After Hours

October 4, 2016 at 12:00 AM

My eyelids were heavy and sandy, and they begged me for sleep. The conditions were perfect for it. The overhead lamps in my living room were switched off and the only light came from the TV, which created shadows that shifted across the room as the images on the screen changed. The late news was playing, but the volume was low enough that I could barely hear it. My eyes closed. The news anchor’s voice was a string of inaudible mumbling that lulled me further down into semi-consciousness, until I could no longer hear it at all.

My phone rang. It felt like I’d only slept for five minutes. The program on TV was now the late talk show that comes on after the news. I picked up my phone and realized I had been asleep for almost forty-five minutes. The screen told me it was Mr. Garrett, my boss.

“Hello?” I answered in a groggy voice.

I listened to Mr. Garrett as best I could. In my drowsy state I didn’t register everything he told me, but I did understand that he needed me to go into the office, finish the Meridian proposal, and email it to him as soon as possible.

“I thought we still had a week for that,” I mentioned.

“Something has come up, and we have to get it to them by first thing…” he paused and I assumed he checked his watch to see if it was after midnight, “…today! They want it first thing this morning!”

I sighed, but tried my best not to show my frustration to my boss. “Alright, I’ll go in and finish it.”

“Thanks, David. This means a lot. This Meridian job is huge. We can’t afford to lose it.”

After the call ended I went into the kitchen and began boiling water for instant coffee. I spooned a double-shot of the crystals into my mug before pouring the water on top.

– – – – –

It began raining on my way to the office, and by the time I pulled into the parking lot it was pouring in an absolute deluge. On the drive over I’d wished that my windshield wipers had a speed even faster than the highest setting, which would already break your neck if you tried to follow one of the blades individually. I sat in the car for a few minutes to see if the rain would let up, but it only seemed to get heavier, if that was even possible. I grabbed my access badge off of the passenger’s seat, opened the car door, extended an umbrella, and made a break for it.

The rain came down at such an angle that the umbrella was practically useless. I still got soaked from the shoulders down. I struggled to keep the umbrella upright with my left hand as I fumbled with my badge in my right hand. The door finally clicked open and I stumbled into the dry safety of the office building.

I felt around for the light switch on the wall just inside the door. With a flick, a bank of overhead fluorescent lights came to life, giving the foyer a much more familiar feel. The fixtures emanated a buzzing sound that I’d never noticed before amidst the hustle and bustle of busy work days.

I set my still-unfolded umbrella on the entrance floor and made my way to the elevator. After pressing the “up” arrow there was a loud clunking sound from somewhere far overhead as the motor came to life and spooled up to bring the carriage down to me.

“Sorry to wake you,” I said to the inanimate device as I entered the elevator and pressed the button for the fifth floor. An electronic bell sounded and the doors closed in front of me. As the elevator climbed I could hear the faint rumbling of thunder, which must have been extremely loud for me to be able to detect it from inside a concrete shaft in the center of the building. The carriage jolted and the faint yellow glow of the interior light dimmed then flickered off and back on again.

“Oh please, God – no,” I muttered as thoughts flashed before me of getting stuck inside the elevator in a power outage. My fears were unfounded as the bell chimed again, announcing my arrival at the fifth floor. I’d almost forgotten that I was in the building alone after hours, and I was somewhat startled when the doors slid open to reveal a dark hallway.

I’d never seen it like this before. It seemed to take on a whole new character at night. The only visible light was a red exit sign glowing at the end of the long desolate hallway, its reflection mirrored in the shiny linoleum floor. I made my way down the hall about ten feet until I found the first light switch. The fixtures blinked to life, creating a momentary strobe effect before settling into their humming rhythm. My shoes squeaked down the hallway all the way to the door of the office complex.

I used my badge again to open the door, exposing another room which should have been familiar, but was virtually unrecognizable in the dark. The maze of cubicles came into view after I switched the lights on. I worked my way over to my station and began to boot up my computer. More sounds that were normally inaudible during the day were all-too-obvious in late night solitude – the humming of the refrigerator in the kitchen at the back of the office – the compressor running inside the water fountain in the hallway – the spinning of my computer’s fan and the clicking of its hard drive as it booted up.

With my computer finally ready, I located the Meridian file, opened it and began feverishly completing the proposal – wanting nothing more than to get it sent on its way and go back home to bed. The drumming rain against the glass wall several rows behind me kept me in a zen state, and allowed me to work without breaking my concentration. When I finally finished the file it was 2:53 AM. I saved my work for the final time and opened my email program. As I was selecting Mr. Garrett’s email address from the dropdown, the power went out.

“Oh, for crying out loud!” I exclaimed. I sat in the darkness and waited, knowing that at any moment the backup generator would kick in.

And I waited.

The silence was overpowering – no refrigerator, no water fountain. The rain was the only sound to keep me company. I gave it a couple more minutes before realizing that I was going to have to go and check on the generator. I knew my way around the generator system since I was one of the engineers that oversaw its installation three years ago. It was a large diesel unit with a battery-start whose circuitry was rigged to fire up the engine automatically at the time of power failure. Hopefully, the battery wasn’t dead.

Even though I’d traversed this office every day for the last seven years, doing it in pitch darkness was not as easy as I thought it would be. After running into a couple of the burlap cloth walls, I had the genius epiphany to take out my phone and use its light to navigate. This made it only somewhat easier. The screen light did not radiate as much as I would have liked.

I had just made it into the hallway when I was stopped stiff by a noise to my left. It was faint, but it startled me so much that my pulse rose into my ears. I tilted my head toward the source. The sound was high-pitched and tinny – a tinkling of notes that one would hear in a toddler’s nursery. It was coming from down the hallway. I was going to have to pass by it in order to get to the stairwell and down to the generator in the basement. At this point, not even the exit signs were lit. I pointed the screen of my phone out in front of me and began walking very slowly, trying my best to prevent my shoes from squeaking.

All of the doors in the hall were closed except for one. The only reason I knew that was because lightning flashed, spilling a beam of silver-blue light momentarily into the hallway from the solitary open door. It was about twenty feet ahead on my left. I recognized the room as a storage area that I knew had recently been emptied. The tinkling nursery rhyme song became louder as I approached.

Standing at the threshold I listened as the music notes slowed, the spaces between them stretching until the sound was gone altogether. My breathing was becoming labored and my heartbeat was chaotic – a caged monkey inside my chest. I shone the light of my phone into the room, but it was insufficient to reveal the source of the sound.

After taking two steps into the room lightning struck again. The interior was completely illuminated for the briefest of moments. During that time I saw that in the center of the empty room, placed neatly in the middle of the floor, was an old plastic Fisher Price record player. A wind-up toy that many kids who grew up in my era would be familiar with.

Standing in the dark, I grappled with how this record player could have gotten there, and how it had started playing on its own. Just then the lightning struck again and revealed an empty linoleum floor.

I panicked. I ran haphazardly into the dark hallway, not caring if I careened into the walls. I extended my arms to meet the door leading into the stairwell at the end of the hall, but it seemed to never come. Finally, when my hands made contact with the door’s latching bar, I thrust it open and spilled into the stairwell. My phone barely gave enough light to navigate down to the first landing where I collapsed to the floor, gasping and panting with erratic breathing.

I considered going straight home – just saying “screw it” and leaving without emailing the file. But I knew Mr. Garrett would be extremely displeased with me, possibly to the point of firing me. I rested for an unnumbered amount of minutes before I calmed down enough to get up and head down the rest of the stairs and into the basement.

The corridor in the basement was the deepest of blacks. No light from any source, not even lightning, was able to penetrate the underground hallways. I progressed down the passageway the best I could with the aid of my phone – until its battery died, that is.

After that I had to use my hands to feel my way along the walls until I came to the large wooden double doors that led to the utility room. I unlatched and pushed open the right side door. Once inside, I slowly worked my way to the far right-hand corner of the room and then down a long narrow cinder block corridor.

The block walls were close on each side. My fingers noted the rough texture as I worked my way down the passageway. After a moment I came to a metal door which led to the generator room. I was thankful that it was not locked as I swung it open. I stood motionless, head tilted toward the darkness, and listened for any strange sounds. The only sound was that of the rain beating against the large metal roll-up door on the opposite side of the room. On the other side of that door was an equipment access ramp that angled up to the ground level outside.

I took two steps forward with my arms extended into the darkness. The room was musty and smelled of mechanical greases and oils. Suddenly there was movement in front of me. Something making its way across the floor – scooting or rolling – a constant frictional sound that didn’t stop until the object bumped into another unseen item. My heart was already in my throat again, even though it had just settled back down from my scare upstairs. The object did not move again and I gathered the courage to enter the room further.

I carefully followed the sound of the rain toward the roll-up garage door. Halfway across the room my shoe made contact with the mysterious object that had rolled by. My foot recoiled instinctively and I jumped back in horror. Some exclamatory curses escaped my lips.

The inadvertent kick had caused it to blast across the floor and into the side of what I presumed was the generator, where it rolled backward a bit before it came to a stop. My nerves could not take anymore and I was overwhelmed with the desire to have a light source in the room. I frantically found my way to the roll-up door.

I unlatched both sides and used the overhead chain to manually raise the door. The first four feet inside the room were immediately soaked by the downpour. I had hoped that ample light would enter the room from the outside, but it was very minimal as even the parking lot lights were out. Up the ramp and about a hundred feet away was my parked car.

The rain battered the concrete floor just in front of me and I cursed again after realizing that my umbrella was still in the foyer. I was going to have to make a break for the car. A thorough soaking was inevitable. There was just enough ambient light outside for me to make out the edges of the ramp up to the parking area. I counted to three and dashed into the rain.

Fifteen seconds later I was sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, waterlogged to the point that I could smell the wetness soaking into my upholstery. “All this just to send one stinking email,” I said aloud.

