Stories of the Black Count, Part I: Deathless Days

February 20, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Stories of the Black Count, Part I: Deathless Days

Credit: Michael Vrazitoulis

The Asylum

January 9, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Far beyond the reaches of our Earth, amongst the eternal aether of the cosmos, lasts beings of true power and magnitude who lay beyond the comprehension of our minds. Beings that shape and warp the fabric of space, and distort the reality in which we live. To gaze upon their eyes is to gaze upon the eyes of infinity. To describe their figure is to describe the universe. To witness their power is to witness the power of the cosmos.

I was but only a young man when I was first stricken with the devilish fever that had previously claimed my family. I was to be considered lucky, as the great Plague of Bloodletting did not bring about my end. It was only the insanity and fear of the cosmos that came with it that ailed me, and that insanity ails me to this very day. To my kin, the true fever and pain of the Plague would be their end. My mother was the first to go, she had sliced her wrists in a fit of hysterical madness while my sister and I were away at school. It was my father who found her, falling to her body in a futile struggle that some divine interaction would bring them back together. As it turned out, that divine interaction would simply be the contact of my mother’s tainted blood.

On the night that my father expired, the swelling of blood to his brain caused, what I had first believed to be delusions, visions of great cosmic and aetherial horrors. Fearing their awesome power over the mind of man, he too took to the blade, ending his life face down in a pool of plagued blood. My sister was awoken by his fit of insanity and treaded barefoot into his room, but before the light of her candle could illuminate the void of the room, her feet felt the blood, and she knew.

I was the only one who could care for my sister, as we had no other family. Having turned fourteen the month prior, my sister was a small, frail child who could be frightened merely by the sight of her own shadow. She did not last as long as mother or father, who fought the Plague for nearly a week. My sister hardly last beyond the third day, and a part of me wishes I never witnessed the fourth.

I shall refrain from describing how my sister passed, as the brutality and gore of the event left me in such fragile mind that I was admitted to the Providence Asylum of the Insane. It was here that I first began to experience the true nature of the Universe and its unforgiving forces. As I mentioned, I was stricken with fits of madness and insanity, but not by the Plague. If such were the case, I believe this manuscript would not be here, to unleash the knowledge of horrors that it holds.

It was during the first month of my admittance into the hospital that I met an artist by the name of Joseph B. Wilcox. I never learned the reason that Joseph too was admitted to the hospital, only that he felt the need to be there to protect someone, be it himself or family. He was a tall, skinny fellow, a neatly cut head of brown hair, and a pair of delicate blue eyes. His hands were soft and slender, like that of a woman’s, a clear sign that he prefered the intellectual arts of painting and clay sculpting over the more physical and manual labours of other young men of his age.

We became quick friends, realizing that we were of the more stable bunch within the hospital. Joseph would tell stories of life in the small village outside of Providence, whose name escapes my thought, and would often gift me with small sketches to decorate the drab and numbing room in which I stayed. I would tell stories of working in the family shop behind the counter to help reach the jars of sweets that neither my mother or sister could reach, or of the kind old woman who often came to purchase candles and soaps, and how she would always find my youthful exuberance a charming quality I should not let go of so easily.
Twas the night of March 8th when Joseph entered my room, his footsteps slow and monotonous as he crept to my bedside. I did not hear him enter, I only felt has he laid one of his feminine hands on my arm and shook me. When I awoke to see him standing over me, I shot up, frightened by the scarred and blood stained face that stood before me.
In his madness, Joseph had crafted a shiv from his bed frame and carved queer sigils along his face and arms. His eyes were bloodshot and his mouth curled into a sinister smile. He placed the shiv on my lap and laid his hand on my shoulder, whispering some sort of terrible mantra into my ear. His hand drifted to the shiv and he beckoned me to join him in a Paradise lost a millennium ago. Blood drained from my face and I felt my arms grow cold as I witnessed a wretched abyss manifest beyond him, and what seemed like that which is beyond the normal world.
A rush of hatred and anger overtook me as I plunged the shiv into his gut, the gargled and raspy voice of my once-friend slowly fading as he fell limp on the molded and rotting floor. Fear overtook as I was too terrified to remove my eyes off the body before me. When I finally broke the trance and looked up, the asylum of which I was confined had warped and twisted into a vista of blackened skies and gray earth below me.

Above the vast Purgatory that I stood floated a being that still haunts me in my thoughts and memories of it, and maddens me in my dreams of it. Swirling, churning, gurgling, and writhing like a mass of blackened earth worms in a rotting corpse was the Daemon Sultan, who so repugnantly controlled the Skies and Cosmos as one. I was amongst a land of predators, and I was not worthy enough to even be thought of as prey. I felt as the frail mind of mine shattered, my eyes rotting from the sight of such an eldritch terror that no man would ever know.
The wardens found Joseph’s body and the shiv under my cot, and there was no fighting what was already apparent. The horrors I witnessed remain with me in life, and when my body shall soon convulse in the noose place around my wretched throat by the hangman, so too shall the horrors assault me in death, for Earth is not our home. Our Earth is merely an asylum of the fragile minded who are too weak to gaze upon the awesome terror and power of the Universe.

The Facility

December 15, 2016 at 12:00 AM

It only took her a moment to figure out that this wasn’t where she wanted to be. The paint chipped and wallpaper peeled down as if bowing its head in resignation to the dilapidated state of the facility. She walked gingerly up the hall, dodging the debris that lay scattered across the yellowed laminate floor. An old, rusted wheelchair sat propped against a side door that led to nothing but darkness, as far as she could tell as she passed it. A pair of crutches leaned against the jamb of another door to her right, this one wide open to a room much more visible in the diminishing daylight. She made her way cautiously toward that door, nearly tripping over a loose section of flooring. When she got to the doorway, she peered in and felt her stomach churn with revulsion.

