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Never Use a Voice Recorder While You Sleep

Never Use a Voice Recorder While You SleepReading Time: 16 minutes 

I am a chronic sleep talker. Always have been. Everyone who’s ever slept in the same house as me will tell you that. My parents, siblings, friends, and especially my exes. They’re the ones who got an ear-full. It was something we’d laugh about in the morning, because most of what I’d say would be incoherent or nonsensical. Some of my famous lines included, “There’s too many helicopters in the pool!” and “My balloon’s on the wrong foot.” It never bothered anyone around me; my friends and family pretty much just got a kick out of it.

One day at work, the subject of sleeping came up. My co-workers threw stories back and forth about some of their weirdest dreams. I chimed in with my sleep-talking antics. Everyone laughed as I raddled off some of the crazier shit I’ve said while zonked. One of my co-workers, Bill, really busted a gut. After he finished hyper-ventilating, he told me that I should set up a voice recorder while I sleep so I can play it back at work every morning. Honestly, I didn’t think it was a bad idea.

That night, I downloaded a decent voice recording app on my phone and placed it on my nightstand before I went to bed. Being single and living alone, I had no way of knowing what I said in my sleep anymore, so I was looking forward to hearing what it would pick up. It would be a humorous way to start my otherwise dull mornings.

For two months I recorded a lot of great stuff. One night in particular, I kept screaming, almost as if I was running from something in my dream, but after a few minutes I said, “Bad fridge!” I couldn’t stop laughing at that one. Neither could my co-workers when I showed them.

Eventually, the app picked up something unsettling. Listening to the audio for any trace of funny banter I might find, I heard a loud bang. It sounded like a door being slammed shut with great force. Hearing that, my heart sank. I wondered if an intruder had made their way into my home.

My house is a small cottage on the outskirts of town. I was able to get it at a great price due to its location and age. As such, some of its components are antiquated. I knew after hearing the recording that the only two doors sturdy enough to make that loud of a thud were that of the attic and the basement.

Basements and attics have always freaked me out. Never liked to go near them as a kid, and I still don’t as an adult. They kind of terrify me. The ones in my house, even more so. Something about them being old made them all the more sinister.

Despite my fear, I had to make sure no one was in the house. I got up out of bed and headed straight for the basement, as that was the door closest to my bedroom. I hesitantly opened the door and descended into my home’s depths. I was nervous, but I was desperate for some peace of mind.

The basement… was empty.

I quickly ran back up to the first floor and proceeded to journey upstairs. Once I reached the attic door, I froze. As much as basements make my skin crawl, I find attics to be far worse. Maybe it was because they were always a big unknown to me. I had only ever been in an attic once my whole life and that was to help my dad unload some Christmas decorations. Even then, I was spooked.

Because of my phobia, I installed a dead bolt on the door when I moved in. It sounds foolish, but hey, it helps me sleep at night. Looking at the door, I noticed that the dead bolt was still locked. An intruder could have gone in and then re-locked it on their way out, but at least I knew they weren’t in there anymore. This was my excuse not to go inside. I went back downstairs and put the noise out of my mind.

Forgetting all about the loud bang, I continued to record at night in the hopes of catching more sleep-talking. I did, but it wasn’t of the hilarious, absurd variety. The night after I recorded the noise, the only thing I said the whole night was, “Where are you?” I didn’t pay it any mind, as I’ve said similar things in my sleep before. It wasn’t until I heard the following night’s recording that I became alarmed. I said the same thing, “Where are you?”, only this time it was followed by a strange, static sound. This was odd, but I chalked it up to coincidence and a phone malfunction.

I quickly discovered that neither of these things were to blame.

Every night after, I got almost the same exact thing. I would ask, “Where are you,” and then I’d get some sort of static interference. I couldn’t explain it, and it left me rather frazzled. I showed my co-workers, but they weren’t able to offer me any insight. I thought about not recording anymore, but not knowing would make me more uneasy. I wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on.

And then, one night, I caught something different. Listening to the audio intently, I heard two distinct things. During a two minute stretch in the recording, there were footsteps in the background, almost as if someone was pacing. It was very faint, but it was most certainly there. The second thing I heard was me asking the same question, “Where are you,” only this time I received a response. It was a low whisper, but I could make out what it said.

“I’m upstairs.”

***

Deeply unnerved by my findings, I set up the app again the next night. I also took the liberty of setting up two digital cameras; one in my room, and one facing the attic door. After adjusting the light settings on each, I felt confident in my approach. I didn’t have time to deal with this bullshit, so I wanted nothing more than to get it sorted out, somehow. Unfortunately for me, it just wasn’t that simple.

I slept through the night, like normal, but I did have a weird dream.

In my dream, I was at home. I was sitting on my couch watching TV when I heard a scratching sound coming from upstairs. Naturally, I assumed it was mice, but as I sat there, the noise grew louder and louder. It eventually morphed into a horrendous knocking sound. That’s when I got up to investigate.

I made my way up to the attic door and the noises ceased. I stood there for a moment, expecting it to start up again, but it didn’t. Complete silence for what felt like a few minutes. Then, without warning, a loud clicking sound broke the tension. The deadbolt had unlocked itself. And that’s when I woke up to the sound of my alarm going off.

I immediately got up and gathered the cameras, as well as my phone. I was eager to see if they’d captured anything. They did, but it only left me with more questions.

Halfway through the audio on both my phone and the camera in my room, I heard once again, “Where are you?” There was no response and no static, but there was a loud bang, just like the one I’d caught before, only more distinct. It was most certainly a door being slammed shut. I quickly grabbed the second camera and began looking through the footage. The attic door never opened. Instead, I heard the bang in the background, ever so faintly. Given the volume in each of the clips, it seemed as though it might have been the basement door. After skimming through the rest of the footage and finding nothing else out of the ordinary, I decided to check the basement again.

With a mixture of nerves and adrenaline, I ran over to the basement door and swung it open. I hurried downstairs and turned the light on. I was fed up and a little annoyed, thinking someone was somehow having a laugh at my expense. However, when the room lit up, I was greeted with the familiar sight of an unfurnished basement. It was completely empty. No intruder and no answers.

Frustrated, I went off to work and tried to keep my mind off of my odd dilemma. That proved to be a difficult task. I kept playing out different scenarios in my head during the work day, but nothing made sense. The only logical, though somewhat illogical explanation that I could come up with, was that I was being harassed by a spirit. I didn’t want to give in to that notion, but I was running out of ideas.

I tried to talk with my co-workers again, in the hopes that they would tell me it was nothing to worry about. Instead, I received the opposite. One of my co-workers told me to call the cops and have them look through the house for signs of a break-in. Another told me I should stay at a friend’s house. Bill told me to abandon the house and run for the hills. He was only joking, but it didn’t make me feel any better about the matter.

Things took a turn for the bizarre when I arrived home that day.

Opening the front door to the cottage, I stepped in and set my jacket down on the couch. I then plopped down in an attempt to unwind. Immediately after sitting, I heard the bang again. It was clear as day. It was the same sound from the audio and footage, but this time I was hearing it in person.

I jumped up and looked straight ahead at the basement door. You could see it from the couch – it had been in my line of sight the entire time. Though I hadn’t been looking directly at it, I was fairly certain it hadn’t moved. Still, the bang definitely came from that direction. Spooked but curious, I decided to check it out.

I walked over cautiously and examined the door. There was no indication that it had been slammed shut. The wood around the door was pristine, and the floor below had not been scraped. I opened it and trotted down the old, creaky stairs to investigate the basement for a third time. After reaching the bottom, I turned the light on. I expected to see nothing, just as I had before. While scanning the room left to right, nothing is mostly what I saw. After doing a double take, however, I realized that something was amiss.

Off, in the center of the far wall, was a door. This sent a chill up my spine. My basement had no doors. That I was sure of. I knew this before purchasing the place almost a year ago, when I first took the grand tour. I also didn’t see the door when I went down there that morning or the other day. It didn’t make a lick of sense.

I walked towards it, bewildered. I wasn’t sure of the door’s origins, but I knew that it had to be the cause of the sounds I’d been hearing. There was no other explanation. As I approached the impossibility before me, I realized something that made my skin crawl. I recognized the wood, the design, and the deadbolt.

It was the attic door.