I started the car, turned on the headlights and drove toward the access ramp. Everything in the generator room came into clear view in my headlights when I stopped at the bottom of the ramp. It was a stark contrast to the room’s previous ink-blackness. It almost seemed too well-lit, as details of all kinds were now visible – the soiled concrete floor – the rust on the overhead pipes – the insulation that hung down in tattered strands from the beams above – the mildew on the block walls. And in the middle of the exposed room stood the relatively new and clean generator. A sleeping giant. Even before I exited the car I could see that the automotive battery on the generator had been disabled. Its negative cable hung loosely beside it.

“Now why on earth would someone leave it this way?” I asked myself, frustrated. I made a mental note to speak to the building maintenance supervisor about it. I worked up the courage to dash out of the running car, through the short stretch of pouring rain, and back into the generator room.

Just after getting out of the car, I froze. I hadn’t seen it from behind the wheel, but it was plainly illuminated in my headlights as I stood there in the downpour, soaked to the core. It was the item that had rolled past me, and that I’d later kicked. On the concrete floor next to the generator was a child’s plastic ball, white with a red stripe around its center. Inside the stripe, a ring of blue stars. It swayed back and forth ever-so-slightly in the wind that now entered the room.

I was in such disbelief that I forgot I was standing in the deluge. My hair was slicked tightly against my head. A steady stream of rainwater cascaded over my shoulders, down my back, arms, legs, and filled my already-sloshing shoes. I was afraid to step forward into the dryness. My eyes darted around the room, searching for any other signs of movement. There were none. In an instant of bravery I hurried over to the side of the generator opposite the ball and connected the dangling battery cable.

The circuitry detected the power outage. The diesel engine cranked and sputtered to life. Even though the engine’s muffled exhaust was piped outdoors, the noise was still intense. I flicked a nearby wall switch and fluorescent light filled the room from overhead. When I walked back to the other side of the generator, I looked toward the ball. It was gone.

I rushed back to my car and began backing up the ramp. Once in the parking area, I once again debated going home and forgetting all about sending the email. But I was so close to finishing this project, and I didn’t want to have to come back at the beginning of work hours just to email it. The clock on my dashboard said 3:37, and I planned on going home and going to bed for the rest of the day after I finished this task. There was no way around it. I was going to have to go back inside.

– – – – –

This time I opted for the stairs, flipping on light switches as I ascended each flight. I was slightly out of breath by the time I made it to the fifth floor. The lights that I had turned on before in this area of the building were burning brightly once again. The water fountain buzzed in the hallway. The refrigerator hummed in the office kitchen. My computer displayed a screen that scolded me for not shutting it down properly last time. I hit “enter” to continue the boot-up process. The hard drive ground its gears angrily back at me.

It seemed an eternity before I could take control of the computer. The email program was slow in opening. The clicking of the hard drive did not cease the entire time. I was finally able to attach the file to a brief message. Initially, the words “You owe me one!” concluded the message, but then I thought better of it and backspaced it all out before sending. Once the email was successfully on its way, I shut the computer down properly.

There were footsteps in the hallway just as I was getting up from my desk chair. They were not the usual office footsteps – not high heels or loafers clicking on the linoleum – not heavy workman’s boots trudging down the corridors – but the quick and light footfalls of a small child. Little rubber-soled sneakers bouncing excitedly down the hallway. I could have sworn there was also a giggle whose echo faded back into silence.

Once again my pulse rose and my ears rang with intensity as I attempted to listen. I went to the doorway leading into the hall and cautiously peered toward the exit at the far end without stepping fully into the hallway. The apparition of a small boy, about five or six years old, was just disappearing through the closed exit door.

I stood motionless, frozen with fear. I swallowed hard and felt a bead of sweat forming on my brow. All I could think about was getting out of the building. I wanted to go home, lie down and not come back to this place until it was daylight and filled with the commotion of office life. Without even bothering to turn out the lights or close the office door behind me, I stepped into the hallway and proceeded to the right, opposite of where I’d just seen the ghost boy.

The power had been working steadily for some time now and the lightning appeared to be finished, so I decided to take my chances with the elevator. I pressed the down arrow and waited. The bell sounded and the doors slid open. There in front of me was the boy.

I couldn’t move. He stood directly in the center of the carriage and stared back at me. His appearance was partially translucent, yet he still had a quality that made me think that if I reached out to touch him there would be palpable contact. He was wearing denim overalls with a striped shirt underneath. His sandy blond hair was neatly combed downward in a bowl-cut form. He had a look of immense sadness on his face, and even though his head was tilted slightly toward the ground, his eyes looked up directly into mine.

There was another chime from the elevator bell and the doors closed with the boy still inside. My jaw hung open. I was overcome with an unexplainable feeling of melancholy. Oddly enough, I was not frightened this time. I could sense that he did not want to, or was not able to, harm me. I rushed to the nearby stairwell.

Flight after flight I raced downward, my still-wet clothes clinging tightly to my body. On the way down I kept questioning what was happening. ‘Maybe I’m hallucinating from exhaustion,’ I tried to rationalize.

Once I made it to ground level, I exploded through the door and stood in the foyer. I looked left and right for any sign of the boy. I gasped to catch my breath. My soaked umbrella still lay on its top by the front door, its handle angled skyward like a precisely positioned satellite dish.

The elevator chimed again and I looked toward the doors as they were sliding open. The dim lighting inside the carriage revealed its vacant wood-paneled interior. There was no sign of the boy.

“Screw this insanity,” I mumbled to myself and headed directly to the car, collecting my umbrella on the way out. Inside the car, I plugged my phone into the portable charger. When I was able to boot it up I saw that there was a text message from Mr. Garrett.

“Got ur email. Looks great. Thx!” was all it said.

“I hope you’re happy,” I replied verbally, dripping with sarcasm. I then typed a reply back that simply said, “You’re welcome. I’m going to sleep in today.” After hitting “send” I leaned my head back against the headrest. The remaining rain, much calmer at that point, drummed steadily on the metal roof. I did not intend to fall asleep, but my exhaustion overwhelmed me. The rain lulled me. My sandy eyelids refused to obey my orders to remain open.

– – – – –

A knocking on my driver’s side window startled me awake. Bright sunlight poured in through my windshield, blinding me and causing my head and neck to ache. I looked to my left through foggy eyesight. Mr. Garrett stood there in his usual suit and tie, motioning me to roll down the window. I held up a finger signifying for him to wait a minute, then I inserted my key into the ignition and turned it forward just far enough to power the electronics. The dash clock told me it was 8:17 AM. I pressed the button to lower the window.

“I thought you were going to sleep in?” he asked.

“I think I just did,” was my foggy response.

“Hey, thanks for coming in last night and getting that proposal done. I really appreciate it.”

“Sure, it’s no problem,” I said, still squinting from the sunlight.

“Heck of a storm last night, wasn’t it? I hope it didn’t give you too much trouble”

“Well, you know…” I began, but then changed course, “I managed.”

He nodded then tapped his hand twice on my door. “Go home and get some proper sleep.” He started to walk away, but then stopped himself short and turned back. “Hey David,” he called, “Did you happen to experience anything… weird last night?”

I felt an adrenaline rush in the pit of my stomach. “How do you mean?” I questioned.

“Oh, I don’t know exactly. I’ve just heard rumors from the cleaning and maintenance crews from times when they’ve had to work nights.”

“The power went out,” I said, “and I had to go fix the generator. Someone left the battery cable off.” I didn’t tell him anything else for fear of looking like a nut job.

“That’s it, huh?”

I nodded. He nodded back, then turned and walked toward the office building.

– – – – –

As David’s boss walked across the parking lot, a feeling of dread entered his gut. He was glad that David had not seen anything unusual. He hated having to send David into the office last night, but it was a necessary risk to get the Meridian proposal finished. After the rumors from the maintenance crew started surfacing, he was afraid that he would be found out. But it appeared that his secret was still safe for the time being.

As he walked into the front door and approached the elevator, his mind flashed back to a time twelve years ago when the office building was being expanded. Visions of construction equipment and roped-off hallways filled his thoughts. He remembered how his son had been hired to grate the land for the new addition. It was a chance for a new beginning after his son’s prison time. They had to make it work.

He thought about the little boy that had gone missing from the apartment complex next door – how local officials searched and how the parents pled for weeks on the news for any information that would lead to his return.

He thought about the night that his son had been in an argument with his girlfriend, and decided to go finish leveling the lot late one evening after having had too much to drink. What was his son thinking, operating that bulldozer while drunk?

He thought about his son calling him on the phone that night, inconsolable and frantic, begging for help. “I didn’t mean to do it!” he’d cried, “The boy was just there in front of me all of a sudden!”

Mr. Garrett entered the elevator and the doors closed. He swallowed hard as he remembered the subsequent panic that ensued over the thought of his son going back to prison. He remembered how he’d helped his son cover up the incident.

Tears began to fill his eyes. There were only two people on earth that knew what had happened to that poor little boy. There were only two people that knew that the boy’s final resting place was beneath the concrete floor of the very elevator shaft that Mr. Garrett was occupying at that moment.

He’d felt so much regret over the years. It seemed to mount more and more each day. But he had to protect his son. He just couldn’t let him go back to prison. His forehead broke out in a sweat. Just as he reached for a handkerchief to wipe it, the elevator shuddered to a stop. The lights flickered and went out.

A nervous panic swept over Mr. Garrett. He heard the diesel generator kick on from some distant corridor, and then the lights eased back up. In front of Mr. Garrett was the little boy in the overalls. A little boy that only wanted to play on a dirt mound in a deserted construction site one night. The elevator did not move. Mr. Garrett stumbled backward to the rear of the carriage. His briefcase dropped to the floor spilling papers everywhere. The boy came closer. Mr. Garrett’s throat tightened. His face reddened. He felt a pain in his chest and arm that prevented him from being able to breathe in. The last thing he felt was sweat burning his eyes and dripping down his shirt collar. The elevator jolted and resumed its ascent to the fifth floor.

