|Author||The Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (One Hundred Ghost Stories) Thread|
| 19 days ago
This a pretty cool thread surprised it took me so long to notice it. Although each post is so long so I'll probs have to read one at a time, also I would want to count the posts granted if it stays alive for that long. The following poster should be 10th. Will think of a story later.
| 19 days ago
Seeing as we have the German version my inner Mexican is compelling me to post this.
The legend described in this article is a generic version of the Mexican version of this folktale. Other regional variations of the story exist.
The legend is said that in a rural village there lived a young woman named Maria. She came from a poor family but was known around her village for her beauty. One day, an extremely wealthy nobleman traveled through her village. He stopped in his tracks when he saw Maria. Maria was charmed by him and he was taken by her beauty, so when he proposed to her, she immediately accepted. Maria's family was thrilled that she was marrying into a wealthy family, but the nobleman's father was extremely disappointed that his son was marrying into poverty. Maria and her new husband built a house in the village to be away from his disapproving father. Eventually, she gave birth to two sons. Her husband was always traveling and began to stop spending time with his family. When he came home, he only paid attention to the sons and as time passed Maria could tell that her husband was falling out of love with her, because she was getting old. One day, he returned to the village with a younger woman, and told his sons farewell, ignoring Maria.
Maria, angry and hurt, took her children to a river and drowned them in a blind rage. She realized what she had done and searched for them, but the river had already carried them away. Days later, she was found dead on the river bank. She had committed the two ultimate sins: Murder and Suicide.
Challenged at the gates of heaven for the whereabouts of her children, she is not permitted to enter the afterlife until she finds them. Stuck between the land of the living and the dead, she spends eternity looking for her lost children. She is always heard weeping for her children, earning her the name "La Llorona". It is said that if you hear her crying, you are to run the opposite way. If you hear her cries, they could bring misfortune or even death. Many parents in Latin America use this story to scare their children from staying out too late.
La Llorona kidnaps wandering children at night, mistaking them for her own. She begs the heavens for forgiveness, and drowns the children she kidnaps. People who claim to have seen her say she appears at night or in the late evening by rivers or lakes, wearing a white or black gown with a veil. Some believe those who hear the wails of La Llorona are marked for death or misfortune, similar to the Gaelic banshee legend. Among her wails, she is noted as crying "¡Ay, mis hijos!" which translates to "Oh, my children!" or "Oh, my sons!" She scrapes the bottom of the rivers and lakes, searching for her sons. It is said that when her wails sound near she is actually far and when she sounds distant, she is actually very near.
| 19 days ago
A Date with a seasoned lover NSFW
No.11 Short one:
3 months ago, was the first time we locked eyes.
I was just on my way to a lecture as I was drinking my coke (cause fixing computers wasn't good enough of a job, according to my parents) when she 'accidentally' bumped into me whilst carrying her laptop. She was extremely hot; if she didn't had tied her hair up into a ponytail her blond hair would stretch down to her hips , she had freckles lightly sprinkled onto her cheeks that brought out the rosiness of her slightly blushed skin. She wore a blue blouse so thin that instead of making her 10 degrees cooler it made everyone around her 10 degrees hotter. Underneath that, her shorts exposed her slightly tanned thighs than were neither plump nor lanky.
During our collusion her laptop dropped onto the floor and my bottle of coke spilled all over it. Rather than caring about her bleeding elbows, her face paled and she mumbled away with her face hanging from her neck. I immediately grabbed her laptop to her surprise and tried to use the sleeves of my flannel shirt to wipe away as much coke as I could. As the surprise on her face faded away at my action it was again replaced by a gloomy stare to the side. I then tried to turn it on... to no avail. After a few moments fiddling with the machine, the girl stood up and tried to muster a smile. She told me to not worry about it; Instead I explained to her that I fixed computers on the side, that she should go to her lecture and I'll try fixing it at the computers club. In two hours, I had a pretty smug smile as I saw few tears roll down her cheeks as she thanked me for saving the 'precious memories' she had in her laptop.
2 weeks ago, I gathered my courage and confessed.
We quickly became good friends connecting over niche TV crime dramas; I also showed her a few video games that I liked and she showed me to some fashionable clothes that I deliberating wore as I gave her a small bouquet of flowers. She blushed the brightest shade of red and agreed to go out with me. We then went on a few different dates, even skipping out of the lectures one time to have a trip down to the beach. Once we started dating we found out that we even had more things in common...except maybe for her complaints that her ex'es would always finish before her and never last long enough to satisfy her, I would just banter long and replied, "I reckon, I could."
