Estimated reading time — 11minutesIt was Dr. Evan Turner who found Dr. Harris’ body. He had gone in for a routine meeting and there was his mentor, seated back in his chair, blood on the walls and the gun on the table. There was no note, nothing going on at home, no indication anywhere as to why he did it.
As the attending neurosurgeon at St. Mary’s Mercy Care, there was nobody qualified to take his place; Evan was still in his fellow and wasn’t able to handle the type of brain work required by the hospital. But, until a replacement of Harris’ level could be found, Evan was given the task of putting his mentor’s papers (and their joint research) in order for posthumous publication.
It was lonely work. He had his own office where he could go through everything, but there were still plenty sitting in Harris’ office. Considering the state he’d found him, Evan couldn’t go in there on his own to collect it; the image of his teacher and friend with the back of his head missing was too much to bear. Thankfully one of the janitors on the floor, a high school dropout named Jack, handled all that for him. Jack was really the only person he spoke to much anymore; he was a couple years younger than Evan, but they watched a lot of the same TV shows, and Jack had a very down to earth attitude that kept Evan grounded. He was pretty sure without Jack’s regular visits, he would never be mentally ready to handle surgery ever again.
It was on his third week and sixth box of papers when Evan found the blueprints. Shoved into a folder with a long ago released treatise about the nature of consciousness and the brain, the blueprints were old, probably the middle of last century. It was a diagram of St. Mary’s, but with a large, red circle on a hallway in the basement. It was odd, because there was nothing else to note what the circle meant.
Evan brought it to the break room on the late shift, looking it over, when Jack came into the room. “Hey, Evan. What’s that?”
Evan handed the blueprints to him. “Found it in Dr. Harris’ stuff. Mean anything to you?”
Jack looked them over. “Wonder if it has anything to do with this.” He pulled a key out of his pocket and put it on the table Evan was sitting at. “I found this when I was sweeping up his office and getting some more boxes for you.”
“You found it? Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
Jack shrugged. “Didn’t know what it went to. Could’ve been for his safety deposit box at the bank for all I knew.”
Evan held the key up to study it. The room lights were kept low during the late shift, but even by the light of the Pepsi machine on the wall he could see the key was old and slightly bent. “How much do you know about St. Mary’s, Jack?”
“Not much. I can tell you how much mop water I need for most of the hallways or what the best way to clean up somebody’s puke is, but that’s about it.”
Evan squeezed his hand over the key. If the story was true, that meant big things. “St. Mary’s had a reputation in medical school. There’s stories about a wing that the military occupied during the Korean War. They supposedly used it for psychic research.”
Jack turned his head. “Like The Men Who Stare At Goats movie?”
“2009. Brad Pitt. Jeff Bridges. New Age stuff from the 70s.”
“Kind of. But this was older. There was a program called MK Ultra that was trying to develop a psychic spy. Lots of drugs were involved. It didn’t end on a high note.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Maybe it did, and we just don’t know.” He whistled and blew at the same time, making a noise like a flying saucer from an old movie.
“Yeah, but if they did do it at St. Mary’s, the wing itself was closed down because something went really wrong. Or really right. Nobody knows which, and there’s about as many stories about what happened as there are students going through the program.”
Jack looked at the blueprint, and at the key. “So…you think Dr. Harris found the old wing?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. But I definitely want to find out.”
Jack frowned and looked like he was about to say something, but didn’t. He didn’t have to. Evan already guessed what he was going to ask, and he was right…maybe it would explain why Harris had killed himself.
“Jack, can you do me a favor? I have a lot still to do up here, but if you get the chance…can you check that hallway in the basement and see if there’s anything…”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. If you think it’ll help.” He took the key and the blueprint from Evan, gave a little salute, and went out of the room.
Evan spent the next few hours looking through more papers, and was about to fall asleep on the couch in his office when Jack came in, out of breath, and closing the door behind him.
Evan sat up quickly. “You found it?”
Jack looked at Evan, a little pale. “Yeah. It’s an old hallway off the main junction. It’s mostly used as storage, nobody ever goes down it. But there’s a locker on a wall that was bolted to the wall. Somebody had loosened the bolts, and behind it there was a door buried under a bunch of pried away drywall.”
Evan stood up. “Did you go in?”
Jack gulped. “Kind of. I opened the door, but I didn’t go very far. It’s very, very dark in there, and the place gave me the creeps. I didn’t feel like going in there alone.”
Evan grabbed his phone, charging next to his desk. “I’ve got a flashlight on this. Let’s go take a look.”
Jack led him down into the basement and into the hallway. It was deserted, just like Jack said; over the years, despite it being a hallway, it had become a dumping ground for all kinds of old equipment and junk that no one apparently wanted to throw away. Evan recognized an x-ray machine that hadn’t been manufactured since the 1960s; he hoped that it didn’t give off any radiation even while it was unplugged. But the lockers were there, and behind was the door.
A lot had been done to hide the door. Besides the lockers and the drywall, there were holes in the door frame that looked like they had held nails not too long ago (a quick look around confirmed there were a couple of boards that had been removed). Evan opened the door, and beyond, there was pure darkness.
Shaking his phone to turn on the flashlight, Evan shined it over the space. It was another hallway, leading to a set of double doors that had been pushed open. The place smelled dusty and dry, like an old bookstore.
A horrible feeling came over Evan. The excitement he had felt about uncovering a secret wing here in the hospital was overwhelmed by why it had been clearly closed off. The boards, the drywall…there was definitely something wrong here. But at the same time, he had to know. The image of Harris in that chair still sat in his mind, and somehow this place was a part of it.
He stepped into the hall, shining the light at the double doors ahead. He heard Jack a few steps behind him, following.
The hospital, for as old as it was, had always been renovated constantly. This wing, walled off from the rest for so long, looked like it hadn’t been updated since the 1920s. A lot of the rooms were group rooms, with space for multiple cots, while private rooms were small, barely enough to house a cot and a small closet for personal items.
They then came to a bigger room, almost like a waiting room. There were tables in here, covered with papers and photographs. Most were pictures of individuals and physical charts, but one showed up over and over again. There was nothing special about him on looks, but information about him was everywhere.
Jack, looking around nervously and staying well within the light of the phone, suddenly pointed next to the table. “Wow. What do you think is on that?”
Evan put down the papers and swung the light where Jack was pointing.
Off to one side of the room was a rolling table, on which sat an old recorder. It was a reel-to-reel, with the tape wound all the way to the end, though it didn’t seem very long.
Evan went over to it and smiled, and started clicking the giant buttons on it.
He jumped back as it rewound. But there was no electricity here. There was no way…
He shined his flashlight down to where the plug would be. There was a power pack attached to the plug. It was very modern, certainly not something that would have been available back then.
He played the tape.
There were two voices on it. One was a researcher of some kind, asking questions to the second voice. No matter what the question was, the answer was always the same.
“William Waites, United States Marines, Service Number 55-217…”
Evan fast forwarded. Now it was just one voice.
“Let me out of here! I’ve done nothing wrong! No, stop, no more inject…AAAAAHHHH!”
Evan fast forwarded again. He missed the question, but he heard most of the answer.
“…world beyond what you know. There is something there. They worship it as a god. I’ve seen it. Would you like to meet it? Just let me open your mind. My fingernails are ready to help.”
Jack made a face. “What the hell were they doing down here?”
“I don’t know, but I’m glad they walled it off.”
Suddenly, the tape made a skip sound. Another voice came over it.
“Dr. Turner. I assume you’ve found this by now.”
Dr. Harris. He taped over the end of the recording.
“I’ll cut right to it. My father was a physician here, many years ago. When I was a boy, he suddenly was not able to tell us about his work. I went to go visit him, and saw a lot of military people around the hospital. Then, one day, he didn’t come home. We were told he was attacked by a crazed patient. There was a funeral, and for years we thought nothing of it.
“I followed in his footsteps, and joined the staff here at St. Mary’s. I worked quietly for years, never suspecting anything, until you and I began our research. I then wanted to find my father’s old papers, to see what we could learn from him. But his work was gone. All gone. Only his published work survived. And I knew something wasn’t right.”
Jack suddenly grabbed Evan’s arm, and he stopped the tape. “What?”
“We’re the only ones in here, right?”
“Should be. Unless somebody else found the door.”
“Well, maybe it was just the light, but I thought I saw something move in that room over there.”
Evan shined the light over to a door. It looked like all the other private rooms, except for a pile of boards next to it, and several bent nails on the floor.
Evan shivered. “Even behind all this stuff, they still sealed that door. Dr. Harris must have opened it.”
Jack went over to it, looking in the window. “Hey, there’s definitely something in here. I…I think I see an arm.”
An arm? Evan started to walk over, but thought for a moment, and hit play on the tape recorder again, turning up the volume so he could hear it as they worked.
“I knew the rumor of the wing must have been true, and he disappeared because of it. And I found it. It took time, but I did. And inside here is the work they did. Most of them died, from their treatments but one didn’t. William Waites.”
Evan shined his light through the window. He saw what Jack was talking about, but he still couldn’t make it out. The room inside did look a lot bigger than the others, though…this one seemed a lot more like a full-sized, modern room.
“He developed the ability to see through the eyes of those who touched him. But he also saw other things. Things that shouldn’t exist. It drove him insane. And then there was more.”
Evan opened the door, and they could see into the room properly. It was an arm. Based on the desiccation, it had been down here awhile. But it was the body it was attached to that made Evan reel back. It was mummified and wore Korean War-era fatigues.
As did the ten or fifteen other bodies that the light of the flashlight revealed. They were all gathered in a pile. All except two.
Evan gasped. Jack fell back. “Holy shit!” He got up quickly and got back in the circle of light. “We gotta get somebody!”
Evan shook his head. “These guys are about seventy years too late to get help from anyone.”
The tape continued. “William soon learned to do more than see through people. After one soldier shot himself, they realized he could control those he touched. All those he’d been in contact with needed to be sealed away, so he could no longer infect others.”
The other two bodies were on a cot, and in a nearby chair, at a desk. The one at the desk looked like the ones in the pile, but the one on the cot was completely different. He wasn’t mummified. He wore no fatigues. He was shirtless, and blackened with rot, His jaw hung loose, at an angle, like he had tried to tear it off, but was unable to finished the job.
It made no sense. Why was this body rotting and bloated and slick with decay, and the others mummified?
“I’ll be dead soon, Evan. It was good to know you. Because you see, I didn’t do any research on William to know who he was. I know because he told me.”
Evan and Jack both turned back to the recording. Jack moved to the doorway. “What did he say?”
“Evan, in all my years, I never knew the mind could survive such torture. Our research could never have uncovered it on its own. But I know this because William has been locked in here for over half a century. And I touched him. And I see what he has seen.”
Evan and Jack both heard a noise in the room with them.
“He is still alive. And if I don’t kill myself soon, he will…he will…”
Behind them, the corpse on the bed sat up. It looked at them, ichor pouring from its eye sockets.
On the tape, Dr. Harris’ voice changed.
“He…I willl…Willlll…William Waites, United States Military, 55…55…55…” The tape then ended.
Evan and Jack slammed the door shut behind them as the corpse moved from its cot, slowly, almost painfully, and shambled towards them. Evan went to push the rolling cart with the tape recorder in front of the door, and as soon as they did, another face appeared in the window.
One of the mummified corpses in the room was also now standing. Its teeth ground together. And then it spoke. “William Waites, United States Marines, 55…55…William Waites, United…”
Jack backed away from it. “Shit! Shit! SHIIITTT!” He grabbed Evan, who was still too stunned. “LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!”
They turned to go, running back through the hallway, when doors along the hallway flew open, and more mummified soldiers came from places they hadn’t even seen.
So many. So many he had been in contact with. Evan turned back for just a moment. Even without his light to shine, their eyes glowed in the darkness. He thought he could see, for just a moment, several wearing physician’s outfits.
He wondered if any of them were Dr. Harris’ father.
They were almost out when Jack twisted and landed with a thud. Evan shined his light and saw a hand had reached out from under an overturned gurney and had tripped Jack, holding him tight. Evan reached out for him, but more corpses grabbed hold. Jack screamed and tried to fight them, but there were too many. With unnatural strength, they pulled Jack away into the darkness.
Evan reeled back, but recovered himself enough to look around and see the light of the hallway. The hospital.
He burst through the door into that disused storage hall, and he slammed the door shut. He pressed the locker against it, then the old x-ray machine. Everything and anything.
There were some sounds of pounding, but it began to fade. Despite all their strength, they didn’t have the leverage to force open the door. At least, not yet.
He ran. He ran back to his office, grabbed his things, and left the hospital. He spoke to no one. He wasn’t interested in explaining himself. He just knew he needed to get away from there, and prayed that whatever was in that wing, stayed there.
Evan stayed in his apartment the next morning and ignored his ringing telephone. He didn’t care if he was fired; he was done with medicine. Maybe he could find a diner somewhere and just be a fry cook. They still had those, right?
He thought nothing would replace the sight of Dr. Harris. But seeing those things carrying Jack away into the darkness would not leave him.
His phone finally stopped ringing. He began to pack his things up, planning to take only what he needed to survive.
He needed a distraction. He turned on the TV.
There was breaking news. Something had happened at St. Mary’s. Nobody could explain. It was just labeled an incident.
The reporter on the scene was behind yellow tape, and she mentioned how she was able to speak to one of the people who got out of the hospital. She put him on the microphone and asked his name.
Estimated reading time — 56minutesMy name is Jim. I’ve been in and out of construction contracts for the last seventeen years. Between those contracts, I do what I can to make a few extra bucks, since you never really know when the next contract will show up and unemployment pays you just enough to lay awake hungry at night. Most of us have heard of Uber and Lyft. I figured it was the perfect way to sustain my take-out burrito habits until my next work order. However, my driving record isn’t exactly clean.
I owe a few thousand dollars in fines for my DUI from three years ago. Before anyone goes up in arms, no one was injured and I wasn’t in an accident. I was leaving the liquor store for the third time that afternoon and was busted by a cop, waiting in the parking lot for me to wobble back into my car. It’s pretty foolish considering the liquor store is in walking distance, but my drunk brain was more concerned with being mugged than being caught by police. Lesson learned, I’m sober now. Fatter from an oral fixation on Mexican food, but sober.
When I failed to meet the requirements on Uber, I went searching online for something similar to ride sharing or some sort of P2P, smartphone type work. I came across an app called Cerber. I was reading one of those “10 ways to make money without bleeding out” articles when I saw an advertisement for Cerber on the side of the article. Big, orange letters glowed against a black background with the phrase “hellish commutes made heavenly.” I found that to be cheesy marketing, but since I’ve never heard of this specific company before, I figured they were a startup and wouldn’t be too picky about participants. I went ahead with filling out a brief application, submitted and hoped for the best. This is where it started to get weird. Immediately after I hit “submit,” my phone rang.
It was 11:47 P.M. when I pissed myself to the phone ringing. I looked at my phone to see “UNKNOWN” illuminating the screen in my dimly lit bedroom. I don’t answer those calls during regular business hours, let alone during the late night. I decided to respect their privacy, ignore the call and not bother to find out who was calling me. I shoved another taquito in my face, and made my way towards my unmade bed. As soon as I dove into my flattened, stale pillows to begin my pity party, my phone rang again. It still said “UNKNOWN,” but it was now coming in as an emergency. Why?
I answered the phone to a woman’s voice veiled with a cheerful disposition that had to be fueled by caffeine and cocaine. “Hello! Is this James Atwell?” She chirped.
“Uh…yeah? Who is this?”
“Hi! This is Adeline with Cerber calling you back about the application you just submitted!”
“Oh, uh,” I was still tonguing chicken taquito out of my teeth “hi. That was awful fast, did I submit incorrectly?” I said with clear apprehension, but moderate enthusiasm. These folks were fast.
“No not at all!” I could hear her clicking her mouse as she spoke to me, “I just wanted to alert you that we have reviewed your application and would like to know when you could start!”
“Uh,” I struggled to get some pants on, cradling the phone between my ear and shoulder. I finish buttoning my pants and say “now, I guess. Are people active this late?”
“Oh yes! Our most active hours are between 10 P.M. and 4:30 A.M.” she stops clicking her mouse “Please download the application onto your phone, quickly make a profile and you’ll be ready to receive requests! Do you have any questions?” I can hear her smiling, gross.
“Uh, no. I don’t think so.” I say as I finish zipping up my jacket.
“Wonderful! Thank you for choosing Cerber! Give them hell, Jimmy boy!” She hung up before I could respond. Give them hell? What the actual…okay, well no time to waste, I suppose.
I download the app, make my profile and mark myself as available. I drive a relatively new SUV so I’m not exactly convinced I’ll be first pick. Gas isn’t cheap and everyone wants to save money. This means I have some time to clean up the taco foils and cardboard boats out of my car. About twenty minutes into trying to alleviate my car of the turgid smell of jalapeño and old cheese, I got my first ring. It was a ride request for one person, a man named Ray, seeking a ride to San Francisco. The city is about an hour from where he’s requesting the ride, but a drive I am very familiar with. I tap on “accept,” throw the bag of trash in the garbage bin and start heading over to the pinned location.
