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A Ghost Story for Hallowe’en: ‘The Yawning, Colorless Chasm’

A drifting couple leave their bustling Chicago neighborhood to photograph a covered bridge outside of the wife’s rural hometown. Desperate for money, they are being paid to spend the night at the supposedly haunted spot, photograph anything unusual, and return the pictures to an eccentric anthropology professor. The husband’s bitter cynicism and the wife’s open-hearted curiosity only increase the stress on their rickety marriage, but when strangers arrive at their overnight photo shoot, violence, ritual murder, and trans-dimensional experiences will change how they view themselves, each other, and the shape of the universe.
T H E Y A W N I N G , C O L O R L E S S C H A S M
DEDICATED TO BRIAN O’CONNELL,
My friend and faithful fan
“The Ceylon Covered Bridge is located on CR 950 S. at Limberlost County Park in the county area outside of Ceylon and Geneva. Originally and historically known as Baker Bridge, it was built in 1879 by Bridge Smith Co. of Toledo, Ohio, and was one of 23 covered bridges spanning the Wasbash River. Today, the Ceylon Covered Bridge is the last remaining covered bridge over the Wabash, and was added to the National List of Historic Places in 2007. Running 135 feet long, the Ceylon Covered Bridge was fabricated using a Howe Truss design.
“…this bridge is often found on lists of haunted placed [sic] in Indiana. One such story tells of a grim event happening there, although there is of course no factual proof. Local lore states that a group of teenagers performed a séance on the bridge many years ago. During the séance, a body supposedly fell through the roof, leaving a large blood stain on the floorboards by the pentagram drawn by the teens. Perhaps this is why it needed restoration. [Many locals avoid the area today, and some claim that a portal to another world was opened during the séance, and that it remains open to this day — REDACTED SINCE AUGUST 2018].”
— Town of Geneva Website, www.townofgeneva.org/ceylon-covered-bridge
“Throughout history and literature, from the supernatural flights in ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Tam O’Shanter’ to fairy tales like ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ and the ‘Cry Baby’ bridges of urban legend, bridges have been viewed as areas with unusual supernatural activity. They are places prone to haunting and notorious for dangers both real and imagined. Many scholars identify this association with bridges’ perceived ability to defy natural law, allowing mortals to cross areas which nature never intended them to span. Conscious of this break in the natural order, superstitious cultures believed that bridges were capable of attracting the interest and fascination of dark, outer powers.”
— Millennium Book of Folklore, Superstition, and Mysticism, pg. 125

