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The Valentine House

Estimated reading time — 15 minutes“Damn, Valentine shit already?” I asked my friend Gabriel as we were walking inside a Wal-Mart post Christmas.

“Yeah, bro, and it’s still December. It’s like they’re completely ignoring the months in between the other months that have major holidays.”

“True, true, annoys the shit out of me though, you know?” My friend nodded and we walked curiously around the isles filled with red hearts, very large stuffed animals and boxes of chocolates and candies saying the cliché messages “I Love You,” “Be Mine,” and the like.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday; I just wish they’d just start selling all of this stuff like in late January. At least a month, you know, at least a month of planning is all you need to plan for the epic Valentine’s Day, and that’s just for the people that are going to go all out. Me? I’ve wanted to do something not just for me, but for my best friend and his girl, and honestly anyone seeking for love on that special day, but I just never knew what to do, until just recently.

Let me catch you up to speed. Have you heard of the Valentine House? It’s known to be one of those well-hidden B&B’s in the middle of nowhere, where couples go to spend their romantic company together. Unfortunately, it’s been said that crazy shit happened there, and the owner died of a heart attack as a result. I guess he couldn’t handle the stress and the accusations placed on him. Anyway, after that point, it was considered abandoned, and unfit to be placed as the number one hotel for lovers, until just recently. The name of the place has been brought back by some rumors, which the place was back in business and for those that have a longing for love, that they’d be able to find it. I told Gabriel about it, and he just shrugged, thought it was complete bullshit.

“So, when are you going over there?” Gabriel asked me at the checkout line, as he was buying his girl a white and red teddy bear saying the words “I Love You Beary Much” on its chest with a chocolate rose sewn onto his paw.

“Probably within a month, the sooner I can get it over with, the better.”

“But why that place, though? Couldn’t you just rent out any other lot but that one? What if that place doesn’t even fucking exist?”

Skeptical, I raised an eyebrow and asked, “What do you mean?”

He exclaimed, “Like, even if the place is real, don’t you think anyone would want to go to a place that people would disappear or die, especially on Valentine’s Day? I just don’t want you to go missing is all, bro.”

I’m not one to believe in crazy rumors like that; how can you believe such a bizarre thing unless you find out from the source?

“I don’t know, but this place seems too good to be true, I have to at least check the place out to see if it’s real or not.”

He shrugged, “Hey, it’s your funeral, man.” We soon left the store and went our separate ways; he was heading back to his house, and for me, my apartment.

I had to prepare myself for the trip, so I decided to look for more info. Apparently it was so old or so vague that no official information was given for the Valentine House. I was about to consider giving up, until I saw a Valentine’s Day card slip under my front door. It was a couple weeks before February at the time, so it was a little too soon. I thought it was odd at first, but when I had opened it, it revealed what I needed to know. It was cryptic, but gave enough direction to understand. Fueled with anticipation, I gathered my things to start my trip, and drove to the flat lands, for I now had a date with a house, and its name was Valentine.

I lost track of time on how I’d imagine this place would look like that I didn’t realize the sun was nearly up. What welcomed me in the new morning were the flat grey land and the long black road before me. By the time I was about to crash due to exhaustion catching up to me, I saw a wooden sign, showing some letters and numbers. With nothing around to stop me, I parked near the sign to take a closer look. It was obviously rotten with age, and was also vandalized. Upon closer look, it showed the following: V, L, E, N, I, E, H, U, E, 15, M, E, and S, with someone vandalizing the sign with red saying the words “TURN BACK.”

It clicked that I was on the right track, and by unknown reason it gave me the extra adrenaline rush to keep going. As time flew by, the sky changed, and the landscape had turned from flatlands into hills, and before I knew it, I saw the one building that could be known as the Valentine House. It looked so out of place, like a pristine white mansion was smack dabbed into the middle of nowhere; busted, rusted vehicles of all types littered the front of it. The closer I got to it, the more excited I got, and it was almost to the point that I almost lost my focus on the road. I soon reached the supposed parking lot of the house, and from first glance, it seemed like about twenty cars were parked before this monument at least. I got out of my mini cooper, and prepared myself for the worst. I even held a handgun close to me if any funny business were to arise.

I reached to the door, and before I laid my knuckles to the wood, it suddenly opened before me. “Welcome to the infamous Valentine House,” a cheery old man said to me. Catching me off guard, I stammered, “Uh, hello, my name is—”

“Let me show you around,” the man said, interrupting my introduction. I nodded, and followed the man into the seemingly popular home that was both beautiful, but also mysterious.

The foyer was like the usual design and style of any typical mansion, but with Valentine fashion: heart and ‘”love” themed knick-knacks, light red walls, bouquets of roses, in shades of deep red to almost the color of blood were scattered throughout the room, but what caught my eye were the various sized frames with random couples placed throughout. I walked to a picture hanging on the wall; the frame was a bit dated, with a country themed design with red hearts on the corners, the picture being in complete black and white.

“Who’re the people in these pictures?” I asked.

The old man turned with a grin that showed he was almost too happy. “We at the Valentine House keep photos of the people who spent the day of love and romance in our rooms; each one a memoir, a souvenir, even a memento; we display them like badges of honor in this house.”

“This house seems dedicated to honoring Valentine’s Day,” I thought to myself.

“Sir?” the man asked me, breaking my train of thought. “If you would, please, follow me.” He disregarded his overjoyed demeanor as he walked slowly down the hall. I followed him, and soon, we reached to the first door of the house, revealing a golden heart on it; the number one in the center. “This room is known to be ‘The Rose Room.’”

He opened the door to reveal a hybrid room, a master bedroom with the aesthetics of a sun room. What was inside was breathtaking: the beautiful fresh, earthy smell of colored roses was overgrowing the room. The roses’ vines were spread throughout the room, attached to the walls and floor like veins and arteries to the human body; their thorns uncommonly larger than usual. What I didn’t realize, however, were two bodies in bed, constricted by the very plant that signified love; having said that, next to the heart shaped bed that laid the couple showed the most beautiful bed of roses; the dew from the sunlight that peeked through glistened, though I couldn’t tell if it was water, or something else.

“I hope you don’t mind the mess. As you can see, some of our couples tend to stay much, much longer, and we’re no people if we’re to rush love from this place.”

I wanted to press questions to him, but he already closed the door, and asked me to follow. Annoyed, but reluctantly, I shrugged, and pressed on. We soon stopped once again to another door, revealing another heart; in the middle was the number two.

“We call this ‘The Secret Admirer’s Room,’” he said, and once again, he opened the door to me, revealing what I could describe as ones desperate attempt to proclaim their love for someone. In one corner of the room, clothed skeletal remains were slumped on the floor; an open box with a shriveled organic object in one hand, a large blade of what I had to assume was glass with blood so old and dried it was flaking away from the shard in the other. By the door was another skeleton, also clothed, in the position that it was trying to escape from the grisly sight, but was unable to. “Love can be cruel to some people; for one can show the most heartfelt feelings to someone, only to be simply denied.” I wanted to look more into the room, but he closed the door, and ordered me to press on.

For each room we passed followed another abstract scene, followed by a few words of back-story from the old man, and as much as I was stunned, it kept me curious about the next room. Some of the other rooms involved a room regarding young love, showing two young children frozen in time. Another room was for lovers’ quarrel, showing a mannequin with a missing arm, with purple and red marks throughout the figure, and a paper heart pinned in its chest with a knife. Longing, Fantasy, Sweet obsessions, and even a room that was nothing but hearts; both real and artificial; as much as I wanted to go into each room, the old man prevented me from entering, so I had to look from the doors opening before he closed it.

After what seemed like hours, and looking in so many rooms, it wasn’t long before we reached the supposed final room of the tour, revealing two black doors with a much bigger heart, but instead of a number, revealed a crown shaped in red. The old man was eerily quiet when we reached to this room, but instead of asking each and every room we saw, I had to ask, “What room is this?”

“…This is the ‘Red Honeymoon Suite,’ he croaked, as he took out a key with a heart at the end to unlock the double doors before us. After the sound of a loud “click,” the doors opened themselves, revealing nothing but darkness and a smell that was a mixture of things: sterile, but also rotten; metallic, but also sweet. “Would you like to come in, and see the inside of this room?”

Out of all the rooms I couldn’t go in to, this happened to be the only one I can. Without missing a beat, I quickly walked into the dark room, where the mixture of smells grew more potent with each step I took.

I was soon enveloped in pure darkness, with the only source of light coming from the doors opening. “Close your eyes. You don’t want to be blinded by the lights,” he said. Without saying anything I did what he said, preparing for what grisly fate awaited me in this house of supposed love and death. Before I knew it, the lights came on, and what was shown had got to be the most grotesque room of all. It had the layout of a studio apartment, with the walls decorated with viscera, intestines, and skin to appear as ribbons or even wall décor. The chandelier above me had its artificial lights splattered in dried blood, with its rusted metal strands wrapped in more guts, shriveled from age. On the floor, was broken wine bottles, syringes, and dried rose petals, piled like leaves from the autumn season. Finally, before me was the exact visual of a Valentine nightmare. Dead bodies, skeletons, cadavers were nearly everywhere, clothed, unclothed, skinned and dried; some were in the California king bed, and some on the floor, some chained and attached to slings; all in sexual positions…like a macabre orgy frozen in time. It was so overwhelming, that I had to steps back, only to bump into the old man.

“The ‘Red Honeymoon Suite’ is a room specifically for those in true love; a miniature world to explore their inner, most sinful desires for one another and others.” He glared at me as if I found out about a dark secret, and he’d had to keep me quiet, but despite his look, he continued. “This room is very popular for more than just two people; in fact—”

“I’ll take it!” I didn’t mean to interrupt, but after seeing all of this, all of the sickly sweet facades of any term related to Valentine’s Day, that this was what I wanted. I wanted the entire home for not just myself, but for the future people that I bring here. This house is so sickly devoted to such a holiday, that – funnily and oddly enough – I simply love it too much to have it for just one day.

“Excuse me?” he questioned me, raising an eyebrow.

“Let me rephrase: I wish to buy this house.”

He cleared his throat. “Allow me to repeat what you’re proposing: You, sir, wish to ‘buy’ this place? You’re not here to reserve a room…?”

I shook my head. “I’m what you’d call an entrepreneur, and this place has so much history built into it. Allow me to take the reins and make this place into the best hotel, motel… hell, even a B&B, that there is.”

The man fell silent, and slowly gave a slight chuckle and then sighed, “I’m quite happy that you like this place, but I must tell you that this place isn’t for sale. The residents still reside in these halls. I’ll admit, this business hasn’t been pleasant as of late, but the people that reside here, they are what keeps this place alive. Their hearts, their emotions, their memories…”

“…Their ‘mementos?’” I asked.

“Yes, yes, you’re right; even their mementos.”

I walked around the room, my eyes scanning the hellish scene before me still, my stomach turning, my sanity dwindling away; I turned to the man once more. “Tell me, would you say that you love your job?”

The man smiled. “Why, yes, I’d still work here in this mausoleum of love, even in death. Even if there wasn’t any business here, I’d still treat this place as a world of love.”

“And you’re sure I can’t persuade you into selling this place to me?”

He frowned. “No. This place can’t be bought, and you can’t force me to sell it to you.”

I looked away from him, and I suddenly felt hot. I felt not like myself, and as I was noticing my sudden changes, the man gave me a scowl. “If you’re not here to reserve a room, then I suggest it would be best if you left.”

It was then that I had revealed my gun to him, showing the same wide grin he had shown me when I first got here. “It’s such a shame, that you’re so blinded by this damn holiday that it can make even the queen of hearts sick.” I laughed at him manically as he stepped away from me.