To my surprise, I was directed to a neighborhood that was just a few blocks away from me. I parked outside of a post-80’s style suburban home, coated in sharp sparkle and salmon pink paint. From the door, I see Ray emerge from his pastel green door and immediately, I knew something was off.
Ray was obscenely tall. He had to be an easy seven-and-a-half feet, slouching. He shoved his pallid hands into the pockets of his gray jacket, hood pulled well over his head so that his face wouldn’t be seen. His long thin, legs, adorning blue jeans and clean, black dress shoes, carried his slender frame at a calm stride to my vehicle. As he came closer, I noticed he was wearing a tie and a formal jacket under his normal hoodie. Different strokes, I guess.
He approached my window, his head down and said “Jim?”
“Yeah, you’re Ray?” He sounds so normal. This man is anything but.
“Yeah. Would it be too much trouble to ask you to fold the first row of seats for me? Because, you know. . .” he gestures below his torso to his knees, all while still keeping his head down. He didn’t want me to see his face, but I didn’t feel threatened by him, so I just ignored his lack of eye contact.
“Yeah, sure. No problem at all.” He steps back so that I can open my door and access the back seat. I folded the first row of seats so that the third row was the only place left to sit.
Ray climbs in, takes his seat and buckles up, “Thanks, man.”
“Of course, bought this thing for comfort anyway, know what I mean?” I chuckled. He remained silent with his head facing out the window. Awkward.
The silence of the drive was excruciating. I did my best not to spend too much time glancing back at him. He hardly moved. Every few minutes he would uncross and re-cross his legs. My nervous tendencies finally got the best of me and I had to be “that dick.”
“Those are some serious stems,” I nervously chuckle, “you play basketball as a kid?”
Maintaining his gaze out the window he replies “That’s a serious gut, you eat a lot of food?”
I got immediately defensive, but I brought this on myself and kept my mouth shut.
“Doesn’t feel good, does it? Someone commenting on your size.” He said so calmly.
“No. It doesn’t. I apologize.” I say through gritted teeth. I was no longer inspired to conjure up anymore small talk for the duration of the ride.
About thirty minutes later, we arrive at his destination, which lead me to old Fort Miley. I never recalled this place having an actual address. While my gaze was fixed on the location, dumbfounding me as to why anyone would want to be here this late, he slowly got out of the car and closed the door. He kept his back to me and pulled out his phone as he started walking away.
I was still very much in a state of “what the hell” when I got a notification on my phone. He gave me five bat wings and a 20% tip, bringing the grand total to $1,279.37. My jaw about hit my lap at the astronomical amount. As I brought my face up to try and stop him and alert him of what had to be a mistake, he kept walking, put his hand up and gave a gentle wave. I watched him until he was far into the trees before I finally looked back down at my phone. He left a written review for other riders that read “Go easy on him. He’s new.”
What. The. Actual. Fuck.
I sped home as fast as I could without tipping off any highway patrol. I ran inside my house, darted to my computer and tried to make sense of what I just got myself into. To my chagrin, I couldn’t find a single thing on the internet about Cerber. Not even a website, beyond the application page they offered through the advertisement.
I sat back in my chair for a moment, my hands in my lap and continued to process everything. Who pays that kind of money for an hour ride? Who the hell was in my car? What the hell was in my car? I grabbed my phone and opened the app again. Maybe something was there that could provide some kind of answers. Well, I found my answer.
I clicked on the menu option that you would see for most applications and found a description option. It read as follows:
“Cerber is a dedicated ride-sharing company that ensures anonymity and safe transportation of the paranormal.”
It goes on to talk about rates, amenities and safety measures. I never had a chance to read the terms and agreements, no one does. I went back to check everything I signed and sure enough, it’s a transport service for ghosts and shit.
The rates applicable to me are too good to pass up. Two-thirds of what it cost to pay my mortgage was made in a matter of an hour. Maybe this is dangerous, maybe it’s absolutely insane, but I’m going to stick this out and see where it takes me.
* * * * * *
I WAS NOT READY!
Tonight has been insane. I got “waterproof” seat covers (let’s face it, water is not the concern here) and salt-free snacks. I had a hard time finding a way to get “finger foods,” so I just got unsalted nuts and dried fruit. I had no clue what paranormal entities ate, so I took a stab. I learned quickly that paranormal entities couldn’t care less about almonds and dehydrated nectarines. Can’t blame them.
I tried my best to get a good night’s rest after the strange evening I had. Part of me was too shaken to sleep, the other part was partial excitement on what my next rides would be like. I eventually gave up on sleep and went to a general store to pick up snacks, water bottles and seat covers. After coating my car in as much vinyl preventive measure as humanly possible, I treated myself to enchiladas and a cold Pepsi. After my meal, I felt accomplished enough to attempt sleep again. I was awaken by another “UNKNOWN” call again at 11:47 P.M. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who was calling me. I eagerly picked up the call, nearly dropping the phone, “I have questions!”
Adeline burst into a giggling hysteria and replied “Oh I’m sure you do, Jim. What would you like to know?”
“First off,” I held a finger in the air, ignoring that this was a phone call and not a physical confrontation, “why the hell are you calling me so late?”
“Last time we spoke, it was this exact time. You answered then and I figured if I called you at the same time, you would answer at that exact time.” She said calmly and slowly. Good point. I carry on with false confidence, trying to pretend that I don’t feel as stupid as I sound.
“Second, I want to know if the payment I received was a mistake.” I asked, chewing on my thumbnail.
“No, not at all. Was that not proper compensation? It appears that ray gave you a pretty generous tip. Would you like to file a dispute?” I could hear her clicking her mouse again.
“NO!” I yelled into the phone. Mostly because I wouldn’t want to see what’s in store for anyone that pisses Ray off. I clear my throat and continue, “no, sorry. I just feel like that was maybe too generous? Why was the fee so high for Ray?” I’m so afraid of the answer.
“Jim, I can assure you that the compensation was not an accident. Do you remember the part of the application that asked you if you had a spouse, relatives, children or friends?” My heart found its way to my colon. I knew where this was going.
“Yeah, I remember.” I practically croaked my answer, my throat felt so dry.
“Well, to put it as gently as I can,” she stops clicking her mouse, “the riders that you’re transporting are not typical beings like yourself. Most of them are harmless, but some. . .” insert long, unnecessary, pregnant pause, “. . . can be dangerous. If something were to happen to you, we would prefer not to worry about liability lawsuits. It’s not that you’re life bares little meaning, it’s just business Jim.” I sit back and recall my answer. I have no one. I answered “no” to that part of the application.
I let the answer sink in too long and hear Adeline chime in, “Are you still with us, Jim? Did you have more questions?”
“Uh,” I close my eyes and try to gather my thoughts, “Yeah. What sort of amenities and safety measures should I be worried about?” I ask, rubbing my very stressed out temple.
“We’ll start with the uncomfortable topic of safety measures, get the ugly out of the way,” she begins with a soft, yet sinister tone, “you should get yourself an air-tight container to hold sage and a lighter inside. Sometimes certain entities can leave behind an unseen residue and the moment you feel a heaviness after your passenger has exited, you’ll want to burn some of it in your vehicle until you can feel the tension has dispersed.” I scurry to find a pad and pen to write this down. She continues, “You’ll also want to invest in a raincoat or poncho.”
“A rainc- Adeline. . .” I ask in exasperation.
“Yes, Jim. A raincoat.” I roll my eyes and continue to make my list, “Make sure you invest in a facemask, protective eyewear and booties. You can never be too careful.” She finishes.
“Alright,” I complete the rest of the recommended items list, “Now what about the amenities?”
“That depends on how willing you are to get your hands dirty for your riders,” I could hear the smirk, “just how important is it to you to ensure your riders receive the highest quality experience?”
“Not very,” I say defensively. I’m sure the government is already tapped into my line by now, “I just want to drive and maybe not die. Extra steps sounds like it could tamper with that.”
She lets out a chortle “Is there anything else I can do for you, Jim?”
“Uh, no,” I feel no more confident now than I did before picking up the call, “thanks, Adeline.”
“No problem, Jimmy boy!” Her sickening disposition returns as if this is all so normal for her work nights, “Can we count on you to continue driving for us?”
I stare off into the bedroom wall, chewing on that question. Why shouldn’t I? The money is right, the work is interesting, and I make my own hours. I would be an absolute fool to turn this down. The worst that happens is I die and after discussing the pitiful state of my private life and the lack of people therein, it doesn’t seem so bad.
“Yes,” I say, switching the phone from one ear to the next, “Yeah. I’ll keep driving for Cerber.”
“Wonderful!” She exclaims, “Good luck! I’ll be in touch!”
“Thanks. Have a good night, Adel. . .” the line went dead before I could finish.
It was already after midnight, it’s time to get my ass into gear. I don’t have time to pick up the safety items, I survived without them last time and
I feel like I’ll get more ride requests on a Friday night, safety gear is going to have to wait.
I park at a local donut shop that remains open 24 hours. It’s not tacos, but I can get a churro there, close enough. My phone dings with a request from someone named Borg in a residential area just four minutes away. The final destination was a twelve minute ride to an old industrial building that I thought was shut down. I accept the request, dust the cinnamon-sugar off my shirt and start driving. I’m instantly relieved when I see that the request didn’t come from Ray. He was nice enough, but his potential is absolutely terrifying. I pull up to a very plain and vapid home. It was well kept with a brand new fence, it was just ordinary. So far, so good. Then Borg walked out.
Again with the tall! He was a mammoth of a man, standing at least seven feet tall, jaw slack, with a large set of tusks weighing down such massive jowls, dripping with saliva. Borg was dragging a very large hammer, wearing mild construction gear including a hard hat, tool belt and cement crusted boots. My eyes were wide, drawing in as much of this creature as my retinas could handle.
“JIM?!” He bellowed as if trying to call my attention from across four football fields.
My body still vibrating, I reply with, “BORG?!” I don’t know what compelled me to be so risky as to yell at him, but my body was going rogue at this point.
“YES, BORG!” Borg opens my door with shocking delicacy, climbs into the back seat, accidentally slamming his hammer on his own foot. He didn’t flinch, but I totally caught that.
Borg stares at the back of my headrest, breathing like a hog with bronchitis. He had breath bad enough to gag a maggot.
“Just getting off work?” I ask to try and stave off the wet snorting sounds from behind me.
“YES. BORG BUILD FENCE. BORG NEED BEER.” Oh buddy, I can relate.
“Jesus, Borg! Do you have a volume dial?! Tone it down and break the knob off, for the love of god!” I finally snapped. This is how I die.
To my surprise, Borg lets out a thunderous cackle so loud that I’m sure it gave me prostate cancer, “JIM FUNNY! BORG LIKE JIM!” I give him a weak smile and decide to just focus my attention on the road. We were rounding the last turn of the trip.
I pull up to the abandoned warehouse and it’s just as dilapidated as I remember. The metal walls and roof were coated in rust, the wooden beams poking out of place with dry rot and patches of unkempt weeds swallowed up any semblance of a driveway. I come to a complete stop and Borg plunks his massive boots onto the gravel. He gracefully closes my door and walks over to my window, “THANKS JIM! GO SLEEP! JIM LOOK BAD!” Are you fucking kidding me?
“GOODNIGHT BORG! GO SLEEP! BORG TOO LOUD!” I bark at him with a grin. He grins back and begins his short, seemingly painful walk to the front doors of the building. I caught myself half-smiling as the doors shut to his murky mansion, when it was violently interrupted by the realization that the smell Borg emitted had not followed him out of my car. Oh no. This is so bad.
I quickly drive to a nearby gas station to assess the damage. This giant, sticky man-fetus was making all that noise for a reason. He literally shit his own pants in my back seat and his internal matter leaked EVERYWHERE, leaving big, Borg butt cheek imprints.
My night was clearly shot. I bought some paper towels, bleach, air fresheners and a few taquitos from the gas station I was stopped at. It took me a full two hours to clean this hazardous waste out of my car, but I was still able to alleviate the blasphemous evidence from my back seat. It was around 3:52 A.M. when I finished. I remembered Adeline saying that the highest hours of operation ended around 4:30 A.M. so I went ahead and put out a ready signal to try and salvage my night. How I wish I would’ve gotten Ray instead, anything else would have been better than this traumatizing experience.
I got another ping almost instantly after putting out signal. At least I had another fat payout to look forward to. Then I noticed something strange. The request was coming from the very gas station I was already parked at from someone named Angela. Stranger still, there was no destination that followed. Albeit bizarre, I figured it was an app malfunction and I accepted the request anyway. Immediately after accepting, my back door opened and shut so quickly that it almost sounded like one fluid motion.
“Hi, James.” That voice. There’s no way. My blood instantly turns to ice and my body starts shaking violently. This isn’t happening. This can’t be real.
I turn my head slowly, shuddering at the woman who sat in the back seat. My horrified gaze met with her milky eyes, shattering my senses like glass. Of all the terror, sadness and despair I’ve ever encountered in my life, it’s incomparable to what I was feeling in this very moment. Tears involuntarily streamed down my face, my mouth hanging open, hands tensed into fists on my steering wheel, white-knuckling my grip as if I may be ripped right through the roof of my car. This isn’t real. It just can’t be real.
The request… came from my dead sister, Angela.
* * * * * *
Angela died at the age of 24, I was 28. My sister was a tiny, intelligent, nerdy and independent woman, who prided herself on her ability to quote every scripture in the Bible in a nondenominational way while also being able to recite every Greek god, their spouse, children and histories therein. She had a natural curiosity for stories, sincere compassion for the voiceless and loved her family deeply. Angela never missed a single Christmas dinner. She was working on her doctorate in international mythology before she died. You all thought that a philosophy degree was useless? Angela and I were very close. The four of us as a unit had very healthy relationships and could always rely on each other. We kept our circle small and tight.
Her body was found dumped on the side of highway 5 and it was in terrible condition. For those of you with weak bellies, I urge you to skip over this paragraph. Her body was severely sexually assaulted with instruments that involve slicing holiday ham. Her head was almost entirely severed from her shoulders, appendages were found in a black garbage bag placed right next to her corpse. Stranger still, her cause of death was not due to any of these fatal blows. She was hot-shotted with heroine and was dead before this massacre could have taken place. The reason they know this is because when a body dies, blood coagulates and takes on a viscous texture, causing blood to pass through veins and arteries at a much slower rate. Pair coagulation with a stopped heart, no longer able to circulate and pump blood, you get a very minimal mess and little blood spatter. Perhaps the most ominous and puzzling part, she was found wearing a necklace that no one in my family recognized. A small, silver bullet dangled from a delicate silver chain. It was like an anti-trophy, a clean break-away from the typical psychopath. This person was a sadistic showman that meant to confuse and bring an unreasonably high shock value to anyone who stumbled upon the knowledge of this crime. It worked. The case grew cold and hasn’t been reopened since. None of us ever got closure from her death. Just two years after we buried her, our parents committed suicide. They locked themselves in the garage, doused themselves in gasoline and lit themselves in fire. They were found still holding hands with no sign of struggle. The death of my parents didn’t affect me as bad as Angela’s death did. You expect your parents to expire. You don’t expect your baby sister to be slaughtered. No one is ever ready for a call like that.
My baby sister, the one who intentionally got a job at the bookstore to sneak books out simply to learn, was gone. Any hope and good that was left in me was buried along with her. I traded in the notions of starting my own family for the more tangible future in alcoholism. My baggage was exhausting enough for me, there’s no reason to subject that sort of madness any further. The gnawing pain eventually went numb and formed invisible mental scar tissue to cover up any residual damage from that impact. Yet here she was, staring at me with a vacant expression, from the backseat of my car.
I jumped into the back seat and hugged her tight, sobbing for several minutes, while she tried to hush me as though we were being watched.
“James, please,” she said trying to quell the inconsolable teenager I was in that moment “I need your help.”
I immediately shot back, grabbing her arms, “I thought I would never see you again, Angela. It’s been ten years.” I said, gathering my composure.
“I know,” she looked down in her lap trying to hide her own pain, “I’m sorry. I would have come sooner. . .”
I cut her off, resting my hands in my own lap and say “wait, why now?”
She looked back up at me and said “I would have come sooner, but you were self-destructing. Seeing ghosts would only amplify that sort of behavior, so I watched from afar.”
“Okay,” I nodded, looking past the milky desaturation of her eyes and into her now very present soul “I can understand that, but you are here now. What exactly do you need my help with?”
Her face became very stern, replying with “I messed up. You know how I was studying black masses, occultism and ritualistic spiritualism?” I nodded and she continued, “well, I was turning up empty handed in every path I traveled, so I dug deeper. . .” she became uncomfortable and shifted in her seat, “I decided to go through the dark web to find what I could on summoning entities. I eventually came into contact with a man who only referred to himself as Wade.” she turned her face to the back of my seat and shut her eyes as if she had to scrape to the bottom of her cerebellum to recall the next few steps, “he claimed that he could summon Baphomet and that he would perform such summons for me. However, I already knew that Baphomet could not be summoned. So he was either going to make a huge fool of himself or I was going to witness one of the most intelligent entities ever written about. Both results would have been fruitful for my research. I was so concerned with just wanting more experience, I never stopped to evaluate the risks.”