When the doors opened there were several other inhabitants of the building waiting to take the elevator down. They all shared a synchronized gasp when they saw Mr. Garrett splayed out on the floor with papers all around him.

One lady squealed Mr. Garrett’s name loudly. Then she began yelling about his bad heart. “Call an ambulance!” another man barked as he knelt down next to the boss. Then he searched Mr. Garrett’s neck for a pulse that didn’t come, and he knew it was probably too late.

Credit: moonlit_cove

Song of the Siren

September 27, 2016 at 12:00 AM

This was not here yesterday, Richard thought to himself as he stepped on the bulge in the hardwood floor. He leaned forward onto his right foot, placing as much force as he could on the raised area to test if it would give beneath his weight. It did not budge no matter how much he bounced in place.

He discovered the irregularity after spilling a cup of cold coffee that had been sitting on his living room table all day. He noticed how the puddle ran away from the raised spot, and while wiping up the mess he could feel the small mound with his hand. Richard wasn’t sure what had caused the deformation, but he thought it may have had something to do with the heating ductwork that ran against the bottom of the floor in the crawlspace below, subjecting the woodwork to years of expansion and contraction. With the spill cleaned up, he went off to bed for the night and decided that he would just keep an eye on it to make sure it didn’t progress.

In the middle of the night Richard was startled awake by a loud cracking sound. In the fog of sleep he wasn’t sure what he had heard, or if he had even heard anything at all, as opposed to having dreamt the sound. He lay there in the dark for several minutes, listening so intently that all he could hear was the ringing in his own hears. He managed to convince himself that the noise was just a byproduct of his dream state, and he was just about to drift back to sleep when the cracking sound came again. This time the sound was unmistakably real, and was a much longer and drawn-out splintering noise that ended abruptly in a loud pop – the sound of wood slowly bending until it breaks.

“What was that?” Richard whispered as he bolted upright in the bed. He could tell that it was coming from the living room. It took several minutes before he worked up the courage to get out of bed and investigate the sound. He grabbed a baseball bat that was leaning against the wall in his closet and headed through the bedroom door.

“Who’s in here?” he said loudly as he switched on the hallway light. The hall was empty and the house was silent. He slowly worked his way to the living room and turned on another light, baseball bat readied over his right shoulder. There was no intruder in the house, but he did find the source of the noise. The bulge in the wood floor had grown – so much so that it had splintered and cracked. Richard cautiously stepped toward the mound. The bulge was now about four inches high, by his best estimation, and the planks had produced a series of jagged shards at opposing angles where the separation occurred.

Realizing there was no one else in the house he let his guard down and leaned the bat up against the wall. He approached the cracked boards and stood over them. They were not separated enough to see through the subfloor. Richard puzzled over what could possibly be beneath the surface that would cause this. He glanced up at the clock – 3:43. “Well, it’s going to have to wait until tomorrow. There’s no way I’m going into the crawlspace tonight.”

Richard left all the lights on and retreated to his room, but did not sleep. He heard more creaking and groaning from under the house, as well as a few more pops in the living room floor. At the first sign of dawn, he got up to check the bulge again. The mound had grown to approximately seven inches tall. The sub floor had begun to splinter and was coming through the finished hardwood planks. However, there was still not enough of a gap to see down below and determine what was causing the damage. As much as he dreaded doing so, Richard knew he had to go into the crawlspace to investigate. At least by now daylight was breaking.

The rusty metal door broke loose after several minutes of swearing and prying with a crow bar. Once free, Richard moved it aside and propped it against the house’s concrete block foundation. He pointed his flashlight into the opening and switched it on. Richard hated having to go in there. He’d only been inside on two other occasions – once for a burst water pipe – and the other to kill a pesky colony of sugar ants that would not stop infiltrating his kitchen.

The space was only about fifteen inches high. Richard crouched down and panned the interior with the light. The area that was visible in front of him was just as he remembered it – the uneven dirt floor, the cinder block columns spaced out every-so-often. He knew that in order to see what was under his living room he was going to have to go inside about twenty feet and turn right. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before dropping down onto his elbows and stomach to work his way inside.

The musty smell nearly overcame him as he made his way toward the opposite wall of the foundation. There were a couple places where he strained to squeeze himself underneath ventilation ducts and water pipes that hung below the floorboards. The space darkened the deeper in he went, but there were occasional slivers of light from the foundation vents to help his navigation.

Reaching the turn, he pulled himself forward enough for his line of sight to clear the corner of the concrete block wall, and he shone the flashlight into the space beneath his living room.

Richard was surprised, yet relieved at the same time, when the beam of the flashlight exposed a tree forcing its way up against the floorboards. It appeared to be about six inches in diameter at the thickest part of its base. Branches that split off of the main trunk twisted and intertwined in a chaotic array as they pushed and strained against the subfloor.

“How on earth did this thing grow so fast?” Richard wondered aloud. He surveyed the tree again, deciding what tools he would need to remove it. After putting together a mental list, he turned and began the slow journey back to the entrance.

By late afternoon he had taken care of the problem as best he could. Most of his time and effort was spent sawing through the trunk at its base with a hand saw. He then cut the tree into pieces small enough to remove through the access panel. Back inside the house, he laid a piece of plywood over the cracked floor and used his body weight to press it back down. The makeshift repair would be sufficient until he could call in a contractor to fix it properly.

Lying in bed that night, just on the verge of drifting off to sleep, Richard heard another sound. This time it was not the splintering of wood, but rather a soft and velvety sound. He tilted his head and concentrated in the sound’s direction. It was low and muffled, yet unmistakably present. It was as if someone, a female maybe, were humming a beautiful dirge – a song so somber and forlorn that one couldn’t help but be attracted to it. The gradual shifts in tone reminded him of the ebb and flow of ocean waves. The sad song was mesmerizing to Richard. It evoked feelings in him of loneliness, of lost love, and even prompted a hint of childhood nostalgia.

Did I leave the TV on? he wondered. He knew he had to search for the song’s source, but was reluctant at first to leave the comfort of his bed. The song could easily have lulled him into sleep if not for its mysterious presence. He forced himself to throw the sheets off and step out into the hallway. The sweet sound of the ballad was stronger there, and even more so in the living room. Richard flipped on the light. The room was empty. The television was off. He worked his way over to the plywood covering his damaged floor. He slid it aside and knelt down to examine the cracked boards.

The beautiful song continued from just below the broken floor in waves of vocals that made no sense in any language that Richard had ever heard. It was as if the voice was being used as an instrument in and of itself to mimic the parts of an orchestra.

Richard was speechless, his jaw slacked open in disbelief. He leaned in closer to the crack and gently ran his fingers along the splintery seam. The song was melancholy yet soothing, and there was no doubt that it was coming from the crawlspace below. Myriad scenarios ran through his head as to how this could be possible. Had he left the access panel off of the crawlspace entrance? Even if so, why would someone go in there? And even if that happened, why would they start singing?

The more he thought about it, the more frightened he became. The wall clock told him it was 11:52. The last thing he wanted was to have to enter the crawlspace at this time of night, but in his mind there was no other choice. He couldn’t just ignore this and go back to bed, hoping the woman would go away. Reluctantly, Richard accepted the fact that he was going to have to investigate the singing under his house.

Outside, Richard discovered that he had in fact remembered to replace the crawlspace door earlier. Not only was it in place, but it was latched from the outside as well. Upon removing the door, the song was much louder and more pronounced. As terrified as Richard was, the song seemed to call to him, it beckoned him and enticed him to come closer. In his mind he compared it to the sirens of Greek mythology – no wonder the ancient seafarers could not resist their call.

He turned on the flashlight and assumed his crawling position on elbows and stomach. Without pausing to dwell on the situation for too long, he forced himself across the threshold and into the darkness. His nervous hands were shaky with the flashlight, which caused the light beam to illuminate his surroundings in brief flashes: a cinder block column – a bank of dirty PVC pipes – ragged insulation drooping down from under the floorboards – the dirt floor with occasional spots of gravel.

The song of the siren continued. Its volume was steady, but it appeared to increase the closer he moved to its source. There was no sign of any being in the space directly in front of him. Richard knew he would have to turn the corner to enter the area under his living room. Just as he approached the edge of the block wall which formed that corner, the singing suddenly stopped. The silence was deafening. All Richard could hear were distant crickets and his own pulse throbbing inside his head. He inched forward toward the corner, his flashlight beam leading the way.

In the instant that he was able to see around the corner, the beam of light picked up a small creature, thin and frail, huddled up on its side in a fetal position. It was the palest of white and appeared to be about the size of an average two year old. The glimpse was very quick because Richard was so startled by the creature’s appearance that he recoiled, hitting his head on a ventilation duct. He dropped the flashlight and it flickered out.

“Ow!” he exclaimed from the pain on the back of his head. But his real concern was with whatever inhabited the darkness ahead. It had reacted to his yelling with a high-pitched shriek of its own. Then he heard the sound of movement as it scurried. Richard hoped it was moving away and not toward him.

“Holy… What in the world?” he said in a hushed but panicked voice.

Richard patted around until he found the flashlight and switched it back on. He frantically swept the beam left and right until he found the creature curled up in the corner furthest away. Its torso pulsated in and out as it took quick, heavy breaths. He noticed that his own breaths were much the same.

The being was unlike anything Richard had ever seen before. Richard guessed that if he were to see the creature standing, it would be no more than twenty-four inches high. Even though it was small it did not appear to be young. Its proportions were adult-like. The limbs were thin and wiry with long, elegant fingers and toes at the ends. Its skin was so pale that it was practically translucent, exposing a network of purple veins beneath the surface. The head was small, but its eyes were grossly oversized and reflected shades of amber in the beam of light. The ears came to a fine point, almost like those of an elf. A patch of blonde hair originated from between the ears and swept down its neck and onto its shoulders. The creature whimpered and shivered while wedged as far into the corner as possible.