“Please, sir, you don’t know what you’re doing—”

I shot the old bastard in the heart as he pleaded, his body gave a loud thump as he bled out on the engraved heart on the floor.

I stared at my gun in my hand, seeing my hand tremble with adrenaline, the sudden silence started to ring in my ears, as I blew the subtle smoke from my gun. I looked at the spot where the man had died by my hand, only to see that he was gone. Not just him, but everybody that was propped was also gone, and only the remnants of rose petals and dust was there surrounding me.

“Pleasure having business with you,” I said, as I instinctively walked out of the room. I blew a kiss to the sudden emptiness of the room before closing its double doors behind me. With the old man gone, I was finally able to look in each room, only to find that each room was like the Red Honeymoon Suite: rotten, abandoned, and no bodies in any shape or form, except for the mannequin in the Lover’s Quarrel room. Each room I was able to revisit felt empty, and for each room I went into, the heavier my chest got.

I started to even question if all the things I saw was real and that I was losing my mind, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel that I stumbled upon something that should’ve been exploited a long time ago, and in the end, I got my wish by stumbling upon a building that was once known as the Valentine House. I eventually made it to the foyer, and seeing the once red walls to be a gloomy grey. The knick-knacks gone or broken beyond recognition, the roses blackened and dry, and the mementos…they were all real. I saw the pictures of the unfortunate, seeing their smiling faces, from various years dating from 1938 up to 1996. I couldn’t help but feel their pain, at which I ended up sobbing on the spot. I was soon starting to debate to placing the gun I had to my head and ending it, but a heard a loud thud, bringing me back to reality, if not momentarily. It was a red book, with a white lace job. I picked it up, and I saw what had to be a registry. Flipping through the pages, I saw a folded piece of paper. I opened it, and read the contents.

“To whom it may concern:
This paper shows proof of ownership of the Valentine House. Under the house name, you shall allow anyone with a broken heart to come and stay until they feel loved enough to leave at their leisure. That is the Valentine way. I should hope that my legacy will live on to be a sanctuary for those that seek love, celebrate it, cherish it, and the like. My only wish is to make people happy, as I have with my loving wife and family.
~Robert “Cupid” Valentine
February 14th, 1928”

After reading what seemed to be the ownership title of the house, I felt a cold chill run down my spine. Feeling like I was being watched, I quickly grabbed my bearings, book included, and rushed to my car. Seeing the other rusted cars had also vanished, I quickly drove away from the building; it soon crumbled before my eyes. It’s as if the people that were stuck there had wished to be free by tearing the house from within. “May God wish you safe travels,” I said to myself, as I laid my eyes to the red book beside me, thinking of the souls that were dormant in that damned house.

I soon made it back to my hometown, and drove all the way to my friends’ house. Gabriel was surprised to see me so pale, and brought me inside, his girlfriend in the kitchen making cocoa. I wanted to tell him what I saw, that the house was real, and I managed to escape the devoted hell before it crumbled onto me. As soon as I sat on his couch, however, I suddenly crashed, only to wake up in the middle of the night.

I felt relieved that I was still at Gabriel’s house, and I stretched in relief. I stumbled in the dark home to find him, so I could thank him and his girlfriend for letting mmeme rest. I soon realized the house seemed quiet…too quiet.

“Gabriel?” I shouted. No answer. I reached to his room, only to find the door locked. “Hey, man, you up?” I said, banging his door.

No response.

I was starting to worry, so I shouted even more, more than loud enough to wake someone from a deep sleep,

“Gabriel, this isn’t fun—”

My heart stopped as I looked at the sudden, odd reflection in front of me. I stepped back, looked up, and to my horror, revealed a metallic heart, with the number 214 in the center. I was frantic, and banged on the door until it finally gave, only to see darkness. I flipped the switch, and I saw carnage. The fresh smell of blood came from two unidentifiable piles of flesh in the corner, and on the carpet, written in viscera, a message read: “Happy Valentine’s Day.

In the center of that message was a teddy bear. The same teddy bear that Gabriel had bought back in December, with splatters of blood on its chest, paws, and face.


Credit: Maikode-Kun (Twitter)

The post The Valentine House appeared first on Creepypasta.

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Dandelions

Reading Time: 17 minutes

The first time I saw Bret, I was nineteen.  I’d found a job working security at Dave’s Storage Unit.  My duties included keeping vagrants and thieves from disturbing the 40 rental units that were laid out in five neat rows in the middle of downtown Atlanta and helping customers with lost combinations for their locks.  It wasn’t the safest part of town to be working night shift, but it seemed to be easy work and the hours meshed nicely with my class schedule at the community college. I trained two shifts on days, and then showed up that Thursday at 10 p.m. for my first shift alone.  Or so I thought.

I arrived ten minutes early.  A guy in a Fall Out Boy t-shirt sat at one desk playing Solitaire and a girl with long blond hair had her feet propped on the other, with a ball cap pulled down covering her face.

“Hi,” I said, when he looked up.  “I’m Jason. New guy.”

“I’m Tom, ” he said, and started shoving stuff into a backpack.  “Quiet day so far. Good luck. The crazies come out at night.”

The girl lowered her hat and stared at me.  She was the kind of beautiful that just stops a guy in his tracks.  Big green eyes, full lips, flawless skin … I realized I was staring and mumbled a ‘Hi,’ in her direction.  Her eyes widened and she tipped her head in greeting.

Tom looked up at me, eyebrows raised.  “Yeah…so, all the keys are in the top drawer of that filing cabinet, along with a master list of the combination locks.  Don’t give anyone access unless they show two forms of I.D. and you make a copy of it. They’ll fire your ass if you’re not a stickler about that.  And it has to be the person with their name on the contract, not a girlfriend, not a wifey. Some guy almost got canned because he let a wife in and she left with his whole stamp collection in the middle of a divorce.”

“It was him,” the girl said, and pointed at Tom.  He ignored her, already heading toward the door.

“See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya,” he said.  “Night shift sucks.”

The girl flipped him a bird and I laughed.  Tom shot me a look I couldn’t decipher, but then he gave a half-hearted wave and shut the door behind him.

I looked at the row of monitors and then back at the girl.  She hadn’t taken her eyes off me and I felt awkward and flushed under her gaze.

“I’m Jason,” I said again, and immediately felt like an idiot.

“Bret,” she said, and leaned back in the chair.  “Nice to have someone to talk to in this joint.”

“What about Tom?” I asked, sitting in the seat he’d vacated.   She shook her head.  “He’s a tool.”

“So… are you second shift or third? I thought I was working alone.”

She shrugged.  “Wherever they need me.”

I guessed they called her in to keep an eye on the new guy, and she didn’t want to say she was supposed to babysit me.  It was funny, because she seemed standoffish at first, but she was a talker and I loved to listen to her. By four a.m. it felt like I had known her forever, just one of those instant clicks and maybe even more so by the types of conversation people tend to have at those hours.  We talked everything from childhood to politics. I think I was already falling a little in love with her.

She saw me stretch and said, “You want to go outside? We can do a walk around.”

A cool breeze blew, but she didn’t seem to notice.  I couldn’t stop sneaking glances at her as we walked.  Faded jeans, scuffed boots, black t-shirt and a camo jacket.  I probably had close to the same outfit in my closet, but on her, even the ordinary seemed beautiful.

We walked the length of the first row and started down the second when she stopped and touched a bright yellow dandelion sprouting up through a crack in the sidewalk with the toe of her boot.  “Those are my favorite flowers.”

I laughed.  “Those are weeds.”

She smiled.  “Those aren’t weeds.  They’re wishes. Haven’t you ever blown on one and made a wish? And even when they’re yellow–that’s my favorite color.  They’re such happy, hopeful little things.”

That made me smile, too.  I’d never thought of them in that way.  So many girls I knew seemed hung up on materialistic things, and Bret could find beauty in even this small flower. I was captivated.

When we made it to the fourth row, she stopped.  Her face pinched into a grim expression as she said,  “I don’t walk down this row.”

“Why?” I asked, taken aback by the look in her eyes.

“Number 27.  It gives me the creeps.”

It was the third bay door, and it looked exactly like the first two.  I didn’t understand, but I wanted her to smile again. “Then we skip this row.”

We finished walking the last row.  A drink machine stood at the end of it and I asked her if she wanted one.  She shook her head as I fed quarters into the slot.

A payphone I hadn’t noticed rang shrilly, making me jump.  I laughed at myself and glanced at her. Bret’s expression wiped away my smile.  She looked terrified.

“Don’t answer it!” she shouted.  “Don’t ever answer it!”

I gaped at her, not understanding.  “I don’t–I won’t–what’s wrong?”

She didn’t answer.  She started walking briskly back toward the office.  I chased after her, my change and soft drink forgotten.

“That phone rings every morning at 4:17,” she said, as I opened the door for her.  “When you answer it sounds like dead air, or there’s some sort of hissing noise. It gives me the creeps.”

“Probably some automated thing.  Wrong number or something, but it’s set on an auto-program.”

She looked at me and said, “Do you believe in ghosts, Jason?”

“You think a ghost is calling?”

“Don’t make fun of me!’” she snapped.

“I’m sorry.” I held up my hands in a gesture of surrender.  “Do I believe in ghosts? Well, I haven’t ever seen one–”

She made a scoffing noise, and I said, “–but I won’t rule them out.  My grandmother believed in ghosts. She said she had ‘the sight’ and swore that some people in our family could see them.  Some had the gift of precognition, too. She was a very smart, reasonable lady.”

Mollified, Bret sat at the desk.  “So, do you think everyone becomes a ghost when they die? Or do some move on to someplace else?  Why would people be stuck here?”

I shrugged.  “Unfinished business?  Violent death? I don’t know.  What do you think?”

She took a moment before responding.  “Maybe the unfinished business. Maybe…maybe there just is nothing else.”

The easy vibe of our earlier conversation disappeared.  She seemed anxious. Stressed. No matter what I tried to talk about, she seemed distracted.  When Abe, the old guy on first shift appeared to relieve us, she walked out the door without saying goodbye.  I bid a hasty good morning to him and ran to catch up.

I almost lost her, but I spied her head as she got on the train.  It’d been a long time since I had a MARTA pass, so I had to dig for the $2.50 fare.  She frowned when I sat next to her in the back, and I realized I probably looked like creepy stalker guy. Too late now, but I didn’t want her to be upset with me.  I really liked this girl.

“What are you doing?” she asked, and I wanted to run, but the train lurched forward.

“I feel like I upset you and I’m sorry.”

She looked at an elderly lady in the next row, who was staring at us.  Bret shook her head, like it was okay, but the lady got up and moved toward the front.

“It’s not you,” Bret said.  “But I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Let’s talk about dandelions then,” I said.  “They’re my new favorite flower. Like you, pretty and magical.”

As corny as that was, she laughed, and our conversation slipped back into the same easiness it had before that payphone rang last night.  At least, until the next stop.

A lumbering bald man with beady dark eyes got on and took a seat a couple of rows in front of us.  I saw Bret stiffen, though he didn’t pay much attention to us at all. His gaze fixed on a pretty Latina who sat in the middle, playing on her smartphone.

The rest of the ride, Bret never took her eyes off the man.  He wasn’t pleasant to look at, but I didn’t understand her terror.

“This is my stop,” she said, and stood.  The dark-haired girl also stood.

“Bret,” I said.  “Uh, where are we? I need to get back to my motorcycle.”

She laughed then, the tension evaporating from her face.  “You crazy boy. It will circle back around in about 6 more stops. I’ll see you tonight.”

She waved and walked forward, giving the man a wide berth.  For a moment, he looked like he was about to get behind them, and I was prepared to do so as well, so she’d feel safe, but he just sat there.

Bret was already there when I arrived that night.  She laughed when she saw the small bouquet of dandelions in my hand.  Tom’s eyebrows shot up. He opened his mouth, then closed it again. He left in record time.

