I think the whole street breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the EMTs take a body bag out of the Ferguson house. I was only about ten or eleven at the time and it’s been a while so some details of my childhood are lost to time, but I can’t forget Mr. Ferguson.
There was never a Mrs. Ferguson in the picture, as far as I know. He lived in the house on the corner, the one with the bright yellow shutters and the gorgeous garden out back. The garden didn’t make up for the rotten old bastard he was. I wondered once if he was nicer when he was younger, when he didn’t have to walk with a cane and could actually get around without help, but my dad set me straight on that one. Mr. Ferguson had always been a terrible person and the neighbor from hell.
All day long, Mr. Ferguson would sit on his front porch in his rocking chair, grasping onto his black cane as he stared out on the street. If someone walking their dog even got close to his yard, he’d start spewing threats about what he’d do if the dog took a shit on his lawn. If a kid put even a toe on his property, he’d get up from that chair and start shouting more terrible things. I learned my first cuss words from Mr. Ferguson, he didn’t censor his language even among the smallest of ears. And he wasn’t all talk. One of my friend’s dogs wandered into the Ferguson yard, just sniffing around as beagles do, and Mr. Ferguson beat that dog bloody. The poor thing had anxiety for the rest of its life and if you so much as passed the Ferguson house with it the dog would lose its mind.
Other than him, our neighborhood was a friendly place. Summers were full of cook outs and pool parties, winters had Secret Santa gift exchanges and someone was always willing to help shovel out your driveway. You’d never be hard pressed to find a babysitter on short notice, odds are your friend had a teenage daughter willing to make a few bucks to make sure the kids were on bed in time.
But not Mr. Ferguson. People did try to bring him in on the fun sometimes. He’d scoff and tell them to leave him alone in no uncertain terms. Mom said he just wanted to be miserable. I didn’t understand how someone could want that and well, I still don’t.
One hot summer morning though, his caretaker came in to do a check and found him in his garden, dead as a door nail. Probably a stroke or a heart attack.
My mom made us go to the funeral. I don’t know why, she probably hated Mr. Ferguson the most and we were like one of five people that went. One of those people was the priest. At least it was short, the priest just said a few words about how we should treasure our lives and be good to others and then Mr. Ferguson was chucked into the ground.
That was that… or so I thought.
The accidents started happening just a week later.
I was at my friend Michael’s house, we were playing board games when we heard the crash. It was so loud it shook the house and Michael dropped his soda. Root beer spilled onto the carpet as we tried to figure out what that sound was for a second.
Then we heard his dad screaming bloody murder.
Forgetting completely about the spilled soda, we ran out to the garage where he’d been working on changing the oil in the car.
Michael’s dad was pinned by the car against the garage door, face white as a sheet as his head lolled to the side. I saw blood splattered against the off gray color of the metal and I puked while Michael ran inside to call 911.
It was luck that he survived. He never walked again and health issues plagued him for the rest of his life, but for a guy crushed by a car that’s probably best case scenario.
It was an accident, sure, but a weird one. The car just suddenly launched forward as Michael’s dad stood in front of it. But there was no one in the garage with him. So yeah. It was just an accident.
But accidents started happening more and more often.
The next one was at the final pool party of the season. We were all at the Benson house because they’d just gotten a brand new hot tub. There was probably like twelve kids running around, the sun was shining, the barbecue was sizzling. I had just gotten out of the pool to grab a lemonade and was chatting with Annie when I heard the pop.
Mrs. Benson and her friends had been relaxing in the hot tub, making jokes and laughing until the pop. Their bodies suddenly went rigid before they began rapidly jerking about and twitching. Mr. Benson shouted if she was all right and I heard this gurgled yell before Mrs. Benson went under.
The kids stampeded out of the pool and I smelled something burning before I realized that the hot tub was on fire.
Mrs. Benson and her sister ended up dying on the way to the hospital. The other woman ended up surviving but not without some serious electrical burns. Electrocution via hot tub. Just an accident. But there was one more accident we all missed until we returned to the pool to see a little body floating at the top. Three year old Maggie had fallen in during the chaos and drowned.
Mr. Benson moved away after that. Losing both his wife and youngest child in that house just killed something inside of him. But after he moved away, we all saw it happen.
His backyard became overgrown by plants. Not over a few weeks, like what happens when a house is uninhabited and there’s no one to mow the lawn. The very day after they’d left that house the backyard was now filled with dandelions, daffodils, lilies. and all sorts of flowers that shouldn’t naturally appear in the late summer.
It was like a garden.
Accidents happen, sure. But not like this. Not when a guy who’s been working home improvement his entire life ends up toppling from a ladder and breaking his spine. Not when a mom trips and falls face first into the open dishwasher and ends up getting impaled on a knife. Not when a toddler was left alone for just a few seconds and ends up nearly drowning in the bathtub.
Dogs ran into the road and ended up getting hit by cars. Kids fell from their bunk beds and cracked their heads like eggshells on their dressers. Teenagers got into fatal car wrecks. It was a mess.
Two other families ended up leaving our neighborhood and their yards had the same fate as the Benson’s- completely grown over. A morbid beauty.
Fall came and the yards grew brown but the gardens seemed to be even greener. The whispers started about a ghost. A ghost that was such a miserable old bastard in life and was now a nasty poltergeist in death.
Mr. Ferguson had never left our neighborhood.
It all came to a head when a tree was struck by lightning and a large tree limb crashed into our living room. I’d just tripped while picking up my things and suddenly the roof caved in above me. I was lucky I was on the ground. If I’d been standing, well, I’d probably not be telling you this story.
Two nights later my mom woke me up. She looked grim.
“Come on. We’re going to see Mr. Ferguson.”
When we walked out of the house, I saw everyone on our street was out. Everyone had this same grim look on their face. The deaths, the mutilation, it’d forever tarnished our street and we’d all had enough. We walked down the street, I saw several guys walk into Mr. Ferguson’s house with mallets and chainsaws, but we kept going with a few of the others. I saw that several of the adults were carrying shovels and containers of lighter fluid.
We walked into the graveyard and my mom led them right to Mr. Ferguson’s grave. She took a deep breath.
“… Start digging.”
It was the frantic endeavors of people who believed they were cursed. Dirt flew in the air and nearly pelted me in the head a few times. I hid behind my mom, who just stood there stone faced.
Even now the accidents weren’t over. A man tripped in the hole and his leg snapped like a twig. He wailed as he was dragged away by a few others before they got right back to digging. Someone else got smacked the face with a shovel and blood coursed down his face from his nose as he just kept on digging.
Finally the coffin was reached, the lid cracked open. Mr. Ferguson’s body laid inside. He didn’t even look dead, it was like he was just taking a nap.
Then they started pouring the lighter fluid in. It covered the corpse’s skin, his clothes. They probably added more than necessary. My mom struck the match and threw it in, shielding me from the sudden burst of flames.
I didn’t get to see the body, but I swore I heard that old man’s yelling as his body burned.
It was over after all that. The gardens were all dead by morning. The accidents stopped. And although we’d lost so many of our friends over the past year, we recovered. New neighbors moved in. We welcomed them into our fold. One or two asked about the property on the corner, the one that looked like a tornado hit it, and we’d just say it was vandals. They stopped asking. We never talked about what we did to Mr. Ferguson’s body. And soon we just stopped thinking about it.
I grew up on that street. Even now I only live a few blocks away. And for so long I wondered why our family was practically the only one untouched by the tragedy. We never got hurt, even when the tree branch came crashing into our living room.
I think I found out the answer. See, my mom passed away a few months ago from breast cancer and I’ve been going through her things. She’s always been such a good, kind woman and it was great seeing pictures of her helping plant the garden behind the church and teaching at the local school.
But in the bottom of the box, hidden under dozens of other albums, was a picture from when she married my dad. Unlike the family picture with the groom, all it was was my mom and an older man. I didn’t recognize him until I flipped the picture over.
On the back was written ‘Pauline Walters (P. Ferguson) and The Father of the Bride.’
There’s no interesting backstory here; I didn’t buy this thing from some, like, creepy garage sale. I didn’t get it as a gift from some estranged relative that doubled as a cultist or anything. The TV was bought at the mall, for fuck’s sake. It was sitting on a shelf, ordinary as anything. It’s a cheap one, too. Nothing about the way it looks would suggest that this thing would be as screwed-up as it is.
My new television plays shows and programs that shouldn’t exist. At least, it plays things that I’ve never seen on regular television before. No sane person would ever air some of the shit I’ve seen this thing put on for me.
When I brought it home this afternoon, I spent some time screwing around with it, as one does when they buy new electronics: hooking up the cable cord, making sure my Fire Stick was working alright, etc., etc. But there was one thing that caught my eye.
You know how every television has a “Source” menu that brings up a series of options? Aux, USB, HDMI 1, HDMI 2, all that stuff? This new TV of mine has all that, but there’s one other extra “source” that I have never seen or heard of before. It’s not mentioned in the manual at all, and I cannot find anything online that can tell me what it is. There’s no given name for this source, as the menu on the TV simply refers to it as “|||||”.
When I first selected the “|||||”-source, it took me to something that seemed like cable television, but it was nothing of the sort. There were channels, yes, but I’m not talking TNT or AMC or any of that – I don’t think anything broadcasted on the “|||||”-channels would be allowed on cable TV.
Allow me to explain…
As soon as I hit “|||||”, I was brought to Channel 32, which was airing some kind of family sitcom. I let it play as I started Googling an explanation for this extra source, trying to figure out if this was perhaps a manufacturer error or something similar. I was mostly focused on reading, so I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the show that I had left on, but a line was suddenly read that made me snap my attention back to the TV:
“Just where the fuck have you been?”
On the sitcom that was airing, a father was scolding a teenage boy who had just snuck into the kitchen in the middle of the night. The kid was dressed up but looked a mess, likely having been out partying. As soon as the father swore at her, the studio audience for the show laughed.
“I—” the kid began.
The father cut him off. “I’ve been waiting here for you all fucking night. Where the fuck have you been?”
The studio audience laughed again.
What the fuck? I thought, putting down my phone. What kind of show is this?
“I…I was at a party,” the son admitted.
The father, a large bearded man, took a dangerous step closer to him. His eyes were wide and manic. The son took an instinctive step back. The reaction seemed far too genuine for a sitcom.
“A party,” the father repeated. “You were at a party?”
“Yes, Dad, I—”
The large man’s hand slapped his son across his face, making a meaty *thud-*sound. The kid gave out a yelp in pain and shock, and fell onto the floor of the kitchen. The father stood above him, practically frothing at the mouth with anger.
And, for a third time, the studio audience laughed.
“I’m sorry!” the kid wailed from the floor. “Please stop! I’m sorry!”
But the father was now kicking him relentlessly. His back was to the camera. The scene faded to another one with a light-hearted jingle, reminiscent of so many other sitcoms like Full House or Family Matters; we were now in a living room. The kid from the previous scene was sitting on a couch, bloodied and bruised. A young girl, perhaps the character’s sister, was sitting next to him.
“You know you can’t just sneak off like that,” the younger girl was saying to the beaten boy. “Daddy gets mad when you do that.”
“It hurts so bad.” The beaten son said, starting to choke up. Tears trickled down his cheeks from his bruised eyes. The studio audience laughed and clapped.
What the fuck was I watching? It was shot and timed like it was supposed to be some sort of comedic family show, but everything that was happening was just horrible. At the time, I wondered how such a thing could possibly be given air time.
Although I was disturbed, I was also extremely curious. I sat down on my couch and watched the episode of this horrific show right to its end. There was maybe five minutes left in the episode, and all it consisted of the two siblings crying and admitting that they wished they could escape their father.
With every sob and admission of sadness from the two characters, the studio audience kept laughing and clapping. Like as if these poor kids’ misery was the most hilarious thing they’d ever fucking seen.
When the credits rolled, the show’s theme song played – it was upbeat and merry, as if its premise had been about a goofy family getting into hijinks rather than a miserable one abusing itself.
I sat there for a moment or two trying to process what I had just watched. The entire thing made me feel unclean. When another episode started to air, I changed the channel to…
…what looked like a home-shopping network. There was an older woman with white hair, smiling brilliantly at the camera. Graphics displaying phone numbers and prices framed her, making a perfect little portrait of capitalism on my screen. My wife watched networks just like this one all the time, usually to admire jewelry we can’t afford…but this was something different entirely and, much like the sitcom, it was different in all the worst ways possible.
On some networks like these, they’ll sell clothing or accessories and have mannequins set up to help display the products. This channel did the same, but instead of wearing a dress or a necklace, this mannequin was wearing a leather leash, strapped incredibly tight. The old spokeswoman held the end of the leash in her hand.
“…as you can see here,” she was saying. “The grip is significantly strong around the neck, ensuring your property’s immediate obedience. Nothing’s quite as persuasive as a crushed throat.” She gave a little giggle at that.
“I see we have a buyer named Emily from Wisconsin,” she carried on. “Very quick to the phone, ma’am. We hope you enjoy your new LethalLeash.”
A woman’s voice spoke out on speaker phone: “Thank you, Amy! I absolutely love it and cannot wait to try it out.”
“Glad to hear, sweetheart. Let’s move on to our special deal for this evening.”
The spokeswoman, Amy, walked to the right and the camera panned to follow her to the next product.
Standing in the room, chained to the floor and gagged with a metal block strapped to her face was a young woman. She couldn’t have been a day over twenty. Her eyes were wide capital O’s of terror, and although she tried to scream, the gag reduced her noises to low muffled groans.
She looked like she was a pretty girl, but her face had been so badly brutalized that it was almost impossible to tell.
“For our next offer, we’re giving you a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Not only will you be receiving this lovely Product…” Amy stroked the chained girl’s hair. “…but you’ll also get your own set of LethaLeashes for free! The variety pack includes leashed in a variety of colors and designs, so you’ll have the perfect one to match your Product! Call in now and take advantage of this incredible deal.”
What should have been a phone number came up on the screen, but instead of numbers it was just a bunch of symbols that I have never seen before.
The shot faded to briefly show off the “variety pack” of brightly-colored, yet painful-looking, leather straps before fading back to the young woman’s terrified face.
Amy suddenly exclaimed, “Wow! That was fast. The caller is Ted from Brooklyn. Congratulations, Ted, we hope you enjoy using your new Product.”
A low, raspy voice said on the speaker phone: “She looks just like my ex-girlfriend, so oh do I intend to enjoy using her.”
Two men in black uniforms and masks came into the frame, unchained the young woman from the floor, and carried her away. Despite the gag, she was screaming so loudly it was audible now. She tried, to no avail, to kick at her captors.
Now completely disturbed, I raised the remote and turned the channel. As I did so, I realized my hand was trembling.
An infomercial for a fitness program came up this time. I tuned in right as they were showing off “Before” and “After” pictures of a woman who purchased a workout package called “Pure-Motive”. The woman had been very large, and had lost something like eighty pounds in just a couple of months.
The woman in the pictures spoke to an interviewer: “It’s the only method I’ve tried that actually works. If you’re trying to lose weight fast, this is for you.”
The shot changed to the same woman running on a treadmill, her face beet red. Behind her, a thuggish-looking man stood with a large shotgun pointed directly at her back. A cigarette dangled loosely out of the corner of his mouth. He was staring intently at the woman, as if ready to pull the trigger at any moment.
It then cut to another “Before” and “After” pair of pictures, this time of an obese man. There was a brief bit of footage where he was doing squats with a couple of dumbbells. Another creepy-looking thug was standing right behind him, holding a revolver close to the poor guy’s head.
“It’s the only thing that works!” this satisfied customer said happily. His voice sounded weak.
A montage of horrible shots came next: a woman running on a track with a man holding snarling dogs close behind her; a group of people doing jumping jacks while thugs with assault rifles walked around them, watching closely; and, finally, an incredibly large person trying to do pushups. He was crying hysterically.
A voiceover said condescendingly, “There is no room for laziness when it comes to Pure-Motive!”
The large man was no match against gravity and fell flat upon his face. As soon as he did, he screamed: “No! No, please!”
Four men came into frame and started to kick the shit out of him. They went on for what felt like forever, until the guy was spewing blood and teeth out of his mouth. One of the four thugs went off-frame, and then came back with a sharp-looking machete.
“No!” the large man managed to cry out. “No, don’t!”
The thug raised the machete up with both hands like a Medieval executioner, then brought it down to the large man’s head.
I changed the channel as soon as the blade hit its mark.
This channel aired a commercial promoting a new burger from some restaurant-chain I had never heard of. It soon became apparent that the burger was made from people – most specifically, their limbs. For a dessert, the restaurant was serving large bowls of human ear wax. Two actors looked hungrily at their bowls and then started to dig in. I retched and changed the channel.
Channels 9, 88, and 202
Despite being so horribly disturbed by all of this, I kept flicking through channels. Some morbid curiosity had rose up inside of me. Part of me believed that there was no possibly way I was actually seeing the things that the TV aired, that I had somehow gone mad…but most of me felt that it was all true, and if that was the case, then I was in the midst of something impossible. And I had to see whatever came next, as repulsed by it as I may be.
