Estimated reading time — 31 minutes
E-mail from: Ian Koros, Contributor, Scientific Fringe Magazine
To: Michael Wyzeki, Editor-in-Chief
Several weeks ago, I was presented with a bizarre account I believe you’ll find worthwhile.
A friend of mine first found it. You know those spam e-mails, the ones that sometimes make their way into your inbox? For erectile dysfunction pills, diet supplements, et cetera? Anyways, this friend of mine clicked on the link attached to one of those by accident.
But instead of an advertisement for an erectile dysfunction pill or diet supplement, this one lead to a personal blog kept by a young woman. A girl named Ariana Gomez, apparently. I’ve tried to find this Ariana Gomez on Facebook and Instagram, but so far have had no luck.
My friend forwarded it to me, and I printed out the blog entries. It was a good thing I did, because the link no longer works. I got an error message the second time I clicked on it. And a pretty nasty virus, I should add.
Neither of us could find the picture of the monkey that Ariana Gomez refers to.
Below is the account in its entirety, which I retyped word-for-word from my printout. As to authenticity, you are free to judge for yourself.
Blog entry: September 1st, 2014
Okay. Hi. I’m the girl who put up the picture of the stuffed monkey. You know the one. Squat, squarish torso. Long thin arms; skinny little legs that would never support that bulky, squarish body. Round head with two little ears on top. Purple, with puke-green details and a big pink circle on what’s supposed to be its belly. Red eyes and nose, no mouth. Not sure what’s up with the mouth.
Here’s how it is: this monkey is haunting me. This little cartoon character – the Shredder Monkey, he’s called – has appeared in my life on two completely different incidents, yet has absolutely no presence in pop culture. And then there was that singularly disturbing incident at work with the old man with dementia, and what he said …
Anyways. Lemme start at the beginning.
It was fourteen years ago. I was eight. My aunt and uncle had a timeshare by Lake Tahoe. Every summer, my whole extended family would drive out there for a couple weeks to swim, water ski, barbecue – you know, escape the commute and the suburbs, fun in the sun.
Since other people used the house as well, my dad liked getting an extra day off work and driving out early, just to make sure the place was livable – nothing broken or rotting, no beer bottles or used condoms or dead hookers lying around.
That year, to ease my middle-of-summer boredom, I decided to tag along with him.
So we took off in my dad’s Civic for the eight-hour drive, through an early-summer storm. At some point, I fell asleep in the back seat, lulled by the sound of rain against the window. When I woke up, we were parked outside of a dilapidated gas station.
I opened the door and climbed out. I didn’t recognize the area at all. The rain had stopped; it was warm, and the sky was bright blue and cloudless. The gas station had four pumps and one tiny shack that functioned as a snack shop. There was nothing but fields of tall, yellow grass on all sides.
The snack shop (or whatever it was) looked as though it had been standing since World War II. It was a little place, with walls of rusted sheet metal and one wood and mesh door. No windows. Just three blackened, indecipherable neon signs. My dad stood outside the car, pumping gas. He gave me five dollars to buy food.
The inside of the sheet metal shop was scarcely in better condition than the outside. The fluorescent lights were dim, and dust hung in the air. The white-tile floor was stained and peeling. Two old refrigerators rested against the back wall, stocked with soda and beer. A variety of cigarettes and tins of chewing tobacco were displayed behind the front counter. And there were several shelves dedicated to snack food. Candy, chips, beef jerky, plus more substantial stuff – cans of beans, string cheese (I stayed away), tuna, condensed milk, cereal. All coated in a healthy cover of dust.
I looked around, and realized that I didn’t recognize any of the brands.
A couple examples: CHALK chocolate (at least, I assumed it was chocolate). Something resembling a Snickers bar in a pastel purple wrapper with bright blue lettering. I had no idea what was in it, because the nutrition facts and description of the product were all written in a strange language that resembled Chinese characters mixed with Egyptian Hieroglyphs.
Then, there was some brownish substance in long, skinny plastic packaging. I guessed you tore open one end and squeezed the contents into your mouth, sort of like go-gurt. I didn’t know for sure, however, because the label was in another bizarre written language. Though not the same one. The CHALK characters featured straight lines and triangles, while this writing was squiggly.
A little freaked out, I was about to leave. Then I glanced at the cereal display, and noticed one box had English writing on it. SHREDDER SHOCKS. The box was yellow, and the words were red comic-sans. Kid’s cereal. The picture on the front was of a bowl filled with milk and what looked like shredded wheat squares and pastel marshmallows. The marshmallows were in the shape of purple monkeys. On the back were the obligatory kids’ cereal box games, hosted by a large picture of a cartoon monkey in a bamboo (huh?) tree.
You guessed it. Purple, with puke-green paws and circles around its red eyes, big pink circle on its belly. Square body, long arms, proportionately-incorrect legs. No mouth.
There was a circle-shaped maze, and text telling you to “help the shredder monkey find his way to the oasis.” At the upper right corner of the box, the other end of the maze, was a picture of a little cartoon pond, complete with happy-looking fish poking their heads out. Also, there was a word search, with words like “monkey,” “jungle,” “adventure”… you can guess at the rest.
As I examined the colorful box of cereal, I heard a shuffling that could have been footsteps in the next aisle over. Thinking it was my dad, I went to look. But no one was there. Then, there was a “whoosh” and a SLAM!
The mesh door was swinging. There didn’t appear to be anyone behind it, and I was alone. Weird. The wind, I guessed. I took it as a hint that I needed to get out of there as soon as possible.