1 day ago, she invited to her house.
It was a bit awkward but I knew that I needed to at least pop down to the convenience store for a little 'plastic' before I went. I expected to at least meet her parents but as soon as she opened the door that evening, I knew her parents definitely weren't home since she was wearing the most revealing outfit of hers that I had seen yet. After a delicious dinner, she drank some wine and kept some in her mouth as she delivered it via a kiss. It was strong: both the alcohol and the kiss. She only stopped when she saw me gulp every last drop down my throat. Then as my body started to feel heavy she guided me to her room; but not her bedroom... when she opened the door it seemed more like the basement. There was a bed in the middle of the room but it was hard and flat, no mattress nor pillows and had a light hanging over it. Tables lined the side of the room; one side was filled with equipment you would see at a construction site, the other was filled with an array of different types of knives, but most the disturbing detail that I found whilst I stumbled to the ground, was that the ground was naturally slanted. With my face stuck to the ground, my eyes glanced to the middle of the room , to the large sink underneath the bed. As she started to hum whilst she undressed me, my limbs didn't seem to move. She looked in each pocket and took out what was in it: Wallet, Tissue, Mints, Phone, a little open box filled with tiny plastic bags and finally a receipt from the convenience store that was dated today. She placed each object in a clear box that was labelled No.12 and as she neared the end of her song, she shelved the box onto a shelf with identical containers, only difference was the number labelled. Then my eyes glued shut.
Part 2: Graphic NSFW
A Few hours later I opened my eyes again,
There were three limbs surrounding me... An arm and two legs cleanly-cut was strewn on the muddy grass. The body that the limbs originally belonged to likewise had been treated and bandaged but otherwise naked; though it consisted only of a head, torso and one arm... it was still breathing. As I breathed in deeply again I noticed there was a decayed log near me which sat on it a laptop replaying her 'precious memories' which currently showed her touching her herself rudely with an arm that no longer belonged to anyone, after a few moments it moved onto a video of her a stabbing a metal straw into a gentlemen's precious part (that was connected to the torso, and only the torso) to keep it hard as she enjoyed herself on it, it would probably take a few more hours before the videos would start to loop. I wanted to vomit but I couldn't do that. I was sat on the ground in a clearing of the woods; that I didn't know how far it was exactly from civilization...just far enough. I examined the severe limbs once more, the cut was so precise, so practiced... I should know, I was the one who severed them
The blond lady (whose only limb was her arm now) was swearing every sort of profanity as I examined my work. I was honestly a little bit insulted by her... Someone with 11 kills already should have been harder to deal with. She crawled her way along the ground using her only arm, dirtying every part of her body and started to throw mud at me. I stood up and walked away to my car, and took out a sharp fork and an even sharper knife. I didn't have to do anything more to her. I left the fork and knife near the arm... the non-moving one... and drove away. The only thought I had now was how long she'll last; the blood will probably sustain her, she doesn't have much on but its not too cold up in these parts yet, she may start to eat but I'm not sure will she eat first or will the wolves dine first.
She really should've been smarter. The box of plastic was opened but the receipt was only from two hours ago, she should've check if there was a spare one in the wallet or not. All I had to do was fit one and a paperclip in my mouth whilst she added the drug to the wine, then fill the bag up with the filth she was pouring into me, use my tongue to seal the bag with the paperclip and swallow it. I did end up drinking a fifth of it cause it would have been too hard to swallow a mouthful and I needed to check which type of drug it was to act along. She was also extremely weak; it only took one punch to knock her out when she stood over me with her first 'instrument'. She had a fine set of instruments though, she had everything I needed from her to prepare her.
The drive to the woods is as boring as always especially when you have to drive there and back, I entertained the thought of taking the laptop with me and play some music but it was so disgusting, I didn't want to touch it again.
Its annoying when wannabes hunt in the same area too many times, it raises their profile and risks others around them. She was easy to find and the proof was easily obtained in the hidden files of her laptop. Connecting fast was always my specialty but I guess it helps when we both lie about our interests to connect.
All in all just another date.
| 18 days ago
No.12 The green ribbon
This story comes from "In a Dark, dark room and other scary stories"
...actually just listen to it its only 2minutes and change long.
The green ribbon, some say yellow, others say velvet
Edit changed the number, cause I counted wrong
| 17 days ago
Title: I found a small box hidden in a mall that contains the recollection of a 19-year-old girl who decided to kill someone just to see what it's like.