The interstate reached out between two shaggy bands of maples and ash trees, rising and falling along the humps of hills, carrying the small electric car east – away from the vivid frenzy of Chicago, towards the slumbering prairies where her family had been settled for four generations. She did not welcome the return, but it paid money and they needed money. More than anything they needed a distraction. Her husband sat behind the wheel, looking distantly over the dashboard as if watching every yard of pavement disappear under their bumper with the bored desperation of a man longing to pull over and walk off into the woods. He reached over dully and turned the radio up, returning his hand to the part of the steering wheel where it had rested without prior interruption for the past hour. His eyes returned to the pavement, counting the yards slipping under their tires.
She hadn’t made him come back to her hometown since their wedding – that was four years ago – and he had been perfectly content keeping five hours between them. They Skyped into her family get-togethers and sent cards for Christmas and birthdays, but other than her mother’s triannual visits to Chicago, they hadn’t been forced to leave the liveliness of Wicker Park where his vegan donut shop had given them plenty of excuses to stay put: the holidays were busy times; he had to be up by 3:00 am six days a week; Saturdays were the only day he had off, and he needed it to unwind. It wasn’t that her family was obnoxious or even unpleasant, but they were backwards and ignorant and infused their family reunions with subtle obligation and guilt.
He wasn’t a practicing vegan – sometimes he ate fish, or eggs, and once a year or so he might have free range chicken – but her family always made a fuss out of presenting him with a special salad when they visited. She was a strict vegetarian, so also attracted a degree of confusion, but at least she could put ranch dressing on her salads, and could eat Aunt Jenny’s whipped cream-saturated dirt pudding. She had promised him – after five years of living together – that if they got married he wouldn’t have to visit home unless it was an emergency. Now Aunt Jenny was dead and more of the grandchildren had moved away – to Denver, to Columbus, to Nashville, to Minneapolis, to Houston – and Christmases and Thanksgivings were mostly for the parents and grandparents. They had been freed of their obligation to pretend that the past was the present, to be anchored to the ignorance of obsolete generations and dying elders.
Instead, they spent the majority of their time travelling – seeing the world and living out of hostels. The excuse about his workload was a lie; he had two managers to run things when he needed to leave town, and the vegan pastries were impossibly popular with the Wicker Park community, keeping money flowing into their coffers. She was a photographer focused on boudoir photoshoots for single women, elopements in the Lake Michigan area, and photoshoots of couples on vacation. This took her out of town and all over the country, and most of the time she brought him with her; he had majored in Business with a minor in Photography, which is how they met: she was a teaching assistant for one the professors in her department and he was finishing his thesis for the minor – a black-and-white study of drapery in abandoned houses – and she was drawn to his vision; he had a taste for delicacy that struck her as unusual for a man, and spent the semester trying to get to know the moody, bearded junior with the green eyes. Since then they had been inseparable – they shared everything: a love of travel and photography, of ‘80s music and postmodern art, of whiskey and cigarettes, of road trips and dive bars. They burrowed into the lush frenzy of an itinerant life – roaming spontaneously – and were fused by their shared passions.
But the past four years of legal marriage brought with it a solemness – an end of adventure and wonder – that haunted them with monotony. This only grew heavier as they neared thirty and began to realize the weight of their debts; three backpacking trips to Europe in the last four years, a vacation in South Korea, and a week spent in India had come at considerable cost, and while they both tried to work hard enough to afford their adventures, the income from the donut shop and her photoshoots was just enough to support their life in Chicago and on the road, but it hardly left enough to cover two overseas journeys a year.
And that was why they were driving east – towards her hometown on an assignment: take photos of the Ceylon covered bridge at sunset, night, and sunrise. The overnight commission brought with it a staggering price tag of $5,670 – enough to pay off their last trip to Amsterdam – and easily excused the necessity of leaving the lights of the city for the dust of the Heartland.
II.
To find the bridge in this story you will need to go to a town in northeastern Indiana that used to be a wilderness called the Limberlost Swamp. The swamp itself – largely drained but still alive on the outskirts of the town, going so far as to hug the sides of Highway 27 as it heads south – has a strange history. The American Indians had a name for it which the Yankees pronounced “Loblolly” – a pretty word that sounds like summer and youth, but its meaning in the Miami language is “stinking bog” – an allusion to the sulfuric odor of rancid vegetation and decomposing animals. To the Miami tribe the Loblolly Swamp was a place to be avoided – never to be entered too close to dusk, and never to be hunted in alone.
A tangled, buzzing marshland known for its blend of beauty and treachery, it gained its English name during the infancy of Indiana’s statehood after “Limber” Jim Corbus disappeared in its thorny clutches. Limber Jim was a popular hunter and lumberjack, known for his skill in traversing the bogs and woodlands, and yet one day he entered the swamp with a rifle over one shoulder, and it never let him out. Days later the lumberjacks’ calls of “Turn out! Limber’s lost!” were heard booming amongst the labyrinth of trees, but the search was a failure, and the swamp where Limber was lost became a source of superstitious anxiety until it was gradually drained and dominated by human ingenuity: whatever had taken Limber from the realm of the living surely need not be worried about any longer. As the swamp water receded into ditches and rivers and lakes, dirt roads were cut through the drying woodlands, and in 1879 a bridge was constructed over one of those gorges – a fat, lazy projection of the winding Wabash River as it snakes its way through the Hoosier interior – and although the road has been diverted since the 20th century, the old bridge still stands.
To make your way there you will need to drive north on Highway 27 until you pass through the town of Geneva, turn right at the Ehre Farm Stand just outside of town, where they sell tomatoes and peppers in the summer, and pumpkins and onions in the fall. This road will twist its way through a village called Ceylon – a loose collection of houses gathered on an informal grid of streets with tree names like Elm and Maple – a town who lends its name to the covered bridge that you’re looking for. The road will crook and jerk until you are clear of Ceylon, upon which you will find it heading east with fallow fields on either side of you. In recent years the trees have begun to overtake the land where the swamp used to live, and you will likely notice the horizon’s dark tree line and how the fields have become overgrown with saplings. I haven’t been there in years, so I imagine that the saplings have now turned into young trees, and that the thick brush that I can picture reaching its arms towards the road on either side have now become thick with newer saplings as the reclamation increases its gains.
As the road claws eastward, you will soon notice a flash of red and white: the walls of a covered bridge surrounded by the deep greens of the Wabash woodlands. Shortly after you recognize the white outline of its rounded mouth, you will find yourself pulling off the road on a gravel path leading up to the bridge. Off to one side – surrounded by swaying yellow grass as high as a man’s elbow – there will be a decaying pavilion, a rusted iron water pump, and a sun-faded sign announcing that you have arrived at Limberlost Park, and that you are now in the shadow of the Ceylon Bridge. Those who grew up in southern Adams County either saw the bridge as a historical curiosity that smacked obnoxiously of rural sentimentality – the sort that adores split-rail fences, Amish buggies, and paintings of barefoot children fishing – or were familiar with its strange past, and harbored a fearful respect for it.
As you exit your car and walk up to it, you will quickly realize that there are many people who have not developed this somber reverence: while the exterior walls are a deep, heavy red, the interior is unpainted, and the grey, aging lumber is brilliantly laced with four decades worth of graffiti. Most of it consists of lovers’ names paired with dates or encircled in a quickly sprayed heart. Before the advent of spray paint, names were hacked in the wood with knives, then written in pen, then markers. While the majority of the writing is in this romantic vein (Kim + Andy ’84; Jennifer and Kendall Foreva 8-9-97; Lizzie Luvs Tyler; etc. etc.), a great deal take the much darker route that can sadly be expected from rural Indiana graffitists. Swastikas, Klan emblems, pentagrams, anarchist symbols, and sinister runes blend in almost invisibly amidst the harmless oaths of eternal love. Some of the more obscene comments have been spray painted over in dark grey (the work of the parks department), but these grey blobs are tabula rasas begging to be defaced with new slurs. The bridge is lovely on the outside, interesting on the inside, but unquestionably disturbing under close scrutiny – a museum of human emotions, a gallery of personal passions, it has been a touchstone of the area’s collective unconscious for 150 years, and its power to elevate petty, shallow love and deep, resounding hate on equal pedestals has made it a psychological curiosity for tourists who are expecting a quaint covered bridge only to find themselves standing in the Temple of Id.
I cannot verify if the legend of the séance is true or whether any living people claim to have been present at it. It is said to have taken place before I was born – some say in October 1985, others in October 1988 – and since the pentagram was drawn in chalk (if it was drawn at all) it has long been sponged away. If a portal was opened by some esoteric ritual that night, it would be surprising: rural Midwestern teens aren’t usually known for their scholarship or their attention to detail. But if something did happen like the legends say, the Miami tribe would not have been terribly surprised: the Loblolly was always considered a portal to the spirit world, and while the tribe chose to bury their dead in a more favorable area – one that didn’t reek of sulfur and swamp gas – they felt that the spirits of the unhappy dead roamed the thickets and briars of the Loblolly bogs. But this is still more folklore that can’t be verified by historians or scientists.
It is true that there have been a high number of suicides in this place; seven since 1968, most of whom shot themselves in the parking lot, in the pavilion, or inside the bridge itself, although two managed to scale the rafters and hang themselves from the ceiling. Romantics like to imagine that a supernatural energy preys on weak-minded or weak-willed people – vulnerable types who are unfortunate enough to drive past the bridge, or to have a flat tire in its vicinity. Realists are more likely to think that the solitude of the unfrequented park is less of a spiritual magnet to the emotionally damaged than it is a tremendously convenient spot to perform an act which would otherwise be difficult to accomplish in one of the surrounding small towns.
It is a quiet place to park a car without attracting attention, and far from any houses, unlikely to be patrolled by police, and a public site where the body will be easily noticed in the morning, making it attractive to loners who would prefer that to having their body scrapped off of their easy chair three months after the fact, and to family people who would prefer their remains to be found by a passing patrolman rather than a spouse or child. Indeed, most of the suicides were committed by married parents who drove to the lonely spot in the middle of the night instead of running the errand they were entrusted with. Five were women in their thirties or forties, and two were men in their middle age. The papers have always been discreet about these events, but gossip flourishes in rural towns like these – the stories are officially repressed, but this only leads to stronger interest and more gruesome details.
The first modern suicide was by a father of two – separated from his wife and recently laid off from his job at the furniture factory – who drove to the bridge on an October morning while the milky mists rising from the Loblolly Marsh had hidden all but the spine of its roof from view. Two hours later a driver noticed the orange glow of headlights peering through the fog. Expecting to find a stranded motorist, he instead found an abandoned truck, and the police later found his corpse in the river. He had drowned in the shallow slime at the base of the bridge’s foundation; his eyes, nostrils, and throat were stuffed flush with yellow mud.
In October, 1998, one woman – a single mother of three – had hanged herself from the rafters over the exact spot where the pentagram had been drawn during the infamous séance which was said to have opened an interdimensional window. Only 25, her nude body was found two days later by a couple who had come there to picnic. It was a dark, overcast day, and they abandoned their picnic to take cover in the bridge when a storm blew in. In the murk they didn’t see the body turning above them until the male felt her toes graze the top of his head and looked up. Years later a middle aged mother drove there in the middle of the night and shot herself in the head two weeks before her favorite daughter’s wedding. She left no note and had no recorded history of depression. Her traumatized daughter skipped both the funeral and the wedding, and moved away to Denver without a word to her widower father or stunned fiancé.
III.
This is what drew people to the bridge – a love of the macabre, a fascination with the occult, maybe even a soothing hope for something bigger than themselves. Something very different and far more material was driving the couple who were headed there from their Chicago apartment. Neither of them cared for or were remotely interested in ghosts or witchcraft or true crime. They needed money, and they hoped to get it by feeding another man’s obsession with the occult. It was an autumn afternoon with feathery gold traces of vapor brushed across a radiant blue sky, the sort of day when life seems suspended for a moment as if sinking slowly into water – so slowly that you don’t notice the descent. The trees were burning with color; a general blurring of ochre and sienna into a sparkling bronze, occasionally punctuated with bursts of scarlet and lilac, and as they passed through Plymouth, heading southeast down Highway 30 (then turning due south on Route 5), it was just warm enough that they could roll the windows down and drink in the fragrant air of cornfields and woodlands.
“Scott said he’d pay you next Monday?”
It was the first thing he had said to her since they had driven through Rochester.
“Yeah. That’s what he says. He said if I can get the editing done by Saturday he would add $130 to make it an even fifty-eight hundred.”
“This is weirdly important to him. I hope he doesn’t expect to make a lot off of this book.”
“He says there’s a niche market for it.”
“Maybe now. Maybe with old white people. I don’t know anyone under 35 who would want to read about rural superstitions.”
“Scott is an old white man. Well, old-ish. Fifty-six… And someday you’ll be an old white man,” she laughed. It was the first time she had laughed during the entire drive.
“Technically. But no one will think of me that way. Just a chill guy with grey hair who digs Prince and doesn’t skimp on pot with his friends.”
“But you will be old…”
His face seemed to harden and settle. He didn’t like the thought of aging, as if he would somehow sink into the past like her dead Aunt Jenny. Especially now, as they drove past small towns with weather-stained siding and tall grass – past farmhouses with bowing roofs and boarded windows. He missed the city already. But not just that; he loved driving through the red deserts of New Mexico or up the craggy hills of Colorado, or through the forested ridges of Vermont. It wasn’t the country exactly that annoyed him – it was the energy of this particular part of the country: resistant, negligent, insular, and deluded. The people living in these towns were content with their lives – small, empty, visionless lives – and he hated them for it. How could a person house something as grand and expansive as the human spirit in their brain and find nothing insane about being raised in a town without a building over three stories in sight, living in that same place for the rest of their life, and then bringing children into it. The cycle repeats itself, and so – he thought – did the ignorance and stupidity.
“When is Scott publishing this thing? Are you getting any of the royalties?”
“He said next April, and if I agree to do any other shoots he said he’d write up a contract.”
“What other shoots?”
“Well, the book is about superstitions and folklore all over the Great Lakes Region. There are probably sixty or fifty sites that he’s writing about.”
“And he needs an overnight photoshoot for each goddamn one!?”
“No,” she said sternly, “The only reason this one is overnight is because he wants me to watch it and see if I… see anything…”
“Holy shit. You’re not serious; this is a ghost hunting trip? In 2018. And the two of us with college degrees. Why doesn’t he get one of these Holy Roller yokels to do it? They believe in all kinds of bullshit just like this – Zombie Jesus, water into wine, Holy Ghosts. Get someone who doesn’t use logic in their daily life for Christ’s sake.”
“He didn’t say I had to believe in supernatural things. Besides, the photoshoot is commissioned whether or not there are any pictures he’s interested in. He wants shots of it at sunset and dusk, shots of it at night, and shots of it at sunrise. He just wants me to take pictures of anything strange if something strange happens. The rest of the places he’s writing about aren’t as important, I guess. He says this one is going to be the centerpiece of the book.”
“I don’t know how a scholarly published writer with a masters and a PhD can possibly consider this a good use of time. His other books are sensible enough – anthropology, politics, history – why is he bothering with this superstitious B.S.?”
“You’ve only met Scott twice. I’ve been to his house three or four times when I was doing the photos for his last book, and I can tell you that superstition isn’t a random subject to him – it’s a huge part of his research.”
“What do you mean?”
“His house. It’s full of esoteric art and books and artifacts.”
“He’s an anthropology professor.”
“Yeah, but a lot of them aren’t just arrowheads and tapestries – a lot of them are… occult, I guess.”
“Pentagrams and goat’s heads?”
“Stranger than that. I can’t describe them, really. You just know when you see them. Especially the statues he has. They’re weird. But he’s always been super friendly. He has a positive energy about him. I think the supernatural stuff is just an outlet because he’s always so positive… But yeah, he thinks this book will sell well in some kind of niche, occult market. He says a lot of people know about the bridge and its backstory, and he was like, really interested when he heard I grew up nearby.”
The sun was setting soon – it was October 13th, which fell on a Saturday that year – and the sky was aflame with scarlet light as it became cradled in swathes of violet clouds. The sun still hung softly in the middle of the sky as they drove through the shady town of Berne, over a few miles of woody farmland, and across a bridge spanning the Wabash River (at a point where two strange, muddy islands seemed to be fusing beneath the span). Less than a mile from this spot was the Ehre farm stand with fat golden pumpkins and bundles of cornstalks gleaming in the golden light. Here was the turn onto First Street, two blocks east and then a left onto Third Street, two blocks north and then a curving right onto High Street, which turned into Covered Bridge Road and lead them through the Loblolly Swamp to the dark glen of Limberlost Park.
It wasn’t long before they saw the bridge – a scarlet box with white paint around the entrance, like teeth lining a mouth. It peered at them from a distance, growing larger as they drove on. The road crossed a modern bridge parallel to the wooden structure – some forty yards south of the spot – and a pair of iron posts stood squatly in front of the entrance to prevent vehicles from trying out the 150 year old span. She immediately felt a kind of warm affection for it – the first she had seen it in at least twelve years – as if she had arrived home after campaigning in a years-long war.
She had in fact not told any of her relatives that they would be in town, and they had packed their breakfast in a cooler to keep them from needing to stop in town for anything. It would be a brief, overnight pause. They would camp – legally or not – in Limberlost Park, sleep for a couple hours at a time, eat breakfast in their car, leave as soon as sunrise had melted into daylight, and probably grab lunch in South Bend on their way home. But it was still nice to be home for her. Like visiting a grave of a long-forgotten grandparent or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time in fifteen years: something stuck to her, drew her in, accepted her.
His experience on getting out of the car was vastly different. At first he stretched his arms and legs, arching his back and bending his head back, feeling the cramped muscles tighten and tenderize. But in this brief moment of relief something happened – he felt the weight of his body disappear, as if the pressure of gravity was suddenly disengaged. He opened his clenched eyes and for a moment all he saw was cloudy, brown air enveloping him. He reached out and realized that he was on his back – falling gently through the brownness. One arm shot out – another swung around frantically. Then light, then sound, then weight – she was standing over him.
“What happened?”
“I think I slipped while I was stretching out – the blood just went to my head.”
He was on the ground, looking up at the red and white face of the covered bridge that spanned the remnants of the swamp where Limber Jim disappeared on a hunting trip. He felt that there was something far too face-like about its gaping mouth and cavernous throat. Sitting there as it did, next to the modern bridge with the paved road, steel guardrails, and painted yellow stripes, he felt a disgust for it rise in him; it should have been demolished decades ago. What sick nostalgia had caused it to outlive its usefulness? What twisted fascination with death and dead things had kept it from being destroyed and the old wood burned in fires?
The past shouldn’t be preserved like an impaled moth drying on a cork board or a mummy refusing to decompose in its golden box. He loathed the idea of a modern town (and county; and state; and nation) paying money to maintain a bridge that had no use – it was unnatural, unprogressive. It was like keeping an old person alive long after they have outlived their natural end – foggy with drugs and dementia, a curiosity piece appreciated only by a small group of selfish family members who aren’t brave enough to deal with death. “Let the old man die,” he thought to himself, staring at the bridge…
“What did you say?”
She looked at him strangely. Had he said that out loud?
“Nothing. So you need to get started now or can we relax a bit?”
She was already setting up her gear and peering through one of her lenses.
“You can relax, but I’m getting started.”
IV.
The sun was setting almost directly opposite of the bridge, turning the deep crimson of its walls to a flaming scarlet. The haggard, grey floorboards glowed like amber as the light spilled down its length. But there was a spot in the middle of the floor – halfway down its length – that (it was so strange to say, but it truly seemed like this) the light skirted around, as if something round and tall was casting a shadow there. She looked at the spot almost hypnotically with her naked eyes, then in a brief moment of wakefulness she raised the camera in her hand and shot. Four, five, six shots. Staring through the lens it almost seemed as if an old man in black was squatting there, sitting Indian style with his legs crossed and head covered in black cloth. She pulled the lens from her eye and looked again. Why had she thought “old man”? It had looked somewhat like a person, but there was no face to see, and – besides which, and most importantly – nothing was there now: the sun had gushed through the west end and was rushing east in an unbroken, golden flow.
She snapped more pictures and backed away, capturing the bridge from different angles and attitudes. In some ways it seemed small and weak – a cast-off relic of a bygone time – something redundant and dying. In others ways it towered over her with tremendous presence and powerful energy. The heaviness of the massive beams frightened her, and the obvious age of the gashed, colorless wood intimidated her. Here was something that reached its hands out to a time period before Abraham Lincoln was president, before women could vote, before her parents’ house had been built or their street even laid out. It held hands with the 19th century and 21st century, and when it had first been erected, its foundations had been laid in the heart of a country that had frightened the Miami since the days before French explorers and fur traders could be seen canoeing down the Wabash and White Rivers, before the clash of a flintlock had ever echoed across the hills and ravines of the Loblolly Marsh.
She had a sudden idea that this ancient-seeming structure – one which had survived Susan B. Anthony, JFK, and Nelson Mandela; Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, and David Bowie – was impossibly young in another context; a mere child by comparison to the time-worn shores of the Wabash or the sandy slopes of the marshland surrounding them. In a flash – as she looked at the scarlet walls looming above her – she simultaneous experienced the clatter of horse hooves rushing down freshly-sawn floor boards; of bearded men clothed in wool cloaks and beaver pelts wading through the marsh with muskets and powder horns held above their heads; of tall, brown-skinned men with dark eyes making strange gestures and holding up talismans as they carried a bleeding deer through the grass; of wild tornadoes twisting and gyrating over unpopulated meadowlands; of solemn, tomblike glaciers – dominating walls of green ice – scratching through a frozen wasteland like a great, grim god, leaving rivers in its wake. And then she was back. She was staring at a covered bridge in a lonely corner of Northern Indiana. And was it now a small bridge or a large bridge? Compared to her it seemed a giant. Compared to the universe it was a fleck of dust. And what was she now?
The sun was dipping behind a line of trees, stippling their brown leaves with molten light. She raised the camera again – automatically rather than intentionally, her dutiful, professional self overriding her awe-struck existential self. The shots were taken: of the bridge, of the sandy marshes beneath it, of the skeletal logs and trees drying out in the autumn air, of the wooly foliage, the tangled briar patches, and the still, black water sluggishly winding its way under the bridge without a ripple or splash. And now the sun began to sink, the night began to spill over the landscape, and violet light transfigured the park and the bridge and her husband into nocturnal duplicates of their sunshine selves.
She looked over at him and realized that he had hardly moved since she began working. He was sitting at the picnic table under the pavilion, a stone’s throw from the bridge. There in the shadow, silhouetted against the purple sky, she saw him leaning over the table – leaning on his elbows, hands folded in front of him – and was surprised to see that he was looking straight forward, and even occasionally nodding. It was as if he was having a conversation. She had expected to see the blue glare of his phone illuminating his face, but instead it was only darkness and the pale orange glare of the streetlamp that had flickered on in the parking lot.
It frightened her a little. She remembered being frightened by her last visit to Scott as well. Just a little though. He was so nice and friendly, but his collections certainly leaned towards the macabre. As she had said earlier, none of it was campy – no pentagrams or goat’s heads or inverted crucifixes – nothing familiarly dark. That was what made it so uncomfortable – the fact that it seemed to archetypally speak to her, communicating its evil through an unfrequented, vestigial channel to her brain. Pre-Columbian statues of shapeless masses leering with eyeless faces; gnarled totems removed from Indian burial mounds; leather wall hangings from Viking lodges embroidered with scenes of running men and swirling orbs; heavy velum books with Latin, German, and French titles – heavy-looking letters pressed with gold foil into red, leather spines – that seemed to glow at her through the glass.