I was hungry, and extremely untrusting of the inexplicably-labeled foodstuffs I’d seen, so I decided to take my chance with the Shredder Shocks. I grabbed the box, went up to the counter, and paid the cashier. I don’t exactly remember what the guy looked like. I think the cash register he used was a manual one. I exited the store with my snack, climbed back in the car, and a minute later my dad and I were back on the road to Tahoe.
The cereal was pretty good. Kinda like Lucky Charms and Shredded Wheat Thins mixed together. I ate handfuls until I was bored of it, then amused myself with the games on the back. Which were uncharacteristically hard.
I mean, you guys all remember the word searches and mazes on the back of cereal when you were a kid. They’re made for kindergarteners. Kindergarteners with IQ’s approaching two digits. But this maze I couldn’t solve. I must have tried for half an hour. It was weird; I could see the entrance, I could see the exit. There was a clear path leading to and from each, but the paths didn’t connect.
And the word search was utterly impossible. I decided it must be a misprint. I tried to work it out on a blank sheet of paper in the back of the Goosebumps book I was reading, but all I found was the same patterns of letters, repeated over and over again.
Confused and frustrated, I tossed the box and my book aside and curled up for a nap. When I awoke, we were in Tahoe. At some point while I was asleep, the blue sky had clouded over. Distracted by the bustle of moving stuff through the puddles into the house, cleaning up, and picking out my room, I forgot all about the cereal box. Nor did I think about it at all once my mom and my brother Jose and my cousins showed up, nor while we were swimming or barbecuing or camping. And, two weeks later, when we drove home, the box was no longer in my dad’s car.
On the way home, we didn’t pass the strange, dilapidated gas station.
Fast forward nine years.
It’s 2009, I’m seventeen. A senior in high school. I’m at a toy store in the mall, looking for a first birthday present for my cousin’s baby.
As any parent (or aunt or older sister) knows, walking through the stuffed animal aisle in of a chain toy store is a little bit like walking through Disneyland while tripping on acid. Lots of colors, lots of cute, a little terrifying. I was between Pokemon and Pillow Pets when I saw it fall and land right in my path.
It was a stuffed monkey. A purple and pink and green stuffed monkey, with a bulky square body and dangly little legs. Red eyes, red nose, no mouth.
I picked the little guy up. I had no idea where he’d fallen from, and I couldn’t find any others that looked like him. Confused, I flagged down an employee.
“That’s strange,” she said. “I’ve never this stuffed animal before. I don’t think he’s one of the ones we carry, maybe some kid left him behind.”
She ended up letting me have him for free. I don’t know how she would have charged me otherwise; he didn’t have any tags. So I took the stuffed monkey home and kept him in my room. The Shredder Monkey, it had to be. The same monkey as on that bizarre box of cereal I’d bought from that bizarre gas station nine years before. That bizarre cereal I’d never found again.
I’d looked for Shredder Shocks every week at the local Vons, where I shopped with my mom. They never had it in stock, and none of the clerks I asked had ever heard of the product. And when I Google’d Shredder Shocks, I came up with nothing but dune buggies, RC cars, and some episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
No big loss. The cereal hadn’t been that good. I’d looked for some of the other products I’d seen at that convenience store as well, and found similarly useless results. I’d come to assume that dilapidated gas station only sold poorly-made local merchandise, or brands that had been discontinued.
But, all of a sudden, the Shredder Monkey was back in my life.
I wasn’t scared of it, at least not yet. I showed the stuffed monkey to some of my friends, and then to my little cousins’ friends. No one had ever seen a toy like it, nor witnessed any version of the Shredder Monkey on cereal boxes or cartoon shows or anywhere on the internet. As far as pop culture was concerned, he didn’t exist.
Now, fast forward five more years. To this year. Three days ago.
I work for a small ambulance company out of Glendora. I graduated from Citrus College with my AA, but wanted to take some time off in order to earn money and focus on getting into a good BSN program. Life as an EMT with an inter-facility transport company is pretty easy; 90% of the job is driving bed-ridden, confused old people to and from dialysis.
That night, at around 19:00, my partner Ben Cisneros and I were dispatched to San Gabriel Kidney Center to pick up Henry Gaffigan and take him home to Sunshine Convalescent, a delightful little one-star facility where there’s regularly human feces smeared on the floor. We’d been on since 8:00 that morning and were both starting to drag, but you can’t argue with overtime. So we got there, got the guy on the gurney, and loaded him into the rig when Cisneros realized he’d left our oxygen bag inside. He ran back to get it, leaving me alone in the passenger compartment with Produce Aisle Henry.
A little about Henry Gaffigan.
Henry’s 96 years old and weighs around 90 pounds. He’s got a laundry list of chronic diseases, ranging from anemia to CHF to Parkinson’s disease. Mentally, he’s what we call a/o times 0, which means he can’t tell you his name, where he is, what day of the week it is, or what’s going on. Actually, he can’t talk at all; mostly he just stares at you. His atrophied legs are contracted, his right arm is contracted, and his left arm is ragdoll-limp thanks to his second stroke two years ago. His back is so stiff you can’t even prop him up in a wheelchair. He’s on continuous oxygen and, after dialysis, his BP drops so low that twice we’ve had to call 911 from the Kidney Center.
“Hey, Hank,” I said to him cheerfully. “I’m gonna take your blood pressure real quick, okay?”
He stared at me.
I wrapped our manual blood pressure cuff around his left arm. The dialysis machine had given me a fairly healthy 112/54, but those things love reading high. I put on my stethoscope and distracted myself fiddling with the earpieces. Then I heard the whispering.
I dropped the stethoscope. No way. But his lips were moving again.
“New… Odor… Eigh..”
The utterance was a gravelly whisper, drawn from atrophied vocal chords unused for God knows how long.
