster in the Pantry

May 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM

I have found many times in my life that strange occurrences are a staple in human culture. Ghostly apparitions, UFOs, Bigfoot, and others are all prominent in our lives, one way or another. You may not think of them all that often, but eventually there is a story in the news, or a tidbit of information from a friend or a passerby that makes you recall such oddities. At some point or another, no matter how many times you forget about the subject, you will think of it again. I had forgotten all about the monster living in my mom’s pantry for several years. I had forgotten all about it, that is, until now.

I was only ten years old when I had first been told about the monster. It was a normal evening at my house – my mom and I awaited my father’s arrival and I helped her cook dinner. I look back on these memories fondly as I enjoyed my mother’s company and was delighted whenever my father came home each night. I had a picture-perfect childhood, save one peculiarity. Whatever resided in the pantry would reveal itself, if only audibly, that very night.

I was cutting vegetables up for my mom’s famous beef and barley soup when I heard a scratching at the pantry door. I jumped and nearly cut off one of my fingers in the process. My mom looked over at the pantry and then looked at me with a concerned smile. I looked to her for an answer, seeing as I had no private theories on the matter. We had just come from the pantry and shut the door. There was nothing in there at the time, and nothing could have made its way in after. Rats maybe? No, no. The noise was far too loud to be such a small animal. My thoughts were put to rest when my mom spoke.

“There it goes again, scratching at the pantry door.”

“What is ‘it’, mom?” I asked, still confused.

“I can’t be certain, sweetie, but it’s been here ever since we moved in. Sometimes it scratches at the door, other times it knocks food off of the shelves. Some nights it doesn’t make a sound at all.”

I was bewildered and scared at the same time. My mother noticed this.

“It’s nothing to be scared of, honey.”

“Is it…a monster?” Though my mother’s words were comforting, I could not be certain that they were true.

“No, of course not.”

Just then, the scratching started up again. I jumped for a second time. My mother then walked over to the pantry door. I was scared for her life.

“Here. Look…”

She opened the door as the scratching continued. Just as the door became ajar, the noise ceased.

“See, sweetie. It’s just as scared of you as you are of it. There is nothing to be frightened of.”

No matter what she said, my ten year old heart couldn’t help but race. I was afraid and couldn’t help it. For years, I continued to help my mother cook, but I never once set foot back in that pantry. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was convinced that the thing living in there was a monster. The fear was kept alive by the occasional sounds of whatever was in there. I would try to ignore it, but sometimes I would have to leave the kitchen. Eventually, the noises stopped all together.

It has now been many years since then, and both of my parents have passed away. My mother died of a heart attack and my father died just weeks later of lung cancer (He always did have a bad habit of smoking, even in the house). It was expected, as I had been in and out of hospitals for many months, visiting the two of them. In their wills, I was left the house, as I was their only child.

It took me quite a while to come to terms with their deaths, especially living in the house that we had spent so much time together in. Although difficult, I did eventually accept the situation, and it became a whole lot easier to cope. The house itself no longer reminded me of their deaths, but instead reminded me of little memories here and there that would put a small smile on my face. Sometimes I would walk into the living room and see my dad sitting on his chair, smoking a cigarette, and watching TV. I would sometimes still see my mom cooking in the kitchen and getting ready for dinner. These were the little things that kept me going each day. I actually enjoyed living in that house again…until one day.

I had just gotten home from work when it happened. I sat down on my dad’s chair and flipped on the TV to unwind. A thought then crossed my mind – aside from the tobacco, I had actually become my father. Thinking of that actually made me smile. This is when I heard an all too familiar, scratching noise coming from the pantry door in the kitchen. My smile quickly vanished.

I jumped up and walked out to the kitchen to investigate. The scratching continued and became louder. I looked at the pantry door, hoping an answer would jump out at me, but also hoping that whatever was in there wouldn’t do the same. Of course, neither of these things happened, forcing me to actually open the door. I hesitantly did so as the scratching went on.

Much to my anticipation, the noises ceased and I found nothing behind the door but empty shelves and an old broom. This is exactly what happened when my mom opened the door years ago. She, however, had the shelves fully stocked. I think I subliminally stayed away from the pantry, having been so scared of it as a child. My food remained in the cabinets and fridge, with absolutely nothing in the pantry itself.

I was no longer a frightened child, but the return of the scratching noises was still unsettling, not to mention bothersome. I didn’t hear it for years before this, but now it happened everyday, like clockwork. As soon as I got home from work, there was scratching. Sometimes I would even wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of it. It would not stop until I opened the pantry door. Then of course the noise would cease, and I would find nothing behind the door. This routine continued for almost a year, but one night something changed.