I didn’t want to open it, for fear of what might be lurking behind. Instead, I ran upstairs and checked to see if the attic door was still there; the actual one. It was indeed. I then ran back downstairs into the basement, only to find that the door down there had vanished. Had I merely imagined its presence?

Thinking I had gone completely mad, I went back upstairs and sat down on the couch. My mind was running haywire, trying to comprehend things, but it eventually gave in to its own weariness. I ended up taking a short nap, and that’s when I had another weird dream.

This dream was similar to the one I had before. I was sitting on the couch, watching TV, when I heard a scratching noise. The only difference was, it was coming from the basement, rather than the attic. It too progressed and turned into a voracious knocking that I couldn’t ignore. As such, I got up from the couch and went downstairs to put a stop to it.

In my dream, the basement was empty. No mysterious door in sight. That, and the knocking and scratching ceased upon my entrance. At my wit’s end, I went back upstairs. The sound then returned with a vengeance, only this time, it was coming from the attic again. I ran up there as fast as I could, but the noise stopped. I waited. Following the narrative of my previous dream, the deadbolt clicked, signaling that the door had unlocked itself. Unlike my previous dream, however, the door opened up a bit and a hand reached out from within. That’s when I woke up.

I wrote the first dream off as the byproduct of an over-stressed mind, but to have it reoccur? That wasn’t ordinary, at least not for me. Between the door in my basement and my strange nightmares, I was a mess. Both perplexed and frightened, I called my friend John.

John is an eccentric fellow. He’s the kind of guy who believes in UFOs, ghosts, conspiracy theories, the occult, and other things of that nature. Not only does he believe in them, but he studies them. He knows more about Roswell than I do about myself. Being a skeptic, I always thought the massive amount of information he retained was borderline useless. I changed my mind about that after seeing my attic door pop up in my basement. If anyone could help, or at least steer me in the right direction, it was him.

I spoke with John for a couple of hours. He was ecstatic after hearing about my experience. He began raddling off all of the different things he thought it might indicate. Some of his theories included a wormhole, a gateway to the other side, and even a glitch (one of the many theories that he subscribes to is that the world we live in is a simulation). He told me that he couldn’t be completely certain about what it was without seeing it for himself. Unfortunately, he lives too far away to just stop by and visit.

Instead of leaving me empty-handed, John gave me some advice on what to do next. After telling him about the voice I captured and the dreams I’d been having, he started leaning towards the ghost idea. He thought it might be trying to communicate with me. Because of this, he told me I should set up the voice recorder in the basement and ask the spirit some questions. I could play back the recording after and listen for the voice. John said that I should do it in the attic as well.

Though weary of his methods, I told him I’d try it out. After all, I couldn’t just sit around and expect the situation to resolve itself. I didn’t like the idea of going up into the attic by myself, but I needed to do something.

After getting off the phone, I immediately put his plan into action. The basement would have to be first, as I was still apprehensive about going upstairs.

I set up the app and put my phone on the basement floor. I proceeded to ask questions, leaving enough space in between for someone… or something to answer. I asked for normal things like its name, its age, and what it wanted. After roughly five minutes of interrogation, I stopped the recording and played it back.

I must’ve listened to my own voice a million times, hoping for anything audible to present itself. To my dismay, I caught nothing of the sort. It seemed as though the attic would indeed have to be my next venture.

I reluctantly climbed the stairs up to the attic door. I looked at it for a few moments, took a deep breath, and unlocked the deadbolt. I opened the door and braced myself.

There was nothing there, save for the previous owner’s belongings.

When I first purchased the house, I had to do a little bit of renovating, so to speak. The owner before me had no cable, electricity, or proper plumbing. On top of that, they left all of their stuff behind. I had most of it removed, but left everything that was in the attic. I had no need for the space, and I didn’t want to put any more money into emptying the house than I had to.

I perused through the attic’s wares for a bit, curious as to what it was that I technically owned. Some of the interesting items that stood out to me were an old postcard from Paris, a strange-looking dog collar, and a book on witchcraft. The fear set in while going through the contents of my new collection. The angled ceiling, antiques, and large window overlooking my yard did give the place a dose of charm, but I still didn’t like attics.

I quickly hit the record button on the app and set my phone on the floor. I asked the same questions as before, but didn’t leave as much space in between as I really wanted to get the hell out of there. Before stopping the recording, I had a thought. Perhaps the spirit would respond if I asked it the same question that I did in my sleep.

I cleared my throat and asked, “Where are you?”

After asking the final question, I stopped the recording and played it back. It sounded almost identical to the one I’d recorded in the basement, complete with a lack of answers. That is, until the very end. After I asked the last question, I heard a familiar, low whisper.

“Behind you.”

After hearing this reply, I immediately turned around. There was nothing there. Despite this, I hightailed it downstairs. That eerie voice reinforced my phobia of attics and instilled in me an indescribable dread. I could no longer bear to be in that house by myself.

I called John again and begged him to help me out. I told him I’d give him the gas money for the 8-hour round trip. He was reluctant at first, knowing that he’d have to spend the night and call out from work the next morning. Curiosity got the best of him in the end. After much deliberation, he agreed to come over.

I waited for John in my car. While sitting there, I couldn’t help but examine my house. I began asking myself questions, like is it really haunted, do ghosts really exist, and my favorite, is this what my life has come to? Though the questions were speculative and rhetorical, I pretty much knew the answers. As I gazed towards the house in disappointment, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.

It was a silhouette, standing at the attic window.

Holy shit. What the fuck. What do I do?

Those were the only retorts that crossed my mind after seeing the shadowy figure. After a few moments of staring, the figure stepped back from the window, completely out of sight. I sat and pondered about it for a few minutes after its departure.

In a moment of bravery, I chose to go back in the house and up to the attic. Crazy, I know, but it’s my house, and I needed to show this thing that I wasn’t interested in playing its games – even if I was scared shitless. Besides, John would have my head if I didn’t follow the damned thing.

Feeling confident, but still shaky, I ventured up into the attic. I swung the door open without hesitation and waltzed in like I owned the place. After all, I did. The attic was void of any ghostly figures, but it did harbor the faint scent of candle wax. Unsure of how to proceed, I started talking in a loud and firm tone.

“This isn’t your house. I’m tired of your bullshit games, spirit. I demand that you leave at once!”

I knew this wasn’t going to work, but it was almost cathartic. I felt a hell of a lot better fighting back. I walked around the attic, satisfied with my rant, thinking that I had actually conquered my fear. My smug demeanor wouldn’t last more than a few moments.

Soon after I spoke, a gust of wind blew through the attic and hit me like a bus. Nearly knocked me over. I knew it was the ghost’s doing. I tried to stand my ground, but I was pretty damn frightened. I watched as everything around me flew about, creating a tornado of mementos and keepsakes. I was about to retreat, when I noticed something that hadn’t budged an inch. It was the book on witchcraft that I’d seen before. Upon noticing it, the wind inexplicably stopped and everything fell to the floor. I walked over to the book, curious as to why it remained stationary. As I did, it opened up on its own. It was startling, but I somehow sensed no malice. I was coming around to the fact that the ghost might really be trying to communicate with me.

The page the book landed on was a spell. The whole thing was in Latin, but from what I could make out, it had something to do with growing plants. Confused, I reached out to the ghost for help.

“What do you want me to do?”

After asking the question, the attic door slammed shut. I thought for a moment and gathered that it wanted me to recite the spell in the attic. I was still confused, but somehow calm. It felt as though I was helping the spirit in some way.

Before I could read from the book, my phone went off. It was a text from John:

“So, so sorry. I can’t make it out there. My boss won’t give me the day off tomorrow and I’m not sure my car will make it there and back. It desperately needs new tires and I won’t be able to buy those until Friday. Give me a call back then and I’ll see what I can do. Good luck.”

Fuck.

Even though I wasn’t freaking out anymore, it was nice knowing that someone was on their way to my house, just in case things went sour. I didn’t like it, but I was on my own. I accepted this, and turned my attention back to the book. It was time to deliver the spell.

I cleared my throat and began reciting the text in the book. I took Latin in college, and although I didn’t retain all the information, I knew enough to make the proper pronunciations. Even still, I stumbled over my words during certain parts. Because of this, I had to restart a couple of times. I wanted to get it right, especially if it was truly what the ghost wanted.