She let herself chew on that for a minute. She looked like she was truly checking out of the conversation, so I softly spoke “Angela?”
She shook her head, bringing herself back to the discussion, “I’m fine.” She pushed her hair back and that’s when I saw the giant, dark bruise with a tiny hole in the center of it, like an eerie halo. I chose to ignore it for now because I was growing impatient and wanted her to wrap it up.
“We met at a coffee shop close to where I lived and he drove us two hours out of the way to what looked like a barely standing building, lights still flickering inside. We walked in and he instructed me to take my shoes and coat off. When I was done taking my second shoe off, I blacked out. I’m not sure how long I was out for or what delivered me to being unconscious, but I woke up clearly drugged.”
“It was heroine,” I interrupted, “the cops told us you were hot-shotted. That’s how you died. They had told us you were not an addict since you didn’t have any other physical distress from active use.”
“Yeah,” she rubbed her neck, staring forward, “well, he didn’t kill me right away. He put an IV directly into my neck and delivered it slowly enough to keep me tranquilized first.” A clear expression of rage swept over her face, her voice still calm, “I woke up in what looked like a mortuary. I was on an old, metal gurney, sustained by leather straps. That wasn’t even necessary, I couldn’t even lift my head let alone escape. I knew I was going to die. I was just afraid it wasn’t going to be quick. He told me that I was stupid for seeking dark answers to dark questions and that my demise was entirely my fault. He wasn’t wrong. I put myself in that exact position, I felt foolish. I should’ve known that summoning Baphomet wasn’t possible and that should have been enough to raise some red flags.” I rolled my eyes at that last part. Nerd alert.
“He told me that my death was important regardless of how I had arrived to this situation,” she continued, her voice taking on a monotonous infliction, “he said that he wasn’t even part of any known religious sector. That he was a one-man worship and that it was because he was a true god among men.” Her mouth curled up into a slight smirk and she said, “I verbally retaliated though. My last words before he mainlined China right into my jugular were ‘I thought gods were perfect? You have mustard on your shirt and you reek of dollar store aftershave. You’re not a god, you just suffer from narcissistic personality disorder.’” She cackled at her own remark. I wanted to cry just watching her reflect any sort of positive feeling. I’ve missed her so much.
“Well that pissed him off enough to end it,” she said half-smiling, “I hope it brings you some sort of peace knowing that I didn’t suffer.”
I nodded and replied “it does, but what exactly do you need my help with?”
“Well, I want you to find him, I guess,” she shrugged, “I’m not his first and only victim. I’m not exactly sure what I want you to do once you find him, but I want him to stop this psychotic church-of-self agenda.”
“Do you have any sort of lead you can give me?” I ask eagerly. Maybe she wasn’t sure what to do after he was found, but I had a few ideas. I may even call Ray for help.
“It’s been ten years.” She said, looking directly into my eyes, “but I do remember where the location is. The funeral home that I died in.”
My hands start shaking, my breath trembling, “where was this exactly?” It was then I heard my Cerber notification chime. She finally added the destination to the ride she had requested. I look from my phone resting on the dash to her. She was smiling such a warm, lovely smile for being so dead.
“What do you say, James,” she lifted her finger, pointing at my phone, “shall we begin?”
My body fled with pinpricks of pure adrenaline, “Hell Yeah,” I jumped to my front seat, “I’ve been waiting ten years for this.” We started driving down I-5 south. We had a three hour journey ahead of us. The tip better be fat.
* * * * * *
Angela and I spent the ride in relative silence for the first hour. Something wasn’t sitting right with me. When telling me she wanted me to find him, my mind was too focused on the possibilities of torturing this crackhead that killed my sister, I almost missed that last part.
“Angela,” my inquisition sliced through the quiet hum of my tires and penetrated her gaze on the road.
“Yeah?” She was holding herself as if she was cold.
“There’s something that’s bugging me.” I say, tapping my thumb on the steering wheel.
“What’s up?” No sign of a guilty conscience and I’m not sure I felt so comforted by that notion.
“When you said ‘find him, I guess,’ what exactly does that mean? What do you mean, ‘you guess’?” I was trying to hide the accusatory tone, but I’ve always been terrible with composing myself.
“Well, I don’t really know. I feel like finding him and the resolve therein may allow me to leave this purgatory of just walking around the living. You know, unfinished ghost business.” She genuinely sounded theoretical.
“You mean, you don’t know?” Still sounding like I’m interrogating her. I can’t help it, I’ve seen some weird shit and since she’s my sister, I feel like I can ask away, no-bars-hold.
“Strange, isn’t it?” She says, cocking her head to the side, allowing her eyes to do what I assumed was a blank stare. Her peepers didn’t creep me out until then. “You would think that dying delivers a sense of clarity or answers some questions. That’s just not the case. Dying is like exiting scene one and walking into a different set, in a different costume and unrehearsed lines. It’s confusing. I’ve read a lot about souls being trapped because of unfinished business and I can’t help but think I’ll be closer to resting if I try every avenue, no matter how cliché it sounds.”
My heart crawled into my throat, choking me with sadness. I just got her back and she’s already trying to leave. I try to soften the mood and say “Well, why do you even want to go to heaven? There’s no affirmation in the Bible that says there will be tacos on the other side. Why chance it?”
“I don’t even know if heaven is real. I know this isn’t necessarily my eternity, but heaven could just be a fairy tale for all I know,” dammit, that backfired. Now I feel worse.
“So you’re saying that, what? Your soul just dissipates?” Still swallowing as much sorrow as I could.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” she almost sounds annoyed. I’m not sure if my stupid questions are irritating her or if she’s irritated with her own lack of answers, “I’m saying I don’t know. I’m saying that I do know that I’m stuck and don’t know what the next step is or what arrives thereafter.” She stares out the window, concluding this discussion. I may suck at reading women, but I could tell I wore out the topic. I left well enough alone, grabbed another cold, gas station taquito and munched in silence. Sort of. So crunchy, even cold.
My phone dinged with another Cerber notification. I squinted at the request to share a ride with the current passenger. I guess even the supernatural care about the environment too. Makes sense, they’re typically immortal or live longer than humans anyway, being mindful of cutting back where you can is never a bad idea. They may also be just as cheap as my sister too, who knows.
“Hey Angela, someone wants to share your ride for about fifteen minutes, is that cool?” She nodded, still brooding in her own, nerdy and dramatic state of despair. I hit accept to someone named Siobhan.
I pulled up to a lake that was pinned in the request. Standing there was a gorgeous woman, long red hair, waxen skin and a black dress that only revealed her head, hands and shoes. She was a petite little thing, which I thought would be a relief. She looked WAY too normal.
Siobhan climbed into the back seat and said “Thank you, I didn’t think drivers were ever in this area.” She flashed a sweet smile and buckled her seatbelt. She looks like a human, but humans are definitely not allowed to use Cerber, so what is she? This wouldn’t typically bother me if she had a third eye or a protruding underbite of razor-sharp teeth, but she just looked like the average commuter and that was unsettling in this very specific circumstance.
“I can’t say that they are, I just happened to be in the area,” I said staring at her through my rear view window. Angela seemed to be fairly unfettered by the new passenger. She had nothing to contribute.
I pulled back onto the freeway, glancing every few seconds to see a smiling Siobhan, looking back at me. She’s likely under the impression that I’m thinking of a decent pick-up line. In actuality, I was trying to read the room a bit to see if it was appropriate to ask possibly the dumbest question I’ve ever verbally vomited.
“So uh, what are you?” I ask.
“W. . .what’s that supposed to mean?” She asked so defensively.
“I mean what kind of thing are you? You look way too normal to be using Cerber. So what are you?” It would take an expert team of surgeons from France to remove the foot I just shoved down my own throat. If you can believe it, I was entirely shameless in my questioning. My sister was clearly appalled, since she turned her head towards me, mouth agape in utter horror. If she didn’t look so dead, it would’ve been funny. However, she looked very dead and that caused my body to visibly shudder.
“What are you talking about?! I’m clearly a beautiful woman!” Siobhan all but screamed at me.
“Yeah, James. Shut all the way the fuck up.” My sister hissed through her freaky, postmortem teeth.
“What?” I ask, thinking my question was perfectly valid. I should’ve guessed that Angela knew something that I didn’t by her reaction. I should’ve stopped there, apologized, waited until Siobhan exited my car and asked Angela what the big deal was. But I didn’t. Oops. Big oops.
From the back seat, I could hear gurgling and panting. I look in the mirror to see that Siobhan was shaking violently and her skin was bubbling. It looked like black billiard balls were crawling violently under her epidermis. Her eyes took on a bright yellow, a rectangular iris forming like that of a goat or frog.
“Goddammit, James. Now you’ve done it.” Angela yells in a panic, wincing and huddling by the car door. It looked like she was trying to brace herself for a detonation. Well, I guess she technically was.
Siobhan’s face started to stretch, her face forming a long, horse-like muzzle. Her arms wiggled into a transition of black tentacles, writhing and rapidly becoming larger. Her long red hair morphed into wet, obsidian strands. She looked like a horse-octopus. Between glances of the road and my rear view mirror, her physical being became far more atrocious and I couldn’t help but autopilot my way down I-5 in the meantime. I could see her chest heaving and falling with every snort of hot breath. She went from being this tiny doll to being a massive mess of tendrils behind a set of glowing eyes. She quite literally filled most of my car.
“What…what the hell are you, lady?!” My voice cracked as if I was sixteen again. That sort of sight will suck the masculinity right out of you and make you a mouse in no time flat.
A sharp bray escaped her horse-like lips and caused me to lose hearing. I could see that Angela was trying to bark the answer at me, “what?” I ask, hearing my own heavily muffled reply.
“She’s a kelpie!” Angela screams, throwing her hands up.
“The fuck is a. . .” I couldn’t finish my question before one of Siobhan’s slimy tentacles plunged its way into my mouth. As if I hadn’t humiliated myself enough with my tone-deaf night of interrogations, I subjected myself to real life hentai on top of that. Super.
I take one hand off the wheel to try and yank the tentacle out of my throat, swerving at 75mph in a frenzied panic. Another appendage wrapped around my chest, my throat and my left leg. As if my stupidity wasn’t done controlling the events of this evening enough, I decided to let go of the steering wheel entirely to get a better grip. Bigger oops.
I was losing consciousness and strength quickly. I haven’t been able to breathe for a good two minutes now and with a surging adrenaline rush to try and stay alive, my legs involuntarily stiffened to find leverage. On the gas pedal, of course. Biggest oops.
I found myself speeding down an empty highway, wrestling with a pissed off pony-pus, trying desperately to stay alive and crashed my tank of an SUV into a ditch. Though it was extremely dangerous and entirely unintentional, totaling my vehicle is what saved my life.
I blacked out temporarily and woke up to an uncomfortable stillness that followed the car accident. I could hear Siobhan breathing quietly in the back seat and it sounded like that’s all she was doing. I slowly looked back, blood trickling into one eye and see that she’s still knocked out. After feeling relief wash over me, I was hit with an overwhelming amount of pain from the impact as well as overexertion from defending my airway. I crawled out of my car and dropped to the ground, directly onto my back, knocking the wind out of my already fragile chest. I gripped my shoulder and let out a man’s groan. I lay as flat as possible, looking up and trying to mind too much movement of my neck and back. Angela pokes her face into my vision directly above my body and I ask her to get my phone.
Angela hands my phone to me and I tap on the emergency number, bringing the phone up to my ear.
“Hi, Jim! It appears you’ve been in an accident,” it’s Adeline with her annoying, jovial voice, “I’m sending two drivers to your location, both equipped with Cerber employed physicians. I assume your sister will be joining you?”
That bitch. I’m agitated and grateful all at once. “Yeah. . .” I choke out to her, “have him pick up three tacos, a burrito with extra nacho cheese and a bottle of acetaminophen. You’re buying.” I drop my arm to my side and allow myself to pass out.
I wake up four hours later, suffering a very minor concussion, a shattered esophagus and some bruising on my bones. We were put up in a mediocre hotel room, stocked with an obscene amount of Mexican food and a tall bottle of heavy painkillers. I sit up, knock the painkillers off my nightstand and grab a burrito. Alcoholics shouldn’t touch opioids, I already knew that. I’ll pay myself on the back for the one responsible decision I made by stuffing my face with my favorite addiction.
I quietly ate my burrito in bed and glanced over at Angela. She was sitting in a dusty rose slipper chair, arms folded and staring at the ceiling with her legs crossed. I looked back down at my burrito and allowed myself to bathe in shame for my irresponsible lack of couth. The disheartening fact that I almost died in two different ways in a matter of five minutes was startling and blanketed me like a guilt quilt. I messed up so bad tonight and I’m due for a round of penance.
“I’m sorry,” I say, my mouth full of burrito innards, “I wasn’t thinking properly and put us into a dangerous situation-,” she raises her hand at me, gesturing for me to quit while I’m ahead. I listened this time, mostly because my mouth was full.
“I’m already dead, doofus,” she calmly reminded me as she continued to stare at the ceiling, “I wasn’t in any danger at all. There’s seriously no need to apologize.”
“Alright,” I say, emotionally wounded, “where’s my car?”
“You totaled it, James. We’re gonna be stuck here for a few days until Cerber can iron out the details with your insurance. Adeline called me and filled me in on the process and said she’s going to take care of it. There’s nothing that can be done for at least two days, so focus on healing. We waited ten years, we can wait two more days.” Her disposition softened, trying to soothe me.
“Okay.” I continue eating my burrito, reflecting on the antics for the evening, “Angela?”
“What?” She asked as if she was prepared for another blow of foolhardy questions.
“What the fuck is a kelpie?!”
* * * * * *
I was a complete ass to Siobhan and apologized to her. I added $1,000 of my own cash to her Cerber account. Sadly, that only gets her as far as four blocks. She was gracious about it. Siobhan apologized for power-fisting my throat, I told her she had no reason to be sorry and we ended our call on a good note. She gave me four bat wings and a review that read “He’s cute, for a Neanderthal. I’d ride him again.” Which was beyond kind of her, but now I’m not sure if she was pissed or flirting. Both, maybe? I will continue to do my best at keeping my mouth closed. My social ineptitude is staggering, but I’m learning a very valuable lesson in humility.
Not much transpired in the first day. I didn’t have insurance through Cerber and the agents that handle my claims specifically are human. Adeline is having a wicked hard time finding an “in” with the company that I’m insured with. She says that if it takes more than a week, they’ll just replace my car altogether and terminate the claims. Why they don’t just do that anyway, who knows. Maybe it’s her way of insuring that I stay in one place and heal as best as I can. She could just be putting it off to practice a little damage control. Something tells me it’s the latter.
Cerber put us up with some pretty awesome accommodations. Angela has been balls-deep in books for days now, trying to figure out what that silver bullet could possibly mean. She thinks that if we find its meaning, then we can find the origin of Wade’s beliefs. We find the origin, we can combat them properly. Not sure how useful I can be in this situation, but even if I just get a front row seat to watch her haul off on Wade, I’ll be satisfied.
Accommodations also include an unhealthy enablement of my Mexican food obsession as well as a personal nurse and doctor. They’re both black-eyed people, which I’m not entirely sure what that is, but they’re nice enough. Probably the tamest entities I’ve ever been around. Fun fact; paranormal medicine is a thing and it’s incredible. My esophagus, concussion and superficial injuries have completely healed. Get this- they were able to inject a rapid healing medication that was taken from a strain of werewolf flu! I look and feel like I may stand a chance talking shit to a kelpie again. Kidding. Sort of.
I spent a lot of my time talking to Borg on the phone. I guess he caught wind of the accident and was disheartened by it. Ironically, he sent over an iron nail. It was delivered to me in a tiny, green box with a note that read “Borg sorry Jim got mouth violated. Borg send iron nail. Good for fence, good for kelpie.” What started as a gratitude phone call, turned into construction shop-talk on a few occasions. Borg like Jim. Jim like Borg.
On the second day in, I woke up at 2 A.M. to Angela’s face about an inch away from mine. I flew up onto my bed like a weird sheet surfer, screaming nothing intelligible with hands above my head, spider monkey style. I plunked down on the bed, gripping my chest and said “What, Angela?”
“You talk a lot of shit for someone who startles so easy,” she says slightly amused, “I have found plenty on the silver bullet, but not anything that makes sense.” She walks over to one of many books she has littering the floor of our room.
“Alright,” I swing my legs over the side of the bed, placing my hands in my lap. “So what have you found, then? Can we use it against Wade in any way?”
“Not that I can tell, no,” she says, looking down at her book, “I’m only finding ways to defeat evil entities with silver bullets. Nothing that says they’re used to aid them. This is assuming, of course, that Wade is evil.”