There was a solitary window letting in the sickly, pale yellow sunlight through its dusty pane. The shadows from a tree outside played across the dirty floor and broke up the lazy dance of dust motes in the stale air of the room. Along the far wall was a single, iron bed frame. Long ago, it had been painted a clean, clinical, crisp white; now the bars rusted and chipped, the white long since turned to dusty gray covering the dingy metal. The mattress sitting on it was sagging in the middle, striped and so dirty she couldn’t tell what colors it was originally intended to be. There were rumpled sheets that clearly never fit the thing at all, with a blanket and pillow tossed into the corner of the bed. Under it was the barest shadow of an old suitcase, its leather straps long ago sacrificed to the rot of this humid climate and the neglect of years passed.

In front of the bed, on the floor, was a pair of dusty shoes from a bygone era. They sat cockeyed, as if just slipped off by a young girl or boy whose feet turned inward from some shyness or infirmity. The toes of the shoes nearly touched and the dust made the old leather look soft, between the cracks. She had the impression that if she were to walk over and touch the shoes, they would crumble before her eyes. They certainly added to the smell in the air, of dust and old. She found herself wondering for the first time about the most recent inhabitants of this facility, the rats and spiders and other such creatures. Were they still here? Would they come out to meet her when the light dimmed enough for them to feel safe? She shuddered at the thought.

As if bidden by her thoughts, an emaciated rat scurried across the floor in the room. Where it had come from, she couldn’t say, but it seemed quite familiar with the surroundings as it dodged trash and equipment around the room to reach its destination— a small hole in the corner of the wall nearest her, next to the open closet. She willed herself to not scream, or jump, and watched the rat’s experienced maneuverings with a strange, morbid curiosity. When it dove into its hole, she found herself perversely drawn to crawl over to it and peer in, perhaps to see a family of rats sitting down to supper. She fancied the rat she saw was just going home after a long day at the mill (wherever that equivalent was in this place), and would soon put its feet up on a bit of fluff it had taken months back, ready to relax for the evening.

It was at this point that she realized her mind was going to places she would rather it didn’t, needing to keep her wits about her in this place. They had warned her that it would play tricks on her, that her mind would try to trap her here somehow. She silently cursed her imagination and went back to searching the room with her eyes. She refused to enter that space unless absolutely necessary, and unless what she sought was in the room, she wouldn’t enter it at all. She craned her neck around to see into the dark closet, where the door to the little cubbyhole was blocking the sunlight and turning it into a gaping maw of darkness.

“Damn.” She whispered when she realized she wasn’t going to get a good view unless she entered the room.

Keeping her eyes down and watching the floor for debris, she picked her way across this floor the same way she had in the hall. Something caught her eye for an instant and her toe tapped the corner of a tin can, sending it rattling a few feet away. She held her breath, hoping the noise wasn’t enough to elicit a response from the facility, and waited. 10…20…30. When there was no reaction, she let out her breath and turned her full attention back to the floor between her and the open closet door. She took a step closer, and felt the floor rumble slightly. Her heart fell as she realized the sound had indeed woken it up, deep in the bowels of the building, and it was coming.

The sound was faint at first, like rolling thunder. Except instead of coming from outside the dingy window, it was coming from further inside the building. As it drew near, the sound grew and changed. It sounded like rusty pipes breaking, or children screaming. Then it sounded like the whole place was groaning, straining to contain the thing.

She leapt to the other side of the room, far away from the door, and reached inside her coat for something. She wasn’t worried about making noise anymore; it already knew where she was. She cursed aloud as she fumbled with a trinket that caught the sunlight and gleamed softly for just an instant. She could hear it coming up the hall now, bashing carelessly against the walls as it filled the space.

It reached the doorway to the room she was in and hesitated for only a moment, the last fading sunlight repelling it. As the sun sank, her heart sank with it, knowing her best defense was gone. It turned then, facing her fully, and she almost shrieked in mind-numbing terror.

It was surrounded by a black miasma, like smoke. Its head was impossibly high, easily 8-10 feet, and there was too little of it for what should have been this thing’s head. That’s when it hit her; the face was that of a child. That’s why the head was too small, it was that of a small child atop this monstrosity! There were arms in the miasma that reached out for her, each of them capped by a hand with a face, a face that screamed in horror and pain.

The top head leered at her and the whole thing lunged through the door. In the last possible instant, her hand went up instinctively to ward it off, to protect her face, she had no idea. It just went up, still with the trinket clutched in it. But though the sun had left, the trinket still gleamed and glowed! The creature shrieked and hissed, backing away but filling too much of the door; it was stuck. It crawled backward, up the wall and away from her. She looked in her hand at the trinket, saw the glow, and thrust it out at the creature.

It hissed and spat, its venomous saliva bubbling on the floor before the door. Slowly, it managed to back away out the door, with the paladin following, still holding out the amulet of Amon-Ra to push it back. At the doorway, she stepped in the bubbling venom without a notice, her entire focus on the creature and pushing it back out of the room. The bubbling venom fizzled and was still, crystal clear as water on the floor.

The creature pulled farther back down the hall, through another doorway, and then disappeared. She could hear it moving, feel the floor still shaking with its many handed steps. Eventually they faded to nothing and she breathed a sigh of relief, replacing the amulet in her interior pocket. She had hoped to not have to show her hand so soon, but if that was the guardian here, things might be worse than they had thought at the priory. She would need to consult with the monks back at the monastery before venturing any further in, much as she detested the delay.

She made her way back up the hall to the front doors, pulling the pitted and rusty handle gently to open the large portal. As she gained the dusk outside, she heard a whimpering whine from deep in the facility, and knew that for the moment, the creature would hide and lick its wounds, rather than chase.