I was lying in bed, trying to sleep when the scratching sound started up once more. I groaned in anger, not wishing to leave the comfort of my bed for anything, much less that damned noise. Because of this, I did not get up right away to open the pantry door. I just laid there, as tired as ever. After a few minutes, something odd happened. The sound of scratching had stopped. Now don’t get me wrong, this was great. I didn’t want to leave my bed anyhow, but the noise had never done this before. I was curious as to why.

I got up out of bed and ventured down to the kitchen, on the hunt for answers. What I saw alarmed me. The pantry door…it was wide open. This could not be, I had shut it earlier that night when I got home from work, the first time I heard the noise that day. I quickly turned the pantry light on to reveal absolutely nothing. For the first time since I was a child, I was frightened of the “monster” living in the pantry. Whatever it actually was, I think it had escaped.

I scoured the house in fear for almost an hour, looking for whatever it was that had gotten loose. I was scared – actually scared. After going through every last room in the house, I took a deep breath and collected my thoughts. What was I doing? This was ridiculous. I was on the hunt for something imaginary. Sure, there was scratching on the door every night, but maybe it was a large rat, or a raccoon. Maybe I actually did leave the door open the last time I heard the noise. Who knows? I managed to calm myself down as I made my way back to the kitchen to close the pantry door. That’s when I noticed something that I had not seen previously. There were deep scratch marks on the inside of the door. Those were never there before. Even as a child my mom had checked for any markings in the wood and there were none. What was happening here?

I backed up into the living room in awe, keeping my eyes on the pantry door and its mysterious scratch marks. I rubbed my eyes a few times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. I even pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Surely enough, it was all too real and I had no explanation for it. After a few more seconds of private confusion, I watched as a figure ran into the pantry at high speed and the door shut behind it. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t make out what the figure was, but I ran over to the pantry and opened the door to find out.

With my heart racing, I opened the door and turned the light on. Once again, I found nothing. I quickly shut off the light, shut the door, and piled a bunch of stuff in front of it, including my dad’s chair. I ran up to my bed, and hid under my covers as if I were a kid again, scared shitless of the monster living in my mom’s pantry. My late night adventure had come to an end.

After the adrenaline and fear tapered off, I was able to get some sleep. I woke up and pretended that nothing had happened the night previous. I just did what I usually did; put my clothes on, brushed my teeth, ate some breakfast, and headed off to work. I tried to keep the pantry and its resident as far from my thoughts as possible.

Throughout the day, I found it hard to focus. I could barely function properly, let alone get any work done. My boss noticed this and asked me if I wanted to leave early and get some rest. I almost shouted the word “no” at him, begging him to let me stay. I wanted to be nowhere near my house. Luckily, he obliged.

Even though I was able to stay at work, I had to clock out eventually. Despite my tiredness, the day went by too quickly, and I found myself home once again. I dreaded it. Even the memories of my parents could not help me now. I wanted nothing to do with this cursed house anymore. Despite my inner outburst, I still opened the front door and walked in.

I was greeted with the sound of scratching, but this time it was louder than it had ever been before. The scratching quickly turned into a thunderous banging at the pantry door. The things I had piled in front of it were actually moving a bit. Whatever it was that was in there really wanted to get out this time.

I was as scared as I had been the night before, but I was also sick of the ordeal. I was being pushed beyond my means and I needed it all to stop. I walked over to the pantry and removed the items I had piled in front of it. The banging continued. I took a moment to mentally prepare myself. After a few seconds, I swung the door open.

There, sitting behind the door, was a dog. It just sat there and looked up at me in confusion. I looked at it in the same manner. How could this be? After giving me a once over, the dog walked over to me and nuzzled up against my leg. Naturally, I reached down and pet it, just like I would a normal dog – but this dog was not normal. After a few minutes of getting to know each other, the dog walked back into the pantry and vanished before my very eyes. It… it was a ghost.

My fear was no longer existent. I would come home to the sound of scratching at the pantry door and I would smile. I now opened the door not to see nothing behind it, but instead to let my new friend out. He would walk around the house and explore like a normal dog, and he would even sit down and watch television with me from time to time. Whenever someone came over, however, he would vanish. He seemed to be the shy type. The house was pretty old and had quite a few owners before my parents, so I assumed this little guy was the ghost of a dog that previously lived here. I guess he just couldn’t let go of the place. Neither could I; especially now.

After a few weeks of playing and bonding with the dog, I realized that I had nothing to call him. I walked over to him and began petting him on the neck. That was his favorite spot. I thought about it for a moment and then came up with the perfect name.

“I will call you… Monster.”

Credit: Christopher Maxim

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