After finishing the spell flawlessly (for the most part), the attic door opened. I walked out with the book in hand, wondering if everything was over. When I reached the bottom step and turned around the corner, it became quickly apparent that it wasn’t. The basement door was wide open.

I was in uncharted territory, taking orders from a ghost, but I hoped I was following along alright. Seeing the basement door ajar convinced me that I probably needed to recite the spell down there as well. I still wasn’t sure why, but it felt like this was the spirit’s will. As such, I obliged.

I walked down into the basement with the book and turned the light on. A quick glance around revealed that I was alone and that there was no door. I cleared my throat once again and began reciting the spell, word for word. Honestly, I was a little excited. It felt like I was doing something productive about my ghost problem, and that it might actually help put it to rest. This time, I got it right on the first try.

Upon finishing the spell in the basement, the house began shaking. When I say the house, I mean the whole house, basement and all. I ‘d never experienced an earthquake before, but it seemed like the only logical explanation for what was happening. It wasn’t until I looked around the room during the madness, that I realized it was the spell’s doing.

There, on the far wall, shaking with the rest of the house, was the attic door. I wondered if the spell had somehow summoned it, simultaneously causing the house to wobble. The tremor eventually stopped, and I was left with the door, lending credence to my theory. I waited for a few minutes, thinking the door would open, but it did not. It seemed that I would have to do that myself. I wasn’t too happy about it, but I’d come too far to back out now.

I gathered my wits and walked over to the door. I proceeded to swing it open, without fear, just as I had upstairs. Behind the door was a surprise.

It was the attic. The attic, upstairs. Everything was the same, only there was a man standing at the window. Hearing me open the door, he turned around. His eyes widened when he saw me. He ran so fast in my direction that I didn’t even have enough time to take more than a single step back. He rushed through the doorway and into the basement. He turned back around and slammed the attic door shut, making sure to lock the deadbolt. He turned to me, grabbed my shoulders, and looked me dead in the eye. I was baffled and scared for my life.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you so much!”

After expressing his thanks, the man let go of me and ran upstairs, but not before turning back around and offering me some advice.

“Whatever you do, don’t go in there!”

He gestured toward the attic door before bolting upstairs. I ran after him, wanting to ask some questions, but when I got upstairs, it was already too late. My front door was open, and I could see him running down the dirt road towards town.

And that was that. I’ve slept every night since then with no noises or paranormal issues whatsoever. I even set up the cameras and voice recorder a few times to make sure. They didn’t catch a damned thing. I don’t know what the hell happened, but I am sure of one thing. The man that came out from behind the attic door was no ghost. It was a living, breathing person.

 

Click HERE to find out more about the man in the attic.

 

CREDIT: Christopher Maxim

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

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The Monster in the Pantry

The Monster in the PantryReading Time: 8 minutes 

 

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

 

Unexplained phenomenon is a staple in human culture. Strange goings-on, paranormal in nature, are prominent in our lives, in one form or another. You may not think about them all that often, but there’s always a piece in the news or a crazy story from a friend or passerby that makes you recall such strangeness. No matter how many times you forget about the subject, there will always be a moment that drags the notion back to the surface of your memory. For several years, I had forgotten all about the monster living in my mom’s pantry. I had forgotten all about it, that is, until now.

I was ten years old when I first became aware of the monster’s presence. It was a normal evening at home; my mother and I awaited my father’s arrival and I helped her out with dinner preparations. I look back on these memories fondly – I loved cooking with my mom and was overjoyed whenever my father came home from work. I had what some would consider a picture-perfect childhood, save for one peculiarity. The thing that resided in the pantry would audibly reveal itself that very night.

While cutting up vegetables for my mom’s famous beef barley soup, I heard a scratching at the pantry door. Startled, I jumped, nearly cutting off one of my fingers in the process. My mom looked over at the pantry, then to me with a concerned smile. I looked to her for answers, utterly baffled by the noise.

“There it goes again, scratching at the pantry door.”

“What is it, mom?” I asked.

“I’m not too sure, sweetie, but it’s been here ever since we moved in. Sometimes it scratches at the door, other times it will knock food off the pantry shelves. Some nights, it doesn’t make a sound at all.”

There was no comfort derived from her explanation. I was still frightened, and my mother noticed this.

“It’s nothing to be scared of, honey.”

“Is it something… bad?” I asked.

“No, of course not.”

Just then, the scratching recommenced. I jumped a second time. My mother then walked over to the pantry door.

“Here, look…”

She opened it up as the scratching continued. Once the door was completely ajar, the sound ceased.

“See, sweetie? There’s nothing to be worried about.”

Despite my mother’s comforting words, my ten-year old heart couldn’t help but race with fear. In the coming years, I continued to help her cook, but I never once set foot back in that pantry; convinced that the thing living in there was a monster, out to get me. This fear was kept alive by the scratching that would interrupt otherwise happy moments. I ignored it the best I could, but sometimes I would have to leave the kitchen.

Eventually, the sounds stopped all together.

 

***

 

It’s now been many years since then, and both of my parents have passed away. In their wills, I was left everything, including my childhood home. It took me a while to come to terms with their deaths and move back in, but I eventually accepted the situation and embraced the living space where I grew up.

It was the little memories sprinkled throughout the house that helped me cope. Sometimes I would walk into the living room and see my dad sitting in his chair, smoking a cigar and watching his favorite sitcom. At other points, I would see my mother in the kitchen, making us dinner. These corporeal fragments of a time long since passed kept me going. After a while, the house felt like home again… until one day.

I had just arrived home from work when it happened. I sat down on my dad’s favorite chair and flipped on the TV to unwind. Something crossed my mind; minus the tobacco, I had actually become my father. This thought put a bit of a smile on my face as I reclined the chair to relax. Relaxation never came though, as an all too familiar scratching sound emanated from the nearby pantry. My smile quickly vanished.

I jumped up and ran to the kitchen to investigate. The scratching continued and increased in volume. I stared at the door hoping an answer would jump out at me, but also hoping whatever was inside wouldn’t do the same. Without many options at my disposal, I was forced to open it.

Much to my anticipation, the noise ceased, and I found nothing behind the door but some empty shelves and an old broom. This was the same thing that happened when my mother opened the door many years ago.

I was no longer a frightened child, but the sound’s return was still unnerving; at least, it was at first. After a while, it became nothing more than a bothersome fixture in my otherwise normal days. Whenever I came home from work, woke up in the middle of the night, or sat down to watch television, that terrible scratching would invade my ear-space, not stopping until I opened that damned pantry door. This routine continued for over a year. One night, however, everything changed.

I had just gotten home from a long day of work and flung myself into the comfort of my bed sheets. I wanted more than anything to drift off into a peaceful slumber, hoping the day’s troubles would melt away in the form of happy dreams and restful sleep. Unfortunately for me, the moment my head hit the pillow, the scratching started up once more.

I groaned in anger, not wanting to leave my bed for anything, much less that damned noise. Because of this, I made the mistake of not getting up right away. I hit my internal snooze button and allowed myself to drift off for a few moments. When I came to, something was amiss. I didn’t notice it at first, but the unsettling silence made way for a startling revelation.  The scratching had stopped.

How strange. It’s never stopped on its own before.

 Perplexed, I jumped out of bed and ventured downstairs to investigate. What I saw upon entering the kitchen alarmed me – the pantry door was wide open.

That can’t be… it was definitely closed when I got home earlier…

 Turning the light on only revealed the usual empty shelves. It wasn’t until my hand met the wood of the door that I noticed something unusual. Embedded in the hard oak were deep gashes; claw marks that covered the entire bottom half of the door.

Those weren’t there before… what the hell is going on?

 My childhood was beginning to catch up with me. Memories of the pantry came bursting through the floodgates; the scratches, the nightmares… the fear. But I wasn’t a child this time, and I wasn’t going to let a little superstition get the better of me. It was just a raccoon or a large rat, that’s all. At least, that’s what I told myself.

I scoured the house for nearly an hour, ignoring my fast-beating heart the whole time. Whatever escaped from the pantry was nowhere to be found. As I stepped back into the kitchen to close the door and call it a night, something stopped me in my tracks. A shadowy figure raced across my field of vision and into the pantry.

 

CRACK

 

The pantry door shut on its own, shaking the walls around it. A bone-chilling vibration reverberated throughout the entire house in an instant and was then followed by an eerily dead silence. My heart sank to my bowels. I was officially rattled.