I stared at him, mouth gaping. Henry Gaffigan was non-verbal. We’d taken him to dialysis for three years, he hadn’t uttered a word in all that time.
“Mr. Gaffigan!” I said excitedly. “Can you tell me what your name is?”
Then he sat up.
I wouldn’t even call it “sitting.” It’s more like his body folded at the hips like a hinge. He didn’t support himself with his hands, and his back didn’t arch at all. He just sat straight up, like Dracula out of his coffin in the old black-and-white movies. The nasal cannula attached to his face grew taut, then was pulled from the house nozzle.
Like a puppet’s, his head twisted towards me.
“NEW! ODOR! EIGH! GUARD!” he roared.
His voice was mechanical. Metallic. Like the voice your friend’s voice morphs into when she yells into a steel pipe. And the scariest part was that the jibberish words didn’t seem to be coming from Mr. Gaffigan’s mouth, but from all around me, down from the sky and up from the ground and right in front of my face, all at the same time.
I screamed. In one desperate motion I opened the back door and jumped out of the ambulance, stumbling as I hit the asphalt and nearly falling onto my partner. He was back with the oxygen. As I steadied myself, he frowned at me.
“You okay, Gomez?”
“Mr. Gaffigan… he… he said stuff!” I panted. “Did you… did you hear?”
He gave me a strange look, then climbed into the rig to secure the oxygen bag. He stayed in there a minute, and I heard him repeating Mr. Gaffigan’s name, trying to get his attention. Then, he leaned out the door.
“You sure?” he asked suspiciously. “He looks about normal to me. But you forgot to put him on O2.”
Bracing myself, I climbed into the back with him. Mr. Gaffigan lay motionless on the gurney, exactly how we’d positioned him. The blood pressure cuff still dangled from his left arm. His nasal cannula hung at his side, detached.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared shitless at that point. I let my partner tend to Henry Gaffigan while I drove to the convalescent home, and the old man didn’t do anything else out of the ordinary. He was confused, silent, and quadriplegic, just like every transport before. Was I going crazy? I knew what I’d heard. What I’d seen.
And those words… that jibberish. It wasn’t completely unfamiliar.
As soon as I got home, I wrote down phonetically the syllables Mr. Gaffigan had uttered. (Chanted? Screamed?) It was easy; the terrifying sound was unforgettable.
New, odor, eigh, guard.
I puzzled over it. I repeated the words in my mind, then out loud, over and over again. I allowed them to blend together, gain meaning, lose all meaning. And then I got it.
I still live with my parents. Convenience, mostly; work’s close and they don’t charge me rent. And my parents have a frustrating habit of keeping everything – all my elementary school projects, high school textbooks, and childhood playthings live in moldy cardboard boxes in the attic. Which is where I spent that night, digging through said moldy boxes, until I found the one in which my brother Jose’s and my old books were stacked. Bunnicula, Baby Sitter’s Club, Harry Potter, Beverly Cleary… Goosebumps. Goosebumps number 3, 15, 23, 12, 7, 36…
Bingo. Goosebumps number 9. The book I’d been reading on that long drive to Tahoe, 14 years before. I pawed through the sticky pages until I found the blank one on which I’d written:
GARD NWODR EH
I took the book back to my bedroom, rearranged the words on a sheet of notebook paper, and compared them to the word salad Mr. Gaffigan had spouted.
Nwodr Eh Gard
New. Odor. Eigh. Guard.
What the f**k.
Maybe I am going crazy. Because I’m thinking a confused dialysis patient – a nearly-comatose dialysis patient who doesn’t know his own name – recited to me the meaningless syllables I found in a word search on the back of an obscure cereal box fourteen years ago. A box containing cereal that has, apparently, never existed anywhere except for that dilapidated gas station snack shop.
And that voice. That hollow, metallic voice. Booming from all around me, yet inaudible to my partner, no more than 20 feet away.
I looked up. My eyes rested on the stuffed animal that sat, amongst old dolls and beanie babies, atop my bookcase. The squarish, purple stuffed monkey with green paws and a pink belly. Long thin arms, skinny little legs. Round head, red eyes and nose.
And, even though it had no mouth, I could swear the thing was laughing at me.
Blog Entry: September 9th, 2014
Henry Gaffigan is dead.
Cisneros and I hadn’t been sent for him since the night he spoke, and I was thankful for that. Until yesterday. We were supposed to take him from Sunshine Convalescent to San Gabriel Kidney Center; as soon as his name appeared on our pager, my blood turned to ice. I’m pretty sure I was physically shaking as we walked through the door, but we didn’t even get to his room before one of the snotty, normally inattentive nurses caught us. Mr. Gaffigan passed last night. For no apparent reason, his blood pressure dropped, and his family had a DNR order in place.
Normally, I wouldn’t have found this revelation particularly shocking. He was old and sick, and Sunshine has a reputation for handing out the wrong meds. But Cisneros had to use the restroom, leaving me outside what had been Henry Gaffigan’s room. Not thinking, I looked through the little window in the door, directly at the wall beside what had been Henry Gaffigan’s bed. There were little pictures on the wall, done in black ink.
“I think it was the roommate,” the nurse told me. “Mr. Gaffigan definitely didn’t have the motor skills for art.”
But I wasn’t so sure.
Because I’d seen that arrangement of straight lines and triangles before. Long ago. On that strange CHALK chocolate bar.
What the f**k, guys? What’s going on?
Blog Entry: September 12th, 2014
Woke up at noon today. My mom said she’d called my boss and told him I was sick; I looked like I needed the sleep. She probably had a point. I haven’t been sleeping well the last week or so. Not since Henry Gaffigan spoke to me, and especially not since he died.
