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.
This story is part of the author’s Heavensville series of interrelated stories. If you enjoy it, the author invites you to click here to read the other tales in the series.
The first thing I noticed about him was his shaggy, champagne-colored hair that reached down to his shoulders and how it contrasted against his dark, brown skin. He smiled, looking at me with his sleepy eyes.
“I’m Chus Dominguez,” he said, extending his soft hand towards me.
According to his file, the kid had lived a life filled to the brim with the worst of luck. Still, his sleepy eyes were cheerful and tender as he introduced himself. I already liked him.
“I’m Mio,” I replied enthusiastically, “Your new foster dad.” I smiled wide, hoping to look welcoming.
In our first month together, I learned that Chus loved wearing tie-dye t-shirts, ripped pair of jeans and John Lennon inspired sunglasses. He was a huge fan of all things Michael Jackson. And each time he spoke, it was like a song, always ending on a pleasing note. His charming demeanor and whimsical charisma won over every person he met. I truly believed I had lucked out because I had been told teenagers were the hardest to foster; but my Chus, he was grand.
Chus impressed his teachers at school with his encyclopedia-like knowledge, acing his first science project when he used a chemical reaction to turn water into wine. Since his grades were good, I allowed him to take an after-school job. He managed to get a job as a carpenter’s helper and with his salary, he made donations to the local homeless shelter. On weekends, he volunteered at the Humane Society. I mean, I really couldn’t complain. The kid was pretty spectacular.
One evening, as I passed by his room, I heard him and his best friend, Tia Chrinst, giggling. I thought nothing of it until I smelled something familiar in the air. Slightly worried, I popped my head in the door.
“Guys? Everything alright?” I asked.
I saw Chus hiding something inside his mouth, not able to reply. Tia, also holding something in her mouth, turned a pallid white. I knew what it was.
“Guys, relax,” I said, sighing and chuckling, “It’s okay. It’s legal in this state, but, technically, not for you guys. So just do it at home. No driving or going outside, okay?”
Chus and Tia immediately burst into laughter, releasing all the smoke from their mouths into the air. I laughed all the way to my room, where I reminisced about the days I used to get high with my friends back in high school myself. What a wonderful time the 60s had been.
I was dozing off to sleep, when I heard them again, this time in the kitchen. I assumed it was a classic case of the munchies, so I walked down the stairs to show them where all the goods were. As I walked towards the kitchen, I inadvertently overheard their conversation.
“But have you actually spoken to him lately?” Tia asked Chus.
Chus gloomily replied, “It’s been at least a century since I last spoke to him. But I think he knows where I am. Or if he doesn’t yet, he’ll figure it out soon enough.”
I assumed they were reenacting a scene from a movie.
Tia continued, “Well, if our plan goes through, you’ll only have to speak to him once more. And then you can live happily ever after. For eternity. Imagine that!”
“I just feel bad,” Chus replied, “About using Mio. This is the first time in my entire, long life that I’ll be using a human for my own selfish need.”
‘Use me? For what?’ I thought to myself, quietly standing behind the wall of the kitchen.
“Oh, stop it,” Tia replied, annoyed, “You’re literally the most selfless soul in this universe. It’s okay to take care of your own needs once in a lifetime.”
Feeling disappointed and slightly frightened, I silently walked back to my room. I tried not to think about the conversation I had overheard between Tia and Chus. But, soon enough, things started to crumble down for me.
First, my car was vandalized. Then, my identity was stolen. But things got worse. By the end of the month, I had lost my job and had an awful case of pneumonia. At this point, I was starting to get worried as I had to take care of Chus’ needs, not just mine. I searched and searched for a new job online but received no replies. Worse, I could barely breathe as my pneumonia grew scarier and scarier in spite of all the medication and medical visits.
“It’s all my fault,” Chus sheepishly said to me one evening.
I coughed into a napkin, some blood staying behind on it. “What do you mean? Of course it’s not.”
“No. It is. It’s my fault. I know who is doing all of this. It’s my father. He’s doing it to punish me,” he replied, tightening his shoulders.
“Okay?” I said, puzzled.
“Christmas is right around the corner, and on Christmas, we tell the truth,” he began, “I picked you, Mio. I chose you because I knew what a good guy you’ve been your whole life. Attempting to foster a child is a clear example of your altruism. You’re selfless. And I love that about you.”
I continued to listen.
“You don’t deserve all the misery that was befallen onto you. This is happening to you because he knows I’m here with you. And I’ve tried to stop it, I’ve tried to help you, but he’s stronger than I am. And I’m sorry, but… I needed your help. You see, my father, he’s a very controlling man,” Chus said looking down at his hands.
I was completely lost thinking the pneumonia was blocking me from making sense of everything he was telling me.
Chus continued,“I don’t think you’ll believe me until you see it for yourself. I’m going to need you to come with me. Would you come with me, Mio?”
I noticed his eyes glistening as they filled with tears.
“Where?” I asked.
“To see my father. The one who created me,” he replied.
Chus drove us out an hour away to a secluded beach where he walked me to the edge of the water. I assumed that he had set up a meeting at the beach with his father behind my back. At the point, the pneumonia was so severe that all I could say was ‘yes’ to everything.
“Chus, do you think on the way back we could stop at the pharmacy for-“ Before I could finish my sentence, I noticed a man approaching us.
This wasn’t just any man. He was a giant. He was a brawny man, strong and powerful, with muscles protruding from his body like mountains on a valley. He wore a pair of unreasonably tight, black swim trunks that highlighted everything. His massive legs looked like they could crush any living creature with a single misstep. His thick skin was evenly bronzed and looked recently oiled. His hair, slightly wet from the ocean, shined and moved in the wind, like in a Pantene commercial.
“Hello, father,” I heard Chus say. I couldn’t believe that Chus, the shaggy-haired, scrawny kid had come from this colossal giant whose shadow in the sand was three times the size of me.
“Hello,” he answered in a husky voice, “It’s been a while. And I see you’ve brought a friend.”
Feeling completely inadequate I managed a wimpy “Uh, hi,” before bending over as I coughed up a storm. His father barely acknowledged me.
“So, you’re going to pretend that you don’t know Mio? After everything you’ve put him through?” Chus asked him.
His father broke out into a loud and intimidating laughter, revealing perfect teeth. “So, you’ve gone looking for a new father. You don’t remember what happened the last time you had a human father?” He laughed some more.
I was a bit confused by his choice of words.
“Mio, how long have you been his father?” His father suddenly asked me.
“About 6 months,” I said, trying to hold some more coughs I could feel building up inside me.
“Oh? Six months. Wow. Because I’ve been doing this for thousands of years and he’s still a giant puzzle to me,” his father replied, dismissing me with his hands.
“Okay,” I answered, feigning laughter, “Let’s not get sarcastic, now. I’ve been with him for a little over 6 months and it’s been going great. Now, I don’t know how he ended up in foster care, and I’m not here to judge you but-“
“Judge me?” His father suddenly asked, sounding scorned. “Of course you’re not here to judge me. I’m the one who does all the judging.”
“Wow, okay” I replied, getting annoyed, “Listen, I think you need to drop it down a notch with your condescending attitude, sir. Once again, I don’t know what issues you have-“
“What issues I have?” His father asked me, sarcastically. “You don’t know the half of it. And I mean that literally. This son of mine created half-a-book worth of lies in my name.”
“I- I don’t follow?” I replied.
I looked over at Chus who was now rapidly blinking and forming beads of sweat over his forehead.
“There’s a book. About me. It’s the highest selling book worldwide. You should read it sometime, but only the first part,” his father added sarcastically. Noticing I still had no idea what he was talking about, he sucked his teeth and said, “You people are truly clueless. You don’t get it? I made men. And women. And the skies, the oceans, the animals, the stars in this universe and, I even made your mom. I made everything. And all I’ve ever asked for in return was for you, smarty-pant creations, to use your God-given brains to worship and adore your creator.”
He paused, closing in on me, “I am your father. I am everyone’s father. Because I am God.”
‘Okay, this guy is completely nuts,’ I thought to myself, laughing out loud, causing me to have another coughing fit.
His father stared at me as I struggled to regain my composure, but before I could, he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Watch this.”
He placed his hands over my chest and shoved me down to the ground.
“Hey! Hey!” I said, slowly getting back up, “There’s no need to get violent. Violence only-“ I stopped in the middle of my sentence, noticing the immediate change that had occurred inside me. The pain in my chest was gone. The scratchy feeling inside me throat? Gone. The chills? Gone. The pounding headache? Gone. The pneumonia had disappeared.
“How did you-? What did you-? How is that-?” I asked, pointing at him and then back at me and then back at him again.
“I’m God, remember?” He repeated.
I looked over at Chus, who simply shrugged his shoulders and nodded.
“Now listen, here’s what we’re gonna do,” God said, “My son here, will be coming with me. And I will spare your life and give you back your health, your car, your job and whatever else I took because, quite frankly, I did get a little jealous watching you two canoodling.”
“I’m not coming with you,” Chus finally said, breaking his silence.
“Wait, if he’s God, and you’re his son, does that make you-?” I asked, doing the math in my head.
Chus nodded.”Yeah, about that. My name is Chus. Which, in spanish, is short for Jesus.”
I stood there in shock, remembering all his quirks I had noticed; his kindness, his empathy, his intelligence, his carpentry skills, his ability to turn water into wine. How did I not see it before?
Noticing my confusion, Chus added “Of Nazareth?” For clarification.
Still, I stood frozen, going through some sort of existential crisis.
“Oh come on!” God suddenly exclaimed. “Are you serious? Now you’re impressed? Now you’re speechless? I literally just told you I am God and then cured you from pneumonia, but it’s this guy being Jesus what impresses you?”
“I-uh-no… I’m sorry. I just,” I couldn’t figure out a way to explain my natural reaction.
God slammed his enormous fists on the ground, making the sand vibrate beneath us.
“This is why I detest humans! They worship anything that slightly impresses them. Elvis, the Internet, the Kardashians. I mean, I sent my son Jesus to spread my word, and then what do they do? They make up an entire new religion based off from him, complete with the biggest holiday on earth included. Paganism! Paganism everywhere!”
“I was only trying to help,” Jesus replied, indignantly. I felt bad for Jesus. His father was clearly jealous of him.
“Oh! You were only trying to help?” God repeated mockingly. “Do you think it helped me when you claimed that all sins would be forgiven and absolved by me if humans simply repented? Do you think you helped me when you claimed that anyone could make it into the Heavens as long as they claimed my name at their deathbed? NO! You didn’t help. You made all of that stuff up and made a mockery out of my regime! You and your incompetent forgiving ways have gotten us nowhere!”
Jesus quickly replied, “What was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to allow you to continuously punish human souls for every tiny, small action that you consider a sin?”
“This is MY universe and I am its God! Therefore, only I can decide what is a sin or not. Only I get to decide the difference between good and evil!”
Jesus looked over at me. “You know, you shouldn’t worship God. Not if you want to end up living inside a marble.” He paused. “That’s what he does. He keeps all the souls inside little marbles so that he can easily count them and know exactly how many souls he owns. And inside the marbles, gives them the illusion of what he considers to be eternal bliss, which is really just stale Boston cream donuts and room-temperature soda, along with reruns of Gilligan’s Island. That’s Heaven, according to him.”
“Oh my god,” I answered, petrified.
“Don’t use my name in vain,” God prettily replied, ignoring Jesus’ accusations.
“I’m so sorry,” I immediately replied.
“Don’t say sorry to a murderer,” Jesus provocatively said, ”He had me tortured. Men tore through my tendons, nerves and wrists, nailing me to a wooden cross I had to carry myself. Do you know what it feels like to carry on your back, for miles, the device that will be ultimately used to murder you? The physical agony I endured was unforgivable. But worse than that, he made me carry the weight of all human sins on my back for hundreds of years. There is no bigger weight than that. You guys do sin a lot. The suffering I went through during that period in my life has left with with traumas that I still struggle with today.”
God laughed. “I don’t care. The truth is, I stopped caring about you 2000 years ago when you began spreading false sermons and false messages about who I am and what they must do. Let me be clear with you, I do not forgive. Ever. I do not care. Ever. And I’ll be honest, I feel no guilt about anything I’ve done because I. AM. GOD. I have no remorse from the time I convinced Abraham to kill his children, I have no remorse for ordering the death of children in Egypt, I have no remorse for the time I suffocated and drowned all humans on earth, leaving only Noah and his family behind. So to be completely clear, I have no remorse for what I had done to you. And do you know why?”
Jesus’ eyes filled with tears again.
“Because I created it all. I am the almighty. There is nothing greater than me. And whether you like it or not, I am still your father,” God replied, his eyes bigger than ever.
“Oh my God,” I said, scared shitless.
“You’ve used my name in vain again, Mio,” God said, turning to me.
“I’m so sorry, God, I really am. It’s a habit of mine,” I quickly replied, realizing what type of god I was facing.
“Oh for God’s sake!” Jesus suddenly screamed. “Do you really care to insult this God? The reason he is collecting souls is because there are other gods! In other universes! And they have this ridiculous competition going about who can collect the most souls in 1.3 billion years. There is no eternal bliss. It’ll all be over in 1.3 billion years, earth, humans, this universe, it’ll all disappear and then he’ll move on to something else. He always does.”
“Oh my God,” I said again, idiotically not realizing I had used his name in vain again.
“That’s it! You quit using my name in vain for stupid human expressions!” God suddenly screamed at me.
“Yes! I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed, falling down to my knees, begging for mercy.
God seemed pleased, seeing me on my knees.
“No! Get up!” Jesus suddenly ran over to me, picking me up from the ground. “I will not allow this any longer! God, I denounce you as my father. That’s why I came here in the first place. I came to tell you that you are no longer my father. Mio, here, he is my real father. I no longer love you. I no longer adore you. I no longer worship you. I love Mio, a true good soul. And I’m here to say goodbye.”
I had heard about God’s fury before, but had never seen its true powers. Jesus’ words to his father clearly broke something inside him. The last thing I remember was God exploding into a burning, bright light. After that, the world around me disappeared as darkness set in. I felt an avalanche of fear installed inside me, as if I had downloaded it directly into my soul. I felt helpless, lonely, pain, heartbreak, tremendous suffering. I can’t explain with words what it felt like, but I just wanted to disappear into the darkness and to never exist again. I cried out in agony, only to be surrounded by my echoing screams. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I dozed off.
When I woke up, a man sat by my bedside, holding my hand. I didn’t recognize him at first. He was slim with shaggy, champagne-colored hair that reached down to his elbows.
“Remember me? Jesus. Of Nazareth?” He broke into that infectious smile of his.
I felt safe again.
“Where are we?” I asked him, noticing all the red furniture and red walls in the room.
“Don’t be scared,” he said, pausing, “We are in a place called Heavensville. But don’t be fooled by its name. It’s not Heaven. It’s actually the headquarters for Hells Inc. on earth. We are in the home of Lucifer.”
“What?” I said, a rush of fear suddenly running through my body.
“No,” Jesus replied, noticing my reaction, “You can relax. It was on purpose. Let me explain. I’ve been trying to get here for thousands of years, even before my first arrival to earth. But, you can’t just enter Hell. You have to be cast into it by God. Only he decides who comes here. So I had to figure out a way to get here. And my friend, Tia, helped me come up with the plan of making my father jealous enough so that he would finally cast me into Hell.”
“Tia? As in, Tia Chrinst, your best friend from school?” I asked, remembering the young teenaged girl with the heavy black eyeliner.
Jesus nodded. “Yes, Tia Chrinst. You might know her better as her anagram name. She is the daughter of Lucifer. She’s the Antichrist.”
I was feeling even worse by then.
“Look, you have to understand, God has only used me. I only realized it after getting back from earth the first time. And Tia was there for me. And… we fell in love. But as much as I tried to convince my father to accept our relationship, he opposed it because he’s a jealous God. And he has always been jealous of his greatest creation… Lucifer. So, of course I was not allowed to date his daughter. And of course, he gave her the title of the antichrist.”
“I- I guess I can’t judge you,” I replied, sitting up, “God is very… unpleasant.”
“Yes,” Jesus replied, “I hope you can understand my choices. And as for you, there’s no need to worry about getting back home. There’s a portal here to earth in the Town Hall. It’s going through some technical difficulties right now, but they should have it up and running soon and you’ll get to go home.”
“What about you? Where will you go?”
“Oh, well, Lucifer has been kind enough to give me an office and a home here in Heavensville. And as it turns out, I have a lot of angel buddies of mine living here. God casts millions of angels to Hell per year due to their insubordination. So, we have a “Little Heaven” neighborhood within Hell filled with fallen angels. And I don’t know, I feel like I can change some things around here. Some of the demons seem incorrigible, but others seem open-minded. Even Lucifer himself, he’s not such a bad guy. I think there’s a ton of room for improvement. And I think I’m just the guy for the job.”
“Wow,” I replied, “That’s a complete change of dynamic.” I laughed. “Jesus of Nazareth, Demon of Bethlehem.”
Jesus laughed hysterically. “I love that. I think I’m going to use it!”
Someone knocked on the door, slowly cracking it open.
“The portal is ready,” said a figure with a human’s body and a goat’s head, “Time for him to go home.”
This story is part of the author’s Father Cooke series of interrelated stories. If you enjoy it, the author invites you to click here to read the other tales in the series.
“I am a very open minded woman,” I told the two priests sitting across from me, one Christian the other Satanic. “If my son wants to dress as a woman, that’s fine. I don’t have to like it, but I will accept it. I’m not going to stop him from being who he is.” I didn’t want to cry, but the tears came anyway.
I had contacted the mother of the boy who claimed her son was possessed by an angel. She’d put me in touch with Father Cooke. He had agreed to stop by with Magister Alexander and listen to my story and meet my son Nathan. I had been apprehensive about having a Satanic priest come into my home, but the man is nothing like what I’d expected.
Father Cooke, the Christian priest glanced around the room, “Do you have a box of tissues?” He asked
I pointed to the bathroom door.
“Thank you,” I said when he sat back down and slid the box of tissues over to me. He smiled in return.
“I’m not sure we can help you,” Magister Alexander, the Satanic priest, seemed ready to leave. “Being transgender or engaging in cross dressing is rarely a sign of something supernatural.”
“What if the person doesn’t recall dressing up? What if it causes them as much distress as it does their loved ones?”
“Are you saying that when your son dresses up as a woman he doesn’t remember doing so?” Father Cooke asked.
“No, he doesn’t.” I fought back the tears that wanted to break free, “…and he doesn’t just dress up. When he has one of these episodes, he waltzes around the house like some British drag queen and says things that don’t make sense. It’s like he’s possessed.”
“When did these episodes start happening?” I seem to have gotten Magister Alexander’s attention. Up until that point he appeared to be questioning why he was here.
I thought for a moment. “Three days ago.” I said, and then quickly added, “It was the day after he cleaned out the basement. Nathan wanted to turn it into a game room so he had a place to hang out with his friends.”
“Do you mind if we go have a look at the basement?” Father Cooke asked
“Go right ahead,” I gestured to the door. “The light switch is the one on the left.”
I followed the two priests as they descended the stairs to the basement. Father Cooke walked off to the right while Magister Alexander walked off to the left. Both men started to survey the room, looking for anything out of place. I just stood at the base of the stairs and leaned on the railing.
“How long have you had this?” Father Cooke pointed to the old film projector that was placed in the center of a coffee table that had seen better days.
“Nathan found it in one his grandfather’s old steamer trunks with a stack of old film reels. He asked if he could have it. I didn’t see the harm in it.”
Father Cooke leaned down and was about to flick the little lever that would turn the projector on when the Satanic priest called out.
“Don’t!” I jumped at the sound of Magister Alexander’s firm command.
Father Cooke slowly withdrew his hand and stood up as Magister Alexander walked over to stand beside him. He stood there for several seconds staring at the projector before he walked around the table eyeing it like some dangerous creature.
“Did he set this up the night he cleaned out the basement?” Magister Alexander looked over at me and nodded towards the machine.
“Yes,” I walked over and stood in front of the table. “He was going to invite a few friends over and watch one of the films.”
“Have you watched the film?” Magister Alexander seemed concerned.
I shook my head.
Magister Alexander then gently removed the film from the projector and walked over to the single light bulb that hung from the ceiling. He examined the outside of the reel looking at it from every angle then held it up for Father Cooke to see. “Notice anything odd about this?”
Father Cooke moved closer to get a better look at it in the light. “It looks brand new. There isn’t a mark on it.”
“Exactly,” Magister Alexander agreed, “A reel this old that was stored in a trunk should not look this good.”
He unrolled a loop of film and held it up to the light so he could illuminate the frames as he tried to identify what was recorded on them.
“Do you have any idea where your father got this film?”
“No…I didn’t even know he had them.”
“Did you happen to live in New York by any chance…in the mid 70’s?” That was an oddly specific question. Magister Alexander obviously knew something about the film.
“No…it can’t be,” Father Cooke figured out what the Satanic priest was alluding to, “You really think that is…,” but Magister Alexander cut him off before he could finish.
“The first shadow cast,” he confirmed without letting the other priest finish.
“This could be bad.” A worried look came over Father Cooke’s face, “Did anyone else besides your son watch the film?” He quickly turned to face me.
“I don’t know…it’s possible. Nathan has people coming over all of the time.”
Right after I said that my phone vibrated in the back pocket of my jeans startling me. I excused myself and walked a few steps away to answer it. It was my neighbor across the street.
“What?” I ran my hand through my hair trying to wrap my head around the bizarre claim she was making.
“There are two kids walking through your yard singing,” my neighbor repeated. “One of them is holding a newspaper over their head…oh wait they stopped.”
“They stopped singing?” I asked
“No…they are still singing. They just stopped at the edge of your porch. Your boy has some strange friends,” she said before she hung up.
While I was still on the phone, I quickly walked back up the stairs into the kitchen. The two priests followed shortly behind me. As the call ended Father Cooke walked to the front door to peek out through the curtains.
“I think we are about to meet the rest of the kids who watched the film.” Without asking, he opened the door and let Arthur and his girlfriend Evelyn walk in.
I didn’t recognize Arthur at first because of the thick glasses he was wearing. “I didn’t know you wore glasses Arthur,” I said to him, but he didn’t seem to notice me.
I jumped when I felt Magister Alexander’s hand on my shoulder, “They can’t hear you. They are currently stuck in their roles and are awaiting their next scene.”
“What do you mean?” I asked confused. How could they not hear me? They were standing right in front of me.
All of a sudden Evelyn screamed and threw herself on the floor. Then all eyes turned to the hallway where my son entered the room wearing a bra and panties. He must have taken them from my dresser. He had also gotten into my makeup box again which was evident by the dark red lipstick and black eye shadow that was painted on his face.
“How do you do…I see you’ve met my… Faithful handyman…” He began to sing in a British accent while approaching Arthur and Evelyn.
Magister Alexander guided me until our backs were against the wall. “We need to let the scene play out,” he said.
I just stared in shock, my eyes wide and my mouth agape.
Once Nathan finished singing, the scene ended and the glazed looks in the eyes of the three teenagers became looks of confusion. Arthur pulled the glasses off his face and stared at them before he turned his eye to the boy dressed in drag.