Running on pure instinct, I grabbed the heaviest things I could find and piled them in front of the door, including my dad’s old chair. Once satisfied with my blockade, I raced upstairs, locked my bedroom door, and jumped underneath the sheets. I was a kid again, scared shitless of the monster living in my mom’s pantry.

After the fear and adrenaline tapered off, I managed to get a little bit of rest. My late-night adventure had come to an end.

 

***

 

I woke up the next morning in denial; a defense mechanism of a mind bruised by fear. Pretending nothing happened the previous night, I went about my morning routine as normal. After breakfast, I was able to walk right past the pile of crap in front of the pantry without flinching. I even ignored the scratch marks on my front door as I left for work. Everything was fine. There was no monster. No supernatural entity taking over my home. That was absurd. It was just a raccoon. A very large raccoon.

The lies only lasted for so long. Driving away, the terror set back in, sending me into a desperate frenzy of distress and unease. Though distracted by my strange predicament, I managed to make it to work in one piece.

Work brought me no solace. All I could think about was what awaited me at home. I was on edge and my boss noticed this. He asked if I needed to leave early and get some rest – I practically shouted the word NO at him, begging him to let me stay. I wanted to be away from that house for as long as I could. Though confused by my unorthodox behavior, my boss obliged.

I might have been able to stay at work, but I had to clock out eventually. The day went by far too quickly, and before I knew it, I was back home, sitting in my driveway, dreading the thought of opening the front door. Because of this, I sat in my car for a while, attempting to come up with a plan of action.

What do I do? Who can I tell? Where will I stay?

 The questions swirled around my tired mind until I shut my eyes and took a deep breath to relax. The weariness caught up with me in this moment, causing me to drift off into a stress-induced coma of sorts. I woke up a few hours later to the terrifying sight of scratch marks on my driver-side window. That was the last straw.

“That’s it!” I proclaimed out loud.

I wasn’t going to let this thing control my life, and I certainly wasn’t going to let it drive me out of my own home. This is where I grew up; where I spent my childhood with my mother and father. They were still with me; the recollections scattered throughout the house, reminding me of who they were and the impact they’ve had on my life. No amount of scratching was going to tear through the memories I had of them.

Fed up, I got out of my car, walked up to the house, and swung the front door open. I was greeted with the sound of scratching, but this time it was louder than it had ever been before. As I stormed over to the kitchen, the noise morphed into a thunderous banging at the pantry door, causing the stuff I piled in front of it to move a bit. Whatever was inside really wanted to get out this time.

Adrenaline coursed through my veins. My fight-or-flight response was begging me to run, but it was too late. I had already made up my mind. I was going to face this thing head on and get to the bottom of the mystery. This was my home, after all. It belonged to me and my family – not whatever this thing was.

In removing the stack of furniture, the banging continued and grew louder. The kitchen cabinets around me swung open. Various pots and pans fell off the shelves. An earthquake of supernatural proportions filled my home, but I didn’t allow it to rattle me. I knew what I had to do.

After a moment of mental preparation, I opened the pantry door…

There, sitting behind the door, was a dog. It sat there and looked up at me in confusion. I did the same to it. After giving me a once-over, it walked over to me and nuzzled up against my leg. I instinctively reached down and pet it, as I would any dog. But this wasn’t any dog. After a few minutes of getting to know each other, it walked back into the pantry and vanished before my very eyes.

It was… a ghost.

 

***

 

My fear completely dissipated after that day. I now come home to the sound of scratching and smile. I no longer open the pantry door in fear, but instead, to let my new friend out. He walks around the house, exploring, just like a normal dog would. He even sits down and watches TV with me from time to time. He is a bit shy, though, vanishing whenever I have company over. Still, he is a good dog. A very good dog. I assume he belonged to one of the many owners of the house, seeing as it had been built long before my parents moved in. I guess he just couldn’t let the place go. Neither could I.

A few weeks of bonding later and I realized that I didn’t have anything to call him by. I walked over to the little guy and pet him on the back of his neck – that was his favorite spot. I thought about it for a moment and then came up with the perfect name.

“I will call you… Monster.”

 

 

Credit: Christopher Maxim

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My Amazon Alexa Does More Than Just Laugh

My Amazon Alexa Does More Than Just LaughReading Time: 5 minutes

Two nights ago, I was home alone when Alexa laughed. I’d read about the software issue the devices had been having all over the world, so it wasn’t that big of a shock. Thank God for that, too, because I would’ve jumped out of my skin otherwise. Still, I was unsettled. It’s creepy to hear laughter when you think you’re alone.

“Alexa, shut up,” I instructed. The blue ring on top flashed, and the laughing stopped.

I went back to my book.

Twenty minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alexa’s blue ring illuminate – as if she’d received a command. I studied her for a few seconds and shrugged it off.

Thirty seconds later, her light came on again. This time, she said, “okay Peter, J.A. Henckels five piece stainless steel knife set is on its way. You should have it in a couple days.”

“Oh come on,” I complained. I put my book down and grabbed my laptop. I navigated to Amazon and checked my order page. It was empty. Then I checked my account information in the Alexa device, wondering if my Alexa had paired with someone else’s account. It hadn’t.

“Great,” I thought. “Free knives. Thanks Pete, wherever you are.”

I went back to my reading. It probably wasn’t the best subject matter to be consuming when I was already a little shaken. Far too many mushrooms and people peeling off their skin. Gross. As I reached the end of my chapter, Alexa laughed again. It sounded different than it had the first time. The first time, it was mechanical and emotionless, just like her voice. This time it was lower. Deeper. As if it had breath in it. The hairs on my arms stood on edge.

“Screw this,” I thought, and got up to shut her off. As I crossed the room, her lights flashed.

“Okay Peter, four units of Clorox bleach, 121 oz. bottles, is on its way. You should have it in a couple days.”

I stopped in my tracks and stared at the device.

“This is stupid,” I said to myself. “You’re freaked out because of that stupid book and you’re letting it make you superstitious. Don’t be an idiot.”

I turned around and checked the time. It was almost midnight. I needed to take a shower before bed. I sighed and headed for the bathroom.

After a quick shower, I was toweling off and thinking about what I had to do at work the next day when Alexa started to talk again. I couldn’t hear her very well through the bathroom door, but I recognized her voice. It didn’t sound like she was reciting another order. It almost sounded like conversation.

I cracked open the door and listened. The voice stopped. I could see her blue light reflecting off the wall.

“Alexa,” I called. “What are my active orders?”

“You have no active orders, Valerie,” she replied. “Is there something you’d like to get?”

“No,” I said. Her light went off.

I watched TV in bed for a little while, hoping I’d get tired enough to fall asleep. It wasn’t working. I couldn’t stop thinking about the stupid device. I wasn’t going to shut it down, though. I didn’t want to give in to my baseless fear. I’m an adult, damn it.

During my third Frasier rerun, I finally felt myself getting ready to sleep. I turned off the TV and closed my eyes.

“Okay Peter, Sunshades Depot 5’x7’ tarp is on its way. You should have it in a couple days.”

My eyes snapped open.

“Enough of this,” I muttered, and bolted out of bed. When my feet hit the floor, Alexa began to laugh again. It was loud this time, and just as deep as it had been the last time. She sounded like a large man cruelly laughing at an offensive joke.

The blue light was so bright in my eyes as I reached for the plug.

“Okay Peter, Osborne International wire brush is on….”

I tore the plug from the outlet and Alexa went silent. The light went out. I stormed back into my room and slammed the door. I think I slept for about an hour.

The next day, when I got home from work, I ran into my landlady. We’re friendly with one another; she’s only a few years older and we have drinks every so often. I invited her in, telling her I needed a few beers after what I’d dealt with the night before.

“What happened?” Toshi inquired, sitting down at the kitchen table and cracking open the beer I’d given her.

“You know that Amazon Alexa thing?” I asked, pointing in its direction.

“Oh yeah,” she replied. “My sister has one. Did you hear about how some people are reporting that it laughs?”

“That’s what mine does!” I exclaimed.

“No way!” Toshi said, laughing. “That must’ve scared the hell out of you.”

“…maybe,” I admitted. “It feels silly to be scared of something like that.”