Credit: J. Svogar

Unwanted Room

November 22, 2016 at 12:00 AM

I thought it was a great house and at a price we could afford, despite being laid off after ten years of steady employment and a new baby in my wife’s arms. The area was rural, the nearest neighbors not even a sight from our kitchen window, and the previous owner had left a lot of furniture that we didn’t have. From our small one bedroom apartment in the city to this place, it was like finding a piece of Heaven. The real estate agent had been nice as she showed us several different places, all out of our price range. Then suddenly the previous owner had passed and his children didn’t want the property, so it became available. I was eager to get the house. It was modest enough for our growing family, what else could we want?

The agent had what I thought at the time a funny story to tell us. Before she could even tell us the asking price, she said that she was required by law to inform us that a paranormal research team had visited the house under the notion that the place was haunted. She assured us that the investigation happened twenty years ago and there was no evidence of a haunting, just some old family rumors that scared the residents at the time. We all had a laugh at that, especially my wife Molly. We were both skeptics of the paranormal, we didn’t believe in ghosts and vampires any more than we believed the moon landing was real. The agent didn’t have the exact details, but it was a clean house. I put a bid on it immediately, never bothering to inspect the house for damages or insect infestations; a decision I came to regret.

Our first week was uneventful; Molly and I took the upstairs master bedroom and little baby Ethan got the room next to ours. There was a third bedroom, which sparked Molly’s interest in having another child. I didn’t have a problem with that, the attempts were the best part for me; and she never knew I used a condom so that I could be with her without risking getting her pregnant. She was so beautiful with long brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. Her slight Asian heritage showed in the small slant of her eyes, my purely European ancestry didn’t mind at all. Her body was something I couldn’t be more proud of, with her skin soft as satin and her ample breasts there was no sign that she’d ever been pregnant.

The second Tuesday after we moved in the problems began. They were subtle things, all which could be attributed to faults in the house; though I could see why someone obsessed with the paranormal would immediately assume ghosts were at work. Molly was the first hit as she went to take a shower before leaving for work. As she stood naked under the spray of water the hot water stopped and she jumped out of the shower screaming; I comforted her with a large towel and then set myself to checking the water heater. I thought it odd that all the sinks still had hot water, but I was determined to check it out. I didn’t have any experience, though as a husband I felt qualified. It was like I was given a book on how to be a man when I married, just to do all the things a husband was expected to do.

I hadn’t been in the basement much since moving in, the movers brought all the boxes down and Molly was the one to search through them. In my inspection I noticed the strange architecture that formed the foundation to my new home. It was old, blended with cunning skill to the newer sections of the basement. I was never good with history and couldn’t place it immediately, but some of the carvings reminded me of what Molly and I had seen in an old Roman church on our honeymoon to Ireland. That had been a special place, the tour guide had explained that the Romans had no known success past Hadrian’s Wall in England and the church was evidence that the empire had spread further than previously known. They even might have made it across the Atlantic, the guide had joked. A lot of educated historians and archaeologists were in the news infrequently, talking about Europeans in New England long before Columbus arrived; though I barely paid any attention to it.

The water heater was in the corner of the basement in what appeared to be the newer section, though the entire place was dark and filled with cobwebs of spiders long gone. The cylindrical device was in a recently built cabinet to hide it from view, as if the notion of finishing the basement had come to mind before being abandoned. There wasn’t anything in the cabinet with the heater other than more webs that had been abandoned by their makers. I wondered how long it’d been since anyone actually checked the machine, I had to brush several webs aside just to get a good look at it.

I’ve already said that I’m not taken to believing in the unknown and mysterious, but I felt dread being in that place. I could feel eyes watching me though I never saw the source. I swallowed my pride and looked at the heater, expecting to know nothing. But I did, a valve dial was turned almost entirely to the right. A worn label was beside it but I risked the danger and turned it to the left, opening the valve. There were no explosions and the heater didn’t react differently; but when I checked the shower the hot water was working again. I told Molly with feigned mastery, knowing that the valve was likely closed enough that it allowed some hot water through but wasn’t reliable. I fixed it, twisting one of the knobs until it was fully open.

I stayed home, unemployed as I was. Molly appreciated it, I was able to watch our child and work on what I’ve always dreamt of, composing music. Ethan slept most of the time, waking only when hungry or after he’d soiled himself. It was good for me; the baby monitor I kept a few feet away was almost always silent. And because he couldn’t tell me what he dreamed of, I didn’t know what was going on in his head. Thinking of it made me laugh, I didn’t know what a baby could dream of other than milk and maybe Molly’s breasts; I dreamt about them all of the time.

Other things happened, all that I was able to explain away. From the missing cordless phone to missing silverware; this could easily be my fault. Odd cold spots appeared, but always seemed to be the result of a broken vent or something else changing the air around it. Then there were the lights. When I say that, I mean the lights would turn on and off seemingly randomly, even if someone was in the room. I’d checked numerous times to see if there might’ve been bad wiring but I’m no electrician. We eventually bit the bullet and, after I admitted my ineptitude, called someone that really knew what they were doing.

The electrician was a kid barely out of school who acted as though he’d had a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. I led him to the basement and the circuit box, showing him the tangle of wires. He mumbled something about a long job and set to work examining the wires. I found a chair that was free of infestations and watched him work; when I was young a contractor stole things from our house when nobody was around. Since then, I always watch. I accept that people are flawed, but that doesn’t mean I have to trust them. So as the kid started his work I relaxed and pulled a worn book out of my pocket to read. I figured my presence there would be enough to deter any thoughts of theft. But not watching I didn’t see what was happening to him. I know that he was examining several wires that passed over the old part of the basement when I heard the noise. It sounded like a scraping sound, followed by a murmur of surprise and a whoosh of air. I stood to investigate and the kid ran into me.