“What the fuck Nathan!” Arthur cried out when he saw the way my son was dressed.
Nathan tried to cover himself as he ran back to his bedroom in shame. I could hear him sobbing as he ran down the hall.
“What’s going on?” Evelyn whined. “Why am I wearing these hideous clothes?”
“Excuse me,” Father Cooke tried to get the attention of the two teenagers. The pair turned in unison, a puzzled look on their faces as they noticed the priest that stood before them.
“Who are you?” Arthur asked.
“I am Father Cooke,” he placed a hand on his chest, “…and that is Magister Alexander.” He pointed to the Satanic priest where he stood next to me. “I know you are confused right now, but if you come and have a seat on the couch we will do our best to explain everything.”
The two priests relocated to the living room with Arthur and Evelyn and began to explain what was happening to them. I went down to Nathan’s room to check on him. I knocked gently on the door and called out his name. When he didn’t answer I tried the door knob, thankful it wasn’t locked.
He was lying face down on his bed sobbing. I sat down next to him and placed my hand on his back. “It’s okay Nathan. It’s not your fault,” I waited for his sobs to subside before I continued, “Those two men in the kitchen, the priests, they are here to help you.”
“How can they help me?” He turned to face me, his make up running down his cheeks.
“They know what is happening to you and they can fix it.” At least I assumed they could fix it.
“Get dressed and come out to the living room and let them explain it to you. It doesn’t make sense to me, but I am confident they can make it stop.”
I left the room and returned to the living room. Nathan walked in a few minutes later wearing a t-shirt and sweat pants. He kept his head down as he avoided making eye contact with anyone and took a seat.
“Hello Nathan, my name is Theodore Alexander,” he introduced himself. “I am a Magister for the church of Satan, and this is my associate Father Cooke.”
Nathan looked up at the Magister when he said the word Satan, then over at me before he returned his gaze to the floor.
“Remember that story we read about the woman whose son was possessed by the angel? These are the men who helped her.”
Nathan nodded in acknowledgement, but continued to stare at the floor.
“They’re cool Nathan,” Arthur tried to reassure him, “Just listen to what they have to say.” Evelyn sat quietly next to Arthur, and held tightly onto his hand.
“Am I possessed?” Nathan finally spoke.
“No, you aren’t, Nathan,” Father Cooke leaned forward in his chair. “The three of you have just been blessed.”
Nathan laughed at that “Blessed? Don’t you mean cursed?”
“Real blessings are like curses,” Magister Alexander explained, “The only difference is in how they are created. A curse is created through a demonic pact. They are designed to further a negative agenda which usually results in the death of the cursed individual if the conditions of the curse are not fulfilled.”
“A blessing is created through an angelic oath. They are designed to further a positive agenda, and like a curse, if the conditions of the blessing are not met, they can be just as deadly.”
“How?” Nathan asked looking from Father Cooke to Magister Alexander, “How did we get blessed?”
Magister Alexander held up the reel of film, “By watching this.”
“You want me to believe that watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show turned me into a transvestite like Dr. Frank-N-Furter.”
“It didn’t turn you into someone like him…it is turning you into Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Just like it is turning Arthur into Brad, and Evelyn into Janet,” he pointed at each of them as he mentioned their name.”
“Are you familiar with the Rocky Horror phenomenon? How it started and why it spread and became as popular as it did?” Magister Alexander asked Nathan.
“It started with this specific copy of the film right here,” he held up the reel. “Somehow someone was able to get this copy blessed before it was shown to a small audience at a midnight showing in the Waverly Theater in New York. Luckily that audience was large enough to create a full shadow cast when it was viewed. That shadow cast then went on to start the Rocky Horror phenomenon that is still popular in cities across the world today.”
“What is a shadow cast?” Nathan asked.
“The blessing placed on this film makes viewers become characters from the cast. It makes them act out scenes of the movie. It was designed to spread the film’s popularity through participation. The problem is that in order to fulfill the blessing, the movie needs to be shown to an audience large enough to fill the cast.”
“Since it was just the three of you, only three shadow roles have been filled. Until the rest of the roles are cast and you perform the entire movie, these episodes will keep happening until your characters completely take over you.”
I excused myself to the kitchen to grab the tissues. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or both. I now know what Mrs. Knowles went through when Magister Alexander told her that her son was possessed by a Cherub.
“Will I have to sign a contract?” I blurted out as I retook my seat. I was afraid to ask, knowing what Mrs. Knowles had sacrificed to save her son.
“The contracts are only required for exorcisms,” Father Cooke eased my concern, “it requires a lot of energy to drive an entity from this plain of existence.”
“What do we do now? How do we remove the blessing?” I was eager to get this nightmare over with.
“We can’t remove it. The only thing we can do is help the blessing run its course,” Father Cooke answered.
“How do we do that?”
Magister Alexander held out his phone for all to see. Pictured on the screen was the poster for the movie along with dates and show times. “We are going to take the film to the next showing of the Rocky Horror Picture show and give the audience the best show of their lives.”
“Once the rest of the shadow roles have been filled and the shadow cast complete, we will watch the film again. Only this time the three of you will get to play your parts in their entirety.”
I had resisted seeing the movie for so long despite growing up with people who loved it. Now I was going to watch it to help my son. I never expected to be doing the Time Warp in a theater filled with people of all ages while my son strutted around dressed as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, but that is exactly what happened.
This story is part of the author’s Father Cooke series of interrelated stories. If you enjoy it, the author invites you to click here to read the other tales in the series.
“If you are going to keep me tied to this chair, at least give me the dignity of letting me wear my hat,” my wife hissed at me while she nodded to the green stocking cap at her feet. The one shaped like a Christmas tree.
I picked up the hat and placed it gently on her head. Then I positioned it just how she liked it, slightly to the left side with the top folded neatly so the giant golden bell rested against her shoulder.
“Thank you,” she said as I adjusted the strings of light that bound her to the dining room chair.
“Are they too tight?” I asked. I felt bad that I had to tie her up. “I can go out to the garage and get that nylon cord we use to tie the tarps down.”
“I’m fine, but I’d feel much better if you’d just untie me. I’m not going to hurt anyone. I just want to spread a little Yuletide cheer.”
“I love you, but you know I can’t do that. You can’t leave the house since you decided to sneak into the Johnson’s home and redecorate their tree.”
“Have you seen their tree? It was hideous!”
“What about the Greenberg’s house?”
“They didn’t have a tree at all, so I gave them one.”
“They are Jewish.”
“Jewish people don’t like trees?”
I couldn’t tell if that was supposed to be a joke or not. I could have continued to list the neighbors she had scared or annoyed, but there wasn’t any point. She felt justified in everything she had done.
“We are lucky everyone declined to press charges as long as you agreed to stay under voluntary house arrest until Christmas was over,” I reminded her.
“I didn’t agree to that, you did,” she spat the words at me. “I would never agree to something that would prevent me from enjoying the holidays.”
“I didn’t have a choice. Your version of enjoying the holidays involved breaking and entering our neighbors’ homes.”
She turned her head away from me, clearly annoyed that I had sided against her.
“If you won’t untie me, could you at least plug these in?” she asked and indicated the strings of lights I used to tie her up. Several seconds later she added, “…please.”
“If it will make you happy, then I will gladly plug them in for you,” I said as I grabbed an extension cord from the closest.
“Let me know if they get too hot,” I said once the lights were plugged in. I waited a few minutes to make sure she was ok then went into the kitchen to pour myself a drink. As I walked away I could hear her start to hum O Christmas Tree.
I poured a shot of whiskey and downed it in one gulp. I was about to pour another when I heard the doorbell ring out the tune “Carol of the Bells”. My wife replaced the old bell shortly after she became obsessed with decorating for the holidays.
I opened the door to find two gentlemen standing on my porch, both dusted with a fine layer of snow. One of them was a priest, the other, a tall thin man dressed entirely in black clutching a leather satchel to his side.
I had decided to contact them after I read an article on the internet about a woman whose son was possessed by an angel. I’ve tried everything else, so why not an exorcism? I can’t think of any other explanation for why she started acting the way she had. She always loved Christmas, but not as obsessively as she had that week. It was like she was possessed by Santa Clause.
“Mr. Hudson?” The tall man asked while he reached out with his left hand, “I’m Theodore Alexander and this is Father Cooke,” he said and nodded towards the priest beside him.
“Please call me Ben,” I said and shook Mr. Alexander’s hand then offered my hand to Father Cooke. “Come on in.”
“Should I call you Magister?” I asked Mr. Alexander after I shut the door, “I’m a little confused on the protocol here. I didn’t know Satanic priests like you existed until I read that article about you.”
He laughed, “Mr. Alexander is fine if that makes you more comfortable.”
“Wow, you weren’t kidding,” Mr. Alexander gazed around the room at all of the Christmas decorations. Every available space seemed to be filled with a variety of holiday ornaments. “Is every room decorated like this?”
“Yep…even the bathrooms,” I said. “She also tried to decorate several of the neighbors’ houses.” I added, thinking it might help shed some light on what might be wrong with her.
“I see that most of the decorations are of commercial characters. There are different versions of Santa, Frosty, the reindeer, and elves, but I don’t see any of the usual religious decorations. No manger, crosses, or angels,” Father Cooke noted while he surveyed the room.
“…And trees,” Mr. Alexander added, “There are a lot of Christmas trees.”
“Is that significant?” I asked
“Potentially,” Mr. Alexander replied, “The entities we deal with tend to surround themselves with religious symbols that can often be used to identify where they came from.”
I hung their coats on the rack and led them into the living room where my wife was tied up. When they saw her bound to the chair, Christmas lights blinking all around her, they looked at each other than over at me.
“She asked me to turn the lights on,” I said while I took a detour to the kitchen to grab the whiskey and some glasses. “When I got your message, I didn’t have much time to prepare and there were plenty of lights lying around, so…,” I shrugged; the rest they could figure out for themselves.
I returned to the living room and set the whiskey and glasses down on the coffee table. I sat in the recliner next to the couch and poured myself another drink. Mr. Alexander and Father Cooke waved off my offer to pour one for them.
“I like the lights,” she said to the men as they sat on the couch facing her. “They help illuminate all of the beautiful decorations and they make me feel festive.”
“They are quite lovely Mrs. Hudson,” Mr. Alexander said, “I have to ask, why all of the trees?”
“Thank you,” She responded politely before answering his question. “I figured two religious boys like you would already know the answer to that. It was after all your religion that appropriated the tree for yourselves.”
“Our religion?” Father Cooke asked before glancing over at Mr. Alexander. The look they exchanged indicated a piece of the puzzle may have been handed to them.
“Don’t be coy Father, you know I am talking about Christianity,” She sounded a little annoyed. “You boys are different sides of the same coin as far as I’m concerned. Your patchwork religion was built out of the pieces of the ones you destroyed. That tree and its place in the home was a tradition long before your God showed up.”
I sat quietly in my chair and sipped my whiskey while I listened and wondered where the conversation was headed. That was obviously not my wife and it started to frighten me. I shared my bed with whatever she had become. That gave me chills.
“Ben?” Mr. Alexander raised his voice to get my attention when I had failed to answer the question he’d just asked me.
“What?” I said as I returned from my muddled thoughts. The alcohol had started to take effect.
“Is there someplace we can talk in private?” he repeated.
“Uh…yeah,” I thought for a moment, “How about the garage?” I suggested. Our house was small and the interior walls didn’t block sound very well.
“Bring the icicles when you come back inside,” my wife said as we filed past her on our way to the garage. “There should be a box of them in the trunk.”
Once we were all in the garage I leaned against the hood of the car, arms crossed, and waited for one of them to speak.
“This is much easier on the eyes,” Father Cooke remarked when he noticed the garage was free of Christmas decorations.
“I come out here sometimes to get away from all that,” I nodded towards the house. “It’s the only place I could keep her from decorating.”
“I would spend a lot of time out here as well under the circumstances,” Father Cooke smiled.
“I know Christmas decorations are the last thing you want to talk about, but I do have to ask about them, specifically the bells. It didn’t occur to me until just now how many of your decorations have been enhanced with bells. Have bells always been a big part of her decorations?” Mr. Alexander asked.
“Not that I recall…I mean we always had a few decorations with bells, but nothing like what you see in there now.”
“The doorbell, I noticed it played the Carol of the Bells, how long have you had that?” Father Cooke asked.
“She bought that a couple of days ago?” I couldn’t keep my curiosity in check and asked “What do the bells have to do with all of this?”
“Bells have been known to play a significant role in many ancient religions and they may be the religious symbol we overlooked when we walked in,” Mr. Alexander placed his hand on his chin as a thought occurred to him. “When you called you mentioned that your wife was a music teacher, right?”
“Yes…well she is currently on a leave of absence,” I waved my hand in the air, “for obvious reasons.”
“Has your wife come into contact with any strange instruments recently?”
“Strange? No…I don’t think so.”
“Strange might not be the right word, it could be something simple like an antique,” Father Cooke elaborated. “A better question might be has she brought home any new instruments?”
“No…” I started to say, but all of the talk about the bells triggered my memory. She did bring home some bells. I didn’t really think of them as musical instruments, but technically they were.
“Actually, the day she started acting weird she brought home this little wooden box with three bells in it…the kind that have the handles on them.” I tried to pantomime what I was talking about. “There was also a little piece of sheet music tucked to the side. I remember her showing it to me. She picked it up at the thrift store.”
I rushed back into the house which left the two men with puzzled expressions on their faces. I ran into the front room and grabbed the box where my wife left it sitting on the table in the foyer. When I returned I held it out to Mr. Alexander with two hands. “This is it.”
In my excitement to show them the box I accidentally left the door open which prompted my wife to yell out, “What about the icicles?”.
I went and closed the door as Mr. Alexander inspected the outside of the box. “It appears to be hand carved and these patterns along the outside appear to be Germanic or possibly Norse. If this is authentic, it is very old and very valuable. I’m surprised someone would donate this to a thrift store.”
He carefully opened the lid to reveal the three ornate bronze bells nestled inside. Instead of removing a bell, he slid the piece of parchment out and handed the box to Father Cooke.
He started to smile as he looked over the single piece of sheet music. I could tell he found the answer he was looking for. When he finished with his examination he retrieved the box from Father Cooke and handed him the piece of paper.
“These are summoning bells,” Mr. Alexander indicated the box that held the instruments, “and that,” he pointed at the sheet of music, “works as the incantation. Your wife must have used the bells to play the song. That is what allowed the solstice spirit to possess her.”
“The what?” I inquired.
“Old nature spirits,” Father Cooke explained. “Thousands of years before God came to Earth, humans worshiped various nature deities. Solstice spirits were the emissaries for many of those old Gods.”
“But our God is a jealous God,” Mr. Alexander cut in. “When He arrived He demanded loyalty from everyone, including those entities. Most of them were powerless to resist Him and were forced to join his cause. Today we call some of those spirits angels. Those that opposed him joined the ranks of The Serpent’s demon horde or were driven into the deepest and darkest crevices between heaven and hell, rarely to be seen.”
“Oookkkaaayyy…” I said drawing out the word. “But what does that have to do with Christmas and all of these damn decorations?”
“Solstice spirits are not normally malevolent. In fact, many of them were summoned to help in times of need, or to give thanks, or to just celebrate the changing of the seasons,” Father Cooke explained.
“The problem with this spirit,” Mr. Alexander continued where Father Cooke left off, “is that it has probably been thousands of years since it has seen the world and now it is like a kid in a candy store. It thinks it was summoned to celebrate the winter solstice. That is why it is focusing on the non-religious symbols of Christmas and that is also why it has been trying to force those things on your neighbors as well.”
“Let me stop you right there,” I said before he could continue. “Assuming everything you just told me is true…can you save my wife?”
“I’ve never encountered a solstice spirit before, but I do believe we can save her,” Mr. Alexander answered.
“So, if this isn’t an angel or a demon which one of you is going to perform the exorcism?” I asked.
“An exorcism won’t work on your wife. Solstice spirits aren’t bound by the same laws of order that govern angels and demons,” Father Cooke answered.
“Then how are you going to save her?”
Mr. Alexander smiled.
“I hate when you smile like that,” Father Cooke said.
“If the lore is correct, solstice spirits are essentially bullies. They don’t like to be told what to do, they want to be able to do what they want whenever they want and they will do everything in their power to make sure they get their way. So, if you are faced with a bully, what’s the best way to make that bully stop?” Mr. Alexander’s smile grew, “You get a bigger bully.”
“What?” I ran my hand through my hair. “Maybe I’ve had too much to drink, but I’m not following you.”
“What he is saying,” Father Cooke said, “Is that he wants to scare the spirit out of your wife.”
“How does that work?” I was extremely skeptical. “It’s a spirit, what could possibly scare it off?”
“Christmas is all about celebrating, spreading joy to those around us, and forgiving the small trespasses of life. That is what the solstice spirit wants to embody in its twisted way. I plan to summon a spirit that is the opposite of that,” Mr. Alexander explained.
“I figured that is why you were smiling,” Father Cooke pointed his finger at Mr. Alexander. “If you are going to do what I think you are going to do, you need to warn him about the risks. Don’t forget about what happened the last time you summoned something outside our domain.”
“That was a fluke. I didn’t expect the boy to actually invite it in.” Whatever they were talking about seemed to be an old point of contention between the two of them. “I seriously doubt Mrs. Hudson would do something like that.”
“What are you talking about?” I was getting tired. I didn’t know how much more of this craziness I could take.
“There is only one spirit I know of capable of sending the solstice spirit running back to whatever dark cave it crawled out of…a spirit that embodies fear, death, and isolation. A spirit called a Samhain.”
I just stared at Mr. Alexander until he explained.
“A Samhain is a type of harvest spirit…like the solstice spirit it is free from the rules of religion that govern us.” He pointed to Father Cooke than back to himself as he said the last word.
“You would probably know it better as a Halloween spirit.” He looked over at the priest when he spoke again. “Father Cooke is concerned that we won’t be able to banish it before it tries to fill the vacancy left in your wife when the solstice spirit flees.”
“That sounds insane. Can’t we just bargain with it and get it to leave on its own? If it is a Christmas spirit won’t it just leave when Christmas is over?”
“It might. It might not. Think about it this way, if I gave you the keys to your favorite car and said ‘bring it back whenever’ how long would you drive it before giving it up?” Mr. Alexander had a point. Plus, I didn’t think I could handle another day of her holiday cheer.
“There is no telling how long that thing plans on staying. We can try and wait it out, or we can force it out tonight.”
I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Alright, let’s do it,” I said. “If I were in her place, I’d want you to get it out of me as quickly as possible.” I couldn’t believe this was really happening.
“What next? Is there some sort of contract I have to sign?” I remembered reading that the woman who saved her son had to sign a contract.
“No contract required.” The question obviously amused Mr. Alexander. “What we are about to do is not sanctioned by either of our churches so no payment is required.” He held up the box of bells, “but I will be taking these with me. You can think of that as payment if you like.”
“That is fine with me,” I said, “When do we get started?”
“First we need to make sure the Samhain spirit feels welcome when it is summoned. That will help to ensure it remains tethered to the house long enough for it to become aware of the solstice spirit’s presence.”
“How do we do that?”
“First we need to clear the house of all the Christmas decorations,” Mr. Alexander explained. “Then we need to redecorate with those,” he pointed to the large boxes labeled HALLOWEEN stacked in the corner of the garage.
“…and just in case,” Mr. Alexander turned and looked at Father Cooke, indicating what he was about to say was for his benefit. “…we need to lock up all of the knives,” he paused for a moment before adding “…and the forks.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Father Cooke looked at him with raised eyebrows.
“I was going to get to that…I just wanted to wait until everything else was ready,” Mr. Alexander seemed mildly annoyed.
“What is he talking about?” I asked
“Summoning a Samhain spirit requires a certain type of investment,” Mr. Alexander explained, “It takes a little more incentive besides a few ancient phrases to get it to appear.”
“What kind of investment?” I was afraid to ask.
“Was that cat food in the bowl I saw sitting on the kitchen floor?”
This story is part of the author’s Father Cooke series of interrelated stories. If you enjoy it, the author invites you to click here to read the other tales in the series.
Magister Alexander laughed at me. “This never gets old.” He picked up the pages I had printed off the internet and shuffled through them while shaking his head. “If I had a dollar for every time somebody screwed up a summoning spell, I’d be able to retire.”
“It’s not funny,” I cried. “You have to help me!”
“I can’t help you, and if I could, I probably wouldn’t. It is up to Father Cooke to decide if he wants to help you or not.” He used the pages to point to the priest sitting on the stool across the workbench from me. “I can give you some advice though. Next time you want to summon an imp, don’t print the ritual off the internet.” He tossed the pages onto the table in front of me.
“Lesson learned…now are you going to help me or not? This really hurts.” I whined to Father Cooke as I gestured to my left arm that was held in two large metal vice grips. One grip held my wrist while the other was clamped just below the elbow. It was the only thing I could find to keep my hand from causing any more trouble. That is why we were gathered around a workbench in my father’s machine shop.
My left hand responded to my pleas by giving me the middle finger.
“I’m with lefty,” Magister Alexander smirked.
“I can help you,” Father Cooke said, “but what reassurances do we have that you won’t do something like this again? You might not be so lucky next time. ”
“Trust me.” I tried to sound as convincing as I could under the current circumstances, “I have learned my lesson. Please just get it out of my arm.”
Father Cooke stared at me for several seconds as he made his decision. “Since we are already here, we might as well help you,” he sighed and then opened the large leather bag sitting on the table in front of him. “I hope you have suffered enough to have truly learned your lesson,” he added.
“I doubt he has suffered as much as the neighbor’s dog did,” Magister Alexander pointed out.
“That wasn’t my fault!” The Magister was acting as though I had actually killed the dog.
“It was the hand! I just leaned down to pet him like I always did…” The thought of what happened to the dog made me sick to my stomach. I hung my head in shame, only to glance down and notice the blood and flecks of viscera that still stained my pants.
“If you summoned it, then you are responsible for it.” Magister Alexander folded his arms over his chest, his face full of contempt.
My left hand gave a thumb’s up to his comment.
“If you aren’t going to help, at least be quiet.” Father Cooke chided his partner while he removed three items from his bag: a flask filled with a clear liquid, a small bible, and a simple wooden cross.
Once the items were laid out on the table my left hand began to frantically gesticulate with my fingers. I could only guess this was some form of sign language.
“Lefty has a point.” Magister Alexander stated after interpreting what my hand had spelled out.
“What did it say?” I asked.
“He claims that he is the real victim and he shouldn’t be punished for your stupidity.” He turned towards Father Cooke. “Lefty wants to plead his case. I don’t see why we shouldn’t let him.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” I couldn’t believe he was going to waste time listening to that thing. “It’s my hand!”
“True, but he claims to have information that might change our minds on how we handle your situation.” Magister Alexander countered.
“It’s a hand, what could it possible know?” I balked at the idea of my fate being decided by what my left hand was going to tell them.
“You aren’t in any immediate danger, and your problem is entirely your fault. I agree with Magister Alexander. I would like to hear what it has to say.” Father Cooke said.