“Excuse me, if?” I ask, completely bewildered.
“Yes, if. Just because he killed me, does not mean he is evil.” She said so confidently.
“Okay, I’m lost. What part of murder is not evil?” I ask, my head spinning.
“Murder to you, sacrifice to the other, martyrdom to another, death isn’t always meant to be sinister. Just because I didn’t want to die, doesn’t make his objective evil. We may have been going about this the wrong way the whole time.” Angela sat on the floor with her legs crossed, putting her head into her cupped hands.
“So, you’re thinking this is some sort of protection doodad?” I ask.
“I guess,” she folds her arms tight against her chest, “I’m still not entirely sure. We may have to just fly into this blind. I would suggest contacting a priest, but given your line of work, it could tarnish anything you have left of your credibility among the paranormal.”
I throw both fists up, give her the double-bird special, “Oooookay. On that note, I’m going back to sleep.”
As soon as my head hits the pillow, the hotel line rings. I throw a bit of a flailing tantrum before picking up the phone. On the other end, I can only hear a faint rustling of what sounded like wind, “uh. . . hello?” I ask, looking at my sister with one eyebrow raised.
“Hi, James.” It’s a man who sounds like a cat that ate the canary.
That’s when I notice that Angela is violently shaking, cowering against the corner of the room, eyes welling up.
“Who is this?” I ask the man with a hint of concern to my disposition.
“I hear that you’re looking for me,” he says in his smooth as cream voice, “I’m Wade.”
“YOU SON OF A BITCH! You bet your sorry ass I’m looking for you!” I scream into the receiver. Pure rage surged its way through every nerve in my body like I was electrocuted with blind madness.
“Calm yourself, child,” now he definitely sounds condescending, “you’ll get your chance. I’m in need of a ride. Do you happen to have time for a request?”
“Oh, are little bitches considered paranormal now? That’s news to me. I thought cowards like you had a super cool fan club that congregates in the basement for pre-murder, circle-jerks. Does that come before or after fucking your mom?” Sorry, folks. I tried. But let’s face it, he had that coming and I’m sure a lot of you would be disappointed in me for not properly tearing this dick-wart to shreds.
He laughed in an unsettling manner, “oh child, you know not the dire situation you’ve stumbled into,” I clench my teeth, blood boiling so hot that I can feel myself sweat as he continues, “that’s fine. In due time, I suppose. In the meantime, please respond to my request. I’ll be waiting.” The line goes dead.
I waste no time and call Adeline immediately. She picks up the phone and starts with “James-“ panic shrouding her voice.
“I don’t want to hear it, Adeline,” I get dressed, putting the iron nail in my pocket, “get me a car. Now. I don’t give a damn what it is, get a car out front.”
“James, I’m not above begging, please don’t-”
“Car! Now!” I scream at her and hang up.
“Angela, we’re going for-“ I stop and come to the startling realization that Angela isn’t in the room anymore.
I frantically race to my phone, ignoring the Cerber notifications, and try calling her. My calls went straight to voicemail. I could feel my torso caving in, anxiety rushing over my body. He must have her. I don’t know how, but my intuition is telling me that he somehow has her.
I run down to the front desk of the hotel, finding a silver plate holding a set of keys and a note from Adeline that reads, “please, in the name of all things holy, don’t do this.” I swipe the keys and rush out to find a standard, black luxury sedan waiting for me. I all but fly into the front seat, turn the ignition and mount my phone on the dash. I tap the Cerber app and buckle up as it loads. My sister is gone, I am armed with absolutely no useful information, nor any weapons. I can’t just let this opportunity slip, especially with my sister being held hostage. I’m rushing into a situation with my presence and good intentions only. This is how he wanted it, though. I had no time to waste.
Cerber booted up to the request home page with one notification already three minutes old. I tap on accept. “Gotcha, asshole.” I say as I accept a request from Archangel Michael.
* * * * * *
Before we get into this next installment, I wanted to dedicate this episode to the memory Keith Flint and the thousands of others who have lost their fight with depression. This one also goes out to those currently fighting your way through it, you’re not alone and help is more local than you know. Thank you, Keith, for bringing an edge to electronic music and for trying your best to fight your demons. You will be greatly missed in both the music industry and the hearts of all your fans. The candle in the window tonight is for you, brother.
Now, on with tonight’s installment.
The location to picking up Michael was a shanty little bar that looked like it allowed indoor smoking and turned a blind eye to quaaludes. Michael was dressed in cowboy boots with an adorable matching hat, a pastel orange, western-style shirt and very neat blue jeans. He resembled either a cop or someone who was trying to be cowboy for the very first time. Kinda like those Scandinavian folks who are obsessed with westerns and intentionally go to the Alamo without a field trip slip. Westerns are boring and I’m not sorry for saying it.
He almost anxiously got to the front passenger seat of my car. His apprehensive nature completely negates what I heard on the phone. Goody, more weird shit that doesn’t make sense. Maybe I’m just too simple, who knows. He gets into my car and I look at him like I’m expecting the first swing. Up close, he looks exhausted and in the middle of existential crisis. I did NOT want to relate to this weirdo.
“Are you the asshole?” I ask, completely ready to die. It’s inevitable in this line of work.
“Are you the intellectual? Oh, right, you’re the dumbass that is about as well-mannered as a toddler riled up on Red Bull.” Oh my god, he is me. I think I’m in love.
“Who are you?” I ask, completely befuddled. I wanted to kill this guy just two minutes ago, very slowly. Now I kinda want to take this inside for a beer.
“Now you can’t read either? How did they even let you have a license? In fact, how are you even still ALIVE?” He gave me this crazy, wide-eyed expression, leaning his face entirely too close to mine. Oh, and yes. He did sound like a genuine cowboy.
“Are you just going to keep asking me unhelpful questions or are you going to play ball and tell me what in tarnation is going on?” Yeah, I mocked him. We’re in love now, it’s okay.
“Alright. I’m not Wade, I’m Michael. The archangel. I’m not going to waste anymore of your time, we have shit to do, son.” He said pointing to my mounted phone. On the screen was a destination in a residential area. A nice neighborhood. That doesn’t settle me in anyway, rich people are creeps worse than my passengers. Self-made monsters. Terrific.
“While we make our way there, you mind telling me why you decided to intercept my very well-earned date with death and dismay?” I ask, less pushy. Despite enjoying this back-and-forth banter, I figured it was a bad idea to piss off an angel responsible for assembling victorious, ethereal armies. I may be sassy, but I promise I’m not as stupid as I look. I don’t care about dying, but no one is actually trying to earn a fast track to hell.
“Divination, son, what’s it look like?” He asks putting a poorly, handmade cigarette in his mouth, “you’re about to go marching to your death and you have the balls to think you’ve got the balls for it.”
“Uh…what…” I ignored the fact that he lit up a cigarette in my car, which is typically a no-no, since this is technically a company car and I’m still pissed at Adeline. I was just traveling down an even deeper rabbit hole of confusion, “Alright, I need to re-examine the facts. You’re an angel, right? As in one of THE angels?”
“Yeah,” he took a long, heroic drag of his cigarette and continued, “And I’m here to save your sorry ass. You’re about to tangle with a lone skinwalker.” He raises his eyebrows at me.
“The Native American myth?” Guess I shouldn’t call it a myth at this juncture.
“That’s right. What’s dangerous about a lone skinwalker is they’ve been cast out of their tribe. He’s only 150 years old, very young.”
“Yeah, he’s basically a fetus.” I say rolling my eyes.
“No, you would be a fetus in this situation. There are skinwalkers that are nearly as old as me.” I immediately wanted to ask how old he was, but I thought better of it. “The reason he is so dangerous is he’s lawless. Not bound to any tribal rules, though skinwalkers have little of those to begin with.”
I impatiently tap my thumb on the steering wheel, now slightly excited to land at our next stop. I think I know what’s coming.
“Since you’re too bullheaded to back down and too stupid to handle this alone, I decided to help you out.” He grins, showing a couple gold-capped teeth and radiating confidence. In turn, I also felt confident.
“Thanks. Now where are we?” I ask, putting my car in park and killing the ignition.
“I have a guy who keeps everything you need right here in his home. Can’t exactly run a store front with this type of material on account of licensing being a necessity in this state. Some folks just need to handle an advanced problem just one time.” He unbuckles his seatbelt and climbs out of the car.
Michael doesn’t bother knocking and enters the home. Every room was unburdened by furniture as well as a lack of lighting. We head down to the basement which was lit with a light violet, bathing the room in an emotional shade of calm. Littered about the room, which I can only describe as an organized mess of different types of weapons, stood a drag queen. Yep. Very clearly a drag queen. The only reason I could even guess this was the cartoon inspired makeup and a wig that looked like it could be a living creature, piled high on his head. From the neck down, he was dressed in a skintight tracksuit, exposing his well-kept physique. I know, keep your mouth shut, Jim.
“Azazel, I’ve brought the kid with the mouth on him,” Michael says, pointing behind himself and at me.
In the most flamboyant voice imaginable, Azazel replies, “hey, honey. You’re dancing with a skinwalker?” Azazel does a mild salsa dance behind his work bench.
“So I’m told,” I’m trying to remain professional because not only am I standing in the presence of an archangel, the drag queen standing before me is a demon. I know what Azazel is.
“Okay, I’m going to give you a 9 millimeter handgun, two 11-round magazines of pure silver, a Molotov cocktail and a lighter. Now, you can’t kill a skinwalker with silver, it’ll only slow it down. Do your best to aim for his legs and arms. When a skinwalker dumps its human form, it’ll have freakishly quick abilities in both arms and legs, so don’t skip any limbs.” By the time Azazel was finished giving me these directions, he had piled everything into a backpack.
“I’m sorry, I have to ask,” both Michael and Azazel were looking at me as though I was burdening them, “Angels and demons work together?”
“Fallen, asshole. I’m a fallen.” Azazel crosses his arms, glaring at me.
“Right. You guys actually work together?” I ask.
“Yes,” Michael replies, “fallen were angels once too. Not all demons have bad intentions. Some like humans quite a lot and want to maintain a sort of balance.”
“Alright,” I grabbed the backpack, completely done with religious topics, “You mind fixing the interception, Michael? I would really like to finish this.”
“Sure, kid.” he waves at Azazel and we begin our ascent from the basement.
“One more thing, Jim,” says Azazel, waving, “don’t miss. You can’t afford to miss.”
I nod with a smile and say “Thanks, Azazel.” He smiles and turns around to finish his original project.
As we’re walking back to the car, I rehearse my plan in my mind. I’ve never actually shot a firearm before, so this was going to be interesting. I’ve also never had to huck a Molotov before. I may actually die trying to kill this thing.
Michael and I get back into the car and I ask him, “Alright, I have to know, why is Azazel a drag queen?”
Michael let out a single chuckle and said “Well, Azazel was cast out of heaven for teaching humans how to build weapons and put war makeup on. He’s always enjoyed cosmetics, so he decided to make it a hobby.”
“Sounds reasonable,” I said, with a genuine nod, “so what does Wade want?” Obviously, Michael has answers, I’m not going to be shy about asking. Not that I ever had that problem to begin with.
Michael pulls out another shanty stoge, lights up and gets comfortable, “Do you remember what it was like losing Angela? How you felt lost and empty, and your life just had less flavor?”
“Yes.” I replied.
“Well, when some folks lose their sense of home in their people, they begin grieving in one of two common ways. Some become hollow, much like you. Some become angry and develop an insidious agenda. They hurt others to gain control of their own pain.” Michael says, never breaking eye contact.
“So why Angela?” I ask.
“Victim of circumstance, son. She’s special, but not that special.” He replied.
“Any idea as to why there was a silver bullet hanging from her body? What about the insanity parade he conducted on her corpse?” I’m angry now. Not at Michael, I haven’t had a taco in several hours.
“I put the bullet there. I was hoping that someone would have caught onto that clue. Of course, that was bust,” He takes another drag of his cigarette, “the mutilation was pure rage. He’s lost and upset. That’s why he killed Angela before he had his fun with her-“
“Watch it, Michael,” I said swiftly, “my sister isn’t a sideshow attraction.”
“Easy, son,” He said calmly. I was actually hoping to piss him off, “point being is he didn’t have a reason. The whole point of all of this is he’s just doing vile things out of rage.”
I was entirely unsatisfied with that answer. It’s one thing to murder someone with intent, but to entirely disregard all life over a temper tantrum is a whole other level of evil.
“Do you know where Angela is?” I asked.
“She’s home, kid,” he said, pointing upward, “her time here was served. She brought you to where you needed to be. So it was time for her to return.”
The oxygen in every fiber of my being was sucked right out of my body, “oh. . .”
“Sorry, kid,” he puts one hand on my shoulder and squeezed, “but we all go home at some point. That’s just how it is.”
“Yeah.” I croaked. What was the point of even going after this thing now? The only reason I got involved was to help Angela cross over. She’s done that now.
“Listen, I know you’re probably thinking of quitting. Would you honestly want this to happen to another young lady? A child?” He asked me, gently.
“You put way too much faith in my integrity,” I shook my head, scoffing, “but no. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. I’m going to finish this.”
“Good.” Michael said patting me on the shoulder.
We spent the rest of the ride in silence while Michael chain smoked. I continued to rehearse my plan and I was losing confidence with every repetition. Maim and set it on fire. Maim and set it on fire. Maim and set it on fire.
I pull up in front of the bar I had originally picked Michael up from. Since Michael was not a danger to me in the slightest, his ride ended up being free. That’s fine, I was in no position to pout about finances after the free gear to roast my sister’s killer.
Michael gets out of the car and rounds his way to my window, “You gotta lay off the Mexican food, son. It’ll kill ya.” He half-smiled and walked away.
“Thanks, Michael.” I replied, watching him walk into the bar.
I decided that this job was far too much for me. I couldn’t possibly do this. Well, not alone. I exit the Cerber app and decide to make a phone call.
“JIM?!” Borg barks into the phone.
“BORG!” I replied, attempting to match his gusto.
“HI JIM! FEELING BETTER?!” I can hear his tusks scraping the phone as he spoke.
“Yeah, Thanks Borg,” I put the backpack of arsenal in my back seat, “you feel like taking down a skinwalker with me tonight?”
“BORG HATE SKINWALKER. BORG HELP. JIM HAVE RIGHT PROTECTION? JIM STUPID, BORG HAVE TO ASK.” That gelatinous, jovial dick.
“Yes Borg,” I say, trying to remember his honesty isn’t personal, “I have silver bullets and a Molotov.”
“OKAY, JIM. ONLY FIRE KILL SKINWALKER. BORG WRESTLE FOR JIM.” I could hear whatever poor recliner he was ascending from cry out as he stood.
“Thanks, Borg. Oh and one more thing,” I add.
“YES, JIM?” Borg replies.
“Take a shit before you get into the car, please.”
* * * * * *
After I finished my call to Borg, I spent the drive steeping in my own thoughts. My heart found a new way to break as I sat in silence, knowing I likely won’t be seeing Angela again. I never questioned if she was dead or not, but I had become so subconsciously numb that I completely forgot what it was like to hurt. I was actually grateful for the pain. With every tick that increased the number on the odometer, so did my wrath. I didn’t even have the urge to stop and get taquitos. I spent ten years waiting for some sort of closure and even though I was robbed of an opportunity to say goodbye for a second time, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of completion. I know who killed Angela and I was on my way to give him a Borg beatdown, there’s no better closure. I may not be able to say “goodbye” to Angela, but I take great comfort knowing that I’ll be able to say “hello” again instead. For now, I will allow myself to hurt. It helps chip away at any fears that I may have left.
I pull up to Borg’s dilapidated ruins. Borg is outside carrying what looks like a large sword as he waddles his way up to the car. Shit, is he going to fit in the car?
“Borg, what in the holy hell do you have in your hand?” I ask as he packs himself into the front passenger seat.
“BORG BRING FALCHION SWORD. GOOD FOR MURDER SPORT!” Borg says with an infectious amount of excitement.
“You don’t think it’s overkill? I have a gun, you know.” I reply.
“JIM HAVE PITIFUL BOOM STICK. BORG HAVE REAL WEAPON. JIM JUST JEALOUS.” Borg says, hauling the ridiculous blade over his shoulder and into the back seat. I dropped the topic.
“Borg?” I swallow loudly as I continue, “You wouldn’t eat me. . .would you?”
“BORG LIKE JIM. BORG NO EAT JIM. EATING JIM WOULD BE LIKE JIM EAT DOG.” Borg says, matter-of-factly.
“You sassy bastard,” I laughed, “alright, well I’m glad that you find me too adorable to eat.” I fire back.
Letting out his booming laughter, he replies, “JIM NO CUTE. JIM JUST HELPLESS.” He laughs harder, clutching his gelatinous gut.
“Alright!” I chortle, “Are you ready to help me end this?”
“YA, JIM. BORG AND JIM GO PARTY NOW.” Borg smiles. Jesus, this is how orcs party? Ogres? I shudder to think of what a Borg bachelor party would be like.