“Burn it down, man; just get out…” He was saying as he collided with me; his skin was pale and eyes wide. I jokingly asked if he saw a ghost; his silent reaction to that question was more frightening than his appearance. I left the discarded book on the basement floor where I had dropped it and ran after the kid. The electrician nearly broke the kitchen screen door as he ran outside to his truck. When I reached the door the kid was backing down the driveway. From what I could see, he was sweating profusely with the same shocked demeanor. In moments he was gone, his tires screeched as he slammed the pedal down in his escape. I’ve never seen that happen to a person, I didn’t know what to make of it. Curiously, I returned to the basement to see if I could find what might’ve frightened the kid.

I first noticed that the book I had left, and I thought fallen on the floor, was resting peacefully on a small table beside the chair with a scrap of paper acting as a bookmark. I couldn’t remember doing it; and considering that I dog ear the pages when I take a break, the bookmark was highly unlike me. I put the small book back in my pocket and circled to the other side of the basement where the electrician had last been. It appeared as though he was at a portion of the basement where the old and new portions were blended together with artistic grace. There was white dust everywhere and I noticed that some of the wires were inside the wall, engulfed by plaster. I tugged one of the wires and made the same scraping sound I heard earlier. It wasn’t hard to figure that the electrician was pulling out some of these wires when something happened to him. I looked at the several wires that were free and noticed one that had been pulled out more, done by the electrician. I moved to inspect the area that the wire had been ripped from when I heard a sound that immediately took my focus; a baby crying.

I rushed up the stairs to find Ethan lying in his crib, wrapped in his small blanket, crying. His eyes were pinched shut and he was slightly curled in a fetus. I went to him, thinking of nothing but my son. He cried as I picked him up and as I held him close he grabbed my sweatshirt with his small hands. I circled the room, trying to calm him, but nothing worked. I decided to feed him and walked to the hall. Ethan stopped crying the very instant that I’d stepped out of the room. I looked at him strangely and stepped back into the room.

Ethan began crying again, wailing as if haunted by something I couldn’t see. I took him out of the room and once again the tears stopped. I admit to my confusion as I brought him to the kitchen where Molly kept several bottles for him. I rested him comfortably in a playpen he could grow into using as I prepared some food for him. Once I knew it wasn’t too hot or cold I went to my son. He drank some, but he wasn’t as hungry as his crying would’ve otherwise suggested. He burped a little and fell asleep in my arms. I carried him to the master bedroom and put him in a bassinet in the corner. When Molly came home, he was still sleeping.
“I’m home,” she called as always. I went to the stairs to usher her up to the bedroom. I told her about Ethan’s crying as she picked him up and carried him to his crib. He was sleeping and didn’t wake when she brought him across the threshold. She found me, smiling as she always did, and led me to the kitchen were she prepared a small dinner for us. That night we were both woken by Ethan’s screaming, which reminded me again of his awful tears earlier in the day. Molly brought him into our room and he slept in the bassinet without disturbing us once. He slept in the bassinet for two more nights, stopping us from attempting another child, before the sexual tension between us grew too strong. Molly waited for Ethan to sleep and brought him to his crib.

A two o’clock in the morning he started to cry; Molly once again told me that she’d handle the baby. Lying in bed I could hear her pacing the hallway whispering to Ethan. I couldn’t hear what she said, but it was calm and relaxing even to me. When she brought Ethan into our room, her inaudible words had put me to sleep. Three more nights we attempted to sneak Ethan into his crib, and every night he dragged Molly out of bed with his crying. By the third night I could easily see the lack of sleep taking its toll on her; her eyes were always red and the skin under them was darkening. She even dressed in more muted colors, as if the rainbow of fabrics held no appeal to her. It was bad and I resounded to solve the situation myself.

The following day I ran to Ethan’s rescue and, after comforting him, laid him to rest in the bassinet. Then I went into Ethan’s room to see if I could find anything. I checked the crib, initially thinking there was something wrong with it that upset my son, but it was fine. Then I checked the toys and even inspected the carpet, but nothing that would frighten a child. I was standing in the middle of the room, looking at the mirror on Ethan’s closet door, when I saw it. Someone else was in the room.

I spun quickly but the room was empty. I ran into the hall and quickly down the stairs, but found no evidence of another person in the place. I went back upstairs and inspected every nook and cranny in every room, but there was nobody. I went back to Ethan’s room and looked around. After no initial signs I looked back at the mirror. At first there was nothing, and then I saw him. Almost my height, he was old with a bald head and wearing a black suit with a black tie. He didn’t look at me, but I could tell from the reflection that his eyes were glowing, a soft red light like an old bulb. He turned to me, expressing no emotion, and then started to walk out of my vision. I turned to look and once again found the room empty. I walked to the crib, where the man had stopped, and looked. To my surprise, it wasn’t empty. Lying there, half buried under Ethan’s soft sheet, was that same small book I’d read in the basement.

I couldn’t figure out anything special about the book, it was just a story about a group of kids stuck on an island and how a misguided civilization grew. The place I stopped wasn’t even special; it was still early in the book. Then I noticed the scrap of paper that’d been used as a bookmark. It was a torn piece of newspaper that had yellowed with age, advertising several small businesses in the area. One was circled in a dark substance that I recognized immediately.

In my former job I saw a lot of injuries; accidents resulting in bleeding and even hospital visits. I remembered the color of blood so very well, I even imagined that it was a color necessary in a crayon box; but I also knew the color blood made when it dried on paper. It was a brownish color with just a hint of red, the longer it was there the less red there would be. It was too clumsy to be a marker, even the small grooves in the lines suggested that a finger was used to make it. It was for a psychic nearby, but I imagined that the paper was very old and the place closed. But with the way my son had been behaving, I had no choice but to try.

I dialed the number and waited as it rung. As I sat I contemplated disconnecting, but a woman answered before I could commit to such action. She sounded old, with a weak wavering voice similar to the one my mother had.