Channel 9 was airing some rock concert. The singer went to the mic, screamed “ARE YOU READY?!”, and then pulled a small switchblade from his pocket. With a click, the blade sprung out of its handle and the singer brought it right into his face, over and over again. A shot of the crowd showed they were all doing the same, some with knives of their own, others with shards of glass. They all seemed to be enjoying it.
Channel 88 had a game show that launched terrified people at a brick wall using catapults. I got the gist quickly and again changed the channel.
I flipped past Channel 202 as quickly as I could, because it freaked me out quite badly; it was footage of a bare-walled room with a young woman sitting in the middle of it. She was staring at the camera (at me, I thought immediately) with eyes that were small but had humongous sockets. It looked like some sort of horrific insect-human hybrid was staring through me.
This channel had a wildlife show, but it was displaying all sorts of horrific animals that do not exist on this planet. Tall, canine-looking creatures with stilt-like legs preyed upon a car-sized slug. The slug had two hands, each with about ten digits, that slapped uselessly at its assailants.
There was a “narrator” for this show, but just as he started – “As you can see, there is no hope here for the useless goddamn creature” – he was suddenly interrupted by a chorus of death rattles.
The sound unnerved me greatly. I changed the channel.
Another infomercial. This one was for a product that was literally just chocolate-coated human feces. When I watched one actress gleefully take a bite and happily sigh as if she were savoring the flavor, I had to quickly change the channel and then rush to my bathroom to vomit.
As I crouched above my toilet, hurling and heaving, a sound suddenly came from the TV:
I looked up from the toilet bowl.
“Hey!” it continued. The voice was eerily familiar. “Hey! Hey! Hey!”
Trembling badly, I mustered up the courage to leave the bathroom and see what was happening on the TV next.
The infomercial was gone. The channel had changed to 345, despite the fact that I hadn’t touched the remote. This particular program featured only one star performer – me. Or, at least, some horrible copy of me.
“I” was in the same room as the monstrous woman from Channel 202. She was gone, and “I” was sitting where she had been. This copy was looking at the screen, same as the woman before had done, and was crying. In its lap there was a long black cord with multi-colored wires sticking out of the end.
“Help me,” the thing was saying. “Please help me.”
It brought the cord up to its face, holding it in both hands.
“Help me please,” it said again.
It opened its mouth and in went the cord. The sharp wires cut around the copy’s lips, and the expression on the thing’s face made it more than apparent that they were cutting inside his mouth as well. Blood poured down its chin.
From behind its back, the copy pulled out two other large cords. Both of these were quickly shoved into its eyes. The copy raised its head up to the ceiling of the room and screamed, the cords dangling from its face.
Although the camera had remained locked on the copy for the entirety of this, it was now starting to pan to the right; the direction from which the cords were coming. The shot moved from my deformed other-self and walked towards a white door, the bottom of which the cords were feeding through. Light shone on the other side of the door, and the entire TV screen seemed as bright as the sun as that door opened on its own.
The channel changed on its own once more…
What I was suddenly looking at was a wondrous display of swirling colors on the screen. Reds, blues, greens, all fading in and out of one another, an impossibly-beautiful sight to behold. When I briefly took my eyes away from it, all other colors around me seemed to be muted, dull. I fixed my eyes back on the screen and felt a rush of pleasure. The three hues were soon joined by more: purples, yellows, oranges.
I couldn’t look away. Everything went numb. My body felt like it was melting, melting and becoming one of those swirling clouds of color.
This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, I thought. And the most beautiful thing I will ever see.
Another thought came, an alien one: Was it worth watching everything else? Was it worth it just to see this?
Although my eyes were still glued to the screen, I felt myself frown. Had that been something I thought, or something that had come from the TV itself?
It was almost like a little of both.
The alien voice kept on: Was it worth watching everything else? Just to see this?
“Yes,” I said immediately. “Yes, absolutely.”
Reds, purples, greens, oranges.
Would you keep watching? Would you keep watching to see this again?
Colors, oh God, so many colors…was this the Source? Was this channel, these swirling colors, the Source of everything I had just watched?
It most certainly felt like it.
Would you keep watching? the Source asked again. Would you explore all those channels, just to get back here?
I didn’t answer. My attention was still almost completely focused on the waving colors.
Here, looksee, said the Source.
One by one, the colors faded away. I was now back looking at the room from Channels 202 and 303. “I” was still sitting there, cords dangling out of my face like grotesque growths, but I was not alone: the tiny-woman was there, as were dozens of men, women, and children that had been similarly disfigured.
Join the others who kept watching. Watch with us, the Source said.
“Watch with us.” The people on the screen talked in unison, as if they were part of a sermon.
Watch with us.
“Watch with us.”
Whatever ecstasy I had felt from looking at the colors quickly sobered up and was replaced with fear. I hurried over to the television and pulled its power cord out of the socket behind it.
Shaking, I sat down on my couch. When I glanced at the clock in my living room, I was shocked to find that around five hours had passed since I first put the TV on. Had I really been staring at those colors for so long?
I’ve been sitting here for another hour, just looking at the blank TV and thinking. I plugged it back in, but have not yet turned it on. I keep fiddling with the remote.
Would you keep watching?
The programs this thing presented to me had been the most horrific things I’d ever seen on a screen. However, those colors had been the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen on a screen.
Would you keep watching?
I mean, the remote’s in my hand. The colors are just a couple awful channels away.
Tinnitus: a nightmare of a disease affecting millions of people, myself included. How could I best describe this condition? An incessant, nail on a chalkboard screeching that goes on for every minute of every day.
Just imagine never experiencing the true bliss of utter silence.
Maybe it’s not too uncommon to hear a vague ringing, especially for people like me, who had grown up to become an obnoxious teenager with no regard for volume control. Understandably, my parents were not happy about my blasting loud music at all hours, but what kind of teenage rebel would I have been if I listened to my parents?
Ultimately, my punishment would be given years later when I started hearing a faint ringing. At first it was a rare occurrence, but at present day I can’t even fall asleep without the aid of a loud white noise-producing machine. Even then, my quality of rest is debatable at best.
During the early days I was willing to try anything to stop the God-forsaken noise: rainstorms while sleeping, earwax removal, even a small dose of anti-depressants.
You’d be amazed how many help groups you can find online, forums for anything; Veterans with PTSD, how to cope with losing a pet, or in my case, how to deal with tinnitus.
I’d looked over the top suggestions on several occasions. Most I had already tried while visiting my doctor, while the rest were mostly scams, better suited for multi level marketing campaigns.
I used to call myself an optimist, so naturally I would return to the forum every other week in hopes of finding a miracle cure. On one particular day I decided to scroll a bit further down and see the less popular suggestions. Among the obvious troll posts and scam cures I found a more click-baitey post that read:
“A weird trick to cure tinnitus.” Nothing more, nothing less.
I sighed and started reading, preparing myself to be disappointed yet again. Still, the instructions were simple enough.
Place your palms over your ears and direct your fingers to the back of your head.
Put your index fingers on top of your middle fingers and try to snap them, like a drum.
Repeat 50 – 100 times.
There were no comments below, as the post was relatively new. Worst case, I would look stupid sitting there by myself and drumming the back of my head.
So I tried it out, snapping my fingers and causing a little drumming sensation.
45… 46… 47… 48… 49… 50… That ought to do it.
I removed my palms from my ears and listened intently.
For the first time in years there was just the pure bliss of silence.
For minutes I just sat back in awe, not believing what I was hearing, or more accurately, not hearing. Had the trick actually worked?
I decided that, rather than enjoying my newfound silence, I would give my brain a well-deserved silent rest. And that’s exactly what I did. I slept like a baby that night, until around two in the morning. I tend to wake up randomly during the night, so it caused little concern.
To my disappointment, but not surprise, the screeching had returned. At best, I had half-expected the solution to be a temporary one. I simply performed the witchcraft-like trick again, and once more the ringing was gone without a trace.
With a sigh of relief I settled back into bed. The sound that had haunted me for so long had been easily defeated by a helpful anonymous person online, and I was content.
Only then did I realize that I wasn’t enveloped in complete silence. Rather, there was something else cowering in the dark, only making its presence known by a soft thump. Could it be my own heartbeat? After all these years, would I now be haunted by a new sound?
I held three fingers on my neck and felt a pulse. It didn’t match the sound in the darkness.
Although I tried, placing the sound proved to be a challenge. With each passing thump I tried to pinpoint its origin a bit more precisely. I went so far as to open every cupboard in my apartment, checked in the hallways, and lastly, placed my ear against the wall.
No sooner did my ear touch the wall before the sound stopped. My heart raced alongside my logical mind. There had to be a simple explanation. Maybe it was been a busted pipe, or one of my neighbors being a prick late at night. No matter the cause, it was time for bed.
In the morning the ringing returned. I figured I could put the noise at bay by performing the trick every six hours. It quickly became a routine of mine to stupidly tap my head when no one was looking, and it worked.
Everything was great, apart from my nightly routine of waking up around two and hearing the same thumping, softly keeping me company in the darkness. Most nights I simply ignored it, but other nights curiosity got the better of me, and I pursued the sound.
Each night I once again failed to locate the sound. I simply couldn’t place it, and I couldn’t be bothered to stay up long enough to figure out when it started and when it ended. I tried to talk my neighbors into investigation, but they scoffed at the idea of waking at such late hours.
Rats were another possibility, but after a quick visit by pest control they assured me there were no rodents living within the walls. In fact, after looking at the building plans, they insisted that it would be impossible for rats to live inside these walls.
As a last resort I decided I would record myself sleeping. I’d heard there were a bunch of apps that only record you if there’s a noise, so I figured it would be ideal for the situation.
I downloaded a free app and went to bed. Just like every night before, I woke up around 2 AM, but decided I would ignore the sound and let my phone do it’s work. I had some ear plugs that came in handy, and without further troubles I fell asleep.
After waking up the following morning, I brewed myself a much-needed cup of coffee and sat down, figuring I could run the recording through audio-editing software to look at the amplitude of the sound waves rather than listening through it all.
The thumps started around midnight, and kept going for several hours. Aside from that, I mostly found sounds of myself shifting around in bed.
However, at 3:30 AM there was a short pause consisting of complete silence, as if every sound had been erased from existence. It was not more than a minute before the sound returned, but it was no longer a soft thumping. It sounded more like whispering, just incomprehensible voices talking to no one in particular, raspy and tired.
I couldn’t make out what was said on the recording; my phone wasn’t exactly a technological wonder. In fact, I had no interest in finding out. If anything, I would have preferred to leave the apartment and forget about the whole thing, but being a poor student without any nearby family I had no other option than to stay put. Besides, I still thought there might be a logical explanation.
After some hesitation I came to the ridiculous conclusion that if I could hear the actual whispering, I could probably locate the culprits. So when night came, I went to bed, fully expecting to be awoken at the usual time, and from then I would search for the source of the noise.
2 AM rolled around and I was awoken by the familiar, eerie thumping. Where it had once been a welcome, intriguing part of my nightly routine, it had now become a dreaded enemy. It was relentless, not stopping for a single second, and as before, I had trouble identifying the exact location it was emanating from. Like an auditory illusion, it seemed to echo throughout the room, coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once.
At precisely 3:31, the sound abruptly came to a halt. I held my breath in anticipation, waiting for the mysterious voice to start talking.
As expected, the whispers began. Unlike the thumps, however, I could immediately discern their origin. They came from the wall directly behind my bed. I knew there couldn’t possibly exist anything behind the wall. No apartment nor crawlspace, just a concrete barrier separating my room from the outdoors. I crawled onto my bed with caution, as if approaching a wild animal, and carefully pressed my ear to the wall.
The whispers started to become more focused, morphing into a single understandable phrase.
“We know you can finally hear us.” It sounded like several broken voices merged into a singular entity.
I jolted back on my bed, where I remained frozen in fear.
“Thank you for letting us in,” the voices continued before falling silent.
I began to feel faint, and it took me a while to realize I hadn’t been breathing for quite some time. I forced a gasp, bringing air into my lungs, and tried desperately to calm down.
While trying to come up with a plan the thumping returned, only this time I heard exactly where it came from. The soft steps turned into loud tearing along the inside of the wall.
It moved with each step, working its way towards the hallway outside my bedroom. I could vaguely make out a shadow beneath the door as it moved past it.
I always keep my bedroom door locked, a habit formed during my time spent living with intruding family members, but I knew that wouldn’t stop whatever abomination I had let lose simply by acknowledging its presence.
The creature started knocking on the door, a playful thump with each knock, one I had become accustomed to over the past few weeks. It spoke to me with its now familiar, broken voice.
“It’s too late to lock us out now,” they said.
“W-what do you want?” I stuttered back. “W-w-what are you?”
“We are the Acolytes. We just wanted to be heard. We’ve waited so long.”
It struck the door, and small cracks appeared around the hinges.
“We have always been here,” the voices cried in unison. “Why are you afraid?”
Another violent punch, and the upper hinge broke off the doorframe.
I would have called the police, or anyone for that matter, but had inconveniently left my phone in my jacket pocket. So I threw on whatever clothes I had lying on the floor and clambered out the window, and down the fire escape. I wasn’t taking any chances with whatever was on the opposite side of my door.
As I made my descent, I heard my bedroom door splinter.
“Where are you?” the things yelled. “We have come for you!”
I never looked back.
After my escape, I made my way to a nearby gas station and used their phone to dial the police. I told them, without going into specifics, that there had been an intruder in my apartment, and explained how I had fled down the fire escape. When they checked the apartment, however, there was no one to be found. The door to my bedroom was shattered, but there were no other signs of forced entry, and no indication that anything else had been damaged or stolen. To make matters worse, my apartment’s overall state of disrepair made it difficult for the police to accept my story at face-value.
They had to break down the front door to get in, and I knew my landlord would be pissed, but I didn’t care about that. After a very brief investigation, which involved checking the security camera footage to confirm that no one could possibly have entered my apartment, I was let off with a warning not to prank call the police again. Another cop offered me the number for a local psychiatric facility.
While the police were there I grabbed a bag and filled it with the bare essentials. I left that night to return home to my parents, intending to spend the rest of the night at the train station.
I’m never returning to that place. I’ve called my landlord and explained that they can keep my deposit, along with whatever stuff I left behind.
A few days passed after I left the apartment behind. Before long, my tinnitus returned, louder than ever… and at first, I couldn’t have been happier about it. By allowing myself to hear the entities, I had inadvertently let them in. I accepted my condition as a bittersweet blessing, as it hid the things that go thump in the night. And if I couldn’t hear them, they couldn’t find me either.
Unfortunately, my relief proved to be short-lived.
As it turned out, the ringing was no longer enough to silence the voices.
Last night, I woke up to a strange sound at 3:31 AM.
I want to start off by saying that the (real) names of everyone involved (including myself) have been changed.
I started working on the set of Myst Hill in July of 2016. It was two months after my high school graduation, and I was turning 18 the following month. I had somehow managed to land the role of one of the lead characters: Silvya Davenport.
To give a little background, Myst Hill was a soap opera drama show, set in the fictional town of Myst Hill, Arizona. The aesthetic and overall feel of the show was somewhat of a Twin Peaks meets your generic soap opera. In other words: big cast, a lot of betrayal, and some weird shit going on. It had that psychological thriller element that has become popular with shows such as Black Mirror; you never really knew what was going on in Myst Hill.
The show was pretty popular and we had won a few awards a year at different awards shows. I’m kind of a well-known famous person, and by kind of, I mean more known than a YouTuber but not as known as the Kardashians.
Being a part of this show had gotten me in with a lot of people. I had met many different directors of famous shows and movies, as well as stars of them and of well-known television shows. We’re currently on season three of the show, which airs on SGA, or channel 66 in Arizona, 77 or 78 in California. We’ve had incredibly high views and great ratings from a lot of critics. I was getting a lot of attention on social media and had even had a few encounters with paparazzi and even TMZ.
I felt like my career had finally taken off, and I was lucky enough that the first role I had landed had been so great for me and given me such a start. And then I found out that Myst Hill doesn’t exist.
I realized this two days ago. I hadn’t seen my siblings in a while since I was staying in California. I had been speaking to them via video chat and texted them every day though. They were huge fans of the show and would constantly ask me for spoilers. Anyway, I was finally going to be getting a break due to my character Silvya Davenport going missing for the next few episodes.
I met up with my sister Lara and my brother Conrad at the airport in Phoenix, and we went out for coffee and lunch. As we were talking about what we had been up to for the last few months, I mentioned that I was having a lot of fun on Myst Hill and that we had just been renewed for another season.
“Myst Hill? What’s that?” Conrad asked, with a mouthful of blueberry muffin.
“The show that I’m on. Myst Hill? I play Silvya Davenport? You just asked me whether or not Dr. Morian was really dead after the last episode aired last week.” I replied.
“I think I would remember if you were on a show.” Conrad said in that big brother “yeah, right” tone.
“I am. We won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in 2017.” I said.
“Uhh, no. The Handmaid’s Tale won in 2017.” Lara replied, exchanging a glance with Conrad.
I shook my head. That was impossible. I had never even heard of The Handmaid’s Tale. I clearly remember winning an Emmy that year for the show.