We spent most of the ride talking about our plan and construction hacks, all while Borg sharpens his sword. I don’t think scraping this thing on a rock actually improved anything. However, I grinned at the idea of Wade suffering at the will of a dull blade.
“In five miles, take exit for Fink Road.” The GPS chimes.
Borg semi-silently lifts his head, looks at the phone, then looks at me, “NOW WE GET SERIOUS JIM.” He was trying his best to keep his voice down, but still failed.
“I know, Borg.” I said, throttling the gas.
“In a half mile, take exit for Fink Road.” The GPS continues.
I come off the freeway and start my way down Fink Road. The road is barely paved and unlit. I flip my high beams on and continue speeding my way through thick darkness. Looking behind me, I can only see a faint glow of my brake lights reflecting off of the clouds of dust kicked up behind me.
“In twenty-five miles, your destination will be on the right.”
Borg must have sensed tension and says, “JIM, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT PLAN.”
“Uh-huh.” I say, keeping my eyes on the road.
“WHEN BORG SEE SKINWALKER, BORG ATTACK. BORG STAB SKINWALKER AND PIN HIM TO GROUND. JIM SHOOT SKINWALKER KNEES, ELBOWS AND EYES, IF JIM CAN AIM.” Borg says, as gently as an orc can.
“Yep, got it. Then what?” I ask, still keeping my gaze focused.
“JIM LIGHT MOLOTOV AND SMASH ON SKINWALKER HEAD. SKINWALKER WILL IGNITE. VERY FLAMMABLE.” Borg replies.
“Flammable?” I ask, puzzled.
“YES. SKINWALKER AFRAID OF FIRE, BECAUSE SKINWALKER CATCH FIRE EASY. BORG LIKE TO WATCH.” Borg lets out a creepy, thick giggle.
“That’s sick, Borg.” I nervously laugh along with him.
“In seven and a half miles, your destination will be on the right.”
I feel my knuckles whiten, death-gripping the steering wheel. I accelerate to seventy miles an hour. I am so ready for this and truly looking forward to my next burrito. If I can manage to make it out alive.
We pull up to a vacant mortuary. No one appeared to be standing outside, no lights were on and the atmosphere was entirely silent as if we were standing at zero gravity.
Borg reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out a pair of glasses, taking great care not to scratch the lenses.
“Great,” I say, “I’m armed with weapons I’ve never used and my backup is a handicapped Ogre.”
“BORG NOT OGRE! BORG ORC! JIM HAVE HANDICAP MOUTH!” He barked at me.
“Alright, I’m sorry. I’m just nervous, I guess.” I reply.
“IS OKAY, JIM. PLEASE FOCUS.” Borg replies with sincerity and confidence.
I keep my headlights on and stare at the front door of the mortuary, waiting for this thing to emerge. I almost missed Wade walking out from behind the left-hand side of the building. He was dressed in a pinstripe suit, slicked jet black hair, bronzed complexion and a fairly young face. Michael said he was around 150 years old, but he looked like he was in his early twenties. He stood grinning at me, locking my gaze. Borg and I look at each other, nod and get out of the car. I swing the backpack over my shoulder and Borg does the same with his falchion sword. We begin towards Wade at a cautious pace as he glides towards us, entirely unfettered by our preparedness.
We all stop walking once we’re about ten feet away from each other and I say, “Wade?” My voice was about as smooth as gravel.
Wade opens his arms as if to embrace, “Jim!” Both Borg and I put one leg back, bending our knees to receive an attack. Wade puts his hands up and lowers his head slightly, “Alright, you don’t trust me. That’s probably wise on your part.”
“I learned a little bit about you.” I start in with my infamous false confidence, “That you’re a skinwalker and not even your own tribe wants anything to do with you. Did you get caught strangling the family pets?” I finish, satisfied with that low blow, which I could see ticked him off.
“No, not for strangling family pets,” he started pacing, circling. I didn’t see Borg flinch, so I tried to relax as much as possible. I trust that Borg will lead when it’s time to move, “I can see that you’re not entirely certain what a skinwalker is, or you wouldn’t be asking me such a foolish question. That’s your first mistake.”
“Trust me pal, I’ve made many mistakes before this one. Pretty sure a kelpie popped that cherry for me.” I reply with cool ease.
“Right,” he rolls his eyes, “well, a skinwalker is essentially a Navajo medicine man that’s succumbed to dark magic.”
He looks up at us, as if expecting some weird withdraw or newfound fear. I’ve met quite a few beings who could decimate this freak.
When Wade doesn’t receive his desired reaction, he continues, keeping his hands behind his back and standing up straight, “Medicine men have been known to live far beyond the normal expiration of a human. However, medicine men who insist on using dark magic to assert themselves in war? That is greatly frowned upon. My tribe couldn’t handle my ideologies, so I was cast out and you know what? It’s been the most liberating experience I could have been gifted. I roam as I please, I live as I please and I kill as I please.”
“Gross.” I reply, my blood boiling. Borg remains stoic and silent, fixated on our target. He looks so damn cool right now.
Wade gets impatient, “Child, you will either worship me or fear me. The only other option is death.” He sneers, his voice starting to gurgle. I’m guessing this is his rendition of wolfing out.
“I didn’t come here with silver bullets and an orc to join your shit show religion, Wade.” I yell at him. Years of frustration, pain and despair have led me to being absolutely fearless and angry. “I came here to annihilate you for your crimes against humanity, particularly against my sister. I have literally ghost-toted legendary entities that would serve you up on a slice of toast before a morning run. You’re just a well-preserved human with magic tricks.” I reply with searing vitriol.
This does him in, I finally touched the nerve.
“You will respect me!” He screams in his watery voice. It sounds like something is bubbling up from his throat. His skin begins to turn bright red. I don’t mean his cheeks, every exposed portion of his skin is turning red. I can see Borg bracing for something. In turn, I do the same.
“Looks like the tea is on. Come at me, bitch.” If those would have been my last words, that would’ve been epic.
The skin and clothing begins to melt from Wade’s exterior, revealing a dark shade of espresso. I could hear his bones crack and his limbs disjoint until he drops onto all fours with his head down. His roar could only be described as a puma’s with the bass cranked all the way up. Once Wade was finished transforming, he slowly lifted his head and that’s when I finally felt dread in his presence. Half of his face was occupied with a lipless mouth adorning large, pointed teeth. He had small, black eyes fitted just above his shapeless nose and long black hair that went down to his waist. I watched his chest heave and fall with every breath as he stared straight at me.
Borg snaps into action and darts after Wade, raising his falchion, accidentally smacking me in the face with it. I hit the ground and yelp out like a wounded coyote, holding my face in efforts to quell the ringing in my ears.
Borg turns around, still holding his sword up high, “JIM?!” In a flash, Wade tackles Borg right into the car with enough force to cave the driver side door in. Broken glass rained on top of them as they struggled. Wade sunk his massive teeth into Borg’s shoulder, causing Borg to scream and release his grip to favor his new wound. As I squint in their direction, I notice Borg trying to get on his feet while Wade starts speed-crawling towards me. I panic and start scurrying backwards, trying not to look away from this horrifying psycho, spider sprinting in my direction. In my sad attempt to back away, I realize that I’m nowhere near my weapons. Fucking oops.
I hear Borg stumbling his way towards us, falling to his knees every so often, undoubtedly from the pain. I just had to stall this thing for a few seconds to allow Borg to catch up. Wade jumps on top of me, sitting on my stomach and squeezing my throat with both hands. He laughs in a very moist, deep and devious manner while I try clawing at his arms for release. It simply wasn’t working. I could hear Borg getting closer, breathing heavy and clearly struggling. I have to do something.
That’s when I remembered grabbing the iron nail that Borg had gifted me. I quickly shove my hand into my pocket, feeling the cold, rough surface of the nail. I yank it out of my pocket and slam it right into Wade’s neck, causing him to release his grip and reach for the nail. In that split second, I wiggle from underneath him. Borg grabs Wade by the hair and slams him onto the ground. Borg treated Wade like a ragdoll and kept swinging him around until Wade could no longer move, entirely immobilized and worn out. Borg slammed Wade into the dirt, shoving his falchion through his chest and burrowing the other end into the ground beneath him, pinning him in place.
“JIM, GET MOLOTOV.” Borg says with exhaustion.
I fumble my way to the backpack, pulling out the anarchist’s grenade, and run over to Wade’s body. What’s really creepy is he was still breathing even with the blade buried deep into his chest. He didn’t bleed either, like some sort of sentient corn husk doll.
I stand over Wade’s body and light the Molotov, watching him look up at the sky. He had nothing to say and no fight left to offer. I very nearly felt sorry for him. I raise the Molotov above my head and slam it right into his stomach. His whole body engulfed in a matter of seconds in soft chartreuse flames. Borg and I both dropped and sat in silence, panting from expulsion of adrenaline and newly acquired pain.
“Are you alright?” I ask Borg through breaths.
“BORG FINE.” He replies, shifting his weight.
“Thank you, Borg. I couldn’t have done this without you.” I try really hard not to tear up, but since Borg and I have already crossed the threshold of leaking bodily fluids a long time ago, I allowed myself to sob.
“IS OKAY , JIM,” Borg says, gingerly hugging me about as gently as a rusty bear trap, “WADE GONE. NOW JIM CAN HEAL INSIDE.” He finishes, patting me on the back.
I limp over to the car to retrieve my phone and realize I have thirteen missed calls from Adeline. Here we go. I call her back and she picks up in the middle of the first ring, “Jim?! Are you alright?!”
“Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks to Borg, of course.” I reply.
Adeline lets out a sigh of relief and says, “Thank goodness. Is Borg okay?”
“Yeah, we need a ride though.”
“What happened to the company car you had for a grand total of six hours?” She’s furious. So much for being worried about my safety.
“Well, the driver side got crushed in the middle of our dispute.” I reply, wincing at my own words.
She lets out a snort and says, “Alright, I’m sending a car after you two.”
“Thanks, Adeline,” I reply. “After this, you won’t be hearing from me anymore. I don’t think I can work for Cerber any longer.”
“Think again, Jim,” she says with a maniacal tone, “You now owe me a car. I’ve already ironed out the kinks with your own car, but you’re going to stay on with Cerber and regain enough funds to cover the damage of the one you borrowed. Once you repay me for this car, only then will we talk about releasing you from Cerber. Do you understand me?” She huffs.
“I guess,” I reply with defeat.
“Good. I’ll allow you one week to recover, but then I expect you to be accepting rides immediately after. Oh, and watch your mouth. I’m getting complaints about your attitude from the clients.” She finishes.
“Yeah, okay. Sorry, Adeline,” I say, rolling my eyes.
“Wonderful!” She replies in her signature, bubbly tone, “Get well soon, Jimmy boy! Thank you for being a loyal employee at Cerber!” The line clicks and dies.
My friends and I were always trying to dare each other into doing stupid stuff. Generally, it involved us all getting super drunk, then making suggestions. If we all agreed somebody had to do something, they would have to do it…or they’d have to have a drink from “the Bottle.” The Bottle was a former bottle of vodka that now contained any sort of nasty, vile fluids that we collected over time. One sip was guaranteed to make anyone hurl.
Looking back on it now, my friends and I were dicks. But things definitely would have been better if I had just drank from the Bottle that night.
The night I’m talking about was the night I was chosen to get a tattoo…from the lowest-rated place Yelp had to offer. I never wanted a tattoo. Everyone else in our group had at least one, with Frank covered in the things, but I had always been a holdout. That was why I was chosen. Being super drunk, as I said, I was less willing to say no. It didn’t help that I was the last contributor to the Bottle and definitely didn’t want my lips anywhere near it.
It didn’t take long to find a place online. We had never seen a place get so many negative reviews and still be in business…without it being a trolling prank, anyway. These looked genuine, ranging from being stabbed with the needles to getting the wrong tattoo to getting a staph infection from leaning against a stain on the wall.
The guys thought it was perfect for me.
I’d never actually been to a business that had its front entrance come in from an alley, but this did. Everyone else waited back at my place while Frank drove me there, to make sure I did the deed right. He sat in the lobby with me until I was called back behind a yellow curtain.
The guy doing my tattoo looked like an ex-biker who had recently gotten into voodoo. He wore a bandanna on his head (probably to hide the fact that was going bald, most likely), a Killing Joke jean jacket (the band, not the Batman story), and had a beard long enough to hide gravy stains on his belt buckle. On the shelf behind him were a collection of painted skulls (those calavera ones from the Day of the Dead festivals) and vials filled with used needles, fresh needles, and at least a few shrunken heads. I hoped they were fakes, but they were really leathery looking.
He looked me over, and then pointed to a binder full of designs to pick from. I flipped through them, looking for anything unusual enough that I’d never seen it on anyone before, but not so lame that I’d regret my decision in the morning…though I was still drunk enough that I’d probably regret anything at this point.
I finally found one, towards the middle…an hourglass. A real Goth-looking hourglass, with spider webs and curled, pointy edges, very Tim Burton-looking. I gave it to the guy, pointed to the back of my neck (right where a nice business shirt would cover it up), and prepared myself.
It took three hours. It shouldn’t have taken three hours for something as small as I got, but it did. Every second the needle was running hurt, and hurt bad. But after sweating, swearing, and plotting revenge on all of my friends one by one, he said it was done. I thanked him, paid him (though the tip was certainly smaller than he probably expected), and went to go see Frank.
Frank, mad that he’d waited for so long, asked to see it on the way back to the car. I pulled back my shirt and angled my neck. “So, what do you think?”
He looked at it. “Christ, dude, I knew it had to be big, but wow, that’s commitment. I can’t believe you’d get something that disgusting and realistic looking.”
Disgusting? Realistic? Maybe he’d had more to drink in the lobby. It was a stupid hourglass; realistic I could buy, but disgusting?
We got in his car and started driving back. With my neck itching, I asked if he had a mirror in the car so I could take a look at it, maybe even rub some of that greasy lotion the artist gave me to keep it from drying out. He said there might be a signal mirror or something in the glove compartment; I checked, and he was right. I raised it up to look at my hourglass.
It was dark in Frank’s car, but even I could tell something was wrong. My hourglass, which had looked fine when I was in the tattoo parlor, wasn’t an hourglass anymore. It couldn’t have been. It was too big… it stretched across my neck completely. I would have never gotten a tattoo like that.
But there it was. And I could see why Frank said it was disgusting.
It was a car wreck. A truly disturbing one, with twisted metal and a corpse hanging out of the windshield. Blood and glass everywhere.
What in the hell was I looking at?
Frank must’ve noticed my look of surprise. “What, did the guy give you the wrong one? I guess that’s why they’re so low rated. You really got to be careful, I almost had the same thing happen to me on the one on my forearm here. You know the guy thought I wanted a Garfield and not a snow leopard? It would’ve been embarrass…”
I never heard him finish. He was cut off by a loud roar as something smashed into the car. I felt it spin through the air, but I remembered nothing else before waking up on the road. It can’t have been a long time, because there were no emergency vehicles around. But I stood up, with only a dull pain in my arm the only injury I could feel. I was lucky, considering I had been wearing my seat belt and yet had still been thrown from the car.
Frank wasn’t so lucky. The car lay in a puddle of leaking fluids, and when I came closer I saw he was hanging out of the driver side window. He was shredded by glass, and not moving.
The way he was hanging looked familiar, and the longer I looked at his ruined body, the more I realized what I was looking at.
The tattoo on my neck. The wreck looked just like the tattoo.
I was checked by the emergency personnel who arrived, who confirmed that I had bruised my arm and gotten a few superficial cuts. Frank had been killed on impact. The truck driver who had hit us had fled the scene and was caught a little ways up the road. Thing is, if he had stayed he wouldn’t have been at fault; Frank had run a stop sign.
I didn’t talk to anybody for awhile. I wasn’t sure if I was just in mourning, or if I was still scared about my tattoo. Since the night of the accident, it was clearly back to being an hourglass. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought there was more sand in the bottom than there had been when it was first done.
The night of Frank’s funeral (closed casket, obviously), the guys and I got together to have some drinks in his honor at a local microbrew.
Eric was the first to remember that I had gotten the tattoo, and wanted to see it. I let him, but I was reluctant.
“Dude, sick! What the hell? Who’d even let you get that?”
My stomach twisted. I had to see what he had seen. I excused myself and went to the bathroom.
I still had the mirror from Frank’s car. It had survived the crash, and I held onto it just in case. Looking in both mirrors, I saw the tattoo had changed again.
It showed a man whose head had been smashed to a pulp, but the body was still holding a glass raised in toast.
I ran back out to the group, and told them maybe we should go on home and meet back up tomorrow. They all agreed, except for Eric, who said he’d call for an Uber or something, that he wanted a couple more drinks.
I thought maybe that if I left, he’d be okay. Maybe if my neck was cursed or something, it would leave him alone if I got as far away as I could.
I went to sleep. The next morning, I got a frantic call from Jeff. It was Eric. He had gone missing. A few hours later, Jeff called again. Eric was dead.