I keep on having this same dream, over and over again. I’m running through a maze and, whenever I think I’ve found the way out, I hit a wall and have to start over again. Except the walls aren’t really walls; they’re invisible, and I can’t touch them. But somehow, I know when I can’t go any farther. The only thing I can see is a dry, golden field, extending infinitely in all directions. Above my head, the sky is sunny and cloudless. I think it’s warm there.
So I run around, following these invisible passageways, and I’m nervous because I know someone is following me. I can’t see them. But I hear whispering, high-pitched and singsongy, like one of those recorders I used to play in third-grade music class. I can’t quite make out what’s being whispered. It might not even be English, or Spanish, or any other language I’ve ever heard. And sometimes that pipe-ish whispering is accompanied by a rustling in the grass, like the footsteps of a cat. I whirl around, but the whispering and footsteps automatically cease, and I’m staring at dead air.
Last night, I felt something reaching for me, jostling my hair. It couldn’t have been the wind, because the grass in front of me didn’t move.
Filled with an indescribable sense of dread, I ran faster. The footsteps behind me grew louder, loud enough for me to notice their three-beat, waltz-like rhythm. And the whispering became a hum, then a melody, and finally an entire wind section – the urgent, cascading notes echoing off the invisible walls around me. And something clasped my shoulder.
Something spindly, grey, scaly, tough, and covered with coarse black hairs.
But, when I whirled around to face the owner of that horrific appendage, I saw nothing but dirty white-and-grey bumps. My stucco ceiling, streaked by the light of the midday sun.
Blog entry: September 17th, 2014
I think I’m going crazy. That must be it; I haven’t had nightmares since I was a little kid but, all of a sudden, I’m waking up dizzy and nauseous from an impossibly lucid dream.
Right after I wrote my last blog entry, I drove to CVS and picked up a box of sleeping pills. When I was in kindergarten and woke up screaming, crying, and puking four times a week, and my mom told me she solved the problem by giving me a spoonful of cough syrup before bed. Apparently she’d gone about things the right way; one pill made me sleep like a baby. Until last night. I had the box on my nightstand, but I wanted to stay up a bit to finish Section 3 of the UC Irvine online application.
Next thing I knew, it was the morning. I’d woken up and showered, and was walking from my car to the station. I mean, I assumed I’d woken up and showered and drove to work, because there I was, on the sidewalk and in my uniform. I opened the door and walked past the dispatch booth to grab my time card, and the dispatcher – a chick named Mary – gasped.
“Gomez!” she cried. “What are you… how did you…”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, interrupting her babbling. “I start at eight. Did Langdon change the schedule again without telling me?”
“But…” Mary stammered, “but… you don’t work here. The police said… why are you out of jail?”
Jail? Huh? Mary’s always been a little ditzy, but her shock and confusion were sincere.
“Are you smoking something?” I laughed. “I was here yesterday.”
But apparently, Mary wasn’t trying to be funny. In one fluid movement, she shut and locked the door to the dispatch booth. Through the thin walls, I could hear her dialing a number on her phone. Thoroughly mystified, I checked the printed copy of the schedule that Langdon, my supervisor, always tapes up on the wall.
08:00 – 16:00, Unit 51: Cisneros, Green.
Heartbeat quickening, I scanned the numbers and names. The date was correct: September 17th, 2014. But there were some definite differences between this schedule and the one I glanced over yesterday. I didn’t recognize some of the names – Jardiel? O’Rourke? Lang? – and a few names were missing. Including mine.
I turned around. Cisneros was standing behind me. Except, he looked different. He was sporting a neat goatee and moustache, his longish black hair pulled back in a knobby ponytail. Yesterday, he was clean-shaven with a buzz cut.
“Gomez… Ari… what the f**k?” He, like Mary, was looking me as though I’d sprouted another head.
“What’s going on?” I demanded, my voice trembling. “Why am I not on the schedule?”
“Um…” he frowned, taking a step back. “Ari, I miss you and all, but I don’t think Langdon’s going to give you your job back. How are you even here? I mean, the newspaper said you were going away for eight years.”
“Eight years? What newspaper? What the f**k is going on?”
Cisneros took another step back. The front door opened, and I heard heavy footsteps. Charlie Green – all six foot four of him – stepped out of the hallway. There was a scream from the dispatch booth, and Mary came charging out, wide-eyed and hysterical.
“Grab her!” she screamed to the guys. “Lock her in the office!”
Before I knew what was happening, she was clasping my wrists behind my back. Cisneros froze. Green barreled towards me, shoving Cisneros out of the way, and then I was looking at the world upside down and backwards as he picked me up, swung me over his shoulder and dropped me unceremoniously on the floor of Langdon’s office. He slammed the door, and I heard the lock click.
I stood up and lunged for the phone on Langdon’s desk, desperate to contact my parents or Jose or my best friend or anyone else who could explain the discrepancy between the world I’d fallen asleep in and the one I’d woken up to. Then I saw a newspaper headline, popping out from under a pile of billing printouts. It was an article cut out of the Los Angeles Times, dated August 20th.
“Former EMT Sentenced to Eight Years for Drunk Driving Death.”
Yesterday (the article stated), Ariana Gomez, 22, of Duarte was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to vehicular manslaughter.
It went on to describe her crime – on January 5th, 2014, at 12:45am, she’d made a right turn through a red light at the intersection of Foothill and Rosemead in Pasadena, on the way to the freeway, heading home after attending a house party. She’d struck a bicyclist – Adam Yen, 20, of Arcadia – killing him instantly. Her blood alcohol level was 0.14, nearly twice the legal limit.