My left hand made a fist and tried to pump it in the air to signify its victory, but the vice grip kept it from moving very far.
“Screw you!” I scoffed at my hand. It responded by slowly raising its middle finger. Then it began to spell things out to the Magister in sign language.
“One moment please,” Magister Alexander held his finger up while he pulled out a notebook and a pen. “Okay, you may proceed.”
We sat in silence for about fifteen minutes while Magister Alexander transcribed everything that was being said by my hand. When it was finished it clenched into a fist; except the pinky, which was fully extended.
Magister Alexander made the same gesture with his hand and locked his pinky around the pinky of my left hand. “Pinky swear,” he explained when he noticed Father Cooke’s raised eyebrows.
“Let’s see what we’ve got,” he read over the notes, “Interesting,” he said when he was finished.
He handed the notebook to Father Cooke, “Very interesting,” the priest agreed after reading it.
“What?” I blurted out, “What did it say?”
“Give us a moment.” Magister Alexander stood and indicated to Father Cooke that they should step away from the workbench and speak in private.
They talked in hushed voices for several minutes. At one point I thought I heard Father Cooke say, “That’s a bit harsh don’t you think?” That made me very nervous. Large beads of sweat started to pop up on my forehead as I waited for them to finish deliberating.
Both men returned to the workbench, but neither man sat down. Magister Alexander stood with his hands behind his back, a smirk on his face.
“So?” I finally asked.
“We’ve come up with what we think is the best solution, given the new information your hand has presented us with. We are, of course, going to give you a chance to explain,” Father Cooke said to me.
“Okay…” I was starting to feel a little relieved. “What did it tell you?”
“There has been an increase in the number of spells and rituals popping up in the dark corners of the internet lately. We have been called in to deal with a few delicate issues relating to them, your current predicament included.”
“What does that have to do with me?” I didn’t know how the thing in my hand knew what I had done, but I wasn’t going to admit it. It was my word against its. “I’m a victim just like everyone else!”
“You…are a victim of your own stupidity. It was bound to catch up with you eventually,” Magister Alexander scolded me. “Did you really think we wouldn’t find out?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Stop feigning ignorance.” Father Cooke held up his hand to silence me. “Our little friend has told us everything you did.”
“How could it possibly know anything, it’s a hand!” I argued.
“It’s a possessed hand,” Magister Alexander corrected me. “As such, it has access to your thoughts and memories. It just happens to be stuck, unable to move anywhere else in your body.”
“But..,” I tried to explain, but I couldn’t think of anything to say that would change their minds. I was caught. “Fine, I did it…,” I admitted. “I was using them to trade for the summoning spell. I didn’t know they’d be posted online for everyone to see.”
“Now, can you please help me?” I pleaded.
“We will,” Father Cooke said as he collected his things and placed them back in his bag. “But, you aren’t going to like the solution we agreed upon.”
That sounded ominous. “You aren’t going to perform the exorcism on my hand?” I asked Father Cooke.
“No, I’m not,” he said, “Magister Alexander is.”
“I thought he couldn’t exorcise demons.” I was confused. Even more so as I watched Father Cooke place a syringe, a roll of gauze, and a few other medical instruments I didn’t recognize onto the table from his bag.
“I can’t,” the Magister responded. “We decided the best way to help you and ensure something like this never happens again is to limit your ability to practice the arts.” He then revealed the large hand saw he was holding behind his back. “That is why I am going to exorcise your hand from your wrist.”
My left hand gave an enthusiastic thumbs up when it heard that.
Reading Time: 12minutesBack in 2012, I went to Las Vegas for a couple of weeks to blow off some steam, along with my severance package after I was laid off.
It wasn’t an absurd amount of money, but it was enough to have fun for a few days which was all I wanted.
I was staying at a casino hotel, and one morning I woke up with what I initially assumed was just another hangover. I felt nauseous and slightly dazed, and it took a couple of minutes for my legs and arms to regain their normal levels of sensation.
It’s almost as if my body had slept for a really long time.
Didn’t take long before I realized I was missing a finger.
My left index finger, to be more precise.
I started freaking out and panicking as my vision gradually turned to black, threatening to make me pass out at any given second.
I didn’t lose consciousness, but I still struggled as I looked all over the room for my missing finger.
Something I was quick to notice was that there wasn’t any blood at all. None that I could see, at least.
Of course it could’ve just been my drunken, drugged up and panicked self that couldn’t see or think straight, but the investigation confirmed it later on: no traces of blood were found, and the weapon/object responsible for the deed was also missing.
It appeared to be a clean cut, and the wound had somehow been cauterized.
To me it looked like the finger had simply fallen off.
I know this makes no sense at all, but that was my train of thought. I mean, if you woke up one day missing a finger, you’d certainly look around first, right? So that’s what I did.
I mean it’s a part of you, part of your body, something that’s just not supposed to disappear like that.
I eventually called for help, and to say it was a total shit show doesn’t even come close.
So many cops, casino security and nosy patrons trying to understand what the hell was going on.
I didn’t know what to say, or even what to think.
I was missing a fucking finger and had no idea how or why that happened.
The cops didn’t seem to care all that much. One of them implied something along the lines of me borrowing money from a loan shark or the mob or something like that.
Another one said “it’s just a finger, you should be grateful.”
I was disgusted beyond words, but before I got to defend myself from those accusations, everyone seemed to accept it as the truth.
“When in Vegas,” someone said.
I still filled a ton of paperwork but it was worthless in the end. No clues came up and I could tell it was pointless to bother them about it.
It was fucking Vegas after all, right?
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” and my finger sure as hell stayed there for all I know.
I threatened to sue the hotel, and the guys in charge ended up giving me some hush money.
I guess having your patrons lose body parts without a good enough reason would be bad for business.
Who would’ve thought?
I think this goes without saying, but the whole ordeal and its aftermath fucking sucked.
Of course things are much different now in hindsight, with me not knowing at the time that it would become a regular thing, but even then it was enough to nearly ruin my life.
I know it was “just” one finger, but how do you come to terms with something like that?
It’s one thing to be involved in a freak accident or even a fight.
But not only did I not know how I had lost it, I also didn’t know why, or even who would want to do something like that to me.
How do you explain that to friends and family?
How do you even begin to wrap your head around something like that?
Imagine waking up every single morning and being reminded almost instantly that a part of your body has gone missing.
If you think you could’ve easily moved past it, then good for you. You’re a better, stronger person than I could ever hope to be, but in my case?
It nearly destroyed me.
I didn’t leave my apartment for months.
I couldn’t think or function normally because the thought of my lost finger was always on my mind. I mean, it USED to be attached to me, and then it disappeared overnight, so it was only natural to be reminded of its absence constantly.
Whenever I reached to grab something, whenever I used or looked at my hands… it would mess me up for the rest of the day.
I hadn’t become fully used to it yet, but thanks to therapy I was on the verge of making peace with it and finally moving on with my life.
And then I lost something else, exactly one year later.
* * * * * *
I woke up with a very familiar sensation, one that had plagued my nightmares as well as my sleep paralysis incidents for the past year.
I felt sick and numb, my whole body struggling to move and wake up.
Sensation slowly came back to me, followed by pain.
I screamed for my life, as I had done hundreds of times right before waking up in a puddle of sweat, but it was no nightmare.
My right ear had gone missing, in the exact same circumstances as my finger.
No blood, no tools, nothing left behind.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that both incidents had happened on the exact same day of the exact same month.
There was a pattern.
There was, in all likelihood, a reason for this madness, and someone had to be behind it.
And yet absolutely nothing came from it once again.
“Absolutely nothing”… that’s what the cops had to work with, and I was left exactly the same as the year before, except that now I was missing an ear as well.
The cops suspected my then girlfriend at the time. She was a nurse – I think you can guess in under which circumstances we first met – but everything checked out; she had been working all night and dozens of hospital staff accounted for her, as did video surveillance.
While she provided some emotional support at first, she bailed after a few days.
I couldn’t blame her.
Not only was there still no logical explanation to the who, how or why, but someone had managed to make their way into our home, hack a piece of me and leave without seemingly breaking in or even leaving any evidence behind.
That would just about scare anyone into moving away to another state, maybe even another country – which I actually attempted to do at some point, but more on that in a bit – and not only that, but this wasn’t the first time that it had happened, and now all the signs pointed to this becoming an annual event.
And it sure did.
* * * * * *
Probably the hardest year I had to live through, knowing that someone was actively trying to ruin my life by slowly amputating my body, piece by piece.
I invested a lot in security and would change the locks every other week, but I was never satisfied.
It wasn’t enough.
I barely slept, knowing that each passing day brought me closer to that terrible date.
But what if it didn’t?
What if they decided to come that very night, or the next? Maybe next week, or two months later?
They had done with me as they pleased twice on the exact same day of the year, and the message was clear: they could do what they wanted with me, whenever they wanted, and get away with it.
It probably would’ve been smart to just move to a different place, but my anxiety dictated most of my decisions.
I nearly didn’t talk to anyone that whole year. That on top of my seclusion didn’t do me any good, although it did provide a bare-bones source of comfort.
I lived in constant fear for the first 2/3rds of 2014.
I thought it would get a lot worse as the inevitable date drew closer, but the opposite happened.
I became angrier, with a newfound bloodlust building up inside of me.
Someone was doing this to me, and if they wanted to keep on doing it, they would have to come for me again.
Only this time I would be ready.
I would be expecting them.
They couldn’t possibly get away a third time, and more importantly, I just couldn’t afford to lose anything else.
I couldn’t allow it, as I feared my mind and spirit would simply break apart.
I got myself a gun through some gangbangers, and made sure I’d know how to use it when the time came.
I was ready to take a life, and considering all that had happened to me, I knew I could probably get away with it.
In fact, if anyone had knocked on my door on that day, I would’ve likely unloaded a full clip through the door without thinking twice.
I just needed an excuse, the smallest hint of a threat… anything.
I know I took some pills to make sure that I’d remain awake and aware throughout the night, but my recollection of that evening just fizzles past a certain point.
I thought I’d taken enough steps to guarantee that I’d make it to the next day in one piece (or rather, without losing any more pieces) but I was wrong.
That year they took my right hand, but that’s not all they did.
The weapon I had bought for my protection?
It was left on my desk completely disassembled, with every single part and component neatly, perfectly arranged like it was something straight out of a fucking manual.
They had left a message, perhaps even a warning of things to come, the meaning of which I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you at this stage.
All I knew then is that it was all far from over.
* * * * * *
Living as a shut-in had done me no good, so I had to radically change my approach if I hoped to change anything.
I spent most of 2015 traveling the country, staying at motels and all kinds of sketchy places.
I never knew where I was headed next whenever I got on a cab or hitched a ride. Ditched my phone and made sure to never make reservations of any kind.
That sort of thing, you know, “not leaving a trail behind” and just get off the grid, or at least try to.
Figured that might be enough to lose whoever was after me, even though I had no idea what kind of resources they had available to them.
For a while, I think I really felt confident about it. I believed I could survive the year without losing any more pieces of me.
But as the dreaded date loomed closer, doubts and anxiety found a way to cripple me all over again. In doing so, it gave way for all that mental and physical fatigue to set in, accumulated from nearly a whole year’s worth of traveling around.
What if everything I had done wasn’t enough? Or what if it had all been pointless to begin with?
There was less than a week left at that point, and that’s when I decided to do something very stupid that probably undid all the “work” I’d done so far:
I bought a laptop and used the dark web to hire someone to protect me.
They took my money, but they never showed up.
I lost my tongue that year.
* * * * * *
I didn’t do much of anything in 2016. I moved into a new apartment every couple of months or so, but more out of necessity than anything else.
There was no point for me to move around as I had done the year before, considering how it turned out in the end.
Instead I tried my best to live a normal life as much as possible, despite everything I had lost and with my speech now severely impaired as well.
I kept mostly to myself. On the outside, I appeared to be coping and living with my disabilities as best as I could, but I hadn’t given up.
Every day I kept thinking of a way to stop something that, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be unavoidable no matter what I did.
I kept everything related to this issue bottled up inside my head. That was the only place I was sure they couldn’t look into to see what I was planning.
Even though I spent most of the year thinking of a way to keep it from happening again, I want to make it clear that I didn’t have a grand scheme going on.
I wish I had, but as you would surely understand, I wasn’t exactly in the best of places. Losing body part after body part every single year will do that to you.
All of this just to say that the best thing I came up with was getting on the longest flight available on that particular day. The destination didn’t matter to me.
I figured there was no way someone could get a piece of me while up in the air and with nowhere to run off to. It was impossible, no matter how many scenarios I tried to recreate in my mind.
And if I could spend enough hours up in the air, maybe I could make it, maybe for once I could go through one year without losing a part of me… and maybe the whole thing would finally stop.
I didn’t even make it inside the plane.
Airport security found me passed out in a bathroom, missing my left foot.
* * * * * *
I gave up entirely after that. How could I not?
When I asked for help, they took my tongue.
When I tried to fly away, they took my foot, as if to say that I wasn’t going anywhere.
I didn’t see the point to try and fight it any further, and even if I wanted to pursue some form of resistance, what could I ever attempt to achieve by myself?
What could I ever hope to accomplish in the condition I was in, which only worsened year after year?
There was nothing left for me to do but accept it.
Accept the fact that it was going to happen again, and that I couldn’t do anything about it.
So last year I didn’t do anything extraordinary.
Went to the movie theater in the afternoon, had dinner at the fanciest restaurant I could find without a reservation, and then went straight home.
I didn’t stay up pointing a gun at the door.
I didn’t bother with any last minute thinking that I knew wouldn’t get me anywhere.
I just went to bed and fell asleep, knowing that I’d wake up the following morning less of a man than I was the day before.
I didn’t do anything, except leaving a handwritten note by my bedside.
“Why?” was all it said.
“Why?” was all I needed to know.
I figured since I had accepted and stopped trying to fight it, that they would at least humor my request and just tell me why they were doing this to me.
An answer was all I wanted, and it wasn’t much to ask for considering everything that had been taken from me already.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect even if they were to leave me an answer, since nothing could possibly justify what had been done to me.
I never did anything to anyone that could warrant this kind of vengeance. No crazy people in my life or insane ex-girlfriends, none at all. And if this had been a case of mistaken identity, or misdirected revenge? I could never get any of it back.
What’s done is done, but I still had to know.
I needed something to go on, no matter how fucking insane or deluded it might me.
I needed to know the reasoning behind this slow process that was progressively erasing my existence from this world.
I woke up missing an eye and all I got was the following response, left on the same sheet of paper:
* * * * * *
That brings us to now.
I know that there might’ve been other things I could’ve done, other actions I could’ve taken.
Back when they left my gun completely disassembled, or even when they answered my note, I could’ve asked the cops to look for fingerprints or some kind of evidence, but did I think something would come from it?
No. They wouldn’t be so methodical and relentless unless they had no reason to believe they would be caught. I know it’s dumb to think like this, but I knew in my gut that it was pointless to dwell on it.
I understand that I likely committed some very dumb mistakes early on, but please try and see it from my perspective: I was alone through most of it all in these last 6 years, and every time it happened again, I started functioning less and less like a normal person.
I had no one to ask for help, and even if I did, my heightened paranoia would’ve made me believe otherwise.
I lived in constant fear and apprehension, afraid that whoever is responsible for this could literally be any person I come across if I were to step outside.
Please understand that things went down the only way they could because of the bad place I was put into, both physically as well as mentally, and please understand that I’m not here to ask for your help.
As I said, I’ve already made my peace with it, and I don’t mean to trouble any of you in trying to come up with a scheme or a plan to make this stop once and for all.
If you’ve read everything up until now, then that’s more than enough and I don’t wish to take any more of your time.
Thank you. Truly.
With this, I just want someone to know that I existed. I just want someone to remember that I, too, was someone at some point. I was complete.
I was a person.
I could share my name, even my mangled face, but even what’s left of it can be taken away if they want to.
But not these words.
You can’t take this away from me, and you won’t be able to erase me from people’s memories. I know it isn’t much, and I know I might not live on for long in this capacity, but for now it’s more than enough.
I know that whoever’s been collecting my body parts over the years will see this.
I know you’ll be reading this. Perhaps you’ll even leave a comment of sorts, wishing me luck or even offering your help and insight.
I know you will.
There’s only two days left until our next date.
Maybe you’ll finally show yourself to me?
Maybe you’ll put me out of my misery, once and for all? I considered doing it myself plenty of times, but since you’ve been through all this trouble already I figured I might as well wait for you to wrap it up.
Wouldn’t want to ruin your fun, and I, too, get some form of twisted satisfaction out of it by knowing that you will always have to come back for more.
You’re not done yet, are you?
And to tell you the truth, I’m actually quite excited for once. This is pretty much the only thing I have left to look forward to at this point.
And who knows, I might also have a surprise in store for you.
Reading Time: 64minutesSometimes I find it hard to believe that I’ve been an internet user for twenty years now. That’s older than some of my co-workers. It’s over half my life. And still the internet feels like “the new thing.” I used to take it for granted, like we all do. But at least I remember what it was like when it wasn’t there. When you had to leaf through an encyclopedia set to find an answer. When you could only find Gillian Anderson’s picture in magazines. Or later, when songs took 30 minutes to download and full-length movies were almost impossible to find, because no-one’s hard drive could hold them.
First getting online was super exciting. I mean, the first time I did it without supervision. Because I knew I had anything at my fingertips. I could type it into good ol’ Lycos, one of many pre-Google search engines, and there it would be. I was interested in naked celebrities and the paranormal back then. I was only 13, give me a break. I was so interested in the paranormal, I built a Fortunecity free homepage all about the occult and The X-Files. I linked it to the DarkNet webring, where all the best “dark” websites and homepages came together. Pages on spell books, goth babes, the occult, dark art, and a gross-out page or two. It was through the webring that I met Angelica.
Angelica hosted a Wiccan geocities or tripod homepage that I found particularly alluring. No wait, it was Angelfire. She just made the best of some cool animated gifs, midis, and frames—amazing stuff at the time. Just like her, the page was creative and attractive, but also simple. The reason I bring all this up is she suddenly contacted me just a few weeks ago by email asking, “What’s been happening?” A catch-up question. We had almost 20 years of catching up to do. And this is pure Angelica: She signed the email with her ICQ contact #. I enjoyed the quaint touch. It’d be like someone in the ‘90s sending a letter with a wax seal, right?
I replied back with a summary of how my life had gone over the past 18 years or so since I’d last communicated with her. 18 years—makes you think. She shot back a response almost immediately asking for details. We exchanged a few emails this way. I was pretty excited to come home from work and write to her, actually. Nothing romantic. It was just—it was reconnecting with my past. It’s a strange but addictive feeling.
Soon I started to notice something just a little off. She never really answered anything about herself. She ignored my suggestions that we text or talk on the phone. All she wanted was to know more about me. It got me wondering. Like maybe she’s dying and just doesn’t want to say. So I asked her. I asked why she wasn’t sharing and if there was something I should know.
I start reading over her previous messages for clues, and I noticed something that didn’t occur to me at all until then. Her email address was at globetrotter.net. That may not mean anything to you. But it struck me as strange. You see, Globetrotter was a Canadian ISP way back in the mid-90s. I didn’t even realize they still hosted. I know a lot of people still have their old email addresses for sentimental value and all. But it’s like she was purposely trying to be old school. Something about it creeped me out. Like she was trying too hard to make me feel nostalgic or something.
Again, I didn’t have to wait long for her reply. Oh, she didn’t answer my questions. She asked me, “Hey, do you remember The Hole?” I didn’t know why then, but the moment I read that sentence, I felt uneasy. Like I was being watched. I had a hazy sense that I’d dreamed about something called ‘The Hole’ once. Whatever it was, I was instinctively repulsed by it. I couldn’t remember anything solid, though. In my head I went over IRC rooms, websites, newsgroups, webrings—all the old internet stuff—and came up empty.
She sent me another email before I could even reply:
“You really don’t remember? The Hole was our little secret. Not many knew about it. Even fewer how to find it. But we found it. It was right there all along. Sometimes, when you’d load DarkNet in Netscape, there’d be a tiny black dot in the bottom, left corner, in all this blank space. You had to hover over it exactly and click it. Then you’d be there. You’d be in The Hole. You remember it now, don’t you?”
She was right, I did. I just didn’t remember ever calling it “The Hole.” What I remembered was that secret little space we found. I remember it was like the browser didn’t see it as a real website or something. There wasn’t even an address to copy and paste from the bar. It was just the letter ‘M.’ I tried everything to pin it down to an IP, but ‘M’ was all I could ever find.
Another thing I remember is that I never liked that place. Not at all. There was nothing there. It was all empty. I remember being excited the first time we found it, because it was something hidden. And it felt like somewhere we shouldn’t be. Then I hated it. Because it was just empty. And it made me feel bad and empty. Not boredom. Like it wasn’t supposed to be there or anywhere, wasn’t part of anything.
I wrote Angelica back telling her I wasn’t interested in talking about that. I didn’t hear back from her that night. That was unusual. She normally replied right away. Eerily fast, I realized while mulling it over. It was like she already had her answer typed out and it didn’t matter what I actually said to her. Now that I was waiting for a response, because this whole thing had me inexplicably shaken up, of course she didn’t reply.
The next day, when I got home from work, an email was waiting. She said, “We were missing so much. The Hole has so much for us to discover, so many secrets, you could just keep going and going. It’s like an endless puzzle. Everyone else stopped at the first layer. You remember that, right? I just knew there had to be something else in it. I knew no-one would create and hide it for no reason. I kept going back to it, looking closely until I discovered how to go deeper. And I kept going. It’s still there, you know. It’s not too late. The webring is gone, Netscape is gone, but The Hole is still there for you.”
I felt a strange chill down my spine that I brushed off as nerves. I was up for a promotion and a little stressed, after all. Then I started to wonder if she was pranking me. Angelica wasn’t really a humorous girl. She’d laugh at your jokes. But she didn’t really make her own. In fact, something about her earnestness was really disturbing.
I didn’t reply to her right then. I decided to run some checks on her, because things just weren’t adding up. I started with her email address, to see if she’d been posting anywhere. I was searching for a while before I hit something. I didn’t find any forum posts or websites or anything like that. What I found was that her email host, globetrotter, had stopped hosting. Eleven years ago! The email address she was writing from was impossible. Now I knew something was wrong with her. If it was even really Angelica.
I mean, why would she go through so much trouble to create a fake email address that mirrored whatever email address she would’ve been using in the ‘90s? That wasn’t just quaint anymore. Also, we hadn’t talked in 18 years. Why did she suddenly want to reach out to me? And why just to talk about some long-forgotten website? Because I felt like that’s what she was building up to all along. The more I thought about it, the more weird it seemed.
I should’ve just ignored her and went on with my life, but I wanted to know what was going on. I kept digging around. I used her ICQ number, her name, the state I believed she lived in. I could find no record of her doing anything after her Angelfire homepage. No Facebook, no Google Plus, not even a MySpace. It’s like her last presence on the internet actually was in the ‘90s. Like she disappeared completely, waited in hiding for almost twenty years, then reappeared just to talk to me about an old website. The whole thing was so bizarre, I started having trouble sleeping. I was having nightmares about staring into a monitor, not able to move. There were computers all around. And I was concerned about the beehive in the corner.