“You know, Bri, if you’re gonna lie you might as well make it a good lie.” Conrad snickered and Lara pretended to be busy with her salad.
I was in a bit of a shock. Were they just messing with me? That had to be it, right? They were jealous so they were ignoring my achievements. That had to be it. Two could play at that game.
“You’re right. There is no Myst Hill, I’ve been working on a lot of indie film sets. We’re trying to get into Sundance.” I said.
“Well, good luck with that.” Conrad said.
I avoided the topic of career achievements for the rest of the afternoon, until that night when I finally saw my mom. I decided to confront her about it. I didn’t appreciate my sibling making fun of my career.
“Mom, why are Lara and Conrad pretending not to know about Myst Hill?” I asked.
My mom was wiping down the kitchen counter as I sat on a stool, my elbows on the island.
“Myst Hill?” She asked.
“Yeah. The show that I’m in?” I knew that my mom rarely watched tv, and I constantly had to refresh her memory or catch her up on episodes she had missed.
“You didn’t tell me that you were on a show! That’s fantastic!” She said.
“Mom, we talk about it all the time.” I said.
“Bri, I haven’t talked to you in months. Ever since you took the acting job two years ago you took longer and longer to return my calls.”
I stared at her.
“Mom, we spoke last night.” I said.
My mom pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and looked through it.
“No, we didn’t, Bri. The last time we spoke was over a month ago.” She turned her phone around, showing me her call logs.
I pulled my phone out as well and looked through, opening my text messages. But they had all been deleted.
“What the hell?” I whispered.
“What is it?” She asked.
“Nothing, never mind.” I replied.
I’ve tried searching Myst Hill but nothing comes up. I’ve searched all of the actors on the shows, but Myst Hill isn’t listed in the TV Shows that they’ve been in.
So what the hell have I been doing for the past two years?
I was in Phoenix for the last four days visiting family. I had tried to avoid talking about Myst Hill for the rest of the visit, but I was still racking my brain trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I looked through my phone on the plane ride back to California, scrolling through the pictures of me and the cast on set, on the red carpet, at the Grammy’s, and at the Teen Choice Awards. If this was some sort of set up, it sure was elaborate as hell. How could all of these things be fake? All my friendships with these huge celebs, and all of these memories that I had of them; how could they all be fake?
I had decided against using these photos as proof; my family would only ridicule me more and accuse me of Photoshop or something. But I had the proof, it was in the pictures. Me sitting in my chair that read “Silvya Davenport- Myst Hill” In bold black letters, like the show’s intro. So what was going on? It was driving me crazy.
I went straight home after I arrive in Cali. I was recognized by a few fans at the airport and took a few pictures with them as I thought to myself could all of this really be a scam? When I got home I took a hot shower and scrolled through all of my emails.
I was wanted on set tomorrow to film my character’s comeback, and my hair stylist had booked me an appointment for early in the morning in order to change my hair up a bit for the show. It was driving me crazy to think that all of this could be fake. But how? How would they get that many people to play along? It was insane.
I was lying in bed, driving myself crazy over this when a text came in. I glanced at my phone screen, thinking it was probably a text from Myrina, my stylist, making sure I had seen her email, but it was from my brother Conrad.
CONRAD: So are you going to tell me what really happened to Silvya? I can’t wait another two weeks for a new episode!!! 🙂
I stared at the message. What was this? Why would Conrad pretend not to know about my show while I was visiting, but all of a sudden act like his denial never happened?
ME: I thought you didn’t believe I was on the show? ;P
I stared at the little dots at the bottom of the screen, waiting for his reply.
CONRAD: Are you kidding? I’m Myst Hill’s #1 fan!!!!
So it had been a joke. My family thought it would be fun to mess with me. Of course, I was the youngest, they had been playing pranks on me my whole life. Why would this be any different? I didn’t reply to Conrad, and instead fell asleep.
My alarm woke me up at 5:15 am this morning, and I walked around my house half asleep, gathering my purse, my coffee, my phone, and some other stuff that I liked to have with me on set. I made it to my hair appointment at 5:50, and Myrina got started right away. My character was coming back with short hair and bangs. I sat in the chair, scrolling through my phone as I waiting for her to finish up my bangs.
BRI WESTBREY SPOTTED AT LAX, TAKING PICTURES WITH FANS AFTER HER TRIP
WILL SILVYA DAVENPORT BE MAKING HER RETURN ON THE NEXT EPISODE OF MYST HILL? BRI WESTBREY’S ARRIVAL TELLS US THERE MAY BE HOPE FOR THIS BELOVED CHARACTER.
BRI WESTBREY SPORTING A CUTE BUT COMFY OUTFIT AT AIRPORT
I scrolled through the articles, pushing back the idea of this being a scam. This was way too intricate. My family had to be kidding, right?
I got to the set of Myst Hill at around 8 am, and was greeted by one of my cast members, Emily Gray.
“Hey, nice to have you back!” She said as she gave me a hug.
I was always a bit taken aback when I hear Emily speak; she was British but played an American character, and her accent always caught me off guard since I was so used to her speaking with an American accent.
Emily was a very well-known actress, who became famous because she was one of the main characters in a very popular film franchise from a few years back.
“So did you enjoy your holiday?” She asked.
“Yeah, except my family acted like The Myst didn’t even exist.” I said, rolling my eyes.
Emily stared at me for a bit before she started laughing as well.
“Do they always mess with you like that?” She asked.
“Well I hadn’t seen them in a while, but my brother texted me last night wanting to know spoilers about the show, so I knew they were just messing around with me while I was there.” I replied.
Emily nodded, staring at me weirdly; like she was suspicious of something.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” She shook her head, “I just think it’s odd that your family would do that.” She replied.
“They used to do it all the time,” I shrugged.
“Hey Bri! Wardrobe needs you!”
One of the costume designers said as he walked by, dragging a box behind him.
“I gotta go, see ya!” I waved to Emily as I made my way to my dressing room.
Donovan Jones was there, looking through a rack of clothes in front of him.
“Hey, Don.” I said.
“Hey, Bri!” He pulled out a jean jacket and threw it onto a nearby chair that already had a pair of jeans and a shirt on it.
“Put that on.” he said.
I grabbed the clothes and stepped behind the divider to change.
“Hey, Bri?” Don called from the other side.
“Yeah?” I asked, pulling the shirt on.
“I uh, I heard that you’re telling people about how your family doesn’t remember the show.” He said.
“Oh yeah, they were messing around and acting like it didn’t exist.” I said, stepping out from behind the divider as I pulled the jacket on.
“Listen, I shouldn’t be telling you this, but you need to stop bringing that up.” He said.
He handed me a pair of socks and boots.
“Why?” I asked, taking them.
He leaned in close to me, his face serious.
“Just listen to me, okay? Stop telling people that your family doesn’t remember the show. Don’t talk about that. If anyone else brings it up, simply tell them it was a joke that your family likes to pull on you, okay? Please promise me that you’ll stop talking about it.” He whispered.
I started at him, trying to see if he was joking too, but he wasn’t. He was being serious, and he looked scared.
“Alright.” I said.
He nodded and exited the room.
I sat down on a chair and pulled the socks and boots on.
“Hey, William wanted me to give you the script for next season.”
I looked up to see one of the writers on the show hand me a script.
“Thanks!” I said.
I scanned through the script and stopped as caught sight of the second page. It wasn’t typed, but it was written out in William’s handwriting.
I scanned through the page, and then got up, walking around the set until I found William.
“Hey, what is this? I have to stay hidden from the public for a month? I can’t contact my family?” I asked him.
William turned around.
“Yeah, your character has to go through some major changes and if people saw you, then the secret would be ruined.” He said.
“But why? I thought she was making a comeback?” I asked.
“What can I say? Anything can happen in Myst Hill.”
I have a really uneasy feeling about this. I just can’t shake the feeling that something weird is going on, and I almost don’t want to know the answer to this, but do any of you know about Myst Hill? Does anyone know about this show at all?
The Season Two finale of Myst Hill aired yesterday, and the whole cast and crew met up to watch it together, as we usually do with finales. As we sat in the theater, I couldn’t help but notice the fact that some people were acting a bit weird.
Everyone was being overly nice to me all of a sudden, and my guess was that it had something to do with my absence from the public for the entire first half of season three. In a few more days, my character’s process was about to begin, which meant I would have to stay in a hotel with security over the next few months. I wouldn’t even be allowed to see any of my cast members until everything was ready for Silvya to make yet another return to Myst Hill.
I also started to remember a similar thing happening to some of the other actors on set. Lee Palmer, who played Dr. Morian had taken a similar leave a few months ago and there were rumors that he was coming back, although nothing had been official yet. Piper Mason, who played a recurring character named Stacy Barnes had also taken this same leave during the entire second season, and she was apparently going to make a comeback in season three because I could see her from across the room. They only thing that struck me as odd, however, was the fact that they had changed nothing about her appearance, despite the fact that they claimed that was what the leave of absence was for.
I spent the rest of the time getting goodbye hugs from a lot of my cast members, my makeup artist, and some of the stylists on the show. When I was on my way out, I ran into Piper and decided to ask her some questions.
“Hey, Piper! It’s nice to see that you’re back again.” I said
Piper smiled when she saw me and hugged me.
“It’s great to be back. Man, I missed this place so much, and all these people. I can’t wait.” She said, still smiling.
“Yeah, I’m taking a leave for a while too. I’m a bit worried about not being able to communicate with anyone though. How did you manage that? I don’t think I could go months without contacting my family.” I said.
Piper’s expression changed from happy to confused.
“Your what?” She asked.
“My family…?” I repeated.
Piper’s face only got more confused as she muttered “family?” to herself.
“Piper?” I asked, getting her attention once again.
She appeared to have snapped out of her trance and shook her head as if trying to get something out of her mind.
“Yeah, it was nice seeing you. Listen, I’ve gotta go. Good luck with your leave and everything. I hope you make it.” She said as she rapidly walked out of the building.
I stood there, confused and shocked. What had that been about?
After a few minutes, I walked out as well, making my way towards my car, which was parked in the middle of the lot, waiting for me. As I made my way down the parking lot, I heard someone call my name and turned around to see Donovan jogging towards me.
“Bri! Wait!” He called.
I stopped and waited for him to catch up. He paused for a bit to catch his breath.
“What is it?” I asked.
“You have to leave, now.” He replied.
“I am, my driver is right over there.” I replied, pointing to the car.
Donovan shook his head.
“No, you can’t go with him. You need to come with me. Right now. I can’t explain here but something is happening, okay? You can’t trust anyone, not even your driver, not even Piper.” He said.
“Piper?” I asked.
“Did she tell you anything? Give you anything?” He asked.
I shook my head no.
“No, she just told me that she was excited to be back.” I said.
“Alright. Give me your purse, and your phone, so they can’t track you. I’m getting you out, alright?”
“Don, you’re scaring me.” I replied.
“I’ll explain everything on the way, alright. Right now we need to go. Now.” He looked at something behind me and grabbed my arm, pulling me along with him.”
I turned around to see a man, who was not my driver, jump out of the car.
“Miss Westbrey! Come back here!” The man called.
I followed Donovan, as we ran into the back of a van that sped off as soon as we were inside.
I sat there, trying to catch my breath.
“Where are we going?” I asked Donovan.
When he didn’t reply I knew I had made a mistake. Donovan had been playing me.
“Donovan?” I asked.
I saw him exchange glances with the driver.
“Sorry, Bri, you really need to take this leave. You’re starting to slip away from us. Don’t you like it here, in Myst Hill?” He asked.
I stared at him, then seeing a blur of streetlights behind him, out the window and we drove off to God knows where.
“Of course I like it here. I love this show, I love the cast.” I said.
“This isn’t about the show, Bri.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“You’re slipping away. And your contract isn’t over for another three years.” He said.
“You’re not making any sense.” I replied.
He didn’t say anything for the rest of the drive. We stopped behind a building that I assumed was the hotel. Donovan dragged me behind him through dark passages, into the basement. There appeared to be rooms down there, it was a maze of long hallways and fluorescent lights. We took a few turns and I tried to watch for anything that might lead me back, but there weren’t even numbers on the doors of the rooms. We stopped outside one of the doors, where two security guards were waiting. They opened the door and Donovan pushed me inside.
“See you in a few months, Bri. I hope you’ll be excited to return to Myst Hill.”
The door shut behind me as I stood there, with my hands in the pockets of my coats, my left hand wrapped around the cellphone that Piper had slipped into my pocket earlier.
There was nothing on the phone, no numbers, no contacts, no pictures. But it somehow had internet access, so that was a plus. I started typing this up last night, sitting by the door so that I could hear if anyone was coming towards the room; but no one did.
I put it into my bra while I slept; I wasn’t able to stay awake for long. When I woke up this morning there was a tray of food on the dresser next to the bed. I sat up and looked around the room.
There was a bed (a queen sized one with high-quality sheets), a small dresser on either side, a box of tissues, a sink, a toilet, a shower, and a television on the far wall. It didn’t appear to have any buttons, so I wasn’t able to turn it on.
I picked at the food a bit, finally deciding to at least drink the water and eat the toast.
Then I sat down by the door again, taking out the phone in order to see if I could get in contact with anyone. But who? Probably Piper, but I didn’t have anyone’s numbers memorized and I didn’t want to log into any of my social media accounts, in case they were being monitored.
I did come across some news, however. I’m not sure if any of you are aware of this, but apparently, Piper Mason had been in a car accident last night and was now in a coma. My mind immediately thought that someone was behind that. She had just come back to set, and now, after speaking to me, she was in a coma?
I figured Donovan had something to do with all of this, which is probably why he pretended to warn me the other day.
I don’t know how much more info I can give. I don’t want to get caught with the phone. If I do, then I will have no form of communication at all.
A nurse came into my room about an hour ago to let me know that my “treatment” would start tomorrow. I don’t know what she could possibly be referring to. I thought they were going to make me change my hair, or gain some weight for my comeback next season. So what’s all this about a treatment.
Has anyone heard anything about Myst Hill recently? Those of you who are aware of it, at least. Has there been any other news that I haven’t heard about? I don’t want to spend too much time on this phone, the battery life seems to be good, but it still won’t last forever. I don’t know what’s going on here, but it can’t be good. I’m starting to think that Myst Hill is more than just a show.
The first time I saw Bret, I was nineteen. I’d found a job working security at Dave’s Storage Unit. My duties included keeping vagrants and thieves from disturbing the 40 rental units that were laid out in five neat rows in the middle of downtown Atlanta and helping customers with lost combinations for their locks. It wasn’t the safest part of town to be working night shift, but it seemed to be easy work and the hours meshed nicely with my class schedule at the community college. I trained two shifts on days, and then showed up that Thursday at 10 p.m. for my first shift alone. Or so I thought.
I arrived ten minutes early. A guy in a Fall Out Boy t-shirt sat at one desk playing Solitaire and a girl with long blond hair had her feet propped on the other, with a ball cap pulled down covering her face.
“Hi,” I said, when he looked up. “I’m Jason. New guy.”
“I’m Tom, ” he said, and started shoving stuff into a backpack. “Quiet day so far. Good luck. The crazies come out at night.”
The girl lowered her hat and stared at me. She was the kind of beautiful that just stops a guy in his tracks. Big green eyes, full lips, flawless skin … I realized I was staring and mumbled a ‘Hi,’ in her direction. Her eyes widened and she tipped her head in greeting.
Tom looked up at me, eyebrows raised. “Yeah…so, all the keys are in the top drawer of that filing cabinet, along with a master list of the combination locks. Don’t give anyone access unless they show two forms of I.D. and you make a copy of it. They’ll fire your ass if you’re not a stickler about that. And it has to be the person with their name on the contract, not a girlfriend, not a wifey. Some guy almost got canned because he let a wife in and she left with his whole stamp collection in the middle of a divorce.”
“It was him,” the girl said, and pointed at Tom. He ignored her, already heading toward the door.
“See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya,” he said. “Night shift sucks.”
The girl flipped him a bird and I laughed. Tom shot me a look I couldn’t decipher, but then he gave a half-hearted wave and shut the door behind him.
I looked at the row of monitors and then back at the girl. She hadn’t taken her eyes off me and I felt awkward and flushed under her gaze.
“I’m Jason,” I said again, and immediately felt like an idiot.
“Bret,” she said, and leaned back in the chair. “Nice to have someone to talk to in this joint.”
“What about Tom?” I asked, sitting in the seat he’d vacated. She shook her head. “He’s a tool.”
“So… are you second shift or third? I thought I was working alone.”
She shrugged. “Wherever they need me.”
I guessed they called her in to keep an eye on the new guy, and she didn’t want to say she was supposed to babysit me. It was funny, because she seemed standoffish at first, but she was a talker and I loved to listen to her. By four a.m. it felt like I had known her forever, just one of those instant clicks and maybe even more so by the types of conversation people tend to have at those hours. We talked everything from childhood to politics. I think I was already falling a little in love with her.
She saw me stretch and said, “You want to go outside? We can do a walk around.”