Scott had commissioned her to photograph most of his collection after they met while she was photographing an archeology dig at an Oneota burial mound in Southern Illinois. Her first job with him was cataloging pottery for the Anthropology Department at Northwestern University, where he taught. It was a year later when she was invited to shoot his private collection of occult arcana, and while she appreciated his gentleness, patience, and hospitality, she remembered feeling relieved when she left his house – not even then: she didn’t feel entirely relieved until she had made it back home, slept through the night, and saw the sun coming through the windows. Something about the maroon walls, dim lighting, and black trim that defined his house – a house swimming in shadows – that made her uneasy. She had caught a glimpse of him – when he thought she wasn’t looking – standing across from one of the tall, ebony statues, looking it in the face, bending his head from time to time, sometimes moving his large, pendulous lips, mouthing silent words. Then he turned back to her – green eyes magnified by his horn rimmed glasses – and smiled innocuously. But there was something in the smile, something dark and quiet that terrified her in that moment.
Maybe this would be the last time she worked for Scott. But they needed the money. The trip to Scotland had almost devastated their finances, and for them to have gone to Spain so shortly afterwards… She loved travel – being on the run, on the go, on the lam – but standing in the shadow of this bridge, on the soil of her hometown, made her feel a sort of dizzying vertigo, as if she could sense how fleeting everything was, how silly it was to run (how far, how hard, how long, before you are finally overtaken?), and how small her ego was in comparison to the Dark Things that lived in the dusk, the Dark Things in the statuary, the totems, the leather wall hangings, and the gold-lettered folios.
Suddenly she felt her heart clench and instinctively held her arm over her chest and throat. She had seen something moving on the bridge – there in the shadows which were mottled with orange light coming through the crisscrossed windows under the eaves. There were street lamps on either side of the river, and the opposite entrance was sharply outlined by red-tinted brush and foliage, outlined in deep blackness in the shape of a square with rounded top corners. Something – a long, willowy shadow – had momentarily flitted between her and the reddish brown cameo. It was on the bridge, seemingly in the very middle of it – in the spot where she had heard a séance was aborted during the ‘80s after a body fell out of empty space, bleeding out over a pentagram chalked on the grey floorboards.
Ten years later, when she was still in elementary school, she remembered hearing about the single mom of three who was found hanging from the rafters over the same spot, and seven years after that Eileen Connors had driven there in the middle of the night and shot her head off in the parking lot, weeks before her daughter’s wedding. She looked over at her husband to see if he had noticed anything, but all she saw was the red glow of a cigarette and the stern silhouette of his motionless head. She held her camera ahead of her and walked towards the bridge. If she needed it, she would use the flash to bring light to the pooling darkness.
Walking towards it she felt as if she were approaching a great idol from antiquity, something grim and heavy and timeless. It wasn’t the simple Mennonite architecture of the span, though – in the daytime it was quaint, bordering on kitschy. The barn-red walls, unimaginative white trim, and almost childishly simplistic 25 degree pitch of the roof all seemed like something out of a grandmother’s calendar, or folk art on the wall of a Cracker Barrel. But now, in the night, in the thick swamp air that was now rising steadily from the yawning hollows of the Limberlost Swamp, it seemed to take on a different, hidden character. It was as if someone built a little white church on the site of a concentration camp or an Indian massacre. She felt as though she could smell the rotten blood weltering like rain puddles in the wheel ruts and potholes, and the gassy vapor rising out of the swamp seemed sweet with the pork-like odor of charred human flesh.
She stepped onto the rising slope of ground that led to the bridge, taking careful strides without taking her eyes off of the blackness between the two openings…
V.
He watched her leave the secure, orange glow of the parking lot light and walk slowly towards the bridge with her camera extended from her body like an altar boy carrying a crucifix or a censor of blessed incense. He wasn’t surprised anymore that she seemed so awed by such a backwards superstition. Really he knew all along, ever since they met, that she was probably not as sensible as he was. She came from a shitty little town in the boonies, after all, and he grew up in a bustling brownstone in the heart of Chicago. His parents were proud atheists, proud progressives, and proud humanists. His family believed in the corporeal, the here, and the now. And even if she had developed leaps and bounds beyond her provincial parents who still believed in supernatural creatures – gods, angels, and demons – who still thought that men could walk on water and raise the dead to life, and who still held that there was an invisible world overlapping our own, she could hardly be expected to outgrow thousands of years of continuous superstition in one lifetime. He was ashamed of her intellectual weakness and lack of conviction, and he began to think about what would happen to his life if they ever divorced: how would it impact his business, what friends would he not mind losing, what restaurants and clubs would he probably have to avoid, who would keep the car, who would take the dogs?
It was the first time he had openly entertained the idea, although no one – not even their most casual friends – could deny that marriage had changed them. It had turned a gallivanting adventure into a plodding duty, and he sometimes wondered if he had married beneath him. What would his next relationship be like, he wondered. Someone with a less rigid background, someone whose parents weren’t a chore on Thanksgiving, someone who maybe didn’t even want to ever marry, or even be exclusive. There were women at his yoga class who were openly seeing multiple men who were in turn seeing multiple women. Try as she might, his wife just had too much of the stench of age on her – not the years of her life (he might even be interested in an older woman in his next relationship – he knew a very interesting professor of African American Studies at Northwestern who was twelve years older than her), but the centuries and millennia that she had managed to crawl from – the very swamp where they now found themselves.
The reek of time seemed to perfume the air like an old woman whose sugary stench hangs in the air for fifteen minutes after she has left a room. He drew long and deep on his cigarette and tapped his fingers impatiently. He would wait until they had made enough to pay off the last three years of vacations before he told her that he was considering leaving, but then again they were planning to see Peru in December (a reliable excuse to avoid seeing either of their families over the holidays), but he couldn’t afford that without her income. He would need to ponder this more. Maybe it was good that Scott wanted her to work with him; as much as he loathed anyone stupid enough to pay any attention to this sort of bullshit he felt like it might be their best option until they had balanced their books. Another long, heavy drag, and his eyes returned to the gravel road leading up to the bridge. There in the dusky, amber light he watched her advance towards the gaping black mouth, and with a flick of his ash he witnessed her being swallowed…
VI.
Her first step on the rough-hewn floorboards was a jolt. It was as if a kind of electricity was surging through the long-dead wood. Once two feet were in contact with it she began to feel a steady hum – a deep, baritone vibration – running up and down the muscles of her body, and something warm and melting started to invade her nerves, detaching her from reality like the tremulous heat of a Jacuzzi or the narcotic languor of fast-approaching sleep. It was now as if she had closed her eyes and was seeing with a different, unused, vestigial organ that sensed sight, sound, smell, feeling, taste, and more in a single, sightless impulse.
She saw the heavy purple shadows on the walls of the bridge scored by lashes of neon light forming into unfamiliar patterns and symbols. She saw the floor glowing from its center where a circle began to form as if traced in green fluorescence by an invisible hand. Inside the circle she expected to see the star of a pentagram appear – but it didn’t. It was a shape she couldn’t describe in language but felt that she could approach its description by making a sound: a gushing “swoosh” made from the back of the throat without the lips. In curious ribbons of light this moving, living sign was gently etched, curving and turning delicately like the strokes of a blind artist sketching the face of the lover of his youth from memory — his liver-spotted, arthritic hands performing a miracle of art as they recreated a long-dead face on the dry canvas.
She was drawn towards the green light which she sensed but did not see. And standing around it she knew there were seven figures in odd costumes – cloaks and headdresses – with faces etched by age and darkened by life under the sun. They seemed to be from different places and times, none a peer of the others, but knitted into one another’s lives like old scraps of cloth sewn into a quilt, or the way that the sweat of Alexander, blood of Goliath, tears of Cleopatra, and drool of the newborn Napoleon had all evaporated into the clouds, forming the rain that fed the grass around her and flowed through the marshlands under her feet. She felt the electric intensity of her agelessness and the transcendent weightlessness of her cosmic unimportance.
Stepping towards the green tongues of light on the floor she thought she recognized Scott’s face on the tallest figure, but Scott was a short, balding man, and this man was like a king of kings. And yet, his eyes, his willful green eyes… But there was something more to it; as weightless as she felt, as timeless as she sensed her soul to be, there was something threatening about the gaze in those green eyes – something challenging and dark that frightened her. There was a purpose for her being here, she now knew, and she wanted to leave it all. What was happening now? What was the tall man with green eyes pointing to overhead?
Her eyes flew open.
When had she shut them? Had she shut them? Nothing was on the walls besides the scrawled graffiti of high school sweethearts, jaded racists, and wannabe comics, and no emblems were visible on the floor other than carved initials and the wear of wagon wheels. She backed up and looked around her. Still nothing. No one. Another step back, towards the very center of the floor, and she suddenly paused. Something had touched her – grazed the top of her head. A strand of her hair fell from her bun as proof of the contact. It had been soft and cold. And there it was again – gentle and harmless, like backing into a floating balloon which sways back and forth from the brief collision. Something was directly over her – hanging above her – but she couldn’t force herself to look up. Nothing could force her to find the courage to see it. It had a stiff but soft feeling, like an old woman’s hand, and she was almost positive that it had felt like a hand – or toes.
Powerless to see, powerless to force herself to see, she began walking away, and with the success of each step, she sped up, ignoring the unmistakable groan of rope twisting back and forth in the rafters above her. She didn’t dare to look back until she was a short sprint outside the bridge and could feel the clammy night air rising from the Limberlost, but when she did she saw nothing: an empty bridge with vacant rafters. Almost as if manipulated by an external power she found herself raising the camera that hung from her neck. Catching the shadowy interior in her view finder, she clicked the button, washing the grey timbers in the flash bulb’s brilliant light…
VII.
He watched her stumble from the bridge and wondered what could have made her run so quickly only to turn mechanically around, take careful, deliberate aim, and shoot five successive pictures with all the calm and professionalism of an elopement photo shoot. She was being very strangely affected by this commission – it was obviously bringing out the worst in her: her paranoia, gullibility, hysteria. He might as well be babysitting a Salem parson at a Halloween party – eyes bugging with superstition and awe when they should be glazing in boredom. He looked over at the Other Man and wondered if he felt the same. What did he think about his wife’s behavior? The Other Man looked coldly out at the parking lot where she had backed up against the light pole, almost as if catching her breath. The Other Man didn’t look particularly well – almost as if he needed to throw up, for his sickly, green pallor and milky, unblinking eyes. But he seemed decent and down-to-earth: dressed in flannels and jeans, his grey hair cut short and tight.
He knew how to make people respect him, surely. He knew how to get what he wanted. The Other Man turned to him with his unfocused gaze, his mottled face smeared with mud, and seemed to agree with him: divorce might not be quick or clean enough. She would take too much. But if he took her camera to Scott, and proved that he was also a capable photographer, maybe he could get the commission. And then he could pay off their debts. His debts. Hers would go with her wherever she went. The Other Man stood between him and the light – looming like a great pillar of stone carved thousands of years ago, outliving hundreds of millions of lives, a stone where human sacrifices were brought and offered up to Dark Things, a stone made brown and oily with the blood of offerings…
She couldn’t see where he went, but she wished he would stop sulking and pouting and comfort her. Why had he been so cold and distant all year long? She knew marriage had sucked some of the spontaneity and romance out of their lives, but on a night like tonight she felt a distant longing for the rooted stability of her parents – her brothers and their wives, her grandparents, Aunt Jenny and Uncle Silas. There was something delicious about the idea of laying down together and being still, like the desire for oxygen in the lungs of the drowning man, or the yearning for water on the tongue of the explorer lost in the desert. Maybe they could lose some of the thrill – the manic pace of their young lives – in exchange for the quiet peace of age.
They wouldn’t live forever, but that wasn’t a reason to speed up the process of dying. Maybe to sit down and say nothing would feed life into them. Maybe to leave the fashionable chaos of Wicker Park wouldn’t ruin their self-worth. Maybe to slow down wouldn’t ensure the misery of a sold-out life. For the first time since her childhood she sense the shape of the universe and saw her place in it – small, brief, uninteresting, unimportant – and it brought a shocking degree of rest to her soul. There was no one worth impressing, nothing worth destroying, nothing worth building – but if she impressed or destroyed or built in her allotted time, all the better. But they needed to leave this darkness. They needed to run from these putrid swamp vapors, from the shadow of the bridge, from the sightless eyes of the leering Limberlost. She looked once more at the pavilion. No sight of his cigarette or phone. No silhouette…
VIII.
The Other Man walked backwards from him, or glided, rather, and he followed. There she was – peering towards the pavilion, not realizing that the two of them were behind her. The Other Man opened his blue lips and yellow water spilled out of them, revealing a fat, black tongue. He spoke to him about things that he had never told anyone – spoke to him about his simmering, long ignored impulses, about his neglected but never stifled desires, about his repressed but never smothered rage. The Other Man spoke to his heart instead of his brain – spoke to his deep, tarry core from his gaping, mud-stained mouth – spoke of longings and resentments and muffled hysterias. The Other Man grabbed his hand without looking at it – his palm was slippery and the skin seemed to move loosely over the bones – and lead him gently like a father leading a son. And they went forward on their mission – a mission of freedom and outrage and expression.
The Father took the Son towards the Daughter. The Daughter was walking towards the weedy bank of the swamp, peering over the side into the black waters, probably wondering if he had gone down there to explore or (more likely) to get away from her. But he hadn’t. He was behind her. Behind her with the Other Man. Behind her with his Father. The Father let go of the Son’s hand, but he still felt the wet, mushy grip on his heart. It tenderized the soreness and squeezed out the black, molten anger that he had been redirecting to so many mindless distractions – slumbering causes and indolent activisms, his half-hearted business and their half-hearted marriage. The Other Man held him firmly by the wrist. Father and Son now ran down their prey.
She was peering into the black sludge along the riverbank when she felt his heavy hands grip her shoulders and drag her down. Who knows what exactly he was planning: to fake her accidental fall and walk away from a relationship that chafed his sense of independence, possibly, or to viciously kill her in a moment of delusional rage. Maybe he wasn’t thinking clearly at all. But when he lifted her by the armpits and drew his elbows back to throw her over the side, she didn’t hesitate to clench her fingers and drive the point of her extended thumb through his left eyeball. It was a sudden, instinctive action that horrified and stunned her – as if something primitive had unexpectedly woken up and taken control of her life. It was cavewoman-like and reflexive, a spirit of animal rage that didn’t pause to calculate what her husband was doing and why, that didn’t pause to consider her love for him or stop to reason with a man who had been possessed by the same swamp-like, primordial element. They tumbled backwards – her on top, him sprawling in pain – and she withdrew her thumb from his eye socket with a revolting sound of fleshy suction.
She scuttled away from him in a series of rapid, alien movements that reminded her more of a spider or ape than a grown woman, and watched him stagger to his feet, watching her with shocked rage through his sole living eye. Where was the Other Man? Where was his Father? He took a shaky step towards her, but felt his head swim with pain and nausea. One leg seemed to buckle, and he overcorrected his balance, causing him to pitch over the weedy embankment, landing facedown in the tarry muck below the bridge. She slowly walked towards the edge and looked at him lying there. She saw the back of his head, the edges of his elbows, and the edge of his heels protruding from the water. It was shallow – maybe six inches – but he didn’t move in it or make any effort to rise up. She thought he was certainly dead, but she couldn’t have known that on landing awkwardly in the mud he had felt a sharp crack in his neck. She couldn’t have known that the brain inside that still, immobile figure was screaming for oxygen as watery mud filled its nostrils and mouth, sucked into its lungs, slowly strangling life out of its burning mind…
IX.
None of this felt important to her, though. In comparison to the monolithic powers that towered over her in the silent night she knew that whatever happened to him, or her, or anyone was entirely inconsequential so long as it fed the deep energies of the Dark Things. She felt the weight of age thickening her blood, sensed the power of centuries in her brain, the wisdom of millennia in her heart, the weariness of eons in her throbbing hands and feet. She knew the fear of a mother hiding her children from Potawatomi raiders, freezing to death in a lonely cave. She knew the rage of a wife watching her husband be dragged off by political zealots – forced to watch him die under the guillotine, and driven herself to fight and die the same death. She knew the love of a daughter eager to die on the altar for her father’s kingdom, rescued at the last moment by the repulsed gods. She felt the pain of sunbaked sand and brittle ice on her bare feet. She smelled the odor of burned villages and villagers. She hungered and thirsted, and was fed and given drink. She fought and was killed, killed and fought. Scraped and slugged and hacked and kicked. She felt centuries of passion and millennia of hope swell through her arteries. She no longer cared for anything in this world. It was as if she had tasted wine for the first time after a lifetime of sipping brown water from stale ponds, and nothing mattered anymore save to drink that flavor once more – to feel the purple fluid filling her mouth and spilling down her chin in clear, fragrant rivulets.
She realized that she had somehow come back to the bridge. Were her eyes closed or opened? She couldn’t tell: mind and body, spirit and flesh were morphing and unmorphing, blurring and becoming clear. Her senses revolted, her mind tore open, her body was flooded with primeval power and deathless confidence – confidence in the power of life-in-death and of death-in-life, in the ubiquity of misery and the meaninglessness of the self, in the pettiness of a single life and the immeasurable grandeur of a single soul. She saw the figures once more before her. Eyes opened or closed she sensed the gleaming symbol on the floor and spoke its timeless name from the back of her throat without moving her lips. She saw Scott remove his hood and kneel at her feet with his green eyes closed in reverence. The others did the same.
Overhead she felt the warmth of the yawning, colorless chasm as it breathed on them. It was a gyrating gulf, a portal or orifice leading to the gates of understanding and completion. She felt her husband’s blood hardening on her hands like drying mud, and she understood that he had had a part in this, too. That he also had a place in the cycle. She saw his brooding, unhappy eyes in the faces of weary hunters in icy pelts, sullen sailors peering hopelessly from the rigging of motionless ships, tubercular poets in cravats and frock coats staring at dying candles. He had a place, too — but it was not with her.
She realized that she had taken off her clothes but did not mind. The breath of the void was warm and comforting. Scott backed away from her with his hands extended in reverence, his eyes averted in awe. How old had Scott been in the Dying World? He was fifty-six. He had been twenty-six in 1988. Where did he say he was from? He never had. But what had it said on the back cover of the book she helped him make? Someplace in Ohio. Montezuma. Thirty-five minutes away, almost due east of Ceylon. But they were no longer in the Dying World. Scott was not fifty-six. He was not from the county across the state line. She remembered the conversation he had appeared to have with the statue of the Dark Thing, remembered his strange blend of gentleness and intensity.
It reminded her of an old, old man with a deceptively powerful past – one who had flown bombers surrounded by enemy fighters, who had spent an entire winter eating shoe leather in a frozen camp in the Rockies, who had watched his ship succumb to French hot shot and survived for three weeks in an open boat. Here too she felt that she understood Scott – the name given him by his parents in the Dying World – and was comforted by his ageless confidence. Who were the people with him? Had they been here in 1988, too? Had they also seen the stitch break in the universe and watched the Dark Thing fall out of the void, expiring on the floor in a pool of its black blood? Maybe. Maybe some of them were from distant times and places. Some seemed unborn – she didn’t know how to express this better – while others seemed to only just recently have awoken from their centuries’ long slumber in the Welsh barrows or the Spanish grasslands or Japanese mountain country.
She felt that she understood, that it would be okay, that it was a matter of losing the Self and gaining the Whole. She stepped forward and her bare feet hardly felt the cold wood beneath her – she was now in the midst of the flaming emblem, surrounded by flickering light, immersed in unquenchable fire. And now she was rising – higher and higher, lighter and lighter – and the barrier between her flesh and spirit melted away like a mud-caked jewel being submerged in boiling water: the clay dissolved in a fury of exploding bubbles and searing heat, the pain shot through her throat and down her arms, scalding her lungs and crumpling her heart, but she didn’t mind it.
She didn’t worry about the momentary agony, because with each jagged breath she sensed the light bleeding its way through her dissolving flesh – the bright, clean, clear, imperishable light of her spirit as it emerged from the restrictions of the dying world. But what was this? The pain had almost entirely bled away and now only warmth and light and power surged through her starving body, and she was falling, falling, falling up – up, up, into the orifice overhead, falling through space and expanding in it – expanding into the timeless, limitless bounds of the naked soul cut brutally from its hiding place in the dying flesh and unloosed into the cyclopean kingdoms of the Dark Things…
X.
The next morning the two bodies went unnoticed, and it wasn’t until their electric car attracted attention that the police discovered them. She was impossible to miss – hanging by a camera strap which had somehow been tied in a loop around the central rafter. His body wasn’t located until the evening when detectives found it floating in the mud where he had drowned. His neck had been broken and one eye was destroyed by a sharp, rounded object like a broken branch. Her camera was searched but found to be missing its memory card.
Both death certificates listed homicide as the cause of death, but no suspects or motives were discovered; they hadn’t been robbed or sexually assaulted, and the nature of her death seemed to necessitate the use of an exceptionally tall ladder and the work of two or more people. Rumors would persist that a Zodiac-like serial killer was working in Northeast Indiana, but ten years would go by without any similar incidents. Dr. Scott A. Cotgrave – Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University – was questioned in connection to the incident, but had been at a party with six close friends in Evanston at the time, who provided him with a staunch alibi. After several rounds of interrogation (requested by the investigating detectives who considered him a possible suspect), he would be crossed off of the list of persons of interest, and by summer the case would go cold.
The following April, Dr. Cotgrave would publish an esoteric work on Folk Magick and Local Legends of the Great Lakes Region with a particular focus on reports of high strangeness, and bizarre theories about alternate dimensions and the multiverse, reincarnation and time slips, and the reported use of Left Hand Magick in opening pathways capable of bridging the void between material and metaphysical experiences — rituals needed to maintain the balance between the Living World and the Dying World, rituals whose regular practice would keep the Dark Things at bay by momentarily neutralizing the ethereal charges that built up over areas prone to spiritual blight.
Such areas — colorless chasms that spanned the divide between the Dying World of human memory and the Living World of cosmic regeneration — were notorious in regional folklore but were often aesthetically unremarkable and easy to miss: a withered thicket in the middle of a Lincolnshire meadow; an abandoned factory in the heart of a rust belt township; a quiet hollow on the margin of a Virginia state park; a disused road in a depopulated Quebecois village. Here the spiritual tissue was soft and easily torn — the barriers effortlessly penetrated.
The rituals he described were intensely controversial and required the execution of a willing sacrifice. The strongest results could only be obtained if the subject had recently made the choice to spill the blood of someone for whom they felt strong emotion — stronger yet if the blood was spilled without malice polluting the act, spilled in self-defense, spilled in a moment of animal fear.
Critically panned by academics as lacking scholarly rigor (and seeming to advocate a superstitious faith in folk beliefs which were better handled with intellectual cynicism), the book would be a commercial success notwithstanding. The first printing would sell out in a month as word of it spread online.
There would be special interest in the book’s unsettling photographs. One series of photos, taken at the supposedly haunted bridge in Ceylon, Indiana by an anonymous photographer, showed what appeared to be a ghostly figure hanging in the rafters. While academics would immediately reject it as a forgery, the resemblance to a woman who died there in October of 1998 was uncanny, and photography experts would be unable to decisively debunk them.
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Stretching Party