“This is Researchers of Unknown Knowledge, may I help you?” She asked. I looked at the paper and frowned, it wasn’t even the right business.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized, “I have the wrong number.”

“Were you looking for Madam Oracle?” She asked. I wasn’t expecting the question, but that was the name on the paper.

“Yes, I was.” I told her, almost afraid of what she’d say next.

“I am Madam Oracle, or I was when I was younger,” she laughed and coughed for a moment, “My grandson works with me and we started this a few years ago.”

“Oh, well I hope you could help me, I-” I started to speak when she cut me off.

“You found this phone number and you suspect that your home may be haunted.”

“How did you know?”

“Just a lucky guess.” Something told me that she had more to say. “I also guess that you’re skeptical about the paranormal. Well, I can assure you that we act in a very thorough, scientifically unbiased way. How’s tomorrow afternoon?”

“But I didn’t say what was going on.”

“No need dear; it is better if we don’t know. And I know your address; caller ID.” She laughed and hung up. At the time that was the strangest experience in my life, second to the mysterious man I kept seeing in my son’s room. But I was determined to solve this, anything for my little boy. Hell, I was already keeping him from having a sibling just so that he’d get the attention he deserved. I was the third of six boys, there was never enough attention to go around; we competed for the spotlight. I never wanted to put Ethan through that, and I didn’t want him to suffer any torment. If the crazy bat I’d just spoken with could help, then so be it. I’d bend over backwards for him, and truthfully I hoped that he’d never remember any of this.

I didn’t tell Molly about what I’d done, it’d be better for us both if I alone had to live with the memories of this event. My only suggestion was to keep Ethan in the bassinet all night; Molly agreed with me on the count that she had less than eight hours of sleep over the past three nights, she was too tired to have to handle another one of Ethan’s mysterious nightmares. When Molly went to work the next day I put Ethan in the bassinet and waited for the woman to come. The doorbell chimed one minute after one o’clock; apprehensively I opened the door.

Her name was Bethany Warwick; she was near eighty years old and used a cane to support her hunched body. Her hair was as white as snow and thick black sunglasses hid her eyes from me. She was dressed in simple clothes, the same sort that my aging mother would wear, and bunny slippers. With her were two men. One was Theodore Warwick, Bethany’s grandson, and the other was Francis Conway. Theo, as he introduced himself, was younger than me in his late twenties, with cropped black hair and thin eyebrows over deep set eyes. His eyes were small, darting back and forth like a nervous mouse watching for the stalking cat. He was wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants, carrying a large suitcase. Francis was shorter than Theo but about the same age, with a brighter appearance that hinted at his bright attitude. He wore a shirt that read ‘Who you gonna call?’ on the front and on the back was the Ghostbusters symbol. He was wearing jeans cut off at the knees and carried a suitcase like Theo’s.

They set their things on the kitchen table, one of the pieces that had come to the house thanks to the previous owner, and showed me their gadgets. They had something called an EMF detector, which could detect changes in electricity in the air, and a sensitive microphone recorder so they could ask questions and hopefully catch answers in the white noise. There were several cameras, all equipped with thermal scopes and motion detectors, as well as simple tools like screwdrivers and hammers. Bethany was proud of the simple flashlights, the tool she was most familiar with. I was given a camera to use and instructed on how to use it properly. Take three pictures, in sequence, from the same spot. Bethany took the lead and guided us to the baby’s room without a hint of direction from me and stopped with her back to the mirror on the door. She had us line up opposite her so that we could see ourselves in the mirror and the room behind us.

“Gentlemen, have your devices ready; I will call him. Don’t be afraid if the cameras stop working.” She must have been talking to us, and we did as asked. As she began chanting something in a low voice, the three of us watched the mirror. I’d already seen the mysterious man; it was only a matter of time before they did too. We didn’t need to wait long; the old bald man appeared behind us, rather than walked into view the last time I’d seen him. Theo, who’d been holding the EMF detector, nearly shouted in surprise as the small gadget began getting high readings that weren’t normal for a house; readings that were lethal to humans. Francis was asking questions, holding the microphone a foot away from his mouth. I would have taken a photograph but the camera turned off in my hand and wouldn’t turn back on.

If the man’s presence wasn’t frightening enough, when he walked through me I almost fainted. Now he should’ve been visible, standing before me. But in the mirror we could see that he didn’t appear whole, we could still see through him. He was saying something, which I hoped Francis was able to record, and then lunged at Bethany. The ghost grabbed Bethany by the neck and started to squeeze, choking her words. Theo jumped to the rescue though it was hard to know what to do. Bethany looked like she was being strangled by an invisible hand, like Darth Vader in Star Wars; only when Theo attempted to save her was she able to speak again.

“Be gone, you’re not welcome here.” Her voice was raspy but the ghost responded and released her, disappearing. As she started to fall, Theo caught his grandmother. Her eyes were closed as Theo lifted her off the ground and carried her to the living room. As we waited for the ambulance to arrive, Francis played back the recording so that we could listen. At first it was just Bethany’s rumbling, with questions from Francis breaking in. Then there was a distinctively deeper voice that was clearer than any ghost recording the two men had ever heard.

“I (inaudible) called Peter Foster; I was the priest (inaudible). This land (inaudible) the church; this room was where I lived. I pretended to be a Christian, (inaudible); beneath my feet is the entrance to the real church (inaudible), one you will never see.” That was the point the ghost attacked Bethany and Theo shouted, forcing Francis to stop recording. I looked at the two investigators but they could make little of it. It was Bethany, who we thought unconscious, that broke the silence.