Author: Linda Watson
Story Number: 13
So this is a box I found that was hidden in a mall for presumably ~6 months by now. Aside from the latch, there were rubber bands keeping the box shut. Inside the box is a bundle of tightly-folded pieces of paper. It is a story/recollection written by a 19-year-old girl who has apparently killed a random person just because she was wondering what it would be like. According to the paper, she wrote this just a few hours after the murder and that I am the first person to read it.
So yeah, I doubt I’ll be able to sleep tonight.
Anyway, I typed up the entire story because I seriously need to share this. Here it is.
If you found this note in a small wooden box with a heart on it, then *congratulations!* You are probably the first person to read this. I didn’t really plan on sharing this with anybody, but for some reason I think it’s exciting that somebody out there, a complete stranger, will come across this note and read my story. Someone I will never meet, sharing such a personal bond with me. I’m fascinated that either one of us could die - even as soon as tomorrow - with the other being completely clueless to the fact. To you, my entire life is within this note, and so I will live for as long as your memory can carry me. Writing this, I’m wondering if that makes you feel fascinated or violated. It’s so exciting.
I’m sorry if my story is a bit disorganized, but I’d like to get it down while it’s still fresh on my mind. First, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself. I’m a first-year college girl and have led, by most standards, a pretty unspectacular life up to this point. I grew up in an upper-middle class school district with decent teachers. I did track in middle school and some of high school, and I’ve had two boyfriends. Now, I’m studying for a career in occupational therapy, because I feel the field is undervalued and provides tremendous help to people.
I’m giving you this background because there’s this strange misconception that if you want to kill someone then you’re either sick in the head or you have anger management issues. But, it’s very apparent that I don’t fall into either of those categories. It’s true that most murder cases are in a domestic setting where someone loses control of their anger or something. But the thing is that those people kill under provocation, whether by a singular outburst or by a slow-burning series of misfortunes. Those people kill because in that brief moment, they want a specific someone, for a specific reason, to be hurt or killed.
What I’m talking about is wanting to kill someone for no specific reason, maybe just to see what it’s like. Do you ever get that? I wouldn’t know how others feel, because it’s not something I ever talked about. But I’ve been curious about what it’s like to kill someone ever since I was a child. Not killing anyone in particular, just a random person. It’s always just fascinated me that if I put my mind to it, I can approach anyone, and in five minutes they would be completely gone from this Earth.
But I’ve never done so for a couple of reasons. First of all, for most of my life it was logistically impossible for me to do it without getting caught. I only got my driver’s license a couple years ago, and even then, the preparations would take too much time, definitely stirring suspicion. It was only once I started college that I realized this was no longer an obstacle.
Another reason is that I was afraid of causing harm to too many people. You might laugh reading that, at how hypocritical it sounds. But, let me explain: Why should I feel bad about killing someone if they’re too dead to care? Who would I be feeling bad for? Contrarily, it’s the grief of the living that I’d rather not be responsible for. Because of this, I knew it would take a good deal of research before finding a suitable person to kill, and I’ve never had the means to do so - again, until I started college.
And now, having just experienced it, I’d say it was pretty satisfying in the end. Something I would try again? Probably not, since my curiosity has already been satisfied. It really wouldn’t be the same a second time.
But anyway, if by any chance you’re also curious to kill someone, then you’re welcome to take notes. :)
I started a hobby of people-watching soon after I entered college. People-watching is interesting to me because it’s taking one of the infinite extras in your life and turning them into a main character - without them knowing, of course. It’s so easy to forget that every single one of the hundreds of strangers you pass every day has a life story as deep and complex as your own. One thing I noticed about people-watching, and wanting to kill someone, is that you are in more constant awareness of this. When I find a person to observe, their story slowly becomes more clear to me over time, gaps being filled - it really is amazing.
I usually went to grocery stores on weekends and looked around in people’s shopping carts. If I saw something that interested me, I decided to observe the person for a little bit. Of course, since my goal was to find someone to kill, I ruled out anyone who had children or a partner with them. Wedding rings were another tell-tale sign.
So maybe once a weekend, I would find someone who fit my criteria, at which point I would follow them home and note their address. From there, it became incredibly easy to investigate a little bit more; most people have normal work hours, meaning I could spend afternoons going through their mail or looking around in their house. I repeated this with several people (and had one close call), but for varying reasons I didn’t really feel satisfied enough with them to kill any of them.