A cool breeze blew, but she didn’t seem to notice. I couldn’t stop sneaking glances at her as we walked. Faded jeans, scuffed boots, black t-shirt and a camo jacket. I probably had close to the same outfit in my closet, but on her, even the ordinary seemed beautiful.
We walked the length of the first row and started down the second when she stopped and touched a bright yellow dandelion sprouting up through a crack in the sidewalk with the toe of her boot. “Those are my favorite flowers.”
I laughed. “Those are weeds.”
She smiled. “Those aren’t weeds. They’re wishes. Haven’t you ever blown on one and made a wish? And even when they’re yellow–that’s my favorite color. They’re such happy, hopeful little things.”
That made me smile, too. I’d never thought of them in that way. So many girls I knew seemed hung up on materialistic things, and Bret could find beauty in even this small flower. I was captivated.
When we made it to the fourth row, she stopped. Her face pinched into a grim expression as she said, “I don’t walk down this row.”
“Why?” I asked, taken aback by the look in her eyes.
“Number 27. It gives me the creeps.”
It was the third bay door, and it looked exactly like the first two. I didn’t understand, but I wanted her to smile again. “Then we skip this row.”
We finished walking the last row. A drink machine stood at the end of it and I asked her if she wanted one. She shook her head as I fed quarters into the slot.
A payphone I hadn’t noticed rang shrilly, making me jump. I laughed at myself and glanced at her. Bret’s expression wiped away my smile. She looked terrified.
“Don’t answer it!” she shouted. “Don’t ever answer it!”
I gaped at her, not understanding. “I don’t–I won’t–what’s wrong?”
She didn’t answer. She started walking briskly back toward the office. I chased after her, my change and soft drink forgotten.
“That phone rings every morning at 4:17,” she said, as I opened the door for her. “When you answer it sounds like dead air, or there’s some sort of hissing noise. It gives me the creeps.”
“Probably some automated thing. Wrong number or something, but it’s set on an auto-program.”
She looked at me and said, “Do you believe in ghosts, Jason?”
“You think a ghost is calling?”
“Don’t make fun of me!’” she snapped.
“I’m sorry.” I held up my hands in a gesture of surrender. “Do I believe in ghosts? Well, I haven’t ever seen one–”
She made a scoffing noise, and I said, “–but I won’t rule them out. My grandmother believed in ghosts. She said she had ‘the sight’ and swore that some people in our family could see them. Some had the gift of precognition, too. She was a very smart, reasonable lady.”
Mollified, Bret sat at the desk. “So, do you think everyone becomes a ghost when they die? Or do some move on to someplace else? Why would people be stuck here?”
I shrugged. “Unfinished business? Violent death? I don’t know. What do you think?”
She took a moment before responding. “Maybe the unfinished business. Maybe…maybe there just is nothing else.”
The easy vibe of our earlier conversation disappeared. She seemed anxious. Stressed. No matter what I tried to talk about, she seemed distracted. When Abe, the old guy on first shift appeared to relieve us, she walked out the door without saying goodbye. I bid a hasty good morning to him and ran to catch up.
I almost lost her, but I spied her head as she got on the train. It’d been a long time since I had a MARTA pass, so I had to dig for the $2.50 fare. She frowned when I sat next to her in the back, and I realized I probably looked like creepy stalker guy. Too late now, but I didn’t want her to be upset with me. I really liked this girl.
“What are you doing?” she asked, and I wanted to run, but the train lurched forward.
“I feel like I upset you and I’m sorry.”
She looked at an elderly lady in the next row, who was staring at us. Bret shook her head, like it was okay, but the lady got up and moved toward the front.
“It’s not you,” Bret said. “But I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Let’s talk about dandelions then,” I said. “They’re my new favorite flower. Like you, pretty and magical.”
As corny as that was, she laughed, and our conversation slipped back into the same easiness it had before that payphone rang last night. At least, until the next stop.
A lumbering bald man with beady dark eyes got on and took a seat a couple of rows in front of us. I saw Bret stiffen, though he didn’t pay much attention to us at all. His gaze fixed on a pretty Latina who sat in the middle, playing on her smartphone.
The rest of the ride, Bret never took her eyes off the man. He wasn’t pleasant to look at, but I didn’t understand her terror.
“This is my stop,” she said, and stood. The dark-haired girl also stood.
“Bret,” I said. “Uh, where are we? I need to get back to my motorcycle.”
She laughed then, the tension evaporating from her face. “You crazy boy. It will circle back around in about 6 more stops. I’ll see you tonight.”
She waved and walked forward, giving the man a wide berth. For a moment, he looked like he was about to get behind them, and I was prepared to do so as well, so she’d feel safe, but he just sat there.
Bret was already there when I arrived that night. She laughed when she saw the small bouquet of dandelions in my hand. Tom’s eyebrows shot up. He opened his mouth, then closed it again. He left in record time.
“I don’t think that guy likes me,” I said.
She waved her hand dismissively as I put the dandelions in water. “He doesn’t like anyone. And thank you for the flowers. They’re lovely.”
So are you, I thought, but I didn’t have the courage to say it yet.
I wasn’t about to bring up the guy on the train. I hated that tense, scared look she’d worn this morning. But to my surprise, she did.
“That man is evil,” she said. “Please don’t ask me to explain how I know. I’m afraid he means to hurt that girl and I don’t know how to stop him.”
My stomach dropped. “Bret…did he hurt you? We need to call the cops.”
She hesitated long enough to make me think he had, but she said, “No. I don’t know. I can’t remember things, and I’m scared to remember things. The phone makes me think of something but I push it back. Anyway, it’s not about me now. It’s about that girl.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s talk about it later. I don’t want to think about it right now.”
“I looked up dandelions between classes today,” I said. “People in the 1800s used to blow on them after they went to seed. If all the seeds blew away, the object of your affection shared your feelings.” I shook my head and gave her a pointed look. “You may not know it yet, but I think you’re in love with me.”
She laughed, long and hard and I grinned, pleased to see her happy again. Then her face got sad. “I wish I’d met you before, Jason.”
“What’s wrong with now?” I asked, with uncharacteristic bravery. “You’re not married, are you?”
She shook her head. “No, but I’m not what you think I am. There are a lot of bad things, Jason. I don’t want to explain, because I really like you.”
“You’re a beautiful girl with a weird taste in flowers. Think of all the money I’d save on Valentine’s Day if you were my girlfriend.”
She laughed again. “Just keep talking to me. I hardly talk to anyone anymore, and you’re so funny. Tell me about the motorcycle. I’m glad you made it back to it.”
“I actually didn’t come back to it this morning,” I admitted with a laugh. “I got off the train and took an Uber to my place, then hitched a ride to school. Took the train back to work tonight. I was kinda hoping I’d see you.” I had seen the creepy guy, but I didn’t tell her that. “Come outside and I’ll show it to you.”
She walked around it, trailing her fingers on the gleaming blue paint. “It’s pretty,” she said, “but I don’t like these things. They’ll get you killed.”
“I was hoping I could take you on a ride on it some time.”
She gave me a glance that looked like a definite ‘no’, but said, “We’ll see.”
Everything was fine until the phone began to ring at 4:17 a.m. I watched her face get that same terrified look and wondered what in the world had happened to her, and if it connected somehow to the creepy guy.
Around time for the day shift guy to come on, she mentioned the guy on the train again. “I don’t know why, but I have the feeling he’s going to do something to her, soon. I hate to ask, because I know you need sleep and go to class, but … would you ride the train with me again?”
“Of course,” I said.
Abe appeared at six on the dot. “Good morning, Sunshine!” he said, dropping his backpack onto a chair.
“Good morning, Abe,” Bret said. To me, she said, “I love that old guy.”
I chatted with him for a moment. Bret moved to the door and I said goodbye to Abe, intent on following her, when he called out, “Hey!”
His old face was pale when I glanced back. He pointed a shaky finger at the Styrofoam cup filled with dandelions. “Where did these come from?”
The look on his face spooked me. I wasn’t sure what was happening.
“I–I picked them for Bret.”
The old man face went slack with shock. “You know Bret? You’ve seen her?”
“Wha–” I whirled to look at her. She held out her hands in supplication. Tears streamed down her face. For the first time, I noticed she had on the same outfit as she had yesterday.
“I’m sorry, Jason. I didn’t–I didn’t know what to say.” “Jason?” Abe asked, louder. “I said, have you seen Bret?”
I couldn’t tear my gaze from her.
“Apparently, your grandma wasn’t the only one who had the gift,” she said, and walked through the door. When I say, walked through the door, I mean right through it. A freaking solid metal, closed door. I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak.
Finally, I half-fell onto one of the chairs. I heard Abe talking, but it was like he was speaking through a tunnel. It seemed like forever before I could focus on him.
There was nothing I could say that wouldn’t sound insane, so I didn’t bother to sugarcoat. I said, “You didn’t see her, just now, when you came in here?”
He shook his head, his rheumy eyes huge.
I told him about working with her, about some of the things she’d said. Even about the weird ringing phone. When I finished, he just stared at me.
“To be honest, I don’t know whether to believe you right now, or to call the cops,” he said.
I nodded. It was a fair statement. I don’t know what I’d think, in his shoes. “She said you used to be a cop, before your wife got sick.” I looked up at him. “She said you’re the reason she loves dandelions. You told her about how your wife loved them, and how you decorated her hospital room with them before she died. Bret said it was the most romantic thing she’d ever heard.”
Abe sat heavily in the chair. “I did tell her that. Can I ask you to describe her for me?”
I did, down to her scuffed boots, and he nodded. Then he reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a picture of her. It was Bret, alright, but on a MISSING poster. The clothing described as the last outfit she was seen wearing was what I’d seen her in.
“She went missing from her shift here, six months ago. I showed up and this place was wide open. There was a great deal of blood out by that payphone. The police never had any leads.”
I gestured at the row of monitors. One showed the drink machine and phone. “What about the cameras?”
“Installed after the fact. Because of her. Too little, too damn late.” He leaned forward, giving me a hard stare. “I loved that little girl. She was like a daughter to me. I’ve brought her dandelions myself. I have never believed in ghosts, but I saw your face this morning. I believe that you saw her, or you’re some kind of nut and think you saw her. But I don’t know how you know some of the things you know if that were the case. Bret and I worked together some, before we lost personnel and she got bumped to nights. I think she would’ve mentioned you, and I only told her the dandelion story right before she went missing. You could be the nut who took her, but I don’t think so. I can’t imagine why she’d share something like that with a person who would hurt her. If you see her again, ask her how much a mail order bride costs.”
“What?” I felt like I’d fallen back down the rabbit hole again. Nothing made sense. I wondered if I was dreaming.
“Just do it,” Abe said. “Now go home. You look like shit.”
Only when I stumbled to the parking lot did I remember my promise to ride the train with her. I thought about Bret and the Latina girl. In fact, I skipped class and lay in my bed and thought about them all day.
When I got to work that night, Tom was the only one there. Even though I still felt punch drunk and scared, I had hoped Bret would be sitting there. Abe apparently hadn’t told Tom about any of it, because he treated me with the same dismissiveness as always. It was weird to look back and realize he and Bret had never really spoken or interacted at all. I hadn’t had a clue.
By 4 a.m. I was getting a little stir crazy, so I jumped up to walk around the storage buildings. I turned the corner of the last one and walked straight through Bret.
I screamed like a little girl. She giggled a little, and clamped her hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry. Jason–”
“Are you real?” I demanded. “Am I crazy?”
“I think I’m real,” she said. “At least, I was. I know it sounds like I’m lying, but I don’t remember much.” She nodded at the payphone. “I remember this phone and it ringing. I think he used that to catch me off-guard. I answered it and he hit me with something. I think–” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “I think he’s about to kill that girl on the train. Maybe I’m supposed to help her.”
Abruptly, she swung her fist at my arm and it passed right through. I yelped.
“Stop doing that!”
Despite everything, she laughed. “I was just checking. I don’t know how I’m supposed to stop him when he can’t see me and I can’t touch him.” She winked. “On the bright side, I bet you look crazy as hell on the security cameras right now.”
I scowled at her, then something occurred to me. I glanced at my phone. 4:20 a.m. “Hey, the phone didn’t ring.”
She shot it a scared look. “What does that mean? Are we on the right track, or are we running out of time?”
I had no answer.
The next morning when Abe came in, he gave me a wary look and said, “Is she here now?”
I nodded and pointed at the chair she was sitting on. “Bret, how much does a mail order bride cost?”
She laughed. “Tell him I said, ‘Ask Ernie.’”
I told him and his dark eyes teared up.
“Bret, what happened to you?” he asked.
“She doesn’t remember but we are trying to figure it out,” I said.
“Tell him Maggie still visits him. I’ve seen her around him. She’s got a little girl she calls Bumblebee with her.”
I told him and he burst into tears. When he could finally speak, his voice was a gasp. “There’s not a soul alive who knows that. Bumblebee was our daughter. She died back in 1974. I’ve never talked about her since.”
“Jason, the train,” she said, and I told Abe we had to go.
“Godspeed, son,” he said.
When we got on the train, the girl was already there. The bald man got on the same stop he had previously. His attention was once again fixed on her, but hers was once again fixed on her phone.
I had no weapon and this guy was twice my size, but when I thought about him hurting Bret, or this stranger, I think I could’ve taken him down with pure adrenaline. We were about to find out, anyway, because this time when she stood, he stood too.
It was still early, not a lot of folks out yet. We followed him, following her, trying to stay ducked out of sight.
She paused outside a storefront and fumbled in her purse for her keys. That was the distraction he was waiting on. He charged her like a bull.
It was terrifying, how quickly he seized her and dragged her into an alleyway. I ran blindly into the alley behind them. He had her pinned against the wall, his meaty hand around her throat.
“Hey!” I screamed. “Hey! Let her go!”
She still had her keys in her hand. While he gaped at me, she swung at his head with a vicious arc. She missed his eye, but the key dug into his cheek. The girl gave it a savage yank, opening up his face.
With a bellow of pure rage, he dropped her and grabbed his ruined cheek. Blood spurted between his fingers and he ran straight at me. I made a desperate lunge for his legs, but he barreled past me–straight into the pathway of a Meko’s Milk truck.
I’d hear the sound of that impact in my head for the rest of my life. A thudding, cracking, squelching sound. But I was glad. He’d never hurt another girl again.
Bret was gone. I missed her terribly and hoped every day she’d reappear. I realized that was selfish and then I just hoped she was at peace. There was no grave to visit, so sometimes I’d gather little bouquets of dandelions and place them at the office, or at my apartment. Such happy, hopeful little things …
Four months after the incident with Edward Culpepper (that was his name–I’d followed the story avidly in the papers), I was getting a little overtime, helping Abe go through the stack of delinquent customers.
“Looks like we’ll be cleaning out units #27 and #38,” he said. “Non-payment of rental fees.” He tossed the copies of their agreements on the desk in front of me and I froze. Edward Culpepper’s face stared up at me from the photocopy of his driver’s license. Renter of unit #27.
Abe noticed my face and said, “Jason? Are you okay?”
“That’s him,” I said. “That’s the guy who killed Bret.”
I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before then. Her strange fear of that unit. Now it made sense. I told Abe and that old man moved faster than I did as we grabbed the combination for that lock.
It took us awhile, because the until was completely filled with old furniture and boxes of junk, but towards the back, we found a metal barrel. On the ground beside it lay Bret’s army jacket.
Abe grabbed my arm. “We are not opening that. We are calling the cops right now, do you understand me?”
I let him pull me outside, because I didn’t want to see her like that, either.
Bret’s body was finally laid to rest. With her mother’s permission (and notice to the caretaker so he wouldn’t try to kill them), Abe and I did some gardening work on her grave that next spring. Yellow dandelions covered it, looking as beautiful and sunny as the girl they memorialized. I think she would be pleased.
Five or six years passed. I graduated college, got a real job, fell in and out of love a couple of times, but I never really stopped thinking of her. Every time I saw a white dandelion, I picked it and made a wish. When I was in the area, I visited her grave and made sure she still had her cheery little offerings.
One day, I was riding my motorcycle up near Nashville, enjoying a sunny summer day. I guess the driver of the Camaro didn’t see me when he swerved around a semi to change lanes.
I flew through the air and fell back down, hitting the ground with a bone-jarring thud. I lay there, conscious of sounds and light, but I couldn’t move at all. I couldn’t feel anything either, except for the heat of the sun on my face.
I was disoriented, but I guessed I was in the median. Lying on grass, for sure, because there was a round, white dandelion inches from my nose. Blackness seeped at the edges of my peripheral vision. I couldn’t blow on it, but I made a wish anyway, then passed out.
When I came to, I still couldn’t move, but I felt a little more. Specifically, I felt someone nudging my side. I looked up to see Bret prodding me with the toe of her boot.
“You gonna lie there all day?” she asked, and extended her hand.
Surprisingly, my hand rose to grab hers and didn’t pass through. She felt solid. Real. I wondered if I was in the hospital and this was some anesthesia-induced delirium. But the sun felt real enough. I even smelled burned rubber. I let her help me up, and I stood there for a moment, swaying. I saw my bike some yards away, crushed.
“Ugh,” I said. “Maybe I shouldn’t move too much before the paramedics get here.”