“I don’t think that guy likes me,” I said.

She waved her hand dismissively as I put the dandelions in water.  “He doesn’t like anyone. And thank you for the flowers. They’re lovely.”

So are you, I thought, but I didn’t have the courage to say it yet.

I wasn’t about to bring up the guy on the train.  I hated that tense, scared look she’d worn this morning.  But to my surprise, she did.

“That man is evil,” she said.  “Please don’t ask me to explain how I know.  I’m afraid he means to hurt that girl and I don’t know how to stop him.”

My stomach dropped.  “Bret…did he hurt you?  We need to call the cops.”

She hesitated long enough to make me think he had, but she said, “No.  I don’t know. I can’t remember things, and I’m scared to remember things.  The phone makes me think of something but I push it back. Anyway, it’s not about me now.  It’s about that girl.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s talk about it later. I don’t want to think about it right now.”

“I looked up dandelions between classes today,” I said.  “People in the 1800s used to blow on them after they went to seed.  If all the seeds blew away, the object of your affection shared your feelings.”  I shook my head and gave her a pointed look. “You may not know it yet, but I think you’re in love with me.”

She laughed, long and hard and I grinned, pleased to see her happy again.  Then her face got sad. “I wish I’d met you before, Jason.”

“What’s wrong with now?” I asked, with uncharacteristic bravery.  “You’re not married, are you?”

She shook her head.  “No, but I’m not what you think I am.  There are a lot of bad things, Jason. I don’t want to explain, because I really like you.”

“You’re a beautiful girl with a weird taste in flowers.  Think of all the money I’d save on Valentine’s Day if you were my girlfriend.”

She laughed again.  “Just keep talking to me.  I hardly talk to anyone anymore, and you’re so funny.  Tell me about the motorcycle. I’m glad you made it back to it.”

“I actually didn’t come back to it this morning,” I admitted with a laugh.  “I got off the train and took an Uber to my place, then hitched a ride to school.  Took the train back to work tonight. I was kinda hoping I’d see you.” I had seen the creepy guy, but I didn’t tell her that.  “Come outside and I’ll show it to you.”

She walked around it, trailing her fingers on the gleaming blue paint.  “It’s pretty,” she said, “but I don’t like these things. They’ll get you killed.”

“I was hoping I could take you on a ride on it some time.”

She gave me a glance that looked like a definite ‘no’, but said, “We’ll see.”

Everything was fine until the phone began to ring at 4:17 a.m.  I watched her face get that same terrified look and wondered what in the world had happened to her, and if it connected somehow to the creepy guy.

Around time for the day shift guy to come on, she mentioned the guy on the train again.  “I don’t know why, but I have the feeling he’s going to do something to her, soon. I hate to ask, because I know you need sleep and go to class, but … would you ride the train with me again?”

“Of course,” I said.

Abe appeared at six on the dot.   “Good morning, Sunshine!” he said, dropping his backpack onto a chair.

“Good morning, Abe,” Bret said.  To me, she said, “I love that old guy.”

I chatted with him for a moment.  Bret moved to the door and I said goodbye to Abe, intent on following her, when he called out, “Hey!”

His old face was pale when I glanced back.  He pointed a shaky finger at the Styrofoam cup filled with dandelions.  “Where did these come from?”

The look on his face spooked me.  I wasn’t sure what was happening.

“I–I picked them for Bret.”

The old man face went slack with shock.  “You know Bret? You’ve seen her?”

“Wha–” I whirled to look at her.  She held out her hands in supplication.  Tears streamed down her face. For the first time, I noticed she had on the same outfit as she had yesterday.

“I’m sorry, Jason.  I didn’t–I didn’t know what to say.” “Jason?” Abe asked, louder.  “I said, have you seen Bret?”

I couldn’t tear my gaze from her.

“Apparently, your grandma wasn’t the only one who had the gift,” she said, and walked through the door.   When I say, walked through the door, I mean right through it. A freaking solid metal, closed door. I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak.

Finally, I half-fell onto one of the chairs.  I heard Abe talking, but it was like he was speaking through a tunnel.  It seemed like forever before I could focus on him.

There was nothing I could say that wouldn’t sound insane, so I didn’t bother to sugarcoat.  I said, “You didn’t see her, just now, when you came in here?”

He shook his head, his rheumy eyes huge.

I told him about working with her, about some of the things she’d said.  Even about the weird ringing phone. When I finished, he just stared at me.

“To be honest, I don’t know whether to believe you right now, or to call the cops,” he said.

I nodded.  It was a fair statement.  I don’t know what I’d think, in his shoes.  “She said you used to be a cop, before your wife got sick.”  I looked up at him. “She said you’re the reason she loves dandelions.  You told her about how your wife loved them, and how you decorated her hospital room with them before she died.  Bret said it was the most romantic thing she’d ever heard.”

Abe sat heavily in the chair.  “I did tell her that. Can I ask you to describe her for me?”

I did, down to her scuffed boots, and he nodded.  Then he reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a picture of her.  It was Bret, alright, but on a MISSING poster. The clothing described as the last outfit she was seen wearing was what I’d seen her in.

“She went missing from her shift here, six months ago.  I showed up and this place was wide open. There was a great deal of blood out by that payphone.  The police never had any leads.”

I gestured at the row of monitors.  One showed the drink machine and phone.  “What about the cameras?”

“Installed after the fact.  Because of her. Too little, too damn late.”  He leaned forward, giving me a hard stare. “I loved that little girl.  She was like a daughter to me. I’ve brought her dandelions myself. I have never believed in ghosts, but I saw your face this morning.  I believe that you saw her, or you’re some kind of nut and think you saw her. But I don’t know how you know some of the things you know if that were the case.  Bret and I worked together some, before we lost personnel and she got bumped to nights. I think she would’ve mentioned you, and I only told her the dandelion story right before she went missing.  You could be the nut who took her, but I don’t think so. I can’t imagine why she’d share something like that with a person who would hurt her. If you see her again, ask her how much a mail order bride costs.”

“What?” I felt like I’d fallen back down the rabbit hole again.  Nothing made sense. I wondered if I was dreaming.

“Just do it,” Abe said.  “Now go home. You look like shit.”

Only when I stumbled to the parking lot did I remember my promise to ride the train with her.  I thought about Bret and the Latina girl. In fact, I skipped class and lay in my bed and thought about them all day.

When I got to work that night, Tom was the only one there.  Even though I still felt punch drunk and scared, I had hoped Bret would be sitting there.  Abe apparently hadn’t told Tom about any of it, because he treated me with the same dismissiveness as always.  It was weird to look back and realize he and Bret had never really spoken or interacted at all. I hadn’t had a clue.

By 4 a.m.  I was getting a little stir crazy, so I jumped up to walk around the storage buildings.  I turned the corner of the last one and walked straight through Bret.

I screamed like a little girl.  She giggled a little, and clamped her hand over her mouth.  “I’m sorry. Jason–”

“Are you real?” I demanded.  “Am I crazy?”

“I think I’m real,” she said.  “At least, I was. I know it sounds like I’m lying, but I don’t remember much.”  She nodded at the payphone. “I remember this phone and it ringing. I think he used that to catch me off-guard.  I answered it and he hit me with something. I think–” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “I think he’s about to kill that girl on the train.  Maybe I’m supposed to help her.”

Abruptly, she swung her fist at my arm and it passed right through.  I yelped.

“Stop doing that!”

Despite everything, she laughed.  “I was just checking. I don’t know how I’m supposed to stop him when he can’t see me and I can’t touch him.”  She winked. “On the bright side, I bet you look crazy as hell on the security cameras right now.”

I scowled at her, then something occurred to me.  I glanced at my phone. 4:20 a.m. “Hey, the phone didn’t ring.”

She shot it a scared look.  “What does that mean? Are we on the right track, or are we running out of time?”

I had no answer.

The next morning when Abe came in, he gave me a wary look and said, “Is she here now?”

I nodded and pointed at the chair she was sitting on.  “Bret, how much does a mail order bride cost?”

She laughed.  “Tell him I said, ‘Ask Ernie.’”

I told him and his dark eyes teared up.

“Bret, what happened to you?” he asked.

“She doesn’t remember but we are trying to figure it out,” I said.

“Tell him Maggie still visits him.  I’ve seen her around him. She’s got a little girl she calls Bumblebee with her.”

I told him and he burst into tears.  When he could finally speak, his voice was a gasp.  “There’s not a soul alive who knows that. Bumblebee was our daughter.  She died back in 1974. I’ve never talked about her since.”

“Jason, the train,” she said, and I told Abe we had to go.

“Godspeed, son,” he said.

When we got on the train, the girl was already there.   The bald man got on the same stop he had previously. His attention was once again fixed on her, but hers was once again fixed on her phone.

I had no weapon and this guy was twice my size, but when I thought about him hurting Bret, or this stranger, I think I could’ve taken him down with pure adrenaline.  We were about to find out, anyway, because this time when she stood, he stood too.

It was still early, not a lot of folks out yet.  We followed him, following her, trying to stay ducked out of sight.

She paused outside a storefront and fumbled in her purse for her keys.  That was the distraction he was waiting on. He charged her like a bull.

It was terrifying, how quickly he seized her and dragged her into an alleyway.  I ran blindly into the alley behind them. He had her pinned against the wall, his meaty hand around her throat.

“Hey!” I screamed.  “Hey! Let her go!”

She still had her keys in her hand.  While he gaped at me, she swung at his head with a vicious arc.  She missed his eye, but the key dug into his cheek. The girl gave it a savage yank, opening up his face.

With a bellow of pure rage, he dropped her and grabbed his ruined cheek.  Blood spurted between his fingers and he ran straight at me. I made a desperate lunge for his legs, but he barreled past me–straight into the pathway of a Meko’s Milk truck.

I’d hear the sound of that impact in my head for the rest of my life.  A thudding, cracking, squelching sound. But I was glad. He’d never hurt another girl again.

Bret was gone.  I missed her terribly and hoped every day she’d reappear.  I realized that was selfish and then I just hoped she was at peace.  There was no grave to visit, so sometimes I’d gather little bouquets of dandelions and place them at the office, or at my apartment.  Such happy, hopeful little things …

Four months after the incident with Edward Culpepper (that was his name–I’d followed the story avidly in the papers), I was getting a little overtime, helping Abe go through the stack of delinquent customers.

“Looks like we’ll be cleaning out units #27 and #38,” he said.  “Non-payment of rental fees.” He tossed the copies of their agreements on the desk in front of me and I froze.  Edward Culpepper’s face stared up at me from the photocopy of his driver’s license. Renter of unit #27.

Abe noticed my face and said, “Jason?  Are you okay?”

“That’s him,” I said.  “That’s the guy who killed Bret.”

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before then.  Her strange fear of that unit. Now it made sense. I told Abe and that old man moved faster than I did as we grabbed the combination for that lock.

It took us awhile, because the until was completely filled with old furniture and boxes of junk, but towards the back, we found a metal barrel.  On the ground beside it lay Bret’s army jacket.

Abe grabbed my arm.   “We are not opening that.  We are calling the cops right now, do you understand me?”

I let him pull me outside, because I didn’t want to see her like that, either.

Bret’s body was finally laid to rest.  With her mother’s permission (and notice to the caretaker so he wouldn’t try to kill them), Abe and I did some gardening work on her grave that next spring.  Yellow dandelions covered it, looking as beautiful and sunny as the girl they memorialized. I think she would be pleased.

Five or six years passed.  I graduated college, got a real job, fell in and out of love a couple of times, but I never really stopped thinking of her.  Every time I saw a white dandelion, I picked it and made a wish. When I was in the area, I visited her grave and made sure she still had her cheery little offerings.