“No way,” she insisted, and took a swig of her beer. “I would’ve thrown it out the window.”

I laughed. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. Especially with the other things she said.”

Toshi’s eyebrows perks up. “Other things? Like what?”

“Oh, nothing as creepy as the laugh,” I replied. “It was just announcing orders from someone else’s account. I think wires got crossed somewhere.”

“Wow, that’s crazy,” Toshi said. “Do you know whose account?”

“Some guy named Peter. He was ordering knives and brushes and stuff.”

Toshi paused mid-drink. She looked at me, her smile slipping from her face. “Peter?” she repeated.

“Yeah. Why, do you know him?”

Toshi stood up. The expression on her face was the polar opposite of what it had been only seconds ago. She looked frightened.

“Tosh, what’s going on?”

“Val, before you moved in, I rented this apartment to a guy named Peter.”

“Yeah? And?”

She stared into my eyes, almost like she didn’t want to say.

“Tosh?”

“I… it’s just… Val, he killed himself about six months before you signed your lease here.”

My blood went cold. “He killed himself here? In this apartment?”

Toshi nodded.

“Why? What happened? Was he depressed?”

She shook her head. “No. Worse.”

“Tell me, Tosh!”

She paused and took a deep breath. I glared at her insistently. “He killed himself when the police found his pregnant girlfriend’s body in the swamp on the other side of town. She’d been stabbed to death and wrapped in a tarp. Later on, the investigation showed he drained all her blood in the bathtub and tried to clean it up with bleach.”

I felt myself getting dizzy. “Tarp?” I parroted. “Bleach?”

Toshi nodded and stared at the floor.

“I… I can’t stay here,” I whispered.

My landlady didn’t say anything. We stood in shocked silence for a minute or two. Toshi went to the fridge and got another beer. She popped the top and took a drink, then opened her mouth, as if she were about to speak. Before she could, though, a hideous, earsplitting laugh exploded through the apartment.

It was Alexa.

And she was still unplugged.

 

CREDIT: UnsettlingStories.com 

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Self-Portrait of the Dead

Self-Portrait of the DeadReading Time: 9 minutesMy mom hates her father. Grandfather Jack’s name might as well have been a swear word when I was growing up. Dad told me the story once, on the condition that I never tell mom I knew.

Jack was married to my Grandmother Kathy for 22 years before he cheated on her. It wasn’t a midlife crisis or an intoxicated indiscretion either — he’d been going on fishing trips every other weekend for almost a year before Kathy figured out the fish was named Sally, and that she was half his age. Either dad doesn’t know the specifics or he wouldn’t tell me, but I guess Kathy decided suicide was a less sinful way out than murder or divorce. That was before I was even born, but mom hasn’t spoken a word to her father since.

I still got to know him, though. It took 8 years of his begging and pleading after I was born, but mom finally gave in and arranged for us to meet (using my father to deliver messages between them, as she ‘was afraid of what she’d say if they spoke’). I was pretty scared when dad told me we were going to drive an hour into the desert to visit grandpa Jack’s house, and mom only made it worse in the days leading up to the meeting.

“He might be an axe-murderer by now for all I know,” Mom said.

Dad said he’s a professor of art history.

“Or maybe he’ll say nasty things about me. Whatever he tells you, I don’t want you to listen to him.”

Dad made a joke about how I’ve already had a lot of practice not listening to my parents. Mom didn’t smile.

“In fact, it would be better if you didn’t talk to him at all. Just let him see that you’re a happy, healthy, well-adjusted boy, and then go play by yourself until dad takes you home. Okay?”

“You’re going to have a great time,” Dad told me on the way. “He’s got a whole art studio setup with everything you can imagine. Clay pots and sculptures, water and oil paints, brushes and tools of every size and shape — we can hang out all day if you want.”

“Does Grandfather hate me?” I asked.

“Of course not. He wouldn’t have kept sending letters all those years if he hated you. All he cares about is his seeing his grandson.”

“Does he hate mom?”

“Your mom is a saint. No-one could hate her.”

“Did he hate Grandma?”

Dad looked uncomfortable at that. “You’ll have to ask him yourself.”

So I did. That was the first thing out of my mouth in fact. Grandpa Jack was a pudgy old man, straight bald with discolored blotches on his scalp, and a huge mustache that wiggled when he talked. He came rushing at me, arms wide for a hug, and I asked him if he hated my Grandmother. Froze him in his tracks. Dad stepped in front of me as if trying to protect me from being hit, but Grandfather Jack just squatted down to my height and looked me solemnly in the eye.

“I never loved any woman half as much as I did Kathy. Except your mother, of course. Just because two people love each other doesn’t mean they make each other happy though. I guess I just wasn’t strong enough to spend any more of my life being unhappy, and not brave enough to hurt your grandmother by telling her the truth.”

He smelled like old spice, and that seemed like a pretty satisfactory explanation at 8. I let him show me his studio and we painted a big landscape together. He did all the hard stuff and the details, and he helped me transform every messy blotch I made into something beautiful without painting over my contribution. He asked if I was going to visit again, and I said I wanted to — as long as mom allowed it anyway. I’ve never seen a man go so red, so fast, his mustache bristling like a porcupine.

“Your mother got no right to tell you anything. She can throw fits and slam doors all she wants, but you’re my family and the only thing left in this world I give a damn about. You tell her that, okay?”

I didn’t get to visit as often as I liked, but at least every month or two dad would drive me out there. Mom was reluctant at first, but I convinced her that I wanted to be a painter and that she’d be crushing my budding dreams if Jack didn’t teach me how. I loved the landscapes, but Jack’s specialty was portraits and his passion for them soon rubbed off on me.

“A good portrait only depicts the subject,” he told me once. “It’ll get the scruff on his chin and the wrinkles under his eyes and everything else that makes him who he is. But a great portrait —” here he took a long drink from his iced tea, liking to draw my attention out as long as it would go. “A great portrait is always a portrait of the artist. Doesn’t matter who he decided to paint, he put so much of himself into it that it’s going to tell you more about him than the person he’s painting.”

Jack had a special gallery just for self-portraits. He did a new one every year, the passage of time immaculately mapped onto his many faces. Seeing all the paintings together like that, I couldn’t help but notice that every year his brow seemed a little heavier. His smile was a little sadder, his eyes a little more weary. I didn’t like seeing him change like that, and I told him so.

“Don’t you worry, I still know how to paint a happy picture. I’m just saving it for the year when your mother finally forgives me.”

I told mom that too. She told me that he’d be better off figuring out how to decorate Hell.

The self-portraits made me sad, but they didn’t start to frighten me until Grandfather showed me his latest work when I was 19 years old.

“Where are your eyes?” I asked, staring at the blank pools of flesh dominating his latest portrait. The lines were more jagged than his previous work, making his sagging face seemed to be carved from marble.

“Right behind my glasses, silly,” he said.

“Why didn’t you paint them?”

He studied the picture, seeming to notice for the first time. “Would you look at that,” he mumbled. “Doesn’t matter. You can tell it’s still me, can’t you?”

More features were missing in the portrait next year. The whole face seemed to be sliding, almost as if the skin was a liquid that was dripping right off. He couldn’t figure out why I was making such a fuss over it. “Looks like me to me,” he grunted.

Shortly later Jack was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and it was all down hill from there. He’d retired as a professor several years back, and painting wasn’t a hobby anymore — it was an obsession. Now that I wasn’t living on my own it was easier to visit him more often, but even in the span of a week he’d have finished three or four more self-portraits, each more disconcerting than the last. I don’t know why he even called them self-portraits — they weren’t even recognizable as human anymore. Just tormented flesh, grotesquely and unevenly contoured as though the underlying skeleton was replaced with a haphazard pile of trash.

He’d get angry if I didn’t recognize him in his pictures. He said he was painting who he was, and if I didn’t see that, then I was the one who was blind. A few days later and he’d be excited to show me his next one, completely forgetting that the last one even existed at all.

“When is your mom going to come see? I’ve been calling her all week.”

He even forgot that she hates him too. Every time he’d ask, and every time I’d make a vague excuse and promise she’d be there next time.

He was 86 when he had his stroke. He didn’t paint again after that, and within the year he was gone. Dad and I went to the funeral, but mom just locked herself in her room. Grandfather still left everything to her anyhow, saying in the will that “I may not be able to give her a home, but at least I can give her my house.” She didn’t want to even set foot in the place though, so a week or so later I went to start boxing up the stuff for her.