He had apparently gotten blind stinking drunk and started getting loud and screaming that he wanted to fight someone. He got kicked out, and he thought it would be a great idea to walk home by himself. He passed out on the railroad tracks. The train hit his head and never even slowed down. They found him early in the morning, but it took awhile to find out because they needed fingerprints to identify him.
I checked my tattoo. Hourglass again. More sand was definitely in the bottom than there was.
I went back to the tattoo parlor and asked about the guy who gave it to me. I found out he’d been fired. Turns out he falsified his application form. The name and address he gave weren’t his. He had taken his stuff and left before anyone could call the police. No one knew who he really was.
After Eric’s funeral, I didn’t go out drinking. I stayed at home. I found myself watching the tattoo. It was the only thing I could do.
It was a mistake to be alone, though. My remaining friends decided to check in on me and make sure everything was OK. Jeff brought The Bottle with him, not to drink from, but just to remember better times. And then he made a comment asking if I got the tattoo worked on, because he didn’t remember it being big enough to see over the top of my shirt.
No. I wouldn’t let it hurt anyone else. I would stop it.
It was the stupidest thing I had ever done without being drunk. I grabbed The Bottle, and smashed it on the table. Everyone shouted as I ran out of the room and up to the bathroom, where the mirrors were still set up, where I watched every day to see what shape the tattoo would take next. I saw it was no longer the hourglass, but didn’t look at what it was now. I locked the bathroom door, held tight to the gooey, liquid coated edge of the Bottle’s neck and started cutting.
It hurt. It hurt so bad. But it had to go.
I vaguely remember the door busting open and some calling an ambulance, going to the hospital.
I did live, as I’m writing this now. One skin graft and many psych evaluations later, I was discharged.
So far, nothing more has happened. But I’m still afraid.
You see, nobody found the piece of skin I had cut off. I had stared at it, long and hard, before my friends broke down the door. I’d thrown it into a drawer and hid it. When I came home, I found it. It was the hourglass again. But even on that now dead tissue, it still changes…I think. I swear more sand is still falling through the hourglass, even without it being attached to me. There’s only a few grains left.
Which means now I look for it to change. To go back to that image I saw that night. The image that I know realize nobody ever saw but me. Jeff never got a good look at it. It means that was my fate. And with the grains left in the hourglass, it’ll be any day now.
On that piece of severed skin that night was an image of a man. A flayed, skinless man. He sits in a puddle of his own blood, holding strips of his own skin and a knife. The strips are all covered in tattoos. And he’s laughing.
Estimated reading time — 8minutes
I looked at the phone. I waited for the text to come back. It was maybe about ten, fifteen minutes.
That hideous face popped up on the screen, with the reply.
“You didn’t do the last task I asked of you. Now, there will be consequences.”
The last task was done, actually, but not by me. The phone I was holding was not mine. It was my son’s. I wanted some answers, something that would help me get through what had happened. I needed to know the truth.
I wanted to know what made my son kill himself.
I had thought him being secretive was just because he was a teenager. I remembered when I was a kid, I tried to hide things from my family, things I was embarrassed of. But I never expected to walk into the bathroom to find him collapsed on the floor, his wrists cut.
It was one thing to just be suicide, but then there were the phrases on the walls, the symbols. All gibberish, written in lipstick, on the mirror and the shower door. “She tastes all,” and “Bend the circle.”
The Momo Challenge was what they called it. A sick, twisted thing that looked like it was just for fun, but it terrorized people, mostly children. I found out about it, and everything I read after my son’s death made me angrier the more I found. That weird woman’s face wasn’t some demon, some creature from the pits of hell. It was just a statue, that belonged on some weird bird creature thing in Japan. They used it like an avatar, lured kids in with the promise of some good scary fun. Then the increasingly frightening challenges. Watching a scary movie alone was first. Then, not telling anyone about these conversations, or else their personal information would go out. Then the fear that ‘Momo’ would come and get them if they didn’t continue.
I never expected my son to be fooled by it. But I read the conversation. The things ‘Momo’ was willing to tell people. I could see why he got scared. They knew so much, all from a couple of clicks. Hacking.
I never even knew what WhatsApp was, but my son used it to message friends outside of Facebook. A friend told him about the number, but was too scared to try it himself. So, my son tried it. The friend never knew what was really going on, and was horrified to learn what had happened. He would have never sent it along if he had known.
The police couldn’t do anything. They said the number was a spoof, useless, probably a disposable cell phone, though it was odd that it wasn’t one normally associated with the Momo Challenge they normally looked into. They knew the group did things out in South America, and there wasn’t much as local officers they could do. They took the phone as evidence, but after they didn’t get anywhere with it, they returned it, and offered me their condolences.
They said it wasn’t worth trying to contact them. They’d given their last command, they probably would ignore the number.
I didn’t care. That phone sat in my son’s room, in a little Ziploc baggie, for weeks. My wife didn’t want me to touch it; she didn’t want anything to do with the monstrosity. She just wanted the memory of our son to stay as it was.
But I wanted to know why. I wanted to know why people would do such a horrible thing.
So I texted back. “I didn’t do your last thing. I was too scared to try.”
Then I got that response. Then another came through. “You get one more chance, and then everyone will know your secrets. Go to this address, alone. It’ll be fun.”
My eyes widened. The address wasn’t far from where I lived, maybe a few miles or so. It would’ve been a fast drive.
If the group was in another country, they wouldn’t have bothered. But this was local. Maybe I would get answers.
I left my wife asleep in our room, but I took my coat and my handgun. Funny, even though I showed my son how to handle it, I never got over the worry he might hurt himself with it, even locked away in my locker the way it was. Now he never would.
I drove out to the address. The neighborhood wasn’t great, but it didn’t seem like any place I would have felt unsafe walking after dark. The house itself was a bungalow, dingy gray color on the outside, no vehicles anywhere near it. There wasn’t even a detached garage. All the lights were out.
I parked across the street. I got out and went to the front door. There was a note on it.
Come inside…if you dare.
The door was unlocked. I didn’t bother knocking.
I entered a small hallway with a staircase going up, an entry into a little living room to the side, and a kitchen straight ahead. Even in the dark, I could see the kitchen had old, flaky yellow wallpaper, and a small table with chairs at it.
The house didn’t look abandoned; just empty. I didn’t see anything weird in the living room, so I went ahead into the kitchen.
I tried the light switch. It flicked on, which I honestly didn’t expect to work. A doorway led into a laundry room, another door led off onto a back porch, and a third with a security latch on it led underneath the staircase. The room was small, but not uncomfortably so.
On the back wall, there was a note on the refrigerator.
I opened it. There was nothing in there but a plate, with a note on it.
I heard footsteps behind me. Thing is, whoever was attacking was expecting a high school kid, I’m sure, not a grown man, and not one who played football when he was younger. I turned around and ducked down, charging the dark shape that had come down from upstairs and through the front hall. I knocked him over, and I hit him again and again until he stopped fighting.
I couldn’t believe I had knocked him out.
I dragged him into the kitchen, pulled out one of the chairs, and sat him up in it. In the light, I could see he was wearing all black, including a hoodie and a ski mask. He also had a knife in his hand.
I took the knife away and dug through the drawers, hoping to find some rope. I didn’t, but a junk drawer had a few unused zip ties. I bound his wrists and tied his feet to the chair.
I pulled off his ski mask as well. He was young, maybe college age.
I sat and waited for him to recover. I kept my gun on him. It didn’t take too long, and when he saw me, he went wide eyed and pulled at his ties.
“Who are you?” I waved my gun at him.
“What the hell’s going on here?” I expected him to be upset, and a little scared considering his situation. But he looked more than scared. His eyes were rimmed with lack of sleep. “Let me go, man! Let me go!”
“I want an answer. Who are you?”
When he kept struggling, I kicked him in the knee, hard. He yelped. I asked him a third time.
“I’m just playing the game, man. It’s what I was told to do.” He started crying.
“I started playing that challenge thing, the Momo challenge. I looked it up, I thought it was all horseshit. I gave them all fake info, so they couldn’t dox me. But it figured me out.”
I relaxed the grip on my gun, but just a little. “Who figured it out?”
“It asked me to kill myself, it would tell everyone about me, everything I’d ever done, unless I did it. I didn’t, I told it to screw off. But then the messages, the pictures…they stopped. It just said it was coming for me.”
He sniffed. “And it did.”
He looked over at the locked door. “I went downstairs, in my basement. It came for me, in there. But I got away. I locked it in there. But it kept talking. It kept saying it would come for me, it would get me, unless I passed on the game.”
He looked at me. “I started getting texts. I got information. I told him to off himself, like I was told. I was hoping he wouldn’t mail back. But then you did. And then it told me since the plan didn’t work, I needed to feed it, or else it would get me.”
He broke down and cried again. “I’m sorry, man. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I haven’t slept right in weeks. I barely even know what’s happening anymore.”
I looked at him. He looked downright pathetic, sitting in that chair. Bawling away.
And I looked over at that knife.
He took my son from me. And he planned to kill me.
I felt no sympathy for his sick, pathetic ass.
I smashed the gun across his face. He screamed.
“Please! I said I was sorry!”
I grabbed his chair. I pulled it over to the basement door.
“You scumbag shit. You killed my son. MY SON! And you think lying to me about some…thing scaring you into murdering him will make me feel sorry for you?!?”
He saw me unlatch the door. His eyes widened again.
“NO! NO! STOP! PLEASE! DON’T DO IT! I’LL DO ANYTHING!”
I opened the door. I saw the stairs, leading down into darkness.
Perfect. I leaned back, and kicked his chair.
He screamed as the chair tumbled down the stairs. He landed at the bottom. I saw him laying there, sprawled, sobbing and yelling.
“MY LEG! MY LEG! OH, GOD! OH, GOD, NO! HELP!”
I went to shut the door, when I saw it.
The long, thin pair of arms reaching out from the darkness, into the light of the kitchen.
The hair. Long, black, scraggly.
The bulging eyes.
The body that was not on a chicken monster, but on a thin, pale frame, with a dirty, gray tank top.
And its hideous smile.
It didn’t look like Momo. Not exactly. But it was nothing human.
It dragged the chair, slowly, back into the darkness.
I didn’t think his screams could get any louder, but they did.
I shut the door. I slammed the door latch back into place.
I waited, unsure what to do. The screams ended, abruptly.
A minute later, just on the other side of the door, I heard a thin woman’s voice.
“Are you ready to play with me?”
I drove home faster than I ever thought possible.
It’s been weeks since then. I haven’t heard from the police. I haven’t heard from anyone about a missing person. It’s just quietly gone away from our lives.
I know that there are sick people out there that get their jollies from torturing and frightening children. I sincerely hope you can protect your kids and they are never exposed to it. I also hope that someday what I saw in that basement will give them exactly what they deserve.
But I will not give out that weird, secondary number that it used. I know it’s not some kind of angel that punishes the wrong people. It’s not safe.
I know because I got a text the other day. On my phone I erased it, but it’s still in my mind.
“I’m out now. Let me know when you’re ready to play.”
My family has never been high-class. My dad is a drunk, constantly out of work, and he yells more than he talks. My mom yells back just as much, but at least she doesn’t drink; she takes her anger out on the rest of us by cooking terribly. My older brother has been in juvie three times, and the way he keeps at it, he’s going to the real thing the next time he gets in trouble.
We all live cramped together in a five-room trailer that sits in an old, poorly-maintained lot near the outskirts of town. People have complained for years that it’s an eyesore, but because my great-grandfather actually purchased the land outright, there’s nothing they can do to get rid of us directly. So, the town tries to make our lives miserable whenever they legally can, be it through bullying at school or by making us unwelcome at nearly every store in town (except the liquor store; they love my dad there).
It’s a crappy life, but it’s all gotten so much worse since Dad found that thing on the side of the road.
You see, my dad loves to collect stuff on trash day so he can sell it to the dump and get a couple bucks for it. It was early in the morning, just before sunrise, when he found the “mannequin” that he thought might have some value. It wasn’t in anyone’s trash pile, it was just sitting there in the dark. He loaded it into the truck and drove it home.
It was definitely shaped like a mannequin, but unlike any I’d ever seen. It was strange and oddly-proportioned, like the odd monuments you see sometimes at carnivals. It was completely black, with fake, mop-like hair that hung over its face – a face that had no eyes, but a huge, painted grin. I don’t even know why my dad thought picking it up off the road was a good idea, but he loved it, that I know. He even reconsidered selling it, thinking it might be worth keeping after all. He set it in a back room that we normally used for storage, and for a few days he left it there, to sit.
It wasn’t long before he decided to tinker with it, and in doing so he discovered a wind-up key in its back. He turned it, and the thing actually began to move. The arms flailed, the legs moved back and forth, and the mouth opened and closed.
And then it spoke.
“I’m hungry! Feed me!” it said this in a thin, unpleasant voice, which sounded like it had been filtered through an old vinyl record player or an antique music box. To my surprise, my dad thought it was great and kept on messing with it, but it only ever said that one thing.
That is, until the night I woke up to my dad screaming.
I ran into my parents’ room, and even though I could smell the alcohol in the air I knew my dad wasn’t drunk enough to ignore the figure standing next to his bed, crying out, “I’m hungry! Feed me!”
“Feed… feed you what?” my dad asked. He had the covers pulled up to just below his chin, just like I should have been doing at that very moment.
“Flesh!” the thing croaked.
No one had turned the little key. It was doing things all on its own.
Instinctually, my dad grabbed the thing and tossed it back in the storage room, and locked it shut. But we could still hear its reedy voice, calling for its meal… insisting on meat. My mom went to the store the next morning and bought some ground beef, only unlocking the door long enough to throw it in, not even looking to see what the figure was doing.
We heard movement inside, followed by more demands. “Not raw!” it cried. “Cooked!”
My mom bought more meat at the store, as she had no intention of going back inside the room to retrieve the leftovers. She fried it up and threw it into the room.
We heard more noise. For a day or two afterwards, we were treated to silence. Then, it spoke again. This time, its voice seemed louder, more forceful. “Cooked! Not fresh!”
My dad, not really knowing what to do with it now, shouted back, “You have rotten meat in there! Eat it!” But it wouldn’t take no for an answer. It trotted back and forth across the floor, stomping like a horse on its back legs, banging on the walls, until my dad relented and opened the door. He found the figure hunched, crouched and unmoving upon the floor, like a dog waiting for a treat. The room stunk from the beef my mom had thrown in there. My dad scraped it up, gave it to her to prepare – which smelled even worse – and heaved it back into the room.
None of us slept during the time it was quiet. My grades in school began to suffer. My brother became restless, but my parents took it worst of all… they started talking about it, wondering how it worked, why it worked, what made such a thing possible.
They started to believe that maybe it was magic, or possibly even divine. My dad drank even more heavily than usual.
When it spoke again, it was even more well-pronounced, its voice far more natural sounding. “Meat! Cooked! Not fresh! Not animal!”
I was in bed when I’d heard what it said, and I refused to set foot outside of it. My dad, on the other hand, did something I certainly did not expect. He grabbed a shovel and stepped outside the trailer. I heard the truck reverse down the driveway, back into the road, and pull away. While he was gone, the mannequin-like thing began galloping in earnest once more, its heavy feet thundering across the vinyl floor, back and forth, back and forth. Not only that, but it had now added short, shrill, toddler-like screams to its list of unsettling activities.
My dad returned hours later, covered in dirt. He asked my mom to help him with something outside. I finally got up the nerve to watch them unload something wrapped in a tarp from the truck.
I stayed in my room, watching from the window. I heard a thumping outside, like when my dad occasionally chopped wood. Then the door of the trailer opened, and a gag-inducing stench wafted in. Then I heard my mom turn on the stove. I didn’t want to know what was happening, even though I knew, deep down, what my dad had done. I didn’t sleep; I think I fainted.
I woke the next morning to absolute bedlam. I came to my door to see my brother in handcuffs, being led out to a police car by two officers. My dad was yelling at him, wondering how he could have done such a horrible thing.
They had pinned everything on my brother.
This would be the last straw, it had to be. I was certain of it. But when I saw the car pulling away, there my brother was, in the back, smiling broadly. I then realized he gave himself up, anything to get out of the house… and he had left me to fend for myself.
My mom and dad came back to me, hugging me, but not very warmly. They told me everything was going to be all right, that my brother was going away for a long time, and that I was going to stay here, with them. I couldn’t possibly want to leave them all alone, right? Well, did I? If I did, they said, I would surely be the most ungrateful little boy.
I never returned to school. My parents had suddenly decided I didn’t need to go. School was where rumors got started, they said, and rumors had to be contained, not spread. That is, until the world was ready to know the truth, anyway. That was how they referred to it. “The Truth.” I could practically hear them capitalize the word when they spoke.
And then, it spoke once again. Louder still, approaching a roar. “Meat! Fresh! Not animal!”
My bedroom door opened. My dad ran in and held me down, while my mother hovered close by, a cleaver at the ready.
There was nothing left of the people I knew in their eyes. Only sleep-deprived insanity.