Richard could tell that the being was just as afraid of him as he was of it. Unsure how to proceed, he finally managed to utter, “Hello?”

There was no response.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he added.

Still no response – only frightened shaking.

“What are you?” he asked softly, more to himself than to the creature.

“My tree,” the creature said in a voice that confirmed its femininity. “It’s gone.” Her voice reached Richard with a shimmering vibrato that tickled his ears and sent euphoria sweeping through his brain.

“You speak English?” Richard asked, perplexed. “There’s no way…”

“I can’t get home,” she said. “My tree is gone.”

“You lived in that tree?”

“I came through it – from my world.”

“And where is your world?” he asked.

“Below.” Her voice was frail and shaky as if just being present in this realm was slowly killing her. “I don’t have much time. We don’t survive long in this world.”

“What can I do to help you?”

“It’s too late. My tree is gone.”

“But there has to be a way for you to get back.” Richard was dumbfounded that he was even having this conversation at all.

“I’m too weak to dig on my own.” A pause and a labored inhalation. “I can’t breathe well.”

The tiny being closed her eyes and within just a few moments the shaking and deep breathing ceased. Richard lay in the dirt chest-down, unable to believe what had just transpired. He grappled with thoughts of what he should do next. Nothing he could come up with seemed like a good option. He was too freaked out to pick up the dead creature and move it, but he just as surely did not want to leave it under his house either. He finally decided on a removal technique that did not involve touching the body directly.

He left and came back with a shovel. He forced it into the dirt under the carcass, pried it up, and dragged the shovel out from the crawlspace. He then gave her a proper burial in the corner of his property furthest from the house. He finished all of this at 3:15 AM.

Richard was unsettled for the rest of that night. He had showered and put on clean clothes only to lie in bed awake, thoroughly distressed about the situation he’d encountered. Tomorrow was a Monday, but he switched off his alarm clock and decided that he’d call in sick to work in the morning. So many thoughts ran through his head:

What was that thing? Where did it come from? Are there others? She made it sound like there was an entire nether-world below the surface.

Sleep did finally come to him. A deep sleep without dreams – without even the awareness of his own existence.

The bright sunshine woke Richard, beaming through his bedroom window and causing a dull pain at the back of his eyes. His mouth was dry and his throat was sore. A wave of uneasiness swept over him as the events of last night came rushing back to the forefront of his mind. He debated with himself about whether or not he would tell anyone about the encounter. He had no proof without digging up the body, which he wasn’t willing to do. And without that, everyone would just think he’d gone crazy.

He got out of bed slowly and made his way to the kitchen for a glass of water. The drink felt cool and refreshing, and it soothed Richard’s throat almost instantly. As he drank he stared out the kitchen window into his backyard. He could see the mound of fresh dirt at the edge of his property about fifty feet away. A flock of blackbirds had landed near the makeshift gravesite and were scouring the land for bugs and worms.

The silence was broken by soft, muted singing.

The glass slipped from Richard’s hand and shattered on the tile kitchen floor. He was frozen in both disbelief and terror. The song was without a doubt the same one that the little creature had serenaded him with yesterday, but this time it sounded slightly different. It had the depth and magnitude of multiple voices. Richard couldn’t determine how many. Five? Ten? More?

The volume and intensity of the ethereal song increased. The voices appeared to have harmonious parts – some high, some low – making it even more irresistible with its gorgeous layers. The flock of blackbirds had noticed the song and were moving about frantically in the yard. They finally took flight with a great shriek, a dense group of black dots peppering the bright sky.

Richard placed his hands over his ears and doubled over, clenching his teeth. “Stop it!” he demanded. “Leave me alone!”

The song rose from beneath the floor. Richard had the overwhelming desire to get out of the house. Even though he was only wearing a t-shirt and sweat pants, he bolted out the back door, off the porch and into the yard. The song followed him. Realizing that he was not outrunning it, he stopped near the edge of his property and turned around.

A multitude of the creatures stood before him – thirty or forty of them. They were not advancing on him, just standing still, facing him.

“What do you want from me?” Richard yelled.

“You killed our Pixie,” one of them responded. Its voice had the same shimmering and mesmerizing quality that Richard had heard in the first one.

“I didn’t kill anybody,” Richard said, breathing hard, “she got stuck here.’

“You closed her doorway,” one of them called out.

“Now there’s no one to sing her parts,” another added.

The group of beings grew more and more upset. They each shouted their own condemnations and opinions at Richard. He was able to discern a few of their comments amidst the chaos:

“Our song hasn’t been the same without her,” one shouted.

“We can’t stay here much longer,” came another.

Still others chimed in. “We need someone to replace her.”

“Him! Let’s take him!”

Richard’s instinct was to turn and run. If he could only evade them for a little while they would all be dead soon due to whatever it was in this world that they were not compatible with. He tried to dart off into the open field behind his property, but the creatures were much faster than he’d anticipated.

The first one grabbed his right pant leg, and another latched onto his left ankle. Richard was thrown off balance and tripped, landing flat on his chest. The swarm of creatures enveloped him. He felt them as they climbed onto his back, pulled his hair, and grabbed at his thighs and torso. The force of their grips was unexpectedly strong and painful. He heard his sweat pants tear and one of them pinched hard on his buttock. The beings covered him and tugged his body in all directions. Richard screamed out in pain.

The singing began again, as beautiful as ever. In the same way that the parts of the song came together, the creatures also began working together to pull Richard along the ground in a choreographed motion that suggested they’d done this before.

Richard frantically grasped at blades of grass which merely broke off in his fists as he was dragged on his chest. The song was so close and so loud that it felt as if it were emanating from inside him. With a wave of tugging, the beings managed to roll him over onto his back. The sun blinded him and panic overtook him as he was no longer able to dig his fingers into the ground in this position. He swung his arms violently at the creatures, but whenever he knocked one away there were others waiting to take its place.

“I didn’t kill her!” he shouted.

There was no response – only singing.

“Let me go! I didn’t do anything!” His plea was in vain.

It felt as if every square inch of his body was being fondled by a creature. They headed toward the crawlspace and Richard noticed that the door had already been removed. As they passed, he attempted to grab onto the side of the opening, but his fingertips slipped. The force of thirty or forty beings was much too great to overcome.

Under the house it was mostly dark with the exception of what little light came in through the vents in the foundation. The dirt and gravel were rough on his back, adding more discomfort to the already agonizing tugging and pulling. Above him was a blur of wooden floor joists, mangled insulation, aluminum air ducts, and white PVC pipes. He reached out to grab at anything he could, but the vengeful creatures eventually took hold of both his hands.

They turned the corner and headed to where the tree had been. The stump was gone and in its place was a large hole – about three feet in diameter. When they began to drag him down the hole, Richard attempted to wedge himself in by extending his legs and pressing his feet into the wall as hard as he could. The creatures continually broke him free. The song was deafening inside the confined space. There was barely enough room to breathe with all the beings pressed between him and the tunnel walls. The deeper they took Richard, the more faint he began to feel, until he finally lost all consciousness in the pitch black depths.

Credit: moonlit_cove

The Coral Ridge Bypass

September 8, 2016 at 12:00 AM

I had always made it a point to avoid that isolated stretch of road like the plague. I’d heard so many stories about it, and even though I was certain that most of them were untrue, my disbelief did not squelch my fear of driving it. Urban myths and rumors emerged over the course of many years regarding the Coral Ridge Bypass. There were tales of a deranged feral man that supposedly roamed the area hunting other humans – tales of twin sisters that were killed in an accident decades ago, who would mysteriously appear in front of your car – tales of people vanishing after witnessing things they shouldn’t have seen, and so on.

My friends used to try to get me to ride through the bypass with them. “C’mon, Derek! Don’t be such a baby. Everyone should go through at least once.” They would tease me like that nearly every weekend, but I never relented. Unlike those who were actively seeking the thrill of exploring our local urban legends, I did not willingly wish to travel through the bypass. However, on one rainy night I had no choice as an eighteen wheeler had overturned on Highway 53 and my usual route home was completely closed-off.

I sat in my car watching the flashing red and blue lights a hundred feet ahead. My headlights exposed the metal ribbing on the underside of the semi’s trailer and my windshield wipers kept time, crisp as a metronome. The clock on my dashboard told me it was 1:32 AM. Just a few yards ahead and to my right was the turn-off. The reflective green street sign pointed into a black void in the otherwise dense woods. ‘Coral Ridge Bypass’, it stated, giving me more of the impression of a warning than that of helpful direction.

Turning around and going back the way I’d come was not really an option. If I did that I would have to drive about thirty-five miles out of my way in order to get home. ‘Maybe I can wait it out,’ I thought to myself. But it didn’t take long before I realized how foolish that was. It might take hours to clear the wreck.

A policeman approached me and signaled for me to roll down my window. “You’re going to have to take the bypass,” he said, leaning toward my open window. He was a tall, thin man with sunken blue eyes and dark sideburns. There was transparent cellophane stretched over his trooper’s hat which caused the raindrops to bead up and roll off of it.

“Is there any other way?” I asked.

“Not unless you turn around and backtrack to the interstate. It’s quite a ways further though.” He must have noted the look of concern on my face, so he added, “Don’t worry, son. Those are just stories people tell.”

I thanked him and resigned myself to facing my fears and taking the bypass. He motioned me forward and I slowly turned onto the desolate road. Tall trees towered overhead on both sides. They seemed to lean forward and blend together at the top, creating a tunnel effect. My headlights briefly exposed each massive trunk as I progressed deeper into the woods. I tried to stay focused on the pavement because if my gaze lingered on the woods beside me for too long, the trees took on unnerving shapes. Knotholes became gaping mouths – twisted branches became arms and hands attempting to prevent me from going any deeper – roots became feet, poised to break forth from the soil at any moment and step into my pathway.