I started getting a bit impatient and thought that I might just settle for killing the man named Devon, even though I didn’t really want to kill someone wealthy. But then, I came across someone new - someone who just, felt perfect. The feeling only strengthened as I investigated her further, and I knew that she would be the one for me to kill.
A young-looking woman I met at the grocery store, as per usual. She was doing some light shopping with a basket. Her hair was wavy and dark brown, sitting inelegantly on her slumped shoulders and surrounding her tired-looking face. Her bare fingers told me she might be single, but beyond that, my gut was almost certain of it. This woman just seemed so…plain, really. I guess I felt a greater acuity for the personal lives of strangers ever since I started my people-watching. But the way she carried herself, I just got the feeling that if she suddenly died, nobody would be around to miss her. Of course, I still wanted to investigate her a bit.
I followed my usual routine of checking out her place during her work hours. I learned immediately from her mail that her name is Linda Watson. Linda lived in a quiet apartment complex, her mailbox easily accessible right outside her door. Instead of quickly shuffling through it, I decided I could take her mail back to my dorm and return it before she was finished with work (she only lived about 15 minutes from me). I did some research and learned how to open and reseal the envelopes without damaging them, which took some technique along with a hair dryer, rubbing alcohol, and Q-tips.
This made it easy for me to learn a little more about her. Linda is was a 33-year-old woman who worked for a small accounting firm - I’d rather not name the place outright. Her birthday was December 11th which, coincidentally, was approaching in a couple weeks. I also managed to find a bank statement that gave me a nice look into how she’s been spending her past month. It was at this point I realized that my assessment of Linda Watson as an extremely plain woman was pretty spot-on, because there was absolutely nothing interesting on the list. A trip to Old Navy, a bunch of Starbucks, something about $40 from Amazon - no restaurants, no movies, nothing that would really imply she was spending any time socializing. That aside, I also found a cooking magazine, so I guess she was into cooking.
Apartments are harder to break into than suburban homes, because there are fewer doors and windows. Every time I got Linda’s mail, I would check the front door and the windows in the back, but they were always locked. This was a bit frustrating because I was really interested in getting into her house. So, I came up with a sort of plan that I thought would be fun, even if it didn’t work.
Last Saturday, I visited Linda Watson’s apartment complex as I would on weekdays. The difference is that this time, I wanted her to be home. I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation with her. If I got lucky, I could take advantage of the situation to discreetly unlock a window from the inside. So, I walked up to her door wearing nothing warmer than a light sweatshirt, and knocked. The adrenaline rush was crazy. I was afraid I might screw something up.
The door opened, and in front of me stood Linda Watson, exactly as I remembered her from the grocery store. It was at that moment, making eye contact for the first time, that I realized I was running the risk of beginning to care about this person. As selfish as it is, I couldn’t kill a person I cared about, even if it’s a 33-year-old woman standing in a doorway with a slightly perplexed look on her face, giving me a reserved “Hello.”
Arms crossed from the cold, I shyly returned Linda’s greeting. I explained that I was walking my dog near the woodsy area behind the back of her apartment, and that he had gotten away. I had been looking for my dog for an hour and was wondering if Linda may have seen him roaming about. Of course, Linda sympathetically apologized for the situation and that she couldn’t be of use to me, but that she would keep an eye out. I wore a defeated expression in response, apologizing in return for troubling her.
It somehow went exactly as I had hoped - Linda invited me inside to warm up a bit with some coffee. I outwardly hesitated before accepting her offer, although on the inside I wanted to jump through the door and hug her for cooperating so well. And that’s how Linda Watson ended up with a 19-year-old girl next to her on the couch - who knows if it was just a nice gesture or if she really has no better way to spend her Saturdays than talking to some kid she just met (who happens to be interested in killing her).
Linda soon learned that my name is Maria (it’s not) and that I attend the nearby community college (I don’t). I was a little bit nervous that she would ask me too many questions because I didn’t have many answers prepared. I was able to steer the conversation toward her, and she was pretty happy to talk. I asked what she does, and she told me that she works for the accounting firm I already knew about, communicating with outside clients and keeping records. I told her I was pretty nervous about growing up. She told me to enjoy college and to make lots of friends because there’s less opportunity once you start working.
When I asked if she was married or anything, she laughed. Of course I knew she wasn’t married, but I wanted to hear more about her love life. She said that she doesn’t currently have a boyfriend (I guess she’s at least had boyfriends, but who knows how long ago). When I asked her about kids, she said she doesn’t want them until she gets a better job. On top of that, she told me that her family has a history of some genetic diseases such as arthritis and depression, which she is afraid to give to her kids.