What they didn’t know was that I had taken precautions. My brother had more than one switchblade in his collection, and my dad didn’t notice that I had acquired one of them until the moment I buried it into his wrist.
While he grabbed it, I dove under my mom’s legs, and clambered out of my room. I ran to the door of the trailer, but my dad grabbed me again, holding me tightly.
“Meat! Meat!” The door to the storage room began to buckle as the atrocity opposite it pounded with all its strength. “Where is my meat?!?”
At the top of my lungs, I shouted, “THEY HAVE IT!”
I heard the door burst open. I heard a roar. I heard my mom scream. My dad let go. I dashed from the trailer. I sprinted as fast as I could into the woods and into town, and never looked back.
I ran until I arrived, breathless, at the police station, and told them all that I could without sounding crazy. They wrapped a blanket around me, made me a cup of hot chocolate, and treated me more kindly than I’d ever been treated by my own parents.
An officer returned from the trailer two hours later. At first he had found it deserted, or so he thought. What he did find, it turned out, was a sticky mess in the storage room, and something boiling in a pot on the stove. It looked like a hunk of meat, but he needed someone to come identify it, since it didn’t look like any meat he’d ever seen.
Of the ravenous monstrosity my father had made the mistake of bringing into our home, there was no sign at all. And I pray it stays that way.
I’m a grown woman, so it’s been years since I don’t live by my mother’s rules. But there’s one thing I will always respect: never go to bed with a wet hair.
For my mother, it meant catching a cold, but for me, it was something else entirely.
Last night, I decided to break this rule. The weather was too warm and I had to wash my hair because I was feeling all sweaty and gross. But I hate using the hairdryer, so I just used a towel and went to sleep.
The whole night, thumping noises coming from under my bed kept me awake. They were only on my side of the bed. Since my husband is out of town, I rolled to his side, but the noises shifted as well.
I know most people would be bothered. But I decided to get up, go to the bathroom and blow dry my hair once for all. It’s not too much work anyway.
When I got back, the noises stopped. I spent good 20 minutes trying to sleep, but I was too happy, so I had to ask.
“Drippy, is that you?”
A soft thump was all the answer I needed.
You see, I was a lonely kid. I only had two friends: Gummy, my guinea pig, and Drippy, the “monster” under the bed. The “monster” part is so prejudiced. They are actually very sweet.
Drippy would never let me sleep having done something I believe to be wrong. Once I stole some change from my mother’s purse to buy candy and he never stopped thumping and making the bed shake until I put it back.
Sometimes I couldn’t sleep at night because I was sad and lonely, then I would ask him questions and Drippy would answer with a single thump for yes or a shake for no. He was so smart and cared about me.
I named him Drippy because sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night to soft dripping noises coming from under the bed. I never knew what it was, but I didn’t mind. It helped me sleep, like gentle rain on your windowsill.
He was there for me even in my teenage years, when I made friends and forgot him for a long time. The day I smoked weed and didn’t like, but decided to keep smoking anyway to be cool, he violently shook my bed until I promised him I would never do it again.
Ever since I moved from my parent’s home in the rural area, I lost contact with Drippy. But, somehow, he found me.
I didn’t have much sleep, but woke up full of joy and was singing while making myself breakfast. I don’t have kids and work from home, so sometimes I watch my neighbors’ kids. Today, I had little Flora over.
Flora is usually a quiet kid, but today she was a bit agitated, so I decided to take a break and play with her. She’s 4-years-old, probably some running around will be enough to have her sound asleep in the couch while I get some work done.
We agreed to play hide and seek. After finding each other a few times, I was counting when I heard her tiny footsteps disappearing in the general direction of my bedroom.
I looked for her everywhere, but she was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t even hear breathing, laughing or the noise of her shoes changing hiding spots. My apartment is not big, so there’s nowhere else she could have been.
Then I remembered an episode from my childhood.
Gummy once went under my bed and disappeared. I cried for days, until my parents found him somewhere completely unrelated. He was a lot chubbier and his fur had a different color, but my mom told me guineas are all like that. They change colors all the time, that’s their magic.
He never changed colors again and forgot all the tricks I had taught him, but I loved him anyway.
So here’s the thing: I think Flora tried to hide under the bed and Drippy took her somewhere else. I’ll ask him later.
In the meantime, I was obviously worried and anxious to tell my neighbor that her daughter went missing, but I made sure to tell her it was very likely Flora would appear somewhere else in a few days. As a result, my neighbor hates me, and made it clear she plans to report me to the police.
Today I couldn’t sleep because the dripping sounds were so loud and kinda unnerving. Drippy told me he hasn’t seen Flora, but I think he’s lying for some reason. I asked if I could go under the bed check it out, and he said yes.
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.”
I was pretty tight for cash, and yeah, slightly drunk too. I entered that old hotel building on a bet with my friend Tommy, for an amount of money I’m ashamed to even say.
The story goes, that back in 1958, the hotel owner, who worked day in and day out, and even resided there too, went completely insane believing he was stuck in some sort of time loop. He apparently went missing for 13 months, then his mangled body was found in the side alley of the hotel, after presumably diving out of the 26th floor stairwell window. His face was fairly disfigured from the injuries, but the coroners pictures showing his insane grin stretched fully across his face, gave all the detectives nightmares.
Since his death, there’s been countless stories of ghost sightings, poltergeist happenings and even reports that several people went missing after staying in his executive suite on the 49th floor. It became something of an urban legend, even drawing in the customers, until it eventually closed and shut its doors in 1975 after a murder/suicide investigation plummeted sales and people just stopped going.
Now, I wasn’t one to believe in all this ghostly shit or time loop bull, and perhaps the fact I was a non believer is actually the reason why I’m stuck in this mess. Emphasis on the word was, because, I’m a believer now.
“Okay, so, pretty simple, bud: enter the hotel via the stairwell fire door…”
“Which is already broken and open,”
“…Which is already broken and open, yes, thank you, climb the stairs all the way to the top, and take a selfie of yourself stood next to the 49th floor, sign, thingy… Simple.” Tommy finished with a single clap of the hands and a closed lip grin.
“That’s it. And when you get back with the photographic proof, or even a video if ya want, I’ll pay up.” He tapped the left breast pocket of his jacket indicating his wallet and money was there.
It was the middle of the night, like 2 or 3 in the morning, I’m honestly not sure, pitch black, deathly quiet and completely lifeless streets. I wasn’t scared, but lets just say basic human instinct took over (I can’t stop smiling) and I suppose I gave the impression I was scared.
“So, where, erm… where are you gonna be? I mean, like, where are you gonna wait for me while I’m climbing these million stairs and apparently warding off evil spirits?” I thought I’d managed to hide it under the humor, but Tommy saw straight through me and a smug smile began to form in the corner of his mouth.
“Hey, man, if you don’t wanna do it, or you need me to hold your hand, or want me to wait at the bottom of the stairs and keep shouting, ‘Are you okay?’ then the deal is off and no payment.” Again, he finished with a closed lip grin.
I exhaled loudly for pissed off effect, slapped Tommy on the shoulder and proudly walked across the road towards the alleyway, alone. Before being engulfed by the shadows completely, I turned to look over my shoulder at Tommy, again, human instinct I think (I can’t stop smiling), to see him attempting to keep his balance as he drunkenly slumps to the curb.
Okay, good. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.
I continued into the shadows in search of the broken fire door that leads directly into the building. Rumor has it that some teenagers jimmied the door a couple of months ago and the police, or whoever’s job it is, have never sealed it up again.
I was just getting my phone out of my pocket for a light source, when a loud and rusty creek from the right made my heart skip a beat or two.
A beam of light escaped through the narrow opening of the door. The fact that the hotel is abandoned and has absolutely no power didn’t even enter my slightly intoxicated brain at the time, I was just glad for some light. I poked my fingers through and quickly pulled the door open. The light was pure and ultra bright, it took me a moment for my eyes to adjust and stop squinting. I walked through the threshold with a smile, after all, I was expecting complete darkness.
The building didn’t seem creepy at all. Very clean and well decorated, perhaps a bit out of date but clean and smart all the same. As I ascended each platform and took note to what floor I was on, it progressively got colder, louder and slightly windy.
Must be a window open or broken somewhere.
The 26th floor was particularly cold and windy. I didn’t like that floor. I swear someone touched me on the leg as I made my way up to 27. Just the lightest of touches, but I swear I felt it.
I’ll run down those steps on the way back.
I was getting pretty tired by this point, and apart from a potential leg touching, no other signs of ghosts or demons or anything supernatural had happened, and I was feeling pretty good with myself for making easy money out of my drunken friend.
Okay, yeah, pretty out of breathe by this point, but I’d come too far to fail now. I decided to take a quick 30 second break, lean on the window sill and peer out the window in search of Tommy.
I could very clearly make him out, but the guy sat next to him seemed kind of blurry. They were in full conversation, their arms waving and flailing in the air with drunken coordination, and continuously passing a bottle back and forth… Seemed harmless enough.
“Got a new friend there Tommy boy?” It was weird to hear my own voice echo and bounce off the walls. I sucked in some more oxygen, and continued my mission.
What the fuck?
I stopped on the platform to catch my breath once more, leaning on my knees as if it would help my lungs absorb the oxygen quicker. I kept turning around and looking down the steps I had just scaled, looking up the stairwell to the steps yet to come..
“What the fuck?”
I climbed another set…48.
I stopped and shook my head to myself. Surely I was just seeing things.
I climbed another set…48.
“Okay, that’s it. Fuck this shit.”
I swiftly whipped out my phone, took a strange looking selfie of me and the brass plaque stating I was on the 48th floor, and I began descending the fuck out of there.
At least down is so much easier.
I went down 20 or 30 flights maybe, but at each and every level, the brass plaque still stated I was on the 48th floor.
I went up and down them stairs God knows how many times. I tried every single door at each level too, just in case one was left open and I could escape a different way. Not a single door opened though. They were all solidly locked; Dead-bolted, welded, cemented, who fucking knows, but them doors were not opening for anyone.
I can honestly tell you I had absolutely no idea what floor I was on when the idea of phoning Tommy finally entered my mind. I guess I should of kept count from the moment I saw the second 48th plaque, but I was far too freaked out by then to plan that part.
“YES!” My phone had full signal. I quickly tapped and flicked through my contacts until I reached Tommy’s number. I walked to the window as the phone began to ring. I could no longer see Tommy or his new found friend. The phone was ringing in my ear over and over. My eyes widened as I scanned the dark streets back and forth, back and forth. There was no sign of Tommy. No sign of anyone. The phone continued to ring as I pulled it away from my ear. The screen lit up showing me Tommy’s name and number, and the end call button. I swiped the red icon and cut off the call. That was when I realized the time and date:
What the actual fuck?!
Okay, so, firstly, my phone is saying it’s nearly half 4 in the afternoon, yet it’s still pitch black outside, and surely I haven’t been in this building for over 12 hours? And secondly, how the hell is it 2015?
By this point, I’d sat down on one of the steps, my left hand supporting my head and my phone loosely held in my right.
I wanted to call the police but feared I’d be made a fool. I thought about it over and over, then finally concluded that I’d much rather be made a fool by officers than left stranded in an abandoned hotel and stuck on a never-ending floor.
I unlocked my phones screen to dial the three magical numbers when my heart skipped a beat again. I couldn’t believe my own eyes:
I locked and unlocked the phone once more:
“Nope, fuck off…” I dropped the phone out of my hand on purpose and let it crash to the floor. I heard the inevitable smashing sound as it hit the cement, screen down and I closed my eyes with pure regret. I stood up and paced in a circle on the tiny platform between levels.
I was pretty shocked my phone was still alive, never mind receiving messages. The moment I leaned over to retrieve my half broken phone, a loud and brain shattering crash echoed throughout the stairwell. Up and down, up and down, the sound reverberated back and forth against itself, which somehow made it louder, and I instinctively covered my ears.
The sound was harrowing, terrifying and disturbing in many ways that I just can’t quite describe. It was freezing cold and whipping around my body like some sort of sound-wind.
I had to climb 22 more flights of stairs before I could no longer hear the sound and finally feel my fingers again. It was much darker up here though but I set up camp anyway. This is now my floor.
By this point, I had already lost touch with reality and had absolutely no clue to what time it was. I sat in a slump and began to cry. Basic human instinct (I can’t stop smiling).
I’d been desperately crying for a while when the lights went out.
The sudden darkness gave way to the beginning of my madness. I screamed for a very long time. I screamed and screamed and screamed. I screamed until my voice finally gave way. I imagined the inside of my throat as a chunk of raw meat that’d been rubbed with coarse sandpaper.
After my voice collapsed, I started on the walls. I didn’t want to use my hands so I kicked them instead. Over and over and over again, eventually breaking every single toe. When the adrenaline ran out and I could no longer stand, I fell into deep and agonizing pit of despair for what seemed like years.
Oh, my God… Stuck in my own madness, I’d completely forgotten about my phone.
I unlocked the phone full of hope. The light shot through my retinas like lasers and I attempted to let out a little scream, but nothing will escape my vocal chords now, so my mouth just draped open in anguish.
This time, I just smiled.
I walked into this building on 02/01/2009.
My screen was only slightly smashed so I could still use it. First, I tried calling Tommy again, but there was no dial tone and the voice that spoke was not what I expected to hear. It was low and whispering. Raspy and fast.
“Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49…”
I hung up. Smiling.
I tried calling the police.
“Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49…” I hung up again.
My shoulders were swiftly moving up and down in accordance with my soundless laughter. It felt pretty good. Now I can’t stop silently laughing to myself.
I wanted to claw my own eyes out by this point and needed something to keep my hands occupied…so I decided to tell you all my story on here,. I thought maybe someone might get a kick out of it… Or maybe someone can even help me… I don’t know… I kind of want to take that leap if I’m honest. The thought just makes me smile. After all, it’s just basic human instinct.
* * * * * *
When my smiling face hit the floor, I thought it was finally all over.
The air felt warm as it rushed through my raw windpipe. Maybe it wasn’t warm, maybe I’d just been cold for so long. If you think you’d be able to keep your eyes open in free fall, then you’re wrong. I can tell you now it’s impossible. I can also tell you, that you will feel unbelievable agony. Is it worse than the spiral of insanity? Yes… Maybe.
Imagine the worst hangover you’ve ever had, and multiply that by a thousand. Then take a drill to your skull and repeatedly drill for 10 years. That would roughly match the immense pain of ones head smashing clean into the ground.
When the pain finally stopped and I opened my eyes, Tommy was waving the bottle of whiskey in my face.
“Hey…do you, hic, do you want any more or what?”
We were sat on the curb across the street from the hotel I’d just leapt from..
Huh?…What the fuck?
Tommy was persistently and drunkenly waving the glass bottle closer and closer to my face, until I finally grabbed it from him and pushed his drunken ass away from me.
I drank that whiskey like it was crisp and fresh water from the Swiss alps. I took in a deep breathe once I’d finished, expecting to vomit the whole thing back up again, but my stomach seemed to be handling it. Perhaps my brain told my stomach to hold it in: “Wait until the toxins at least reach me dude, then you can throw up all you want.”
My mind was running at half capacity and I could barely think. My memory was starting to become foggier by the second and I passed the bottle back to Tommy as I pretended to listen to his drunken nonsense of a story, but in reality I couldn’t hear a single word he was saying.
My eyes locked on to the person standing in the window peering out at us.
The silhouette could only just be made out. They were standing in darkness, directly in the center of the 1st floor window pane. It was unsettling feeling their eyes on us, watching us.
Tommy accidentally hits me in the face with his forever flailing arms and I bat him away once more.
“Dude! Ow! Fucking watch what you’re doing!”
“Aw, Sorry, man, but list-list-listen, I ….” I lost interest once more and returned my focus to the person in the window, that was now no longer there.
I squinted my eyes as if to zoom in on the window across the road. Nothing.
I could hear music. Tommy finally stopped talking, I guess he could hear it too. The music got louder as he pulled his phone from his jacket pocket.
“You’re, hic, you’re ringing me from, from your pocket again, dude.”
“Oh.” I patted my own jacket in search for my phone. I stood up and checked every pocket I was wearing…No phone.
Where is it?…
I pointed at the hotel building across the road and confusingly looked back at Tommy;
“Did, I…did I already go in there?”
“Huh? What?” Tommy looked more drunk than confused and I realized I wasn’t getting a competent answer from him any time soon.
“Tommy, I think you should just go home mate, you’re too drunk and in need of a bed.”
I expected him to give more a fight, he normally does when he’s this inebriated, but he instantly nodded his head in agreement and slowly began to rise to a wobbling mess of a stance, and I watched him slowly sway down the street and eventually out of sight.
As I walked into the shadows of the side alley, I fell over something metal that clanged and echoed throughout. It was a crowbar, I couldn’t see but I knew what it was. I felt around in the darkness for the door I somehow knew was there. I popped the crowbar into tiny slither between door and frame and jimmied that fire door open with one swift movement.
That was easier than I thought.