One day, I was riding my motorcycle up near Nashville, enjoying a sunny summer day.  I guess the driver of the Camaro didn’t see me when he swerved around a semi to change lanes.

I flew through the air and fell back down, hitting the ground with a bone-jarring thud.  I lay there, conscious of sounds and light, but I couldn’t move at all. I couldn’t feel anything either, except for the heat of the sun on my face.

I was disoriented, but  I guessed I was in the median.  Lying on grass, for sure, because there was a round, white dandelion inches from my nose.  Blackness seeped at the edges of my peripheral vision. I couldn’t blow on it, but I made a wish anyway, then passed out.

When I came to, I still couldn’t move, but I felt a little more.  Specifically, I felt someone nudging my side. I looked up to see Bret prodding me with the toe of her boot.

“You gonna lie there all day?” she asked, and extended her hand.

Surprisingly, my hand rose to grab hers and didn’t pass through.  She felt solid. Real. I wondered if I was in the hospital and this was some anesthesia-induced delirium. But the sun felt real enough. I even smelled burned rubber. I let her help me up, and I stood there for a moment, swaying. I saw my bike some yards away, crushed.

“Ugh,” I said.  “Maybe I shouldn’t move too much before the paramedics get here.”

She winced.  “Yeah, about that…”  She pointed to the ground beside me.

It was surreal to see my broken body lying there, staring sightlessly up at the sky.

“Oh,” I said.  “Ouch.”

She shook her head.  “I told you those things would kill you.”

“So … now what?” I asked.  “Is there a bright light we walk towards or what?”

“You’re so calm.  I like that about you.”  She shrugged. “If there’s something we’re supposed to be walking toward, I haven’t found it yet.  Maybe it’s just me and you.”

“Maybe it’s my wish,” I said, and she raised an eyebrow.

“I made a wish right before I passed out—died, whatever.”

She scrunched up her nose.  “Oh, yeah? Is that why I’m here?  What was the wish?”

“Just one I’ve wished a thousand times now.  You’re really bad about responding to your ghost messages.”

I took her hands and made her face me.  “Sorry. Still getting the hang of this business.” She waved her hand dismissively.  “Such a rookie. But tell me, what was your wish?”

“What I always wish–that I could see you again someday, and do this,” I said, and kissed her.

I’m not sure how long we stood like that, kissing and holding each other while sirens screamed and traffic whizzed by on the other side of the median.

Eventually, we started walking.  I didn’t know where we were going.  Didn’t care. All I knew was that I was with her.

“So,” I said.  “Who’s Ernie and what’s this about a mail order bride?”

Before she could tell me, a terrible cramp seized my body and I felt myself being tugged backwards. Brett frowned, her green eyes suddenly sad.

“It’s not your time,” she said. “Stop fighting it.”

I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to stay with her.

But the tugging became a vacuum until I had no choice I went hurtling backwards.

I blinked and saw an ambulance worker standing over me.

“There you are,” he said as he popped up the stretcher I was somehow on.

They loaded me onto the helicopter. I saw Brett standing over his shoulder. She held a dandelion in her hand.

“It’s okay, Jason,” she said. “Some things are worth waiting for.”

Then she blew on the dandelion, making a wish.


Credit: Stephanie Scissom (FacebookReddit)

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Hide and Seek

Hide and SeekReading Time: 9 minutes“Fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty!”

Hide-and-go-seek was the order of the evening. Two days of rain with no signs of stopping meant mud, mud, and more mud. Jenn already knew where the kids were. They always hid together and in the same spot. Twins like to stick together, it seemed.

“Where could they be?” she said convincingly as they giggled somewhere in the house. She tiptoed down the hall and peeked into their room. “Goodness, I will never find them! Maybe… here!” she shouted as she dropped to the floor and pulled the covers back.

“Err, guess not…” she murmured, searching the empty space under the bed. “How about… here!” she shouted again, this time at an empty closet. They’re really making me work for it this time, she thought. Nothing in the bath, no one in the laundry… she knew they were too scared to venture in the basement but decided to check after she’d exhausted all other options.

Jenn noisily stamped down the stairs to announce her presence, hoping to elicit some giggles and shuffling. “I’m going to find you!” she sang. She stopped, noting the uncanny silence. With a five-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl, the only silence she ever experienced happened while they were sleeping—and even that was often interrupted by nightmares.

“Jordan! Casey! Come on kids, you win! I give up!” she shouted merrily. “Olly olly oxen free! You win!” she shouted with slightly more urgency. “Mommy’s not playing anymore. Come on now, it’s time for dinner!” Still nothing. “All right, how about this? If you come out now, we’ll get a big cheesy pizza, two buckets of whatever flavor ice cream you want, and we’ll rent a movie! But, you have to come out now!”

A minute passed, and the panic set in. “All right, kids, come out now. If you don’t come out, you’re going to be in trouble, okay?” she shouted in her serious voice. “Jordan Oliver Jones, you and your sister come out this instant!”

Jenn suddenly heard movement above her and sprinted up the stairs.

“What on earth took you so long?” she fussed as she reached the ground level. “I was starting to get wor—” Jenn froze. The front door was wide open. She knew she’d locked it. She was obsessive about locking the door and checked it at least twice a day. She ran out onto the porch, dizzy and nearly hyperventilating. “Jordan! Casey!”

She ran inside and called the police. Jenn wasn’t thinking clearly.

“Yes, I need help. My children are missing! Cherry Street, 43 Cherry Street, I was playing hide-and-go-seek with them and I couldn’t find them and I searched everywhere and then I found the door open and they’re not here! They’re gone!” she shrieked, the panic building.

“Is there anyone who might want to take them? Could they be with their father? A relative? The neighbors?” asked a calm voice on the other end of the phone.

“My family doesn’t live near here and the neighbors are out and…” Jenn’s stomach knotted up. “Oh god, their father. I… I have a restraining order against him. He shouldn’t even— He’s not supposed to be in town or anywhere near or—”

“Ma’am, I want you to go inside and lock the doors, just to be safe. Make sure all windows are latched as well. I’m sending a dispatch unit to patrol the area. Can you do that for me?” the operator asked in a soothing voice.

“Yes, yes I— Okay, I’m inside,” Jenn panted.

“Good. Thank you. Can you tell me about their father?” the officer asked.

Jenn shuddered as the memories flooded back. “He… he murdered his ex-wife in our home. It was all over the news. Jeremy Picking, he—”

“Oh, yes. Yes, I remember,” the officer interrupted. “Shouldn’t he be—”

Jenn waited for her to finish and heard silence. “Hello? Hello? Are you there?” Jenn tried another number, and there was no dial tone. She jumped hard at the sound of a loud knock at the door. She saw what looked like an officer’s uniform through the frosted glass and rushed to unlock it.

“Are you okay, Jenn?” It was officer John Daley, an old peer of Jenn’s from high school and police officer in town for over a decade. “Gosh, you got here fast,” Jenn sighed, relieved to not be alone anymore. “The kids, John, they’re gone. I—”

“Don’t worry, Jenn,” John interjected, holding her shoulders as she started to weep again. “They’re probably just running around the neighborhood, messin’ around. I’ve got two cars out patrolling right now. Just stay inside and try to keep a cool head. We’ll find ‘em.”

Jenn locked the door behind her again and paced the floor, wringing her hands, peering out the window, and re-checking every potential hiding spot. As she crawled out from under the dining room table, she suddenly noticed motion on the second floor of the house next door. Her breathing stopped. They were supposed to be away for the weekend. A light in the attic flicked on, and the curtains swayed. Jenn walked right up to her window, close enough for her nose to touch the glass, when the light suddenly flicked off again. Jenn yanked the curtains closed, feeling exposed. She ran through the house, checking the locks again, roughly pulling all the curtains closed.

She reached the glass door in the kitchen and came face-to-face with her neighbor Todd, screaming loudly enough to make him jump. Todd frowned, breathing heavily, and shook his head, “Jesus, Jenn, what is it? What happened?”

Jenn cracked the door open, the chain lock still in place. “Sorry Todd, I—” She suddenly remembered he was supposed to be out of town. “Wait, why are you here? And why are you in town?”

Todd looked slightly offended, “Well, Crissy and I got into a big argument over how her dad always treats me and, while it was pretty rough, I am being spared a trip to see the in-laws. But, yeah, I got home like ten minutes ago and saw Officer Daley leaving, so I figured I’d come check in on you and see if everything was okay.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s just…well, the kids, we were playing hide-and-go-seek and I couldn’t find them and then—” Something shiny glinting by Todd’s side caught her eye. He gripped a pair of shears in his left hand. Todd followed her eyes down to see what had stopped her so abruptly. “Wh— Oh! Sorry, yeah when I was crossing the back yard to get to yours, a lot of brush was getting in my way so I thought, ugh, I thought I’d just get on it and, uh, you know, get it out of the way, and, uh…you know, you don’t have to talk to me through the door,” Todd smiled taking a step forward.

Jenn didn’t flinch. Her mind was racing. The phone line was down, Todd had appeared out of nowhere, the shears, the phone, the kids, the shears. Jenn slammed the door in Todd’s face and locked the other two bolts. “Hey!” Todd shouted and banged the door with the fist holding the shears. “I just want to talk!” he shouted, still banging the door. Jenn ran upstairs and tore through her father’s old chest, desperately clawing around for the old 9-millimeter. Why would Todd want her children? Was he trying to get her alone? His wife was out of town, and he was always flirting just a bit too much.

She found the gun just as she heard glass shattering downstairs. She silently loaded and cocked it. As much as instinct told her to hide, she couldn’t, not with Jordan and Casey’s lives at stake. She crouched down, surveying the first floor from the top step. The kitchen door was completely obliterated, and Todd lay sprawled out on his chest. It had to be Jeremy. He took the kids and now he was back to take her. This can’t be happening, she repeated in her head over and over. She cracked. She couldn’t take the tension any longer. “What do you want from us?” she screeched down the stairs.

“Jenn?” she heard John shout back. “Oh god,” she cried out as she raced down the stairs. John stood in the living room facing the kitchen with his pistol drawn. She threw her left arm around him, keeping the gun out of sight. She wasn’t entirely sure if it was legal for her to have the weapon. “Todd was here, he’s not supposed to be and he had these big shears and I freaked out,” she wailed into his shoulder, “I think Jeremy was here, there’s blood everywhere-”

“Don’t worry, I showed up just as Todd broke the glass to get in through your kitchen door. I shot him; it wasn’t Jeremy,” he said stroking her hair.

“But… but I didn’t hear any gunshots,” Jenn said confused, thinking surely Todd had been stabbed. “Silencer,” said John, “I didn’t want to shake up the whole neighborhood if I didn’t have to.”

“Oh… right,” Jenn exhaled, “Are my children at his house? Did you find them? Was Todd even involved in that or does he just have amazing timing? Is he… is he going to be okay?”

“Sh, sh, sh,” John said, holding her tighter. You don’t have to worry about John or Jeremy or any other man ever again. I’ll make sure of it. Now, how about some dinner?”

Jenn pulled away, frowning, “John, I can’t exactly eat right now. My children are missing,” she began tearing up. John continued smiling. “How about I go with you and we look for them together? You know, help the other guys you said are looking?” Jenn offered.

“Let them do their job, sweetie. They don’t need any help. These are professional police officers. We‘re going to find little Jordan and Casey.” Jenn stopped moving, trying to remember when she’d told him the names of her children. They went to the same high school together, but that was all. He didn’t know anything about her children. In fact, he hadn’t even asked for their descriptions to tell the dispatchers who to look for.

“We’ll get a big cheesy pizza,” he continued, “two flavors of ice cream and, hey, maybe we’ll even rent a movie to get your mind off of things.” Her heart dropped, her stomach flew into her throat, and her breathing grew short and shallow.