I read the article twice, and then I lost my restraint, and then I screamed and screamed until my throat burned and my knees buckled, and I fell back onto Langdon’s chair and missed. I fell down, down… the world spun… then blackness… then the sound of the door opening, and Green’s voice…
“Where the f**k did she go?”
And then I was staring up at stucco peaks and valleys, eyes burning. My bedside lamp was on, and my laptop was open on my pillow. I rolled over and checked the time. 6:18. Twelve minutes until my alarm went off. My right arm ached, and my head throbbed. I turned to the side and puked all over the floor. I swung my legs over the side of my bed and tried to stand, but as soon as I shifted my balance the room began to spin, and then I was staring at the stucco again, drenched in cool sweat, too weak to move.
I don’t know what’s going on. That was the weirdest dream I’ve ever had in my life. I mean, it didn’t even feel like a dream. I was at the station. I was talking to my partner. I could feel Mary’s hands on me. And the lucidity of it all wasn’t even the strangest part.
I had been at a party in Pasadena on January 4th, my friend Caitlyn’s birthday. And I had thrown back a few PBRs, but I could talk straight and walk a line and thought I was okay to drive home around midnight.
But I hadn’t driven home.
I’d had second thoughts. I’d taken off my shoes and fallen asleep on Caitlyn’s couch, then woke up nine hours later with drool running down my chin and Jenny Wong’s ex-boyfriend passed out on my shoulder.
I lay there, on my back on the rug, for the better part of an hour before I had the strength to drag myself into bed. I had to call out of work again, and I’m pretty sure I copped as much of an attitude as I could manage with Mary, who answered the phone.
Hours later, in the shower, I noticed a dark purple bruise on my right shoulder that wasn’t there yesterday. Exactly the sort of bruise I’d have expected if Charlie Green had dropped me on the floor, like he did in my dream.
Blog entry: September 18th, 2014
I’m going crazy. I’m going crazy. The sleeping pills aren’t working anymore. I was back in the maze again last night, blue sky above me and golden field extending in all directions. I was running. This was the right path, I could feel it. I could find my way out of the maze, escape the thing chasing me, and then… I don’t know. Find the highway? Hitch-hike? In my dream, I hadn’t thought that far ahead.
But I kept running, in the moment sure my life depended on it. And then I heard the whispers again. The same melodic piping, but it was different today – doleful, haunting. I stopped, and surveyed the area around me. And I noticed I was not alone. In the distance I saw a grayish form, moving slowly though the grass.
Whoever – or whatever – had joined me in my mysterious labyrinth was at least a few hundred yards away, I could not tell whether I was looking at a human or an animal or some sort of machine. The same doleful motif was repeated and, this time, I recognized the gray silhouette as its source.
I ran, down the same path that I sensed would lead me to freedom. My lungs ached, my legs numbed, I could feel sweat beads rolling down my face and neck. Then I glanced to my left, and saw something that nearly stopped my heart, drove me to stumble and fall to my knees in the dead grass.
It was a small shack, square and flat-roofed, covered in rusted sheet metal. No windows, just one wood-and-mesh door. Several burned-out neon signs.
And, standing in front of the building was the most disturbing, hideous sight I have ever seen. Breathing. Staring at me with bulbous marble eyes. Yelling strange words to me in its shrill, woodwind voice.
Its body was grey and cylindrical, about three feet high, covered in dry, leathery hide dotted with bulging, pus-filled blisters and disparate clumps of coarse black hair. At its base was a tangled network of tentacles, writhing and twisting, glistening, coated with a whitish slime. Extending from its midsection were three appendages, dry and cracking like tree roots, bending at the middle and culminating in a warty ball with five spindly, scaled appendages, covered in sickly black protuberances and tufts of hair. And topping the cylindrical trunk was what appeared to be a clear sac filled with opaque black liquid, bulging and then extending, reshaping itself like a stress ball. Attached to this water-balloon head (head?) were three pure white spheres, unblinking, emotionless, but inarguably fixed on me.
I think I screamed. I attempted to climb to my feet but found myself drained of all strength, and fell backwards, supine in the grass. I could feel the coarse stalks scratching my arms as I collapsed, seeing nothing but blue. And then I felt myself spinning around, still falling, down through the grass and deeper and deeper into the earth, the grey creature’s drilling, flute-like cries pounding in my ears.
The last thing I remember was something staring down at me. A purple sphere of some sort, with a prominent red nose and two tiny green ears. Something reaching out with a long, skinny, purple arm, furry in texture, like a puppet. I couldn’t make out its mouth, but its red eyes flashed gleefully.
Then I woke up, the grayish light of early morning illuminating my room. And then I found myself staring, again, into depthless red eyes embedded in a purple sphere. I imagined one of its long, purple arms reaching for me, and I nearly screamed.
Then I realized it was all just a dream, and I was staring at the stuffed Shredder Monkey sitting on my shelf.
I talked to my dad later. I asked him about that trip to Tahoe years ago, when we stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. He remembered the trip; he even remembered the Goosebumps book I was reading. But he said that we never stopped for gas, that it was cloudy and drizzling the entire drive, and that I slept in the back the entire way.
What is happening to me?
Blog entry: September 19th, 2014
I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep.
I saw it today. I saw the Shredder Monkey.
We were downtown, posting in a ranch market parking lot around Wilshire and Alvarado. I got out to buy a soda, and I looked across the street and it was there. On the sidewalk down the block a ways, just standing there, staring at me.