It’s funny that she mentioned that because when I asked to use her bathroom, I noticed a tube of prescription pills on the sink. It was labelled duloxetine, which I looked up later and discovered that it is in fact an antidepressant. I had a joking thought that maybe by killing her I’d be doing her a favor, but quickly decided I was a terrible person for coming up with that.
The rest of the visit was pretty dull. We talked about food and some other mundane stuff before I eventually made an excuse to leave. I didn’t get the chance to unlock a window or anything like that, but I didn’t really feel the need to go through her apartment anymore. As early as the drive back to my dorm, I was already thinking about how I would best like to kill Linda Watson.
The choice was between effectiveness and fun. I decided to go with fun, because it would be way more satisfying to kind of dissect her as I killed her, rather than just getting it done and calling it a day. Fast-forward one week to December 13th - today, actually. Linda Watson turned 34 two days ago. I made a fun little wager with myself where if Linda was spending her birthday weekend alone, I would pay her a visit and kill her. If she was out or had company, I would stop by next week or something instead.
So this morning, I drove over to Lowe’s and bought an axe. Again, I expect you’re laughing, but that’s also kind of the point. An axe is so kind of cliche and a “movies” thing that I actually thought it would be the most fun. Swinging it at someone and everything, it’s a really entertaining image. They actually had a bunch of different axes, so I picked one that had a good weight but was still light enough for me to swing quickly.
The drive after getting the axe was when the adrenaline really picked up. All that kept going through my mind on the way over was “Wow, I’m really doing this.” Not in a bad way, just like a surprised this is real life sort of thing. I also got this strange rush of recollections of the time I spent with Linda. It was like my life was flashing before my eyes, except it was just the rather mundane hour I spent with Linda - like snippets of our conversations, the sound of her laugh, her facial expressions and stuff.
I also wondered to myself what the crazy serial killers would be feeling at a time like this - schizophrenic delusions? Sexual buildup? I have no idea, but what I felt was kind of like ridiculously alert and numb in the senses at the same time, however that’s possible.
Before getting out of the car, I had the sense to stuff the axe into my backpack to look a little less ridiculous walking across the parking lot. The handle was sticking out, but that didn’t really matter. At that point my heart was pounding so hard I could feel my throat throbbing. I tried controlling my breath, but it’s really hard to not breathe fast when your heart is pounding like that.
I reached Linda Watson’s door and quietly put my ear to it after setting down my backpack. I heard a voice that wasn’t hers - company? No, it was just the TV, mixed with her occasional tapping footsteps behind the door. I actually kept my ear there for a really freaking long time, because I wanted to make absolutely sure nobody was over. Probably 10 minutes of that and a lot of reassuring myself convinced me.
I quietly opened my backpack zipper and held the axe in my hands. My fiercely shaking hands. What the hell was this kind of reaction that my body was making? I told my body to shut up, that it’s no big deal, but of course it wouldn’t listen. It was actually bizarre how much my hands were shaking. It must be the adrenaline buildup. I rolled my eyes at myself and got my hand to rest on the doorknob. If it’s locked, I’ll knock, it’ll be basically the same. I took a deep breath and forced my muscles into action.
I swiftly turned the doorknob. Not locked. In one movement, I opened up the door and slipped inside. Linda Watson, just a few steps away into the kitchen. I see - she was in the middle of cooking. She immediately jumped and turned around, startled. I expected that. Quickly, I let go of the doorknob and adjusted the axe into both hands. In the following split second, I realized that she would probably start to make a lot of noise. Looking back, I’m an idiot for not considering that. Just as Linda’s mouth opened to speak - maybe even started speaking - I forcefully swung my axe into the side of her head.
But, my axe was facing backwards. I hit her with the blunt end of the blade. I actually did this on purpose, because in that split second I somehow decided that it would be the way to keep her noise to a minimum. It actually worked. I felt barely any resistance in the swing as I collided with her head, knocking it clean aside. Linda’s half-formed syllable came out as a kind of weird grunt - a noisy exhalation is probably the best I could describe it. That happened at the same time as her head smacked into the cabinet from the force, and she fell backwards without any ability to keep her balance. I didn’t hesitate at all to keep swinging at her while she was half lying down on the ground, this time my axe facing the right way. I didn’t really know where to swing, so I kind of just started hacking at her collarbone area and chest. It didn’t feel like the axe was going too deep, but there was a nice “thunk” sort of sound every time the axe embedded into her. I even felt the soft sinking sensation ripple into my hands, like the axe was a kind of physical extension of my sense of touch.