“John, how do the dispatchers know who to look for?” Jenn asked slowly.

“I told them what they look like, Jenny. You really need to calm down,” John said with a new note of seriousness to his voice.

“John, how… how do you know what my children look like?” Jenn asked, gripping the gun still hidden behind her back.

John’s smile faded and he took a step closer, his fists clenched. “That’s really not important, Jenny. Don’t you want your children to be found? Don’t you want them safe? Don’t you want your children back, Jenny?”

“Why do you keep calling me Jenny?”

“You ask a lot of questions,” John shouted, making Jenn jump. “That is what you liked to be called in high school, wasn’t it? When we still hung out? Before you met that freak, Jeremy, and cut me out of your life completely!”

“John, where are my kids?” Jenn shouted back.

“Jeremy’s children are none of your concern anymore!” John roared.

Jenn pulled the gun from behind her back and pointed it at John, shaking, praying she loaded it correctly.

“Todd didn’t break the glass door, did he?” Jenn asked softly. “Did he?” she shouted.

“He was just another man that wanted to get to you,” John slurred lazily, unfazed by the gun, as he plopped down on the couch. “You know, if you shoot me, you’ll never find them.”

Jenn felt her will slipping as she sobbed. “What do you want?” she whimpered.

“Sit,” John ordered, “and give me the gun.” Jenn did as she was told and collapsed into the armchair. “Did you even notice how much I cared about you in high school? I never stopped caring. I’ve been watching you and keeping you safe for years, Jenn,” John spat.

John continued his diatribe, relaying stories from high school that Jenn barely remembered. As he ranted, she noticed a light out of the corner of her eye. It was Crissy. She was home from her parents’ place. Please come here looking for Todd, Jenn thought to herself. Please, please, please. Jenn kept her eyes focused on Todd as she noticed Crissy crossing her backyard in her peripheral.

“I can keep you safe. No one will ever touch you ever again. Think of Casey. Think of little Jordan. I’ll keep them s—” John and Jenn jumped as Crissy’s screams interrupted them. She’d found Todd. Jenn seized the moment to snatch back the gun. John lunged for it, setting it off.

His face froze, his eyelids drooping. He’d taken a bullet straight to the gut. John staggered backward, crashing to the floor. Jenn ran to Crissy, who held Todd in her arms. He drifted in and out of consciousness. “There’s no time to explain! Please, I need to use your phone!” Jenn begged. She helped Crissy drag Todd to the front yard just as two officers screeched to a halt in their patrol cars. Four officers with guns drawn rushed toward the house yelling for Jenn and Crissy to lay down. Apparently, neighbors contacted police at the sound of the gunshot.

The officers didn’t immediately comprehend why one of their own was lying on Jenn’s floor after her children went missing; however, after hearing knocking coming from John’s patrol vehicle, they found Jordan and Casey unharmed in the trunk. John survived but was fired and sent to a psychiatric ward for counseling.

 

CREDIT: Haley Houston

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The Hazards of Dating

The Hazards of DatingReading Time: 5 minutes

Dating sucks as an adult. The only way to meet new people is either on the internet or in a bar, and I’m not comfortable trying to start a relationship with someone I’ve come across in either of those scenarios. At 28 years old, not being romantically interested in any of my unmarried friends or coworkers, I figured I was just doomed to be single the rest of my life.

But then I met her.

I was walking home from my favorite local comic book store, nose buried in my newest purchase, when I walked straight into the woman of my dreams. Her piercing blue eyes crinkled a bit at the corners as she laughed at my bumbling apology. She looked down at the ground briefly and tucked a bit of her dark brown hair behind her ear before looking back at me and sticking out her hand.

“I’m Miranda,” she cooed as I shook her hand. She was beautiful, and I was hooked.

Introductions turned into small talk, small talk turned into conversation, and before I knew it, my watch informed me that we had been sitting on the grass next to the sidewalk for 2 hours chatting. I regretfully announced that I needed to get home, then nervously asked Miranda if she would like to meet me the next night for dinner. She agreed, and we set the time and place for our date.

I was over the moon the rest of the night and most of the next day. My nerves kicked in on the way to the expensive Italian restaurant we decided on. It suddenly occurred to me that we hadn’t even exchanged phone numbers. What if she was just being polite and had no intention of coming? What if she was in an accident or her car broke down and she couldn’t make it? A million scenarios raced through my head as I began to sweat and my heart started to race. My stomach was in knots when I walked through the doors of the restaurant, but the bad feelings fell away as soon as I saw her standing in the corner wearing a purple dress that perfectly complimented her slim figure.

The hostess looked at me funny when I asked for a table for two, and my anxiety perked up again. My panic had left me sweaty, and I was suddenly aware that I had run my fingers through my hair a few times while in transit. I must have looked a mess despite my nice pants and shirt. I used my hands to ensure my hair was put back into place and wiped my forehead with my sleeve as I followed the hostess and my date to a table in the corner of the eatery.

The date went amazingly well. Miranda let me order for both of us, telling me that she trusted my judgement. We chatted and laughed through the meal like we had known each other forever. The world around me could have been in shambles and I wouldn’t have noticed; I loved being with her so much.

Of course, the joy of new love was short-lived, otherwise I wouldn’t be posting this here, of all places.

We decided to go for a stroll through the nearby park after I paid the bill. I worked up the courage to reach for her hand as we happily walked along the concrete path lit by soft yellow lights. My fingers linked with hers, and just as I felt how cold her skin was, I noticed that she had stopped talking and the air around us had grown tense.

My first thought was that I fucked up. I looked at her, already asking if she was alright.

She changed. Her skin had turned a bluish-gray, marked with deep purple bruises around her throat. The left side of her face was so rotted away that I could see her teeth through her cheek. The bright blue of her eyes was now covered with a milky film, and they stared at me with a hatred so deep that even the bravest soldier would have likely cowered.

I choked on a gasp and tried to back away, but she strengthened her grip on my hand so that I could only move as far as our combined arms’ length. My fingers throbbed and the muscles in my hand and wrist started burning while I tried to pull free from her grasp. Her fingers were so decomposed that I could see tendons and bone, but they were strong. Inhumanly strong.

My yells for help echoed off the surrounding trees. I pulled with all my might, but Miranda wouldn’t let go. She just stood there in her dirty tattered dress, staring at me like I was the worst form of scum. My heart was beating so hard that I could feel it pounding from my chest to the top of my head. Tears streaked down my hot face. I stopped yelling. Even if my labored breathing allowed the effort, I knew no one could hear me. I fell to my knees, forcing myself to stare at the ground instead of the rotting woman before me. I begged in between panting:

“Please, please don’t kill me.”

Miranda started laughing then. Not the musical laugh that had hypnotized me earlier, but a deep, menacing cackle that made me shiver. When she stopped, she crouched down so that we were face to face. She tilted her head, the bones in her neck cracking and popping with the movement, and grimaced.

“I said the same thing, you know. Didn’t help me one bit.”

She brought up the hand that wasn’t on the verge of breaking mine and stroked my cheek, leaving a sticky trail of rotten blood behind as her skin tore on contact. Once she met the base of my jaw, the tender gesture ended and she wrapped her hand around my throat. She pushed me to my back and brought her other hand to my throat as well as she straddled me. I gasped and fought, alternating between trying to push her off of me and attempting to pull her hands away. The edges of my vision grew hazy, the picture of her ghoulish complexion blurred, and I was sure I was about to die.

Just before I lost consciousness, she lowered her face until it was just inches from mine and screamed. I brought my hands to my ears to try to block out the piercing shriek and shut my eyes tight. After a brief moment, I realized that the pressure around my throat was gone and I could breathe again. I rolled onto my side, coughing and rubbing my throat, as Miranda’s screams faded into echoes.

She was gone.

I laid on the ground for a few minutes until my breathing and heart rate returned to a semi-normal state, then I ran to where I had parked my car at the restaurant and drove home.

It took a few days for the bruising around my neck to heal, but physically, there was no permanent damage done. I counted my blessings, and haven’t gone on a date since.

 

CREDIT: Christine Druga

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No Eyes, No Tongue, No Fingertips

No Eyes, No Tongue, No FingertipsReading Time: 4 minutesA few years back, I worked as a nurse in the geriatric unit of the hospital in my hometown. There was one old woman there with pale blue eyes whose mind was still fantastically sharp, and her desire to socialize and make new friends set her apart from most others living in that wing of the facility. That woman and I soon became close for this reason. Her name was Yana, and I still miss her every day since she passed.

The strangest thing about Yana was not her accent (which I could only place vaguely as Eastern European), nor her disinclination to talk about her past (which means I never learned exactly where she had grown up.) No, what fascinated me the most was that a strange young man, badly mutilated and plainly blind and mute, would visit her every single day. His hands appeared deformed, seemingly eroded at each digit down to the first knuckle. But each evening, a little after dinnertime, he would visit and they would sit together. She would read to him, or sometimes sing in her frail, old voice. Sometimes they would just hold hands in silence. Finally, I gathered the courage to ask her about this man, and in a strange moment of openness, she agreed to tell me the story:

“My sister and I were the only surviving members of our family after our father passed away in 1964. These were very hard times for my old country, and Father had grown so sick that we were eventually forced to allow him to starve, rather than waste food to comfort him as he inevitably died. Sister had been losing her mind little-by-little before all this happened, but I could see in her eyes, as we buried Father, that she had finally gone somewhere far away inside herself. I remember the crows, perched in thick groups like clots of preening black movement, watching us in the cemetery from all of the rooftops. We moved to bury Father quickly, because the crows were as hungry as we were…

Sister took to begging in the streets, sometimes trading sex for rides into the city nearby in the hopes that her begging would be more profitable there. It was during these terrible times that she conceived a son – a bastard whose father was not known to her but who was certainly some manner of predatory monster. This was the only kind of man my sister knew in those days of her life. The child was delivered healthy, happy, and with a glowing spirit that broke my heart, because I knew that soon the young boy’s eyes would look like mine, and like my sister’s. Even on the day he was born, I knew his beautiful, joyous innocence could not last.

Sister did not care for her son as she should have – as God and goodness alike demand that a mother should care for her child. She would not change the boy’s soiled diapers, leaving this to me instead, and would ‘forget’ to feed him even when his hungry wailing was ringing shrill and miserable through the whole house. Eventually she began to take him out begging, using the child as a prop with which to elicit the sympathy of strangers. She was most pleased when he looked his worst, and even complained to me once or twice that she could raise no money at all on days that he looked ‘too healthy.’

I can never forget her final act of cruelty against Vasily (I named him myself after Sister could not be bothered). It was morning, and I had walked outside into our yard to smell the air. The child was lying motionless on the ground there, and seemed quite dead – smeared as he was with his own blood. His little fingers and toes were black with frostbite; Sister had not even bundled him in anything when she laid him down hours ago in the dark of night. The crows, which were as hungry as we were, had plucked his beautiful eyes and tongue from his still-living body. I grabbed him up with tears already pouring down my cheeks, thinking that I had claimed a corpse. It was only when he stirred against my breast that I realized he might be saved.

I swaddled him as warmly as I could, and fed him something before rushing him down to the home of the town’s only doctor. I nearly beat down the front door with my fist, and he answered with sleep still in his eyes because it was so early. I paid him with all of the heirloom jewelry from Mother that I had been able to hide from Sister over the years. An hour or so later, the doctor told me Vasily would live, but asked that he be allowed to monitor the child for the rest of the day. I told him that this would be fine, as today would be a busy day for me. And indeed it was. By evening I had smashed Sister’s head to a flattened pulp with the cast-iron skillet from our stove, obtained a train ticket for passage out of our home country, and made plans to give Vasily the best life that he could still yet have.