I blinked my eyes forcefully to rid my mind of the frightening images. My windshield wipers began to squeak dryly on the window. I had no doubt that it was still raining heavily somewhere overhead, but most of the droplets were unable to penetrate the tree coverage. I dialed the knob back to an intermittent cycle with a much longer pause between swipes.

Every so often there was a break in the trees containing a narrow gravel road that led into the woods. I must have passed four or five of those. Undoubtedly, they were the driveways of reclusive landowners. Some had ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted – others had rusty metal gates across them. They didn’t have to warn me twice. There was no way I was going to take one of those paths, only to be greeted by someone on the front porch of a dilapidated trailer home brandishing a shotgun at me. No sir.

I had never seen so many twists and turns in a road in my entire life. The signs that warned of upcoming hairpin curves were old and barely visible in my headlights. Thankfully though, I could still make them out, since any turn with a speed limit of ten miles per hour had to be taken seriously, lest one drive off the low shoulder and come to rest wheels-up in the ditch.

I had just exited one such turn when my headlights glimpsed a scene that took me by complete surprise. To my right was another gravel drive, and off the road blocking the drive was a van. It appeared to be an older van, a late 1970s model maybe, and it had been cheaply painted in flat-black – probably with spray cans by the look of it. There were no side or rear windows, but the rear access doors were wide open, and there were two men standing at the back. All of the vehicle’s lights were off.

Startled by this scene, I slowed down, initially thinking that someone was having car trouble. The closer I got, I realized that the men were leaned over, struggling with something inside the back of the van. Whatever it was had been wrapped in some sort of tarpaulin or plastic trash bags. A plume of exhaust rose around them as the van idled with a low gurgle.

As I eased past, one of the men looked directly at me. He was thin, and had a full brown beard. He wore a flannel shirt and straw hat, and had a cigarette pressed tightly between his lips. His eyebrows sank as he gave me a look of disgust. The other man was bald, slightly overweight and wore denim overalls. I could not see his face.

I did not want to know what those two men were up to, so I sped up a bit and drove on. I could feel my elevated pulse throbbing in my neck and I wanted nothing more than to emerge from the desolate woods and back onto Highway 53.

“How much longer is this road?” I wondered aloud.

It seemed to go on forever, but eventually the trees thinned, the twists and turns straightened out, the rain returned to its prevalence on my windshield, and I saw an intersection ahead with a junction sign for Highway 53 reflecting in my lights. The guardrails lining the wide highway came into view. I breathed a sigh of relief as I slowed at the stop sign then turned right onto 53 and proceeded home.

– – – – –

I slept very lightly that night – if it could even be called sleep at all. It was more like drifting in and out of consciousness, accompanied by the occasional fever dream of the two men struggling with the wrapped object in the back of the van. I repeatedly saw the bearded man scowling at me as I crept past. I must have awoken in a cold sweat at least three times. The last awakening was at 3:54 AM. I remember because I looked over at my alarm clock after hearing the sound outside.

I lay there in bed and listened to the distant peels of thunder and the rain pounding on the roof. The thunder then took on a steady sound as if it was holding an endless note. The longer I listened, the more it dawned on me that it wasn’t thunder at all. What I was hearing was a car engine, except that its sound did not fade into the distance as a passing car’s would have. It seemed as if someone had stopped in front of my house.

I got out of bed and entered the bedroom across the hall, facing the street. At the window, I separated the blinds in a tiny sliver – just enough to peer through with one eye. Beneath the orange glow of the sodium vapor streetlamp was the black van, lights off, idling in the street in front of my house.

Instantly, my heart raced. Even though I was petrified, I watched the van intently. A thousand thoughts went through my head: How had they found me? What exactly had I witnessed in the bypass? What were their intentions toward me? I felt chilled, and my fingers that held the blinds began to tremble. I continued watching until I heard the engine of the van rev slightly as it moved slowly forward. The muffler had corroded past the point of being able to do its job properly, and it was almost as if I could hear each individual cylinder firing as the van continued at a snail’s pace down my street.

I knew they would have to come back past the house in a few seconds since my street ended in a cul-de-sac. I waited, hoping to get a glimpse of their license plate as they passed by. I heard the van before I saw it, then its silhouette appeared out of the shadows, and once again into the street light in front of my house. They slowed, but did not stop. I strained to read the license number, but could not make it out clearly. It’s possible that the plate had been tampered with. Once they were nearly out of sight, the driver turned on the lights. The houses ahead were washed in the yellow headlamps, and two small red taillight circles appeared just before they drove out of sight over the crest of the hill.

And all was quiet.

– – – – –

I dreaded having to drive home from work the following night. Working second shift was bad enough in and of itself, but with the added stress of the incident on Coral Ridge Bypass – and later, in front of my own house – I was terrified of nightfall. I came out of the factory just after 1:00 AM and panned the parking lot with much more scrutiny than normal. Once I deemed it safe, I proceeded to my car.

Highway 53 was wide open, and I pushed notably beyond the speed limit in order to get home and off of that dark stretch of road as quickly as possible. The radio was on, and I had it tuned to a station that was operated by the local public library. I liked it because it was commercial-free. At that time of night they ran a program called “Nightshades” that was mostly somber instrumentals. The host had a calm and soothing voice, and he spoke only a minimum of words between tracks. The show had a reputation for garnering a listenership whose vast majority consisted of people sleeping while radios played softly on their nightstands. Music to induce deep sleep, along with the occasional otherworldly dream.

A beautiful, albeit short, piano piece had just ended. “That track was ‘The Winter of 1539-1540’ and the artist was ‘Goldmund’,” the DJ stated in his smooth, sultry tone. He continued, “And here is a much longer piece with a much darker vibe. The artist is ‘Deathprod’ and the title is ‘Dead People’s Things’.”

At first I scoffed at what I thought was an overtly pretentious title. Until I heard the song.

The droning bass notes rose slowly into audible range and they continued to swell, ebb and flow for the remainder of my commute home. I had never heard such a dark and ominous piece of music before. It was trancelike, and it cast an incredibly disturbing aura over the already unsettling drive home. I should have changed the channel, but I was mesmerized. Along with the fading in and out of the low end there were also swirls of what I can only describe as the sound of ambient hiss inside a large pipe, then even higher-pitched squeals akin to someone playing a saw blade as a musical instrument.

This went on for nearly twenty minutes, and by the time it was over I had to snap myself back into reality. I was sitting in my driveway, car still running, headlights splashed harshly against my closed garage door. And I had no recollection of arriving there. A different song played on the radio. I pressed the button on my visor to open the garage door, and then pulled inside. As the door was closing behind me, I caught sight in my rear-view mirror of the black van passing by on the street toward the exit of the neighborhood. ‘Had they been watching me from the cul-de-sac?’ I wondered, ‘Or had they followed me home without my knowledge while I was distracted by that foreboding music?’

Panic overtook me once more. I rushed into the house and made sure all of the doors were locked. My heart did not calm down for the better part of an hour, until I finally had the courage to lie down in bed. I was, once again, in and out of sleep that night with visions of the van and the memory of the droning bass line from that sinister song washing back and forth in my head. It filled me with the sensation of impending doom.

– – – – –

Apparently I looked pretty haggard the next evening at work. A co-worker of mine named Simon approached me in the break room.

“Hey, Derek – you feelin’ alright, man?” he asked.

I looked at him with half-closed, puffy eyes. “Yeah, I’m okay,” I replied, then took a swig of strong coffee.

“You look exhausted. You’ve had to stop the line three times tonight. Normally you’re on top of it.”

“I just haven’t been sleeping well lately, that’s all.”

He gazed at me more intently and raised his eyebrows. I could tell that my explanation wasn’t good enough, so I continued, “I don’t know, Simon. It’s just that I…” I broke off and then tried again, “Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being followed?” As soon as it escaped my lips I regretted saying it. Now Simon was going to think I was losing my mind.

“No. How do you mean, exactly?”

“The other night I was forced to drive through the Coral Ridge Bypass, and there was this really old black van on the side of the road with these two guys loading something in the back-”

Simon interrupted me with a sarcastic laugh.

“Nice try, Derek. I’ve heard this one before. You don’t actually expect me to believe that old legend, do you?” he said.

I gave him a confused look. “What legend?”

Simon’s face changed. “Wait, you’re not joking? You actually saw the black van?” he blurted out. Then in a shocked whisper he added, “I didn’t think that one was real.”

“You’ve heard of it?” I questioned.

“I can’t believe you haven’t!”

I shrugged and shook my head back and forth impatiently, hoping he would get the point and fill me in. He did.

“Supposedly there were these two guys – brothers, I think – that used to ride around in this blacked-out van. This was back in, like, the early eighties. One night they had a little too much to drink, or maybe a little too much to smoke, if you know what I mean, and they hit a man that was jogging. I know, I know, it’s stupid to be out jogging on the bypass, right? But that’s how the story goes.

“Anyway, they took the body with them to get rid of it later, but another lady that was driving by at the time witnessed them packing up the body. They vowed not to let her get away, and they tracked her down and killed her, too.

“And the legend goes that if you see the van when you’re driving through the Coral Ridge Bypass, the guys will come after you, too. And they won’t give up until you’re dead.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “But that happened thirty-some-odd years ago,” I said. “How could they still be out there stalking people today?”

Simon leaned against a snack machine and crossed his arms. He breathed in deeply and exhaled long and slow. Finally, he said, “Derek, those guys are dead. They were killed in a shootout when the police came to arrest them for what they’d done to the jogger and the witness.”

I felt the stress mounting and rubbed my temples. I couldn’t believe my friends had never told me about this one.