She winced. “Yeah, about that…” She pointed to the ground beside me.
It was surreal to see my broken body lying there, staring sightlessly up at the sky.
“Oh,” I said. “Ouch.”
She shook her head. “I told you those things would kill you.”
“So … now what?” I asked. “Is there a bright light we walk towards or what?”
“You’re so calm. I like that about you.” She shrugged. “If there’s something we’re supposed to be walking toward, I haven’t found it yet. Maybe it’s just me and you.”
“Maybe it’s my wish,” I said, and she raised an eyebrow.
“I made a wish right before I passed out—died, whatever.”
She scrunched up her nose. “Oh, yeah? Is that why I’m here? What was the wish?”
“Just one I’ve wished a thousand times now. You’re really bad about responding to your ghost messages.”
I took her hands and made her face me. “Sorry. Still getting the hang of this business.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Such a rookie. But tell me, what was your wish?”
“What I always wish–that I could see you again someday, and do this,” I said, and kissed her.
I’m not sure how long we stood like that, kissing and holding each other while sirens screamed and traffic whizzed by on the other side of the median.
Eventually, we started walking. I didn’t know where we were going. Didn’t care. All I knew was that I was with her.
“So,” I said. “Who’s Ernie and what’s this about a mail order bride?”
Before she could tell me, a terrible cramp seized my body and I felt myself being tugged backwards. Brett frowned, her green eyes suddenly sad.
“It’s not your time,” she said. “Stop fighting it.”
I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to stay with her.
But the tugging became a vacuum until I had no choice I went hurtling backwards.
I blinked and saw an ambulance worker standing over me.
“There you are,” he said as he popped up the stretcher I was somehow on.
They loaded me onto the helicopter. I saw Brett standing over his shoulder. She held a dandelion in her hand.
“It’s okay, Jason,” she said. “Some things are worth waiting for.”
This is only happening because of what we did. I regret it, but not because of the consequences. I regret it because I could have been good; I should have been kind. I think we deserve this.
Think of it like Carrie — you remember that movie? Except not. Not at all. We weren’t the popular kids trying to humiliate Gilbert in front of everybody. What we were doing was a coping mechanism — everyone does it, but that’s never made it okay. Why things ended up working out differently for us than the way they work out for everyone else, I don’t really know. We never expected things to go the way they did, and I never expected to feel this way about it. I’ve lost a lot of sleep over it.
* * * * * *
Gilbert was a tragedy. Tragically unpopular, tragically acne-scarred and tragically named. It was almost like his parents went out of their way to ensure he’d be an outcast. You can tell yourself that, if you think it justifies it. Convince yourself that when they make it so easy to be cruel, it’s rude not to oblige. You can tell yourself they deserve it, but what they deserve is kindness and you’ll figure that bit out, except it happens a day late. High school is Darwinism is high school is Darwinism ad nauseam; we’ve convinced ourselves that popularity is all about kill or be killed. That’s a fallacy. It isn’t real. The popular football jock, he thinks he’s going to the NFL. He thinks he’s going to be rich and famous. He doesn’t know it yet, but he isn’t going anywhere. Don’t let the fact that he scored four touchdowns in a single game distract you: he’s going to grow up to manage a gas station or become a clerk in a women’s shoe store — not the glamorous bullshit his ego’s been feeding him. Popularity doesn’t matter after high school. Popularity doesn’t matter if you’re dead. Just ask Kevin or Richie — except you can’t. Not anymore.
The worst part is, we all bought into it, me, Kevin and Richie. We weren’t popular. We weren’t going to become popular because we did it; we were just deflecting some of our own torment onto a kid that was weaker than we were because he was an easy target. We could have just kept our heads down and ignored dickbags like Deen and his brown-nose, buttfuck goons … but transference was easier than the alternative… The first law of thermodynamics says that matter cannot be created or destroyed, it simply changes form. We learned it in physics. It applies to things other than matter too, when you think about it. The worst part was, even though the logic of it checked out, it didn’t make the three of us carry any smaller targets. The Deensquad would always find us and make life hell. We could have made a morose painting or wrote depressing poetry into journals or even talked to someone about it, but transmuting the negativity in that way was making productive use of it, so why bother? It couldn’t be destroyed so instead of harnessing it, we passed it along, gave it to Gilbert. Don’t pretend like you never did anything like it; you’re no better than me. If anything, we’re all the same. It doesn’t matter anymore; I figured it all out too late.
The easiest targets are always the insecure ones. The introverted kids with a lot of flaws. I could make a list of Gilbert’s but it wouldn’t be as long as the one that I try to keep hidden of my own … he was a quiet kid; buck-toothed and overweight and smelled like cat piss … his parents were poor. He wore the same three outfits over and over until they thinned and began to unravel entirely. Richie was the one who pointed that out. He saw the loose thread on Gilbert’s shirt. Six inches of loose stitching just beneath the right arm of the long-sleeved shirt, the one he always wore. The one with the horizontal stripes. He noticed it a week ago when Gilbert raised his hand in class. That’s when Kevin made the plan — it was the end of the day and not enough of the other kids would see. We had to be seen. We just waited until he wore the shirt again. Wednesday.
We rushed Gilbert in the hall. He walked alone with quick, quiet steps; his arms laden with books. I knocked them out of his hands. That was my job in this. He looked at me with eyes full of “whys?” When he leaned down to pick them up Richie grabbed his arms high over his head. Kevin yanked the thread until it opened up a hole in the armpit of the shirt. He stuck his finger in the hole and pulled. It only took a moment. I’ll never forget the way time seemed to stretch as the hole did as Gilbert stared up at us; struggling to comprehend our motives. Disappointed, sad shock commingled with my grinning reflection in the shadow that fell across his eyes. I watched it happen with eager excitement; the transference. Deen gave us the negativity, and we didn’t deserve it, so we payed it backwards. As Kevin pulled Gilbert’s shirt apart, we gave it away again. I began to laugh; I remember it like a bad dream, that laughter — my laughter.
Gilbert tried desperately to cover himself, to hold it together — tried to keep it from happening — but the tattered pieces of his shirt fell away revealing Gilbert’s doughy shame. “Look!” I said. My laughter echoes still in the dark places of my mind. Places that should be quiet. Places where I’ve been trying to shut it away. But every time I remember the sound of it, it grows louder and more cruel. “Gilbert has moobs!” The words echo forever and the laughter plays on loop like a sitcom.
We made Gilbert cry and it only took a moment. Just a moment and we’d ruined him. I understand that now. I wish that we hadn’t done it at all, but not so much because of the consequences we faced. I realize, horribly, that we’d reduced a person to his smaller parts … to the molecules … and scattered them to the wind.
* * * * * *
The second law of thermodynamics says that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time. We gave Gilbert the hate and the hate tore him apart. Once something flies apart, that thing is done and it can’t be undone. I wish that wasn’t true.
We found out what happened to him the next day. What we did. You could try to pin it on Deen and the Buttfucks, or Deen’s alcoholic dad, or his alcoholic dad’s alcoholic dad, but that’s just more deflection.
We did this.
We transferred that to him we could try to pass the blame all we wanted, but it made no difference. Every action has an equal and opposing reaction and the reaction to ours left a lonely kid dead.
We heard the rumors about how he killed himself, downing a nearly full bottle of his mother’s Xanax while his parents slept in the next room. I didn’t ask whether it was true. Somebody said there was a note in sloppy handwriting. Somebody said it was completely illegible at the end. They said it started out alright, and slowly devolved, probably as he drifted off. By the end, the only thing they could make sense of in the whole thing were the last two words: “Sweet dreams.”
I didn’t ask whether that was true either. There are a lot of things I didn’t ask. I only felt the guilt of destroying him permanently. I didn’t hear anything anyone said to me at school on Thursday. I was too busy remembering geometry and physics and equations and waiting for my body to collapse into oblivion; waiting to fold into myself until there was only an event horizon remaining; a pinhole where I should have had a heart, growing ever smaller into nothingness, but never quite becoming that. A human asymptote. The third law of thermodynamics says something about the temperature of closed systems and equilibrium, but I can’t remember what it means. It’s irrelevant, because the entropy isn’t gone. Everything is blurry. Everything is in constant motion; moving away. I’m too tired and afraid of what will happen next. I can only focus on one bit of information at a time, and for some reason only one thing sticks in my mind. I read somewhere that Saint Catherine of Siena says “the devil never sleeps” and tonight that’s the only knowledge that stays no matter where else I try to focus.
The devil never sleeps and he sees everything: sees alcoholism make bullies make me and Richie and Kevin make Gilbert make the devil real.
I told my mom I was sick and stayed home from school on Friday. It wasn’t a lie. I was disgusted by my part in this, to the point that my stomach was in knots. I spent the morning hovering over the toilet, emptying myself of everything but the guilt I felt. You couldn’t convince me that there wasn’t blood on my hands.
Richie called me that afternoon after school. He said Kevin looked like a ghost. He said his eyes were dark circles, he kept nodding off in class and waking up screaming. They sent him to the nurse, who sent him home. Richie said that Kevin was losing it. He kept talking about a dream. Richie told me his eyes looked like glass, wide and dark with a distant vacancy reflecting within. Richie said Kevin was looking right through him. “He was there,” Kevin said, “only it wasn’t him at all…it looked like Gilbert, but it wasn’t. It was something else … something much worse … and it was real.”
“He was completely naked, covering his tits like he did,” Kevin told Richie who in turn told me, “but he was chasing me instead of cowering. His eyes were bright balls of red light and all of his teeth were razor blades. Actual razor blades. He wanted to punish me.”
Apparently Kevin said he was afraid to sleep the night before because he knew something bad was going to happen if Gilbert ever caught up. Every time he fell asleep, the dream began again where it left off. Apparently the exhaustion had been impossible to avoid as the day went on.
Kevin was gone first because Kevin pulled the thread. They found him dead on Saturday morning, he was clutching one of Gilbert’s new teeth in his hand. A razor blade he’d used to saw open several veins and leave his sheets blood-logged, soaked and sticky.
Richie told me he’d begun having the same dreams the night before and the next night I began to have them as well.
* * * * * *
I’m in an empty place. There’s no light and as I run, I can hear Gilbert’s uncoordinated footfalls slapping the darkened ground behind me. His eyes are glowing with red revenge and as he gnashes his razored teeth, rubies spill out from his lips. The blood from them cascades down his chin as he closes in on me. I can feel his fingers rake across my flank like sharpened skewers as he grabs me and I awake.
A set of marks, red and irritated, remained on my side. Four long lines that traced their way to my back, puffy and raw. I hvaen’t slept since.
* * * * * *
They found Richie dead this morning, in the same apparent state as Kevin. My two best friends since elementary school, dead because the darkness we’d passed along had been passed right back. My mom asked me if I knew why they’d both done it; why they’d killed themselves. But I knew they hadn’t. I knew it was Gilbert. I couldn’t bear to lie, so I simply didn’t reply. I just stared right through her in that thousand yard way and hoped to disappear from the fear and the shame.
I don’t want to have those dreams. I’ve been drinking energy drinks all day. I took everything I’d been saving from my allowance and spent it all on Zappy Brand caffeine pills and as many Red Bulls as I could get, but $67 worth won’t be enuogh to keep my eyelids from falling forever. I started writing this thinking it might atone for the mistake. I started writing this to keep myself awake.
Actually, I know I said it was like Carrie, but it isn’t. It’s more like Nightmare on Elm Street — you remember that one, right? Only not. Not at all. In this scenario, the kids — us — we deserved what we’d get. It’s funny how matter is neither created nor destroyed but simply changes as you exchange it.
Apparently they fuond the same type of note at both of the scenes, mostly illegible and only two words by the end that anyone could raed. Word travels fast. I don’t know how or why. The devil never sleeps and I’m the gleam in his eye. The shadows may whisper their lullabies but I refsue to become praying prey and die. I should be okay because I haven’t seen myself write anything illegible yet, and taht’s a good sign.
Eveyrthing shuold be alright as long as I stay awake, but I dno’t think I can remian in this state indefimetely. I shuold probbly post this now jsut in csae. I think I can feel evrey part of me vibtrating and oscilltanig aruond and aruond in cirlces. The entorpy is waht I need to aviod thniking abuot … or perhpas I shuold accpet it: embarce it. Dno’t we desreve tihs atfer all? I’m jsut arfaid to do taht bceause of waht taht maens. I thnik I shuold be alirght as lnog as I aviod akcnoewledginh the shaodws at the croners of the lghit amd avdoi the temptaition to tpye the wrods: ‘sweet dreams.’
Check out two stories from author Scott Savino (plus many more) in Monstronomicon, a collection of 100 short horror stories from 70 authors, now available on Amazon.com.
Please support the author’s latest project on Kickstarter as well. Black Rainbow is an anthology collection of LGBTQIA horror stories, with tales written by LGBTQIA authors and allies, and featuring LGBTQIA themes. To pledge your support to the project, visit it on Kickstarter now.
I was pretty tight for cash, and yeah, slightly drunk too. I entered that old hotel building on a bet with my friend Tommy, for an amount of money I’m ashamed to even say.
The story goes, that back in 1958, the hotel owner, who worked day in and day out, and even resided there too, went completely insane believing he was stuck in some sort of time loop. He apparently went missing for 13 months, then his mangled body was found in the side alley of the hotel, after presumably diving out of the 26th floor stairwell window. His face was fairly disfigured from the injuries, but the coroners pictures showing his insane grin stretched fully across his face, gave all the detectives nightmares.
Since his death, there’s been countless stories of ghost sightings, poltergeist happenings and even reports that several people went missing after staying in his executive suite on the 49th floor. It became something of an urban legend, even drawing in the customers, until it eventually closed and shut its doors in 1975 after a murder/suicide investigation plummeted sales and people just stopped going.
Now, I wasn’t one to believe in all this ghostly shit or time loop bull, and perhaps the fact I was a non believer is actually the reason why I’m stuck in this mess. Emphasis on the word was, because, I’m a believer now.
“Okay, so, pretty simple, bud: enter the hotel via the stairwell fire door…”
“Which is already broken and open,”
“…Which is already broken and open, yes, thank you, climb the stairs all the way to the top, and take a selfie of yourself stood next to the 49th floor, sign, thingy… Simple.” Tommy finished with a single clap of the hands and a closed lip grin.
“That’s it. And when you get back with the photographic proof, or even a video if ya want, I’ll pay up.” He tapped the left breast pocket of his jacket indicating his wallet and money was there.
It was the middle of the night, like 2 or 3 in the morning, I’m honestly not sure, pitch black, deathly quiet and completely lifeless streets. I wasn’t scared, but lets just say basic human instinct took over (I can’t stop smiling) and I suppose I gave the impression I was scared.
“So, where, erm… where are you gonna be? I mean, like, where are you gonna wait for me while I’m climbing these million stairs and apparently warding off evil spirits?” I thought I’d managed to hide it under the humor, but Tommy saw straight through me and a smug smile began to form in the corner of his mouth.
“Hey, man, if you don’t wanna do it, or you need me to hold your hand, or want me to wait at the bottom of the stairs and keep shouting, ‘Are you okay?’ then the deal is off and no payment.” Again, he finished with a closed lip grin.
I exhaled loudly for pissed off effect, slapped Tommy on the shoulder and proudly walked across the road towards the alleyway, alone. Before being engulfed by the shadows completely, I turned to look over my shoulder at Tommy, again, human instinct I think (I can’t stop smiling), to see him attempting to keep his balance as he drunkenly slumps to the curb.
Okay, good. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.
I continued into the shadows in search of the broken fire door that leads directly into the building. Rumor has it that some teenagers jimmied the door a couple of months ago and the police, or whoever’s job it is, have never sealed it up again.
I was just getting my phone out of my pocket for a light source, when a loud and rusty creek from the right made my heart skip a beat or two.
A beam of light escaped through the narrow opening of the door. The fact that the hotel is abandoned and has absolutely no power didn’t even enter my slightly intoxicated brain at the time, I was just glad for some light. I poked my fingers through and quickly pulled the door open. The light was pure and ultra bright, it took me a moment for my eyes to adjust and stop squinting. I walked through the threshold with a smile, after all, I was expecting complete darkness.
The building didn’t seem creepy at all. Very clean and well decorated, perhaps a bit out of date but clean and smart all the same. As I ascended each platform and took note to what floor I was on, it progressively got colder, louder and slightly windy.
Must be a window open or broken somewhere.
The 26th floor was particularly cold and windy. I didn’t like that floor. I swear someone touched me on the leg as I made my way up to 27. Just the lightest of touches, but I swear I felt it.
I’ll run down those steps on the way back.
I was getting pretty tired by this point, and apart from a potential leg touching, no other signs of ghosts or demons or anything supernatural had happened, and I was feeling pretty good with myself for making easy money out of my drunken friend.
Okay, yeah, pretty out of breathe by this point, but I’d come too far to fail now. I decided to take a quick 30 second break, lean on the window sill and peer out the window in search of Tommy.
I could very clearly make him out, but the guy sat next to him seemed kind of blurry. They were in full conversation, their arms waving and flailing in the air with drunken coordination, and continuously passing a bottle back and forth… Seemed harmless enough.
