It’s scary how times have changed, those we thought invincible, taken away without so much as a fight. The world feels a little colder these days, well, at least to me. I miss my mum, I would do anything to have her back, to just sit here with me on these cold steps, looking up through the railway tracks, talking about how our days went, to feel her warm touch and soft hug, these thoughts bombard me as I wipe a lonely tear from my right eye, the desperation in my soul is palpable. I stay out late, that seems to be the new normal for me, you do see a lot of interesting things in the dead of night, although I will admit everything seems a little more sinister in the dark, then again, I think strange people take advantage of that fact to blend in. Grandmama worries about me, she stays up watching the news, probably afraid that I will end up there some night.
Out here at times you can feel the energy change and you just know it’s going to be a weird night, fortunately I have my pepper spray, rape alarm and my newly acquired flick stick, God help the creep who comes at me. As I was saying the energy changes at times and tonight was just like that, it never changes my plans, I do my ritual, I go and sit under the railway tracks put in my headphones and let my thoughts wander, I spend on time looking at this picture I have of me and my mum, the picture is worn and looks like she is fading out of it, very eerie, but I guess that’s fitting for this city and for this time of night. It’s symbolic of how I’m clinging to her memory, or rather the memories I have of her, who thought grief was this hard, now I know why people say they would rather go first, and how people die of a broken heart, anyway, I take my seat on the cold steps and look up through the tracks to the night sky, I’m surprised that I can see a few stars, normally you can’t see anything due to the light pollution here, I put my ear phones in and release a large sigh as I begin my night of internal turmoil.
Laying here listening to soothing Debussy on the piano I can hear arguing from across the street, seems like a few street drinkers have fallen out and are shoving one another, the group they are with quickly breaks it up, and they move on down a bit, sad to see people like that forced onto the streets because of addiction, but I’m just glad they moved away. I don’t really have a sense of time when I’m on this spot, and before I realise it, it’s close to 3am, I lift my back pack and make my way home. I always pass under the old hangman’s bridge it’s a short cut to Grandmamas’ so I always go by here, in the middle of the morning, virtually deserted, it’s an eerie sight, the old brick obscured by thick green moss and other plant life growing from the cracks, it’s a historic monument in bad need of maintenance, but that’s local councils for you, never eager to preserve anything unless it costs less than their holidays to Spain!
Anyway, as I’m passing under the arc way, I hear a notification on my phone, reaching into my coat I pull it out, the screen alight from the new message received I can see that it’s a voice note, on WhatsApp, but it must be an old notification only coming through, because it says it’s from, it’s from my mum, she’s been dead nearly a year now. I open my phone and just stare at the voice note, then suddenly text appears saying the single word, ‘listen.’ I swallow hard as my anxiety sends my heart racing, I’m terrified but I can’t ignore it, so I press play, at first all I hear is a rustling, like someone walking through a pile of leaves, then, “Sammi, Sammi, I’m so glad I can get this message to you, I miss you so much,” my eyes fill with tears, as they descend my face, another text message appears this time the word is, ‘speak,’ clearly indicating for me to return a voice note. I hold record on the chat, but I can’t speak, I don’t know what to say, I write back, ‘I can’t speak,’ and start running home, the tears still spilling from my eyes, I’m terrified. Before reaching my door I stop to catch my breath, I need to collect myself of Grandmama will know something is wrong, then I’ll have to lie to her, what else would I do? Tell her the truth? That her daughter, my mother, has contacted me from the grave, no, I don’t understand what has happened but I can’t put her in that position, she has grieved enough.
I’ve managed to collect myself, my eyes could still give me away, it just depends on our interaction, I put my hand on the door hand and press down slowly, the latch clicks and the door is open, I can hear the tv, she must have fallen asleep in front of it, I’ll have to wake her up, I approach from behind, her head is slumped over, I reach out with my hand to touch her shoulder, as I do she jerks, scaring us both, “wow Grandmama you made me jump out of my skin,” she puts her glasses on, “maybe you shouldn’t be lurking around at this hour, and I wouldn’t have scared your ass.” I smile and she simply smiles back and kisses me on the cheek and says goodnight. I get to my room and fall back onto the bed and I just stare at the message, the voice note is corrupted I can’t open it again, I need to find out what’s going on and if I can get in contact with her again.
I wake up to the familiar sound of my alarm going off, I take my time checking my phone, flicking through Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, ah there she is, Crystal is trying to video call me, me and Crystal have been friends from nursery school, I love her like a sister, I answer the call as quickly as I recognise it. “heya bubbles beep,” her cute and sometimes annoying nickname for me, “hey babe, what you up to,” I reply casually, Crystal continues to tell me about her morning and about the cute guy she just met at the coffee house down town, “his name is Joshua, and he is quite interesting,” she is like a love struck teen with every guy she shows an interest in, her quite interesting means that she is finds him attractive beyond words, I just smile then giggle. After an exhaustive conversation about men and what even are they? Kind of conversation, I get up and get ready for the day ahead, the mundane, the long wait to my beloved night. I didn’t tell Crystal about the voice notes, I don’t want to seem crazy or people thinking that I had some type of delayed grieving, it was real, the message is there but without being able to listen to it, who would believe me?