After that, I went a week without sending her an email or her sending me one. I felt guilty about it. But I had every right. I just knew I’d regret it if I sent her another email. And it seemed like she took the hint at first. Until a new email came in. This one was short and to the point.
It read: “I think I’m coming to the center. You could spend your whole life in here.”
I remember those words exactly. Oh yes. Because whatever the hell they meant, the way she said them, so real and urgent, was really upsetting.
I didn’t dare answer her. Another week went by without a strange email. This one was a different kind of email. This one didn’t even have an email address. That was spooky enough in itself. It gets worse. The text read, “Don’t trust emails, not from good place, delete and forget.” It wasn’t signed. I figured it had to be Angelica. It just wasn’t her style.
Not long after, I received another email from Angelica with instructions of where to go looking for The Hole. A place on archive.org, on their “Wayback Machine,” still had the dot to click on. That was the only way in, she said. It had to be the dot. I thought about going to check it. I would have. Except I was afraid of it. I couldn’t remember what happened to me with that site, but I knew there was something bad about it.
Then another email came from the blank email address. In the body, just the link to a gopher site. Now, I hadn’t seen a gopher site in a good 15 years. I had to download an old browser just to access it. If you weren’t on the internet back then, Gopher sites just housed a bunch of text files in folders, usually. You’d go to Gopher colon slash-slash blahblah dot com. They were usually run by universities.
This particular gopher site only had a few files. All audio files. I listened to them all. They had different filenames, but they were the same. The muffled sound of a boy’s voice saying, “Help me, please” over and over. I was shaking. I got the police involved this time. They thought I was being pranked. I asked them if they could at least look into Angelica. I told them all I knew about her. The only thing I didn’t tell them is who I thought the voice was. I know it’s crazy, but, the reason I didn’t tell them, is that I’m pretty sure it was my voice when I was a boy.
I stopped received emails from Angelica and the blank address after that. I hoped it was over. I think a month passed before anything else happened. I got the promotion. Things were feeling normal. I told myself some secrets are best left secret. Well, I got a large, manila envelope in the mail. No return address. I went against my gut and opened it. Inside was a printout of all my correspondence with Angelica. All of it. Not just the new stuff. Emails I’d written her back in the ‘90s.
I took this stack of papers to the police. This was evidence. They told me they still thought it was a sick prank. That struck me as odd. I asked them “But why ‘sick’?” That’s when they told me they actually had heard back from the local PD where Angelica lived. She’d been a missing person since 1999. Her parents offered a reward and everything. They never found her. No clues. One night she was in her room, listening to music, on the computer. In the morning, she was gone without a trace.
I was so shocked I had to sit down. Maybe it was a prank. But then, what if it was her? Wouldn’t her family want to know? Maybe she’d had a psychotic break or something? What’s this stuff about “The Hole”? And what about the blank email address? I didn’t have a clue.
The police were no help with these questions. And I was pulled back in. I decided to go looking for any contacts I could remember from the time when I was speaking to Angelica. Anyone who would’ve known both me and her. We had a few mutual contacts. Mostly people from the webring, but also people we introduced to each other. Just not many I remembered by their real names. Actually, none.
There was one guy. He went by the handle Rapskhellion_42. He was an odd guy, into hacking and anarchy—the good, clean internet taboos we had back then. He’d been on the net forever, since the days of bulletin board systems. That guy, if he was still around, he’d probably still be going by the same username. So, I got to searching. Not only could I not find any trace of a Rapskhellion_42, I couldn’t find any Rapskhellion at all. He was all over the web in the day. So that in itself was weird. Like someone scrubbed any trace of him.
That’s when I got the idea to go dig out my old computer. It was an old 1997 HP running Windows 98. I had it stashed in the basement since I went to college. It would at least have all of my old contacts stored just where I left them. If it would even load. I had to wait 5 minutes for it to boot up. Then I got the Ethernet cable plugged in. It was like it’d just been in sleep mode for two decades. And there they were, my desktop icons for IRC, ICQ, Netscape and even Napster. Napster! I learned there was more to music than the radio from Napster. Some good memories.
I honestly wasn’t sure ICQ would load. I believe ICQ still exists in some form, but I just doubted their servers would still accommodate the old software. One of the key features of ICQ that made it so ahead of its time was that, besides being the only instant messenger, it also allowed offline messaging. I mention that because, not only did ICQ load, but it loaded with a message. That perturbed me a little, because it’s like it was just waiting for me, knowing I’d boot it up. Except for one detail. The message was dated from November, 1999. It was from Angelica, so it had to have been sent right before she disappeared. It just said, “You coming?” It sent a shiver down my spine. Where was she going? Could I have helped her if I’d seen it in time? Why’d she act like I knew?
Even weirder is that I’m sure I’d been on ICQ after November 1999. I’d say I used it up to 2001 or so. That’s when I went to college. It’s like the message got trapped in the server all that time and I was only getting it now.
I closed the message and looked for Rapskhellion_42. I was hoping just to find an email address on his ICQ info. I really didn’t expect to see a green Online icon beside his name, but that’s what I got. That only added to how unsettled I was. I almost had to check to make sure it was really 2017. Anyway, I fired off a message to Rap saying, “Hey man, long time no speak.” I didn’t want to just start with ‘business’ after all that time.
I was relieved when he replied back with a friendly hello and asked me how I was doing. After exchanging pleasantries, and catching up a little, I had to ask him why he was still using ICQ after all this time.
He said it’s because of Y2K. “Y2K really happened,” he said. It just didn’t happen the way everyone expected. It was way more insidious. We all thought computers would just stop working because they couldn’t handle the millennium change. But it wasn’t that they stopped working. Something happened inside the “connection of things,” something bad. The old equipment would be fine, as long as it didn’t get ‘patched’. But everything made after December 31st, 1999 would be tainted. That’s why he still used ICQ and never let go of his NetZero dialup connection.
I hadn’t heard a Y2K conspiracy theory in a very long time. So that was interesting. I chose to ignore it and asked him if he knew about Angelica going missing back in ’99. He said he didn’t. He figured she just dropped off the internet. But, he said, it’s no coincidence she went missing right at Y2K. “A lot of strange things happened then. The world changed. Only a few people even noticed.” Rap was always a little on the fringe, but what he was saying was strangely upsetting. Maybe it was just hitting too close to home. If that last message really was sent November, 1999, then he was right, she disappeared right before Y2K.
Given his views, I went ahead and told Rap everything that had happened. He believed me. That was a nice change, in a way. It also made it feel more real. I was shaking while typing.
He told me my story reminded him of something he’d heard from another old friend just recently. There was this guy, “R0xT4r” or to his closer friends just “Reggie”, who used to frequent an internet forum on hacking and phreaking back in the mid-90s. This guy had a lot of friends there, was well-spoken and clever enough to earn real respect. Over time, as often happens, he just drifted away from the forum. His posts became less frequent as other aspects of life preoccupied him, and soon enough he was gone. The forum strove for anonymity, for obvious reasons. So, no-one kept in contact with him.
The forum’s still there, Rap said. Nowhere near what it used to be, but the regulars like him are dedicated. A few months ago, after twenty years absence, Reggie suddenly showed up on the forum again. His posts were polite, conversational, but just off somehow. Like someone feigning familiarity. He was just trying so hard. It was weird, but they were happy he was alive and well, so they replied to him and brought him up to date. Then, without acknowledging anything they said, he started making post after post about how his life was revolutionized. He found a whole new frontier of hacking. “The hacking begins inside you,” he said. And he wanted to show it to them.
The forum folk were flabbergasted by his odd behavior, so they started interrogating him. He went silent for about a week. Then he sent one last message, saying, “I love you guys so much” with a TinyURL link. Rap’s friend thought it was all a joke and that Reggie was just leading the whole forum up to an epic rickroll. He didn’t click it, because he didn’t need to hear any Astley and he was busy with something else.
He came back to the forum later and decided he was going to go ahead and click the link anyway. It may be something legit. On a whim, he refreshed first to see if anyone replied saying what the link was. He sees a post in reply from a very trusted and respected member of the forum saying, in all caps, “DO NOT CLICK THAT LINK, WHATEVER YOU DO! AND THAT IS NOT REGGIE.”
For an old pro to use all caps? That was serious shit. Even I knew that. So that was enough to dissuade everyone from clicking. The fake Reggie deleted his account immediately. The forum moderator and others tried to figure out who the guy was, but no luck. The guy who made the all-caps post explained after that he tried to safe browse the link with an old Linux box and whatever was in there wrecked it. And that box had security out the wazoo. He couldn’t explain it. Also, before the computer wiped out completely, he said he thought he saw something. The regulars pressed him to say what it was. He made them promise first that it stays with them. He said he saw a picture of his daughter on the screen. She’d died five years ago. There were no pictures of her on the computer. Worse, he’d never seen that picture before. That, more than anything, convinced him to post the warning in all caps. Whatever it is, he said, it’s evil.
Rap added, “If you’ve been on the internet long enough you learn that. There’s evil out there. Not the child porn or torture videos. Something deeper. Something hidden in all the code and connections. Maybe it came from us at one point.”
He was giving me the creeps. So I tried to bring the subject back to Angelica. He said, “No, listen. Sometimes it tries to get out.”
That was enough. I told him he was freaking me out with that kind of talk and I had enough to deal with.
He said he didn’t understand what I was talking about. He still reads my homepage all the time and that I’ve been doing great work exposing the evil. Thing is, I don’t even have a “homepage” anymore. That thing was taken down in like 2001.
He insisted it was my Fortunecity homepage. He’d been reading my updates all these years, even after we lost contact, he said. I sent him a link to prove to him that Fortunecity doesn’t even exist anymore.
Rap went quiet for a few minutes. Then he said he was looking at the homepage at that moment. It was last updated just a few days ago. And it was all about what they were talking about now and what was going to happen next. “It’s a doozy,” he said, then immediately went offline. I sent him a message with my contact info and to let me know if he was ok. I haven’t heard from him since. I’ve checked ICQ a few times and he’s never been back online…
I had to walk away from that computer. I felt like I was being watched or something. Every noise was freaking me out. After a sandwich and some tea, I went back just to shut it down. That’s when I noticed a folder on the desktop that stood out. For one, I never really kept folders on my desktop. And two, I didn’t remember this folder at all. It was called “Noah’s Cape,” which sounds like a crappy Bible game. I never played crappy Bible games.
Something about it didn’t seem right. I opened it. Inside was all pictures and wav files. My instincts told me to get out of there. One picture after another was just kids. Teens, boys and girls, sitting at their computers. None of them seemed aware they were being photographed. The pics all seemed pointless. All I knew for sure is I didn’t take or download those pictures. Ever. They were all time-stamped 11/21/1999.
The wav files were the sounds of typing, muttering, chairs moving. The sounds of people at a computer. The sounds of surveillance. Until one of the files. It was a voice I’d never heard before. I know it. Because I don’t think anything could’ve made me forget that voice. It was a hollow, metallic voice, almost inhuman, but a man. It whispered with a hiss, “You coming?” and its whispers were like flesh sizzling on iron.
Nothing of this earth should talk like that. What it said—it was the same as Angelica’s message. Also from ‘99. I shut down the computer and left the house. I didn’t even want to be in my own home. I just drove around for a while. Thinking. Whatever was going on, it was really not good. Yet, I couldn’t let it go. I felt drawn into something secret and I wanted to figure it out. For Angelica’s sake, too. If she really was a victim.
I decided to contact my buddy Ben. He’s a real computer wizard, works IT at the University of Guelph. I know that may not sound like the most prestigious place to be, but they actively poached him. He’s good. Anyway, I gave Ben an idea of what was going on and asked if he could get a lock on that gopher site for me. I also asked, if he could safely do it, to see if there was anything to this Hole site. He said that wouldn’t be a problem.
The next day he already comes back to me with the question, “Is this some sort of a joke? I don’t like wasting my time.” I’d never seen Ben even slightly irritated before, but he was mad. He told me when he traced the gopher site, it turned out it was being hosted right there at the University of Guelph. But they didn’t have a gopher site, he said. Never have.
I assured him if it was a joke, I wasn’t in on it. So he said he’d try to find the server tower it was running on. If he could do that, he could read the logs, find out who set up the damn thing.
While I was waiting for Ben to get back to me, I got a call from a Detective Thereault. The police hadn’t shown much interest in my case, but it happened to land in front of this guy. Thankfully. He said the simple fact that Angelica had disappeared meant there was the possibility that a crime had taken place. I agreed. Because of that, he had done a little more work and, he felt I should know, he found Angelica. When he told me she was alive and well, I was thrilled. He said she voluntarily ran away from home and chose not to have contact with her family. She declined to say why, and he had no right to compel her otherwise. Legally, he was bound to protect her privacy. The point is, “there was no crime.”
However, when he told her how it came about that he went looking for her, she asked him if she could speak to me. He said he took the liberty of accepting for me and passed on her phone number. I thanked him heartily. It was the first bit of good news, the first real break, in this mess.
As soon as I hung up with the detective, I called her. I was nervous. It’d been so long and I was excited to hear from her again.
She answered quickly and asked if it was me. I told her yes and said it was nice to hear her voice after all this time. Then she said, without any pleasantries, “It wasn’t me sending you messages.” I told her I’d figured that much out already.
“I don’t think you understand,” she said. “I have never once in my life sent you any sort of communication. I don’t know you at all.”
A part of me was screaming, ‘She’s lying.’ She just sounded so certain. It almost felt like drowning. Because if she wasn’t lying, a whole chunk of my youth was a lie. I told her all I knew about her, personal things, and she said they were true. I told her how I found her through her Wiccan homepage on Angelfire and I described the page to her and the webring. She said she didn’t make “that thing” and I should never have gone there. “It’s bad,” she said and wouldn’t elaborate.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Then I told her all the details I knew of her personal life, about her likes and hopes and dreams and her family. She said it was all true. But whoever told him about it, it wasn’t her.
That’s why she wanted to talk to me now. So I would know the truth. She remembered how it used to happen every now and then a long time ago. She would have people tell her they talked to her online all night, but she knew she’d never spoken to them. And they’d tell her she was doing things she knew she’d never done. She was asleep or sometimes not even in town. Then they’d get weird or disappear.
She remembered this one time she was doing her math homework, and a random guy messaged her with the solution to the problem. She was terrified. But she asked him how he knew her math problem, was he spying on her. And he told her, no, she asked him for help. She didn’t believe him. So he sent her a screenshot. The message was from a day ago. She’d just gotten the homework that day.
She said the worst it got was when she messaged a close friend of hers she saw online on ICQ. Her friend replied with, “Who is this?” She thought it was just a joke, so she said something silly, she didn’t remember what. Her friend said she didn’t think it was cool to be hacking Angelica’s account. Or if this was her brother, to knock it off. Angelica swore it was her. And her friend replied, “Umm, I know you’re not Angelica, because Angelica’s sitting right here with me.”
She knew this friend wouldn’t joke like that. She didn’t have the imagination for it. Whatever it was, her friend really believed she was in the room with her. But she wasn’t. Her friend always insisted she was there that night. She said Angelica was showing her her cool, new homepage. The friendship fell apart after that, because her friend got strange. That was the first she’d ever seen of the homepage and she knew it was “bad juju.”
I asked her if she’d ever heard of The Hole. She went silent for so long, I thought we lost connection. She said she’s still there, she just never expected to hear that again. There was this guy who used to harass her back when she was just about 12 or 13, on IRC. He called himself “HolyMoses.” He started off nice. He seemed to understand all her problems. And to know what she was thinking. At 12, that felt romantic. But she noticed weird things, like he didn’t seem to have any life or personality. Any time of the day, he was always online and active. But no-one knew anything about him.
One day he started telling her stranger things. Like, “Do you remember the three men dressed as bees at the Halloween party?” She didn’t know what he was talking about. Eight years later at a college Halloween party, she saw three men dressed as bees sitting in the corner of the room. They weren’t doing anything. Just sitting still and staring at the floor. Then they turned to her and their eyes looked so black. She ran out of the party.
Another time he told her, “You can drink and smoke, you know. You died in a car crash.” It scared the life out of her. She briefly wondered if she really was a ghost, she said. When she told him to stop telling her things like that, he said there was a place she could go that was for special people only. And she’d never need to go anywhere else. It was a place on the internet that was infinite in all directions. She said she remembered him saying that specifically. And everything she needed would be there. It was called “The Hole” and she just had to send him a message with the letter ‘M’ to get there.
She actually tried to do it, because things weren’t going well for her. But she sent the letter ‘N’ by accident, because her hands were shaking. HolyMoses went offline and she didn’t see him after. Until 2010, when she got an email from TheNewCommandments@HolyMoses.com saying, “You coming?”
If anyone was impersonating her, she said that was the most likely person. At the time, she was so naïve. Looking back on it now, talking to me, she said he was the creepiest person she’d ever encountered. Just thinking of him creeped her out. And made her afraid he’d sense it somehow and come for her.
“I don’t know you, but I told you all this for a reason,” she said. “What you’re digging into—be careful. There are a lot of very bad things hidden in the old internet. Things the Twitter and Tumblr generations will never see. And lucky them.”
She promised we’d never speak again and bid me a good life before hanging up. I was left reeling. What she said meant whoever I spoke to for years in my teens—I don’t even know who that person is. It was all a lie. And why? What’s so interesting about me? I wondered how much else in my life was trickery.
Before I could dwell on it too much, Ben called me back. He said he’d managed to track the server to a storage room in a sub-basement below his office. He was aware of the basement, but it was abandoned years before he even started working there due to ventilation and mold issues. It’s just full of old IT crap now and some storage lockers.
Someone had set up the server in a storage closet and the closet itself was completely obscured by old computer equipment probably for years. He figures that’s why it was never found. Meaning the server had been running under their noses all that time.
When he gets in, he sees an old desktop hooked up to a landline. Beside it, he saw a notepad with “PLEASE STOP” written on it. That alone made him want to get the hell out of there. The whole place is covered in thick dust, too, and his allergies were acting up. Somehow the server was still running. He has to hook up a monitor and keyboard just to interact with it. One thing he said in passing really disturbed me. He said, “The ironic thing is, the server was built with an auto-shutdown date. And the date was the same day I was there to shut it down. Dude, it’s like it knew I was going to be there that day.”
He said after shutting it down, he went and told his manager all about it. Just a fun, IT anecdote. His manager told him there’s really only one man who could’ve set that up. Back in the early ‘90s, he said, a guy worked in the department they all called “Milky,” ‘cause his last name was Melke and he was really white. He was a little eccentric, too. That had nothing to do with milk, it just happened to be true. Then he had a burnout and he got a lot eccentric.
It started with him pounding his desk. The manager at the time asked him if he was ok. According to Ben’s boss, he answered with, “There’s no way out.” Then he heard Milky say something like, “You think you exist, but you’re just another part of it. Everything is just another puzzle. Do I exist?”
After that, the rest of the department started getting nervous around Milky. You just got bad vibes around him, the manager said.
It got worse. Every day around 3pm Milky started standing in a dark corner of the office, facing the wall. He’d mutter some things. The guys joked that he was at his prayers. But he’d always come away looking more upset than anything else. Once a new guy asked him if he was a Muslim and he replied with, “I’m sorry.”
The guy asked what he was sorry for.
“It was telling me how your children die,” he answered.
Toward the end, before they fired him, he started telling them about how he found a place on the internet that wasn’t made by humans. The guys joked that it was SkyNet. But he said it wasn’t created by machines either. It was always there, the internet just found it by accident. It showed him “things he couldn’t unsee.” Ben’s boss even recalled that he started to tear up.
Ben’s boss told him it was sad to see such a smart guy clearly losing it. Even though Milky was never caught stealing anything, equipment disappeared during his shift. Probably the equipment that went into the server. When they fired him, he told them that the secret place got into his head and that he’d sometimes wake up in strange places and had no idea how he got there. They never saw him again after he left that day.
Ben said, after that story and that creepy gopher server, he straight up refused to look into The Hole. I told him it really wasn’t that bad and to quit being a wimp. That’s when he said he hadn’t told me everything. The server had a linkup, through the phone line, to a really old webcam. One of those low res webcams where the image updates every 4 seconds or so. It’d been running non-stop since ’97. All of the saved images just show the front of someone’s house. The same house back to ’97. He sent me some of the photos. Because he knew what it was. It was my house.
“Why would this guy have been spying on you all those years ago, man? How did he even know you? It doesn’t make any sense and it honestly scares the shit out of me.”
And here’s what I told him. The thing about that webcam is, I just bought this house two years ago. That camera was pointed here before I ever moved in. It was just an astronomically improbable coincidence. At least, that’s what it should be. But I didn’t believe that’s what it was anymore than he did.
* * * * * *
The next day, I was still reeling from my conversations with Ben and the real Angelica. I ran it over in my head so many times. Like, maybe the police made a mistake. So of course I’d never spoken to this woman, she was the wrong Angelica. But no, I knew everything about her. Someone systematically deceived me for two years. And someone had been recording a house I was going to move into for twenty years. And someone had recorded me when I was a boy. What happened twenty years ago to cause all this? It was so insane. I started questioning everything. I felt I was being watched constantly.
I started to wonder if my Mom remembered anything. She saw me more than anyone at the time, naturally. When I called her up, she said she was expecting me to call. I generally didn’t call during the week, so I asked why. She said because of my little prank. I grew concerned immediately. I wasn’t pranking anyone.
I tried to calmly ask her what prank. She said the two guys. They showed up with a note from me to let them in. They don’t say anything or do anything. They’ve just been sitting there, with their chairs pulled together, in her kitchen. Just looking at the floor.
“You don’t recognize them at all?” I asked her. She laughed and said no, but I think she was starting to realize I didn’t know what was going on. “They’re dressed in bee costumes,” she said, almost as an afterthought.
I told her to calmly get out of the house and call the police, because I didn’t have anything to do with this. She said she was upstairs. She’d have to go past them to get out. I told her to keep me on the phone until she got out. I listened carefully. It seemed to be taking forever. Finally she said, “They’re gone. The front door was left open.” I told her to call the police right away and check in with me in a bit.
While talking, I had absent-mindedly walked from my office to my own kitchen. My front door was also left open. Not only was it locked just a moment ago, but it seemed like quite a coincidence.
I closed the door and locked it. Then I looked all around the house with a kitchen knife in hand. I have a one-storey with a basement. So it was easy enough to cover all hiding places. Fortunately, there was nobody. So I tried to tell myself I just didn’t close the door right. Until my neighbor came over and asked me if I was having a costume party. I said no. That’s when he told me he saw two guys in bee costumes leaving my home. They just walked straight across the road and behind the neighbor’s house, into the woods. “How can they even see in the woods at night?” he asked.
I picked up my mother and we went to the police station. I figured this one would be best in person. All these strange events barely seemed coherent. But I got the feeling it was all connected in some way.
The police were baffled. They admitted someone was harassing me. But without more evidence, there was really nothing they could do.