On a whim, I swung once at her throat, but most of the swing actually missed and I hit the floor by accident, causing a loud, dull whack to resonate through the apartment. I didn’t have time to think about it. I swung again with better aim and got a more centered hit, feeling the bone or cartilage or whatever is in there, so I must have split it open. Right after that, I decided to swing at her face, and I got this diagonal cut along her nose and mouth, which felt pretty good so I did it once more.
I finally briefly stopped to survey the damage. Linda was bleeding ridiculously. The blood was kind of coming out in waves, in sync with her beating heart, probably. It was pooling all around her and riding along the cracks between the tiles. Her light blue shirt was all torn up and stained dark, kind of mixed with a fleshy mess around her chest. It was all just glistening red. Her face wasn’t much better, covered in dripping red at this point, and her lip was kind of hanging off, revealing red-stained teeth in a really weird way, like a zombie or something.
Linda wasn’t dead, though. Her limbs were kind of weakly, aimlessly trying to move while she was stuck on her back. More than anything, she reminded me of a bug that you crush but it still pitifully moves its legs around before it dies completely. That’s basically what she was doing. But I didn’t know how long it would take for her to die, or what kind of condition she was in. I ended up grabbing a big knife that was on the counter that she was using to cut up meat. Trying to step around the blood, I reached down and carved into the upper half of her neck, trying to sort of saw it from the left side to the right. It was a little awkward because the area was so soft and squished around the knife as I was cutting. But the sensation was completely different from the axe. It actually felt like I was cutting a tough piece of raw meat (which I guess technically, I was).
The blood started pouring out, and I hoped that I severed the most major arteries in there. It must have worked, because after a moment Linda’s limb movements kind of just had the strength drained from them, soon resting still on the floor. I took a few seconds to catch my breath. No time to stick around and think about the experience. I shook the knife blade through a dirty pan in the sink to clean off the blood, then threw the knife into my backpack. I did the same with the axe. I also took her laptop that was sitting on the counter. It had some recipe open for veal and mushrooms. I didn’t really take the laptop to use it, since I have a perfectly good one myself that I got for college. I just wanted to look through it for fun.
I finally went outside and closed the door behind me. I got some blood on my sweater and jeans. But funnily enough, I actually anticipated that so I wore dark colors.
The drive back to my dorm was just a constant replaying of the experience in my head. I guess that’s still kind of happening even now, actually. But it felt pretty nice. Linda Watson is dead. I kind of let the weight of that sink in. The sensation of having completely removed a human life from existence. It’s crazy. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Anyway, I threw the axe and knife into a dumpster on campus, which I think is picked up every Monday, so they’ll be gone by then. My roommate goes home on the weekends, so I have the dorm to myself today. It gave me the chance to go through Linda’s website history. I was right in thinking that’s where her deepest secrets would lie.
There was actually a lot of dirty stuff, like the names of websites for porn videos and stories and things like that. Same with her searches. A lot of the websites were boring, like cooking websites and recipes, and game websites like Bejeweled and stuff. I eventually got to the “one week ago” section of her history, and it gave me a chill.
There were a whole bunch of searches like “methods of suicide”, “how to tie a noose”, “dangerous household chemicals”, “carbon monoxide poisoning” - like a lot of them. She was probably ready to write a book on suicide after all the research she did. So I guess Linda was contemplating suicide. I wonder if it was influenced by her depression.
The irony is actually striking. Maybe Linda was going to die anyway. Or maybe she couldn’t find the courage to do it. If that were the case, I almost literally gave her a birthday present by killing her. That’s actually really comical in a messed-up way, and it leaves a weird taste in my mouth. The part I don’t get is that I didn’t see any of those searches up until the “one week ago” section, nothing more recent than that.
I ended up throwing the laptop in the dumpster with the other stuff. It’s been a few hours since then, so I’ve had some time to calmly think about everything. Like I said, it was pretty satisfying and I’m glad I finally got around to it. I feel like I can finally cross it off my bucket list, or like I’m tying loose ends with myself. This is probably the first and last time I’ll write the name Linda Watson - it’s back to living a normal college life, except I might do some people-watching every now and then because it’s definitely fun and interesting.