It’s big, at least as big as a man. From a distance, it looked like one of the guys in character suits at Disneyland. Wide, square body; balancing on these two tiny little skinny legs that shouldn’t be able to support the weight of its bulging body and giant round head. Long, skinny arms – one nearly reaching to the ground, the other extended towards me. All purple, with puke-green, mitt-like hands and feet. A big pink circle on its belly. Blood red eyes. It didn’t move.
I know it was watching me.
So I opened the door and screamed at Cisneros to look, look over there, but thing was gone. I jumped out of the ambulance and ran down the block to the spot I’d seen the giant monkey, between a lamppost and a run-down office offering payday loans.
Nothing. Not so much as a purple hair.
Cisneros gave me this half-pitying, half-mocking face he’s been throwing my way all week. I didn’t tell him about my dream, but he knows something’s up. He keeps on asking me if everything’s okay at home. Apparently, Charlie Green says I have “b***h eyes” now.
I’m scared. I keep on telling myself it’s just my imagination; that it’s the lack of sleep and the stress from work and applying to school getting to me, all mixed together and combined with that stuffed monkey on my shelf, staring down at me while I sleep. I took the thing and threw it in the attic. Maybe that will help.
But even so, it doesn’t change what I saw. I saw the monkey. Just like I heard Henry Gaffigan speak that day, like I saw those markings on the wall, felt Mary’s hands grasping my wrists and the pain shooting from my shoulders to my fingertips when Green dropped me. And maybe I could rationalize and explain it away if it weren’t for the bruise on my shoulder and the scratches on my arms and the maddening memory of that sheet-metal shack and that grey, scaly…
I can’t sleep. I can’t see that thing again. I can’t be in that maze. The pills aren’t working anymore. I’m scared.
Blog Entry: September 21st, 2014
I’m feeling a little better today. I slept until two in the afternoon yesterday, then stayed in my room and watched Breaking Bad on Netflix until I fell asleep again. So now it’s Sunday morning, and I’m looking at the world with a clear head. Which is a bit ironic. Because the dream I had on Friday night was anything but sanity-confirming.
I was in the maze again. You know the drill – warm air, blue sky, dry yellow grass as far as the eye can see. I could see the rusty sheet-metal shack, but it was far in the distance.
I was calm, and I was lucid. I knew I was dreaming. I had to take a psychology class at Citrus, and we talked about how some people are capable of controlling their own subconscious thoughts. This place, this maze, was all a construct of my own imagination.
Then something spindly and grey grasped my shoulder and spun me around.
I was face-to-face with the monster.
The thing balanced itself on the three warty balls attached to the spider-like appendages that extended from its midsection. Its cylindrical body extended lengthwise and tilted so the stress-ball blob was near the ground and the tentacles hung from its tail end like hair, dripping slime. Its three spherical eyes betrayed neither emotion nor intention.
“Greetings,” the thing said. “What are you called?”
Its voice was pleasant but mindless, reminiscent of the automated recording reads you back your account number when you call the bank. I then noticed that the monster had acquired a new accessory – what appeared to be a fuzzy grey scarf wrapped around the intersection of its pipe-shaped body and jelly-filled head (its neck?).
And then I realized the thing had spoken to me in English.
“What the… who are you? What do you want?”
“Do not be afraid,” the robot-voice chirped. “I am here to advise you. Forgive the curtness of my communication. My body cannot produce your language. The filter I am forced to adorn may be unfamiliar to your species.”
I guessed the “filter” was the fuzzy scarf.
“Um… okay,” I responded. “Um… what’s your name?”
It whistled something that sounded like “Fifi.”
“Okay… Fifi,” I said cautiously, “what’s your advice?”
“You are like myself. You have the ability to climb through planes.”
“There are an infinite number of them. Every time you make a decision, another is created in which you decided the opposite. Billions of planes, all stacked on top of each other.”
“Oh!” I got it. “Like alternate dimensions. String theory. I’ve heard that one.”
“You’ve climbed into another plane before. It was like your own, but not.”
“I don’t think…” I started to say, then realized Fifi was right. My dream. The one where I’d driven home drunk and killed some bicyclist and was supposedly in jail.
“You felt weak and ill after, am I correct?”
“Yes,” I murmured, my brain suddenly a wet rag. “I… I had a dream. I was throwing up after and almost had to go to the hospital. You mean I… I traveled to another dimension?”
“Yes. Climbing is difficult on the corporeal form. It is more difficult the farther you go from your own plane. The place you traveled to was barely several billion away. On my plane, capable climbers are trained since we are small things.”
“Your plane?” I asked. “You mean, you live in another dimension?”
“My plane is untold quadrillions away from yours. Tens of billions of years ago an asteroid ricocheted off a newborn star. My plane is the eventuality of that asteroid travelling north. Yours is the eventuality of it travelling south.”
“Your plane,” I repeated. “Is that… are we there now?”
“No. This is a space between the planes. It is a dangerous place. That is why I constructed this labyrinth.”
“Wait, this stupid invisible maze was you?” I cried. “So, you’ve been chasing me through it for weeks?”
“It was difficult to trap both of our corporeal forms at once. You continuously vanished.”
“No, you kept on disappearing,” I argued. “And why are you trying to keep me in here anyways?”
“Not keep you in. Keep him out.”
My anger dematerialized, replaced by ice-cold panic. I knew who “him” was. I glanced around nervously.
“He is not here,” Fifi droned pleasantly. “He is a dark thing, a creature who wishes only destruction. He comes from a plane far, far below all the others. In my world we call it ‘Shish-vojes,’ and it is where we say evil beings are trapped after their natural life ends.”
“He’s a demon,” I whispered, feeling my pulse quicken and my palms grow moist. “We call that place he comes from ‘Hell.’”