When we were making the report, my Mom told me she was thinking about something just after this happened. Because it struck her as odd. “Do you remember how you had this dialup modem and when you’d run it, you could swear you’d hear a little voice inside talking to you?” The way she said it, like it was nothing, sent a shiver through me. Because I didn’t remember that at all. “What?” was all I could say.
This is what she said: “Yes, you’d set it a-go and in all the beeps and pops you said there was a little voice in there with a message. To me it was a lot of crazy noise. But you made me get real close and listen. And you told me it was saying, ‘Everything’s better in here. Abracadabra.’ Can’t believe I even remembered that.”
I told her I couldn’t remember that. That sounds crazy. But she just gave me a blank stare. I thought maybe she was concerned. So I started to tell her about what was happening. The whole Angelica thing. So she’d understand. I was saying, “You remember that girl I used to chat with online in the ‘90s, Angelica?”
She kept giving me a blank stare, like she couldn’t understand me. So I told her more. How I met her on the webring my fortunecity page was on. And didn’t she remember my homepage at least? She shook her head. What she said next scared me in a way I’ve never been scared before. She told me she got an internet connection after I left for college, to email me. But before that “we never ever had the internet in our home.”
I said she must’ve gotten hit in the head. Because I remember distinctly all these experiences being online. Building my homepage. Yiffnet. IRC. ICQ. All of that was when I was in high school. She flat denied it.
She said she remembered, though, that I used to tell her I’d found a way to get into the internet without a connection. I’d have to call some number with my modem. Then I’d have to sit still at the screen for a few minutes. Something like that. She always thought I was joking.
Before Det. Thereault came to get us, she looked into my eyes. “You should be careful on that internet, y’know,” she said. “A lot of bad things on there.”
She rose to shake the detective’s hand. I was grateful to get off the subject. The detective offered to have a friend in computer forensics take a look at some of the sites I’d reported. But he didn’t have much hope.
After I got back home, I secured the house one more time. Then I got to work. The best lead I had at that point was this ‘HolyMoses’ character. So I downloaded mIRC to see if I could find him in his old haunts.
It had been a long time since I’d used mIRC. I barely remembered how it worked. And there are so many channels on EFNet, it would take forever. So, I decided to focus on channels that would’ve been relevant to “Angelica” back in the day. I just started asking in channels, like @gothic and @vampires, if anyone knew of HolyMoses or heard of him. But each time I mentioned him, the channel fell to almost complete “silence.” I didn’t get a yes or a no, I got ignored. Sometimes users even started to leave the channel. I was about to give up and try another avenue when I got a private message from “u47284u”.
He (or she) told me I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing. I asked him why. He said it “doesn’t come off well to them,” whatever that means. He also said HolyMoses is just a bot. It’s been around forever, never logs off, and is almost always idling for days at a time. I told him if that was true, why was everyone so reluctant to talk about it? I didn’t want to tell him Angelica’s story. I just wanted to find out what he knew.
He said the whole thing weirds people out because nobody knows who built HolyMoses. Nobody. Over decades, no-one has ever claimed ownership. Not even trolls. Nobody knows where it came from. Or why it’s there. It doesn’t do anything. It’s just there, he said. That’s the creepiest thing about it. Always just there.
Legends had built up around HolyMoses, he said. Like it was a government supercomputer monitoring IRC. Or it was the KGB. Or a “ghost,” a bot left running long after the owner died and his bank account kept paying the bills. But no-one knows. It was just there.
Users tried messaging it and it never responded. It never interacts in any channel. It offers no services. It has moments of apparent activity where it’s no longer idle, but no-one’s been able to detect what it does during this time. Except occasionally a change of channel, seemingly at random.
He said there was only one time when it did anything substantial, as far as anyone knew. Once in over two decades. And that only made things weirder.
I was typing out a message to ask this guy what it was, because he wasn’t saying. But just then I heard what sounded like my front door slam. I paused and listened carefully, trying not even to breathe. I didn’t hear anything. So I rushed out to the front door. Nobody was there, nothing disturbed. The doors were all closed and locked. I chalked it up to nerves and went back to my office.
When I got back, u47284u had sent me a message: “Where’d you go? Hope nothing strange happened.”
That was a little eerie. But I was focused on getting answers, so I ignored it and asked what it was HolyMoses did. He said, “Fine, I’ll tell you.”
And this is what he said happened. In 1999, at 5AM CST on November 21st, HolyMoses joined the channel #ornithology and made a series of short statements. First, “Deceive them” at 7AM, “Empty it” at 9AM, “Abandon them” at 6PM. “Turn back” at 9PM. And “Have it your way” just before midnight. Then it went offline until January 5th. “Why?” he asked. Why be silent and useless for years, do that, and then never do anything after? Sometimes, when he really thought about it, he said, it gave him the serious heebie-jeebies.
That was all he knew. Or anyone knew. And he reiterated that I really shouldn’t be looking into this and to just drop it. I thanked him for his help.
I remembered a little more of what commands mIRC had after getting into the groove some. So I tried a WhoIs on HolyMoses, to see if he was out there. He was! Or it was. It was on one channel only, #stilllife. It’d been signed on for 16 days and idle for 3. Its IP was showing only the letter ‘Y’.
I was thinking about going to the channel and messaging him. To see what would happen. But I suddenly got another message from u47284u, “I TOLD YOU TO DROP IT!”
I know it’s just text, but it freaked me out. I closed out of mIRC immediately and walked away. I figured it was just a nut trying to psyche me out. And y’know what, it worked.
I continued to argue with my mother the next few days about what she’d said. Telling her she confused reality with a Lifetime movie. But she assured me there was no internet in her house while I lived there. She said I had my floppy disks that I’d take home with me, but that was it.
We went on arguing for a while before it occurred to me to ask, “Take home from where?”
She said she didn’t know. I’d go out at times and I’d come home with disks. I had a Sterilite tub full of them in my closet. None of them were labeled, so she didn’t know how I had any idea what was on each one. But I seemed to know. She remembered how I’d dive into my bin and dig around through all the black disks and pop up with just the one I wanted. Generally she didn’t intrude on my privacy, she said, she just saw me do it a few times.
Of course, I didn’t remember any floppy disks. Either my mother was becoming senile, or I was losing my mind. Both possibilities were upsetting. My Mom’s a really good person. She’d had a rough time since my dad died a few years ago. But she was super caring. She didn’t like to see anyone hurt. And she could see I was truly upset, not just trying to be right. So, she gave me a big hug. And she told me I should ask Ricky.
Ricky. I hadn’t thought of him. Ricky was an old high school buddy of mine. Well, we were friends from Grade 2 until we left for college. We just drifted apart after. I had him friended on Facebook and we never talked. You know how it goes. She said when I’d go out to wherever it was I went, I usually had Ricky with me. We’d walk all the way across the bridge into town to pass our weekends.
I decided to take her advice. I sent Ricky a message on Facebook. He wrote back really fast. I was surprised, because I never see status updates or any activity from him. I asked him if he was free for a phone call. I was scared about having another internet-only conversation, frankly. Facebook said he was typing a reply for about five minutes without anything happening. I was wondering what the hell novel he was typing. Then my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number. I know I never gave my number to Ricky, so there’s no way it could be him, I though. While I waited, looking at my phone, Ricky started typing out periods over and over. I answered.
The voice on the other end sorta sounded like Ricky. As much as I could remember. But like he was really far away on a beat-up CB. I don’t know why, but it made me feel weird and uneasy. I said I think we have a bad connection. He said it’s the best possible and that he knows. I was about to ask what he knows when he said, “alt dot rec dot birdwatch” and hung up. I got a message on Facebook saying, “Nice catching up.” He wouldn’t answer anything I said after that.
I asked folks I knew if Ricky was okay. Apparently he was in a car accident years back and was mostly bedridden. I made a note to try visit him someday…
Anyway, alt dot rec dot birdwatch, is of course a UseNet newsgroup. I used to browse newsgroups all the time as a teen. Mostly for the porn. I was surprised they still existed. Now I had to look up how to get to them. I remembered being able to do it through my email software. But apparently that’s not a feature of Outlook anymore. So I looked up newsgroup readers and found one I’d used back in the day. Then I found some servers and started looking for alt.rec.birdwatch.
When I finally found it, it turned out to be mostly British up-skirt photography. I didn’t understand why Ricky wanted me there. Until I saw a post with the header, “Remember the dog?” and instantly felt clammy and cold. I didn’t know why, but there was something to it. Something I couldn’t put my finger on.
This is what the post read:
“Everyone remember how sometimes you’d go in there and it’d be all dusty and no-one was there like it was abandoned years ago but you could still go sit at a computer and get online? And remember how sometimes you’d go in and there’d be these people there and they were really weird and they’d just watch you like you were a rat in a maze and sometimes they were in costumes? Anyone remember the dog? Sometimes there were no people and there was just this dog at the counter. I think it was a golden retriever. It never panted. But it watched. And sometimes it’d make you do things.”
That was it. And that was enough. I was trembling and I didn’t know why. It didn’t look like anyone had replied to the message and it had been posted 3 years ago. It seemed so out of place.
I kind of started to remember. I remembered at least that there was an internet café in town. It didn’t last long. Like most internet cafes, it popped up around ‘96/’97 to take advantage of the internet craze and let people who didn’t own computers experience the wonder. When personal computers became more common, they died a quick death.
This café was popular with the teens in ’96. It got stale after that. That’s when something happened to it. It changed management or something. It changed. We tried going back just to hang out. But most kids didn’t want to be there anymore. I had some friends who just wouldn’t go. Or say why. But Ricky and I would hang out there all the time. Why couldn’t I remember that before? Maybe Mom was right all along. Maybe that’s where I was on the internet.
I replied to the newsgroup message with, “Why wasn’t I able to remember?” It was a long shot, since the post was so old. Then I started looking through the other posts, to see if there were others like it.
There were others. They were all vague. But I knew what they were about. I knew.
“Sometimes when we were hanging out, we thought we were there for just an hour or so. But when we came out, the whole day had passed. And when we talked about what we did there, we had completely different stories. Even though we were together the whole time. It was like an acid trip. And we were stupid kids, so we kept going.”
The Egypt. That’s what the place was called. None of these people would say its name. But I remembered it then, suddenly. That strange, little internet café, just behind the post-office, where I didn’t even realize there was commercial space before. The Egypt.
Someone else posted:
“There was this one time when my friend dragged me along and I didn’t feel like being there. The owners or staff or whatever weren’t there that day. It was the dog. I don’t like to think about it. Remember how it never panted? Somehow that sticks out after all this time.
“We were just goofing off. Nothing special. When I looked over at my friend’s screen, he was watching a live webcam of my bedroom. Just staring at it. I’m thinking this is a dumb joke, but it pisses me off. So I told him that was weird and I was not okay with a webcam in my room. He just said, ‘Something’s going to happen.’ Gave me the heebie-jeebies. He wasn’t joking. And it didn’t even sound like him.
“Here’s the thing that gets me most. I decided to leave, but need to piss first. On the way out, I go over to my buddy and he’s still watching the webcam. That annoys me. But worse, when I look at the screen, someone’s in my bedroom ransacking the place. Under the mattress, in drawers. I’m ready to go home and get one of dad’s golf clubs. Then the guy looks right at the camera and starts taking it down. I saw that dude’s face. It was me! No doubt about it. That was my face. How is that possible?
“You’re thinking the webcam wasn’t live. But it was…”
Someone replied to that post with:
“When you were in the bathroom, did you try knocking on the wall? Someone knocks back.”
Someone replied to that with:
“I did. He said he’d let me in, but there’s no door.”
In the sea of birdwatching photos and up-skirts dating back to ’95, that was all I could find. Took me all night. I closed it down. It was too much. I was psyching myself out. The next day, I had a reply to my post asking why I couldn’t remember. It read, “You weren’t meant to.”
I felt it then. That something really wrong would happen in that place, the Egypt.
So I started doing some research into local records to see if I could find who owned it. They’re public records, so it wasn’t hard. I’d expected to find some change in management in the ‘90s. Or where the place got sold in the 2000s. I expected wrong. It was purchased in 1980 and had had the same owner ever since. A company or organization called ‘The New Way.’ It sounded like a cult. The weird thing is, that place was never used before the Egypt, as far as I know. In 1980 there wasn’t really an internet. So… who would buy a place and do nothing with it for 15 years, just waiting for the internet to happen? It all seemed too mysterious. Plus there was nothing about this company anywhere.
It’s hard to describe how alone I started to feel at this time. I talked to some people in my life about what was going on, but their help was limited. That’s why I decided to try to go back to alt.rec.birdwatch, if it was still there. At least there someone might be having a similar experience. So I made my post. I asked if anyone else had heard of The New Way.
Then I waited. To my surprise, I got a call from Ben right after. He asked me if I’d “done anything” recently. I asked him to be more specific.
“You must have done something, because something happened,” he said.
I still had no idea what he meant. He sounded strange. His words were just slightly slurred and there was no accent anywhere in his sentences. Just a string of words. Almost like a robot, but not quite. And it had that distant quality Ricky’s call had.
“Something’s happening right now,” he told me. “I booted it up again.”
Ben was just the most rational, bland guy. Something was definitely wrong for him to be acting like this. I asked him if he was ok. He said that I needed to check my messages. I asked what messages.
He insisted, “Listen. You have to check your messages. They’ve been waiting for you.”
The whole thing didn’t feel right at all. I asked him again what messages he meant. All I heard was little whispering sounds, like pst-pst-pst. I thought I was losing him. But when I listened carefully and turned up the volume, I heard it. He was saying “please” over and over and over. I felt a pit in my stomach. I asked if he needed help, if there was anything I could do. He went silent for several seconds.
“PLEASE!” he shouted so loud I dropped my phone.
I scrambled to put the battery back in with shaking hands. And then I called in a wellness check on him. I called the Guelph campus, too, just in case. I didn’t know what else to do. I’d never experienced anything like that. I checked my email right after to see if I had anything from him. But I didn’t.
I had no voicemails. The only other ‘messages’ I could think of was ICQ. So I powered up the old computer again to check on my ICQ account. It’s possible there was nothing. I just had to make sure. It took forever to load up. But there was a message waiting. It wasn’t from anyone I recognized. The name on the account was “Bernie Busch.” The message said, “Heaven.” There was a link to an mp4 video. I clicked it. The download box said it would take 30 hours to complete. So I just let it go.
I tried replying to “Bernie,” too, but ICQ alerted me that the account was disabled. I also couldn’t find any results on any search for such a person. I don’t think Ben would ever make a fake account like that. But how did Ben know about the message?
I got contacted by someone from Guelph University’s campus security later that day. They asked me when I’d last spoken to Ben. I told them he’d just called. They said he hadn’t been to work in a few days and has not been answering the phone. I was apparently the last one to hear from him. They recommended I file a missing person’s report. I asked if his family shouldn’t do that, but the dude just snorted. So I made the report, over the phone, to the Guelph PD. I was pretty worried about the guy. I hoped he was ok. I also hoped his disappearing had nothing to do with anything I got him involved in.
The next day, I got an email replying to my post newsgroup post. I recognized the address. It was the same person who posted about the dog. She said I needed to call her urgently and provided a 1-800 number followed by what looked like a license plate number, 472BMT. When I called, I got an interactive menu system for a tanning supplies company. When I listened to the options, I got the idea that 472BMT might be how to navigate the menu. So I pressed each of the numbers in the order she said. The system said I was being transferred to an “Account Specialist.”
I heard someone pick up the line.
“You’re starting to remember, aren’t you?” a voice said.
I think I gasped. She said she couldn’t talk long, so I had to just listen. She wanted to tell me something that might help me. She said she started remembering about a year ago. She remembered the ‘sessions’ in the Egypt. They preyed on vulnerable, misfit kids. Whoever came there got introduced gradually to this website called The Hole. Once they showed it to us, we had to sit there and study it. Solve its puzzles. But it’d change us. That’s what they always said. She didn’t know if they built it or not. But it’s what they were all about.
“I think we’re still in the Hole,” she said.
I tried to ask her what that even meant. What she was talking about. She had already hung up before I got the chance. I tried calling her back, but the menu options didn’t work anymore. I was more confused than ever. I felt like I didn’t know what was real anymore. That’s a terrible place to be. Trust me. All I was sure of was that I’d come into something very wrong when I was a teen and it was coming back. I didn’t know why it took a vacation or what it wanted. I just wanted my life back to normal.
After that, I suddenly remembered the video file I left downloading on my old computer. I checked and it had completely downloaded. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what it was, but I played it anyway.
I knew what I was looking at as soon as the video started. It was footage of inside the Egypt. It’d been a long time. But it hit me fast. There was no timestamp, the footage was grainy and the tracking was off, but I knew it. It looked like it was from a corner security cam. There we all were, sitting at our computers. Strangely enough, our backs were to the monitors. We were staring at a wall. I spotted myself in the group. We just sat there, staring ahead. Nobody was moving or saying anything. I couldn’t make out what the computers were doing behind us, but we weren’t touching them. What were we staring at? What were we doing? Why would I do this? I couldn’t remember these events at all.
I was the only one that ever looked away from the wall. I kept glancing over behind the bar. It was hard to tell, but I think I was afraid of something. I looked frightened. I tried to make out what I was looking at, but the tracking lines were in the way. When they faded a little and I was able to make it out. Someone was standing there in the shadows. Whoever it was, at just that moment turned to look right at the camera. It’s like they knew I was watching. I know that’s crazy. But it creeped the heck out of me. I shut the video down there. And I don’t plan to open it again.
After that, I kept researching the New Way. ’cause there had to be something to it. I was able find a record that mentioned the owner’s name, Bernard K. Busch. The same name as on the ICQ message. I looked for obituaries, white pages, anything that could lead me to him. I didn’t think to look for missing person’s cases, but I stumbled on one anyway. An old homepage asking to, “Help us find Uncle Bern.” I emailed his niece (presumably) from the address listed asking for more information. The page was made in the year 2000, so I didn’t expect the email to work. But it did. I got a reply the same day asking me how I knew Uncle Bern.
I wasn’t sure how to answer, but I decided to go with honesty. I told her more or less what was going on, leaving out the parts that would make me sound delusional. This is what I got back.
“I’m going to put this all in one message because I don’t want us to have to talk again. Uncle Bern was a good man. He used to be a rabbi. He raised me after my parents died in an accident. He was good with electronics. He thought computers were the future. That’s why he called his company The New Way. He bought up all the commercial space he could afford with his inheritance. All over the country. It was more than he could handle. So he just rented it out.
“Life was good. He kept selling computers in his little shop. I helped when I got home from school and on weekends. He kept bees and I helped with that, too. Really, life was good. Until he married Connie in 1994. He met her during a visit to Europe. He said she worked in the same orphanage she’d been raised in and nobody knew much else about her. She was a strange woman. She didn’t like me. She was into things that scared me. I saw her make a homeless man cry by staring at him. Animals would go quiet when she was around. Sometimes she’d hide under my bed for hours, waiting for me to go to bed at night. When I did, she’d slide out and grab me. I’d scream and scream. She’d walk away like nothing happened. She didn’t laugh or say anything. It wasn’t a prank or joke. It was something else. I didn’t understand. I still don’t. I started sleeping on a beanbag chair in the basement after that.
“She’d often go into a corner of the room and whisper to someone. There was nobody there. No phone or nothing. She’d even get mad at whoever it was. Then she’d go back to knitting. She was always knitting something, but the things she’d knit were useless. Gloves with three fingers. Socks, but she’d seal up the ends, so you couldn’t wear them. I didn’t hate her. I was scared to death of her. I don’t know why she made Uncle Bern so happy.
“I remember the day she started pressuring him to turn his rental spaces into internet cafes. She told him the internet was the real future and would outlast computers. She’d say, ‘We are the internet.’ She made him get it at home, even though it was really expensive then. She had him go to this website she said didn’t really exist. I remember that, because it always made me nervous when she talked about it. Uncle Bern asked her who made it. She said she had no idea. Nobody did. She found it already made, just like everyone else. She told him it called to her. It called to everyone like her. At the time, I thought that sounded flakey. Now it just gives me creeps.
“Uncle Bern changed after that. They spent a lot of time on that website. I don’t understand it. There was nothing there. I looked over their shoulders and it was all blank. But they saw all sorts of things. And when the internet cafes started opening, more people were involved. It was strange. They would sit and stare into space. And strange things would happen. Like I could swear I heard a voice in my modem when I’d dial up and when I listened, it was saying, “it hurts.” I decided it was all in my head. Another time I got an email asking, ‘Why wasn’t I able to remember?’ I don’t know why that message upset me so much. Twenty years ago, but I remember it so vividly.
“One night when I was alone with Uncle Bern for once, I told him I wished things would be like they used to be. He said that’s what everyone wants. But it can’t be. He leaned in close and whispered, ‘It talks. Tells us things.’ He told me about how—this is strange and I didn’t understand it, but I’ll try—how human beings are set to be obsolete and they need to upgrade for the new era. He said Y2K—if you remember that—wasn’t going to affect computers like everyone thought. They’d be fine. It was going to change people. Either you evolved or you wouldn’t like what’s coming.
“I didn’t dare tell my Uncle Bern that this was crazy. I couldn’t hurt his feelings like that. But I knew something bad was going to happen. He and Connie went off to open their internet cafes all over and I left home for college. Uncle Bern kept in contact until 1999. Then he just disappeared. Connie, too.
“I know some bad things happened around those internet cafes. But it’s not Uncle Bern’s fault. Please don’t blame him.”
I had plenty more questions and I sent them to her. I never heard back. That’s getting to be a real motif in my life. But at least she gave me some answers. And it all led right back to the Hole. It had to be the same mysterious website. Just had to be. I figured if I ever wanted to know what was going on, I’d have to go to the Hole myself.
I pulled up the instructions ‘Angelica’ sent me on how to get there. I can’t say I felt like I was doing the right thing. I didn’t. It felt ass over tea kettle wrong. Like there was something really terrible just off-screen in my memories. I knew it was there, but I couldn’t see it. So I welcomed the interruption when my phone rang.
My neighbor was calling to tell me the man in the bee costume was back. He said the man was standing in my front yard. I walked over to the window and peeped out. It was nice and toasty inside, but I felt my whole body breaking into goosebumps. He was there, under the streetlight. Looking right at the window with his insectoid eyes.
I asked my neighbor how long he’d been there. He said he called me as soon as he saw it and that I should hang up and call the police. I started to do that. But there was no point calling the police. As soon as I hung up, he walked across the road and into the woods.
When hanging up, I received a notification on my phone of an email from Ben. There was no text, just a video file. I played it right away. It started with him speaking to the camera. He looked scared and like he hadn’t had sleep in about two days.
“I went into hiding,” he said, his voice shaking. “Things just got too weird. Little stuff at first. Then one night, like 3am, a group of people I’ve never seen before knock on my door I didn’t answer. I watched them through the peephole. They didn’t move. They didn’t knock again. They didn’t try to look in the peephole. They just stood there, staring at the door. They didn’t look homeless or crazy. Just people. Normal, everyday people. I called through the door that they had the wrong address. They started laughing, loud, fake guffaws. Then they silently walked away.
“Then I start getting calls where all I can hear is a man growling like a dog on the other end. And a few growly words, like, ‘why,’ and ‘abracadabra.’