Stretching PartyReading Time: 7 minutes 

WARNING: This story contains some sexual content.

 

I’m into BDSM, bondage – shit like that. Some people might find that weird, but I’m sure those people are into things others might find strange, so let’s not judge. I mention this because it’s important to what happened, it gives you an idea of the kind of company I often keep, the kinds of places I often find myself. A BDSM club I’m a member of, that’s where this all started.

It was last weekend, around 1am Saturday night (or early Sunday if you wanna be a dick about it), and I was just an observer for the night. In these kinds of places, one sees all manner of… interesting attire; lots of latex, zippers, chains. The man that summoned my attention and kicked this whole thing into gear was wearing a red latex suit that looked as if it were painted on.

He said he’d seen me there over the past year, and that he “knew I was serious about the life we’d chosen”. He spoke cryptically, and everything about his tone and his choice of words made it seem like he was almost like a… BDSM purist. He commented on my piercings and tattoos, commending me for my commitment to body modification (I don’t have anything extreme, just sleeves and a few piercings). He then told me I “was ready to ascend to the future, only now”.

It was fucking weird. But I like weird, so I was intrigued. I asked what he meant, and he said that the club in which we stood was a child’s playhouse, a diet, sugar-free version of where “I belonged”. Mind you, he said this as we stood in room featuring a woman suspended from the ground, hogtied, having her stomach and legs whipped with a cat ‘o’ ninetails. I’ve never been particularly into the most extreme stuff, but again, I was intrigued. Part of me thinks that I wasn’t the person who was supposed to get the card, and that the man in the red latex suit mistook me for someone.

The man in the red latex suit handed me a business card that gave only an address and brief instructions. He told me to go “join the upper echelon” that night, because I’d “earned the opportunity”. When prompted, I was to give that night’s password, “Omega”. I put the address into the GPS on my phone and found that it was located in the downtown area of the city in which I live. Had it been a rough neighborhood or the middle of nowhere, I’d have given it more consideration, but the address was to one of the largest buildings in the city, and for some reason that gave me a little peace of mind (I know that’s foolish, but curiosity, as they say, killed the cat).

I left the club and went to the building. I pulled into the parking garage and drove to the fourth level, per the instructions on the card. Once there, a valet opened my door and I was walked into the building and up to the 27th floor, the hallways of which were lined with people holding odd positions, like some kind of live art installation.

I was taken into a part of the building that was cordoned off, and I saw what I thought was the aforementioned “upper echelon”…and it looked no different than where I’d been a half hour prior, only better lit, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. There were maybe 60 people there, and they were all wearing the same sorts of BDSM gear as the club I’d come from, only these people had more body modification work done.

I hadn’t been asked for a password at that point, so I wasn’t exactly sure why I’d been sent to this place as if it were such a huge step up from what I’d been into for years. But then the lights dropped and two bowls filled with a flammable liquid that sat upon waist high pillars were set ablaze and a man stepped between them. The man was wearing a normal business suit, but his face had all sorts of modifications done to it, from tattoos to piercings to all sorts of bumps to his nose having had the skin between his nostrils removed, leaving simply a nose with a large hole.

He gave a speech, welcoming everyone, inviting them to have a good time. But then he began talking about something more.

“This place is inclusive of all…all the most extreme, the most imaginative, the most…different. There should be a few of you in the crowd that were given a password. I invite those of you with that password to form a line at the elevator, and we will escort you to the main event of the evening. If tonight is your first night, you should consider yourself quite lucky. You’re going to witness the final product of Miss Bennett’s transformation.”

A light applause swept over the room.

“Password holders, please, to the elevator.”

I, along with about 15 other people, went to the elevators, and before we stepped into either of the two made available to us, we whispered the password to a large man in a suit. Up to the 30th floor we went, and stepping off the elevator there were sheets on either side of us, creating a sort of makeshift hallway. We followed this path until we reached a large open area, at the back of which was an area hidden by yet another sheet, this one hung horizontally, almost like a stage with its curtain pulled.

We were led into the open space and for about 40 minutes – we all just kind of stood around, conversing amongst ourselves. I found someone else who was also there for the first time, and when we tried to ask others what we were going to be seeing, each person said that we just needed to see it for ourselves. One man did say that the last time they’d had one of these events was over a year prior, so he couldn’t be exactly sure what they’d be seeing, but he had an idea.

“You have all seen the most extreme of body modifications.” a voice boomed as the lights dimmed. “Holes where holes shouldn’t be, splits where things should be together, things together where they should be apart. Well…we’ve got something new for you today. Something you’ve never seen. Something that will amaze you, as it amazed us to perform on the lovely, the brave Miss Bennett. In a few moments, you will be the first to see what will undoubtedly become the new rage in the body modification world. Welcome to ‘The Stretching Party’.”

I began trading guesses with my new friend as to what was going to have been stretched on this Miss Bennett woman, both of us eagerly anticipating the reveal while also a bit nervous. I mean, I was into the lifestyle, but I didn’t want to see anything too gruesome, and all signs were pointing to the fact that this was going to be more hardcore than I was used to.

A short time later, a drumroll began emanating throughout the room.

“Ladies and gentlemen…prepare yourselves for a truly one of a kind woman.” That same voice blared over a loudspeaker. “Over the course of two and a half years, nineteen procedures have been implemented to complete Miss Bennett’s transformation. They–Well, you all don’t wanna hear me talk. I give you, Phase 24…of The Stretching Party…”

And with that, the curtains slowly drew back, revealing what was indeed a stage. The whole room got so quiet, you’d have been able to hear a mouse skitter across the floor. Then came the footsteps. Clunky, uneven footsteps coming from somewhere behind and to the side of the stage.

Pat…patpatpat…pat pat…patpat…pat…pat…pat pat patpat…

The steps got louder as they got closer to the stage. Then I saw the silhouette and my heart sank to my stomach. A black figure, thinner than thin, standing tall…tall…leaning hard to her left. Two spotlights burst on, flooding the stage with light, as gasps and hushed whispers filled the viewing area. She limped towards the stage on legs that were twice as long as my own, with braces on them to keep her standing.

Her torso was extended, with a space each above and below her ribs that isn’t there on the average person. As I said, she was hunched over, hard, to the left, and her arms, which looked like they had two extra wrists each, hung down and swayed as she stutter-stepped out, aided by a man in a suit on either side of her.

Her jaw had somehow been unhinged, making a deep underbite on a mouth that couldn’t possibly close, a massive black hole on a face that was twice as long as it should have been. Her nostrils had been stretched the the size of half dollars, and her earlobes hung down to line up with her bottom lip.

The men helped her to the center of the stage, and stood ready to catch her if she fell as she slowly, clumsily, awkwardly twirled around in a circle. As she did, I saw that there were several more notches in her bent spine than there would normally be. The voice came back over the loudspeaker.

“Miss Bennett has dedicated herself to our community, becoming without question the most modified woman on the planet. We have added several titanium rods in her to act as new bones, and performed a number of skin grafts to cover the extra space. This woman is the eighth wonder of the world, and you all have the privilege of being the first to lay eyes upon her.”

The room filled with a light clap from guests both amazed and horrified. A gurgle left the gaping maw of the at least nine-foot-tall Miss Bennett as she stood on braced, yet still wobbly legs. I looked around the room and found one couple aggressively kissing each other, another man masturbating, and others whispering to themselves and pointing up at the stretched woman.

It was at that point that I decided I’d had enough. I said bye to the guy I had been talking to, who ignored my departure and just kept staring at the woman on the stage with what I can only describe as rapacious eyes. As I tried to leave, I was stopped by two men in suits at the elevator door who made me sign a non-disclosure agreement form, which I did. They then accompanied me to the fourth floor parking garage and only finally turned around as I began driving.

I called the police immediately because…well why wouldn’t I? Nothing about what I’d just seen seemed remotely legal or ethical. The police went to where the party was being held, getting there probably an hour after I’d left, and it was almost as if no one had been there at all. According to the police, the only evidence they found of anyone being there on either of the floors I’d been to was a few pieces of duct tape that had ostensibly been used to hold the sheets up, and a puddle of what looked to be drool on the stage area. The parking garage was empty and the police quickly lost interest, even suggesting I’d made the entire thing up.

Then a few minutes ago I got a text.

“You were not prepared for the upper echelon. You attempted to compromise our hard work. But we are a forgiving group, fortunately for you. Despite your transgression, you will have the privilege, like Miss Bennett, of being the guest of honor for the next Stretching Party. See you soon!”

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know that I should have heeded the warning of the curious cat.

 

CREDIT: Nick Botic

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Algernon Blackwood’s The Empty House: A Two-Minute Analysis of the Classic Haunted House Story

Blackwood’s most famous ghost story is also one of the most excellent examples of the haunted house genre. It is not a story about ghosts, however; it is a story about fear. Like “The Willows,” “The Empty House” features two adventurers finding themselves locked in a battle for their sanity, desperately employing psychological gambits to maintain their self-control and avoid the madness that runs at them full tilt. Supposedly a relic from Blackwood’s ghost hunting days with the Society for Psychical Research, it is informed by intimacy with terror, and while lacking in horror (no gross-outs, blood, or rot) the mood swarms with anxiety building into a fever pitch of self-doubt. Blackwood’s recurring spook-investigator Jim Shorthouse (who also appears in “A Case of Eavesdropping,” “With Intent to Steal,” “…Adventures of a New York Secretary,” etc.) is goaded by his elderly aunt into investigating the source of a local legend, and the two quickly descend from curiosity into a deeply emotional dependence upon one another: Jim’s aunt relying upon him for physical support and company, and he strangely propelled on by her (albeit quivering) bravery. The result is an emotionally complex, psychologically chilling study in fear and the critical human need for interdependence.
Certainly one of the most famous haunted house stories of all time, “The Empty House” demonstrates Blackwood’s precise knack for showing only just enough and allowing atmosphere to do the rest. Even more so than M. R. James, Blackwood excels at discipline, and only hints at the violent specters in this wonderful tale based on an real-life experience as a member of the Society for Psychical Research. Jim, a seasoned ghost hunter, joins forces with his elderly but tenacious aunt (Blackwood’s women are almost always strong, hearty, and driven) when she asks him to spend the night in a haunted house with a murderous past. The story is less about plot and more about atmospheric artistry, as Blackwood’s prose illustrates a spiritual journey as the two characters are symbolically reborn through the terrifying experience (at one point, blood-freezing terror causes the aunt to physically appear young again – something which Blackwood personally witnessed during a night at an infamous derelict). Wandering from the top to the bottom of the musty edifice, the pair suffer from waves of intense fear, paranoia, and confusion, encountering ghostly faces, phantom footsteps, and numbing horror. The story focuses on psychological responses rather than paranormal happenings, and as a result it hits the heart of terror in an uncommon and inspired manner.
Haunted houses are often overstated in modern media: they are towering Queen Anne-style Victorian mansions crawling with ironwork, gargoyles, and leafless trees, complete with a private graveyard, faded gingerbread trim, and a one-eyed turret. In Blackwood’s day they were Georgian manor houses (typically circa 1720) with elderly tenets and a family ghost conjured by an extramarital sexual liaison, greed-inspired murder, or bout of madness. But Blackwood oversteps the romance and the purple details. Rather than focusing on the tabloid-like backstory or the Halloween-cliché architecture, he surges to the psychological effect of these surroundings. Rather than representing the eternal struggle between two star-crossed lovers, he hones in on the relationship between the two mortals shivering in the corner, hoping desperately to maintain their claim on sanity.
Algie was not alone in his craft: Ambrose Bierce wrote several extraordinary haunted house stories (“Some Haunted Houses,” “The Middle-Toe of the Right Foot,” “The Night-Doings at ‘Deadman’s’”); W. W. Jacobs wrote one of the best ever penned (“The Toll House”); H. G. Wells composed the unparalleled treatise on terror’s shapelessness, “The Red Room” which closely mirrors the psychology of “The Empty House”; J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s unsettling“Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street” inspired the less artful but more popular “Judge’s House” by Bram Stoker. Perceval Landon’s “Thurnley Abbey” is one of the most anthologized tales in the language; Elizabeth Gaskell’s “The Old Nurse’s Story” is a staple of Victorian horror; and Rhoda Broughton’s “The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth” was so realistic that to this day many people mistakenly continue to cite its plot in the folklore surrounding the hauntings in 50 Berkeley Square. The last hundred years have produced some very fine pieces as well: H. Russell Wakefield’s “The Red Lodge” is a grisly tale of a manor with a history of suicides at dawn and drowned children; H. P. Lovecraft wrote a bizarre vampiric tale called “The Shunned House”; Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Stephen King’s The Shinning were milestones in horror; and finally, Manly Wade Wellman’s “Where Angel’s Fear” tells virtually the same story as Blackwood’s (a man and a woman explore a haunting) – but with a far grimmer ending.
And you can find our annotated and illustrated collection of Blackwood’s best ghost stories and weird fiction HERE
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My Local Costco Has a Secret Basement

My Local Costco Has a Secret BasementReading Time: 5 minutes

My husband is dying. Despite his good prognosis after the accident, he gets weaker every day. When he became unable to even say my name, I got desperate.

I posted details of his condition on every forum I could find. Medical, accident survivors… I even posted it on a sketchy “deep web” forum called Help Yourself. That’s where I got the PM from Chris████.

I can help you. I’ll send instructions tomorrow morning. -C

The next morning, I didn’t get a PM. Instead, I got a letter. A real, paper envelope, tucked into my empty mailbox. After getting over the initial terror – he somehow knows where I live – I greedily opened it and read the note inside.

Dear Blair,

Here are the instructions. Be sure to follow them exactly, or they might find you. Then we’ll have a real problem on our hands. -C

  1. Drive to the Costco in █████. Bring a photograph of your husband and something that is likely to have his DNA on it (like a toothbrush.)

  2. Go to the refrigerated produce room in the back. You will see a red-haired woman standing there, pretending to sort through the lettuce. She will be wearing a red vest and a Costco badge – but don’t be fooled. She is not an employee.

  3. Go up to her and ask: “Do you have organic blueberries? My son’s allergic to the other kind.”

  4. As long as the produce section is empty, she will smile and lead you over to the blueberries. As she picks up a box and hands it to you, she will purposefully drop it. “Oh no!” She’ll pretend it’s an accident. Play along.

  5. Such a mess. Blueberries all over the floor. She’ll say: “I’ll stand out there and make sure no one comes in while we wait for the janitor.”

  6. No janitor is coming, of course.

  7. She will stand guard outside the produce room. Go to the right wall, where the crate of mushrooms is. Push it back towards the wall – it will roll into a small alcove. Beneath it, you will see a rectangular hole cut into the floor, and a ladder leading down.

  8. Climb down.

My eyes flicked to the bottom, where he had scrawled in red marker: WARNING! READ BEFORE PROCEEDING!

  1. Don’t just make a beeline for the produce section. They’ll know what you’re doing. Get a cart, fill it with some junk. You should blend in with the other shoppers as much as possible. For that same reason, don’t wear bright colors or heavy makeup.

  2. If a short woman with an infant strapped to her chest asks you for help, kindly refuse. She is one of them. If you look closely, you will notice that the infant pressed face-first into her chest is a doll.

  3. Don’t talk to the man at the front of the store advertising flooring. (He’s not one of them; he’s just rude.)

  4. Don’t buy any food from the café.

I folded up the paper and jammed it into my pocket. I then rushed into the house, grabbed the items he requested, and jumped in my car. With a squeal of tires on the pavement, I was off.

***

It had been nearly a decade since I last set foot in a Costco. Everything looked different. Bigger. Emptier. The shelves stretched up to the ceiling far above; a seasonal section of glittering Christmas trees and dancing Santas sat far below.

I rolled my cart into one of the first aisles. Napkins and disposable dining ware stared back at me. I grabbed a huge stack of paper plates and dropped it into my cart. Thraaang – the metal rattled.

When I got to the end of the aisle, I turned left.

“Excuse me?”

I turned around. A pretty blonde woman stood behind me.

“Yeah?”

She flashed me a sweet smile. “I don’t want to bother you, but can you help me get that?” She pointed to a jug of maple syrup on a high shelf. “I can’t reach it… and you’re so tall.”

I stared at her, my heart beginning to pound. My eyes flicked down. A motionless infant was strapped to her chest.

“No, I’m sorry, I’m in a hurry.”

“But –”

I quickened my pace. The cart rolled across the floor with newfound speed. I didn’t slow until I’d rounded the corner. Then I grabbed a few more decoy items – some corn muffins from the bakery, a bag of clementines – and arrived at the produce room.

When I entered, there she was. The red-haired woman, sorting through the lettuce. I cleared my throat. “Uh… do you have organic blueberries? My son’s… uh… he can’t eat them. I mean – he’s allergic to the other kind.”

Fuck.

She gave me a smile and walked over to the blueberries. “They’re right over here.” She picked up one of the boxes.

Splat.

I watched her walk out. When she was firmly stationed at the entrance, I ran over to the crate of mushrooms and gave it a push. It rolled easily under my hands. With a final glance at the red-haired woman, I descended into the pit.

The metal rungs were cold under my hands. They felt rough, as if covered in rust. The square of light above me shrunk, until it was little more than a twinkling star in a black sky.

Smack. My feet hit the hard floor.

Drip, drip, drip. The sound of water came from somewhere in the darkness, along with a soft rustling sound. I pulled my phone out and turned on the flashlight. Before me was a tunnel, roughly hewn out of stone – like some strange hybrid between a basement and a cave.

I walked forward. The floor was uneven, so I had to concentrate to keep my footing. The damp walls glistened in the white light. After a few minutes, I found a wooden door set into the stone. I pulled it open, revealing a dark, cavernous room. The smooth walls and rectangular shape looked like that of a traditional basement – but it had a rotten, swamp-like stench to it. In the center was a table. One leg was bent and broken.

There was a sheet of paper in the middle.