Day gives way to night, the moonlight bright it casts the dark silhouettes that give the night its creepiest features, the eyes begin to play tricks but I have a purpose tonight, I decide to hang around the tunnel of the old bridge, I wait for hours, I say to myself that it had to be an error in my network, then at exactly 3am my phone pinged, it was another voice note from mum, “hey sweetie you came back, I’m so glad, I need you to come up to the top of the bridge, and you can help me,” scared again but feeling braver than last time I send a voice note back, “mum, mum,” I say fighting back the tears, “I have missed you so much, I’ll come up to onto the bridge give me two secs.” I walk back and take the walkway leading to the bridge, on my way towards it I cant see much, it’s really dark, as I come to the end of the path a bulb in the street lamp flickers and comes on, I take a deep breath, my phone pings again, “don’t be afraid baby, I know this is scary, but I need you to help me complete the game, it’s the only,” the sound of scratches and a dull scream echo in the disturbance, “it’s the only way I can see you again.” That hit every cord of each string just pulling on my weary heart, I want this more than anything, I return a voice note telling her I would do anything and asked what the game was. It took what seemed like hours for mum to reply and when she finally did, I heard, “under the light, hangman.” I look towards the light and I can see something scrawled on the pavement, I edge closer to it, the word hangman makes sense that is exactly what it is, etched into the ground, the traditional child like drawing of the scaffold and noose and underneath that the spaces for each letter to be written into _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _. I’m genuinely baffled, I was never much good at this game, I send a voice note to mum, “do I write the letters in the spaces or just send my guesses to you,” a text appears, ‘just speak out loud, I can hear you.’ I sigh, “what the hell,” I say under my breath, I begin to guess letters, as I do the letters appear in front of my eyes, as does the hangman, after an hour of playing, I’m one guess away from being hung for want of a better word, the puzzle looks like this now _ E I _ _ O _ O A _ _ O _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ E _ _ I.
My next guess is incorrect and the hangman disappears, I receive a text saying, ‘come back tomorrow and try again
,’ I reply with real sadness in my heart, ‘sorry mum.’ I go home and just get into bed, I’m completely exhausted, it’s the strangest feeling, as if my life force was being drained from me, I fall asleep as soon as my heads hits the pillow. I wake up to grandmama at the bottom of my bed, staring at me, “are you ok, what’s going on?” she tells me in her usual blunt tone, that Crystal was dead, she died during the night, when I collected my thoughts, I began to cry, she held me, I asked how, when, why, she told me that she was found dead from an apparent overdose under the steps of her apartment, it wasn’t accidental she had killed herself. I didn’t even know she was taking drugs; I just can’t rationalise this event, I’m broken, but I’ve felt this before when mum died. I fall asleep again waking to a wet pillow and tear-stained face, I suddenly feel the urge to talk to mum, I need her more than ever now, I check the time, it’s 2am I get clothes on and make my way to the bridge.
As I arrive the game is there on the ground, this time I send the first voice note, “mum, I’m so lost, Crystal’s gone, she’s dead, I can’t explain this pain, I never thought I would feel this way again.’ That voice note was accompanied with tears and heavy breathing, I receive one back, “darling, it’s not the end, Crystal is here, she’s here,” the voice note continues and there is nothing but silence for a few seconds, “Samara,” a familiar voice comes through, its Crystal, I can’t believe it, a text comes through, ‘help us, play the game.’ The game is reset from last time but I remember the letters I got right, like last time I’ve almost lost this game and I’m still not sure what the sentence is, I’m sure it isn’t English, at least no English that I know, with two guesses left the puzzle looks like this, T E I _ _ O _ O A P _ O F _ _ _ _ _ I _ F E _ _ I.
I pause as a cold gust of wind comes from behind me, I hear a familiar voice in my head say “stop”, I decide to ask mum why this game is important and what the point is, I receive a text saying, ‘just play,’ as I continue to think the message repeats over and over, I get an eerie feeling as a voice note appears, “Samara please, I can’t come back, unless you play, play the game sweetie,” there was something off about her voice, as I finish that thought another voice note appears, “stop being so fucking selfish, don’t you love me,” my mum would never speak to me that way, it continues, “don’t you love us,” now in Crystal’s voice, “you’re the reason I died.” I get up and run I drop my phone leaving it on the bridge, I don’t even care I just need to run, the fear is propelling me. Once I get a good distance from the bridge, thoughts start streaming through my head, those last words, how am I the reason she died, then I connect the dots, I lost the first game and my dearest friend lost her life, I didn’t finish the last game but I was losing, immediately Grandmama comes into my head and I begin to sprint towards home, hoping, praying, in desperation, that nothing has happened to her.
I turn the corner and the street lights are flickering I continue to the door and slam into it while turning the handle to open the door, I crash through the door hitting the wall, “Grandmama!”
Credit: Martin Eoghan
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