“It must have really gotten to me, man, because I started having fits. I don’t know what I do during these fits. I know I upset a lady at the grocery store. Whatever you got me into, it’s bad juju. Like KGB. Illuminati bad.”
He pointed the camera away from himself to a computer monitor. When he was turning, I recognized the notepad on the desk. The same one from his description. He was in that basement storage locker. With the gopher site. I’d thought he’d shut that thing down. There was an image on the screen, updating every few seconds. But this one wasn’t pointing at my house like before. It was inside.
“Watch,” he whispered.
With each frame update, I saw a new shot of the inside of my house. First the kitchen. Update, the hallway. Update, my office door. Update, the door slightly ajar. Update, the door opened more. Update, entering my room. Update, me sitting at the computer. I could hardly breathe. I turned around slowly, expecting to see someone there. But the video wasn’t live, of course. When I turned around, the webcam was just a black screen. Because of that, I was able to make out the timestamp. It was tomorrow’s date. I’m sure someone just fiddled with the date, but that only made it creepier, if that’s even possible.
Now I had video evidence of breaking and entering. Except nothing to say who did it or why. I was losing confidence in police altogether.
The last thing Ben said on the video is that he went ahead and traced that link I gave him to “The Hole.” He was able to get a specific address. I knew the address he gave me very well. Because it’s duplex apartment I grew up in. That didn’t make any sense. Still, I knew if I wanted to know what was happening, that’s where I’d have to go.
My hometown isn’t too far from where I live now. I moved to go to college. It’s about a four hour drive away. My Mom moved to be close to me after Dad died, so I rarely have a reason to go there. I heard from Mom when they decided to abandon the duplexes. For whatever reason, they couldn’t sell or rent them anymore and didn’t have the budget to renovate, so the town government is just letting them rot.
When I first heard that news, I didn’t care much. I try not to get sentimental. But preparing to see the place again, where I had so many memories—it got to me. The days of watching He-Man in my fuzzy Star Wars pajamas. The days of watching The X-Files with Mom. The days of lying in bed all summer reading UFO books. Of course I realized it’d just be empty space now, nothing in common with those memories other than a floor plan.
Those feelings vanished soon after I arrived. I was able to sneak in through living room window in the back, just like I used to do when I’d get home from school and realize I forgot my keys. The moment feet hit the linoleum floor, the music started. It was low and distorted at first, so I couldn’t make out what it was. It didn’t matter. Someone had to be in there. And that someone knew I was there…
I waited for a sound other than the music. Nothing. I felt a little more courage. So I started walking toward the stairs. The music got louder, but no less distorted. The tune was familiar, though. I went up the stairs slowly. That’s where my old room was. By the time I got to the top, I knew what I was listening to. “Early in the Morning” by Vanity Fare. An oldie. And it was coming from a grimy old radio propped in front of my bedroom door. That was odd, because the same song started playing again when it reached the end. What radio station plays the same song twice in a row? I switched the radio off.
Doing that, I realized, telegraphed my exact location. I broke out into a cold sweat for a moment waiting for something to happen. But all I heard now was a buzzing from in the room. Like a beehive. I noticed my name placard was still on the door. Other people had lived there after Mom left, I’m sure of that. Either those people chose to leave my name on a door in their home, or someone had put it back. Either way was weird.
I opened it. I didn’t and still don’t know how to react to what I saw inside. The room had been set up to look exactly like it did when I was a teen. Not like it did after I left for college or even just before. Like it did in 1999. Down to the details. The Halloween lights around the desktop. Fangoria posters on the walls. My old Mr. T pillow on the bed. Someone had to have known my room in intimate detail to have done this. It was insane. Me, my Mom, and Ricky are about the only ones…
But there were some details that were off. At first, that was comforting. Then the more I thought about it, they seemed intentional. Like on the Candyman poster, it said it starred Tiny Lister instead of Tony Todd. And the wall was painted with the same style of stucco, but the color was a shade or two off. Things like that. They were everywhere. That was more troubling to me than the recreation itself. It’s like it was recreated in a bad dream. Or it all meant something.
I found where the buzzing was coming from, at any rate. It was the computer. It was running. I sat down and activated the screen. Like the rest of the room, the desktop was a faithful snapshot of 1999. Every icon just as I remembered. I couldn’t find anything running out of the ordinary. It was like being transported to the past.
That’s when I noticed the one thing out of order with my desktop. An icon way in the corner, almost off the screen, called “Milk and Honey”. I never had any such file. I’m sure of that. I started moving the mouse up to it. I felt strangely afraid to open it. Before I could, the radio started blasting “Early in the Morning” again. My heart almost stopped.
I looked behind me expecting the worst. Nobody was there. I got up to switch the radio off. But it was still off. I checked the batteries and there were none. That’s when I realized the music wasn’t coming from the radio. I don’t think it ever was.
I wanted to get out of there. I’ve felt fear before. I don’t think I’ve ever known what dread feels like before then. Not really. But I had to find out what “Milk and Honey” was. It loaded a Telnet connection. I hadn’t seen one of those in a while. The connection worked, because in a few seconds an ASCII mountain filled the window.
I waited and waited for something to happen. But nothing did. Just the mountain. I tried submitting some inputs. I even wondered if the connection died. I was going to retry, but I got a phone call from Det. Thereault just then.
“Are you alone?” he asked.
I thought that was strange. But I told him I believed I was. But I wasn’t sure. He asked where I was. I told him. He said I needed to get out of that house slowly and calmly, get in my car, and drive back to him. His voice—I knew that sound. It was controlled panic. Something was definitely wrong.
I was ready to listen. But I told him I wanted to know what’s going on. He said he had a gut feeling about something and decided to check back with Angelica to make sure everything was OK. Everything was not. He said that girl he’d put me in contact with two weeks ago was not Angelica. They had no idea who that woman was, because no-one’s been able to find her. The home she was in was apparently between renters. Nobody lived there at the time. All they found left behind was a script detailing what she was supposed to say when she spoke to me.
I was speechless. And confused. I’d just readjusted my thinking to believe everything with Angelica was a lie. And now that the truth about the lie was also a lie, did that make the lie true? But it got worse. Det. Thereault said he contacted Angelica’s family again and asked more questions. A lot more. She had every message I ever sent her printed out. Pictures of me. A map of my hometown. A doll. He said in some of the pictures I was clearly sleeping. Did I know of any such pictures? I couldn’t speak. He took my silence for a ‘No.’ And he was right.
“There’s more,” he said. “But you have to get back here now. Calmly.”
I thanked him and prepared to do just what he said. That’s when I noticed more had happened on the telnet screen. There was a question up. “Are you alone?”
“Is that you?” I asked, but the Detective had already hung up. I didn’t really think it was him anyway. I’d just hoped.
I responded in the Telnet client that I believed I was alone.
As soon as I did, sound started coming from the computer speakers. It came out slow and garbled. “This message is a warning transmitted by dilatons after after 21 hundred, break this device, shut it all down, get out, save yourself.”
I had no idea what it meant, really. I only remember it because it kept repeating, so I was able to record it. Other than that, I couldn’t find anything strange on the computer. I unplugged it from everything anyway, just in case.
I got up, ready to calmly exit like the detective said. I would’ve been ok, I think. But I saw something. Something that froze me in place. There were strands of dark hair flowing from under the bed. I just kept staring at them. Mentally, I needed to make sure I was seeing right, that it wasn’t just threads. It was dark in that area, after all. My eyes adjusted slowly and I realized I wasn’t just looking at hair. I had been looking right into someone’s eye for half a minute. And whoever it was had just been staring right back the whole time.
I screamed. And I ran, jumping several steps at a time, out the front door. Sure, it wasn’t my proudest moment. What matters is I lived.
I don’t know who that was. I didn’t want to find out. Knowing I was being watched that whole time. It still felt like that eye was on me. That’s pretty much ruined my memories of that place forever.
There was just one other thing to do in town while I was there. The Egypt. I don’t know if I disconnected “The Hole” by unplugging that computer. But I still had to face the Egypt again.
When I got there, the parking lot of the post office was completely empty. I parked in back, in front of the filthy, old windows of what used to be an internet café. I didn’t even have to break in. The glass in the door had already been busted. I just had to reach in and unlock. My hand started tingling as soon as I reached in. I kept expecting someone or something to grab my hand.
When I got in, I was shocked to see it hadn’t really changed at all. Computers everywhere. A sign-up sheet on the counter. And no-one there. I started hearing some low voices. As soon as I did, I looked around for a place to hide. The voices continued, distant and muffled. It took me a moment to recognize my own voice. It was the conversation I’d had with Angelica. The part where she told me about being seen in places she’d never been. It was coming from one of the computers. I got closer to it and I could see someone was up on the screen. I knew what it was right away. The animated skeleton gifs and links to conspiracy theories and Heaven’s Gate. Yeah, it was my homepage. The one that was deleted almost two decades ago. I never thought I’d see it again. But why? Who put it there?
On another computer, I saw a video of a middle-aged couple staring into the camera. Like they were watching me. And a little girl peeking over their shoulder. The woman said, “It chose you” and the man was shaking his head slightly. He looked frightened.
Then another computer started playing a song. I recognized the sound of Vanity Fare again. “Hitchin’ a Ride.” That made it click. I’d just walked into a trap. I had to get out.
But I couldn’t. These people started coming inside. I hadn’t even heard them approaching. A middle-aged woman with long, black hair, well-dressed. An older businessman, it looked like. A rough-looking homeless guy. More and more people crowded in without saying anything. They were moving toward me. I tried talking to them, but their faces were blank, emotionless. They didn’t seem to hear. I ran into the bathroom and closed the door behind me. It had a simple turn-the-bolt lock, so I locked it.
I pulled out my phone to see if I could get the police, but there was no signal. I started hyperventilating and had to catch myself against the wall. That’s when I remembered the story about the guy knocking on the wall. Maybe there weren’t bricks on the other side. I knocked for a hollow spot and when I found one I started kicking a hole in the drywall. I tore the rest of the hole open with my hands. There was space back there. I used my phone’s flashlight to look inside. The space was about two feet in width to the brick wall. I stepped inside. There were tons of floppy disks stashed in there. It was crazy.
I heard those people breathing outside the door. They weren’t trying to open it or beat it down. They were breathing heavily against it. Then I saw something moving under the door frame. I thought it was a finger slipping under, maybe trying to grab a shoelace or something. But it was too pink. Too wet. It was a tongue. One of them was licking under the door.
That scared me enough to go deeper into the space, stumbling over pieces of sheetrock. But there was nowhere to go. While I waited for something, anything to happen, I noticed two things. One, written above the hole I just made, on the inside, “The Hole” had been painted. The other, it wasn’t sheetrock I was stumbling over. It was bones. I don’t know how long I sat there. Suddenly the breathing sounds stopped. A few minutes later, Detective Thereault burst into the bathroom. The door splintered at the first thrust. Those people could’ve gotten to me if they’d wanted to.
The detective said no-one was out there when he arrived. While he escorted me out, I saw all the computers were gone, the guestbook, all of it. But the bones and floppy disks were there and very real. He said we’d have a lot to discuss.
After I got away from the police station, I came home and settled down to try and relax. Anything to rest my nerves. Just as I settled, I got an email notification on my phone that said, “please look” and provided a link. I didn’t recognize the number. But since the link was to a Guelph University page, I figured it was Ben.
The link brought me to the webcam that Ben found weeks ago on the Gopher server. I was regretting my decision to trust it already. Why couldn’t they just leave me alone? The frames kept updating, but nothing was happening. Until, with one update, I saw the trunk of my car was opening. When the frame updated 4 seconds later, the trunk was fully open and someone was hanging half out. I guess I was mesmerized, because I just kept watching, waiting for the next frame update. Whoever it was, he was standing at my door.
I went to my front door and looked out the peephole. No-one was there. I looked at my phone again to check the webcam. Someone was—or should be—standing right in front of it. Maybe it was something that happened in the past. I looked through the peephole again and it was blocked. It took a moment to realize I was looking right into someone’s face. An awful, hate-filled face.
I took my phone with me to my office and locked the door. I heard my front door knob rattling and then open. I knew I’d locked it. Whoever it was walked in purposefully right to the office, like they already knew where I was going. I didn’t have much confidence in the lock. I expected the door to fly open immediately. Instead, I heard a weird, distant voice, just like when I spoke to Ricky. It was like the weather radio tuned to the wrong frequency.
“Why did you leave?” it asked.
I called 911. I heard the operator pick up, but I couldn’t speak. The door opened and this person walked in. His face was hazy. But it was familiar. He had some kind of weapon. He forced me to get on my computer and go to the Hole. He walked me through each step. I didn’t have a choice. I did it. After all those years, there it was. The same, bland page that seemed to do nothing. But I could feel it like fingers poking in my brain.
It was like I was still in my office. But that guy was gone. So were other things. I could see things that were always there but weren’t really there. It was all the same, but just a little different.
I was still on the phone with 911, I realized. I tried to tell the operator that the man was gone. Nothing I said was coming out right. I kept telling the operator that I saw tot I saw a putty cat. And the operator was telling me, “That’s the Captain. He’s a jackal. And he’s not happy with you.”
“You ever heard of phreaking?” someone asked. It was disorienting, but I knew right away I was looking at Ben. And I wasn’t in my home. There was a guy standing with Ben that I didn’t recognize. I asked if I was in Guelph and how I got there.
He assured me I was in a motel in my hometown. He didn’t trust technologically facilitated communication anymore, so he came all the way to talk to me. And he introduced his associate as ‘Milky.’ He’d found him holed up in a Catholic commune in rural Ontario. They said I was in serious danger.
Milky spoke then. His voice was slurred. He was aware of it, because he apologized for it. He went on to tell me what happened to him. He said he’d been a part of this hacking community for years. Nothing for profit. Just good ol’ fashioned mischief. They especially liked dicking with fringe and religious groups. They started on IRC. When the WWW became the thing, they migrated to a web forum. One day a hidden link appears on the forum. Other members try to scrub it and insist that no-one touch it.
One of the guys on the forum, one of their oldest members who fled the Soviet Union back in the ‘70s, said he knew what it was. It was studied before and it was never, ever supposed to be available to the public. He’d seen what Stalin could do, what murderers could do, and he wasn’t scared. That was life. This thing scared him.
It sounded like a put on. Milky said this guy had a healthy sense of humor. But the guy swore it was real. He said it started way back when the first computers were being networked. The electrons and other particles that are brought together and herded about in making these connections leave empty spaces of nothing where they were. It’s like an “antinet.” And the more and more we connect all over the world, the more this emptiness grows.
And what’s so scary about that? someone on the forum asked. And he replied, “Just because it’s empty space doesn’t mean there’s nothing in it.” He wouldn’t elaborate on that. No matter how much they tried. He’d only tell them he’d seen it for himself.
Milky figured the guy didn’t want to make them curious about it. That failed. He was very curious about it. More than ever. So he clicked the link. He remembered being disappointed by it. Because it was just a blank page. But after clicking it, he started to notice strange things happening. He lost track of time. He’d be told by acquaintances that he’d done things he had no memory of doing. Or even that he couldn’t have done, because he was doing something else.
This one time, he heard his dog barking. It was 3AM. He got up to see what was going on. The dog was standing in the entrance to his living room just barking nonstop. He expects to find a mouse cornered in there. But he said he remembers being so startled, he tried to scream but no sound would come out. Two men in business suits were sitting on his couch.
He immediately thought of a mob hit. But it’s Canada. What mob? He turned on the light. They didn’t flinch. They looked like normal businessmen. They were staring at the floor, drinking Capri Sun. He told them to get out of his house or he’d call the police. They just got up and left. On the way out, one of them said, “You asked us to come and sit here.” He never saw those men again in his life.
Another time, he called his brother in Vancouver to wish him a happy birthday. They had a pleasant chat and he hung up the phone, went about his business. About an hour later, it hit him like a punch in the gut. His brother died two years ago. He always called him on his birthday. He just did it so reflexively, and when he got an answer, it was like old times.
“Who the hell was I talking to, man?” he asked.
His stories sounded a lot like the ones the fake/real Angelica told me about when I talked to her weeks ago. So either I was speaking to the real Angelica then, or maybe this wasn’t the real Ben and Melke. I guess I couldn’t be sure about anything anymore. At least it was less scary to believe they were real.
During that time, he said, he kept checking the Hole. He wanted to figure it out. He thought it was controlling him. He didn’t remember the things he saw when he visited. But he said the old Soviet was right. It wasn’t empty. What he saw in there—his brain wouldn’t let him remember.
I just wanted to know why all this was happening. Ben stepped in. He said there’s only one way he can think of for this ‘site,’ if it can be called that, to influence a mind that way. It has to be electromagnetic emissions. It must somehow be able to read them off of us and produce them as well. It’s a technique that was experimented with as a form of phreaking. But never with biological systems.
As to why, he didn’t think there was any purpose. It was just there and did what it did. It was the antinet. It introduces emptiness, division, and chaos instead of connection. That’s just a byproduct of its existence. And its existence is a byproduct of the internet. Like angry Facebook arguments are a byproduct of the internet. It was never supposed to be something you could just navigate to. It was theoretical. A thing a few computer scientists knew about. Somehow someone leaked it out there. It was all over. It was buried on the Heaven’s Gate website. Hacking forums. Occult sites. The fringe of the internet is where it moved.
That was a lot to take in. And I’m not sure how much of it I really believe. On top of that, apparently several hours had passed since the man made me click to the Hole.
I suddenly remembered what the 911 operator said to me.
“Who’s the Captain?” I asked.
Milky was shaving when I asked him. His hand stopped moving. I saw in the mirror tears forming in his eyes. He was visibly shaking.
“Captain Meat. From the Hole. It looks kinda like a dog.”
Then he went back to shaving like nothing happened.
Later I thanked Ben and Milky for saving me. For risking so much, really. Especially Ben. And for trying to warn me with the link to the webcam. But both of them denied ever sending that text. They asked to see it. They couldn’t figure out where it came from. They checked the link to the webcam, too. It still worked. There was the front of my home. My car, with the trunk still open. We watched it for a few frame updates before Ben noticed. Someone was in the trunk. It was dark and grainy. But that was definitely someone in there. And I shuddered when we all agreed that whoever that person was, they were looking right at the camera. Or us. We turned it off.
I woke up in the middle of the night a few nights later. We’d decided we didn’t want to keep paying for the motel, so we were crashing with my Mom by then. She was happy for the company. And she was obviously worried about me. She said I had to get a grip and not let my life slip away.
“Just solve this thing,” she said.
It was weird. It wasn’t the sort of thing my Mom would say.
Anyway, I woke up. Because I was hearing whispering sounds. You’d think louder sounds would wake you. But no. The whispers are the worst. I listened carefully. I tried not to move. I wanted to hear where they were coming from. It was a two-way conversation. I couldn’t make out any of the content, though. Just a word here and there.
I got up slowly and looked toward the corner of the room. That’s where I thought the sounds were. It took a while for my eyes to adjust. When they did, I saw Milky kneeling in front of one of the electrical sockets. He’d whisper something into it, then turn his head and wait. And whispers came back. He saw me looking and said, “Some trick, huh?”
I guess it was ventriloquism. But why do that alone in the middle of the night? ‘cause he was crazy. I got out of bed and went out to the kitchen for water. I could see someone standing out on the front porch through the kitchen window. Figuring Ben couldn’t sleep either, I went out to ask him if Milky was really ok. Because he didn’t seem to be. I flicked on the outdoor light and stepped out. But it wasn’t Ben out there. It was Milky again. He tried to tell me something about constellations, but I walked back in. Something wasn’t making sense. There was no way he could’ve gotten out that fast. Some trick, huh?
I went into the living room. The TV was on. It was the episode of Seinfeld where George finds a doll that looks like his mother. That made me uncomfortable, so I changed to another channel. The program guide said The Ninth Gate would be showing. I always liked that one. But instead of The Ninth Gate, it was The Ten Commandments. Very different movies. Only one number off, though.
Seeing Hesston’s Moses posturing with the Egyptians struck me. I never did get to speak to HolyMoses. I let myself be distracted, chased off, or both. And everything happening just seemed to be getting more and more filled with coincidences and connections that weren’t adding up. Or added up too well. Which is the same thing, if you ask me.
I started up Mom’s computer. It still ran Windows XP. It was Dad’s computer and she didn’t like change. I had to download mIRC. As soon as I did, I connected to EFnet. This time I was going to talk to him. He wasn’t hard to find. Just a WhoIs and there he was, in @H1N1. He was the only one in there, besides me. Not a lot of bird flu fans, I guess.
Before I could send him a message, an email notification appeared on screen. I guess Mom had it on auto-start. The notification caught my eye, because it said it was from Det. Thereault, subject “Information Requested.” I shouldn’t have, but since it was from the detective, I felt it had to concern my situation. I clicked on it and read,
“As we discussed, here is the documentation on the dental records with the doctor’s signature.”
The attached document was about the skeletal remains found in the Egypt. I felt a sudden wave of horror, because I thought I knew what was coming. Dad’s bones somehow got in there. But I was wrong. They matched the skeleton up to my dental records. Mine!
“I don’t know who that man is,” he went on, “but he is not your son.”
That was just absurd. I knew my own mother, for Pete’s sake! I thought about deleting the email, but that wouldn’t do any good. Then I started piecing things together. Wondering if maybe I really was dead. Or maybe I was an imposter, and that’s why I had memory lapses.
Then I remembered I was just about to message HolyMoses. Why did something always happen when I was about to message him? It had to be a trick. I went back to IRC and sent HolyMoses a message.
“Who are you?”
No response. I got a sudden message from u47284u, “Do you know where your mother is?”
I ignored him. I sent another message to HolyMoses.
“Do you know what’s going on?”
u47284u messaged me again, “Are you sure she’s okay?”
I took a chance on what I remembered from Angelica’s story. I sent HolyMoses a short message.
The letter “M.”
This immediately triggered a file transmission, which I accepted. It was a video file. It downloaded in about 5 minutes. If HolyMoses was as old as they claimed, this video would’ve taken a day or two back then. The video was called, “Freedom.mov”
Milky came in from outside, stood a few feet away from me, and stared at me. That was unnerving enough. Then the pantry door started to open. Ben stepped out. He had to have been sitting cramped in there all that time. He also stood still and just stared at me. My Mom came in from outdoors—why was she outdoors and where? She joined Milky and Ben.
“What’s going on?” I asked them.
They didn’t speak. I felt the tension in the air and the assurance that something would happen. The suspense and stillness was getting worse than anything they could do to me. My heart was beating so fast.
And I had been hearing a dripping sound for a minute or two without paying attention. Too much was going on. Now I looked to where the sound was coming from. I saw fat beetles crawling out from Milky’s sleeves, over his hands, and dropping to the floor. What was going on?
I think I was so afraid I couldn’t feel it anymore. Slowly, I grabbed a loose USB dongle, attached it to my phone, and to the computer. I’m surprised that old computer could read the phone, but it did. While they stared at me, I transferred the video file to my phone. I unplugged the dongle, took my phone, and ran to the bathroom, where I locked myself in.