But I’ll always wonder how many people there are like me. I’m sure there has to be a lot, because there is just nothing strange about it to me, being curious about killing someone. Sadly, it’s something that people can’t exactly just talk about, so I guess I’ll never know. I’m sure that anyone would just lie about it even if you asked them. But you can’t help but wonder if that person in the grocery store, who stares at you as you pass by, might be considering what it would be like to kill you. If I could, I would tell them all about it, so they could decide for themselves. But who knows, maybe I got lucky, and that person is you. I actually really, really hope so.
Last edited 12 days ago by BlackGeneral.
| 17 days ago
that might be a bit spooky,
so hang on tight folks.
This is long, so I apologize for that. I’ve never had to tell this story with enough detail to actually explain it all the way, but it is true and it happened when I was about 6 years old.
In a quiet room if you press your ear against a pillow you can hear your heartbeat. As a kid, the muffled, rhythmic beats sounded like soft footsteps on a carpeted floor, and so as a kid almost every night – just as I was about to drift off to sleep – I would hear these footsteps and I would be ripped back to consciousness, terrified.
For my entire childhood I lived with my mother in a fairly nice neighborhood that was in a transitional phase – people of lower economic means were gradually moving in, and my mother and I were two of these people. We lived in the kind of house you see being transported in two pieces on the interstate, but my mom took good care of it. There were a lot of woods surrounding the neighborhood that I would play in and explore during the day, but at night – as things often do to a kid – they took on a more sinister feeling. This coupled with the fact that, due to the nature of our house, there was a fairly large crawlspace underneath filled my mind with imaginary monsters and inescapable scenarios which would consume my thoughts when I was awoken by the footsteps.
I told my mom about the footsteps and she said that I was just imagining things; I persisted enough that she blasted my ears with water from a turkey baster once just to placate me, since I thought that would help. Of course it didn’t. Despite all the creepiness and footsteps the only weird thing that ever happened was that every now and then I would wake up on the bottom bunk despite having gone to sleep on the top, but this wasn’t really weird since I’d sometimes get up to piss or get something to drink and could remember just going back to sleep on the bottom bunk (I’m an only child so it didn’t matter). This would happen once or twice a week, but waking up on the bottom bunk wasn’t too terrifying. But one night I didn’t wake up on the bottom bunk.
I had heard the footsteps but was too far gone to be woken up by them, and when I was awoken it wasn’t from the sound of footsteps or a nightmare, but because I was cold. Really cold. When I opened my eyes I saw stars. I was in the woods. I sat up immediately and tried to figure out what was going on. I thought I was dreaming, but that didn’t seem right, though neither did me being in the woods. There was a deflated pool float right in front of me – one of those ones shaped like a shark. This only added to the surreal feeling, but after a while it seemed like I just wasn’t going to wake up because I wasn’t asleep. I stood up to orient myself, but I didn’t recognize these woods. I played in the woods by my house all the time and so I knew them really well, but if these weren’t the same woods then how could I get out? I took a step and felt a shooting pain in my foot which knocked me back to where I had just been laying. I had stepped on a thorn. By the light of the moon I could see that they were everywhere. I looked at my other foot but it was fine, and as a matter of fact so was the rest of me. I didn’t have another scratch on me and I wasn’t even that dirty. I cried for a little bit and then stood back up.
I didn’t know which way to go so I just picked a direction. I resisted the urge to call out since I wasn’t sure I wanted to be found by who or what might be out there
I walked for what seemed like hours.
I tried to walk in a straight line, and tried to course-correct when I had to take detours, but I was a kid and I was afraid. There weren’t any howls or screams, and only once did I hear any noise that scared me. It sounded like a crying baby. I think now that it was just a cat, but I panicked. I ran veering in different directions to avoid big thicks of bushes and collapsed trees. And I was paying close attention to where I stepped because by that point my feet were in pretty bad shape. I paid too much attention to where I was stepping and not enough to where those steps were leading because not long after hearing the cry I saw something that filled me with a kind of despair I haven’t experienced since. It was the pool float.
I was only 10 feet from where I had woken up.
This wasn’t magic or some supernatural space-bending. I was lost. Up until that moment I thought more about getting out of the woods than how I got in, but being back at the beginning caused my mind to swim. I wasn’t even sure that these were my woods; I had only been hoping that they were. Had I run in a huge circle around that spot, or did I just get turned around and start making my way back? How was I going to get out? At the time I thought the north star was just the brightest star, and so I looked and found the brightest one and followed it.