Leave the items here. We’ll take care of the rest. -C

I pulled the toothbrush and photo out of my pocket and placed them on the table. I looked around the room – but as far as I could tell, it was empty. The closest thing to a person was a heap of clothes in the back corner. My heart filled with doubt, but I tried to focus on Dan and the happy life we deserved as I exited the basement.

***

Dan came home from the hospital two days later. That first night home, we sat on the couch in front of the TV, eating ice cream – like nothing had happened. “Guess I’m living on borrowed time,” Dan said, through a mouthful of cookies and cream. “Better make it count.”

“By eating tons of ice cream?”

“By leading a good life.”

“Oh.”

He smiled at me. I reached out for his hand, squeezed it, and smiled back – but our smiles quickly faded when the news came on.

The newscaster was standing outside of the Costco. Dozens of police cars were parked around it, their red and blue lights cutting through the night. “Tonight, police found evidence of violent cult activity at the █████ Costco,” she began.

I jabbed nervously at my ice cream.

“Human remains, belonging to dozens of individuals, were found in the basement. They ranged from a few days to a few years old. Police believe some match the missing locals, but we’re waiting on forensics to answer. The most recent one, however, has already been identified – it belongs to 24-year-old Carlie Bessinger.”

A photograph flashed up on the screen. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a warm smile.

It was her. The blonde woman who asked me to reach something on the shelf.

“Security footage shows her walking around the store two days ago, alive and well. Until she entered the produce section…”

The reporter’s voice faded. I wasn’t listening anymore.

Chris lied. There was no them. No woman with a doll strapped to her chest, waiting to pounce on me. No evil entity watching, thinking, plotting. He just didn’t want me talking to a witness. A victim. A sacrifice.

I looked over at Dan. He watched, oblivious, a generic look of concern spread over his features. I looked down at the floor, unable to watch anymore.

Dan’s not living on borrowed time…

…he’s living on stolen time.

 

CREDIT: Blair Daniels

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The Secret Doctors of NASA: A Dentist’s Discovery

A Dentist's DiscoveryReading Time: 6 minutes 

“The Secret Doctors of NASA” is a series of memoirs, diaries, and reports from actual doctors employed by an undisclosed arm of NASA between 1970 and 2001. These writings contain true accounts of the unusual and often highly-classified medical conditions experienced by astronauts during and after their space missions. Following the defunding of the clandestine medical program after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the majority of these accounts were left, forgotten, on tape drives in a NASA storage facility. In 2016, a former intern, whose job was to clean out one of these facilities, discovered them. Two years later, he is ready to release what he found.

 

A Dentist’s Discovery

Arnold F. A*******, DDS
August 4th, 1989

I met the astronaut after a half-year mission on the Russian space station. He’d gone through his preliminary post-landing physical but complained about pain in his jaw and gums. His health, aside from those complaints, was fair.

It was my job to find out what was wrong with him before moving him on to the next specialist. The urologist, I think. The order always changes.

The patient was in decent spirits when we met, although I could tell something was on his mind. We chatted for a little bit. It turned out he’d been working on the Feng-Lee Discovery. My heart sank.

When Feng and Lee discovered what they initially called “the Venus tic-tacs” in 1982, no one in-the-know was surprised. Just another alien organism to add to the list of hundreds. A team was formed to conduct research and determine its risks and benefits, and there were no expectations that anything would come of it.

Well, as is so often the case, those in-the-know knew nothing. Give those Venus tic-tacs an electric shock in the right place for the right amount of time and what do you get? Pluripotent stem cells. They had the potential to be a game changer in the field of regenerative medicine. I don’t think anyone expected to discover them when we did; all the data we had showed we were at least a decade away from inducing pluripotency. Hell, we assumed civilian doctors might figure them out first. This was Big. Capital B.

In dentistry, it meant we might be able to regrow missing teeth and reverse jaw deterioration. I followed the studies with great interest.

The animal tests were successful. New teeth, better jaws, nice smiles all around. Success. Good. Great.

The researchers moved onto human subjects. Failure. Nothing. Zilch.

No reason. No god damn reason whatsoever. No one could figure out why there was 100% success with animal subjects and 0% with people. The cells wouldn’t grow AT ALL.

Then, a doctor named Franco T******, who’d been on the team since the beginning, suggested they try using the tic-tac cells on people in space. He didn’t give a reason, and I don’t think he had one. It was probably something like “well f**k it, it doesn’t work here so let’s try it up there.”

So we did.

And it worked.

Sort of.

The effects were different for everyone. Sometimes cavities were repaired. Sometimes jaw bones grew again. Then again, sometimes teeth fell out. And jaws collapsed. That’s what happened to Jose G********. No one wanted to use Venus tic-tacs ever again.

That’s why, when this astronaut came to me with pain in his gums and jaw and told me he’d been working on the Feng-Lee Discovery, I was less than thrilled with what I’d find. There’d been a six-year moratorium on Venus tic-tac human experimentation since the Jose incident. It had only been lifted a year ago. Apparently someone on that team wanted to pick up right where they’d left off.

While I talked to the astronaut, he informed me that there’d been new research on the tic-tacs. I frowned and told him I wasn’t aware of anything new. He filled me in.

Apparently there’d been some civilian advances in stem-cell technology that ended up contributing to our own knowledge of the science. New experiments were drawn up, plausibility was determined, and one of the team leaders impressed the brass at NASA’s ethics division. That, combined with the limited number of Venus tic-tacs that’d been recovered and the uncertainty surrounding how much longer they’d live, ended the moratorium.

That was all well and good. At that point, I still hadn’t looked inside the astronaut’s mouth. Before we’d started chatting, I had my assistant do some x-rays of his jaw. They developed while we talked. Then they were ready.

I’m going to digress for a second. Have you ever seen what a child’s skull looks like before their adult teeth have come in? It’s unsettling. Look at this. That was all of us at one point. I’ve been a dentist for the last 36 years. I’ve dealt with a lot of crazy stuff, but just thinking about all those holes makes me uneasy. Some things just stick with you, I guess.

Why am I mentioning this? This astronaut – this grown man – had what looked like new teeth forming above his adult ones. I consulted with the x-rays we took before his mission. There was nothing unusual about them – just the filled cavities and mild bone-loss in his jaw that had made him a test candidate for the tic-tac cells.

Now, as I stared at the new x-ray, I saw the cavities were still there. The jaw was still decaying. But those dark smudges on the x-ray indicated new teeth deep in there. I’d never seen anything like it.

I remained professional. I asked him to lean back and open his mouth so I could begin the examination.

As soon as I took my first look, I knew something was dreadfully wrong. His gums were puffy and bled at the slightest touch. His teeth looked gray, as if they’d never been brushed. It didn’t make sense.

I swung the magnifying lens over and brightened the light. I think he heard me stifle my gasp when I looked through.

His teeth were covered in infinitesimal holes. They were much smaller than regular cavities. I looked closer. Each of the holes had a tiny, pink hair sticking out of its center. I touched the tip of my instrument to one of the hairs. It recoiled back into the tooth.

At this point, I was getting uneasy. I asked the astronaut if what I did hurt and he told me it did, but not badly.

I decided to numb the gums around his top front teeth. While I waited for the novacaine to take effect, I studied his molars. Those had bigger holes with thicker growths. When I reached for one of them with my instrument, rather than slip back into the tooth, the hair extended about a quarter of an inch and wrapped around the metal tip. The astronaut didn’t seem to feel it.

I gave the instrument a gentle tug. Nothing. I pulled harder – but still barely using any force. The molar came out. My patient gasped and I apologized profusely. I stopped what I was doing and put the instrument and the tooth out of his line of sight.

I decided to level with him. I told him there was some severe damage to his teeth and I didn’t know what it was. I said I needed to do more exploratory work and it would likely be very uncomfortable.

The astronaut did his best to take it in stride. He told me he knew something was very, very wrong from the moment he was brushing his teeth on the space station and the bristles would get caught inside the holes. The thought made me shudder.

I numbed his mouth the best I could and got to work. By the end of it, I’d accidentally caused nine of his teeth to fall out. All that remained in their place were those bizarre, pink hairs.

I sent him back to base with an appointment for the next day. It was to remove the rest of his teeth. I felt terrible for the guy.

I got a call in the middle of the night from the Head of Medicine at the NASA hospital. I had to come there right away.

The astronaut’s roommate had called emergency services an hour or so ago. He was in excruciating pain and bleeding from the mouth. I arrived at the hospital in ten minutes.

I expected to be able to go right into the room and see the patient, but I was stopped by security and the Head of Medicine. He instructed me to put on a clean-room suit. Right then, I knew something was deeply wrong.

I donned the suit and followed the Head into one of the two observation areas above a hermetically-sealed operating room. I looked at one of the television screens showing the astronaut’s mouth. My stomach churned.

All the man’s teeth had fallen out. In their place, growing out of his gaping, bloody gums, were swirling tangles of the pink hairs. I watched as a surgeon grasped one of the tangles in a pair of forceps and pulled. And pulled. One doctor held the astronaut’s head while the surgeon put his weight into the effort. With the sound of a heavy piece of brush being torn from the ground, the tangles gave way.

They writhed at the end of the forceps. The ones still in his mouth stretched out, as if they were trying to take it away and bring it back. The surgeon dropped the veiny clot into a bowl and the camera zoomed in on it.

At the top of of the tangle was something solid. Something that, I realized, looked very much like one of those new teeth deep inside the astronaut’s jawbone I’d seen on the x-ray that afternoon. Now, out and exposed to the light, I saw it wasn’t a tooth at all. It was a brand new Venus tic-tac — the first we’d ever discovered outside a Venusian meteorite.

So the issue of pluripotent stem cells and whether or not they’ll benefit human subjects is still a mystery. And, after hours of surgery, my patient is in a coma. As a human being, I write this with a heavy heart. As a scientist, though, I have some hope. Maybe even a little excitement. Thanks to that poor astronaut, now we know how to breed new Venus tic-tacs. Perhaps, someday, we’ll learn how to use them.

End of report.

 

CREDIT: UnsettlingStories.com

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Rattle-Face Fever

Rattle-Face FeverReading Time: 8 minutesThe new epidemic is already beyond its patient zero. Whether or not I am infected, I am confident that Mr. Bridestar will soon have me murdered. He will do this in order to keep the disease’s name unknown. I won’t let him win, though. At least not completely.

Although this may be the most important writeup of my life, I admit that I may somehow still be wrong in my medical assessment. It is possible that I am simply losing my mind. For that reason, I will not violate my oaths as a physician, nor will I violate HIPAA. With that said, what follows are the facts of this case to the best of my knowledge.

I am a hospice physician, and a patient under my care is dying of something contagious for which there is no official name. My efforts to perform independent research are being suppressed, and I suspect that I will soon be silenced permanently. As I attend to the palliative needs of what is likely this new disease’s “index case,” I will do my best to report what I have learned during my patient’s final days.

I suspect that the virus must be a new mutation within the Rhabdoviridae family. The patient’s history suggests that this is an extreme-latency virus with a highly variable incubation period. It can likely infect a person without producing any symptoms at all (at first.) This asymptomatic period may last for an extended amount of time. The virus is probably also never fully eliminated by the immune system of an infected person, meaning that there can be relapses and transmission of the virus even if a patient seems to recover.

In the case of my terminally-ill patient, the most obvious symptoms have been largely reminiscent of textbook rabies. Statements from those listed as his family members report early behavioral changes in the man. Most notably, the reports describe facial spasms marked by characteristic back-and-forth oscillations of the eyes. This was followed by a hyperreactive and violently erratic episode during which patient zero was first hospitalized.

Most prominent in the early, prodromal stage of the disease were reports of uncontrolled eye movements. Both eyes were said to randomly “seek” rapidly across the patient’s field of vision in a back-and-forth pattern. In hospice, this motion of the eyes still occurs periodically. I have observed it myself. The patient largely suffers from prolonged absence seizures with random periods of writhing, screaming, silent crying, and semi-coherent vocalizations. These behaviors are interspersed unpredictably throughout his otherwise comatose presentation.

The coverup of this disease’s existence has been sanctioned by powerful forces. It is already active. Security cameras show that two men forced their way into my locked office last week. They somehow infiltrated the hospice facility in the middle of the night, and they carried off heaping armfuls of the medical records that I had stored there. Somehow, the facility’s alarm systems had been completely deactivated before those two men arrived. There was no security or police response until I discovered the break-in myself the next morning.

The following day, I received a phone call a call in which the caller threatened my life. It came from a self-described “government agent” who spoke with a voice like a mellified dog bark. He did not identify himself or the alleged nature of his affiliation with the United States. The honey-soaked rasp on the phone told me, “You’ll be lucky if you only lose your medical license after this is all through.” He then told me details about myself: my age and sex, my work history, and my home address. The voice said that I was very close to drawing “an unsafe kind attention” to myself. “The kind of attention,” he added just before hanging up, “that leaves you humiliated before you die in agony.”

To give a sense of the challenges in treating an advanced rhabdovirus infection, let me briefly explain the world’s only current “cure” for a rabies infection that’s been allowed to take hold in the human nervous system. The Milwaukee Protocol is believed to be only sparingly effective at best, and yet it is the best treatment that modern medicine currently has. It has saved the lives of less than a quarter of the rabies victims it has been attempted on.

The procedure involves subjecting the patient to a sustained, medically-induced coma by about by the use of broad spectrum anesthetics. Heavy antiviral doses are then administered while the patient’s nervous system is still in this “shut down” state. The patient is essentially brought into a near-death twilight, and their barely functional circulation system is then inundated with virus-hostile chemicals until the rabies virus has been eliminated within the nonresponsive body. Again, this severe treatment does not usually even work. Shutting a patient’s body down to near-death and then soaking them in antivirals has only shown promise to occasionally save a patient’s life.

Scientists think that the first HIV cases in humans occurred in the early 1900s. The first known cases in the United States were likely documented erroneously as other conditions as early as the 50s or 60s. The medical community only recognized that a new virus was there (and in need of a name) after the 1980’s had begun. This new rhabdovirus could already be anywhere, and it might already be everywhere. If I’ve started to notice it, then its evolution has probably been a long time in the works. I’ve begun taking cultures from patient zero’s body. Rabies is spread through saliva, and is usually only transmitted by a bite, but my preliminary research indicates that this new virus is still alive and shedding viably into the patient’s urine, sweat, saliva, and blood.

Cytopathic indicators are triggered in every sample that I’ve managed to take. Let me reiterate this point. Literally every type of bodily exudation from patient zero seems to carry infectious, virus-shedding material. I believe that it was my storage of these research samples from patient zero in the lab of the hospice facility that led to the military-style government intervention event that would occur later that same week.

The tremoring and full-body seizures of patient zero present in a way that is distinct from other types of involuntary movement. Often, the patient’s eyes will begin to oscillate back and forth rapidly, and this motion will then spread to his entire face and head. Patient zero will then usually begin swiveling his skull back-and-forth vigorously, as though violently rejecting something in front of him with a vehement “no” gesture of his head.

This back-and-forth of the face then spreads to the shoulders, at which point the involuntary spasms take over the rest of his body and very much resembles a standard tonic-clonic (or grand mal) seizure. It was upon seeing this presentation of the virus that I resolved to publish my research results. Backlash be damned. I was collecting my notes to submit them when the first military-style intervention inside the hospice facility occurred.

Soldiers came and ransacked my office, and upon returning home I saw that they had been there too. They took files, broke everything that wasn’t valuable to them, and were gone again without an explanation. At the hospice facility, I met their leader. The way he spoke was exactly the same as the mellified-dog-bark voice that threatened me with death over the phone. Dressed in a suit and holding a thin document folder in his hand, the man’s eyes locked onto me as soon as I found him standing there outside patient zero’s room.

“Dr. [REDACTED],” he said immediately. He used my full name to show that I was already known to him. “Allow my to introduce myself. I am Dr. Adam Bridestar, a specialist with the Center for Disease Control.”

“Let me see your credentials,” I said immediately. I felt confident that the man’s name and claimed association with the CDC were both surely false. I suspect that the man with the mellified voice never tells the truth, unless he’s making a threat. Bridestar waved me off with a smarmy grin as a soldier approached him.

“Sir!” began the soldier uneasily, “Are you sure it’s safe to go inside the patient’s room?” The man called Bridestar rolled his eyes and thumbed the folder in his hand open. He raised the document inside for the soldier to see, and with his other hand he pointed to a line of text.

“Right there. ‘Transmission from body fluids.’ You won’t get sick from breathing the air, you precious little thing. Now go on.” I reached forward to snatch the folder. If Bridestar was holding a report about this mystery illness, then I wanted to see it. Bridestar fought me with both hands, and after a moment of struggle, he tore the folder away with so much force that papercuts were left on my palms. He scowled silently in my direction, as though considering how to handle what I had just done. Before the man with the slime-slick voice wrestled the file away from me, however, I had managed to read the title on the document. In large, capital letters, it read:

CONTAINMENT PROTOCOLS
(RATTLE-FACE FEVER)

“Go home,” Dr. Bridestar told me as he snapped the folder shut and handed it to the soldier next to him. “Immediately.” I did as I was told, because the soldiers all held rifles and were clearly under Bridestar’s command. I am sure that he is the same man who threatened my life over the phone earlier. I’ve confirmed on the internet that there is absolutely no person called “Dr. Adam Bridestar” working with the CDC.