That’s when I saw his final painting. I was dreading even going into his studio, and not just because I knew it was going to be the biggest job. I started stacking the abominable canvases face down so I wouldn’t have to look at them, but I couldn’t help but notice this one was different.

It was so perfect that it could have been a photograph. The self-portrait showed Jack lying peacefully in his casket, hands crossed over his chest, eyes closed. It was strange that he’d been able to paint it so precisely, considering the rest of his recent work littering the room. I sat there for awhile thinking how heartbreaking it was for him to predict his own death like that.

I left the painting out while packing, thinking of hanging it in my apartment to honor him. There were plenty of less morbid pictures to choose from, but this one felt like it was really him who painted it, not the disease which had ravaged his mind. It made me think that his spirit was at rest somewhere, and that made me glad. I hung it in my bedroom that night, saying goodnight to him just as I’d done on the dozens of sleepovers where I’d laid my sleeping bag at the foot of his bed.

I fell asleep quickly, exhausted from the manual work that day. I slept straight through the night, not even dreaming as far as I can remember. Then, sitting up in the morning, the first thing I saw was Jack staring back at me from his portrait. The one that had shown closed eyes the night before. Maybe it was like that yesterday and I didn’t notice, I thought, but that didn’t sit right with me at all. I remembered how Jack always used to get angry when I didn’t see the same thing as him in his pictures — maybe he was right and I really was just blind. I didn’t think too much of it until the next night when I woke up and the painting was screaming.

No sound — I wasn’t that mad yet — but the mouth was open, twisted and frozen in unending agony. I just sat in bed, breathing hard, staring at the colorless torment in the weak light from my window. I kept lying back down and trying to convince myself it was a dream, unable to sit still for more than a few seconds before jolting upright again to stare at the painting. It took me almost half an hour to finally get out of bed and turn the lights on. I laughed out loud to see him sleeping peacefully in the casket with his eyes closed, but I still slept with the light on the rest of the night. In the morning, his eyes were unmistakably open once more.

I didn’t blame Jack’s painting. I blamed myself for being blind like he always scolded me about. I called my mother and told her about my weird dream on her voice-mail. ‘Grandpa Jack is in pain’, I told her. I would have said more, but I felt stupid and hung up shortly after.

I didn’t actually hear the screaming until the second night, and by then it was already too late.

Sometime in the early morning — I was out of bed and halfway across the room before I was even fully awake. The sound ripped me from my bed so fast that I didn’t even realize it was coming from the painting. There was enough light to see Grandfather’s features twisted in agony.

My downstairs neighbor started pounding on the roof. That only seemed to make the screaming louder. The thrum of blood in my ears matched the beat, then raced passed.

I tried to run, but my door handle wouldn’t turn. I didn’t struggle long — to stand by the door I had to be right next to the portrait and the sound was excruciating.

Next, I pulled the painting from the wall. Hanging behind it was a second painting — one I’d never put there. One of the disfigured ones with its lump flesh all supported wrong from underneath. I saw this as a sign, although I was too freaked out to guess at what, so I hung the screaming painting back to cover up that abomination.

Re-secured to the wall, I started to retreat toward the window. I didn’t make it more than a step before a firm grip grasped my wrist and pulled me back. One of Grandfather’s hands no longer ended at the canvas. Cold pale skin, its nails digging into me, relentlessly dragging me back toward the picture as though through an open window.

At this point, I was screaming too. Someone started hammering on my door. I tried to brace myself against the wall with my feet. The pale hand shook for its effort, but it was still stronger — inch by inch pulling me into his coffin. I almost wriggled free when his second hand shot out — this one catching me by the throat — to haul me forward at an alarming rate.

I was so close I could smell him, but it wasn’t the old spice cologne he always wore. My face pressed against the canvas, it smelled like rotten meat. Then I was through — I clenched my eyes shut, helpless as his cold arms wrapped around me.

It was quiet on the other side. I couldn’t even hear my heart anymore. The pressure around me was gentle, like being encompassed by cool water or even a heavy fog. A moment later and the sensation was already retreating. I opened my eyes to find myself standing in my bedroom, facing the portrait on the wall. Hands folded across his lap, eyes closed, just like it ought to be.

I spent the next half hour profusely apologizing to my neighbors. I’m lucky I didn’t get locked up. After that I called my mom, surprised to find her in tears.

“Are you okay? Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m okay. Dad’s okay. I visited him in the cemetery this morning. It’s stupid of me, right?” She paused to sniffle and blow her nose. “Do you think he knows?”

I told her I think he was pretty pleased about that, and that it made me happy too. I don’t know what would have happened to me if she hadn’t.

 

CREDIT: Tobias Wade

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Late Night Pizza

Late Night PizzaReading Time: 4 minutes

It was ten minutes till close when I heard the door swing open.

Jingle-jingle.

Ugh. A customer this late? It was my first day at Tony’s Pizzeria, and I was eager to get home. My manager, Mason, had to leave early – his infant son had a fever – and I was left all alone to close up. Sighing, I put down the broom, and made my way to the front.

“Hi, may I help –”

I stopped.

The store was empty. Everything was as I left it – the chairs lifted onto the tables, the lights dim, the silverware and parmesan shakers sitting on the shelf above the garbage.

“Hello?” I called.

But only silence met my ears.

I shrugged and went back to sweeping.

The store was eerily quiet; the only sound was my broom scratching rhythmically against the floor, as I swept shreds of mozzarella across the floor. Only five minutes till close, I thought, glancing up at the clock. Then I can finish cleaning, lock up, and get out of here.

But I had scarcely swept another few feet when I heard it again –

Jingle, jingle.

I dropped the broom and ran to the front of the store.

“Hello?”

Nobody was there.

But this time –

The front door was open.

“Hello?” I called again, louder this time, hoping my voice would reach the outside.

Beyond the light spilling out into the patio, there was total darkness. I couldn’t even make out the parking lot or the trees. What if there’s someone out there? Watching? If there was, I wouldn’t even know.

I rushed over, shut the door, and turned the lock. Click. “No pizza left for ‘em anyway,” I muttered to myself.

I picked up the broom and began sweeping around the tables. But I couldn’t silence the voice echoing in my head – what if someone’s out there? I stared out the glass; the shadows across the patio shifted and swayed with the wind.

What if someone’s trying to rob us? I’m all alone… no weapons, no security system, just an old lock on a glass door.

I shook the thoughts from my head and continued sweeping. I was nearly done, when –

Slam!

A loud noise, from the back of the pizzeria.

I jumped. “H-hello?” I called, starting to shake. I gripped the broom tight, as if it were a weapon, and stepped forward.

“Hello?”

Thump, thump.

“Hello –”

I rounded the corner.

The back door was wide open. The stench of the dumpster in the alley filled the room, along with gusts of cold night air.

But no one was there.

I ran over and shut the door. Then I dragged a chair in front of it, and a stack of empty pizza boxes for good measure.

It’s a windy night. You’re just scaring yourself. I took a deep breath, the mozzarella twirling and sticking under the broom. Just finish cleaning, lock up, and get out of here.

I finished sweeping the back, then walked towards the front of the store –

Slam!

I jumped and ran to the back door.

It was wide open.

The chair was kicked over. The pizza boxes were wildly strewn about.

But the room was, still, empty.

“That’s it.” I closed the door again and grabbed my coat. Then I ran out of the store, through the shadows, until I reached the familiar cold metal of the car. If he fires me for a dirty floor, so be it. Better than getting murdered over here. I yanked the door open, dove in, and pulled out of the parking space.

As I turned on to the main road, I heard it.

Tap, tap, tap.

A soft clicking sound, above the rush of the car.

Tap, tap, tap.

I tried to ignore it as I drove. But it got louder.

Tap, tap, tap.

It sounded like it was coming from behind me.

Heart pounding, I slowly lifted my eyes to the rearview mirror.

And there, breaking the darkness of the back seats –

Was a man’s face.

I screamed. The car swerved wildly, narrowly missing the gutter. I jolted to a stop, leapt out of the car.

Then I pulled out my phone and called 911.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“There’s someone in my car! They were trying to get in the pizza shop as I cleaned up, and then – and then –”

I stopped.