Simon glanced at his watch, stood straight up and said, “I gotta get back to work. I seriously hope you’re joking with me, dude.” Then he walked out of the break room.

“I hope YOU are,” was all I could muster after the door had swung shut behind him and the room was empty.

The remainder of my shift was completely unproductive. So much so that my boss actually pulled me off the line and sent me home at 11:00.

My eyes were heavy on the commute home. I switched the radio to a classic rock station since the Nightshades program was only making me sleepier. I felt somewhat more alert after that, so I guess it worked to a degree. There were very few other cars on Highway 53, which allowed me to hum along at a good pace.

Suddenly I was blinded by a bright light in my rear-view mirror. I squinted, but tried my best to focus on the source. I was able to make out two headlights that had just switched on directly behind me. I had no idea how long this vehicle had been following me without lights, but I instantly knew it had to be the van, and I wasn’t about to let them run me down and kill me. I pressed the accelerator and put a bit of distance between us. The van matched my speed and nudged even closer than before.

Suddenly red and blue flashing lights appeared above the headlights, and I muttered a few choice words while I slowed my car to a stop on the side of the road. The cop must have been hiding in the dark on a side road and then pulled out behind me before turning his lights on.

The officer approached my window – the same officer with the hat and sideburns that worked the truck accident scene the other night.

“License and registration,” he commanded, dryly. There was a look of recognition in his eyes when he took the documents from me. “You’re out here quite often late at night, huh?”

“Yes sir, I work second shift at the cannery,” I said, pointing over my shoulder.

He gave the hint of a nod, but said nothing further about my job. He was busy writing on a clipboard. After a moment he asked, “In a hurry to get home tonight, son?”

I wanted to blurt out the whole thing – to tell him about my sighting the other night, about the van that I thought might be stalking me, about how I thought I was in imminent danger and needed his help. But I knew it would sound crazy. Not to mention, nothing threatening had actually happened yet. There would be nothing he could do.

“Yeah, I’m a little tired,” was my only reply.

He spent a few more minutes back in his cruiser before returning to my window and letting me off with a warning and a promise to drive safely. After he pulled out from behind me, I let out a sigh of relief and eased back onto the highway. I took it easy the rest of the way home.

I topped the hill on my street, and as I approached my house, a wave of fear washed over me. The black van was backed into my driveway, all the way up against the garage door, lights off, just waiting for me. My heartbeat quickened as I passed up my house and headed toward the cul-de-sac, hoping that I could get turned around before they blocked me in.

I kept watch over my shoulder and in my mirrors while I swung the car around at the end of my street. I sped up and looked over at the van as I approached my house again. The van’s headlights switched on just as I passed my driveway, and I saw it lunge forward. It turned onto the street behind me and I pressed the accelerator further down just before cresting the hill.

The van closed in on me as I cut corners and navigated the turns in my neighborhood with reckless abandon. I darted out onto Highway 53, narrowly missing the wooden fence at the subdivision’s entrance. The van barreled along right behind me. My speedometer needle reached uncharted territory in the straight-aways of the highway. I hoped with everything in me that Officer Sideburns was still patrolling this stretch. My heart sank when I passed the spot where he’d pulled me over just moments earlier and there was no sign of him.

I checked the rear-view mirror constantly. At one point, and for no apparent reason, the headlights began to fade into the distance. Soon they were merely two small yellow dots on the horizon. I eased up on the pedal and coasted to a much more comfortable cruising speed. With the threat out of the way for the time being, my thoughts turned to my next steps. I had no idea where I was going to go from here – home was not safe. And how would I ever escape these guys if what Simon told me was true? And if they were, in fact, ghosts, could they really harm me? There were so many unknowns and the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t even want to drive through the bypass in the first place.

As I rounded a long sweeping curve several minutes later, I was jolted out of my thoughts by the sight of the van parked across the road, blocking both lanes, headlights pointed into the tree line on my left. I mashed the brake pedal. The car nose-dived and skidded to a halt about twenty feet away from the van. I could hear the choppy idle of its massive engine. I had no idea how they’d gotten around me so quickly. Either they knew another shortcut, or they really were supernatural beings.

The van began moving forward slowly and straightened up to face me directly. As they drew closer I knew that I didn’t have time to turn around in order to go back the other way. My only chance at escape was the narrow road that entered the break in the tree line just off to my left – the Coral Ridge Bypass. It’s almost as if they were forcing me to go back there. Before I could give myself time to second-guess the decision, I sped off onto the bypass. The van followed close behind.

I traveled at an uncomfortably fast pace. I was in no way familiar enough with the bypass to anticipate all of its dangerous twists and turns. The ghosts in the van had the definite advantage in that department – this was their home turf. Because of that, they were never more than a few feet behind me, headlights illuminating my car’s interior and blinding me in the mirrors.

The tree trunks were a blur. I had no time to see the twisted faces and gnarled arms hidden within them. I sped on, over small hills and valleys, through tight curves and broad ones. A couple times my tires left the pavement and kicked up dirt and gravel. Eventually, my luck ran out when I barreled into an insanely sharp hairpin turn. I could not slow down fast enough and my sweaty hands clenched the steering wheel tightly as I skidded off into the embankment.

My car came to rest at a forty-five degree angle, its passenger side tires off in the ditch. I took a quick mental inventory and determined that I was okay. I didn’t feel pain anywhere – no blood had escaped me, as far as I could tell. My engine had cut off, but my headlights still shone brightly into a pile of dead leaves and overgrown brush.

In my mirror the headlights of the van shone brightly. It idled motionless directly behind me. I frantically searched my car for some sort of makeshift weapon. I had a tire iron, but naturally, it was in the trunk. I was rummaging through the glove box for a flashlight when the window next to me was shattered violently by the man in the straw hat who was wielding a large metal crowbar. Shards of glass sprayed my head, neck and shoulders. Before I could react, the man reached inside, pulled up the door lock, yanked my door open, and pulled me out of the car by my left arm.

I was thrown out onto the street and I lay there breathing heavily as the man stood over me, crowbar readied to pummel my face at any moment. The large, bald man joined him. All I could see where their dark figures silhouetted by the van’s headlights. Aside from the van’s rumbling engine, all was quiet for a moment. The one with the straw hat threw a cigarette onto the pavement and ground it with his boot.

As terrified as I was, the only thing my mind could think at that time was, ‘These guys are not ghosts. They’re as real as I am.’ Which led me to the fact that Simon had apparently made up the legend on the spot based on what I told him I saw out here.

“That little prick!” I said out loud, but not intending to.

“What did you say to me?” the straw hat guy demanded. I chose not to repeat it.

He took a step forward so that he was lumbering over me with the metal bar suspended above my head. “How much did you see the other night?” he barked.

“I didn’t see anything. Just that you were pulled off to the side of the road,” I managed to say between gasps. After a moment I added, “How did you find me?”

“Let’s just say I have enough connections to trace a license plate,” he said. The man in the straw hat looked over at the bald guy, as if seeking approval to beat me senseless.

“He could be telling the truth,” the bald man declared matter-of-factly. Then, after thinking over what they’d already done to me, he said, “but we’ve got to finish what we’ve started.”

Straw Hat Man lunged forward and raised the crowbar high overhead. I rolled quickly to my right and the bar landed just behind my back, sparking as it struck the pavement with a loud clang. During the moment that he attempted to reset his swing, I was able to scramble to my knees, then my feet, and run into the coverage of the dense trees.

I made my way deeper into the woods and stopped behind a wide tree trunk. I peered back in the direction of the van. The two men were still standing in the beams of the headlights, yelling and arguing with one another. I tried to remain as quiet as possible. I could not make out everything that was said, but I was able to gather enough of their words to determine that what they’d been involved in recently included the elimination of several witnesses that were threatening to expose their meth ring.

Suddenly there was a rustling of movement in the foliage off to my right. I stood still as a statue and listened in that direction. The movement became more pronounced and frantic until finally I saw a figure burst out from the tree line and into the street where the van was parked. The two men immediately stopped arguing and turned to face the beast.

At first I could not make out exactly what it was since the creature approached the men on all fours. It had the appearance of a crouched-over man, but it moved much too quickly on its hands and feet to be entirely human. It had an immense amount of facial hair – so much that it was difficult to make out any distinct features of the face. When the beast stood upright to confront the men, that’s when I knew that I was seeing the famed feral man. He was tall and incredibly muscular. It was hard to be certain from my vantage point, but it appeared that he wore no clothing.

The deranged man pounced onto the criminal with the straw hat and crowbar first. The bald one took a few steps backward and watched helplessly. The metal bar clanged against the pavement and its echo rang out into the woods. I heard cries of torment the likes of which I never want to hear again. Soon the man’s body lay limp in the road and his straw hat came to rest atop a pool of blood a few feet in front of him.

The creature turned its attention to the bald guy, who was attempting to enter the driver’s door of the running van. It was of no use as the wild man grabbed his left arm so hard that I can only assume, based on the scream, that his shoulder was dislocated. But the screams were short-lived. After several more seconds of clawing and tearing, the large man collapsed to the ground.

With his fresh kills completed, the feral man grabbed one of the bald man’s ankles in his left hand, then he took one of the other man’s ankles in his right. He dragged the corpses off of the street and disappeared into the thick, dark woods, leaving two streaks of red on the pavement. I didn’t want to think about what he was going to do with the bodies. I stood in my wooded hiding place for what seemed an eternity with my pulse in my throat and an acidic taste in my mouth. The only sound was the low rumble of the van’s engine still idling.

I knew that my car was incapacitated, so after enough time had passed that I felt safe enough to emerge from the woods, I made my way to the van, got into the driver’s seat, and headed directly for the police station. In the cargo area behind me was a pile of large black plastic bags filled with things I didn’t want to see. The smell was so unbearable I wanted to vomit. Tears filled my eyes, and I wasn’t sure if it was due to the air inside the van, or because of what I had just experienced.