Patient zero’s “family” told me he was born in California in 1974, but his social security number doesn’t match this story. I can’t get any of patient zero’s alleged relatives to return my calls anymore, either. I wonder what else from this man’s patient history was fabricated. Was it all done to obscure facts about how the man came to be infected by Rattle-Face Fever? He died around noon today, in any case. Severe and sudden hemorrhaging probably left him with less than half of his blood still inside the circulatory system at his time of death.

The patient’s convulsions and hematemesis in those last moments made that entire wing of the hospice ward a potential biohazard. The walls, floors, windows, and door of his room were left soaking in infectious fluid. The unidentified “government agents” came again to confiscate the body. They also forced our staff off the premises. This time, the armed soldiers arrived wearing heavy hazmat suits and helmet respirators. Bridestar was with them once again, similarly dressed in polyethylene coveralls. I could barely see his features behind the full-face ventilator mask, but I recognized his voice when he ordered me outside.

I had been in my office when patient zero began to flatline. The armed men arrived before I could even be alerted by a floor nurse that there had been a death in my unit. Bridestar’s agents barred my door from the hallway until they were ready to move me outside. I only saw the aftermath of patient zero’s final moments as I was ushered past his room. I had checked in on him quite recently, and had caught the patient in a rare moment of semi-lucidity. Patient zero had looked directly at me then, and his eyes began to oscillate rapidly as he focused on my face. The pupils scanned back-and-forth across my face with involuntary motions that were so fast and minute, yet sustained, that it looked like his eyes were vibrating in his skull. Patient zero spoke, but said only this:

“Keep your distance! Say your prayers!”

That was all he said, and then another full-body seizure took his awareness away from me. It was at this point that I retreated to my office. Bridestar’s men arrived to clear the facility of staff and patient zero’s body within a quarter hour of the dying man’s last words. Did they hide a surveillance device inside his room? How else could they have known so precisely when things would go from bad to worse?

My heart hasn’t stopped racing since I was told by those men in ventilator masks to “go home.” I’ve taken a sedative, but I still can’t sleep. I’m anxious that those same armed men are going to kill me, just like the man with the gross voice promised would happen. I keep imagining what Bridestar might have meant when he said that he’ll have me “humiliated” before I’m tortured to death. More than that, though, I am afraid because the sedative hasn’t helped at all to calm my hyperreactive responses to stimuli.

I’m feeling irritable, and sensitive to light. My eyes flit compulsively to identify the source of every noise. Is it just fear, or is it Rattle-Face Fever? Twice tonight, I’ve felt my eyes seek rapidly back-and-forth across the room, and I don’t think that I intended for them to move away from the computer screen. Left-right… Left-right-left. There it goes again. Am I just scaring myself, or am I sick?

I was so careful, but new epidemics rarely unfold just as the physician expects. For now, what else can I say?

Keep your distance, and say your prayers.

 

CREDIT: David Feuling

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Japanese Cryptic: Twin Sisters

Translated from Japanese by Shishou(師匠)

Cryptic Story

A certain day, a kidnapper abducted twin sisters.

Eyes and mouth of both sisters were sealed using a duct-tap by the kidnapper.

The kidnapper creeped towards elder-sister’s ear and whispered in an artificial voice,
“Don’t try to resist or I’ll kill your little sister.”

The kidnapper then whispered in younger-sister’s ear,
“If you resist, I’ll murder your elder-sister.”

The sisters could do nothing except comply.

——————————————————————————————————————

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The Attic in the Basement

The Attic in the BasementReading Time: 16 minutes 

(A short film based on The Attic in the Basement, winner of Best Director in the BC Student Film Festival)

 

*NOTE: This creepypasta was originally published on the site in April of 2016. We are republishing the post because it has been edited and rewritten by the author. Enjoy.*

 

“Quiet down, back there!” I yelled whilst driving down an all too familiar road. My best friend and his girlfriend wouldn’t stop laughing loudly with each other, much like young couples do. I almost regretted bringing them, but I really didn’t want to go alone, and inviting one of those two love birds meant inviting the pair. They were a package deal. Lucky for me, the torturous sound of laughter would soon cease, as we were approaching our destination.

“We’re here,” I stated; less to point out our arrival, and more to shut the two of them up. I just wanted some peace and quiet so I could think clearly. I wasn’t exactly mentally prepared for what needed to be done.

My aunt’s old house was just as I remembered it; a rickety old cottage down a dead end road in the middle of nowhere, complete with woods, wildlife, and the welcoming smell of roses that she often planted near the stone walkway. That was when it finally hit me. While traversing that very walkway, smelling those very roses, I stopped dead in my tracks, tears welling up in my eyes.

“Are you okay?” My friend’s girlfriend asked.

“Yes, I’m fine. I just need a second.”

They looked concerned, but understood. What else would they expect of me coming back to my aunt’s house right after she died? Honestly, it felt a little weird. I may have been her favorite nephew, but after leaving me everything in her will, it seemed wrong to go out there so soon. The service was held just a day prior. I knew everything she had wasn’t much, and I knew I wasn’t really there to collect my inheritance, but I still felt bad – and at this moment, I felt even worse.

The memories I had of her were being dredged up with every step I took towards the front door. I hadn’t seen her since I was ten years old, but I could play every memory in my head like a movie. I was very close to her in those days. She might as well have been my mom. My actual mother cared for me, but she wasn’t loving in the way that my aunt was. I remember visiting her after school and being greeted with some cliché milk and cookies. Instead of watching television like a normal kid (she didn‘t own one), I would listen to my aunt play the piano for hours on end. We would sometimes go bird watching or work in the garden; things that I have not done or even thought of doing since. These are some of my most treasured memories; and just like treasure, I kept them locked up and hidden away for many years, until now. As I approached the door to the cottage, I stopped in my tracks once more.

“Seriously, are you okay?” My friend asked this time, seeming very concerned. He had never seen me like this before.

“I’m fine. Why don’t you two take that hike you were talking about? I’ll go on in and take a look around. You guys can meet me back at the car later.”

“If you say so…”

The two of them took off down a trail in the woods, and I was left standing there, looking at the house that I’d not seen in many years. The feeling that overcame me was so strange. It’s hard to put into words. It was more than grief, greater than sadness. I guess the best way to say it is that I missed her. It’s funny; if she could see me now, she probably wouldn’t recognize me. I’m tall, bearded, and wear glasses – almost the polar opposite of my appearance as a child. Thinking of this just made me more sad. She would never get to see the man I had become. With one last sigh of emotion, I marched on and reached for the handle on the front door.

My aunt didn’t have locks on her doors or windows. The house was constructed so long ago, that it wasn’t even built with them. She could have had some installed, but she didn’t feel she needed them out in the middle of nowhere. She brought it up one of the first times I stayed there, saying, “Trust the world, and it will set you free.” When I was a kid, hearing her say this made me feel safe, somehow. Being full grown and recalling this statement now, I find it very peculiar. But then again, that was my aunt for you; unpretentious and oblivious to the rest of the world around her. Honestly, I missed that part of her the most. All of these memories came back to me piece by piece as I pulled the door open. The bittersweet release I felt was interrupted when I saw the inside of the cottage.

Everything, and I mean everything, was exactly in its place. It was like I was a kid again, coming over after school to enjoy my aunt’s company. My memories were projected right in front of me like a nostalgic outburst of energy. I could see my aunt sitting at the piano, playing as she often would. I could see me, sitting there, eating some homemade cookies, listening intently to the music. I could see her again, cooking dinner in the kitchen as I sat on the couch reading one of her old books. I walked past these living recollections and went upstairs to see more.

I stopped quickly when I reached the top of the staircase. I realized that it only led to the attic. I had no interest in it, remembering that my aunt used it for storage, so I traveled back downstairs. I didn’t know what I was looking for, exactly; maybe just a little peace of mind to put my heart at ease. Maybe just something that would let me know without a doubt that my aunt passed away peacefully. In truth, I felt an immense amount of guilt being in that house again. Almost too much to bare.

When I was just shy of eleven years old, my parents moved out of state. This is when I stopped seeing my aunt. We kind of lost touch, especially seeing as she didn’t have any real means of communication out there – no phone, no computer – she didn’t even have a mailbox, and the nearest post office was over twenty miles away. Being older now, I could have easily paid her a visit, and I am sure she would have loved to have seen me. I guess I just thought she would always be there. Unfortunately, she had a heart attack, and with no hospital or neighbors for miles, death came knocking on her unlocked door in a hasty fashion. At the very least, this visit had put the fleeting quality of life into perspective for me. At this point, I figured it was the only thing that I would end up taking away from the place.

As I made my way down the stairs and back into the living room, I noticed something. I was in such a hurry to escape my corporeal memories that I didn’t notice it before. It was the desk – the desk where my aunt would sit and write for hours at a time. She said that it helped her experience the world outside of her cottage, by writing about how she imagined and wanted it to be. The more I remembered my aunt, the more I could see how isolated and somewhat unstable she really was. She was odd, but I loved her just the same, even now.

What I hadn’t noticed upon entering the house was that the desk drawer was open. I looked inside and found a single sheet of paper with my aunt’s handwriting on it. This is what it said:

 

To my dearest nephew,

If you are reading this, then the cold tides of death have swept me away once and for all. I know that we’ve not seen each other since you were a child, but I hope you still think fondly back on our time together. I was happy to look after you, and I know that you were happy to spend time with me. I don’t want you to be sad, or feel off-put about my death in any way. This is how it is, and in turn how it was meant to be. I will always hold you dear in my heart, and I hope you’ll do the same for me. I want you to live freely despite this, and enjoy each and every moment of your life, just as I did mine. I will see you again someday, and I look forward to it. Trust the world, and it will set you free.

 

I shed a single tear reading this passage, knowing that my aunt wanted me to find peace in this old house. The very closure I was looking for was in her desk the whole time. The elation I felt almost distracted me from the post script at the bottom of the page:

 

P.S. Don’t go in the basement.

 

How peculiar. What was down there? Was my aunt hiding something? If so, what was it?

Curious as ever, I walked over to the basement door with the letter in hand, knowing that the answers were down there. I took one last look at the warning. Don’t go in the basement. It was most likely the ramblings of an unstable woman on the verge of death, but what could be the real meaning behind it? Why the basement? Why me?

I could recall the basement from when I was younger, but I didn’t remember much. I had only been down there once. My aunt was outside gardening while I was inside reading one of her books. I grew tired of reading and set the book down on her desk. Soon after, I began wandering around the house out of boredom. I walked around the entire cottage rather quickly. Eventually, I came upon the basement, somewhere I had never played before. Knowing my aunt wouldn’t be in for a while, I decided to venture on. I turned the knob, and swung the door open. I could only see the top of the stairs descending downward into darkness. Despite the bit of fear rattling in my chest, I pressed on. Once down there, my field of vision was filled with pitch blackness. This caused me to scramble about, looking for a light-switch. After a few moments, I bumped into a string, dangling from the ceiling in the middle of the room. Upon pulling it, the room lit up, however dimly. What I saw disappointed me.

It was a typical basement, but smaller, with concrete walls, a concrete floor, and some pieces of wood sitting off in the corner (probably some old floor boards left over from the house’s construction). When you’re a kid, there’s a bit of mystery and adventure injected into everything you do. This adventure ended on a flat note, leading me to an unused space, lost to the depths of the house. The next thing I remember was my aunt’s voice as she came down the stairs yelling, “You can’t be down here!” She sounded more worried than angry – probably scared I would somehow hurt myself down there. There was more to this memory, but that was all I could recall while standing in front of the basement door.

I turned the knob and swung the door open, revealing only the top of the stairs and the basement below, completely void of light. Instead of feeling adventurous like I did as a child, I now felt nervous, repeating the words my aunt had left for me over and over in my head, and then asking myself once more; why?

I crept down the stairs slowly, so as not to shake the foundation. That’s what I told myself, but I guess my sluggish pace was largely because I was frightened at what I might find when I reached the bottom. Growing impatient and uncomfortably anxious, I picked up the pace a bit. I felt the concrete below my feet, and I rapidly darted towards the center of the room, reaching for the light, praying that it still worked. I felt around for the string and then pulled it. To my delight, it still harbored electricity. The room became dimly lit. In a panicky state, I spun around looking every which way as I did. What I saw, surprised me.

There was nothing there. It was just how I left it when I was a kid. Even the old floorboards were there, still untouched. I felt relieved, but far more confused than before. Why didn’t my aunt want me to go down there? I pondered for a bit and figured that maybe there was asbestos or mold in the cellar walls. This would explain why she didn’t want me playing in there as a kid, and why she didn’t want me there as an adult either. She just wanted to keep me safe, like she always did. This made me feel better, but deep down I knew there was more behind my aunt’s plea. As I made my way over to the stairs, something gave me reason to pause. Memories were coming back to me. I could recall being in the basement when I was younger, but there was something different about it. Different than how it looked now. There was a door. A door that led straight to the attic.

How could I have forgotten? It was all so clear to me now. I remember finding a door down there and entering the attic. I knew that it was attic, because I peered out the window and saw my aunt gardening two stories below. I waved to her, but she was too busy to notice me. I found it odd at the time that I was able to travel directly from basement to attic without so much as climbing a single step, but I brushed it off. After all, I was only ten, and I had no interest in getting caught up in the semantics of how a house was built. Being older, this strange memory was perplexing. How could the basement lead to the attic? It isn’t even remotely possible. I tried to call on some more memories, but the details of that day were still fuzzy.

I tried convincing myself that it was a dream I was recalling. How could it have been anything else? It was nonsense, right? There’s no way it really happened. Somewhat comfortable with this hypothesis, I continued to the stairs, but not before giving the basement another once-over. What I saw eliminated all doubt from my mind.

There, in the middle of the far left wall of the basement, was the door from my memory. I squinted and rubbed my eyes, keeping them closed for a good few seconds before opening them again. When I did, the door was still there, as tangible and existent as ever. This couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. I knew for a fact that the door was not there just a few moments before, and I had already convinced myself that my childhood memory was nothing more than a bizarre dream. What the hell was going on?

There was only way to find out.

After regaining some composure and mustering up a small amount of courage, I walked, however slowly, towards the inexplicable door. My unhurried movements mirrored my hesitant exterior, allowing me to stall for a moment while I gathered some nerve to actually open the damned thing. Despite my slothful motion, I covered the gap in a few seconds; a testament to the basement’s small size. The moment of truth was upon me. I took a deep breath, turned the knob, and pushed the door open. This was it. I would finally get to the bottom of my aunt’s plea and my own odd memories.

The door creaked and revealed the room behind it. Low and behold, it was none other than the attic; just as I remembered it, window and all! But how? The sunlight came through the window and danced across the room brilliantly, leaving me awestruck. I walked forward to look outside; to make sure that this was indeed the attic and that I hadn’t gone completely crazy. After peering out the window, that verdict was still up in the air.

Two stories below was my aunt’s yard. The grass was green as ever, and the sky was clear as day. Everything was so vibrant. I looked over at my aunt’s garden, and to my surprise there was a person there. It was a woman, and she was gardening. Who was that, and why was she in my aunt’s garden? She turned around revealing her face, and to my surprise… it was my aunt. What? How? My aunt was dead! I watched as she was lowered into the earth.

Just then, I heard the sound of footsteps from behind me. Startled, I turned around to face the noise.

“Who are you?” a soft voice asked.

It was my ten year old self, standing just twenty feet away from me. I was in such a delirious state by this point, that I decided to just go with it and converse with myself.

“I’m… a friend.” Is all I could think to say.

“You’re a friend of my aunt’s?” He asked innocently. I had forgotten just how curious I was as a child.

“Yes… a very dear friend.” My younger self walked over to look out the window where I was standing. I stepped aside and let him do so. He saw our aunt outside gardening below and waved at her. She didn’t notice.

“Do you have an aunt?” He asked.

“Yes… but she passed away.” I said.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Just then, an epiphany struck. Maybe this was the reason I was here. Maybe this was the closure I needed all along.

“Listen to me. I know it’s hard for you to understand right now, but someday your aunt will pass away too. I want you to spend as much time as possible with her and visit whenever you can. You mean the world to her, and you will regret it if you don’t make an effort to be with her now, while you still can.”

“Okay.” Is all he said. That’s all he needed to say.

After walking around and looking at some of the old stuff in the attic, including some old books that caught his eye, my younger self left the attic to venture back to the basement, and shut the door behind him. I looked out the window and noticed that my aunt had finished gardening and was now walking back to the house. This was when my next epiphany struck. I was beginning to remember more of the events from that day. It was all coming back to me. I remembered me as I look now, standing in the attic; the friendly bearded man with glasses! I remembered the conversation we had and even discussing it with my aunt afterwards.