“This is one of the places he lurks,” Fifi continued. “He constructed the square box. He offers attractive sustenance to climbers who wander into this space, while their bodies are in a state of unconsciousness.”
“He…I was there once!” I stammered. “I dreamed I bought some cereal! He’s the monkey!”
“He takes many forms. You consumed his fruit. This allowed him to intertwine your consciousness with his, allowed him to find you and follow you. Which he has been doing.”
“Yeah!” I said excitedly. “I found a stuffed animal that looked just like him!”
“The object was a token. An assertion of ownership, to deter others of his kind. But he could not claim you as his prize yet, as he was not yet strong enough to take corporeal form on your plane. Instead, he took possession of a weak mind.”
“Mr. Gaffigan!” I should have been afraid, but I felt as though my brain were on fire. “He… he was a confused old man. The monkey possessed him. He wrote on his walls.”
“The symbols were not him. That was myself. I followed the trail he left, took control over the same feeble consciousness. I could not stay there for long, as my strength was limited and the body attached to the mind I occupied was expiring due to the pressure of housing him. I should have been aware you do not understand my symbolic language.”
“Why did you care?” I demanded of her (him?). I was immediately ashamed of the nastiness in my voice. But if Fifi was offended at all, she (he?) hid it well.
“We nearly met inside the square box, when we were both small things. My elders had told me to stay away from this place, and to never consume anything offered to me here, but I had become curious. I saw you and tried to deter you, but I could not retain my corporeal form.”
I remembered the footsteps I had heard that day, the slamming door. I could see all of the strange products sold in the sheet-metal snack shop, all in different languages, all unrecognizable. The demon-monkey wanted to cast a wide net, lure children from all dimensions by offering them sweet, tasty things featuring their writing, familiar to them. This was all madness, fantasy, a fever dream. But somehow, for the first time in weeks, my life made sense. I was scared. But knowing what I was up against made me feel a little bit more powerful.
“So,” I asked Fifi, “this demon monkey thing wants to kill me or eat my soul or something.”
“He wants your essence,” Fifi dictated emotionlessly. “And he is very powerful. Stronger than any climber. Eventually, he will break through and take physical form in your world.”
“He already has. I saw the thing. How do I stop him?”
I noticed the sky above me had paled. My surroundings were blending together into a pixilated haze, I could no longer determine the point where yellow became blue. I was looking directly at Fifi, but she (let’s go with ‘she’) was melting into a grayish blob, as though I were looking at her through a camera and fiddling with the focus. I was waking up. No fucking way.
“Fifi!” I cried desperately. “How do I stop it?”
The haze became a filmy cloud. I was no longer in the field, but falling down some foggy, sense-defying pipe, and Fifi’s outline had become the sort of static, color-less shape you see when you close your eyes.
“You must climb,” her answering-machine voice echoed.
And then I was staring at stucco and light was streaming in through the blinds and my alarm clock was wailing.
Last night, I didn’t dream.
I’m glad I decided to keep this blog. I’m sure I’d have gone crazy if I didn’t have some outlet to organize my thoughts. And now, if I can’t chase down Fifi again, I’ve got to learn how to exorcise the Demon Shredder Monkey all by myself.
Yeah, I’m aware of just how Harry Potter fan-fiction that last sentence sounded. Maybe I am actually going crazy. But given the choice between looking like a nut job and getting eaten by that purple thing, I’ll take crazy any day.
Blog Entry: September 23rd, 2014
I started wearing a crucifix around my neck yesterday. And there’s a bible at the bottom of the backpack I take to work. I’m not sure whether or not the Shredder Monkey is scared of religious iconography, but it’s worth a shot.
I saw him again.
We were waiting outside MacArthur Dialysis at around five, waiting for Diem Phan to finish clotting. I was in the ambulance alone; Cisneros had gone inside to use the restroom. The rig was idling, the radio was on and, for some reason, I felt eyes on me. I looked behind me, through the back window.
His purple, plush face was pressed against the window.
It was the closest I’d ever seen the thing, and I was made aware of little details I’d have rather remained ignorant to. His purple fur was not monochromatic, like that of the stuffed monkey I’d tossed in the attic. It was matted, dirty, caked with grime. His red nose was comparable to a dog’s snout; leathery, warted, dripping greenish mucus. And his fiery eyes were neither plastic beads nor emotionless spheres like Fifi’s. I could make out whitish rings, black pupils staring at me, alight with twisted mirth.
He was enjoying this.
I stared back, too terrified to scream. The bright red, fleshy nostrils flared, steaming up the window, obscuring my view. Then, words began to appear, letters backwards. The thing was writing something in the fogged window, like a kid on a cold morning.
NWODR EH GARD from his vantage point.
DRAG HER DOWN from mine.
Then I heard a snap; the door opening. I screamed. Cisneros yelped and stumbled, catching himself on the driver’s side door. He didn’t even bother asking me what’s wrong. He just gave me that same look I’m starting to seriously despise.
Blog Entry: September 24th, 2014
No monkey sightings today. I was on edge all day long, eyes darting like a crazy person, jumping at any unexpected sound. I know he’s messing with me. That’s why he left me that message on the fogged-up mirror.
Whatever. He’s playing games, I’m figuring out how to get rid of him for good.
Remember how I said my parents keep everything in the attic?
I went up there today after work. I dug through box after box. Baby clothes, Jose’s old soccer trophies, photo albums, sheet music from the two years I played the cello in middle school. My clay model of San Juan Capistrano Mission, what was left of Jose’s foam board poster depicting the process of photosynthesis. Third grade, second grade, first grade… and then I found what I was looking for.