Vasily – my son now – knows nothing about any of this, of course. I told him only that he was adopted away from a situation which he was likely not to survive. The mirthful optimism I saw on his face when he was born survives to this day inside his heart. Sister, in all her malice, had only managed to suppress it for a while. And now, almost 50 years later, he still visits his elderly mother every single day.”

She beamed with pride as she finished her story, and would say no more. And she was right, Vasily loved her so much, and wore no resentment on his face for his injuries. He always seemed to be smiling pleasantly, even though (in his blindness) he often didn’t know anyone was looking. He visited her every day until she died, and he was holding her hand when she passed. I knew from his interactions with hospital staff that he understood spoken English, and so at Yana’s funeral I told him that I had been a friend of his mother’s. I told him that she was the most amazing, wonderful woman I had ever met. His sad, grateful smile grew deeper, and he nodded his head. His response came in sign language.

“She was.”

 

CREDIT: David Feuling

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There’s Something Living in the Wallpaper

There's Something Living in the WallpaperReading Time: 5 minutesEver just stand back and admire the presence of even the simple atmosphere around you? The aroma, the embellishment, or the hands in motion on an old antique clock, making the room seem alive? This was my reaction as I stepped foot into my newly purchased house, with my beautiful fiancée.

We both grounded our feet to the hardwood floor below us; a feeling quite rewarding, as we were both used to worn out carpets and concrete basements throughout our lives. The ceiling was at a pretty high altitude, an easement of my claustrophobia. There was a fireplace tucked into the wall to the left of the room, mirroring the warmness of that instance. Spiraling stairs led up to the second floor, delivering a dramatic addition to the scene before us. There was, however, an even more elegant and interesting part unparalleled to the rest of the house. It was the wallpaper.

Colored in black, gray, and white, the paper on the walls was obstructed by designs. In some areas, simplistic black lines danced just inches from the bottom of the wall. Around other corners, the designs would change to outlines of various things, like staircases and lamps. Unlike most wallpaper you’d see in a home, this house has a different look with every couple of steps taken. Almost like its sole purpose was to be offbeat to the rhythm of the rest of the building. I’m sure some folks wouldn’t be very fond of the look, but I found beauty within the artistic disruption.

My partner mirrored my love for the place, bewildered as she turned around each and every corner. This, after all, was a much needed changed. She was still a little shaky from her divorce a couple years back. Her past marriage hit a wall, just as her abusive ex-husband often did. He was always unsupportive when it came to her art, not to mention violent whenever he drank. It was a refreshing sight to see her eyes widen above a gracious smile, with our new chapter coming to a start. We decided to get an early rest, around 7 o’clock, right before nightfall.

I was struck completely awake by a loud bang in the middle of the night, like caffeine manifested into a drumbeat. My fiancée was still asleep, as being a deep sleeper rendered the noise ineffective. The bang was accompanied by soft, inaudible voices. These ambiguous communications eventually came to a halt and were followed by the sounds of scratches, reminiscent of a cat clawing at the walls. I contemplated my choices, but ultimately decided to cautiously search my new place of residence, just in case someone had broken in. Being a new neighbor might have meant that we were fresh target practice for burglars in the area. Exploring, to my dismay, left me with more questions, rather than the answers I was looking for.

Exiting the doorway to my bedroom, I kept as silent as humanly possible, so as not to alarm the potential intruder. I was not armed, but vulnerability didn’t shake me as much as my curiosity or the vibration of the initial thump.

Suddenly, I spotted something that sent chills throughout my body. What caught my eye, as I turned my head, made me blink more than once. You might think me insane, but I swear I saw something behind the wallpaper move. A mini silhouette, that seemed in sync with the black lines embedded in the paper covering the wall. The figure ran across, escaping around the corner. It’d be the first time I’d ever say this, but I followed the miniature person on the wall.

Approaching the next hallway, things got even more peculiar. I swore I saw the “human” in the wall, pop out into the hallway, and dash away. Immediately after this confusing occurrence, the wallpaper turned yellow in color and became plain. Any designs disappeared, as if someone freshly painted over both sides. Overtiredness was what my mind deemed an answer to all this chaos. Trying to conjure up some comfort and at least delay the perplexity, I made my way back to bed and fell asleep, convinced that I slept walked and dreamt my adventure up.

The morning after, waking up was not so easy. I only got about a few hours of sleep before my lovely lady woke me with a smile brighter than the sun, shaking me like an earthquake, and holding an odd-looking marker in her hand. She stared at me with a grin saying, “You’re the sweetest man I’ve ever made contact with, the love of my life. You made my heart melt with the words you spoke to me in the middle of the night last night!” Then gave me an everlasting kiss.

This had me quite baffled. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“How silly of you!” She exclaimed. “You know you handed me this marker and told me you wanted to be with me forever, welcoming me into your home. You then proceeded to reassure me that nothing, not even the walls could come between us. It was so wonderful and cute to hear.”

Obviously, all of this puzzled me beyond belief. I knew for a fact I wasn’t even in the bedroom most of the night, never mind even speaking a word to her. She was passed out.

Instead of trying to explain what was on my mind, I looked her in her brown sparkling eyes and responded with, “Oh of course, my apologies. I’m still half asleep. I love you so much.”

Hopping out of bed, still a little shaken, I took a few steps towards the door. “I’m going to make us some delectable breakfast; some of your favorite bacon and eggs that I make for you,” I let out while proceeding to leave the room.

“Okay! I’m going to sit here and draw you and I with this, a symbol of our new life together,” she smiled, gesturing towards the marker in her hand.

“Just let me know when the food is ready.”

Before heading down to the kitchen, I wandered off to check out the guest room. It was on the same floor as the bedroom and still unexplored fully compared to other sections of the building.

The tinted glass door was a queer choice of entrance to an interior space, nevertheless a division made for temporary residence. In opening it, my mind flipped a switch to discomfort. The walls were a deep red shade, the floor was made of (what seemed to be) paper, and the bed was in the exact same arrangement as my own. But this wasn’t what made me uneasy. Roughly sketched humanoid faces, side by side across the walls, stared me down. Despite the eyes of ink surrounding my claustrophobic self, I felt alone at that very moment. I had a sudden sense of disconnection from reality and became severely cold. Moments later, I escaped this state of invasive uneasiness, but only by something far worse. A screech. One of a female tone.

Panicked, I ran, stopping at my bedroom doorway. Flustered, my eyes glistening from the beginning of tears, the bewildering sight of our door stood wide open in front of me. Straight ahead on the red paper wall, a picture of my fiancée’s face had been drawn across it in black ink, with her nowhere in physical sight. I searched all about the house, but she had vanished. All that was left behind was a letter on the floor with a repeating phrase…

“Not even the walls can come between us.”

 

CREDIT: R.T. Maxim

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What Happens When The Stars Go Out

What Happens When The Stars Go OutReading Time: 21 minutesThe red lights are only making the pain worse. It is an immense, earth-shattering pain, in my midsection and in my head. I try to move, but I can’t; I try to speak, but I can’t do that either. It hurts too much, and my voice obeys me no more than do my joints or my muscles or my bones or my mind.

And yet still there is movement. I can feel myself being lifted up and placed on something – a bed, maybe, or – no.

A gurney.

“Alright!” one of the EMTs says, and several others then roll me into the back of an ambulance, and climb in behind me. But I’m already fading fast, and feeling an inexplicable heat, by the time those doors are shut.

One EMT, a blonde woman, shoots me a curious little look, just as I’m slipping away, and says aloud, “Wait. Wait, I think I know…


”…we’re made of that stuff, right?”

I turned around. There was a woman there, red-haired and about my age, give or take, and she was alarmingly beautiful. But how long she’d been staring at the exhibit alongside me I had no idea.

”I’m sorry?”

”I said ‘you know we’re made of that stuff, right’?” She nodded at the museum wall, which depicted in detail the births and life cycle and deaths of stars. I pursed my lips.

”We’re… made of stars?”

”Yep. Isn’t it awesome?” She stepped up beside me and moved her arm across the diagram as she spoke. “I just watched a documentary about it last night. Stars are just fusion factories held together by their own gravity. They start off fusing hydrogen to helium, and then they keep going on and on, fusing heavier and heavier elements until they’re fusing the heaviest stuff. Then they exhaust their fuel and collapse under their own weight, and they blow off their outer layers and pretty much shower the galaxy with all these random elements, some of which are eventually used to create life.”

”Huh.”

”Yeah. I’m Robin, by the way.” She extended her hand, and I shook it.

”Uh, hey. Brian. Nice to meet you.” There was an awkward pause before I said, “Alright, I got one for you. If you replaced the sun with a black hole, what would happen?”

”Depends on its mass.”

”Nope! The answer is – drumroll please – nothing. I mean everything would get dark and cold, but we wouldn’t fall in. Earth’s orbit would remain entirely unaffected.”

”IF the black hole had the same mass as the sun.”

”What?”

”What you said would only be true if the black hole in question happened to have the same mass as the sun. Which it wouldn’t, because the sun isn’t massive enough to collapse into a black hole.”

”Oh. Damn.”

”Yep. Me one, you zero. Sorry, pal.”

”Alright.” I said. “You’re on. Whoever gets the most points by closing time buys drinks.”

She smiled at that and punched me in the shoulder, just light enough not to sting. ”Alright, loser. Come…”


“…on,” the EMT says. There is a flurry of activity around me, and there are voices, too, and blinding lights, and a cooling down of that monstrous heat.

One of the paramedics is looking me over. Then he looks to another colleague – the blonde woman – and he shakes his head, slowly.

“This one’s gone, Rachel.”

But she continues running tests, running diagnostics, placing a soft hand on my arm in case I’m awake enough to appreciate the comfort. I am. Barely. But I’m fading fast, and that heat is coming right on back as I do.

“Not yet he’s not,” she says. There’s pain in her voice that she does her fruitless best to conceal. “I already lost one earlier, Todd. I’m not losing…”


”… another one!” Robin said, and I laughed and agreed and we rushed to the back of the line.

”See? Told you you’d like Ferris Wheels. Can’t believe you’ve never been on one before today.”

She shrugged. “Never thought they were as extreme as roller coasters, so I wasn’t interested.”

”Well they’re not supposed to be ‘extreme.’ Ferris Wheels are for all the parents waiting on their kids and sick people trying to relax their stomachs so they don’t puke funnel cake all over the pavement.”

”And adorable young couples, apparently.”

And just then we were waved into the next seat. We sat ourselves down, and moments later the great wheel began to groan and protest and, finally, to turn; it dragged our cart around its underside and then lifted it up, up, up to the top of its crest, where we could see the whole city at twilight, and the ships in the harbor that were backlit red with the setting sun, and the clouds that were lined at their tops with just a little bit of starlight. Robin snuggled up next to me and put her head on my shoulder, and I put my arm around her waist. For a moment then I could’ve sworn the empty seat in front of us move on its own, and furrowed my brow. But then Robin spoke.

”Thank you for being here with me,” she said. I didn’t respond with words;I just kissed her on the head and held her tight, as the Wheel began taking us…


“…down on the eighteen hundred block of Gardersdale,” one of the EMTs says. “Yeah. Yeah. Another one, I know. Hell of a fucking night, isn’t it?”

The conversation is muffled again in short order. I’m drifting in and out, but the jostling of the room and the sound of an engine tell me we’re still in the ambulance.

The other paramedics, for their part, continue running tests and checking my vitals, and as they work I try to remember what’s happened. But it hurts. Dammit, does it hurt, almost as much as that rushing heat, and the effort is further disrupted when the ambulance hits a bump in the road and I nearly spill out of the gurney. But Rachel puts her steadying hand on my chest and says, “Hang in there, Brian. We’re almost…”


”…there!” Robin pointed at the interstate ramp, and I took the turn and put St. Thomas Vineyard away in the rearview.