I began trying to piece together a story that the police would readily believe. I feared they would dismiss me as crazy if I attempted to convince them that I knew at least one of the legends of the Coral Ridge Bypass to be true. I had seen him with my own eyes. I also hoped they didn’t try to place the blame on me for whatever brutal atrocities were contained in the back of the van. But those things could all be dealt with in due time. For the time being I was just glad to be alive, and I couldn’t wait for the bypass to empty back out onto Highway 53.

Credit: moonlit_cove

Carlisle Pond

September 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM

That infernal sound wakes me once again. At first I can’t place it as I ascend from the murky depths of sleep. Then I hear it again as the fog is clearing – the familiar honking of a car horn.

“Not again,” I murmur and turn over to face my wife, June, who is also stirring awake.

“What is it, Adam?” she whispers to me in a dry, hoarse voice.

“More pesky kids, I’m sure.” I slip out from under the covers and proceed to the window facing the pond. I step behind the lace curtain and separate the blinds at eye level. There is a car about 50 yards away, turning around on the dirt road on the other side of the pond. Within seconds its taillights fade away in a dust cloud and finally disappear altogether behind the trees that line the front of our property.

I drop the blinds and curtain and make my way over to the nightstand next to my side of the bed to pick up my wristwatch. At the press of a button, its face glows, telling me it’s 2:37 AM. I lie back down on my side of the bed, the spot still warm.

“All of this nonsense because of some stupid urban legend,” I say in a frustrated and resigned tone. I feel June’s hand rub my shoulder in that consoling way that I love so much about her. She always manages to keep me calm in times like this. I continue to mull over the events in my head until I finally find sleep again.

– – – – –

In 1983 there was an incident that took place on our property. We didn’t live here at the time, and when we first moved in, we had no idea how much things would escalate regarding the infamy of this land. You see, we live in the old farmhouse out on Route 41. Yes, THAT farmhouse. Back when this was a thriving farm, it was owned by the Carlisle family. They had moderate success with it for many years, but began to experience a gradual decline in the late ‘70s. The farm soon began operating in the red, and the 1983 incident was the final nail in the coffin, so to speak.

On that fateful night in August of 1983, a pair of teenage lovers found their way onto the farmland – to the pond, to be exact. They were there for a bit of harmless fun, no doubt. Maybe a bit of drinking – maybe a bit of smoking – maybe a bit of making out or skinny dipping. Whatever it was, it didn’t end well. Both of them somehow ended up drowning in the pond. Their bodies were recovered, but the investigation never determined why they had drowned.

Many rumors began to form as to how they’d died. These encompassed everything from a supernatural entity in the pond that would pull swimmers under the water – to a mysterious whirlpool that would suck people down – to aliens that had crash landed on the farm and were drowning people. If one could dream it up, it became a theory – and the weirder the better.

This is where the urban legend comes in. I don’t know how or when it started, or by whom, but supposedly if you drive to the end of the dirt road on our property at night, right up to the edge of the pond with your headlights shining out over the water, and honk your horn three times, you will see an apparition of the two teens that drowned floating above the water – almost as if they were walking on top of the water.

Over the years it has become a popular activity born out of dares, hazing traditions and just plain boredom to attempt this nonsensical ritual in the hopes of catching a glimpse at the dead lovers over the water. Much to my and June’s dismay.

– – – – –

I spend the morning standing out on the dock that overlooks the pond, hot coffee in hand. My breath is visible in front of me in the brisk air of late autumn. The trees on the other side of the pond look beautiful this time of year, especially when accented by the fog lingering above the water’s surface. The flaming leaves of orange, red and yellow appear to rise up from the dense, opaque air. I hear footsteps as June joins me on the dock with her coffee.

“Nice, isn’t it?” she asks.

“Yes. I’ve always loved it here. So peaceful. It would be perfect if not for the ‘tourists’.” I make a quotation mark gesture with the fingers of my free hand when I say that last word.

We both sip our coffees. Then I add, “I think I’m going to go ahead with what we talked about – fencing the property and putting up a gate across the drive.”

“Oh Adam, we’ve talked about this before. You know you’re not in any kind of shape anymore to be doing that kind of work.”

“Then I’ll pay someone else to do it,” I rebut. My reply is sharper than I had intended. After a brief pause I continue, “I’m sorry, hon, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just so tired of all the honking and tired of catching people on our land. It’s just a matter of time until either someone gets hurt or someone tries to hurt us.”

“Now why would they do that?” Her tone is as calm as ever. She’s my rock.

“You know how people are. They visit the pond, and when nothing supernatural happens they may turn their attention toward our house – try to break in or something.”

June gives me a frowning smirk.

“Well, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, you know,” I counter, “especially if they’re high.”

June takes my free arm in hers. “People that really want to get in will still find a way in,” she says.

“I know, but I think it would cut way down on the number of people that try.”

“If that’s what you want, I’ll support you.” She kisses me on the cheek and turns to walk back to the house. “Don’t stay out too long,” she calls back over her shoulder, “it’s cold out this morning.”

I stand there for a few more minutes, soaking in the peace and beauty, and dreading what may come with nightfall.

– – – – –

This time we hear the commotion before we are even in bed for the night. In fact, we are sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch when we see the headlights approaching on the opposite side of the pond. It’s not completely dark yet, but the dusk indigo sky is quickly heading there. Tires make a crunching sound on the gravel and dirt as the car slowly pulls up to the edge of the lake and stops. At the angle our house sits relative to the pond, the car’s headlights are not directly on us, and I surmise that the driver cannot see us.

We remain still in our chairs and wait. We know what’s coming.

“That one’s pretty close to the edge,” I say.

Before June can answer, the driver sounds the car’s horn for the first time.

“Right on the edge,” she confirms when the horn blast ends.

A second honk rings out, echoing off the rolling hills of the farmland behind our house. I stand and walk to the edge of the porch. I’m annoyed and my nerves have had enough of this. I take a few steps down onto the front lawn.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” June calls to me. I wave her off and continue walking.

The horn sounds a third time. By now I am walking down the dock directly across from the car. Surely they can see me in the headlight beams. The driver, apparently in a panic, throws the car into reverse and nails the throttle. The rear tires spin, flinging chunks of dirt and gravel forward. I hear the particles clinking as they hit the sides of the car. With the loss of traction the car begins to slip forward. First the lower front valence of the body touches the water, then the motionless front tires. In an instant the headlights are nearly submerged. The driver lets up off the accelerator before sinking any further. The car sits idle for a few seconds.

I stand at the end of the dock and watch, frustrated as ever. The last thing I want is to have to go and rescue some of the punks that have been terrorizing us. Just as I’m putting a plan together in my head for how to go about helping them, the driver seems to have a moment of clarity. The throttle is applied gently, just enough to not break traction. Inch by inch the car moves backward, and in a miraculous turn of events, manages to work its way out of the impending watery doom. Once free, the driver executes a hasty turnaround and blasts down the path away from our property, fishtailing the entire way. Only a dust cloud remains on that side of the pond.

“That was a close one!” June says excitedly. She is standing at the edge of the porch.

I walk back toward her. “I’m telling you, June, I’ve had it! I just want some peace and quiet back here. Is that too much to ask?”

“We can always move,” she offers.

“But we shouldn’t have to. I like it here… minus the legend.” I point a thumb over my shoulder toward the pond.

She sighs and takes my hand when I reach the porch. I keep walking and she quickly follows behind, still hand in hand. The springs on the old metal screen door squeak as I open it. We enter the foyer and I release June’s hand.

“I guess I’ll call the fence people tomorrow,” I say as the door clacks shut. I close and dead-bolt the thick wooden door behind it.

– – – – –
-Three nights later-
– – – – –

Ronnie is driving back to Carlisle Pond with his girlfriend Christy. Dense trees of all gnarled shapes and sizes that line the sides of Route 41 come into view in their headlights, and vanish just as quickly – each individual tree seeming to relish its brief moment in the spotlight. Christy is visibly nervous, but Ronnie is determined to show her.

“Can’t we just turn around and go back?” Christy pleads.

“We’re almost to the turn-off. It’s somewhere up here on the left, just past a huge rock,” Ronnie says, ignoring her request.

Christy sees the rock come into view and feels a tinge of dread rush through her abdomen. There is all manner of graffiti painted on the rock – no doubt a marker to alert curious seekers to the exact location. Ronnie slows the car and turns onto the dirt and gravel road. Grass is growing tall in the center of the path, in between where the car’s tires grind on the small rocks. Dust kicks up behind them as Ronnie slowly drives the car around a sweeping right turn. Trees cling so tightly on both sides that branches hit the windshield and scrape along the doors. The car exits into a clearing and the pond comes into view.

“This place gives me the creeps,” Christy whispers, “and you came here alone the other night?”

“Yeah, isn’t it cool?” Ronnie stops the car several feet shy of the pond’s edge, his headlights revealing the escape ruts he left last time. He points into the distance out the left side of the windshield. “Look at that old house.”

“Gross, it looks all run-down. Like nobody’s lived there in decades,” she responds.

“But I swear I saw someone the other night. After I honked three times, he appeared. Just like the legend! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

Christy is glad it’s dark in the car so that Ronnie cannot see her rolling her eyes. It seems that this is all that he can talk about lately. He’s spent nearly all of his free time recently on the internet researching the history behind this urban myth. The product of his effort is now stashed in the form of printouts all over the car – a news article in the glove box – a firsthand exploration account from a message board in the console – and Christy believes she may be sitting on a Google maps screenshot with a red circle drawn around the Route 41 turnoff.

“Are you ready?” Ronnie asks.

Christy sighs in frustration and says, “Just get it over with so we can go.”

Ronnie sounds the horn the first time.