“Got a new friend there Tommy boy?” It was weird to hear my own voice echo and bounce off the walls. I sucked in some more oxygen, and continued my mission.
What the fuck?
I stopped on the platform to catch my breath once more, leaning on my knees as if it would help my lungs absorb the oxygen quicker. I kept turning around and looking down the steps I had just scaled, looking up the stairwell to the steps yet to come..
“What the fuck?”
I climbed another set…48.
I stopped and shook my head to myself. Surely I was just seeing things.
I climbed another set…48.
“Okay, that’s it. Fuck this shit.”
I swiftly whipped out my phone, took a strange looking selfie of me and the brass plaque stating I was on the 48th floor, and I began descending the fuck out of there.
At least down is so much easier.
I went down 20 or 30 flights maybe, but at each and every level, the brass plaque still stated I was on the 48th floor.
I went up and down them stairs God knows how many times. I tried every single door at each level too, just in case one was left open and I could escape a different way. Not a single door opened though. They were all solidly locked; Dead-bolted, welded, cemented, who fucking knows, but them doors were not opening for anyone.
I can honestly tell you I had absolutely no idea what floor I was on when the idea of phoning Tommy finally entered my mind. I guess I should of kept count from the moment I saw the second 48th plaque, but I was far too freaked out by then to plan that part.
“YES!” My phone had full signal. I quickly tapped and flicked through my contacts until I reached Tommy’s number. I walked to the window as the phone began to ring. I could no longer see Tommy or his new found friend. The phone was ringing in my ear over and over. My eyes widened as I scanned the dark streets back and forth, back and forth. There was no sign of Tommy. No sign of anyone. The phone continued to ring as I pulled it away from my ear. The screen lit up showing me Tommy’s name and number, and the end call button. I swiped the red icon and cut off the call. That was when I realized the time and date:
What the actual fuck?!
Okay, so, firstly, my phone is saying it’s nearly half 4 in the afternoon, yet it’s still pitch black outside, and surely I haven’t been in this building for over 12 hours? And secondly, how the hell is it 2015?
By this point, I’d sat down on one of the steps, my left hand supporting my head and my phone loosely held in my right.
I wanted to call the police but feared I’d be made a fool. I thought about it over and over, then finally concluded that I’d much rather be made a fool by officers than left stranded in an abandoned hotel and stuck on a never-ending floor.
I unlocked my phones screen to dial the three magical numbers when my heart skipped a beat again. I couldn’t believe my own eyes:
I locked and unlocked the phone once more:
“Nope, fuck off…” I dropped the phone out of my hand on purpose and let it crash to the floor. I heard the inevitable smashing sound as it hit the cement, screen down and I closed my eyes with pure regret. I stood up and paced in a circle on the tiny platform between levels.
I was pretty shocked my phone was still alive, never mind receiving messages. The moment I leaned over to retrieve my half broken phone, a loud and brain shattering crash echoed throughout the stairwell. Up and down, up and down, the sound reverberated back and forth against itself, which somehow made it louder, and I instinctively covered my ears.
The sound was harrowing, terrifying and disturbing in many ways that I just can’t quite describe. It was freezing cold and whipping around my body like some sort of sound-wind.
I had to climb 22 more flights of stairs before I could no longer hear the sound and finally feel my fingers again. It was much darker up here though but I set up camp anyway. This is now my floor.
By this point, I had already lost touch with reality and had absolutely no clue to what time it was. I sat in a slump and began to cry. Basic human instinct (I can’t stop smiling).
I’d been desperately crying for a while when the lights went out.
The sudden darkness gave way to the beginning of my madness. I screamed for a very long time. I screamed and screamed and screamed. I screamed until my voice finally gave way. I imagined the inside of my throat as a chunk of raw meat that’d been rubbed with coarse sandpaper.
After my voice collapsed, I started on the walls. I didn’t want to use my hands so I kicked them instead. Over and over and over again, eventually breaking every single toe. When the adrenaline ran out and I could no longer stand, I fell into deep and agonizing pit of despair for what seemed like years.
Oh, my God… Stuck in my own madness, I’d completely forgotten about my phone.
I unlocked the phone full of hope. The light shot through my retinas like lasers and I attempted to let out a little scream, but nothing will escape my vocal chords now, so my mouth just draped open in anguish.
This time, I just smiled.
I walked into this building on 02/01/2009.
My screen was only slightly smashed so I could still use it. First, I tried calling Tommy again, but there was no dial tone and the voice that spoke was not what I expected to hear. It was low and whispering. Raspy and fast.
“Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49…”
I hung up. Smiling.
I tried calling the police.
“Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49, Take the leap to 49…” I hung up again.
My shoulders were swiftly moving up and down in accordance with my soundless laughter. It felt pretty good. Now I can’t stop silently laughing to myself.
I wanted to claw my own eyes out by this point and needed something to keep my hands occupied…so I decided to tell you all my story on here,. I thought maybe someone might get a kick out of it… Or maybe someone can even help me… I don’t know… I kind of want to take that leap if I’m honest. The thought just makes me smile. After all, it’s just basic human instinct.
* * * * * *
When my smiling face hit the floor, I thought it was finally all over.
The air felt warm as it rushed through my raw windpipe. Maybe it wasn’t warm, maybe I’d just been cold for so long. If you think you’d be able to keep your eyes open in free fall, then you’re wrong. I can tell you now it’s impossible. I can also tell you, that you will feel unbelievable agony. Is it worse than the spiral of insanity? Yes… Maybe.
Imagine the worst hangover you’ve ever had, and multiply that by a thousand. Then take a drill to your skull and repeatedly drill for 10 years. That would roughly match the immense pain of ones head smashing clean into the ground.
When the pain finally stopped and I opened my eyes, Tommy was waving the bottle of whiskey in my face.
“Hey…do you, hic, do you want any more or what?”
We were sat on the curb across the street from the hotel I’d just leapt from..
Huh?…What the fuck?
Tommy was persistently and drunkenly waving the glass bottle closer and closer to my face, until I finally grabbed it from him and pushed his drunken ass away from me.
I drank that whiskey like it was crisp and fresh water from the Swiss alps. I took in a deep breathe once I’d finished, expecting to vomit the whole thing back up again, but my stomach seemed to be handling it. Perhaps my brain told my stomach to hold it in: “Wait until the toxins at least reach me dude, then you can throw up all you want.”
My mind was running at half capacity and I could barely think. My memory was starting to become foggier by the second and I passed the bottle back to Tommy as I pretended to listen to his drunken nonsense of a story, but in reality I couldn’t hear a single word he was saying.
My eyes locked on to the person standing in the window peering out at us.
The silhouette could only just be made out. They were standing in darkness, directly in the center of the 1st floor window pane. It was unsettling feeling their eyes on us, watching us.
Tommy accidentally hits me in the face with his forever flailing arms and I bat him away once more.
“Dude! Ow! Fucking watch what you’re doing!”
“Aw, Sorry, man, but list-list-listen, I ….” I lost interest once more and returned my focus to the person in the window, that was now no longer there.
I squinted my eyes as if to zoom in on the window across the road. Nothing.
I could hear music. Tommy finally stopped talking, I guess he could hear it too. The music got louder as he pulled his phone from his jacket pocket.
“You’re, hic, you’re ringing me from, from your pocket again, dude.”
“Oh.” I patted my own jacket in search for my phone. I stood up and checked every pocket I was wearing…No phone.
Where is it?…
I pointed at the hotel building across the road and confusingly looked back at Tommy;
“Did, I…did I already go in there?”
“Huh? What?” Tommy looked more drunk than confused and I realized I wasn’t getting a competent answer from him any time soon.
“Tommy, I think you should just go home mate, you’re too drunk and in need of a bed.”
I expected him to give more a fight, he normally does when he’s this inebriated, but he instantly nodded his head in agreement and slowly began to rise to a wobbling mess of a stance, and I watched him slowly sway down the street and eventually out of sight.
As I walked into the shadows of the side alley, I fell over something metal that clanged and echoed throughout. It was a crowbar, I couldn’t see but I knew what it was. I felt around in the darkness for the door I somehow knew was there. I popped the crowbar into tiny slither between door and frame and jimmied that fire door open with one swift movement.
That was easier than I thought.
A beam of light escaped through the narrow opening of the door. I poked my fingers through and quickly pulled the door open. The light was pure and ultra bright, it took me a moment for my eyes to adjust and stop squinting…
Have I done this before?…
6…7…8… I take the steps two by two with my eyes constantly on the ground searching for my lost phone. Is it even in here?
Was I expecting to find it? No. Did I find it? Yes, in the middle of the platform of the 26th floor. The moment I leaned over to retrieve my half broken phone, a loud and brain shattering crash echoed throughout the stairwell. Up and down, up and down, the sound reverberated back and forth against itself, which somehow made it louder, and I instinctively covered my ears….Okay…that’s a really strange feeling…have I actually done this before?
I curl into a ball and sit in the corner of the platform between levels. The sound-wind whipped around my face and body as I hid from reality behind my own arms like a five year old child.
Throughout the howling, I could hear approaching footsteps increasingly getting louder; someone’s coming up the stairs.I’m still slumped in the corner but I now bravely raise my head.
My mouth fell open in disbelief as the familiar figure came into view up the stairs: It was me.
I’m surprised I moved at all, but as I/he strolled passed me completely ignoring my presence, I reached out to see if I/he was real, but I/he was moving pretty fast and I only just manged to graze my/his leg. I say graze, it felt more like I went through him…me.
Do I follow him?…Yes. No… okay, I don’t know. Wait, send him a message!
I unlocked my phone, got rid of the current Reddit page it was opened to, and typed out a message to him/myself:
GET OUT! Honestly, I didn’t know what else to put.
I heard the phones tone vibrate down through the stairs. Surely he’d message back….Will he, though? Oh, my god, I’m getting so confused.
After waiting a couple of minutes and receiving no reply, I decide to take a different approach. I had no idea what was happening, but had to do something.
I figured If I couldn’t touch him/me, then I had to at least try and get his/my attention. I still had the crow bar with me and I acted on the sudden idea before I’d fully thought it through.
I flung the crow bar over my shoulder and swung it like a baseball bat as fast and as hard as I could at the window pane of floor 26. The single pane shattered into a billion pieces, flying in all directions, including my face and open mouth.
Hundreds of tiny shards fly to the back of the throat and I began to gag and grasp for air. I swallowed hard, lining my windpipe with sparkling diamonds, and I continued to swallow over and over to take away the agonizing sting. From my shattering blow, the sound-wind returned and whisked up and down through the stairwell once more.
I could now hear crying and whimpering in the distance….upstairs? Was it him?
He’d been desperately crying for a while when the lights went out.
The sudden darkness gave way to the beginning of his screams. He screamed for a very long time. He screamed, and screamed, and screamed. I covered my ears but it helped nothing.
After he finally stopped screaming, I guess his voice gave in, I could hear him hitting the walls; Kicking or punching them over and over and over again. After what seemed like an eternity, the pounding finally stopped, and the atmosphere fell into a deep and agonizing pit of despair for what seemed like years.
I thought I’d try messaging him again. I sent the same message, and I heard the same ba-ding as before, but I still never received a reply.
As I waited, I decided to go through my phone and reopen the Reddit page I closed before.
I read the entire entry I’d apparently already written, and the insanity spiral hit me like a crumbling tower of bricks.
My phone lit up immediately, it was him…I mean me…I mean him.
My badly cut throat could only muster a low and raspy voice, and I said the only words I could think of:
“Take the leap to 49, take the leap to 49, take the leap to 49, take the leap to 49…”
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest. Now when I say that it’s a small town, I mean other people from my state have never even heard of it. That being said, for such a small town it actually has a pretty dark history.
In 1927, my home town was a small village with a population of just over 300 people. The largest employer in the area, the MacMillan Textile Factory, had been built in 1922. The location was ideal because of all the available land and the town’s close proximity to the state Capital. By 1927 the factory employed 314 people from the surrounding area. May 25th 1927 started early just like every other day and the workers looked forward to the start of a productive summer, but at 8:45 am the North wing of the building exploded.
Shortly after the explosion, a man named Arthur Rentschler, a disgruntled former employee, arrived on scene. He had loaded down his pickup with dynamite and scrap pieces of metal from his farm. Eyewitnesses said he stepped out of the truck holding a rifle. When the floor manager approached him, he fired into the bed of the truck which caused the dynamite to detonate. The explosion of the truck killed Rentschler, the manager and a few other bystanders.
The fire department found another 500 pounds of un-exploded dynamite rigged up in the basement of the building and discovered that Rentschler had killed his wife and burned down his home. Investigators also discovered a sign on the property that read “Criminals are made, not born.” In the following weeks of investigation, witnesses came forward making claims that Rentschler had been complaining about a recent tax spike in order to pay for the new area school, and it was further discovered that his farm was in foreclosure. Investigators speculate that the combination of him losing his job and the tax increase may have been the catalyst for the bombing.
When all was said and done 44 people lost their lives. The news covered the bombing heavily and, in the weekend following the attack some 50,000 people drove through the town just trying to catch a peak of the carnage. Unfortunately, the story rapidly fell to the wayside due to Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight that took place 2 days later. As quickly as it happened, the tragedy, and its victims were forgotten.
But they don’t want to be forgotten, they want us all to remember, and on a balmy summer night in 2008 I learned not to forget.
It was the summer before my Senior year and I had been staying at my friend Mike’s house for the better part of a week. One night after what felt like our 1000th match of Halo 3, I was video-gamed out. I took off my headset, set the controller down, and looked at Mike. He was furiously rubbing his eyes, which, if they felt anything like mine, were on fire. “Do… do you wanna go outside for a little bit?” I asked.
“Dude, I thought you’d never ask,” Mike replied with a grin. “It’s like 2 AM, though. Where are we gonna go?”
“I really don’t care, I just can’t look at the TV anymore right now.”
We decided to take a walk through town, neither of us planned on doing anything nefarious but we both agreed that we needed some fresh air. As we walked down the dirt road Mike lived on we laughed and talked about girls, cars, the rapidly approaching football season, and all the types of things you’d expect from 2 high school seniors.
We walked past the high school, the town’s only gas station, and then down main street. As we walked in front of our small town’s only bar a few girls that had graduated our freshman year stumbled out into the street. Mike and I tried our hardest to talk a big game and impress these girls, but just as you’d imagine, neither of them could have cared any less.
Sure that we’d just ruined our only chance of any entertainment for the night, we decided to head back to his house. Our return route had us walking past the site of the old MacMillan factory and then eventually would put us in front of the town’s small cemetery. As we walked in front of the old factory grounds that had since been converted to a small park, Mike spoke.
“Why do you think he did it?” Mike asked, suddenly breaking the silence.
I turned to look at him. “Why who did what?”
“Rentschler. Why do you think he blew up the factory?”
“You know the story just as well as I do. He was pissed about losing his job and his farm, pretty straightforward, dude.”
“No way. There had to be more to it than that, people lose their jobs every day. If I had to guess, it was demonic possession, or maybe he was just insane,” Mike said matter-of-factly.
I didn’t really believe that demons had a hand in the disaster, but I felt a chill run down my back anyway. I looked ahead, saw that we were quickly approaching the town’s small cemetery, and felt that chill intensify. Most of the victims had been buried in that cemetery before their families packed up and left town and with the way our conversation had turned, I wanted to be as far away from it as possible.
“Let’s cut through the cemetery,” Mike said. “It’ll cut our walk in half if we go through it.”
I turned quickly to look at Mike. “Are you insane? I’m not walking through a grave yard at 3 in the morning.”
That’s when Mike said it, the one sentence that will convince a 17-year-old boy to do just about anything. “Don’t be such a pussy, dude!”
I groaned and said “Dammit, okay, let’s do this.”
Mike grinned at me before taking a large exaggerated step off the main road and into the cemetery. I quickly followed suit and soon we found ourselves deep in the cemetery. The cemetery itself is laid out like a giant sideways H and as such is near impossible to get lost in. Or, so I thought.
As we walked, I began to notice that the area was completely devoid of sound, save for our feet scraping on concrete. Our ears should have been being assaulted by the sound of crickets and spring peepers but instead we were completely engulfed in silence. I turned back to look at the main road we had entered from. It looked impossibly far away, much further than it should have. I turned back to Mike. “Hey, shouldn’t we have hit the turn yet?”
“I thought so. Maybe the dark is just throwing us off. Let’s keep going. We’ll either find the turn or hit the wood line.
We walked for another few minutes when I thought I saw a light moving ahead of us. I strained my eyes in the dark trying to figure out what I was seeing. “Do you see that light up there?” I asked in a hushed whisper.
Mike stopped and looked ahead. “I think so. It kinda looks like a flashlight?”
“Yea, that’s it. Is someone really out there in the woods?”
“It’s probably a ghost light,” Mike said with a shrug. “Just stay on the path and we’ll be fine.”
“What the shit? A ghost light? What are you talking about?” I asked. I stopped and waited for Mike to face me. “What the hell is a ghost light?”
Mike stopped and turned to face me, he now stood between me and the tree line and I could only make out the light if I leaned left or right.