“Secret door…basement.” Was all she could say, but that clicked in my head. Theo wanted to stay with his grandmother until the paramedics arrived, so Francis and I went into the basement to where the electrician had seen something that frightened him. I showed him the wires that were being pulled out and Francis inspected the holes. He showed me that this section of wall was covering a small space. I didn’t know what to do, but Francs did; he took a hammer and smashed holes in the wall until the sheetrock was weak enough to break. It took him almost five minutes to clear it away.

What we’d thought was an alcove was actually the top of a set of stone stairs descending into the earth. Francis gave me a flashlight and we walked slowly into the darkness. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was more horrifying than I could imagine. Skeletons were suspended from the walls where once people were left to die, only their bones remained after untold years. Cobwebs and the small bones of critters filled the passage as we continued down to an octagonal room. There was a pit in the center with decaying matter that Francis identified as firewood and a floor to ceiling carving of a beast I didn’t recognize. It was over twelve feet tall and nearly the same wide, but it didn’t represent anything that existed outside the imagination. The thing had a cobra-like head that connected to a human body that’s legs had fused to become a tail twice the length of the creature’s head and body. It had six arms, thin like those of an insect, and a pair of wings that resembled those of a bat. There was an inscription, but neither Francis or I had any hope of understanding it. I found that the camera dangling from my neck still worked, so I took pictures of it like I was instructed to do. There was a crashing sound to my left and I spun towards an opening to a dark cavern. Without thinking I took three pictures and waited, taking three more before lowering the camera. I looked at Francis who was as frightened as I. When he suggested that we leave, I wasn’t going to argue.

When we got back to the living room the paramedics were just pulling into the driveway. For her credit, Bethany seemed to be improving. She looked at me through those dark glasses and smiled. “I once came to this house and decided that it wasn’t haunted,” she coughed a little, “now I know that’s because it isn’t haunted, it’s infested. So many souls are stuck here; this is no place to raise a child.” The paramedics took her away and Theo joined her in the ambulance, Francis followed in their van. Alone, I realized that they had forgotten the camera I had been carrying. With a deep breath I turned the camera on and began scrolling through the pictures; the first were just those of the wall carving, though it did almost appear to move but that could’ve been a trick of my mind.

Then there were the six photos of that cavern. Seeing these pictures changed my whole outlook on life, I’ll never doubt the existence of the paranormal again.

The first picture seemed like a photo of a cave, with an odd looking stalactite to the right. The second photo was of the same cave, but now a blur ran across the image and the stalactite was gone. In the third picture, the stalactite had moved to the left side of the picture. Nervous but needing to know, I looked at the last three. These were taken a few moments after the previous three. The first picture showed the cave, no stalactites and the walls appeared differently. In the second image, something was just beyond the camera’s focus; all I knew was that it was big. The last photo nearly made me scream, and I’d have dropped the camera if it wasn’t hanging from around my neck. Whatever had been in the second picture was closer; I could clearly see the cobra-like head and dark eyes. The cavern was changing shape on account of the thing’s large wingspan and its arms and legs. Knowing how large the opening was, I can only imagine the magnitude of the thing approaching. If Francis hadn’t suggested that we depart, we would’ve been attacked by the alien creature.

Molly came home and had to park on the street on account of the numerous fire trucks and police cars that filled the driveway and front lawn. She found me carrying an awed Ethan as our home burned to the ground. The fires ate through everything, and they reacted strangely when consuming the basement; almost as though it was a large place deep in the ground. Our nearest neighbor, who happened to be the real estate agent, joined us to watch the house burn.

“Such a shame; that house needed good memories.” She was shaking her head. Molly carried Ethan now and hardly listened, but I was curious.

“What does that mean?”

“Oh, I must’ve forgotten to tell you about the previous owner. It was a mistake, considering the circumstances around his death. The man who used to own the place was Mark Craftsman. He remodeled much of the place; did you know it used to be a church until he changed things? I should’ve told you that much, some people are superstitious when it comes to living in an old church. Up until a few years ago, everything seemed to be alright for Mr. Craftsman; then he started sleeping outside of the house. There was a camper in the driveway for the longest time; it was unused except for the bedroom and the small bathroom. Mr. Craftsman died while outside of the home, just around the corner of the house where the door to the basement was. It must’ve been a heart attack, I heard nothing different.” She spoke with a coldness I didn’t expect. But when she turned to me, I saw pity in those eyes. “I’m sorry I kept it from you.”

“It’s alright,” I wanted to assure her that. “What about that haunting investigation?”

“That’s a weird story, without the paranormal part,” she chuckled briefly. “This psychic from town… I think her name was Madam Oracle, came. She was reportedly in the basement when something happened to her and her eyes were burned out of her skull. She wears these dark sunglasses now to hide the scar tissue,” she shivered. Molly looked at her but said nothing.

“I think we’re going to sell this place, we can’t raise a child here.”

Credit: Michael Bertolini

Washington’s Inconceivable

August 17, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Let me begin by stating that I have always had a fascination with nature and its creatures. Even at a young age, I would watch documentaries that explained nature, its inhabitants and humanity’s place as the apex predator.

As I progressed from childhood to adulthood, the documentaries ingrained in my subconscious would determine my career—an ecologist. I was twenty-five when I applied for ecology and I was ecstatic when I received a phone call from Seattle’s ecologists accepting me as their latest employee.

Weeks transitioned into months and months became years as I worked tirelessly to solve any problem an ecosystem faced, whether it’d be a lack of a carnivore’s diet or too many herbivores. Sure, the work was tedious and demanding, but it provided me satisfaction for the effort of doing something worthwhile; providing relief for the wildlife’s misfortunes was all I required, aside from my paycheck.

It had been an uneventful day at the University of Washington, and I had been reviewing the statistics of local lobsters when I was approached by one of my colleagues that—for privacy—I will name as Mr. J, who seemed to be troubled by something I could hardly fathom, his perplexed face was enough to warrant my inquiry into the matter. When asked what troubled him enough to seek me, he seemed to remember he’d been gripping a clipboard that had escaped my notice. He relinquished the clipboard to me, and as I read the report attached to it, I soon became confused as well.