I heard feet shuffle up to the door and stop there. I turned on the shower to drown out sound and then started watching the video. The webcam being used was severely damaged, by the looks of it. But I could make out a very sickly looking older man. The audio was distorted. And I had the shower running. So I had to start it over and up the volume. The man said he’d been trying to warn me. The dilaton distortion from the Hole allows him to send messages during brief windows. If I am listening to this, he said, I am in the Hole and have been for a while. Other things are also in here. While he spoke, I kept hearing screams in the background of the recording, some sounded closer than others. He said these things don’t want me going anywhere. I need to get out before it’s too late. He knows, he said, because he’s me. The last thing he said before the video ended abruptly was “the birds and the bees.”
I couldn’t leave through the door, so I pulled up the blind to leave through the bathroom window. I almost shrieked when I saw my mother’s face pressed up against the window. I was trapped. I thought about pushing through anyway. But I couldn’t hit my mother. I could hit Ben or Milky if I had to, but not my mother. So I took the door. Nobody was there. That just made me worry about where they really were.
I stepped outside and still, nobody there. I hurried to my car before Mom could come around from the back. Then I heard rapid footsteps. Ben was running right toward me from way down the street.
“Stop hurting me!” he shouted.
But he didn’t look in pain. He looked in a rage. I got in my car and started backing up. When he got to me, he was pounding on the windows, still screaming.
I drove straight back to my home, leaving them all behind. The only explanation could be that I’m “in the Hole,” whatever that means. Because there was no other way Ben and my Mom would act like that. But when did that happen? And what does that even mean, anyway?
Before I even stepped inside my home, I knew something was wrong. Waves of something—just bad, pure bad—were hitting me. I opened my front door. Everything looked normal. I started turning on all the lights. And I grabbed a knife from the kitchen drawer. Then I saw them. Two men in bee costumes sitting on my treadmill. Looking at the floor. Not moving. Almost like they were stuffed. Or forgot where they were.
“What do you people want from me?” I said.
I kept a tight grip on the knife.
They stood up. Then they both looked down the hall toward my office. I followed their gaze, but saw nothing down there. After a few seconds of wondering what they saw, I heard the song start. “Early in the Morning.” While I was looking down the hall, they were already heading out the door.
I decided to follow them. Because whatever started that music gave me a worse feeling than them. As I stepped out the door, I’m sure I heard a dog growling behind me.
I followed them across the road and into the woods. I turned my phone flashlight on to be able to follow them. It’s like they could see in the dark, the way they navigated the woods. The deeper we went, the more uneasy I became. They just seemed to keep going and going.
But the deeper we went, the more I started to hear birds. I never even thought of it before, but I hadn’t heard any birds for a long time. Weeks at least. Or locusts or any normal springtime sounds. The more I followed the bees, the more I heard the birds, until they got loud enough I figured we must be under a massive collection of nests. I kept following them until it got too loud to bear and then it sounded like machinery, like elevators. There was a machine. Hidden out in the middle of nowhere. I followed them inside and then…
And then I was back in my office, sitting at my desk, slumped over my keyboard. The corner of my mouth was wet. I must’ve blacked out. I picked myself up. It felt like I was just waking up from a deep sleep. The room was bright with sunlight. I could hear birds chirping up a frenzy outside. My screensaver was on. When I shifted the mouse, just to see what time it was, there was an email from the globetrotter.net Angelica.
It read, “Pretty intense, huh? You can spend the rest of your life in there.”
I sat disoriented for a while, before realizing I had to urinate, eat and drink. When I had done those things, I looked around my home for clues. The knife I’d taken was back where it belonged. My old computer was put up in its box. I called my Mom to ask if she was OK. She didn’t remember any of the events from the previous night.
That’s when I remembered the video on my phone. From HolyMoses. I checked and it was still there. I knew I wasn’t dreaming. I played it back. Here would be my evidence. The video was 2 minutes of distorted audio and video. In all the distortions, no recognizable sounds or images.
That was a few weeks ago. It’s taken me some time to get calibrated to reality. Nothing strange has happened since. I can’t explain what happened. Maybe I had a psychotic break. I was under a lot of stress at work. Maybe someone was gaslighting the hell out of me. Maybe there really is a secret website that uses electromagnetic waves to mess with your mind.
I’m just glad it’s over. I’m glad to be going back to work like a regular person. Making banana smoothies. Not thinking about sinister internet cafes. I really do remember the Egypt and the Hole and—it’s like reality all twisted. I’ll just end by saying I don’t think I’ll be feeling any nostalgia for the old days of internet for a good, long while. The only problem I’m having is, whenever I’m trying to sleep, I keep remembering the whole nightmare and asking myself, “Am I still inside?” But, then, what difference would it make?
I didn’t know my uncle too well. Which I guess is why I couldn’t shed even a single tear at his funeral. I had only seen him for a few occasions in my life, and most of them was when I was six. He seemed like a nice guy, but even back then, I could see something… different in his eyes. I just didn’t know what it was.
When I was fifteen, I could clearly see that loneliness had consumed him. Which eventually lead him to taking his own life. Alive one day, gone the next. Nothing but a pale face and an empty bottle of pills lying on the floor of his living room was found.
My dad says it was because of the divorce, but my mother persisted that it was because neither she nor the rest of my uncle’s relatives ever cared to check on him for several years, even on the holidays. Almost like he didn’t exist.
I felt guilty myself, but I knew that there was nothing I could do.
Mom cried a lot that day. After the funeral, she would go and visit her brother’s grave every chance she got. Often bringing flowers and candles to pray for his peaceful passing to whatever was waiting for him.
I had to join her after school most of the time. I didn’t know if I liked going to the cemetery everyday, but I respected my mother for trying to make amends over past mistakes. At least, enough to ignore everyone that called me the “Cemetery Girl.”
After a week or so however, I did see someone who’d better fit the role of “Cemetery Girl.”
One sunny afternoon, I spotted someone who was doing… something by the gravestones. I didn’t know what she was doing at first, but already, she was giving me an odd first impression, mostly because of the long stuffed and striped rabbit ears she had on the hood of her jacket. I never did get how fashion worked, but I knew something like that wouldn’t slide easily.
I didn’t pay her much attention until the following week later. She was a lot closer to us now, and I could clearly see what she was doing. Beside the tombstone, she was placing her head down on the ground to one side, as if she was listening for something. She didn’t care if the graves had concrete slabs or simply bare dirt.
Every time I saw her, she would place her ear on a different grave, and each time, a lot closer to my uncle’s. I got a better look of her, clearly seeing the rabbit ears were just one part of her surreal wardrobe. Her jacket bore the same pink and white stripes, and I also noticed the over-sized green button in between the two ears, looking almost like an eye of a doll or something. I could clearly see a happy smile lining up on her face, like she was enjoying whatever it was she was doing.
I tried not to think too much of her, but as time went on and she got closer to us, I couldn’t help but notice her presence more and more.
One day, I decided to talk to her myself.
I constantly switched from looking at my mom and to the strange girl ahead; now only about six graves beside us. My mother was still busy with setting up the candles. The lighter she used wasn’t cooperating.
“Hey, mom, can I… go look around the place for a bit?” I asked, not really sure if I should mention the strange girl or not, even though I knew she had been seeing her as well.
She made a weird face, which was understandable. “Okay, just… don’t do anything stupid. And don’t go too far,” she told me.
I nodded, and headed off.
When I got up to the weird girl, she still had one ear on the ground. Once she took notice of me, she immediately stood up. “Hi, there!” she said gleefully, throwing her arm in the air.
“Yeah… hi,” I replied, giving her a wave with less than half of her enthusiasm.
There was a brief moment of silence between us, an uneasy feeling washing over me as the awkwardness settled in.
“So… what are you doing here, exactly?” I finally managed to ask.
“Oh, nothing special. Just listening in. It can be pretty boring sometimes, but it’s fun when you hear them!”
I was confused to what she had just said. “Hear who…?”
She didn’t say anything. She only knelt down on the ground again, and motioned for me to do the same. I hesitated…but eventually I did. I felt the wet soil soak through my jeans, making it all even more uncomfortable to move.
Her ear was pressed against the ground of a “Wilbur Whately, Sr.” tombstone. The look on her face kept changing constantly; changing from bored to looking like she was really close to bursting out laughing.
…and she eventually did, raising her head in the process.
“Ha, ha, ha! Sorry, sorry, I don’t think you’d wanna hear this, he-he…” she vaguely stated. I did not understand her at all, and I was beginning to think that it might’ve been a bad idea approaching her.
She stood up again, dusting off her skirt. “Come on! I know a better place for you to start!”
“I… I don’t know,” I said, standing up myself. “I’m not supposed to wander around too much.”
“It ain’t that far from here, I can promise ya that. Right about…” she spun around, putting her hand above her eyes, almost like a sailor scanning the sea for dry land. “There!” she pointed to another grave I couldn’t quite distinguish. True to her word, it didn’t seem too far from us. I didn’t think it would land me in trouble at least…
“Okay, if you say so.”
She led the way, passing by three different rows of concrete slabs with the names of the deceased etched on the headstones beside them, and moving on to the one at the far left corner of our block. From where we were, I could see my mom, kneeling down and still busy praying.
I looked at the tombstone that stood beside me. The name was slowly fading away, “Mitchell” being the only thing I could clearly make out of it.
“Mitch here can be a real wallflower, but when he starts talking, you won’t believe how kookie his stories can be!” she remarked before kneeling down.
I did the same right as she bent her head down on the concrete slab. She listened in for about half a minute, before sitting back up right with a giggle.
“Yup! That’s Mitch, all right! Okay, it’s a little tricky at first, but it’ll be worth it! Trust me.”
“Sure, okay… what should I do exactly?”
“Just get your good ear out and listen! Oh, and uh… just make sure there isn’t anything that can… you know, crawl into your ear and stuff. Believe me, you do not want that, heh…”
This was probably my last chance to get up, make up a lame excuse and run away, but I still decided to press on.
Staring down at the concrete, I asked myself a question, a boatload of questions, really. Was I really going to do this? Listen in on someone’s grave for some currently unknown reason? With my own curiosity being the only thing that drives me to do so?
And then there was that one question…
What was I going to hear if I did?
I placed my two hands on the cold slab and slowly lowered my head, putting my left ear down. Hearing the same bubble-like sounds you’d hear when you cover your ears.
I stayed like that for a few minutes, hearing nothing out of the ordinary.
“I can’t hear anything,” I said, taking my ear off the slab.
The girl in front of me looked a little confused. “Maybe… give it another try?” she suggested, tilting her head to one side.
I did just that, and still there was nothing. “It does sound hollow, though… but I guess it is a grave after all.”
She didn’t look upset. More like she was thinking of something that might help; arms crossed and her right index finger on the tip of her chin like something a cartoony detective would do.
“Maybe you’re not using your good ear?” she suggested, pointing to my right ear.
I shrugged. “I’ll give it a shot, I guess.”
Pressed down with my right ear this time, I listened in again. I took the time to focus my hearing on that side, blocking out anything the other side picked up.
“I’m… still not hearing anything,” I said, my head still on the slab. “Sorry.”
“Try giving it a little more time. Maybe that’ll help.”
I followed her request. I wasn’t really aiming to find out if there really was anything to hear anymore. It was strange, but I was somewhat enjoying my time with her. She was odd in many different ways, but she was undoubtedly friendly despite my being a complete stranger.
Another few minutes pass, and still, I heard nothing. I lifted my head up and shook my head. I could see she was back to her thinking stance. She had a puzzled look on her face, a slight hint of disappointment mixed in. A kind of face that I’ve seen a lot from my mother these days.
“Hey, what’s your name anyway?” I asked, snapping her out of the trance she was in.
“Oh, I never told you?”
I shook my head again, which in turn made her comically bonk the side of her head. “Ah, sorry! He-he, guess I got too caught up in the moment.”
She stood up on her two feet and extended her hand out to me.
“The name’s Amy! Amy Dall!” she exclaimed.
I got up myself and shook her hand with mine. “My name’s Charlotte, Charlotte Harris.”
As soon as I said my name, her face lit up with awe. “Ooh! Ya got a pretty name there, Charlotte!”
“Heh, t–thanks.” I wasn’t used to hearing compliments, at least not anymore. It felt a little embarrassing to hear one out of the blue.
“Hey, uh… do you wanna be friends?” I found myself asking out loud.
She looked a little confused at first, before a cheerful look returned to her. “Aren’t we already?”
“I mean… I suppose so,” I said sheepishly.
“Then I’m pleased to have met ya, Charlotte!”
She held her hand out towards me again, this time with only her thumb raised in the air. I couldn’t help but laugh a little at how silly she was, and yet, I did the same thing myself. “Nice to meet you too!”
“Welp, might have to call it a day, unfortunately,” she suddenly stated, turning around and starting to walk away. “I get a little busy at this time of the day. Thanks for talkin’ to me, Charlotte! I really appreciate your company. Be seein’ ya!”
“W–wait!” I said, stopping her in place.
“Hm? What is it?”
“I, uh…” I didn’t know why I even thought of it. But I did, and eventually I said, “Maybe… I could try listening in again?” I pointed my finger down on the grave we were messing with earlier.
A large grin spread across her lips. “Ha, ha! I knew you’d be up for it!”
She walked back towards me and knelt beside the tombstone once again. I did the same on the opposite side, and positioned myself.
I didn’t really expect to hear anything that time around either. But nevertheless, I still felt a familiar twinge of fear running through my system. Leaving me to ask myself again, was I really going to do this?
“Weeeeell? Come on and face the music, honey! We’ll never know if ya hear anything if we don’t try!” Amy announced, and she was sadly right.
My eyes darted back and forth from my new companion to the slab in front of us. I highly doubted that anything different would happen, yet the sense of dread inside me was still there, further expanding as I hesitated.
I placed my two hands on the concrete again.
I took in a deep breath, and finally lowered my head down.
Five whole seconds passed… nothing.
Ten more seconds… nothing.
Five more seconds… still no–
My eyes opened in astonishment.
I… I heard something. At first, it just sounded like something was moving on the slab above with me, but after letting what I heard sink in, I had a weird feeling that told me it was coming from below me.
I heard it again, a sound along the lines of a faint muffled scratch below. How is this even possible? I thought to myself. I was hearing something from below a grave. A grave that probably had several layers of concrete or dirt below the slab, and I was hearing something? And it sounded like it was getting… faster?
I couldn’t tell what I was hearing. It sounded like random scratching, but even that I wasn’t sure of. It was too far away for me to tell.
Beads of sweat went down my forehead and onto the slab. I could feel every single hair on the back of my neck stand on end every time I heard the strange noise that seemed to have come from below me.
What was happening?
What was I hearing?
And how the hell does someone like Amy knew about this?
It took me a little while, but soon I realized that this sound was indeed getting closer. Getting louder.
No… it wasn’t so much like a scratching noise anymore.
Faintly, I could make out what sounded like… words? Words that formed a sentence I couldn’t quite decipher just yet. It was… a voice. A very hoarse one at that, like someone had been screaming for the past hour or so.
“Doonn…sssst…errr…eyy,” was all I could understand at first. But as it got closer, more of the words started to clear up.
The voice felt like it was only a few inches below me, as if a man pressed his face against the slab and whispered the words up above. Whispering the words into my ears, as I began to understand each word he was telling me:
Just as I was steeling myself for the worst, the voice abruptly stopped. I couldn’t hear anything anymore, not even a hint of the mysterious scratchy voice that was coming from below me.
I listened in for a good long while, but still, there was nothing. The voice was gone.
Frustration made me sit upright, seeing Amy again after what felt like an hour. I forgot that she was even there, and seeing a girl who apparently knew about what I was hearing, and one who had a huge excited grin on her face, only added to the mix of confusion and anger that was boiling up inside me.
“Sooooo?! Did ya hear it? Huh? Did ya? Did ya?!” she asked frantically before I could say anything, biting the tip of her thumbnail afterwards.
“What… what the hell was that?” I asked, in a tone that was far more hostile than intended.
Rather than being offended, she gasped in astonishment, clapping her hands together in joy. “You did! You heard him! That’s so awesome! That is soooo awesome!” She suddenly stood up and began trotting around in circles, constantly repeating what she just said a few seconds ago, doing all sorts of wavy dance-like motions with her arms and legs.
“I… I couldn’t understand it” I commented, still trying to make sense of it all.
She stopped midway of her dance, one leg and two arms in the air as if she had been frozen in place.
“Oh?” she said, turning back to me. She then returned to her thinking stance from earlier. “Hmm… try listening again,” she said nonchalantly.
I was taken aback at how calm she was. Was this what she was hearing on every grave? “I–I don’t know, I don’t know…” I hesitated, my anger soon melting back into a state of fear to the unknown.
“Aw, come on, Charlotte! If ya stop now, you’re gonna up feeling like ya wasted an opportunity of a lifetime!” she exclaimed. “You’re gonna be stuck with this mystery for the entirety of your life! And you’ll never be able to go back!” She started jumping around again, throwing her arms up in the air.
“Unless,” she stopped, holding up her right index finger up like a man who was striking a bargain with someone.
“Unless… what?” I asked, quivering under the weight of the whole scene.
“Unle-eeee-ss, ya put yer ear back down there, and listen again!” she said ominously, pointing to the grave and then tilting her head to one side, cupping her own ear with her hand.
Earlier, I would have laughed at how silly her statements and actions were. But during those moments it felt like she was leading me into doing something that was far more twisted and sinister.
Twisted or not, I couldn’t say that she was wrong.
I stared back at Amy one last time, a look of great anticipation written all over her face, and placed my head back down on the slab. Closing my eyes yet again, I listened in, my entire body shaking from both the ache from straining the neck for so long and the fear that was building up as the silence drove on.
I clenched my teeth, biting at nothing as I heard… nothing. There was nothing. No voices. No sounds. Nothing.
There was no sound for two whole minutes, until finally…
“Charlotte? What the heck are you doing?” I heard my mother ask from behind me.
“M–mom?!” I blurted out, head still down on the slab. I opened my eyes and could faintly see her white pant leg at the edge of my vision.
“Get away from that grave! God knows what sort of people stepped on that,” she scolded me, but I still couldn’t move, a sudden wave of panic and confusion petrifying me on the spot.
“Don’t worry, miss! The graves here are a hundred percent clean!” I could hear Amy say to her.
“Still, get your head off of that. It’s a little disrespectful to the dead, don’t you think?”
Even if I wanted to listen in, I knew my mother wasn’t going to let me. I wasn’t even sure if I really wanted to find out about what the voice was saying. Really, I was glad that she was there to stop me, to drag me back into the normal world.
But just as I was about to pull my head off of the concrete surface, I heard it again…
This time, I heard what he said very clearly.
I jumped back, falling down on the grass as I tried to stop a shout of terror from getting out. “Charlotte! What’s gotten into you?!” my mother exclaimed.
“I–I–I heard… I–I heard it!” I practically shouted out of fear.
My mother, of course, looked utterly confused. “Heard what?” she asked me, her confused stare slowly turning to a look of concern.
“It was… it was…” I was left speechless. There was no way in hell that she would’ve believed me if I told her. I was having a hard time believing it myself.
Giving Amy a hard glare, I expected her to at least help me in the situation. But she only gave me a shrug.
My mother helped me in getting back up. “Well? What is it?”
I could feel my lips still quivering. I didn’t know what to do.
“It’s… it’s nothing,” I said, defeated and disappointed at how things were turning out.
“Okay, well, I just wanted to let you know that we can go home, unless you wanted to do something else with your friend here.”
“No!” I found myself shouting out loud. Realizing what I had done, I felt my face heat up with embarrassment. “I–I mean… we can… we can go, it’s okay,” I muttered a little too fast.
“Uh… alright, so… who’s this new friend of yours again?” my mother asked me, obviously eyeing the strange get-up of the girl in front of us. I wanted to say then and there that she was most definitely not someone I would consider as a friend after what she put me through, but I stayed quiet.
There was a very unsettling and awkward silence for a while, before Amy took the chance to introduce herself. “Amy Dall, dear madame! Just a humble teen trotting along in this journey we call life!” She gave her a soldier’s salute, though she was using her left hand instead of her right.
My mother couldn’t help but laugh at her gleeful antics. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Amy.”
“Likewise, miss Charlotte’s mom!” she replied.
“It’s Charmaine, and I admire your enthusiasm, he-he.”
My mother’s eyes soon darted back to me. “Anyways, we should get going. You need a ride, Amy?”
I was immediately terrified of the thought of her riding along with us, but by some stroke of luck she declined my mother’s offer. “Oh no, no, no! I couldn’t, and besides, I’m more of a running-type’a gal, miss Charmaine! Don’t worry about me!”
“Good to see that you’re still fine with the idea of exercising everyday, unlike some people,” my mother shot me a look, clearly implying the statement was meant for me. But I didn’t care anymore, I just wanted to get out of there.
“Still, be careful around these parts. Get home before dark,” my mother told her, which prompted Amy to give another wrong-sided salute.
“Will do, ma’am!”
It took a while, but we soon said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Inside the car, my mother kept asking me what I was doing with my “new friend” before she got there. I tried my best to avoid the question altogether, only telling her a half-baked lie that didn’t really make that much sense, one that I can’t even remember anymore.
That one sentence…
What that voice told me still kept swimming around in my thoughts, paranoia building up more and more whenever the memory resurfaced. It made me constantly shiver in my seat the whole ride, up until we got home. Even on the next day, it still had me jumping at shadows.
I tried convincing my mother that I should try to get home by myself. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t, forcing me to return to that cemetery with her.
Amy was still there, almost like she never leaves. She would wave at me, the stuffed rabbit ears on each side of her hood bobbing up and down as she did. I tried to ignore her as best as I could, only to fail whenever my mother would see her and eventually wave back.
She never got close to us anymore though, giving me a good reason to never talk to her again. I didn’t know if I should be happy about that, but deep down in my mind I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky for too long.
Over the next few weeks of my life, I still felt an uneasy feeling of dread building up after each passing day. Everything was normal, and sometimes it felt normal, but my life was never the same again. All because of one moment in my life, one sentence that I could never forget.
Mere seconds before I had decided that I’d had enough and stood up, the voice shouted into my ear with utmost clarity:
Don’t trust her! Run away! RUN AWAY!
Hearing that below a grave was bad enough, but my own thoughts gave it a much more horrifying image, one that stuck with me up until I started writing this.
I never really found out who exactly he was referring to as “her” in that cemetery.
Hello. I am Sarah. I am eight years old and I live in Wainsbury which is in England. My family is Mummy, Daddy, Josh and Peter. Peter is a rabbit. He is white.
I have a question that I hope you can answer for me.
How do I take off my skin?
Please do not tell me that I am a stupid child like the man in the shop did. I am not a stupid child. I am the top of my class in Maths and Science, and teacher says asking questions is how we learn. I would like to learn. You can give me the adult answer even if it has big words in it because I can spell big words like photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is how plants eat their food which is from the sun because of light.
So I would please like to know how to take off my skin.
Josh says we should ask Mummy and Daddy, but I think that is a bad idea because it is a secret and Mummy wouldn’t want us to know about adult secrets. Josh does not have very good ideas because Josh is only six. He can’t even say photosynthesis.