“There’s a few different versions of the story, but the one I’ve heard the most is that the lights show up as a way to lead you off the trail or pathway in a cemetery. Once you’ve stepped off the trail, you’re in their domain,” he said as he gestured to the tombstones on either side of us. “Sometimes the lights lead you to bodies, sometimes to some kind of treasure, and other times the lights will lead you to your death.”
I shivered and swallowed hard. I leaned a little to the right and saw that the light looked closer, or at least bigger. I looked back at Mike. “Let’s get the hell out of here. It looks like that light is getting closer.”
Mike turned to look at the light. We both gasped when we realized that not only was the light closer than when we originally saw it, but it was moving straight towards us and picking up speed. I tried to run but I felt like I was cemented to the ground. The light moved in a straight line. It didn’t bounce or move like someone carrying a flashlight; it just shot straight at us. Mike grabbed my arm and snapped me out of my trance as he ran by. “Fucking run!”
I turned and started to run and soon realized that I had stepped off the path and was now sprinting parallel to the road between the tombstones. I looked to my left and saw that Mike was running in the same direction a few rows of tombstones from me.
“Mike! Run to the road!” I screamed out. Mike acknowledged me by changing direction mid-stride but suddenly he dropped. “Mike!” I yelled as I changed direction and charged towards my friend. As I approached where he had gone down, I saw him holding the right side of his face and frantically scrambling to his feet.
“Leave me dude, just go!” he panted.
“No way, come on!” I yelled as a bright light was beginning to fall all around us. I threw his arm over my shoulder and half-ran, half-carried him a few more yards before my foot caught the corner of a low headstone. Mike grunted loudly as we crashed into the damp grass. I frantically rolled over and covered my face. The light had become so blindingly bright I could no longer keep my eyes open. I felt my body tense up as the light washed over us and then… nothing. I felt nothing.
I had yet to open my eyes, but I could feel my feet planted firmly on the ground. I slowly opened my eyes and looked around. To my right Mike was doing the same. “Umm, what the fuck was that?” Mike asked.
I scanned around and realized that we were back at the front of the cemetery. I looked over at Mike who was no longer bleeding from his face, before looking down at my watch. It read 5:30 AM. Somehow two and a half hours had passed from when we had originally entered the cemetery.
“I… I don’t know, man, I think we just got chased by a ghost. I mean, I didn’t make that up… right?”
Mike shook his head. “No, that definitely just hap–”
I followed Mike’s gaze and gasped when I noticed a man in denim coveralls standing next to the closest tombstone. The man had an almost disgusted look on his face. What felt like an eternity passed as we stared at one another. Finally, the man spoke. “Why have you forgotten us? Why has everyone forgotten us?” Behind the man I saw silhouettes materializing and moving closer to us. “Please, tell our story, don’t let them forget,” the man said as he began to fade from view. One by one the silhouettes behind him faded as well, and before long Mike and I were left standing there, mouths agape.
Mike, clearly the braver of the two of us, walked back into the cemetery and looked down at the tombstone the man had been standing next too. “Robert Ames, Born September 9th, 1897. Died May 25th 19… 27,” Mike read slowly, before looking up at me. Even in the dark I could see that the color had drained from his face, and he quickly rejoined me on the road.
Neither of us spoke of the incident for months. Both of us avoided the cemetery like the plague. That is, until community day. The week before homecoming the football team “adopted” the cemetery for community day and we were expected to go as a team to clean up head stones and pick up trash. There was no real way to get out of it, so Mike and I begrudgingly went. The day went surprisingly smoothly, and I had nearly forgotten about the ghost lights and apparitions until I moved near where Mr. Ames was buried. I didn’t see anything or anyone, but I swear I heard a voice whisper, “Remember us.”
It’s been almost a decade since we saw the ghost lights, but everywhere I go I make sure to tell the story of the MacMillan Textile Factory. A tragedy like that should never be forgotten, and neither should the innocent people that lost their lives.
All my friends are dead. Don’t take that the wrong way though. I can’t say I knew any of them when they were still alive. Well, at least most of them anyway.
I guess I’m what you could call a psychic. I’ve never liked that word though. I can’t read anyone’s mind, see in to the future, or make things levitate. All I can do is see ghosts.
I have had the ability for as long as I can remember. I didn’t know exactly what it was when I was younger. I just knew that I could see people that others couldn’t.
I don’t think my parents ever really believed me. I was pulled out of public schools in kindergarten because of “focusing” issues. The truth is I was a bit distracted, but it was because of the kids that no one else could see. They wanted someone to play with too. They had been there a while, and I was the first person that could see them.
After that incident, my parents decided to homeschool me. My parents were somewhat wealthy, so they were able to hire a teacher to come to our home since they were busy at work during the day.
Mrs. Thornwell was the worst. She was wrinkled and had patchy white hair. Of course she carried that typical old person smell with her. To be fair she was a good teacher, but she was incredibly strict. There was no fun to be had with Mrs. Thornwell. She wasn’t dead either, at least not yet.
I lived quite a sheltered life growing up. My parents almost never let me leave the house. I was given almost every toy or item I could ever want, but it meant nothing since I had no friends. They thought that something was wrong with me. Probably due to the fact that everywhere I went I was like the kid from the 6th sense, because “I see dead people.”
That came to a halt when I was 17. My parents were in a brutal car crash with no survivors on either side. They didn’t stay behind either. It was a bittersweet realization knowing my parents had passed on to whatever afterlife instead of staying as ghosts. Maybe they didn’t believe me, and they had over-protected me my whole life, but I never doubted that they loved me.
Since I was 17 I was caught in a bit of an odd situation. I wasn’t quite an adult yet, but I wasn’t really a kid anymore either. Luckily my parents had some connections when they were alive, and I was given emancipation almost immediately.
I was given my parent’s savings. I won’t say how much it was, but it was quite a decent sum. After some calculations, I realized that if I managed my money right I could easily live off the money for the rest of my life.
Just to be safe I decided to sell of my family’s estate. It was a much bigger home than I would ever need. If anything the upkeep would be more than it was worth to me. It would also boost my emergency funds to sell it, so I did.
I bought an older home on the edge of my city. It was incredibly cheap, so I knew there were probably issues with the home, but I didn’t really care.
It was a 2 story home, and it had a basement. Still more room than I needed, but the price had been cheaper than essentially everything else I looked at. From the outside it looked like the house had lived through a war or two. The inside wasn’t terrible though. Nothing seemed to be breaking down. Water and electricity worked with no issues everywhere. Well, everywhere except the basement. I chose not to go down there. I got an ominous feel from it.
It took less than a day of living in my new home to realize I wasn’t alone.
I was reading a book on my couch in the living room. I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye, so I looked up. Directly next to me was seated a man. He looked to be about 20 years old, and he was dressed in an older style of clothing.
“Hello?” I said questioningly.
This seemed to catch him off-guard. He even jumped back a bit in surprise.
“Oh, you can see me!?” He said.
“Why wouldn’t I be able to see you? You were practically hanging over my shoulder while I was trying to read.”
“Uh…Sorry about that. You’re alive though, and I’m kinda not. Living people can never see me.”
“Yeah I guess I’m a little special. Looks like we’re going to be housemates from now on, so get used to it. I’m Devin, and you?” I said this as I extended my hand.
After a moment of staring at my hand he seemed to finally remember what he was supposed to do. He grabbed my hand with a giant smile and began to shake it.
“Name’s Sam, pleasure to meet you!” He replied.
Sam was the first, but not the only guest I would discover in my home. Sam was the most curious though, and probably still the most human. He had died of a brain aneurysm. He wasn’t quite ready to move on yet though, so he stayed behind. There had been so much life that he had been robbed of, and he couldn’t accept moving on.
Sam and I became quick friends. We had both been somewhat sheltered growing up, and neither of us had really had a chance to explore the world. We talked about our dreams, and things we wanted to do. I suppose there is still a chance for me to do the things I want, but Sam isn’t quite as lucky.
After the first couple days of being in the house I almost assumed that Sam was the only ghost living with me, but you know what they say about people who assume.
I was lying in bed late one night, and just as I was about to fall asleep I heard something. It sounded like running water. I hopped out of bed and made my way towards the source of the noise. It was coming from the kitchen.
“Sam?” I called out.
As I got closer I noticed that there was someone washing dishes in the sink, but it wasn’t Sam. It was a somewhat stocky woman. She was short, and looked to be in her 40’s. She turned to me as I drew nearer.
“If you’re going to live here you need to clean up after yourself. This is unacceptable!” She said pointing towards the pile of dishes in the sink.
“Sorry, I didn’t think it would be an issue.”
“Didn’t think it would be an issue? You aren’t the only person in this household. Please try to be considerate of the mess you are leaving behind for others!” She scolded me. She turned back around and continued to wash my dirty dishes.
I was about to apologize more sincerely when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Sam.
“Don’t worry about her, that’s Emilia. She only shows up when someone makes a mess. As long as you pick up after yourself it won’t be a problem. You do not want to see her bad side though.” He said this with a bit of a chuckle at the end.
Now that I thought about it, the house had been incredibly clean when I moved in. There had been no dust or cobwebs anywhere for a house that was this old. I guess I had just thought that the realtor was doing the upkeep.
I made a mental note to not make any messes, and went back to bed.
I woke up the next morning to find my dishes were all clean, and Emilia was nowhere to be found. Sam was waiting for me on my couch. I sat next to him and we began to have one of our daily casual conversations.
Midway through our conversation I began to hear noises coming from below. It was obviously coming from the basement. Sam noticed my discomfort.
“There’s something I should tell you about the basement. I’m sure you could sense it, but there’s something down there. It’s not like me or Emilia though.” He said.
“What is it then?” I asked.
“I’m not entirely sure. It was here before I was, and I’ve been here a while. As long as you keep it fed it will stay down there.”
“Keep it fed? What is that supposed to mean?”
“Well you aren’t going to like this, but it feeds on animals. They have to be alive, or freshly dead. It’s best if you can find roadkill shortly after it happens, then you don’t have to feel bad about it.”
“You’re joking right?”
“I wish I was. It’s actually kind of a good thing you moved in. It’s been a while since it has fed, and if it doesn’t get fed it will begin to look for something on its own.”
“So it’s my job to keep whatever is done there fed?”
“Yeah…Sorry for not telling you about it sooner. It had been so long since I had been around a living person I almost forgot. If you can’t find any roadkill around here I’d suggest you go buy some mice at a pet store. They don’t scream as loud.”
I was in disbelief. I had sensed there was something terrible in my basement, but I had hoped I could just ignore it. I guess that wasn’t an option.
I could have packed my bags and left then, but that would have meant leaving whatever was in the basement to potentially roam free. Not to mention I enjoyed being around my new friend Sam, even if he wasn’t alive.
I frantically began to scour the neighborhood for any signs of roadkill. I found an unfortunate cat that hat met its end, but it looked to be a few days old. According to Sam that wouldn’t be fresh enough. I would need something alive, or something that had been dead less than 4 hours.
I gave up and took Sam’s advice. I bought some live field mice from a pet store. They eyed me with their beady black eyes the whole way home. If only they knew their fate.
When I returned home the sounds emanating from the basement were even louder, and more frequent. There was what sounded like a deep grunting, and things being thrown around.
Sam was waiting for me at the front door. He eyed the mice I was holding and nodded.
“Good, you should probably hurry. I recommend keeping your eyes down when you go down there. The less you see the better.”
His words didn’t exactly reassure me. Nonetheless, I began to make my way towards the basement. The sounds only grew louder as I approached the door leading downwards.
When I opened the door, the noises seemed to stop. The path down was pitch black. I could just barely make out each step with the aid of help from the hallway light, and I couldn’t see any switch or string to turn on light. Perhaps it was better this way.
I slowly began to descend one step at a time. Every step creaked, making me want throw the container of mice and run back upwards. Somehow I made it to the end though. I almost wondered if the thing in the basement had just left, because there had been no noise whatsoever other than the creaking and the mice occasionally squealing.
I set the container of mice on the floor of the basement and took a step back up. In an instant an enormous black hand extended out of the darkness and ripped the container out of sight. I heard a large crack, and then I heard the mice begin to squeal even louder.
I sprinted back up the stairs, but before I reached the top I heard a loud crunch as the squealing ceased. I slammed the door shut and looked up to see Sam once again waiting for me.
“What the fuck is that thing?” I demanded.
“I told you, I’m not entirely sure. That should keep it satisfied for at least a week or two though.”
“Are there any other things I should know about this house?” I asked hoping for him to say no.
Sam frowned at this question.
“You should stay clear of the attic.”
“What’s in the attic?” I asked Sam. To be completely honest I didn’t even know there had been an attic. I hadn’t been upstairs at all other than to have a quick look.
“I can’t tell you, for personal reasons. As long as you don’t go up there you won’t have to worry about it though. You don’t have to feed it like our basement dweller.” He replied.
“Why can’t you tell me? Are you hiding something?”
“We all have our secrets, and this is one you do not want to know about. Just trust me on this one.”
Before I had a chance to respond Sam had disappeared in to thin air. Must be nice to be able to escape from an argument like that. Vanish in to thin air when things start to get heated. To be fair he did have to die to obtain that power.
Sam hadn’t really led me astray so far, but he did take his time mentioning what was in the basement. He seemed much more cautious about the attic. After only seeing part of what was in the basement, it made me wonder what kind of monster could be in the attic. It was my house now though; don’t I have the right to know?
I spent all day pondering whether or not I should heed Sam’s advice. He hadn’t shown back up, so I assume he was giving me time to cool down after my basement experience. I still wasn’t even sure where the entrance to the attic was. A little exploration couldn’t hurt, could it?
I ventured upstairs. The entrance to the attic wasn’t in the hallway, so it must have been in one of the two bedrooms.
Sure enough, I found the ladder leading upwards in one of the closets of the bedrooms. I gazed up at the entrance. My heart began to beat much faster than normal. Maybe I really shouldn’t go up there. The curiosity was killing me though. I gripped the ladder while continuing to weigh out my options. Before I could decide I heard a voice from behind me.
“You’re not supposed to go up there.”
I turned around to see a small girl in front of me. She had long black hair and bright blue eyes. She looked to be about 8 or so. I felt a quick wave of sorrow, because I knew this young girl in front of me was dead.
I knelt down in front of her.
“And who are you?” I asked.
“I’m Elizabeth, but you can call me Lizzy!” She said with a giggle.
“Well Lizzy, why am I not supposed to go in the attic?”
“Because Sam would be mad if you did. No one is allowed in the attic.”
“Do you know what’s in the attic?”
“No. Sam told me no one is allowed up there because it’s scary. I don’t like scary things.” As she said this she began to look down and cover her eyes as if she was remembering something scary. If I wasn’t so caught up in what was in the attic I would have thought it was cute.
I patted Lizzy on the head in an attempt to calm her down.
“Well this is my house now Lizzy. I need to find out what’s so scary about the attic. You wait here. I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”
Lizzy didn’t seem entirely certain about my idea, but she couldn’t exactly stop me either. I had made up my mind. Sam was hiding something in the attic, and I needed to find out what it was.
I turned back around and headed back towards the ladder. I was surprised that Sam hadn’t shown up himself to try and stop me. He had told me not to go up to the attic, so it made me wonder why he wasn’t here now.
I shrugged off the thought and began to climb the ladder. Once I was almost to the top of the ladder I was able to peek my head in to the attic.
There was a light attached to a string in the center of the room. This would have struck me as normal, except that the light was already on. I had never been to the attic before, and there’s no telling how long it had been since anyone had been up here. So how the hell was there a light still burning?
Other than the light, the attic seemed empty. Not only was it empty, but unlike the rest of the house it was dirty. There were cobwebs in the corners, and dust almost everywhere. It seems even Emilia wasn’t allowed up here.
I was really confused when I finally made it completely in to the attic, because it really was empty. I had expected some sort of ferocious beast to jump out and maul me, but that hadn’t happened. I decided to take a quick walk around the attic before heading back down.
As I was crossing the floor it hit me. I was struck with the most intense headache of my entire life. It was so strong that I feel to my knees in pain. My head felt like it was going to explode. I was so caught up in my pain that it took me a few seconds to realize there was someone in front of me now.
It was a middle-aged woman. I didn’t pay close attention to her face, because I was busy staring at the giant gash on her neck. It looked as if it was still bleeding. Blood slowly dripping down her body.
She began to reach out towards me, and I flung myself backwards. As I did this two more figures seemed to have emerged from nowhere and began to approach me. They were drenched in blood. The pounding in my head only seemed to intensify, but I needed to get out.
I began to put all my effort in to crawling back to the attic ladder. The bloody ghosts continued to follow me across the room, but despite the massive headache, they didn’t seem exactly hostile.
I didn’t care whether they were hostile or not. I wanted nothing to do with them. Once I reached the ladder I flung myself down head first. I was able to grab on to one of the rungs to absorb some of the momentum from my fall, but I wasn’t able to hang on for long. I fell down the rest of the ladder and landed on my back. It was extremely painful, but it was nothing compared to the headache I had had up there. Speaking of the headache, that had stopped.