My astonishment was interrupted by more footsteps in the next room. This time, they were my aunt’s. I ran over to the door and listened.

“You can’t be down here!” She yelled in a worried tone.

I wanted to open the door and confront her, just to see her one last time and to tell her that I’m sorry for never visiting. I reached for the knob, but I thought it best not to go out there. She would probably have thought that I was an intruder, lurking around her house. As I said before, she wouldn’t recognize me all grown up. My apology would have to go unspoken.

I could hear her scolding the younger version of me and then bringing me back upstairs. Instead of listening to find out what happened next, I just remembered. I could recall telling my aunt about the attic door in the basement and the friendly bearded man. She told me that I had “quite the imagination,” and told me to wash up for dinner. Looking back now, I remember a troubled glint in her eye, especially after divulging what the bearded man told me. She seemed to know more about my experience than she let on.

I stood there for a while, taking everything in. Eventually, I decided it was time for me to leave. I grabbed the knob and jiggled it. It wouldn’t budge. I turned it a little bit harder, but to no avail. A wave of terror consumed me. This didn’t make any sense. The doors in my aunt’s house had no locks. Then again, nothing made sense up until this point either.

I backed up a little and ran into the door. It remained still. I did this a few more times, and even tried breaking the window. Nothing happened. Feeling weary, I sat down and took a breather. This is when I heard a distant echo of footsteps and voices coming from within the house. It was my friend and his girlfriend! I had almost forgotten about them. I was saved!

In a relieved stupor, I called out to them. It became quickly apparent that they could not hear me from wherever I was. I heard them walking around, calling out my name. I increased my volume and started banging on the door.

“I’m in here, guys!” I yelled, not knowing whether I was below or above them. They still couldn’t hear me. I began to panic.

I started screaming at the top of my lungs and banging as hard as I could on the attic door. I received no response. With a dead voice and pained hands, I gave up. I put my back against the wall and slid down to a sitting position, a few tears streaming down my face. I just sat there and listened as my friend and his girlfriend conversed from within the house.

“Where could he be? He said he would meet us at the car, right? If he’s not in the house, then where the hell is he?” My friend asked his girlfriend.

“Did you try the basement?” She asked.

“Yes. There’s nothing but some old floorboards down there.”

“What about the attic?” She asked.

“I tried there too. It’s just filled with a bunch of old, dusty antiques.”

“We’ll have to call the police and have them look for him too. He must’ve gotten lost in the woods looking for us.”

As they made their way out of the cottage, my heart sunk. If they’d already searched the basement and attic, then where was I? I quietly sobbed in the corner for a while before looking through some of my aunt’s old things. It was all I could do, at this point. I didn’t care for any of it, save for one treasure of hers that caught my eye. It was a book with a blood-red symbol hand-painted on the front. I had never seen anything like it before. I opened it up and read the beginning aloud:

“The spells in this book are to be followed precisely. If even one step is not executed properly, you might endanger yourself and those around you. Use these spells at your own risk.”

The odd nature of the preface littered my nerves with a sense of worry. Was my aunt a witch? Before turning the page, I noticed an old lace bookmark saving one of the pages. I opened up to it and looked at the chapter heading:

Chapter VIII: Horticulture

I glanced over at the next page and saw a spell meant to “bring your garden to life.” The ritual involved lighting some candles and making a circle of some special sand I’ve never heard. From within the circle, you are to recite the spell, verbatim. My Latin was a little rusty, but from what I could read of the incantation, it said something along the lines of “bring above that which is below,” which I assumed referred to the growing of plants. I gathered that my aunt performed the ritual in the attic, as there were some dormant candles in with her stuff. The inclusion of this book in my aunt’s collection now made sense to me. She wanted to spice up her dull garden with a bit of witchcraft. I can say with some confidence that it more than likely backfired. I’m now stuck in this damned place; a place that seems to be a realm of its own. I will more than likely spend an eternity here.

I am growing now to accept my fate. She did warn me after all. I should have listened. This is my fault, and mine alone. With the endless paper and writing materials here in this old attic, I am left to do nothing but write down in words what has happened to me, in the hopes that someone may come across it, somehow – the words of a living ghost. If you are reading this, please listen to what I have to say. Your time here is not boundless, and at any moment the horrid hand of the unknown could come knocking at your door, there to bereave your loved ones, and steal you away from your blissful, ordinary existence. The cause of this sudden upheaval will be death, or in my case, something far worse. Last but not least, if you are ever in this neck of the woods and feel a need to stop in and say hi, go right ahead. I can’t promise you that you’ll get a response. I just want you to remember two things; your life is fleeting, so spend your time wiser than I did mine – and whatever you do, don’t go in the basement.

 

 

CREDIT: Christopher Maxim

(Click HERE to check out Christopher Maxim’s book, How To Exit Your Body and Other Strange Tales)

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Tales from the Gas Station (Part Eight)

Tales from the Gas Station (Part Eight)Reading Time: 22 minutes 

 

*PART 1 // PART 2 // PART 3 // PART 5 // PART 6 // PART 7*

 

 

It’s been about an hour since my last post.

We haven’t had any customers yet, and if the gas station weren’t an active crime scene I might have asked one of the other employees to squeegee the large pool of blood into the drains by the cooler.

For those of you out of the loop, you may want to catch up by reading my earlier posts via the links above.

***

I don’t know what Arnold’s personal grooming routine looks like, and I have to assume he spends at least twenty minutes a day in mustache prep, but even factoring that in, he should have made it to the gas station by now.

I called him a few minutes ago to make sure he hadn’t gone back to bed, and to make sure I hadn’t imagined the phone call in the first place. The conversation went something like this:

“Yeah?”

“Hey, Arnold? You on your way?”

“Sit tight, we had a little emergency.”

“Okay.”

“The road between town and you is blocked off.”

“Okay… Which one?”

“All of them. Even the service roads. It must have been a freak storm. I’ve never seen anything like it. All the roads are covered in trees. But they aren’t, you know, fallen. The trees are growing in the middle of the street. I’ve been trying to find a way around all morning, but I’ve given up. I’m about to head through on foot. Just to be clear, you said you heard from Spencer Middleton last night? Has he made any other contact?”

“Well, actually, he’s here. He came in and some stuff happened; now he’s dead.”

“What!? You’re telling me there’s a dead body at the gas station?”

I already told him all of this. Man, I really miss Tom.

“Did you not realize that?”

“I’m sorry,” he answered, “When the phone rang earlier I had just woken up from this beautiful weird dream of a… dark god… calling me into his eternal grace, taking me by the hand and guiding me into blessed oblivion, freeing me from all the pain and suffering of this mortal prison. Nurturing me like a child and inviting the world into a realm of higher existence, allowing me the privilege to devote myself to his glorious servitude.”

“Okay,” I said. “I guess I’ll see you when you get here.”

I ended the call and checked the charge on the phone. The battery was sitting close to fifty percent.

“What’s the deal?” asked Benjamin.

“Arnold is on his way here on foot. But we might have another problem.”

“Holy shit, you guys see that?” Carlos asked, pointing out the window. I couldn’t quite make it out from where I was seated behind the counter, and I didn’t feel like hobbling over a corpse just for a look.

“What is it?” I asked.

“There’s a bunch of naked people out on the road walking this way.” Carlos answered.

“The hell you say?” said Marlboro, who had suddenly taken interest. He pressed his face against the window for a better look. “Those aren’t just any people. I know them. That’s Marla! And Tyler! And there goes Fred! At least, those were the names I gave them.”

Benjamin crossed to the frozen drink machine, throwing over his shoulder a quick “They friends of yours?”

“Family, actually. Well, they were anyway, before they disappeared. But I don’t remember them looking like that.”

“Like what?” I asked, starting to get an uneasy feeling.

“Like…” He took a second to find the words, but all he came up with was “They look funny.”

They continued walking closer to the gas station. Close enough by now that I could see them. At least a dozen people, stark naked. The closer they got, the more details I could make out, and the more I wish I couldn’t. Their eyes were milky and pale, maggots crawling out of infested crevices all over their bodies. Their skin dirty and covered in lesions and bruises. Marlboro was certainly not wrong, they looked funny.

I’m sure you know the Hollywood-style Zombie walk. The shuffle of an undead body with impaired motor skills. The scariest part of these “people” approaching the front doors of the gas station was that they were walking one hundred percent perfectly normally. Just a bunch of decaying nudists out for a stroll.

There was a loud crash that snapped us out of our probably-rude staring. We all turned to see that Benjamin had pulled the frozen drink machine to the ground, and was attempting to drag it over Spencer towards the front doors, the sticky syrup concoction spilled out all over the ground, mixing with the congealed blood and coating the floor in a red, brown, and purple viscous soup. There’s no way we won’t have an insect problem after this.

Marlboro and Carlos didn’t have to ask what was going on. They instantly knew the plan and began yanking down whatever fixtures weren’t bolted in place and piling them up in a barricade against the glass doors.

I would have helped if it weren’t for this broken leg. Besides, it looks like they’ve got this under control.

“You boys think you can stay alive long enough for help to arrive?” Benjamin asked.

“We’ve got almost ninety years experience staying alive between the three of us,” Carlos joked.

Benjamin directed his next question to me. “You got any weapons in this place?”

I told him no. The only thing I have is a half-empty canister of gasoline in the supply closet and some really hard jerky, but he was welcome to whatever he could find. That’s when he started Macgyvering some spears out of chair legs and broken glass from the drink case.

About ten minutes ago, the gas station lost power. Now really would be a great time to have a giant pet glow-in-the-dark butterfly.

Stupid raccoons.

It’s been pretty quiet, save for the wet guttural whispering coming from those “people” outside. Benjamin is still searching for weapons while Carlos finds things to push against the front door, and (assuming he hasn’t fallen asleep) Marlboro has taken the back door. I was feeling pretty useless after Benjamin confiscated my crutches, so I figured I would take this opportunity to type up the account of what happened, just in case Arnold gets here too late. And in the spirit of preparedness, I should say a few things to whoever finds this message (or is it “whomever”? I never could get that right.)

First, to the owners, I’m sorry about the mess.

Second, to her, I’m sorry we didn’t run into each other one last time.

Third, to whomever keeps dumping tar into the ditch outside of the gas station, I hate you.

I guess that’s all I have to say. It’s been a weird, crazy ride. This is Jack from the gas station, signing off one last time…


I didn’t die!

Sorry it’s been so long since the last update, I just got my laptop back from the police. I know you guys are probably wondering what happened. Well, last week I met a dark god…


We were in that gas station without power for hours. It’s cold this time of year, so we huddled together around a plate of scented candles and ate pork rinds and canned beans. Marlboro almost dozed off a couple times before Carlos decided to loot the energy pills behind the counter. He handed them out and we all took a few, washing them down with cold coffee and telling ourselves it was for “alertness,” but all they did for me was create a heartbeat arrhythmia. That sure would be funny, if those things finally broke in here just to find the four of us dead from heart attacks.

Well, not “funny.” But, you know.

Carlos tried to strike up a conversation with Benjamin a couple of times, but the bearded man wasn’t very social.

“You Army?”

“Nah.”

“I knew a guy. He was a ranger in the Army. You remind me of him.”

“Alright.”

“Those things out there, any idea what we’re dealing with? You ever see anything like that before?”

“Nah.”

“You got any family?”

“Nah.”

I checked Spencer’s phone throughout the day, but it wasn’t getting any service anymore. I tried 911 a few times, but even that wouldn’t go through. When the battery got to five percent, I turned it off. We might need it later for an emergency call.

Eventually, the adrenaline and pills started to wear off and I remembered that my leg was still healing from a complex fracture and that maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to come back to work so soon. I limped back to the front desk to grab my meds. While I was there, I spotted the still-unopened gift-wrapped package on the shelf beneath the register. I decided to ignore it and instead grabbed the employee whiskey bottle that was behind it. We told ourselves it was for our “nerves” but all it did for me was give me an even worse heartbeat arrhythmia.

A few more hours passed. After we killed the first bottle we opened another, then Marlboro got into the energy drinks because we needed mixers. At some point the former cultist pulled out his stash and lit a joint and (without asking, I might add) turned the whole station into a hotbox. I couldn’t remember if I’d taken my pain meds yet, so I went ahead and took them.

As the sun started to set, I had two thoughts competing for first place in my mind. First, it sure is getting dark early these days. And second, I think we might be getting a little too fucked up to handle what’s about to happen.


Time became even more illusory than normal once the laptop died and we had no way of knowing how long we’d been waiting. We started measuring the time in candles. Our snack food and morale raced each other to depletion.

At some point, Carlos got me away from the others to ask what I thought about Benjamin. I told him he was the nicest guy that had pointed a gun in my face all week. But Carlos told me that he had a weird feeling about him. I reminded Carlos that he had killed Kieffer a couple times and maybe he should get off his high horse.

“Hey!” Benjamin yelled at us from across the room. “What are you two talking about?”

“Anime.” I lied. I think he bought it.

“Get back over here. I don’t need any more dead bodies piling up tonight.”

Benjamin was in the corner, warming his hands over the candle plate. It was the only source of light in the building, and was casting shadows that could maybe be described as “spooky” if I weren’t in such a serious life-or-death situation. Some of those shadows looked like faces, smiling, laughing at us idiots. One or two looked like historical figures. One of them asked me what time it was, and holy crap I was tripping!

“You okay, man?” Carlos asked, pulling me back to earth.

“I honestly have no idea.”

Did you ever figure out who placed that bomb? asked Spencer Middleton in a gurgle.

“What do you mean? I thought you did it?”

Not me. Bombs aren’t my style. Who do you know that can build a bomb?

“Hey, where’s Marlboro?!” I asked.

Benjamin picked up his spear – formerly my crutch that he had paracorded his knife to – and asked, “Who the hell is ‘Marlboro?’ Is there someone else here?”

“Marlboro. The other employee.” I looked at Carlos, who just shrugged and said, “I don’t know no Marlboro. How many of them pills did you take?”

Had I imagined Marlboro this entire time? I tried to sit down on the tarp, but it turned into me lying on my back while the room spun. I could feel the human debris squish beneath the tarp fabric as I rested my head. How much of any of this was real, anyway?

You’re losing it, you know.

“I know.”

All those years ago, the first doctor tried to prepare me for life with my condition. There weren’t that many other cases before me, so they didn’t know exactly how everything would play out. But every case had a few of the same side effects. Of course there would be weight loss, fatigue, headaches, all of the signs of a normal physical illness early on.

As the condition developed, there would be more “interesting” side effects. Hallucinations, memory loss, the works.

And of course, I can’t be properly anesthetized. They tried in other cases to induce medical comas, but that just messed things up further. I’m always wide awake and halfway lucid during surgery. If you want to know what that’s like, I’ll tell you the truth. It’s boring.

You know what? Usually when I hurt someone bad enough, they pass out from the pain.

They gave me a couple years, tops. I haven’t been keeping track of time.

Right then, Marlboro walked into the room, zipping up his fly. Presumably, he had just come from the bathroom, but who really knows? I pointed at him and yelled, “That guy! You see him, right?! It’s Marlboro!”

Carlos looked where I was pointing, then back at me. “What, you mean Jerry?”

Oh. That’s right. He has a real name.

“I hate it when he calls me Marlboro.”

Benjamin set the improvised spear down and turned his attention back to the fire. “You better get him under control.”

You should open your package. Said Spencer.

“Hey wait a sec, aren’t you supposed to be dead?”

Well, aren’t you supposed to be dead? he said back.

Touche, Spencer.

“Who are you talking to?” asked Carlos.

“Spencer,” I answered.

“Well stop that. It’s freaking us out.”


Two candles burned from start to finish before Benjamin decided that help wasn’t on the way and our best chance of survival was to fight it out with the things outside.

I disagreed, but Benjamin informed me in his own polite way that it wasn’t up for vote.

He peeled back the layers of the barricade just enough to get a view of the outside. Once we knew what we were dealing with, we could come up with a better game plan. Only, he couldn’t actually get a good look because something was blocking the view. Something just on the other side of the glass doors.

Benjamin yanked the rest of the barricade down and took a few steps back to marvel at it.

“Well, you don’t see that every day,” said Jerry.

Nope, I can’t do it. I’m sorry. His name is Marlboro.

We were trapped there, inside the gas station. On the other side of the doors, a network of trees had grown together, twisted into knots, and pressed against the glass. They were so densely pressed into a single wall of tree trunks that not even light could get through. For all we knew, it could have been daytime outside.

“We have to get out of here,” said Benjamin.

We checked the back door, but it was the same thing. I often wondered how long a person could survive inside the gas station without any new supplies coming in. I had run the scenario in my head a million times. On boring nights, what else is there to do? I had run the thought experiment for countless different contexts. How long could I survive if the gas station were transported back in time? To another planet? If there were a zombie apocalypse? Etc.