A beam of light escaped through the narrow opening of the door. I poked my fingers through and quickly pulled the door open. The light was pure and ultra bright, it took me a moment for my eyes to adjust and stop squinting…
Have I done this before?…
6…7…8… I take the steps two by two with my eyes constantly on the ground searching for my lost phone. Is it even in here?
Was I expecting to find it? No. Did I find it? Yes, in the middle of the platform of the 26th floor. The moment I leaned over to retrieve my half broken phone, a loud and brain shattering crash echoed throughout the stairwell. Up and down, up and down, the sound reverberated back and forth against itself, which somehow made it louder, and I instinctively covered my ears….Okay…that’s a really strange feeling…have I actually done this before?
I curl into a ball and sit in the corner of the platform between levels. The sound-wind whipped around my face and body as I hid from reality behind my own arms like a five year old child.
Throughout the howling, I could hear approaching footsteps increasingly getting louder; someone’s coming up the stairs.I’m still slumped in the corner but I now bravely raise my head.
My mouth fell open in disbelief as the familiar figure came into view up the stairs: It was me.
I’m surprised I moved at all, but as I/he strolled passed me completely ignoring my presence, I reached out to see if I/he was real, but I/he was moving pretty fast and I only just manged to graze my/his leg. I say graze, it felt more like I went through him…me.
Do I follow him?…Yes. No… okay, I don’t know. Wait, send him a message!
I unlocked my phone, got rid of the current Reddit page it was opened to, and typed out a message to him/myself:
GET OUT! Honestly, I didn’t know what else to put.
I heard the phones tone vibrate down through the stairs. Surely he’d message back….Will he, though? Oh, my god, I’m getting so confused.
After waiting a couple of minutes and receiving no reply, I decide to take a different approach. I had no idea what was happening, but had to do something.
I figured If I couldn’t touch him/me, then I had to at least try and get his/my attention. I still had the crow bar with me and I acted on the sudden idea before I’d fully thought it through.
I flung the crow bar over my shoulder and swung it like a baseball bat as fast and as hard as I could at the window pane of floor 26. The single pane shattered into a billion pieces, flying in all directions, including my face and open mouth.
Hundreds of tiny shards fly to the back of the throat and I began to gag and grasp for air. I swallowed hard, lining my windpipe with sparkling diamonds, and I continued to swallow over and over to take away the agonizing sting. From my shattering blow, the sound-wind returned and whisked up and down through the stairwell once more.
I could now hear crying and whimpering in the distance….upstairs? Was it him?
He’d been desperately crying for a while when the lights went out.
The sudden darkness gave way to the beginning of his screams. He screamed for a very long time. He screamed, and screamed, and screamed. I covered my ears but it helped nothing.
After he finally stopped screaming, I guess his voice gave in, I could hear him hitting the walls; Kicking or punching them over and over and over again. After what seemed like an eternity, the pounding finally stopped, and the atmosphere fell into a deep and agonizing pit of despair for what seemed like years.
I thought I’d try messaging him again. I sent the same message, and I heard the same ba-ding as before, but I still never received a reply.
As I waited, I decided to go through my phone and reopen the Reddit page I closed before.
I read the entire entry I’d apparently already written, and the insanity spiral hit me like a crumbling tower of bricks.
My phone lit up immediately, it was him…I mean me…I mean him.
My badly cut throat could only muster a low and raspy voice, and I said the only words I could think of:
“Take the leap to 49, take the leap to 49, take the leap to 49, take the leap to 49…”
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest. Now when I say that it’s a small town, I mean other people from my state have never even heard of it. That being said, for such a small town it actually has a pretty dark history.
In 1927, my home town was a small village with a population of just over 300 people. The largest employer in the area, the MacMillan Textile Factory, had been built in 1922. The location was ideal because of all the available land and the town’s close proximity to the state Capital. By 1927 the factory employed 314 people from the surrounding area. May 25th 1927 started early just like every other day and the workers looked forward to the start of a productive summer, but at 8:45 am the North wing of the building exploded.
Shortly after the explosion, a man named Arthur Rentschler, a disgruntled former employee, arrived on scene. He had loaded down his pickup with dynamite and scrap pieces of metal from his farm. Eyewitnesses said he stepped out of the truck holding a rifle. When the floor manager approached him, he fired into the bed of the truck which caused the dynamite to detonate. The explosion of the truck killed Rentschler, the manager and a few other bystanders.
The fire department found another 500 pounds of un-exploded dynamite rigged up in the basement of the building and discovered that Rentschler had killed his wife and burned down his home. Investigators also discovered a sign on the property that read “Criminals are made, not born.” In the following weeks of investigation, witnesses came forward making claims that Rentschler had been complaining about a recent tax spike in order to pay for the new area school, and it was further discovered that his farm was in foreclosure. Investigators speculate that the combination of him losing his job and the tax increase may have been the catalyst for the bombing.
When all was said and done 44 people lost their lives. The news covered the bombing heavily and, in the weekend following the attack some 50,000 people drove through the town just trying to catch a peak of the carnage. Unfortunately, the story rapidly fell to the wayside due to Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight that took place 2 days later. As quickly as it happened, the tragedy, and its victims were forgotten.
But they don’t want to be forgotten, they want us all to remember, and on a balmy summer night in 2008 I learned not to forget.
It was the summer before my Senior year and I had been staying at my friend Mike’s house for the better part of a week. One night after what felt like our 1000th match of Halo 3, I was video-gamed out. I took off my headset, set the controller down, and looked at Mike. He was furiously rubbing his eyes, which, if they felt anything like mine, were on fire. “Do… do you wanna go outside for a little bit?” I asked.
“Dude, I thought you’d never ask,” Mike replied with a grin. “It’s like 2 AM, though. Where are we gonna go?”
“I really don’t care, I just can’t look at the TV anymore right now.”
We decided to take a walk through town, neither of us planned on doing anything nefarious but we both agreed that we needed some fresh air. As we walked down the dirt road Mike lived on we laughed and talked about girls, cars, the rapidly approaching football season, and all the types of things you’d expect from 2 high school seniors.
We walked past the high school, the town’s only gas station, and then down main street. As we walked in front of our small town’s only bar a few girls that had graduated our freshman year stumbled out into the street. Mike and I tried our hardest to talk a big game and impress these girls, but just as you’d imagine, neither of them could have cared any less.
Sure that we’d just ruined our only chance of any entertainment for the night, we decided to head back to his house. Our return route had us walking past the site of the old MacMillan factory and then eventually would put us in front of the town’s small cemetery. As we walked in front of the old factory grounds that had since been converted to a small park, Mike spoke.
“Why do you think he did it?” Mike asked, suddenly breaking the silence.
I turned to look at him. “Why who did what?”
“Rentschler. Why do you think he blew up the factory?”
“You know the story just as well as I do. He was pissed about losing his job and his farm, pretty straightforward, dude.”
“No way. There had to be more to it than that, people lose their jobs every day. If I had to guess, it was demonic possession, or maybe he was just insane,” Mike said matter-of-factly.
I didn’t really believe that demons had a hand in the disaster, but I felt a chill run down my back anyway. I looked ahead, saw that we were quickly approaching the town’s small cemetery, and felt that chill intensify. Most of the victims had been buried in that cemetery before their families packed up and left town and with the way our conversation had turned, I wanted to be as far away from it as possible.
“Let’s cut through the cemetery,” Mike said. “It’ll cut our walk in half if we go through it.”
I turned quickly to look at Mike. “Are you insane? I’m not walking through a grave yard at 3 in the morning.”
That’s when Mike said it, the one sentence that will convince a 17-year-old boy to do just about anything. “Don’t be such a pussy, dude!”
I groaned and said “Dammit, okay, let’s do this.”
Mike grinned at me before taking a large exaggerated step off the main road and into the cemetery. I quickly followed suit and soon we found ourselves deep in the cemetery. The cemetery itself is laid out like a giant sideways H and as such is near impossible to get lost in. Or, so I thought.
As we walked, I began to notice that the area was completely devoid of sound, save for our feet scraping on concrete. Our ears should have been being assaulted by the sound of crickets and spring peepers but instead we were completely engulfed in silence. I turned back to look at the main road we had entered from. It looked impossibly far away, much further than it should have. I turned back to Mike. “Hey, shouldn’t we have hit the turn yet?”
“I thought so. Maybe the dark is just throwing us off. Let’s keep going. We’ll either find the turn or hit the wood line.
We walked for another few minutes when I thought I saw a light moving ahead of us. I strained my eyes in the dark trying to figure out what I was seeing. “Do you see that light up there?” I asked in a hushed whisper.
Mike stopped and looked ahead. “I think so. It kinda looks like a flashlight?”
“Yea, that’s it. Is someone really out there in the woods?”
“It’s probably a ghost light,” Mike said with a shrug. “Just stay on the path and we’ll be fine.”
“What the shit? A ghost light? What are you talking about?” I asked. I stopped and waited for Mike to face me. “What the hell is a ghost light?”
Mike stopped and turned to face me, he now stood between me and the tree line and I could only make out the light if I leaned left or right.
“There’s a few different versions of the story, but the one I’ve heard the most is that the lights show up as a way to lead you off the trail or pathway in a cemetery. Once you’ve stepped off the trail, you’re in their domain,” he said as he gestured to the tombstones on either side of us. “Sometimes the lights lead you to bodies, sometimes to some kind of treasure, and other times the lights will lead you to your death.”
I shivered and swallowed hard. I leaned a little to the right and saw that the light looked closer, or at least bigger. I looked back at Mike. “Let’s get the hell out of here. It looks like that light is getting closer.”
Mike turned to look at the light. We both gasped when we realized that not only was the light closer than when we originally saw it, but it was moving straight towards us and picking up speed. I tried to run but I felt like I was cemented to the ground. The light moved in a straight line. It didn’t bounce or move like someone carrying a flashlight; it just shot straight at us. Mike grabbed my arm and snapped me out of my trance as he ran by. “Fucking run!”
I turned and started to run and soon realized that I had stepped off the path and was now sprinting parallel to the road between the tombstones. I looked to my left and saw that Mike was running in the same direction a few rows of tombstones from me.
“Mike! Run to the road!” I screamed out. Mike acknowledged me by changing direction mid-stride but suddenly he dropped. “Mike!” I yelled as I changed direction and charged towards my friend. As I approached where he had gone down, I saw him holding the right side of his face and frantically scrambling to his feet.
“Leave me dude, just go!” he panted.
“No way, come on!” I yelled as a bright light was beginning to fall all around us. I threw his arm over my shoulder and half-ran, half-carried him a few more yards before my foot caught the corner of a low headstone. Mike grunted loudly as we crashed into the damp grass. I frantically rolled over and covered my face. The light had become so blindingly bright I could no longer keep my eyes open. I felt my body tense up as the light washed over us and then… nothing. I felt nothing.
I had yet to open my eyes, but I could feel my feet planted firmly on the ground. I slowly opened my eyes and looked around. To my right Mike was doing the same. “Umm, what the fuck was that?” Mike asked.
I scanned around and realized that we were back at the front of the cemetery. I looked over at Mike who was no longer bleeding from his face, before looking down at my watch. It read 5:30 AM. Somehow two and a half hours had passed from when we had originally entered the cemetery.
“I… I don’t know, man, I think we just got chased by a ghost. I mean, I didn’t make that up… right?”
Mike shook his head. “No, that definitely just hap–”
I followed Mike’s gaze and gasped when I noticed a man in denim coveralls standing next to the closest tombstone. The man had an almost disgusted look on his face. What felt like an eternity passed as we stared at one another. Finally, the man spoke. “Why have you forgotten us? Why has everyone forgotten us?” Behind the man I saw silhouettes materializing and moving closer to us. “Please, tell our story, don’t let them forget,” the man said as he began to fade from view. One by one the silhouettes behind him faded as well, and before long Mike and I were left standing there, mouths agape.
Mike, clearly the braver of the two of us, walked back into the cemetery and looked down at the tombstone the man had been standing next too. “Robert Ames, Born September 9th, 1897. Died May 25th 19… 27,” Mike read slowly, before looking up at me. Even in the dark I could see that the color had drained from his face, and he quickly rejoined me on the road.
Neither of us spoke of the incident for months. Both of us avoided the cemetery like the plague. That is, until community day. The week before homecoming the football team “adopted” the cemetery for community day and we were expected to go as a team to clean up head stones and pick up trash. There was no real way to get out of it, so Mike and I begrudgingly went. The day went surprisingly smoothly, and I had nearly forgotten about the ghost lights and apparitions until I moved near where Mr. Ames was buried. I didn’t see anything or anyone, but I swear I heard a voice whisper, “Remember us.”
It’s been almost a decade since we saw the ghost lights, but everywhere I go I make sure to tell the story of the MacMillan Textile Factory. A tragedy like that should never be forgotten, and neither should the innocent people that lost their lives.
When I was 7, my best friend was a girl named Ava, who was my neighbor. Ava was a sweet kid; I didn’t realize it at the time, but her home life was pure hell. We would always hear her father screaming and breaking stuff. I was too young to understand “stuff” included Ava and her mom.
My parents did what they could to relief Ava from the burden a girl this young should never carry, but they were honestly afraid to meddle too much and end up having something bad happening to our family, so it consisted in inviting her to eat afternoon snacks and meals nearly every day, and give her some clothes, since Ava was always poorly-dressed.
Being sheltered from the violence happening right next door, my childhood was pretty normal, even happy. My father worked an office job, my mother worked from home, and my sister Carly would keep an eye on me. She was 12 at the time and would let me and Ava play in the woods behind our houses as long as there was daylight.
It was 1998 in a small town and life was simple. We loved to play with my Barbies (poor Ava didn’t have any), but we also loved to explore the forest and dig the ground. We would usually find bird bones and pennies buried shallowly.
It was an unusually warm November afternoon, right after Ava’s 7th birthday. My family bought her a small cake the day before. Now I can’t help but think it was our fault she had a swollen, purplish face that day.
“Ava, you’re okay? What happened?” I worried to see her like that.
“I just fell from the stwairs,” she said. Her mouth was so severely beaten up she couldn’t even pronounce some phonemes.
But I believed her and accepted the answer, soon turning my attention to something else. I’m so sorry, Ava.
We decided to use the warm day to bird watch, which I was very into in the last few weeks, since my parents gave me some binoculars. For that reason, we entered the forest a little deeper than usual. We found a beautiful nest of Junco, full of chicks.
I was focused on the birds, when Ava had a distant, intrigued look on her face.
“Are you listening? (sigh)… what a beautiful song.” Ava was marveling at something, but I couldn’t hear it. So I kind of ignored it.
After a few minutes, she started walking deeper into the woods, presumably trying to find the source of the beautiful song. I still heard nothing but our footsteps crunching leaves on the ground and distant chirping.
I followed Ava without thinking. We walked for a few minutes, when she stopped by a huge, majestic old tree. The sunlight glowed in a different way there. I couldn’t quite understand, but it was like the air was sprinkled with glitter. And it was peaceful. Ava was looking up to the tree leaves, awestruck. Then she frantically waved her hand like she met someone she knew.
I looked up too and saw a woman. Well, it certainly was a female. But she had a real small frame and her skin was a lilac glow. Her long hair seemed to be made of waterfall, and the fabric of her dress was like the wind, if the wind was slightly golden.
She descended from the tree and reached the ground with the softest landing. Her voice was pure sweetness, and echoed through my head.
“I’m sorry I took this long to answer your prayers, Ava.”
“The song I’ve been hearing at night, was that you?”Ava gingerly asked.
“Yes, my child.” She then looked at me. “You, please leave. It’s not your time.”
I was hypnotized, even a bit afraid, but I complied. The way she talked was nothing but gentle, but her figure held an impressive sense of authority.
I left and, as I looked behind, Ava started to glow like her. Her hair started to seem like waterfall as well, and her worn up clothes slowly turned to gold and air.
* * * * * *
When I got home, I went to my room and rehearsed what I would answer when people noticed Ava was gone. I was only 7 and couldn’t understand a lot of basic concepts, but I had in me both the knowledge that Ava would never return and that people wouldn’t believe what I saw.
That night, her father aggressively knocked on our door and demanded to know where she was. When inquired, I vaguely answered that I played with her by the woods until mid-afternoon, but haven’t seen her since.
My father was the one who called the cops. They said there would be a formal search if Ava was still missing after 72 hours.
During the investigation, they suspected her father had murdered her and buried her body in the woods. Her mother was found severely beaten up at home and he was arrested. Police also found out he had killed his previous wife, so I was more than pacific with my decision of keeping quiet about what really happened. After all, I wasn’t letting an innocent man suffer.
I eventually made new friends and even forgot about Ava for a while. I just remembered this story now at age 27 because I’m back to my family home.
In the last year, I broke up with an abusive partner, lost my job, and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Defeated, I decided to move back and have my parents take care of me. I still don’t know if it’s possible to undergo surgery; maybe I’ll die within a year.
At night, I pray things will get better. And lately I can hear a beautiful, ethereal song no human voice or instrument can ever make. I think Ava is inviting me.