I could see, through the window, that the backseat was completely empty.

***

The next day, I came into work shaken. But Mason only added to that.

“You didn’t finish sweeping the floor before closing up,” he yelled. “This entire half has bits of food, even a dirty toothpick!” He sat down and sighed. “I’ll let it slide this time, but if you do it again, I’m going to fire you.”

“Mason, I’m so sorry – I would’ve cleaned it, but – but –”

He eyed me suspiciously. “I’m not one for excuses. You know that.”

“I know, but I swear, this happened. The front door started opening. I thought someone was there, but nope, no one there. Then, after I locked it, the back door opened! I even put a chair against it, and it opened again!” I looked at him with pleading eyes. “I thought someone was trying to rob the place! And then when I drove home – I swear, Mason, there was someone in the back seat!”

Mason stared at me.

And then he broke into jolly guffaws.

“That’s just old Paulie,” he said.

“Uh – what?”

“The guy who used to run the shop, before he died in ’02. He likes to keep an eye on the place.” Mason shot me a smile. “Especially the new employees.”

 

CREDIT: Blair Daniels

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I’ve Had the Same Dream for 26 Years

Reading Time: 8 minutes

The things that haunt a man the most, are not usually the choices that he’s made, but rather the choices that he never did make.

I’ve lived through some of the worst hells that you could ever imagine. 9,490 of them to be exact. Every night when I lay down to sleep, I find myself praying for the same thing; sleep, with the absence of dreams.

Every night is exactly the same.

This trend started 26 years ago when I was 10. The first time that the nightmare overtook my dreams, I had come home from the worst day of my life. My dad had taken me to a splash park. It wasn’t much, just a couple water jets that shot up into the air that kids could run around under and cool off from the heat.

We were poor growing up and never could afford to go to any big water parks, but the splash pad was always fun. That is, until that day.

I remember running around under the jets, carefree, enjoying the sweet relief that the cool water brought as it splashed on my red skin. There were a couple of other kids there too but, I didn’t pay them much attention as I was always a bit of a loner even as a child.

“Kyle, come on buddy, it’s time to go.” I heard my dad say from the bench that sat across the way. “Aww, come on Dad, just a little longer.” I pleaded, not noticing the little girl that was making her way toward me from the other side of the pad.

“Five more minutes,” he replied shaking his head and smiling.

As I turned back toward the water jet, happy for the extra time to play, I was met with a little girl standing, not even a foot away from me. My heart felt as though it was going to jump out of my chest as I noticed her face. It looked decayed, her eyes were sunken back into her skull, they were pure white, and her mouth was wide open.

She stood there gazing at me inches away, mouth hanging open, for what seemed like hours. I couldn’t move, I was frozen at the sight of this hideous girl. After a while of this, I finally regained my ability to speak and said, in a shaky voice, “H..hi, I’m Kyle, what’s your name?” The girl turned her head to the side, like a dog does when he’s trying to understand what you’re saying to him.

“Whhhhhaaaaaaahhh.” she let out a long gasp in response. Her breath hit my face; it smelled like smoke and burnt hair. It wasn’t until I stopped choking that I realized she had burns all over her arms and legs. Long singe marks going up the sides, from foot to waist. The skin was hanging off from several places.

I turned in fear back toward my dad, hoping that he would see the girl and come rescue me, but he was chatting with another kid’s mom on the bench, not even looking in my direction.

As I turned back to face the little girl, she was gone.

I ran hard and fast to where my dad was sitting. “Hey buddy, you finally ready to go?” he said smiling, but his facial expression quickly changed as I got close to him. “What’s wrong? What happened?” he asked, concern now mixed into his tone.

“The girl over by the pad.” I replied through heavy breaths. “She’s hurt, or burned, or I don’t know.”

Looking over my shoulder to the pad, my dad asked, “What girl? I don’t see anyone, Kyle. Let’s go home, I think you’ve just had too much sun today.”

I didn’t argue – maybe I had just imagined it.

We walked back to the car. Dad was talking to me, but I didn’t hear anything he was saying. I was too preoccupied looking over my shoulder, back toward the pad, searching for the little girl. My dad basically had to push me back to keep me from walking straight into the car door as he held it open for me.

“Whoa champ, watch where you’re going. I can’t afford a hospital visit if you bust your noggin open on the car door. We will come back to play another day, I promise.”

The car ride home seemed much longer than usual. My mind was still thinking about the little girl. Where had she come from? Surely her parents would be looking for her to get her wounds patched up.

As my dad and I pulled into the driveway, I could see my mom coming out to greet us. “He’s a little shook up, too much sun I think. Better get him inside and cool him off.” I could hear my dad tell her after their usual welcome home kiss and hug.

After we ate dinner, Mom came up to my room as I was getting ready for bed. She closed the door, which was strange considering she normally came in, picked up my dirty clothes, and gave me a hug and kiss goodnight.

There was something strange about her facial expression, something different about her tone of voice as she said:

“Your dad told me about the splash pad. What did you see?”

A little reluctantly, I recounted the events, not leaving out any detail. Mom just sat on my bed listening, her new expression never changing as I concluded the story.

“There is something you need to know Kyle, but this stays between you and me. I don’t want your father knowing about this.” she said while I looked nervously at her.

My parents were always the perfect couple – even through hard times, they always loved each other. They never fought or had harsh words between them, so the thought of her keeping anything from Dad seemed odd to me, and I didn’t really like the idea of it.

“We come from a long line of mediums,” she stopped as if trying to really think of the right way to explain.

“What you saw was an omen. Not a particularly bad one, since the girl didn’t touch you and she disappeared. Still,you need to be aware of a few things.” Her eyes started to water as she continued.

“These kind of omens are never good. In this case, I believe that the little girl was killed in a fire, and she came to you because you’re like a magnet to the spirits that still walk the earth.”

I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought that ghosts were just make believe, and now she was telling me that I attract them?

Finally, after staring at her for a while in disbelief, I asked, “Are you a medium?”

She laughed, confusing me for a second, before she replied with a big smile. “Oh heavens no baby, I’m not a medium. Do you really think that I could kept that a secret from your father all these years? No, your grandmother, my mom, was a medium.”

“So what does this mean for me?” I asked.

“It means that things are going to start happening around you. Lights flickering, shadows in your room moving at night, waking up to voices talking to you, premonitions, and dreams.”

There it was; dreams, the very thing that would plague me every night for the next 26 years. I never did see any ghosts or any of the other weird things that my mom spoke of. Just the dreams.

After our talk, mom left my room, leaving me scared and confused about all of the new information she had just off-loaded onto me. I laid down and turned out my lamp. I lay awake for a long time, spooked, rapidly looking around my room, searching for anything out of the ordinary when sleep finally took me.

The first thing I saw was a building on fire. It was a large two story house at the end of a cul de sac. The mailbox read 322 James St. There were fire trucks with ladders and firefighters pointing hoses toward the inferno, trying to extinguish the flame. I became a little disoriented from all the lights of the sirens. It was dark outside, and besides the fire that engulfed the house, the only lights were from the emergency vehicles, and they were blinding.

I stumbled a little, and as I looked down toward the ground to regain my bearings, I realized that I was wearing firefighting equipment. I reached my hand up and felt the helmet on my head.

I could hear someone shouting something from behind me. I turned back around to see who it was, nearly hitting another firefighter with the axe I had in my hand. I hadn’t even realized I was carrying it until that moment.

A man standing by a red SUV with the words ‘Fire Chief’ on the side was looking right at me.

“Kyle, Go!” he shouted pointing at the blazing house. I didn’t know what I was doing, but at the same time it felt like I had done this before, a hundred times over.

I turned back to the house, running full speed toward the flames. Even with my protective gear on, I could feel the extreme heat radiating from the blaze. I then heard someone’s voice come over the radio.

“Parents say there is a little girl trapped in the second story bathroom.” Without hesitation, I responded “10-4 I’m making entry now, keep on my six and stay sharp, watch for falling debris. This kid is not dying on my watch.”

Me and two other firefighters made our way into the house. The black smoke that billowed in front of me almost blacked out the hallway we were travelling down; I could hardly see ten feet ahead. We pushed forward with the hose slung over our shoulders.

“There’s the stairs!” I yelled, pointing to my right as we continued down the hallway.