In a forgotten manila folder at the bottom of a water-stained box labeled KIDS 1997, I found a cache of crayon drawings signed Ariana. My suspicions were justified. A small child, guided by her imagination, unfettered by logic or rationality, could have travelled to places her older self would be kept from.
One depicted a red house (ours is brown) and a family of six – Mama, Papi, Jose, Ari, Noemi, and Roberto. Once, years after I’d drawn the picture and forgotten about it, my mom told me she and my dad had considered having more children, then decided against it. There were a whole bunch of those – crayon Ariana playing with people I’d never met, in front of houses and schools and parks I’d never been. And some of the people were weird. They had eyes in the wrong place, or noses that were too big, or too many arms or legs or fingers.
The Shredder Monkey knows how to find me here. If I can climb out of this dimension, like I did when I was a little girl, he’ll lose my trail. And then… I’m not quite sure of the “and then” part yet. Maybe he’ll forget about me. Maybe he’ll get bored and retreat back to his sad little sheet-metal squatter’s nest, better luck with the next unfortunate dream-traveler. Maybe some being in whatever plane I’ll end up in can teach me how to fight back. Maybe.
I closed my eyes. I tried to think about nothing. Allowed myself to forget all my little daily worries, forget where I was, dissolve all of my thought processes, focus on the neon shapes dancing in the blackness, flickering and folding and combining and breaking apart and coming together again.
Then the blackness faded to grey and the neon dulled to primary colors and the shapes took definite form. I was sitting on something soft and the air around me was warm and pleasant. The grey lightened into dingy white, and details revealed themselves. A pink dollhouse, complete with little wooden figures. A bookshelf, plush dolls littering brown shag carpet. A pink Barbie mirror mounted on the wall, reflecting my tired face rimmed with frizzed hair. I was in a child’s bedroom.
I heard voices, coming from outside the open door. Nervous, I jumped to my feet. I hadn’t thought of how I would explain my presence in some random kids’ room. Two little blonde girls barged in – twins, from the looks of them. They stopped and stared at me, wide-eyed.
Then the pastels and dingy white walls started to blur, and the floor dematerialized under me, and everything started to spin. The last thing I registered before my cold, hard attic floor was a child’s voice.
“Mommy! Mommy! There’s a lady cop in my room!”
This is good. This is really good. I saw myself in the mirror. The kid saw me, all of me. My blue uniform does resemble a police officer’s. I climbed into an alternate dimension. Now all I’ve got to do is figure out how to stay there.
E-mail from: Michael Wyzeki, Editor-in-Chief, Scientific Fringe Magazine
To: Ian Koros
Thank you so much for this fascinating piece of work!
I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty of doing a bit more research, trying to find out who this “Ariana Gomez” is and how her blog ended up attached to a spam e-mail.
As you know, there have been isolated incidents of “travelers” claiming to be from alternate dimensions, but most have been proven false. And, after my extended attempts to contact the young woman responsible for this blog, I was ready to declare your account the same.
I contacted Citrus College in Glendora, and they kindly allowed me to look over their enrollment records for the past 10 years. In that time period, twelve women with the name “Ariana Gomez” attended the school. Via social media, I was able to open a dialogue with all twelve. All denied any association with the blog. None had ever worked as an EMT.
Then, I searched for a young man with the surname “Cisneros.” This was more fruitful – I found the Facebook page belonging to a Benjamin Cisneros, aged twenty-three, employed as an EMT with a small ambulance company. He was cooperative, and even met with me once in Pasadena. He has spiked hair and a mustache.
Cisneros was able to corroborate much of her story. He does work with a dispatcher named “Mary” and a lanky teenager, “Charlie Green.” The name “Henry Gaffigan” was unfamiliar to him. However, he transports a patient with similar symptoms (though this man is still alive).
But he’d never known a girl named Ariana Gomez.
I let him look over a hard copy of the blog entries you sent me. He was visibly spooked. In his words:
“This is really creepy. I mean, I have no idea who this chick is. But reading that stuff, what she wrote, I almost feel like I remember some of it. Like déjà-vu. I imagine a face, hear a woman’s scream, but it’s impossible. None of it ever happened.”
Then, two days ago a friend of a friend’s sister found this posted on a Persian cat enthusiast discussion board. Since everyone who knows me knows I can’t resist an internet mystery, it ended up in my hands:
This is ariana Gomez ariana Gomez can you see this please? Please? The shredder monkey got me I tried to climb again same as before, but the colors behind my eyes formed his face and then he was right there in front of me His face split open and became a mouth and all that was there was a dark hole and I fell down the hole and when I woke up I was gone and no one could see me and I didn’t have a reflection and im not in any of the pictures in my house just my mom and dad and Jose and all my stuff is gone from the house I’m typing on a laptop I found now but the screen is all white and I have no idea if anyone can read this or where its going or if im even typing or how long this will last becase sometimes I cant touc thin
So, Ian, I’m inclined to come to one of two conclusions:
Conclusion #1: we’re both victims of an unsettling hoax. Or,
Conclusion #2: Ariana Gomez is real. Was real. She became the victim of a demon dressed like a giant purple monkey. The Shredder Monkey… deleted her. Made it so she never existed. Or maybe, the monkey ate her entire dimension, leaving her disembodied consciousness stranded in another dimension, one in which she was never born. Maybe our dimension. Either way, all that’s left of her is breadcrumbs – the message on the Persian cat discussion board, Cisneros’ deja-vu, and the blog.
Oh, and speaking of her blog, can you e-mail me the text again? The file somehow disappeared from both my hard drive and my inbox, and I think I misplaced the hard copies as well.
Credit: Nicky Exposito (a.k.a. NickyXX)
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