”Still can’t believe Mason got married,” I said. “He’s only known that girl for what, a year? Less?”

Robin shrugged. “They were in love.”

”They hardly knew each other! They don’t know if whatever they’re feeling is genuine, life-long love or just new relationship googley-eyes that hasn’t worn off yet. I guarantee it – and I’ll put money on this – they’ll be done within a year. Just watch.”

”You don’t know that,” she said. There was a brief pause, and then she added, “We’ve been dating for two years.”

”So?”

”So… how far off do you think we are?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Haven’t really thought about it.”

”You haven’t thought about it? At all?”

”I mean of course I’ve thought about it. I just… I don’t know if we’re ready, you know?” I looked over at her, but she just stared out there at the rain with her chin in her palm. So I continued. “Think about it like this: people prepare their whole lives for jobs, right? They start going to school as soon as they can talk, and they’re not done till they’re in their twenties, and it’s all so they can get a piece of paper that says ‘hey, hire my ass, I’m smart enough to work.’ But marriage? Nobody trains for that shit. People just hook up and say, ‘hey we’re twenty five, or twenty eight, you’re cute, I’m cute. Let’s spend fifteen thousand dollars on a giant ceremony and then live as glorified roommates for five years until we’re both fat and hate each other and get divorced because neither one of us knew or cared how much work this thing would require.”

There was a longer pause then, before she said, with a degree of seriousness I wasn’t in the least bit prepared for, “Is that where you think we’re headed? ‘Glorified roommates?’”

Quickly I calculated an avenue of retreat. But I calculated wrong. “No! Not you,” I said. “Not us. I mean most people, you know? Most people just dive in and either get divorced or stick it out till someone gets heart disease. The divorce rate is more than fifty percent now in the US. But the ‘I-don’t-love-you-anymore’ rate? Shit, that’s probably close to ninety by the time everyone hits middle age. I just want to make sure you’re the right person, you know?”

If ever there were words I wish I could’ve taken back, it were those twelve. She said nothing, but I saw her reflection in the window, and the little tear that welled up in the corner of her eye said more than words ever could.

”Listen, I… that came out wrong. I just meant-”

”Can you drop me off at my car, please?”

”I thought you wanted to come over-?”

”I don’t feel good. Please?”

And we drove in silence for a while, as the rain picked up its pace and fell in sheets and in torrents. After another twenty minutes I made the turn onto my street and parked, and once I did she got out without so much as a glance and walked across the road to her own car. I ran to follow.

”Robin, wait!” I grabbed her lightly by the arm. It was slick with rainwater. “Talk to me. Please?”

”What do you want?”

I blinked. ”I want you to talk to me. I just s-”

”No. I mean with us. Where do you want this to go?”

”Where do I want this to go? I want to be with you! Listen, I didn’t mean to imply that – that I don’t want that. I just want us to be smart about it. You know?”

”Well maybe love isn’t something you can calculate on a fucking spreadsheet, Brian!” She was shouting over the cacophony of the storm. “Maybe it’s just this thing you feel, you know? And maybe it doesn’t make any damn logical sense. Maybe it’s not supposed to. But that’s part of what makes it special; it’s an adventure; it’s a ‘jump off a cliff with me’ type of thing. And yeah, sure. Not everyone survives the fall, I guess. But if you find the right person, then-”

”A ‘jump off the cliff with me’ type of adventure? Come on, Robin! We’re not writing up a damn dating website profile here; this is real life! There are kids involved, and finances, and house buying, and mortgages and all that shit! Not every day is some cute little romance comedy. This is half your life we’re talking about. Two-thirds, even. Okay? All I meant was that you have to be prepared for it. I just-”

”I thought we were prepared.”

”What do you mean?”

She dug through her purse for a moment, and then held up a ring that was brilliant even when covered in the rain. I felt my heart skip at least a full beat.

”Is that, um-”

”It was my mom’s,” she said. “She gave it to me before she died. She said, ‘find your partner in crime, Robin. Find someone who’ll sweep you off your feet. And jump off a cliff with you.’” There was a pause before she added, “And at the time she said it I thought I knew exactly who that person was.”

I tried for a moment, but I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there was no combination of words in the English language that could be strung together to right this ship.

”Good-bye, Brian.” She kissed me on the cheek, and rubbed the back of her hand on down it. And then she turned and got in her Civic, and drove off until I couldn’t see her tail-lights at all through the pouring of the…


“…rain’s comin’ down hard, boys,” another of the EMTs said. “Careful when you unload him.”

There were grunts of acknowledgement, and then the back of the ambulance flew open and the sound of the storm utterly exploded into it; I felt the rush of wind, and the rain pelting my skin in sheets, and together they helped a bit with the oncoming heat that still I couldn’t place. And then I felt movement. The gurney dipped and hit pavement while the paramedics held me down. And then there were shouts, and lights, and running feet, and then the hospital door…


”Open?!” I shouted. The man behind the counter shot me a look. But I shouted it again, over the sound of rainfall and through the glass. “I said, are you open?!”

And then he pointed at the sign saying the opposite, and went back to reading. But I wasn’t taking no for an answer; I dug out my wallet and pulled a twenty from the fold, and slapped it flat up against the glass. Within seconds the paper was soaked with rainwater. But it got his attention, and he rolled his eyes, and the door clicked and whirred and slid open.

”Make it quick, man.”

”I know, I know. I will. Thank you so much.” I ran down the aisles and then, true to my word, made it back to the counter in less than a minute. The man put down his book, and processed the sale.

”Date night?” He said, as he bagged the card after the flowers. I smiled a bit.

”Something like that.” And then I thanked him and ran back out to my car, and got inside, and took out the card and scribbled on its inner sleeve the words, ‘Jump off a cliff…


“…with me, with me!” A doctor running alongside the cart motioned to some nurses in the hall, and they ran to follow. He turns to the EMTs. “Is he stable?”

“He’s slipping. Heart rate’s falling, breathing slowing. Not good. Mumbled something about being too hot earlier, but if anything his temperature’s too low.” Someone shows the doctor a chart. He reads it as he runs, and his face is grim.

“Shit. Alright,” he says. “Let’s…”


”…move!” I shout at the car I’m passing. “Just a little rain, assholes.” But it wasn’t. It was a lot of rain. Sheets and buckets and torrents of it, in fact; it’d long since turned the dirt to mud, and it swept up against my windshield like ocean surf, and the road was slick with little rivers of it than ran on down past the pebbles. I was going far, far too fast for such conditions. But I didn’t…


“…care about that,” the doctor said. “I just want to get his fluids up. Rachel!”

The woman from the ambulance runs up and discusses my condition in harsh whispers with the doctor. As I fade, and as the damn heat floods on back in, it becomes impossible to hear what they’re saying. But it’s abundantly clear from the body language that she hasn’t yet give up…


’…hope for a reunion with these guys?’

’Well, Bolan and Snake say they’re against it, entirely. So that doesn’t bode well. But on the other hand, Sebastian’s said on multiple occasions that he’s willing to do it for the fans. And look what happened with Guns N’ Roses! Few years ago nobody wouldn’ve thought they’d get back togeth-‘

I switched the radio off, and then wrapped both hands around the wheel with such force the knuckles turned white on the grip. The car hit seventy miles per hour. Seventy five. Seventy nine. The windshield wipers were flying, but they weren’t going fast en-

*”FUCK!”

I slammed my foot on the brakes as the lights of activity in the road came in out of nowhere from the rain. The car jolted and shuddered and fought for traction with the pavement, and I felt the tires squeal and the metal of the car grind in…


“…protest.”

“I don’t care if he wants to protest!” the doctor snaps back. “You tell him to wait in the damn lobby like everyone else!”

The nurse accepts her orders and heads back out into the hallway. “I’m sorry, sir,” she says. “You can’t see him until-”

“Until what?! That’s my son in there! That’s my son! That’s-” and then there’s a scuffle of feet, and more shouts as a security guard drags my father from the wing. Rachel pauses as she hears the shouts, and then her eyes well up a bit with tears, and she looks at my face and appears to realize something. But she doesn’t say what. The shouts continue, but they fade. And so do I. And in comes the heat as I do.

“That’s my son!” Dad says. “That’s my boy! Let me see my boy! Stop! Please…!”


”…stop!” The police officer had both hands up as my car barreled towards him. “Stop! Stop the car!”

Finally there was a jolt and a shudder as the tires gained control at last, and the car slammed to a halt. Both the officer and I sighed in relief, and then he approached my window and tapped the glass with his knuckle. I lowered it.

I shouted over the rain, “I’m sorry, sir! Roads are crazy out here. You okay?”

He ignored the question. “I’m gonna need you to sit here for a bit, okay?” He said. “Just until the accident’s cleared up.”

”Accident?”

”Its bad.” He nodded in the direction of the wreckage, and then he said again, “Just sit tight! We’ll waive you over when there’s an open lane.” And then he ran off into the storm.

I scanned the scene. There was a man on the side of the road, I saw, sitting on the pavement with a poncho for the rainfall and his head in his hands. His SUV was totaled; the front end was bent and twisted and hideously mangled.

But the other car was in far, far worse shape than that. I squinted hard, and could only make out panels of white amidst charred black chunks of metal and the force of the rain. But it was enough.

It was a Civic.

Oh, God. Oh, God, no. No, no, no.

I got out of the car and left the door hanging open in the rain, and then I ran forward, at least until the officer caught sight of me and ran back over and grabbed me by the shoulders.

”Hey!” He said. “I told you to wait in the car! What’re you-”

”ROBIN!!” I shouted over him. “ROBIN!”

And then I saw it; a fleeting glimpse of movement, a white sheet flipped on a gurney. A strand of red hair fell from the right side and hung there as the EMTs carted away the body.

”ROBIN!” I screamed. “That’s my girl! That’s my girl!” The officer was confused and stunned and did the only thing he could think to do – drag me back to my car.

”No! Stop!” I was inconsolable but in no shape at all to resist. “Stop, please! That’s my girl! Let me see my girl! Please, stop!”

One of the EMTs, covered in blood from the waist up, turned to look at the spectacle. But then someone shouted her name.


“Rachel!” The doctor says. “You with us, or what? Let’s go!”

She blinks as she stares at me, and then says, “Uh, yeah. Sorry. I just realized, this guy was-”

“Just get the charcoal, please? We don’t have time.”

And she does; she runs off to fetch exactly that. And then I feel a hideously invasive sensation – a tube is being placed in my nose, and then I feel it falling down, into my throat. I’m too weak to gag, but I somehow manage to clench my fist. A nurse sees the movement, and he holds me down to steady me.

“Whoa, whoa…”


”…Whoa, whoa, you okay, man? My roommate stumbled back as I threw open the door. I charged past him. “You’re comin’ in hot!” He said again. “You good, bro?”

But I ignored him. I went to the bathroom, and I leaned up against the sink for a long moment, and I grabbed my temples and set my jaw and sobbed without a sound; aching, wracking, heaving sobs. I heard a knock.

”Hey, man,” he said. “You good, dude? Anything I can like, get for you? Or-?”

”I’m fine,” I managed. It wasn’t convincing in the slightest, but I didn’t care. I opened up my phone. There was a text from Robin there, from this morning.

It read, ‘I love you,’ and they were all at once the most beautiful and the most painful words I’d ever read. ‘I love you.’

I love you, too. I’m coming. Hang on, baby. I’m coming.

Then I backed out, and found my dad in the contacts list, and typed, ‘I love you, Dad.’

Moments later I got a response: ‘I love you too, son! You okay?’