– – – – –

Inside the house, I look away from the book I’m reading when I hear the horn blast. June folds down the corner of her newspaper and glances at me from across the room. We share a look that says, ‘here we go again’.

I get up from my comfy armchair and head to the foyer. I unbolt the locks and open the heavy wooden door. Through the screen of the metal door I see headlights across the pond. I open the door and storm out onto the porch as June chases after me.

A second horn blast rings out.

– – – – –

“Did you see that?” Ronnie asks excitedly. “I see movement over there.” He points between the house and dock.

Christy gasps. “Is someone really living here?” she wonders. “But the article said that no one’s lived here since the Carlisle farm shut down.”

Ronnie sounds the horn a third time. “I’m telling you, Christy, no one does live here! I mean look at the condition of the house!” The movement in the shadows increases and soon, fully illuminated in the car’s headlights, are two figures – a male and a female.

“It’s them! It’s Adam and June!” Ronnie cries out. Christy recalls the names from the article about the young drowned couple. The figures approach the end of the dock and, in a move that defies all physics, continue their sprint across the top of the water.

Christy screams. Ronnie drops the gear selector into reverse and mashes the pedal. The tires spin again, but this time his caution in not parking too close to the edge pays off and he gains enough grip for the car to move backward. He makes a panicked turn-around, during which Christy looks fearfully out the side window. The apparitions of Adam and June are way too close now. “Go!” she shrieks.

Ronnie throttles the car forward down the dusty road, taillights disappearing behind the trees.

– – – – –

“I just want to be left alone,” I say to June, “to rest in peace.” We still float above the water.

“Shhh.” She rubs my back and shoulders in her ever-comforting way. “They’re just curious kids, Adam, and they can’t hurt us,” she reassures me. “Let’s go back inside.”

As we turn to head back toward the dark, dilapidated house I say, “I love you, June.”

She replies, “I love you too, Adam. Always will.”

Credit: moonlit_cove

Capital Punishment

August 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM

You may recall back in June of 2021, how the first live televised execution of a death row inmate had gone off without a hitch. It was one of the most anticipated TV airings in recent – and I suppose even in distant – memory.

The months leading up to the event had been filled with controversy. There were clashes between protesters and supporters. The protesters stated that the general public, especially children, should not be subjected to such “barbarism”. The supporters argued that viewing it was not mandatory and that children could be kept from seeing it by their parents if they felt it was necessary to shield them. Not only that, but it would also be a major deterrent for many would-be criminals.

Right or wrong, it had already been decided upon and approved by all government agencies involved. When it was announced in January that this would happen, it became the primary conversation point of every man, woman and child. People discussed it around workplace water coolers. Strangers discussed it on subways, buses, and in doctors’ waiting rooms. School children talked about it at recess and in gym locker rooms. It could be eavesdropped from adjacent restaurant tables everywhere. Everyone had an opinion, and everyone was curious how it would all play out.

The criminal’s name was Harlan Wade Forrester – known by all three of his names, as most serial killers seem to be. However, before his capture the public knew him as “The Red Baron Killer” because he’d left each victim with a neatly carved Maltese cross in the small of their back. He was the epitome of a vile human being. In the three years leading up to his capture he’d managed to kidnap and murder 23 people, mostly teenage girls, but with occasional adult men and women thrown in for good measure.

He had always left their corpses out in the open posed in the most ordinary situations. For example: one of his victims was found early in the morning when the sun rose, sitting on a park bench with her hand resting palm up on her lap. The hand was filled with bird seed and pigeons flapped about and ate from her palm. Another was discovered late at night riding in an el train car in Chicago, leaning against the window as if looking out at the passing scenery. She had ear bud headphones in place and an mp3 player still blasting away. And so it was with each of his victims – one found behind the wheel of a car in a K-mart parking lot – one relaxing in a lawn chair on her back patio with sunglasses and a drink with a little umbrella in it. All were fully clothed. All appeared perfectly fine and normal until approached.

The incidents had taken place throughout nine states in the Midwest. As the body count rose, so did the panic level. News story after news story surfaced with seemingly no end. It became rare to see teenage girls out alone. They began doing everything in groups – pairs at a minimum. People only stayed out late into the night if they absolutely had to. Many would not go out after dark at all. If someone was found sleeping or resting motionless in public, they were approached with great caution as the next possible RBK victim.

There was a collective sigh of relief in big cities and small towns alike on the day it was announced that he’d been captured. Relief swept over the population, and things returned to a sense of normalcy. Folks went about their lives without having to keep that madman in the back of their minds.

Harlan Forrester’s trial gripped the nation. He was without question the most hated man in America, and if you asked anyone you met, they’d tell you that they couldn’t wait to see him pay for what he’d done. It just so happened that they would get their wish.

The court proceedings were highly publicized and not a day passed that local and national news channels did not update the trial’s progress. The FCC had already been searching for a case to use as a precedent, but there were two main factors that led to Harlan’s case being chosen as the first for televised execution.

One: He was guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt. After all of the DNA and fingerprint evidence was collected and presented he had confessed to all of the killings, and even divulged two that had not yet been discovered. There was no way the FCC was going to allow a criminal to be executed on live TV if there was even a miniscule chance that he was innocent.

Two: Everyone wanted him dead. As mentioned previously, the public’s opinion of Harlan was on par with Charles Manson or Adolph Hitler. If the FCC was ever going to act, now was the time. It was a perfect storm.

The trial reached its completion in December 2020 and Harlan was sentenced to death by lethal injection. The execution was immediately scheduled for Monday, June 21st, 2021 – 6:00 PM. This brevity in the legal process was almost unheard of, but special circumstances were encountered due to the nature of the case and to keep public interest heightened for the impending broadcast.

On the day of Harlan’s execution the entire country, and many other parts of the world, came to a virtual stand-still. People took the day off to prepare their homes for viewing parties. Those who did have to work that day, made sure television sets in break rooms and conference rooms were capable of picking up the network that had won the bidding war for the broadcast.

As 6:00 PM approached there were fewer and fewer cars on the road until finally, almost every metropolitan area in the nation resembled a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Time stood still. And we all watched, riveted to our TV sets and devices.

It would come to be known as one of those defining moments that people would never forget. They would always remember where they were and who they were with when they watched it happen.


In September of 2021, I attended the estate auction of a man named John Radcliffe. He had died alone just days earlier, the victim of an apparent home invasion. He had no living will and no close relatives to claim his belongings, therefore the state took control of selling his personal effects.

I always enjoyed going to auctions such as this because every once in a while I would come across a deal that was just too good to pass up. And this auction was no exception. Being a movie buff, I was excited when lot #312 hit the block. It was two large plastic tubs full of Blu-ray and DVD movies. I estimated that there were probably two hundred or more. During the sale of that lot I raised my hand several times until I was the only remaining bidder. I smiled, knowing that I had landed a remarkable deal at a mere $57.

At home that afternoon, I couldn’t wait to begin unpacking and cataloging the contents of the tubs. My initial thought as I removed the lid from the first container was ‘I’m going to have to buy more shelves.’ However, it was a problem I didn’t mind facing. I spent hours unboxing the movies and arranging them in alphabetical stacks on my living room floor.

It was what I found in the bottom of the second container that puzzled me – a small unmarked USB thumb drive. I shrugged at first and set it aside in favor of continuing my cataloging, but the more I thought about it, the more it ate at me. I retrieved my laptop and plugged in the drive. Contained on the stick was a single audio file titled RBK_execution.mp3. I double-clicked it.

The audio clip began with an inordinate amount of noise as the person doing the recording fumbled with the microphone. It then settled into the steady hiss of ambient background noise.

“This is John Radcliffe”, the recording began, “and I feel that I have to share my story. It’s been bothering me for weeks now and I want to get it off my chest.”

[He paused and cleared his throat.]

“I was involved in the live execution of Harlan Wade Forrester – The Red Baron Killer. I was approached by the deputy warden of the prison where he was being held two days before his scheduled execution and asked if I would take part in it. I had no idea why at the time. It wasn’t until I was escorted to the prison and was briefed by the Warden that I really knew what was going on.”

[There was another pause, then a sound as if he’d taken a swig from a bottle, which gave way to more ambient hissing.]

“You see, I was chosen because I look so much like Harlan – at least that’s what they told me. And I agree. I do look like him. Well, as it turns out, Harlan had actually escaped from his prison cell the previous day. Don’t ask me how he did it. They wouldn’t tell me either.

“The thing is though – they wanted to go ahead with the execution for the public’s sake. It had been played up so much and millions of dollars had already been spent on the TV contract, and advertising, and what not…”

[Another drink from the bottle.]

“They just didn’t want everyone to go back into panic mode, you know? Not only that, but the prison needed to save face. There would’ve been hell to pay if the higher-ups found out that RBK had escaped on their watch. And so… as the old saying goes… the show must go on.

“I laid there just like they asked me to. Didn’t move a muscle. I was a perfect actor. When it was all said & done and the cameras were turned off, I was debriefed, given some monetary compensation and told never to tell a soul about this. I had to sign a bunch of papers saying so. Then they let me go.”

[There was a somewhat long pause and then another bottle clank and swig.]

“Technically I’m not telling anybody. I’m just recording this for my own conscience. I need to be able to sleep better.”

[And then more ambient hiss before the recording device clicked off.]

I was in shock. I had no idea what to do with this information. It was like I’d stumbled onto proof that the moon landing was faked, and I was the only person on earth that knew about it. Except in this case there were at least a handful of others that were privy to the charade. I needed to think.

I turned on my TV – the very same TV on which I’d witnessed some guy named John Radcliffe fake the death of Harlan Forrester back in June. The evening news was on, and to my surprise, there was a mention of the death of John Radcliffe. The young lady anchoring the news was barely able to keep her composure while she read the lines from her teleprompter that told how John’s autopsy had revealed a Maltese cross carved in the small of his back.

Credit: moonlit_cove


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