I took one last glance at the hole in the attic. I saw the woman I had first seen, who had her throat slit. She mouthed one word to me before disappearing. I’m not entirely sure what it was, but I think she said “Help.”
I rolled over on to my stomach. The pain in my back from the fall was starting to sting now. It didn’t seem too bad, but it stung like hell. After a few minutes of recovering I was able to get back up on my feet.
When I exited the closet I found that someone was waiting for me, but it wasn’t Lizzy. No, it was Sam. He didn’t look happy either. He was stood there with his arms crossed like a parent about to give a lecture.
“I told you not to go up there.” He said.
“Yeah well I guess I forgot. Kinda like how you forgot to tell me what was in the basement. Did you have something to do with what was up there?”
He took a deep sigh.
“No, I was already dead when that happened. I watched it happen though.”
“And what exactly happened?”
“He…Well, he killed them. If that wasn’t obvious. He was a middle-aged man, quite attractive too. He would lure them back to the house, then he would drug them. Even he sensed the basement was off limits, so he operated in the attic. He wasn’t in the home long, but he sure was busy. It was gruesome.”
It took a moment for this all to sink in. So, apparently there had been a serial killer in my home. Not to mention the monster in the basement. Not only had people died in this home, some were murdered.
“Well, is he dead now? He’s not one of the ghosts here is he?” I questioned.
“No, I imagine he’s still alive. Unless he was in some kind of accident somewhere else. He did his business here, and he left.”
That didn’t exactly reassure me. A psychopath that had lived in my home was still on the loose out there. I suppose he could have been arrested, but the ghosts in my attic seemed to think otherwise.
“I’ll ask you one more time Sam, is there anything else I should know about this house?”
“Well as far as the threatening guests of this house I think that’s it. There are a few others of us that you haven’t met yet, but none of them are violent.”
As he finished saying this we both turned as we heard a noise.
It was a knock coming from my front door.
I went to answer my front door, because that’s what normal people do when someone knocks. It had startled me a bit at first, but it was most likely just a neighbor or something. My closest neighbor was about half a block away. Perhaps they decided to finally make the journey to come meet the person who moved in to the creepy old home on the block.
However, when I opened the door I was a bit surprised. I was surprised because I recognized the person on the other side. It was Mrs. Thornwell, my homeschool teacher. Before I had a chance to say anything she pushed her way past me in to my home.
“So this is where you’ve been living. I was a bit surprised when I heard you sold your parent’s home and moved in to this dump. I suppose the inside isn’t so bad. Much cleaner than I expected from you.” She said.
“Uhhh, what are you doing here Mrs. Thornwell? I’m already finished with school.”
“I came to check on you of course. I heard the terrible news about your parents, and I came to see how my old pupil was doing.”
“Well as you can see I’m doing fine. I was kind of in the middle of something if…” I didn’t get the chance to finish my sentence because Mrs. Thornwell had already taken off in to exploring my home. What’s the deal with old people always criticizing younger generations for manners, but yet feeling like they are entitled to everything?
She explored the rooms on the first floor despite my opposition. Then she attempted to open the door leading to the basement, but I pushed it back and held it. Preventing her from opening the door.
“You can’t go down there.” I said.
“Why not, are you hiding something down there? Is it drugs? I always knew you would grow in to an addict. Let me see so I can help you.”
Her words caught me a bit off guard. She thought I would become an addict? Perhaps I had been a bit weird growing up because of my ability, but I was not a druggie. I was actually a bit offended. So, I removed my hand from the door. I had just recently fed the thing in the basement, so perhaps it wouldn’t take her anyway.
“Fine, take a look for yourself.” I said.
She made a satisfied grunt, and began her descent in to the basement.
She turned on her phone flashlight to guide her. Once she made it to the bottom she began to look around.
“Now where is the light switch down here. Oh my, what is th-” She didn’t even have time to finish what she was about to say before it grabbed her. Her screams only lasted a second as it quickly put her out of her misery. Even after I shut the door I could still hear the sound of bones crunching. For selfish reason I hoped she wouldn’t come back as a ghost, at least not in my house.
“Well on the bright side you won’t have to feed it for a while. That should probably keep it satisfied at least a couple months, maybe more.” Sam commented from behind me.
It was fucked up given the situation, but I couldn’t help but let out a short chuckle. I’m sure there are thousands if not millions of kids who would like to feed their teacher to a monster, but I had actually done it. Curiosity killed the cat after all. I wonder if she still thinks I’ll be an addict in the afterlife.
“So…What now?” I asked Sam.
“What do you mean? I think everything is pretty well sorted out now. You know to keep the thing in the basement fed, and stay out of the attic. Things can go back to normal now.” He replied.
“Back to normal? There is a monster in my basement, and there are dead girls trapped in my attic because their murderer is still on the loose. Not to mention the only people I interact with are all dead. How is any of this normal?”
Sam raised his finger as if he was about to respond, but instead he just disappeared again. Of course he did. Gotta love when your best friend is a ghost.
I decided to peek out my front window to see if anyone had been alarmed by the short scream from my basement. There was no one out there, but Mrs. Thornwell’s car was parked out front. Great, how does one dispose of a car?
I put on some old clothes and gloves. I took the car a decent distance away from my home, and parked it somewhere that didn’t appear to have any cameras. I walked for a while to put some distance between myself and the car, and then I called for an Uber. Once I got back home I immediately burned the clothing I had on. I knew I had seen on crime shows that people always were getting caught by carpet fibers, so I wasn’t taking any risks. I just had to hope she hadn’t told anyone that she was coming to see me.
When I got home I decided to start some research. I felt almost obligated to help the girls in my attic. No one else could see them. It was possible that I might be the only person who could help them. That meant trying to track down a serial killer on my own though.
After spending several hours looking through online articles, I was finally able to find what I was looking for. Three girls who had all gone missing within 3 months. All were single middle-aged women. I recognized the one in the first picture as the one who had her throat slit. I’m sure the other two girls were the other ones in my attic, but I hadn’t really had a good look at their faces since I had been desperately trying to escape.
I put my head in my hands. Well, I had confirmed who was in my attic, but how was I supposed to track their killer? There was no telling where he could be.
“I can tell you who he is you know. You just can’t go to the police. He didn’t leave behind any evidence, so they would just think you were crazy.” Sam said this, magically appearing next to me on my couch.
“You know who the killer is?”
“Of course, he would leave his wallet out while he operated. I couldn’t exactly tell anyone about him either though. I can tell you his name if you really want to know, but I’m not sure you know what you are getting yourself in to.”
“You’re probably right, but I’m too invested to back out now. Even if this ends poorly, I have to at least try. Tell me his name.”
Sam then proceeded to tell me the serial killer’s name, and he was right. I really had no clue what I was getting myself in to.
Sam told me the name of the serial killer. I had expected to hear the name of someone I had never known, but I was wrong. No, the name I heard was quite familiar. That’s because the name he said was that of my fathers.
That couldn’t be right though. My father couldn’t be a serial killer. On top of that, he was already dead. I had attended his funeral. I had seen him in his casket. He was very much dead. So then why was Sam trying to tell me the man who had killed the girls in my attic was my father.
“Is this some sort of sick joke?” I asked a bit angrily.
“What do you mean? You wanted to know his name. That was the name on the license in his wallet.” Same replied a bit puzzled at my sudden temper.
“That’s impossible. The name you said is my dad’s name, and he’s already dead.”
Sam didn’t seem too surprised my response at all. He simply began to scratch his cheek while he responded.
“I guess he did kind of look like you now that I think about it. I told you he was living when he left here. I wasn’t absolutely certain he was still alive.”
“If my dad was the killer, then why would the ghosts in the attic still be so pissed off?”
“Why do you expect me to understand them? I’m not the same as them. Perhaps they don’t know. They can’t exactly watch the news.”
“So what am I supposed to do? Go up there and tell them that I’m sorry my father murdered them, but he’s dead now?”
“I’m not sure, that’s for you to figure out.” Sam said this while shrugging.
As much as I hated it, Sam was right. This was my problem. I still wasn’t convinced that my father was the killer though. I needed some direct evidence. I thought it would be worth a shot to visit my father’s grave.
I’m not sure how many people can relate, but for those of us who can see the dead, a graveyard is the last place you want to go. I still remember during my parent’s funeral that there were far too many uninvited guests looking on. I still hadn’t been back to my parent’s graves since that day.
This was a necessary trip though. Even if I gained nothing. I still needed to try. I decided to make the trip at night. I do think there is some merit to the theory that ghosts are more active in the dark. Plus, if my father was a serial killer, I didn’t want anyone to overhear the conversation I would be having with him should he appear.
I pulled in to the parking lot just after midnight. There didn’t seem to be any other cars there. I exited my car and made my way to the entrance. Just standing at the front gate I could tell there were dozens of eyes fixed on me. I did my best to ignore them and pushed forward.
I kept my eyes down on my journey to my parent’s graves. I didn’t hear anyone attempt to follow me, but I could feel the eyes staring holes through me. It’s true I had been living in a home with who knows how many ghosts, but being in a graveyard was a different feeling entirely. It was almost overwhelming, but I had to keep pushing forward.
After a grueling walk that seemed to last forever, I finally reached the two graves side by side that contained my parents. I stood in front of the one containing my father, and I knelt down.
“Hey Dad, it’s been a little while. Maybe you know why I’m here. Did you do it? Did you kill those girls?” I said this to the grave. I didn’t really expect anything, but I guess I was hoping for some response of some kind. I didn’t get one though, at least not from him anyway.
“He’s not going to respond kid. He didn’t stay behind. Guess he didn’t feel like answering anyone’s questions.” A voice said.
I shot my eyes up immediately to look at where the voice had come from. A couple rows back sitting on top of a grave was a man. He looked somewhat familiar, but I couldn’t place him. He seemed to be grinning from ear to ear.
“Who are you, did you know my father?” I asked.
“Well I guess you could say I’m family, in a way. So of course I knew your father. It seems you didn’t really know him that well though huh.” He responded.
“What are you trying to say?”
“Isn’t it obvious? You came here for answers. I’m just trying to help you understand.”
“So my father did kill those girls?”
“Yes, and not just them. There were others too. Your father was quite the diligent worker. He really had to be. It was part of the deal after all.”
“What are you talking about? What deal?”
“Where do you think your wealth came from? Your father was a dead-end wage worker before he met me. When your mother became pregnant he was desperate for a change. I offered him that change, for a price of course. All he had to do was kill someone for me every so often. He decided he wanted out though, so I gave him an early retirement.” The man said all this so nonchalantly that it was chilling. I wasn’t sure what to think. I felt numb. Was he telling the truth? Was this man the Devil?
“Why are you telling me all this?” I finally managed to stutter out.
“Well you see, as much as I appreciated your father’s hard work, our contract is still unfulfilled. You inherited his wealth, and as a result, you also inherited the rest of his contract.” The man said with an even bigger grin than before.
“I don’t know what kind of deal you made with my father, and I don’t care. Kill me if you want, but I won’t accept your contract.” I said this as I turned and began walking out of the graveyard.
I expected the man to pursue me, or at least say something, but he didn’t. I made it out of the graveyard without seeing him again. I couldn’t imagine he was done with me though.
That assumption was correct. When I made it home and walked in my front door it wasn’t Sam who was waiting for me on my couch. It was the man.
“Nice place you have here. Quite a few freeloaders. Maybe you should make them start paying rent.” He said as he laughed at his own joke.
“How do I make you go away?” I said bluntly.
“Well if you don’t want to continue your father’s contract, there is another way out.”
“And that is?”
“You die. If you die there is no one left to take on the contract since you have no children. Other than that you are stuck with me.”
I considered this for a second.
“Can you give me a day to consider my options?” I said.
“Certainly. I will give you 24 hours. Once I return I’ll expect to see your corpse, or the promise that you will deliver me someone else’s corpse.” He once again smiled after his statement, and then he disappeared before me.
I had already made up my mind, but I wanted him to leave. I had no intentions of being the puppet of some demon. Despite letting my teacher get devoured, I wouldn’t consider myself a killer. My life has never held much value anyway. No one will miss me.
I plan on visiting the girls in my attic, and telling them the truth. If they want my life they can have it in place of my father. If they don’t, then I think I will finally make a trip to see what’s in the basement.
I was driving through rural New Jersey when I saw him.
A hitchhiker, standing by the side of the road. Surprisingly well-dressed – black suit, slicked-back hair, narrow briefcase.
Now, I know I shouldn’t pick up hitchhikers. But I’m 6’ 4”, 230 pounds, with all kinds of hunting equipment in the back of my truck. It’s not like this prissy-assed businessman is going to beat me to death and leave me on the side of the road.
Besides, I need gas money.
“Hey, man,” I said, pulling over to the side of the road. “I’ll give you a lift, if you pay me for gas.”
“Of course,” he said in a polite, almost British, accent. He reached for his wallet, and pulled out three crisp, $20 bills. “This enough?”
I grinned. That’s way more than enough. I greedily snatched the money from him and clicked the locks. “Get in, bud.”
He climbed in. His blue eyes shifted from the crumpled Wendy’s wrapper on the dashboard, to the mysterious, sticky goo on the middle console.
“Sorry, the car’s not clean. I’m going hunting,” I said, turning back onto the highway.
“Hunting. Interesting,” he said, in a strangely enthusiastic tone. “Have you always liked to hunt?”
“No, it’s the funniest thing. Never thought I’d ever hunt. Love animals, got three dogs at home. But there are so many deer around these parts, when the winter comes… a lot of ‘em starve to death. Not to mention all the car accidents they cause.” I trailed off, and we fell into uncomfortable silence.
“Just hunting for the day, then?”
“No, my buddy Matt and I will be out there the whole weekend.”
He let out a laugh. “The whole weekend? Your wife’s a saint for letting you go.”
My wife? How did he – But then my eyes fell on the steering wheel, and the silver ring on my finger. “Ah, yeah. Mary’s a doll. She’s actually pregnant, you know. 5 months with a little girl.”
He gave me a crooked smile. “A girl, huh?”
I could feel him staring at me long after we had fallen into silence. It made me feel uncomfortable; I clicked on the radio.
“How did you meet Matt?” he asked, fiddling with the dial. All that came through was static.
That’s a weird question, I thought. “Um. He and Mary were close friends. So when we got married, I got to know him well.”
“Mmm-hmm,” the man said. He stroked his chin thoughtfully, and I was suddenly reminded of a psychiatrist.
“Are you a psychiatrist?” I blurted out.
He laughed. “Definitely not. I work in finance.”
“What type of finance?” It was my turn to ask the questions, now.
“Futures,” he replied, noncommittally.
I glanced over at him. A small smile was on his lips, and I noticed his fingers had gravitated from his lap to the briefcase at his feet.
My heart began to pound.
Click, click. He undid the clasps; the case creaked open.
“What’s in your briefcase?” I asked.
“What kind of –”
His long fingers disappeared into the darkness of the case. He was pulling something out! My body began to seize up; the steering wheel felt like ice under my fingers. “I have a lot of hunting equipment back there,” I said, “so you better not be –”
He was only pulling out a sheet of paper.
For a few minutes, he was quiet. Reading the paper, intently and silently, as if his life depended on it. Scrtch, scrtch – his fingers slid over it, as they traced the text.
Then he slipped it back into the case, and snapped it shut.
What was he reading? I thought. But before I could get the question out, he turned towards me. I could barely see his face in my peripheral vision; but I knew he was staring at me, for minutes on end.
Then he broke the silence.
“Don’t go hunting,” he said, his ice-blue eyes boring into me.
“Turn the car around. Go home to Mary.”
“She needs you.” He paused. “Madeline needs you.”
I never told him we were going to name our baby Madeline.
“How did you –”
“He’s going to make it look like an accident,” he said, his voice gravelly and halting. “Just a simple hunting accident. The most punishment he’ll endure is thirty-five minutes in the police station, writing out his statement.”
“Let me off at that diner, up ahead. I like their Cobb salad very much.”
“Matt’s going to kill me? What are you talking about?”
He turned to me, eyes wide. “What are you talking about?”
“About what you just said!”
“All I said is I’d like you to let me off at the diner, please.” He pointed to the exit, curving off the highway. “You’re going to miss it if you don’t slow down.”
With a shaking hand, I clicked on my blinker. Pulled off the exit, into the parking lot. My heart pounded in time with the click-click-clicks of the cooling engine.
“Thank you for the ride,” he said, pulling his briefcase out with him. “Have a good drive, will you?”
I couldn’t squeak out a reply before the door slammed shut.
* * * * * *
I didn’t believe him. But my nerves were too shot to continue the trip, either. I texted Matt that I was sick, turned around, and went home to Mary. Mary was thrilled; Matt was disappointed. A little too disappointed, if you ask me.
A month later, after ignoring most of Matt’s calls and texts (which became increasingly frequent and desperate), I heard a faint thumping noise at the door. When I flicked on the porch light — there was Matt, hunched over our doorknob.
Holding a lockpick.
We called the police. Since then, life has been great. Just a few months later, our wonderful little Madeline was born. And as soon as we got back from the hospital, on our doorstep was a little teddy bear, a pink bow sewed on its head. There wasn’t a return address, or a card of any kind.