The source of my confusion was that, for reasons not understood, the black-tailed deer population had dramatically declined at Olympic National Park. There were multiple scenarios that served as a valid answer—perhaps a foreign predator had entered the territory, the population of predators in the area could have greatly increased or the deer had contracted a disease.

All of these scenarios were plausible, but until the cause of this mysterious occurrence was ascertained, it was difficult to know. Once I had finished reading the report, I voiced my question of how this pertained to me. Mr. J’s reply was an apologetic look before seemingly mustering the courage to tell me that he had been planning a vacation that couldn’t be delayed. He had prepared for the vacation to begin tomorrow, and he sincerely hoped that I would complete his assignment with a young man who had been employed. Reluctantly, I agreed to his request with no small amount of annoyance developing inside of me. Satisfied with my answer, he left my sight with a joyous smile and an energetic skip in his step.

What my co-worker had failed to mention was that his assignment would begin two days after he received it, and the dead-line was in six days. Perhaps he did not feel the need to speak to me about this information; whether it was laziness or lack of memory, it only reminded me of the regret I felt for accepting his request. Our conversation was exchanged three days ago, now I sat in the passenger seat of a small, white jeep being driven by a new employee who I, or the other ecologists, had not been well-acquainted with.

There was not much known about him, only individuals who personally knew him would say he was a quiet man, socially withdrawn, but he did possess compassion for animals. In certain aspects, he was identical to me, albeit he was much younger, and my 30th year was approaching. One rumor had spread rapidly throughout the university; some people believed he was the man whose sister had perished with his house to a fire when he was a small child, but it was not my right to pry into his personal life.

As the young man continued to drive us toward our destination, the sky became darker and the last rays of sunlight disappeared. In response, my driver turned on the jeep’s headlights to get a better look at his surroundings as nightfall became evident and stars glittered in the sky.

It had taken several hours to come close to our destination, and it had been quite some time since I had seen another vehicle on this barren, concrete road; the only company we currently had were the vast amount of trees that lined the road on both sides, some of the trees even appeared to be covered in moss.

Soon, a wooden sign came within view on the right-side of the road, and we halted the vehicle. We observed the sign, and were relieved to have finally reached our destination—Olympic National Park. The sign itself was lovely, the base of the sign was supported by stones and the wood was adorned with a small insignia of a tree and mountain. Still, we did not come this far to admire a mere sign; we had quickly driven past it and continued our route.

We drove further into the national park, until we arrived at a security booth operated by a middle-aged forest ranger who seemed to recognize us as the team from Seattle. He welcomed us through the window of the booth before politely asking that that we park the vehicle on the side of the road, which we complied as we turned off the ignition and headlights.

After exchanging pleasantries, the forest ranger, grasping a flashlight, lead us to a thin, dirt trail winding into a section of the forest. He proceeded to give us orders to follow the trail until we found a cabin, he also advised us to be wary of wolves, bears and cougars as he handed us his flashlight. Satisfied with his warning, we thanked him as we entered the forest.

After walking a considerable distance and seeing nothing but trees, bushes and an occasional stream, we were greeted by the sight of a large, circular clearing; at the far end of the clearing, positioned on a small hill, was a decent-sized cabin. Once we strode across the clearing and up the small mound, I was able to obtain a better examination of the cabin. Upon closer inspection, I was slightly disappointed; numerous areas of the window were cracked, and the exterior wood had been rotting for quite some time.

Silently praying that the interior structure wasn’t horribly damaged, I grasped the door handle and opened the cabin door, only for an acrid smell to pierce the air. My colleague and I quickly retreated from the door to escape the nauseating stench in fear of regurgitating our meals. When the scent had dissipated, we spent several minutes scouring outside the cabin to identify the origin of the smell that we had the misfortune of inhaling.

Unable to find the source, we decided to enter the cabin and were astonished by what we saw; despite the exterior structure being damaged, the interior was unharmed. The cabin only had one room, yet was spacious enough to hold a large group of people; two green beds accompanied by a nightstand for each respective bed lined the walls, and a desk was positioned near the front window.

Although we were interested in the room, we began to feel weary from the trip, and the beds seemed to almost beckon to us like sirens to sailors. With haste, we discarded our clothing, placed the flashlight and jeep key on a nightstand, dove into our beds and drifted to sleep.

The next two days spent trying to find any sort of problem that plagued the deer population were in vain; despite my years of expertise, I could not find anything abnormal. During many of our breaks from our work, we also attempted to locate the source of the mysterious stench from the first night for curiosity’s sake, yet the origin continued to elude us. I had thought this would be another regular assignment that would provide an easy answer, but I was proven extremely wrong; the next three days’ events are what truly disturbed me, and had me concerned for my partner. Over the course of those days, he’d become increasingly agitated, sluggish and complaining about painful headaches. He would barely eat any of the packaged jerky we had stuffed in our pockets, and would occasionally leave to vomit in random bushes. I didn’t know what ailed my co-worker, but I was determined to see him receive treatment. Night soon overcame the day, and we prepared to accept that we would not discover the answer that had been elusive. Once again, we discarded our clothing, climbed into our beds and drifted to sleep.

I can not recall when I awoke that night, all I can remember was that it was extremely dark when I glanced at the window. It was unusually quiet, and I was slightly frightened; there was no chirping of crickets, no croaking of frogs, nothing that indicated anything was alive outside of the cabin. As I pondered about this unusual behavior of the wildlife, a repulsive stench filled the room, only it was much more intense than the first night I was exposed to it.