My friend Emily is in my class at school. We tell each other everything. I asked Emily how to take off your skin and she said you can’t.
Emily is wrong.
I have seen it.
Last week we went to a birthday party at the farm where my Uncle Chris and Auntie Janet live. They have a big house and lots of barns and we got to play with the animals while the adults sat outside and listened to music and had drinks. Then we all had a barbecue and I had three whole hot dogs. Mummy said I should only have two hot dogs but Uncle Chris gave me a third hot dog and told me it was our little secret.
I didn’t tell Mummy. I think it is important not to tell anyone if you have promised to keep something secret.
After that we played some games, and then it was time to go inside because it was dark. Some of the adults stayed outside but all of the children had to go inside in case we got lost. The farm is very big and there are lots of places where you can go missing. You can drop down a well or get swallowed by mud or fall in a silo and your parents might never find you. That’s why Auntie Janet said to stay inside when it’s dark.
After that we all went to bed. The adults stayed up after us and carried on drinking and talking and laughing and I couldn’t get to sleep, even though Josh and all of the other children did.
Then the adults stopped laughing.
At first I thought they had gone to sleep too, but then I heard someone come up the stairs. They came to check if we were asleep, and I pretended to be because I didn’t want to get into trouble. Then they went back downstairs and I heard them talk very quietly and I don’t know what they said. Then they went outside.
I went to the window and looked out and all of the adults were walking towards the trees. They had torches and they weren’t drinking or laughing so I don’t think it was part of the party. I got worried that maybe one of the children had gone missing. Auntie Janet had said that it was easy to get lost, so they might all have gone out to look for one of us.
I checked the rooms where the children were sleeping, but they were all still there. Then I realised they must have missed Josh when they checked on us, because he was all snuggled up under his covers and you couldn’t see his head.
I didn’t know what to do. Mummy and Daddy would be so worried because they thought Josh was lost but he was still in bed!
I decided I had to find the adults to tell them that Josh wasn’t lost.
I put on my wellies and found another torch and ran after them.
It was very dark outside. The trees were waving and making noises and I was a little bit scared, but then I could hear the adults ahead and I wasn’t scared any more because I knew Mummy and Daddy would make sure I was safe and they would be so happy that Josh wasn’t lost. I ran the rest of the way, but then when I was very close to the voices I fell over.
I didn’t hurt myself because it was on soft mud and leaves, and I am eight now so I don’t even cry when I fall down. But my torch went off and rolled away so I was in the dark again. I had tripped on something soft and squishy which was on the floor. I reached down because my foot was caught in it and it felt like clothes, but warmer.
There was light ahead. I could hear the crackle of a fire and the voices. I could hear Mummy and Daddy laughing.
But then I heard other voices. I heard voices I didn’t know, and they didn’t sound like adults.
They sounded like if animals could talk.
Not like in cartoons. They sounded like if a dog growls but if the growl was words.
And they laughed. But not in a happy way.
I walked towards the bushes and I crept inside very quietly. I looked through the other side, and the first thing I saw was the fire. It was very big. It was like bonfire night except it was in a gap in the forest. It crackled and spat and I could feel the warmth on my face.
Then I saw the adults. They were dancing in such a strange way. At first I thought they were hurt or trying to shake off their clothes, but they were laughing so I think they liked it. Mummy and Daddy were there. So was Uncle Chris and the others. I looked around for Auntie Janet, though, and I couldn’t see her.
I thought it was a strange thing to do if they were here to look for Josh. They didn’t seem to be looking for anything at all, unless that was where Auntie Janet had gone. But none of them seemed worried.
That was when I realized that they weren’t checking our bedrooms to see if any of us were lost. They were making sure we were in bed so we didn’t see this.
A secret party for adults.
Now I knew I’d get in trouble if they found me watching them. I started to feel around for my torch so that I could go home. I would get lost going back in the dark, and if I couldn’t find my light then I would have to wait for the adults to finish so that I could follow them home.
Before I found the torch, I heard that animal voice again.
It said, “FREEDOM.” The adults cheered. I couldn’t see who was saying it because they were on the other side of the fire.
The voice said, “IN THE WOMB OF THE NIGHT, BE BORN AGAIN.” It was so loud I could feel it in my tummy. My ears rang. My fingers tingled. I didn’t like it at all.
Then I saw Daddy reach inside his mouth. He held his top lip and his bottom lip.
And he pulled.
He pulled and he pulled, and I thought his head would split in half. I nearly screamed. But instead of breaking in half, his skin peeled away like an old banana. As his mouth stretched wider and wider, Daddy’s underself started to climb out.
I had never seen an underself before. I didn’t know we had them.
I hope mine is prettier.
I don’t like how they look so wet. I don’t like the yellow splodges like an old toilet bowl. I don’t like the bits of hair. How they come out all over the body and how they look sharp and hard and they drip. I think hair should stay on top. Like our normal skin has.
Daddy seemed to like it though. He stepped out of his skin and he stretched his arms wide and he yelled at the moon.
It didn’t sound like Daddy. It hurt my tummy again.
Uncle Chris went next, and once he had taken off his skin he threw it away. The other adults cheered. Then they all took theirs off, and they started to dance again, like they were angry at the fire and the trees. And most of all like they were angry at their skins which were dropped around at their feet and trampled into the mud.
Only Mummy hadn’t taken off her skin. I started to think that she couldn’t, like me. But then Daddy walked over to her. He raised his hand to her face and I saw that his fingers were sharp now like a claw. But Mummy didn’t pull away. She closed her eyes and whispered to him. Then he reached into her mouth and he pulled her face away.
Mummy’s underself looked just like Daddy’s. They ran their claws along each other. They looked into each other’s eyes.
Then they howled.
All of them howled.
I couldn’t stand that noise. It was too loud and it shook inside my head and it made my chest feel so small so that I couldn’t breathe.
I knew I would get lost if I left the bush, but I couldn’t stay hidden with all that horrible sound.
I ran and I ran and I ran and I don’t know how long I was running. I just knew I needed to run away from their howls and their screams and their laughter.
Somehow I got back to the farmhouse. I went back inside and I went to bed and I pretended to go to sleep.
But I couldn’t.
I kept thinking about how the adults took off their skin.
I didn’t know we could do that.
Early the next morning, they came home. I think I was the only child who heard them get back. I thought all of the adults might still be their underselves. But a little time later Uncle Chris knocked on the door and he put his head in the room.
It had his skin on.
“Rise and shine, sleepy heads” he said.
I thought about asking him about the adult party, but I was scared I’d get into trouble because I don’t think I should have seen it. Instead I went downstairs. Everyone was having breakfast, and the adults seemed very cheerful and awake even though I knew they hadn’t been to sleep. They were looking at each other and smiling.
“Did you have a nice night?” asked Auntie Janet.
The other children said yes and got their cereal and toast. I sat at the table with my bowl but I hadn’t got anything in it. I wasn’t hungry.
I think Mummy knew something was wrong, because she looked at me funny.
“Did you sleep well?” she asked me.
I know it’s wrong to lie.
But I did.
I said I had slept very well and I had dreamt of unicorns and I rode one and his name was Peter like our rabbit.
I don’t think Mummy believed me. She didn’t say so, but she kept watching me until I had a slice of toast to make her think I was alright. Soon Josh distracted her by spilling his drink all over the floor, and after that the morning was a bit more normal.
All of that was a week ago. Since then I have not slept very well at all. When I am in the bathroom getting ready for bed, I practice taking off my skin, but it doesn’t work. I don’t know how they did it.
Then every night I dream about the underselves, and how everyone else takes off their skin but I can’t, and I am hiding in that bush and they are calling for me to come out in their animal voices.
But I’m scared to come out.
In my dream it feels like the underselves want to hurt me. They sound so hungry with their growl voices. And I know that if I can’t take off my skin, they will take it off for me.
I wake up crying sometimes. Mummy has asked me a lot of questions about why I am upset. She asks me if something happened at the farm and I tell her no. She asks me if I have told anyone about that day and I tell her no.
I do not want to tell her about what I saw. I would like it to stay a secret. If she found out that I snuck out she would be very mad, and if everyone knew I couldn’t take off my skin I would be so embarrassed. I am eight now. I should be ready to do adult things. I am especially nervous because Mummy has said that Uncle Chris wants us back at the farm soon.
Not the other children. Not even Josh. Just Mummy, Daddy and me.
“Please let me out,” my son David pleaded with me. “I promise I’ll behave.”
“You know I can’t do that David.” I leaned against the wall next to the bathroom I had trapped my 16-year-old son in, the only one in the house without a window.
“LET! ME! OUT!” he suddenly screamed, punctuating each word with a kick to the bathroom door while shaking the door handle.
I jumped at the sudden display of violence. Such fits of rage had become common over the past couple of weeks, but they still frightened me. That’s not my David, I kept repeating to myself while clutching the gold cross that dangled around my neck.
“I’m sorry, mom. I didn’t mean to scare you.” It was eerie how easily he could read my emotions, even when he couldn’t see me. “I’m okay now.” I knew better than to believe him. He was just trying to lull me into a false sense of security so I’d let him out.
The doorbell rang. Finally, I thought, while hurrying to the front door.
“Who’s that?” David’s voice carried down the hall. “Is it Veronica? If it is, you have to let me out,” he insisted, turning the handle back and forth quickly, trying to open the door.
“Good morning, Mrs. Knowles,” the priest standing on my porch greeted me once I had opened the door. The man standing next to him just smiled.
“Father Cooke, thank you so much for coming. Please come in.” I held the door open as the two men entered my home.
“I’d like to introduce you to my associate, Mr. Alexander.” Father Cooke indicated the tall, thin man standing next him. I assumed he must be some sort of clergyman the way he was dressed in all black like Father Cooke, but I thought it was odd that he wasn’t wearing a Roman collar.
“He specializes in handling situations like yours,” he explained, noticing the way I inspected him.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Knowles,” Mr. Alexander said, extending his free hand. The other hand held a small leather satchel close to his side.
“Tell them to leave, mother,” David called out. “They have no business here.”
“I didn’t know where else to put him,” I blurted out, afraid they were going to think I was a horrible mother.
“We understand. Hopefully he won’t have to be in there much longer,” Father Cooke said.
“We can talk in the kitchen,” I said, leading them through the house. “Can I get you something to drink?” I asked after they had taken a seat at my small dining table.
“Nothing for me,” Father Cooke replied.
“Coffee, if it isn’t too much trouble,” Mr. Alexander said after setting his bag on the table.
I quietly prepared the coffee while they waited patiently for me to take my seat. I could tell they were anxious to begin. I know it was important that they start as soon as possible, but accepting that your son needs an exorcism is not easy. It borders on madness.
“I didn’t know who else to call,” I spoke while stirring my coffee staring into the cup before taking my seat. “I didn’t think anyone would believe me.”
“We believe you.” Father Cooke reached out and gave my hand a gentle squeeze. “Your story is not as crazy as it sounds.” He looked over at Mr. Alexander. “Especially to men like us. Possession is far more common than the church cares to admit.”
“I know you’ve already told Father Cooke everything that has happened, Mrs. Knowles, and he has told your story to me, but if it isn’t too much trouble, I’d like to hear it again, in your own words,” Mr. Alexander requested.
I looked over at him. “I don’t know where to begin. These past two weeks have been crazy.”
“Let’s start with the breakup since that seems to be where you first started to notice his erratic behavior.”
I shifted my eyes and gazed out the window for several seconds, took a deep breath, released it, then tried to tell David’s story.
“They broke up just over two weeks ago, the day Veronica returned home from her trip to Florida. At the time I didn’t know the specific reason why they broke up, but I have since learned it was because David was smothering her with attention. Calling and texting her several times a day while she was on vacation.” I paused and took a sip of my coffee before continuing. “Nobody likes being smothered like that, but that was just so unlike David. He didn’t used to be that clingy.”
While I was talking, Mr. Alexander had pulled a pen and notebook out of the inside pocket of his jacket so that he could take notes. “How did David respond to the breakup?” he asked after finding a free page to write upon.
“He was psychotic, to put it mildly,” I responded. “He went crazy. He was obsessed with getting her back. I had never seen him act like that. The things he said and did give me chills just thinking about them.”
“Can you be more specific?” Mr. Alexander asked.
“The first night after the breakup I tried to talk to David, but he just went to his room and slammed the door. I thought it would be best to give him some space to deal with his emotions and that he would come and talk to me when he was ready. I don’t know when he climbed out of his window. All I know is that I got a knock on my door at two o’clock in the morning when the police brought him home.”
“I WASN’T DOING ANYTHING WRONG!” David screamed, his voice echoing down the hall. “THEY HAD NO RIGHT TO INTERFERE! I WAS JUST TRYING TO FINISH WHAT WE STARTED!”
A tear welled up in the corner of my eye then slowly rolled down my cheek. Father Cook stood up and grabbed the tissue box sitting on the windowsill above the sink and set it on the table in front of me. I smiled my thanks, then began to sob.
“Perhaps it would be better if I just ask for clarification on certain points of the story you told to Father Cooke,” he suggested, taking note of my fragile emotional state. “I know this is hard, but I need to make sure I have as much information as possible to determine what has taken possession of David.”
“Sorry,” I used a tissue to wipe my eyes. “It’s been so hard. I can’t do this anymore, not by myself.”
There once was a Mr. Knowles, but he decided the family life wasn’t for him and left when David was three years old. I never remarried and never asked for any kind of spousal or child support during the divorce process. I was determined to provide for myself and David without help from anyone else.
“You’re not alone, not any longer.” Father Cook patted my hand. “Take your time. We understand how hard this is on you.”
I took a few minutes to compose myself. “Okay.” I took a deep breath and let it out. “I’m ready.”
“The night that David was brought home by the police, the officers told you he was picked up for destruction of property and disturbing the peace. Do you know what happened that night?”
“Yes, I do, but only because Dawn – that’s Veronica’s mother – called me the following morning to tell me what happened and let me know they would be getting a restraining order. David had taken all of the flowers off of a neighbor’s rose bushes and started to arrange them on the lawn while calling out for Veronica to come outside and stand inside the sigil, whatever a sigil is. That, along with how late it was, disturbed them enough to call the police instead of me.”
“What color were the flowers?” Mr. Alexander asked, “and were you told anything about the specific way he arranged the flowers?”
“I know the flowers were pink. I’ve seen them plenty of times when I would drop David off at Veronica’s. I don’t know anything about what he was making with them. But… if you go and look in his room, he’s drawn this weird star-within-a-star symbol all over his walls. It was probably that. He has been obsessed with that symbol since the breakup.”
“Which room is David’s?” Mr. Alexander asked, standing up and walking over to the hallway.
“It’s the last door on the left.”
I watched as Mr. Alexander walked down the hall and opened David’s door, but didn’t go in. He just stood right outside the doorway peering around the room. It almost seemed like he was afraid to cross the threshold.
“Was that too much for you, magister?” David chuckled as Mr. Alexander passed the bathroom on his way back to the kitchen.
“Do you know what it means?” I asked once Mr. Alexander had returned to his seat.
“I do, but I think it is best to explain everything once I have all of the facts, otherwise we will lose precious time dwelling over things that will not make sense without the proper context.”
“Let’s continue,” he said, picking up where he left off before walking down the hall to David’s room. “Did he try and return to her house after that night?”
“No, he didn’t. The police made it clear that if he was found anywhere near her house again, he would be arrested. That didn’t stop him from trying to contact her, though.”
“That was when you had to confiscate his phone, correct?”
“Yes. He started calling her. Then, when she wouldn’t answer, he would leave voice mail, and when that wasn’t working he started texting her.” I stood up and walked over to the counter and grabbed David’s cellphone out of my purse, then returned to my seat.
“The messages started out with him pleading with her to return to the sigil with him, then as the days passed they got more insistent and threatening, and then they just started sounding like gibberish.”
I unlocked the phone, tapped the instant messenger app, then handed the phone to Mr. Alexander. “Some of the earlier texts have been deleted, but most of the crazier ones are still there.”
“THOSE MESSAGES ARE PRIVATE!” David suddenly yelled while renewing his attempts to escape his bathroom prison.
Mr. Alexander spent the next few minutes scrolling through the text message history. I could tell by the look on his face that he saw something he recognized.
“It was those text messages that convinced the judge to grant the restraining order against David,” I offered while he read the texts.
“Based on what you are telling me, I think whatever happened to David started sometime before Veronica left for Florida. I also think she knows more than she is letting on, particularly about that symbol in David’s room and the language used in the texts.”
“Is this the current phone number for Veronica?” He held David’s phone up so I could see the screen. “I think it’s time she told the truth.”
“It should be,” I responded. “I don’t think she changed it.”
“DON’T YOU DARE CALL HER!” David was becoming more agitated. We continued to ignore him.
Mr. Alexander pulled his own phone out then dialed Veronica’s number, knowing that David’s number would be blocked. As the phone started to ring he pressed the speaker button and set the phone on the table so everyone could hear the conversation.
“Hello…” Veronica sounded wary, not recognizing Mr. Alexander’s number.
“Hello, Veronica. My name is Theodore Alexander. I am working with the Knowles family on a treatment plan for David and I was wondering if I could ask you a question.”
“I don’t know.”
“It will only take a moment, and it would be extremely beneficial for David.”
“My parents don’t want me to have anything to do with David or Mrs. Knowles. They would have a fit if they knew I was even talking to you.”
“You won’t be talking to either of them, just me, and I only have one question.”
“One question, that’s it,” she relented.
“Thank you,” he said, then asked his question. “The symbol drawn all over David’s walls and the text messages he sent you, the ones that look like gibberish, I know you’ve seen them before. Based on the timeline I am working with, I am assuming you encountered them about a week before you went on vacation, and if I am correct they were part of a spell or ritual David performed. For David’s sake, I need you to tell me the name of whatever it was he found.”
His question was greeted with silence. I looked over at Father Cooke, knowing something strange was happening to David, but not wanting to accept the reality that he might truly be possessed, despite all evidence indicating he was.
“Veronica,” Mr. Alexander pressed. “If I don’t find out what he did, its effects will likely drive him insane, if it doesn’t wind up killing him first. You know this is not David. Help me, help him.”
“Iusiurandum aeternum,” she finally whispered. “He found it on the Internet.”
He looked like he was about to ask a follow up question, but Veronica cut him off. “I’ve answered your question, don’t call me again.” Then she hung up.
“Did that help?” I asked. “Do you know what happened to David?” I was starting to hope there was a way out of this nightmare.
“Yes, I know what happened to David, and the good news is that I can help him.” Mr. Alexander smiled, then started to remove several things from his satchel.
The first thing he removed was an old dog-eared book that at first glance looked like a Bible, but the large embossed pentagram on the solid black cover indicated otherwise. Then he removed an amulet that had a similar pentagram hanging from a silver chain with the Latin phrase “ambulamus in tenebris ergo lumen non est caecus nobis” written around its circumference. Finally, he removed a red satin stole that was adorned with an upside-down black cross on both ends.
“What’s all this? Why does he have those evil things?” I demanded an answer from Father Cook. “Why did you bring him here?” I spat at him while jabbing a finger at Mr. Alexander.
“Please calm down, Mrs. Knowles,” Father Cooke spoke softly. “It’s not what it looks like.”
“Calm down? CALM DOWN!?” I yelled. “You brought a Satanist into my home!”
“Please allow us to explain,” he beseeched me. “We came here to help David and based on what you told me, I wasn’t going to be able to help him, but I was sure Magister Alexander could. This is all for your son.”
“I know this may be hard to believe, Mrs. Knowles, but I truly want to help David, and I really am the only one that can help him. When Father Cooke took his vows, he became powerless to interfere with the entity that now possesses your son,” Magister Alexander tried to assure me.
I just sat there, eyes shifting from Father Cooke to Magister Alexander, my mouth agape. I wanted to yell and scream at them, but I couldn’t force the words out. I was too stunned that Father Cooke, a priest I have known for almost 20 years, had brought this man into my home.
“Let me tell you what I know about the being possessing your son. Then, if you still don’t want me here, I will leave.”
I just stared at him, my eyes becoming thin lines of scorn. Magister Alexander took my silence as consent and started to describe the events that he believed led to David’s possession.
“David and Veronica were your typical teenagers in love, thinking they were meant for each other, that they were going to be together forever,” he began, “but something made them fear for their future as a couple, and like all couples that are being forced apart they sought a way to prevent that from happening, using the only thing at their disposal, the Internet. I don’t know how they found the Iusiurandum aeternum, but they did.
“The Iusiurandum aeternum is an Enochian devotion ritual. Its title essentially translates to ‘eternal oath,’ which in the context of the ritual means that they are pledging their souls to one another. In order to complete the ritual, the couple must complete the incantation within an Enochian sigil created out of rose petals. If one of them fails to complete it, the angel that was summoned to oversee the bond will become trapped within the body of the person that initially summoned it.”
“Angel?” I scoffed. “My son is possessed by an angel?”
“Yes, an angel,” Magister Alexander answered, “specifically, a Cherub.” He quickly continued after seeing the look of disbelief on my face. “You may think they are cute and innocent, but that is just an artist’s interpretation of them. They are depicted as babies because of their infantile tempers and obsession with God. They need something to love, which is why they are the ones summoned when this ritual is performed and it is also why they go crazy when they are trapped and unable to express that love.”
I started laughing before he finished speaking, but the insanity of the situation quickly turned the laughs into sobs. The idea that my son was possessed by a chubby little baby with wings was ludicrous. I felt stuck in a dream I couldn’t wake up from.
“I know how ridiculous it sounds, but that is what possesses your son and there are only two ways to save him: Either convince Veronica to complete the ritual and be forever bound to David, which we both know will never happen, or… allow me to perform an exorcism on him.”
I quickly recovered and wiped my eyes with a fresh tissue after noticing the deathly serious look on the faces of Father Cooke and Magister Alexander.
“I am forbidden from interfering with emissaries of the almighty, otherwise I would perform the exorcism myself. That is why it must be Magister Alexander,” Father Cooke explained. He continued speaking, hoping he was getting through to me. “As a priest I have the power to exorcise demons, and a duty to protect my flock from the creatures of darkness. Theodore is a Magister of the Satanic church. He has the power to exorcise angels and a duty to protect members of his congregation from beings of light.”
“Our churches keep each other in check here on Earth, and when a demon or an angel finds itself trapped in a human body it is our responsibility to send it back where it came from as quickly as possible. The longer they are trapped here the more twisted they become, and the less likely it is that we can save the person they are possessing.”
“Does that help you make sense of it?” Father Cooke finally asked, after giving me a few moments to process what he had said.
“It’s a lot to take in, but yes… yes, I do understand. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you can save my son. I just want my David back.” I started to cry again.
“Does that mean you want me to perform the exorcism, Mrs. Knowles?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Then there is one final thing we need to take care. He pulled a thick piece of parchment out of his bag and slid it in front of me. “This is a standard contract for services rendered. As a member of the Satanic church I must demand payment for the exorcism, but the payment cannot have monetary value. It must be something you value beyond worldly goods. With that in mind, I just have one final question I need ask you. What are you willing to pay to save your son?”