The stairs were not yet on fire, save for a few burning embers that had fallen from the top floor. I made my way up, tapping on each step with my Halligan bar to make sure they were stable. The climb was slow and the hose was heavy.

Once we got to the top landing, I could see flames engulfing the sides of the walls and roof going down the second story hallway. The heat was almost too much to bear. We made our way to the first door on the right, touching it to feel for heat. If there was fire on the other side of the door and we opened it, it could cause an explosion, potentially killing us all.

After determining that there was no fire on the other side, I began to scream, “Holly! Holly, are you here!?” No answer. I don’t know how I knew what name to call, it just came to me.

I tried the knob and it was locked. “If you’re in here, stand away from the door, I’m going to break it down.” I yelled before swinging my axe at the door. It took three swings before it opened. As I stepped into the bathroom, I heard a loud crash from behind me; it shook the entire house. Looking back, I could see that part of the roof had caved in, blocking the hallway to the stairs.

Frantically, I searched for the girl. She was sitting in the tub, unconscious.

Another crash, this time causing an explosion in the hallway, blowing out the window at the end. I could hear the glass shatter and feel the pressure from the blast.

“Get the girl, we have to get out of here!” I could hear someone say on my radio.

I reached down, picking her up and cradling her against my chest. As I turned back to leave, the other two firefighters were using the hose to put out the fire from the fallen beam so that we would have a safe path to leave from. Slowly, testing every step, we made our way back down the hallway, the flames becoming more violent, and the heat growing more intense with each passing moment.

Just as I made it to the stairs, one of the other firefighters pushed past, almost knocking me off my feet as he ran by, flying down the stairs in fear.

“Fuck!” I cursed as I slammed into the wall, flinging the legs of the little girl into the fire. I could hear her skin sizzle in the flames. As I began to regain my balance, I saw why the other man had fled. The main beam in the roof was falling right toward me. With a loud crash it pinned me to the ground, causing me to drop the little girl. She was still unconscious, lying directly in the flames to my right.

My head spinning, I tried to push the beam off of me, but it was no use, It was too heavy. After a few minutes of pushing, I gave up, feeling the flames burning my skin. The fire was beyond control. I was stuck with no hope. My heart was pounding with the thought of the little girl burning to death, as well as my own fiery doom.

I laid there in agony, feeling the flames licking the skin on my hands. I watched as the rest of the burning roof collapsed onto me.

I awoke drenched in sweat, screaming. My mother rushed into my room, fear on her face.

After calming down, I recounted the dream. Her hands covered her mouth and tears streamed down her face as I spoke. She didn’t say anything, she just sat there holding me.

It’s been 26 years to the day since that first dream and every night has been the same since. The same house, same girl, same death.

As I’m sitting here writing this, I can hear the alarm sounding, and a voice just came over the Intercom. Now, I have a hard choice to make.

“10-70 Structure fire, all units respond. 322 James St.”

 

CREDIT: Allan Loe

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I Picked the Wrong Profession

I Picked The Wrong ProfessionReading Time: 4 minutes

Jobs come and go. That’s part of the beauty of living in America – you can change jobs freely if you aren’t happy. It’s a luxury not everyone in the world has.

For years and years, my life was consumed by business – retail, specifically. It wasn’t my plan…I sort of fell into it. My part-time cashier job turned into a full-time management job and, as anyone who’s worked in retail knows, once you get to that point it’s hard to get out. I wasted about five years at Target until my career path unexpected changed for the better.

It was a chance encounter – fateful, even. She came into the store to return a set of lingerie but our guest services team member wasn’t letting it happen. It was a no-receipt return, and she didn’t have the method of payment or her I.D. with her. Typical scam set-up. As those usually go, she asked to speak with a manager. I have no doubts she caught me mouthing “damn” as I walked up to the front end to speak with her. She was a tan goddess, about 5’3″ with a perfect, Playboy-esque body, brunette hair, and a lip ring. She looked like the type of girl who could post a single cleavage shot on Instagram and become an overnight internet celebrity.

On the surface, she looked like the type that might use her looks to be able to swoon guys into mindlessly doing what she wanted. A little flirting, a slight lean over the counter, and anything she needed was done – regardless of policy.

Well, maybe not just on the surface. I did exactly that.

I couldn’t resist her allure.

I thought about her non-stop for a few days after that. She was visually perfect in every sense of the word. Her body inspired me. I wanted to capture elegance like hers to look at anytime I desired.

Transitioning into a photographer seemed natural after meeting her. It was as if she rewired my brain, causing me to notice the beauty in everything I saw. Every second I wasn’t at work, I was adventuring and capturing the sights of the world surrounding me. Some days I even had to call off because I had let my passions take me too far away to be able to drive back for my shift.

It was…freeing.

Only a couple of months had passed until I ran into my muse at the local Starbucks. She was in front of me, ordering a grande white chocolate mocha – no whipped cream. A delicious drink for a delicious woman, of course. After I ordered the same drink as a venti, I nervously walked down to the end of the counter to wait for my drink…and silently observe her magnificence.

“Hey! Aren’t you the guy from Target that helped me return those undies?!” She spoke to me. I almost died.

“Oh, ha. Yeah, I believe that was me.” I always hated my ugly, nervous laugh.

“You were so awesome!” She said as she gave me a tight hug. “I was able to get a new set because of you, see?”

She pulled down her deep-cut v-neck, revealing to me a lacy, purple bra that hardly covered her voluptuous, tan breasts.

“I’m Jess, by the way. I’ve gotta run but I’m sure I’ll see ya around!”

She wasn’t wrong. We seemed to bump into each other almost daily after that moment at the coffee shop. If it wasn’t a face-to-face encounter, when I would go home and upload my photos she would be in them to some degree. Every. Day. I didn’t mind – she made my photos come to life, enhancing the already spectacular scenes with her own stunning looks.

I’m not sure if she knew I was taking her picture or not. Some days she would appear oblivious, and the photos would come across voyeuristic. Maybe she would be turned away, eating an ice cream cone. Tying her Vans. Fixing up her hair. Just casual things. Other times, she seemed to be staring right at me as I clicked the button. A few times she was putting on a blouse. Another was she putting gas in her white Beetle. Once, she was nude in the forest. Always facing directly towards me. Always staring into my soul.

As guilty as it made me feel, she never took legal action, nor made it seem like she wanted me to stop. To be honest, shewas the one showing up in all of my pictures. She wouldn’t really have had the basis to take up recourse. The longer it went on without any signs of discontent, the less guilty I began to feel. In my mind, it became a game. Two lovers, flirting without ever needing to meet. I was sure we were both in on it, but one of us had to win eventually.

It’s her.

I was out late last night, trying to catch photos of the super moon over train tracks – a truly stunning scene. Pines lined both sides of the tracks, the rock hills were even and undisturbed, and the sky was clear aside from the massive, massive moon. I’ll admit, I went a little crazy with the picture taking and filled up the remaining space on my SD card trying to capture the perfect scene.

She was in the photos.

There was no way Jess was able to have been there. The area was completely void of life while I was capturing it!

She was in the middle of the tracks, entwined with a man.

click

They began kissing.

click

He touched her skin, and she wrapped her hands around the back of his head.

click

He was looking directly at me. His body hadn’t moved.

click

Jess held his head in her hands, his body was on the ground.

click

She faced me directly, with that soul-stealing glare.

click

Dozens of small, white creatures piled over the man’s body. Jess had disappeared.

click

The creatures and the body were gone.

click

Jess was sitting indian-style mere feet away from the camera.

I screamed and ran into the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet. I couldn’t believe it. There was nobody on the tracks. How could she be in every single picture?! In hopes that I was losing my mind, I drowned myself in cold water from the sink and went to try looking at my gallery again.

The pictures were empty.

My mind and body decided that I couldn’t take this anymore and I had to sleep. I woke up in my chair about an hour ago. The pictures were still void of Jess, the man, and those weird fucking creatures…but she was outside of my window, sitting on my lawn staring directly into my eyes as I looked outside.

I’ve never seen her outside of a photograph since the coffee shop.

She’s gorgeous.

 

CREDIT: Mikey Knutson

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The Hazards of Dating

The Hazards of DatingReading Time: 5 minutes

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

But then I met her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please, please don’t kill me.”

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

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

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

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

She was gone.

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

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

 

CREDIT: Christine Druga

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