I was soon alerted to faint footsteps outside the cabin, and I could see something stirring outside the window. I strained my eyes to peer out the window, and immediately regretted it. Something was definitely outside, and although I could not properly see it, I knew that it was immensely large.

The door groaned as the shape outside pushed it open, and I quickly hid under the covers and remained motionless. I desperately tried to gaze through the fabric of the sheets at what stood outside the doorway, yet I could only see the faint shape of the creature; it was obviously massive and bulbous but despite its large shape, it was somehow able to step through the doorway, almost as if it passed through a non-existent door frame. Its foot steps, oh God, it sounded unnatural! The rhythm of its foot steps would give someone the impression that it had more than four legs! That was impossible, no mammal that was recorded had more than four legs!

I continued to watch the shape as it seemed to disregard me, instead it focused its attention on my partner. Once it strolled across the room, and stood beside the bed of my associate, it proceeded to simply stare at the sleeping form. Several moments passed before I saw the silhouette of the young man awaken, and leave his bed. He seemed to stare at whatever was in front of him before muttering in disbelief “Cassandra?” He began to sob uncontrollably and—to my utter horror —embraced the thing that stood in front of him. “I missed you so much, it was my fault for playing with that lighter, I couldn’t have known what it would have done,” he whimpered.

The thing continued to remain still as the man embraced it as if he had known it his entire life. He quickly composed himself before asking the creature why it wanted him to follow it. The reply was only chittering and guttural noises, yet the man seemed content with the answer. He quickly wiped away his tears, followed the creature out of the cabin, and into the night.

Once the pair had disappeared, the forest life seemed to return; I could hear the croaking of frogs, the chirping of birds, and sounds of movement in the forest encircling me.
I remained frozen in shock as my mind tried to process what had occurred.

When the realization of what happened finally sunk in, I threw the bed sheets from my body, donned my clothing, grabbed the jeep key from the nightstand, and sprinted out of the cabin. It is known that when a person experiences copious amounts of fear, it overwhelms said person, this was especially true for me. In my panic-stricken state, I had sprinted into the nearest section of the forest, completely forgetting the flashlight and losing sight of the trail that I was supposed to follow, now I could only hope that I was close enough to the trail that my co-worker and I had followed when we first arrived.

My hopes of quickly exiting the forest began to diminish; I did not recognize this part of the forest, and I could only imagine that I was running deeper into the dense woodland, but I could not stop, I would not stop! That thing was after me, I knew it was! In my moment of casting fervent glances in any direction I could, I had failed to notice the object that was lying in front of me, and proceeded to trip and fall on top of it. I had become disoriented by the fall and I required a moment to regain awareness of my surroundings; once my head had cleared, I decided to look at the object that I had fallen on, and immediately scrambled away from it.

What had tripped me was not simply a log or something that someone would expect, but the corpse of a deer, a black-tailed deer; the mammal’s chest appeared to have been sliced open and its organs strewn across the ground. I would never forget its eyes, those lifeless eyes that seemed to stare into my very being, and its visage displaying the most human-esque expression I had ever seen from an animal—terror. I soon became aware of the other corpses of animals that littered the ground; there were wolves, rabbits and even numerous bears, all seemed to have suffered the same fate as the deer, and all displayed looks of absolute horror.

I quickly rose to my feet, ignored the coagulated blood that covered me and continued to dash through the forest, my desperation increasing with every step I took. I could scarcely imagine what fate had in store for my friend, and I shuddered as I recalled him following whatever led him away from the cabin; he had not bothered to grab his clothing, and the way he left the cabin seemed as if he was in a trance. I had been so distracted by my thoughts, I hadn’t realized that I emerged from the forest, and was in familiar territory.

I instantly recognized the security booth in the distance, and the jeep parked on the side of the road leading away from this nightmarish place. With renewed energy, I sprinted down the road, past the booth, and to the door of the jeep. I fumbled the key from my pocket, and inserted it into the vehicular door as my mind raced with thoughts of relief. As I prepared to leave, I noticed movement in the side mirror of the vehicle and froze. I saw it, its true form, its inconceivable form that elicited a primal scream from me, and my vision darkened.

I do not know when I regained clarity in a padded cell, and many of the doctors who worked at Western State Hospital had told me that they had no hope for my recovery, and it was a miracle I had recovered my sanity. As they removed my straight-jacket and prepared the release forms that would grant me my freedom, I requested to know why I had been placed here. They exchanged worried glances to each other before answering that people had found me crawling down the road away from Olympic National Park, muttering unintelligible words and phrases, and the appearance of my hair and clothes disheveled and covered in dark, dried blood frightened onlookers.

Throughout my year of insanity at the psychiatric hospital, the doctors also mentioned that I produced many sketches of odd symbols, constellations, planets and a creature that appeared to have a crustacean body and arachnid legs with slender feelers on its chest, two large claws protruding from its back, possessing multiple humanoid eyes and no visible mouth, underneath the drawing was an abnormal word simply spelled Xilctha; the drawings disconcerted the doctors whenever they gazed at them, and were often thrown way or burned.

A missing persons report had also been filed for my friend; the police found my partner’s nude, decayed corpse deep within the woodland, his visage displaying a look of terror, and his rotting organs scattered across the ground. To this day, I dread to envision him resembling the animals I’d found.

It wasn’t long before memories of my days of being insane returned, although I wish they hadn’t, for it was not merely memories, but life-altering facts. Nothing excited me anymore, I did not dare to continue my work, I no longer had sympathy for animals, only contempt for exposing me to the reality of life and my value in this world. Often, I resorted to drinking liquor to repress the horrendous truth that I knew; humanity was simply a plaything, we created our illusion of superiority, only to never have been contested.

Now, as I prepared to throw myself out of my apartment window in the hope of ending my life, I can only advise that you don’t travel to Olympic National Park, lest you are unfortunate to encounter the epitome of madness that I had discovered.


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