But I ignored it, and then I threw open the cupboard, and I grabbed an old…


“…bottle of pills,” a nurse said. “Swallowed the whole damn thing. Lucky his roommate called it in when he did.”

But the doctor is incredulous. “Well. That remains to be seen, now, doesn’t it?” Then he turns to the door. “Rach-”

And she pushes it open with her elbow before he finishes. “I got it, I got it. I’m here.”

“Alright!” He says. “Fingers crossed, people. Let’s see if we can’t save a psycho!”

There are isolated chuckles. Rachel, though, almost snaps at her superior for the insult, but then someone says, “Here we go!”

And then there is thick, wretched black stuff funneling down that tube and down into my throat. I’m almost desperate enough, but not quite strong enough, to resist it. I can feel it sliding, and hitting bottom, and pumping, and pulsing. My heart rate is erratic; my breathing is erratic; my ability to comprehend the situation is every bit as erratic. I struggle as much as I can against the restraints, but all my effort and all my strength of arms musters up not more than the faintest whimper.

But Rachel hears it. She moves to my side, and she holds my head, and says, in soft enough a whisper that only I can hear the words, “Don’t follow her, Brian. Don’t follow her. Please, Jesus. I need him here. I need this win.”

But I begin to fade all the same. One by one, as the spikes on the EKG slow to sporadic pulses, I see the nurses turn to each other and shake their heads. One by one by one, that is, until there is only a trembling Rachel there, and she’s holding on for me tight enough for everyone in the room.

“Call it,” the doctor says, just as the darkness swirls in and I feel like I’m starting to fall away.

The conversation carries on as I pass.

“Two thirty two AM,” one nurse says.

But I can hear Rachel screaming in protest – “No! He’s not gone! There’s still time, there’s still time to save him, there’s still…”

But she’s wrong. I’m already gone. Her voice, and her face – those things are behind me as I pass. They’re fading away into the darkness that’s consuming me, and swallowing me whole, and throwing me to the winds.

And just when the magnitude of the situation dawns on me – then comes the heat. There are monstrous amounts of it. It rips and tears and scorches and scalds, and had I the ability to scream out or even to breathe I would’ve done so until my throat was hoarse. But then there is a new pain. A different pain.

A hand reaches out of the blackness, and it grabs my left-side forearm with such mighty force that the resulting pain eclipses that of the heat, and the nails of that hand rip right through the flesh. And then I’m being pulled, and there is a rushing wind. It is cool and refreshing and beautiful, and suddenly I’m somewhere else entirely.


I blinked. The darkness was gone, and the heat with it, and that sensation of being devoured. Instead, those things had been replaced with starlit clouds as far off in every direction as the eye could see. But my arm stung like hell all the same. I looked at it. There were nail-marks, I saw. Four deep cuts beneath the inner wrist and a fifth on the side, in the shape of a hand. They bled a bit. And then I heard an all too familiar voice.

“You okay?”

I stood up, slowly, and I turned, holding my damned stinging arm while I did it, and said, “Robin. Robin, w-what was that? That darkness? And the heat, and th-”

“Its where you would’ve spent your eternity, Brian, had I not pulled you out.”

I had no words other than the weakest, “Thanks.”

“You know,” she said, holding her own arm. “Suicide’s not exactly what I meant by ‘jumping off a cliff.”

I blinked again, and took a long, deep breath. “Yeah. I guess I didn’t think things through.”

“Not sure you fully realize how much of an understatement that is.”

“Well, maybe I don’t. But you know what? I’d do it again, Robin. I’m serious.”

She nearly rolled her eyes, but I doubled down on the sentiment.

“What I said? Out there on my street? I’m sorry. I mean it, I’m sorry. You were right. Love isn’t about taxes or headaches or just tolerating each other until we’re seventy. It’s like your mom said. It’s about sweeping your girl off her feet. It’s about jumping over cliffs with someone, and not knowing where you’ll land, and not caring, as long as you get there together. And if this is where we land, wherever this is, I’m okay with that.” And I leaned in for a kiss.

But she stopped me with her hand before it landed, and I opened my eyes.

“I can tell you’ve been working on that speech for a while,” she said.

“Over and over again In my head, in the car, until… until I got to the scene of the wreck.” I looked at the ground, and then back up at her. “And I realized, right then, that if you fucking left the earth itself than I would, too. So here I a-”

“I was wrong, too.” She cut me off.

“W-what do you mean?”

“About love. I was wrong. My mother was wrong. It’s not just about crap you see in rom-coms and greeting-cards, Brian.”

Again I blinked. “I know that! I know, it’s – it’s something you feel in your heart; that defies logic and reason. Not something you can put on a spreadsheet. Like you said earlier.”

She sighed a bit, and then said, “Can I show you something?”

“Uh, I guess so. Sure.”

And then she took my hand, and Infinity rolled in and faded back out, and all of a sudden we were somewhere else entirely.

“Are we -?”

“On the Ferris Wheel? Yep. Turn around.”

I did, and there we were, past Robin and past me, on the seat above and behind us. I remembered it like yesterday; we were staring out at the whole city at twilight, and the ships in the harbor that were backlit red with the setting sun, and the clouds that were lined at their tops with just a little bit of starlight.

I rustled in my seat a bit and it moved, and past Me saw it and looked like he was about to speak. But before he did, past Robin said “Thank you for being here with me,” and got a kiss on the head.

“What do you see?” Robin said.

“Us. A year ago and change. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Your mom had just died, so I took you here. To get your mind off things.”

“You did. That was the first day in months I’d felt truly safe and truly at peace. That was love.”

“I know it was. And I still love you, just the s-.”

“It’s a kind of love,” she said, cutting me off again. “And it’s absolutely beautiful when it lasts. But can I show you something else?”

“Uh… okay. Yeah.”

She took my hand again, and again Infinity itself rolled in and out like the tide, and then we were somewhere else. The hospital, it looked like. St. Joseph’s.

“What do you see here?”

I looked around. Nurses running up and down the hallway. Doctors reviewing notes and talking to their patients.

“I don’t know. A hospital.”

She nodded in the direction of a particular room. “Look in there.”

So I did. There was a woman on the cot. She was emaciated and hairless and deathly frail, and the Doctors inside were shutting off the last of the machines.

“A dying woman,” I said. “Looks like cancer.”

“Yep. And what about there?”

I looked down. There was a nurse crouched down in front of the same door and talking to a girl – eight or nine years old, if I had to guess – in silly voices. The girl had been crying, but the nurse managed to make her smile a bit, even as her mother died on the other side of the door.

“Looks like a nurse comforting a little girl.”

“That’s right,” Robin said. “And that little girl will remember that nurse for the rest of her life – even if they never meet again or so much as exchange names – as the lady who came to her in her darkest hour and made her smile.” She turned to me. “That’s love, too. Just as beautiful and just as precious as what we had.”

“What’s your point?”

She didn’t answer; she just stuck out her hand with a sad smile, and I took it. Infinity faded in and back out a third time. And then we were in the waiting room.

“See that?” Robin pointed to the corner of the room, and I squinted.

“Oh hey! What’s Dylan doing here?”

“He called the ambulance when you didn’t come out of the bathroom,” she said. “He knew something was wrong, and when they drove you off he followed them here. Been standing there ever since, asking for information on you every time a nurse walks by. He’s starting to annoy them.”

I watched my roommate for a bit, and sure enough he grabbed a nurse, and asked her a question that I couldn’t hear. She said something pleasantly dismissive, and he nodded, and then leaned his head back up against the wall and closed his eyes.

“Wow. I uh, I had no idea he cared that much.”

“That’s love, too, Brian. Would you do the same for him?” But she held out her hand again before I could answer, and I took it. For a fourth time Infinity blinked.

And then I was in the emergency room, looking down on myself. I was covered in vomit from the charcoal and the pills, but I was still, too. Deathly still. Most of the nurses and the doctor were still walking out the door.

But Rachel wasn’t. She was crying openly now, and making no effort to hide it. She reached for something. A needle, it looked like, or a syringe.

“What’s she doing?”

“You’ll see soon enough,” Robin said. “But that there? That’s also love.” She held out her hand once again and said, “One more.” And I took it.

And then we were in the parking lot of the same place. The rain was coming down harder than ever.

“Turn around,” Robin said. And I did. And then I stopped; There were no words.

It was my father in his car. He was holding a Bible up to his chest with both hands, and he was crying in a way no child should ever have to see their father cry.

“And that there?” Robin said. “That’s the kind of love that can move mountains.”

I put my hand up against his window. He didn’t seem to notice.

“He can’t see you, Brian. Not from there.”

I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. “Okay,” I said. “I get it. I fucked up.”

And then she released my hand, and all of a sudden we were back in the clouds again, under the stars. I wiped another tear before it fell. “So now what? It’s too late for me to go back down there. I’m already gone.”

Robin took another step forward, and said, “Maybe not.” And she put her hand on my temple, and my eyes rolled back.

And then I saw it.

*Rachel and I are on a beach. Our child is playing out in the surf, and the sun hits her hair just right, and for a moment it is made of gold.

And then the image fades, and another one takes its place.

A birthday party. I have silver hair at my temples. Rachel does too. But it doesn’t matter. Our little girl is turning ten.

And then that image fades, too, and is replaced by another, and another, and another; each one yielding another moment where someone loved someone else enough for it to break through the clouds and be seen forever, even if the moment itself lasted only for a heartbeat. Finally there is an image of Rachel and myself on a porch as old as we are, and she holds my hand and says, “I’m glad you didn’t follow her.”

And I say back, “Me too,” and I kiss her on the head.

And then Robin pulls back her hand, and there we were again, standing out there in the clouds together.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Time has nearly no meaning in this place. I’ve been here for a while, Brian, and yet the doctors haven’t even left your operating room. Don’t think too much about it. Just think about what you want.”

“That,” I said. “Was… was that my future?”

She shrugged again. “Could be. I don’t know what you saw, and I don’t need to know. Was it enough?”

I nodded, and she stepped forward again, and said “Then go and get it.”

“I’ll miss you too damn much.”

“Well there’s nothing wrong with missing someone,” she said. “That just means love lasted a little longer than what ignited it. So go ahead and miss me. You owe me that much. Feel the loss; stand up to the storm like a man, and memorize the pain, and learn it inside and out, and let it roll over you in waves and run its course. And then one day you’ll wake up and realize you have scar-tissue where the skin used to be, and you’ll be stronger than the grief ever was.”

“I can tell you’ve been working on that speech for a while.”

“Like I said. I’ve been here for a while.” And then she kissed me, one last time, and for the briefest moment all the little scars and cuts and scrapes and nicks in my heart were filled up and made whole, and she said, “You’re made up of the stars, kid. Now go light up the world.”

And then she was…


“…gone, Rachel. Okay? I’m not gonna tell you aga-”

But I shot upright before the doctor could finish the thought, and I gasped for air when I did and grabbed at my chest with more strength than I’d had in hours. There was a needle in it; a bolt of life to the heart, and Rachel broke down in tears when she saw me.

“Well I’ll be damned,” the doctor said. “Welcome back to the land of the living, son. And Rachel?” She turned around. “Good work, kid. Made me proud.”

And he left, and she turned back to me and tried to hide a smile while she did it. “Hey there. How’re you feeling?”

“Better than dead.” There was a pause before I added, “Hey. I’m glad you got your win.”

She took my hand and squeezed it. For a moment she paused when she saw a scar below the wrist that looked like the result of fingernails dragging through flesh. But then she dismissed it and said, “I am too. And you’ll get yours. Okay? I promise you will.”

I said, “I know.” And with that she got up and left the room to go save someone else’s life, while I took out my phone, and opened up the most recent text, and hit reply.

‘Am now.’

 

CREDIT: Jesse Clark

The post What Happens When The Stars Go Out appeared first on Creepypasta.

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