What I had deduced was that, under ideal circumstances, I could live off of the supplies on hand for four years if I could find a source of water. Six weeks if not.

These were not ideal circumstances.

We had already smashed up, weaponized, or eaten almost all of our supplies. If we were trapped here, it wouldn’t take long for us to go all Donner party on each other.

While I was pondering this in the hallway by the cooler, we heard the sound of glass shattering from the main room. Benjamin raised his spear and led the way back.

The wall of trees was still there on the other side of the doors. Our mess was still there. Everything was as we left it with one exception. The tarp was pulled back, and Spencer’s body was gone. A series of footprints coagulated in the blood leading from where he should have been to the shattered glass of the front door. Like he had just gotten up, walked over, and was absorbed into the trees.

“I need you boys to think real hard,” Benjamin said. “Is there any other way out of this place?”

“Well,” Marlboro started. I shot him a look and shook my head, but I guess he couldn’t see it in the dim candlelight. Or maybe he was just too dense to understand. “There is that hole.”

“Hole? What hole?”

“The hole in the secret room back here past the cooler.”

“Secret? Room?”

“Yeah, right over here.”

Marlboro pointed at the blank space on the wall where the door used to be. The owners had decided that the smartest thing they could do when they found out about the secret room was remove the door, build a good-old fashioned wall, and forget all about it, but that only works if everyone agrees to forget all about it, Marlboro!

“You’re telling me there’s a secret room behind there? And a hole in that room that we can maybe fit inside and escape? Why didn’t you boys tell me this earlier?”

He didn’t wait for an answer. Benjamin went straight to the wall and started smashing it to pieces with his spear and then, after he got it down a little, his bare hands. After a minute, the wall was once again a door.

While Benjamin lit and placed a few candles around the giant hole in the floor, I grabbed Carlos and pulled him aside.

“Hey,” I said, “I should tell you something. I opened that package. The one that looked like a present.”

“Yeah?” He said.

“Yeah.” I said.

I’m not sure at what point I’d finally cracked and opened it, but I had been carrying around the content of the box in my pocket for at least one candle. Just like the last package, there was a note with this one. It read:

“I didn’t expect you to use my letter as part of the story, but thanks lol. I didn’t mind you using it , that was very neat! I liked it. I was very surprised. Thank you. I enjoyed your stories and I knew it would be really great from the beginning. That’s why I wrote what I did. I was surprised, but in a good way, that you used my letter lol. Thank you. I’m honored, really honored.”

Underneath that letter was a small handgun. I knew enough about pistols from playing video games to know how to check the clip and sure enough, it was loaded.

I showed the gun to Carlos, who said “That’s a Ruger 380!”

“Is that good?”

“Well it’s a gun, so it’ll probably have more stopping power than a chair leg. Why didn’t you give it to him?” Carlos gestured at our fearless leader.

“I don’t know or trust him.”

“Good point.”

“Here,” I said trying to hand it over, “I’m not a gun guy.”

“No way man. You keep it. I got both legs, you need it more than me.”

Benjamin yelled to us from the secret room, “Ya’ll ready or what? Time to see what’s down here.” Then he jumped in.

I may have neglected to mention that it was a ten foot drop to the cave floor below. I also may have taken a little pleasure in the sound of him crash landing and the pain moan that followed. For the rest of us, we rolled up a tarp and put some knots into it like a poorman’s rope ladder, and I have to give credit to tarps. Those things are incredibly useful.

We had spent hours above ground in a room with a dead body, unrefrigerated food, and Benjamin’s body odor. We were all eating canned beans and I think somebody probably threw up in the garbage can. My point is this: we were all smelling pretty bad, to the point where I was doubting that I still had a sense of smell. But once we went into that hole, I knew for a fact that I had. The smell down there made our gas station funk seem like cologne. The very worst putrid odors from the storm drains around the station were nothing compared to this. Is it possible for a smell to be heavy? Because that’s the best word I can think of for it. Not thick. Just, heavy.

Carlos and Marlboro took turns barfing. When they were done, Benjamin handed out the torches he had made from gasoline soaked rags and chair legs. I don’t know what that guy’s deal is but he sure is crafty.

The cave was a straight tunnel starting under the gas station and heading away from town. It was plenty tall enough for all of us to stand comfortably, and there was a slight incline, taking us downhill as we walked further into the hole.

“What the hell is this?” Benjamin asked after about twenty feet. He waved his torch at the wall and I saw that somebody had spray-painted a message on the cave wall in red. It said in shaky handwriting: “Rita the Raccoon Ate the Caccoon!”

I said it a few times in my head and was pissed off at just how close it came to rhyming but didn’t. The handwriting was eerily familiar, especially that capital “R,” but I couldn’t remember why.

There was another lawn gnome on the ground beneath it.

We continued further into the cave, Benjamin way ahead of us, me bringing up the tail, hobbling along the best I could with just a single crutch. The deeper we went, the narrower the cave, the stronger the smell. Nothing about being down here away from the gas station felt like an improvement from our previous situation. But it wasn’t until we made it to the tree that I really decided that we had messed up.

I don’t know how long we had been walking down there. Maybe a half-mile or so. Crutch-miles feel a lot longer than normal miles. But we eventually came upon an enormous black tree taking up the width of the cave. It looked like one of those thousand year old sequoias, big enough to put a two-lane road through.

“Ho. Lee. She. It.” enunciated Benjamin. I was the last to see what everyone else was wide-eyed and gawking at. The tree, in addition to being enormous, had some characteristics that you wouldn’t expect a tree to have. Specifically, human body parts. A few arms and legs poking out at random spots. And right at eye level, a human face.

“Hey,” said Marlboro, “I know that guy. It’s Patrick.” He touched Patrick’s face and it peeled off and plopped to the ground like a wet Halloween mask.

“I don’t think he’s going to make it,” Benjamin said as he pulled something out of his jacket pocket and stuck it to the tree.

“What is that?” I asked.

Surprisingly, it was Marlboro who answered. “That looks like C4 plastic explosives to me.”

Benjamin chuckled, “Wow, you win the prize for that one, Rain Man. Yeah, it’s the last of my explosives. I’ve been trying to kill this thing one piece at a time for the last week, but it just keeps growing back. I have to kill the root system, blow it up and kill the brain so the rest of the network will die.”

“That was you that put that bomb in the gas station,” I said.

“Yeah, well, back then I thought the building was the epicenter of this whole thing.”

“Hey,” interrupted Carlos, “Jack was still in the building when you planted that.”

“I know.”

“Um, guys?” Marlboro tried to get their attention, but it wasn’t working.

“You knew? He would have died if that thing went off.”

“Guys?”

“Look assholes, this is war. And in war, there are always casualties. You can’t make peanut butter without smashing a few nuts.”

“Hey, guys!”

“What?!” screamed Benjamin. “I’m a little busy.”

Marlboro pointed back the way we came. We all turned to see Spencer standing in the middle of the path, a wicked smile on his face.

“Hi. Miss me?”

Carlos screamed at me, “Jack! The gun!”

I pulled the weapon out of my pocket and chucked it as hard as I could. It smacked Spencer right in the face and he fell over. I was very proud for the two seconds it took me to realize what I had done wrong.

What came next almost happened too quickly for me to comprehend. Something burst out of the wall next to us. An enormous object, the size of a car and mostly hand-shaped. It wrapped its giant fingers around the other three and pulled them into the wall. And then, I was falling. The earth had opened up below me and I was sliding through a dark tunnel. No, I was being pulled. More like swallowed, really. It went for a while, dirt filling my nose and ears and mouth and then whatever it was spat me out into a pitch black room onto a rocky wet piece of ground. I landed on my bad leg and probably broke it again.

Well, I thought, at least this time I managed to hit Spencer. As far as last moments on earth go, this one was a slight improvement over last week.

The room I was in was cool, not cold. And cavernous. I could hear my breath echoing off the walls. I could also hear something else breathing. All at once I became aware of another presence down there. An entity in the room with me. It’s hard to explain, in the same way I remember it being hard to explain a dream right after you wake up. It’s something you have to experience to understand, but the feeling was something like being plugged into a shared consciousness with another intelligence that was putting thoughts directly into my head.

Of course, it might have just been all the drugs.

“Welcome to my home,” came a loud voice from somewhere in the pitch black room. “I’m sorry it’s taken this long for us to meet face-to-face.”

“I can’t see anything.”

“Yeah, what part of ‘Dark God’ don’t you understand?”

Oh shit. I’m in the throne room of a dark god, and he sounds like an internet troll. I guess that makes sense. Might as well get this over with.

“Do you think you could maybe turn on some lights so I can actually see who I’m talking to?”

He let out a very human sounding sigh and exclaimed, “Fiiine.”

Out of nowhere, the entire room turned into an intense, furious bright white. All I could see was pure light. I covered my eyes, but even then I could see the bones of my hands through my eyelids. Even with the meds, that shit hurt.

“Too bright! Too bright!” I yelled, “Split the difference!”

“Wow,” responded the voice, “I didn’t realize that you were going to be such a big baby.”

And then, just as suddenly, the brightness relented. After a moment, my pupils adjusted and I could see what I had been talking to.

“Behold!” it exclaimed, “and tremble before the dark god!”

He (if it was a “he,” I’m just going off of the sound of his voice) was about the size of an elephant, swollen and round with a tanned yellow hide. The best animal I could think of to compare him to would be an enormous tick, with six rows of stubby arms on either side, six rows of sagging breasts, and a human-sized head on the top. The head contained a somewhat human face and no neck. The body connected to the earth at the widest point of its stomach, like it was half buried. And, to top the whole thing off, he had a red mohawk.

He smiled at me.

“Eh? What do you think?”

“About what?”

“My hair! Isn’t it amazing?” He looked up at his mohawk.

“I guess.”

“You guess? Do you have any idea how much effort I put into doing my hair like this? You know what, it’s fine. I shouldn’t have wasted my time trying to impress you. That’s on me.”

“Okay,” I said, attempting to push myself to my feet only to remember that my leg was pretty broken. I was immobilized, underground, high, and without any weapons. There really was no chance of escape. “If you’re going to kill me, do you mind just getting it over with?”

“What is it with you people? SO UNTRUSTING. So prejudiced. Why is it that ANYTIME you see something you don’t understand, you think it’s kill-or-be-killed? I’m not the monster here. You are. I can see into your soul. I’ve seen your sins. Remember that time when you were fifteen and you keyed the principal’s car?”

“No.”

“Really? Maybe that wasn’t you. Humans all look a lot alike.”

“Why am I here? Why did you drag me underground?”

“Because, Jack, I can’t find any other way of talking to you, and I wanted to tell you to stop killing my children! You’ve burned up so many of us, and what did we ever do to you, huh?”

“The Kieffer plants?”

“Yeah, just backups because that idiot is so clumsy. They’re harmless though. I’ve been trying to put some people in office so I can get a little political influence in this awful town.”

“To take over the world?” I asked, even though I was starting to see where this conversation was going.

“No! I want to pressure the city council to cut back on logging. I’m trying to save the world. But you and your awful friends keep killing us and trying to blow me up.”

“But Spencer, he beat the shit out of me. That guy is awful, and he’s following your orders!”

“Well excuse me for thinking that people have the potential to be rehabilitated! I hired Spencer because I needed someone to protect Kieffer. And I gave him very specific orders not to kill anyone, which he agreed to.”

“But you’ve killed tons of people! The cultists! Their entire compound!”

“Yeah, actually no. I hate to be the one to say this, but those guys killed themselves. Yeah, it was a really sad mass suicide. But if you listened to them, I think it was pretty obvious. You guys should have seen it coming from a mile away. I mean, consequentialism mixed with a moral obligation to end suffering?”

He waved one of his six arms in a jerk-off motion before continuing, “I didn’t want to let all those perfectly good fully-formed adult bodies go to waste. Do you even know how hard it is to make one of those from scratch? It’s not easy.”

“But you sent those things after us at the gas station.”

“Again with the self-centered hero complex. It was never about you. I sent my children to bring Spencer’s body back here. I was hoping I could get him home in time to rebuild him without any permanent brain damage. I think next time you see him, you should apologize for what happened. I swear, ever since Romero made zombies cool, people see a dead man come back to life and instantly they get this urge to kill, kill, kill. What ever happened to calling this a miracle? Nobody freaked out when Jesus came back.”

“Are you saying that Jesus was like those Mathmetists? Just a reanimated corpse?”

“Is this really what you want to talk about, Jack?”

“But doesn’t ‘dark god’ mean, like, evil?”

He sighed.

“The last time I was awake, dark god had a completely different connotation. But you can’t use my branding as your excuse for burning up Kieffer. You ask me, you deserved the ass-whooping you got.”

“But…” I searched my mind for any proof that the dark god was the monster I knew him to be. But the only thing I could come up with was a sad icy-cold realization. “We’re the monsters?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Good. That’s a start.”

“So this is it? You’re the reason for all the weird stuff going on out here at the gas station?”

He laughed again and wiggled his head, which I took for his version of shaking “no.”

“Nope. I’ll be honest with you, I have no clue what half of these things are. Your gas station is weird, and even I do not know why. The hand plants and Kieffers were me. The smell, I’ll fess up. That’s me too. But all that other stuff, man, it gives me the heeby jeebies. You know that weird glowing worm-bug thing? That was pretty weird, huh?”

“So… What do we do now?”

“Now, I send you and your friends back home, and you quit killing me. That’s my deal. Can we agree to that?”

“Um, yeah, I think so.”

“Good.”

“Should we shake on it or-”

At that moment an enormous hand burst out of the wall and wrapped its fingers tightly around me. The next thing I knew, I was coughing up dirt, down on all fours in the street outside of the gas station.

It was morning.

“Oh good,” said Benjamin, “You made it out too.”

I looked over and saw the other three standing there, covered in black dirt. I was back where it started. The trees were all gone, leaving no sign that they were ever even there in the first place. The gas station was a wreck, the front doors were smashed out and the raccoons were excitedly running a loot train for whatever edibles they could carry from the front to their nest behind back.

“What happened, man?” asked Carlos.

“I’m not really sure,” I answered, digging the clumps of dirt out of my nose and ears.

“Well, you’re lucky. Your friends made me wait a few minutes to give you a chance to get out.”

I looked at my hands, they were nearly black from all the layers of dirt coating them.

“Wait for what?” I asked.

“For this,” Benjamin answered as he pressed the button on his remote detonator.

Somewhere deep in the woods came an explosion that rocked the earth and sent birds flying into the sky. Carlos’s car alarm went off and the pavement cracked. A black cloud slowly started to fill the skyline and I felt something inside my mind scream and die.

“Whelp,” said Benjamin. “My work here is done. If you don’t mind, I’m going to get lost before the police show up.” Then he walked off into the forest, hopefully never to be seen again.


And that’s what happened. If you can believe it, I’m back at the gas station, working again. Arnold is on personal leave from the police force and I didn’t care to ask for details, so we have a new deputy babysitting us. I’ll tell you all about her another time, maybe. The police investigated the incident, and ultimately concluded that we were victims of hysteria brought on by a gas leak, and once again, there was nothing supernatural to be reported.

I don’t know if this is the end for the dark god, but I do know that I haven’t felt any compulsions to continue digging ever since Benjamin blew up that underground tree.

Things are settling back into our brand of normal. I still work way too much. I’m still keeping a journal. And weird things still happen at the shitty gas station at the edge of town. In fact, just yesterday, people started reporting that they had seen something in the woods that looked like an enormous raccoon with bat wings, stealing small animals before flying off into the forest. They even said this winged raccoon monster glows in the dark.

Marlboro just came up to me and asked, “You know there’s a guy in the bathroom dressed like a cowboy?”

I assured him that I did not know that.

This may be the last update for a while. It’s going to be a lot of work putting this place back together, and I’ve got a whole new crew of part-timers to train, so, until next time…

 

 

CREDIT: Jack Townsend

Click HERE to pre-order Jack Townsend’s latest book, Tales from the Gas Station: Volume One, a collection of both old and new tales revolving around everyone’s favorite gas station clerk

Tales from the Gas Station: Volume One

**Click HERE to check out creepypasta’s official YouTube channel**

 

The post Tales from the Gas Station (Part Eight) appeared first on Creepypasta.

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Creepypasta TV

Creepypasta TVReading Time: 1 minute 

 

We have a special announcement, today! Instead of a story, we are bringing you a film to accompany the launch of Creepypasta TV on our official YouTube channel! This is a new segment in which we will premiere short horror films (among other visual media) from talented indie creators. First up is “Frequency,” a film produced by horror narrator Darkness Tales (click HERE to check out his YouTube channel). You can watch the film by clicking on the thumbnail above. Stay tuned for more horror content!

(if you would like to premiere a short film, feature-length movie trailer, or other horror media on Creepypasta TV, please email creepypastasubmissions@outlook.com)

The post Creepypasta TV appeared first on Creepypasta.

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