Eventually things started to look more familiar and when I saw “the ditch” (a dirt ditch my friends and I would have dirt-clod wars in) I knew I had made it out. By that point I was walking really slowly because my feet hurt so much, but I was so happy to be so close to home that I broke into a light jog. When I actually saw the roof of my house over a neighboring, lower-set house I let out a light sob and ran faster. I just wanted to be home. I had already decided that I wouldn’t say anything because I had no idea what I could possibly say. I would get back in the house somehow, clean up, and get in bed. My heart sunk as I rounded the corner and my house came fully into view.
Every light in the house was on.
I knew my mom was up, and I knew I would have to explain (or try to explain) where I had been, and I couldn’t even figure out where to start. My run became a jog which became a walk. I saw her silhouette through the blinds, and although I was worried about how to explain things to her that didn’t matter to me at that point. I walked up the couple of steps to the porch and put my hand on the doorknob and turned. Right before I pushed it open two arms wrapped around me and pulled me back. I screamed as loud as I could: “MOM! HELP ME! PLEASE! MOM!” The feeling of being so close to being safe and then being physically pulled away from it filled me with a kind of dread that is, even after all these years, indescribable.
The door I had been torn away from opened, and a flash of hope shot through my heart. But it wasn’t my mom.
It was a man, and he was enormous. I thrashed around and kicked at the shins of the person holding me while also trying to get away from the person who had just come out of my house. I was scared, but I was furious. “LET ME GO! WHERE IS SHE? WHERE’S MY MOM? WHAT’D YOU DO TO HER!?” As my throat stung from screaming and I was drawing in another breath I became aware of a sound that had been present for longer than I had perceived it. “Honey, please calm down. I’ve got you.” It sounded like my mom.
The arms loosened and set me down, and as man approaching me blocked out the porch light with his head I noticed his clothes. He was a cop. I turned to face the voice behind me and saw that it really was my mom. Everything was ok. I began to cry, and the three of us went inside.
“I’m so glad you’re home, Sweetie. I was worried I’d never see you again.” By that point she was crying too.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened. I just wanted to come home. I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok, just don’t ever do that again. I’m not sure me or my shins could take it…”
A little laughter broke through my sobs and I smiled a bit. “Well I’m sorry for kicking you, but why’d you have to grab me like that?!”
“I was just afraid that you’d run away again.”
I was confused. “What do you mean?”
“We found your note on your pillow,” she said, and pointed at the piece of paper that the police officer was sliding across the table.
I picked up the note and read it. It was a “running away” letter. It said that I was unhappy never wanted to see her or any of my friends again. The police officer exchanged a few words with my mom on the porch while I stared at the letter. I didn’t remember writing a letter. I didn’t remember anything about any of this. But even if I sometimes went to the bathroom at night and didn’t remember, or even if I could have gone into the woods on my own, even if all that could have been true, the only thing I knew at that point was,
“This isn’t how you spell my name . . . I didn’t write this letter.”
EDIT: After a conversation with my mother about what happened when I was a kid, I was reminded of something that cannot be unrelated to this. It answers some questions about this story, but raises other questions that I'm still looking into. It also suggests that much of what I've be told about my life since I was a child wasn't true. You can find the new story here.
A couple days ago I posted a story called "Footsteps" here on /nosleep. There were a number of questions that made me curious about certain details about my childhood and so I spoke with my mother. Exacerbated by my questions she said "why don't you just tell them about the goddamn balloons if they're so interested." As soon as she said that I remembered so much about my childhood that I had forgotten. This story will provide some greater context for the previous story, which I think you should read first. Though the order isn't of vital importance, reading that story first will put you in my place more effectively since I remembered the events of Footsteps first. If you have questions or anything feel free to ask and I'll try to answer them. Also, both stories are long, so heads up on that. I'm just hesitant to leave out any details that might be important.
When I was 5 years old I went to an elementary school that, from what I’ve come to understand, was really adamant about the importance of learning through activity. It was part of a new program designed to allow children to rise at their own pace, and to facilitate this the school encouraged teachers to come up with really inventive lesson plans. Each teacher was given the latitude to create his or her own themes which would run for the duration of the grade, and all the lessons in math, reading, etc., would be designed in the spirit of the theme. These themes were called “Groups.” There was a “Space” group, a “Sea” group, an “Earth” group, and the group I was in, “Community.”
In Kindergarten in this country you don’t learn much except how to tie your shoes and how to share, so most of it isn’t very memorable. I only remember two things very clearly: I was the best at writing my name the right way, and the Balloon Project, which was really the hallmark of the Community group, since it was a pretty clever way to show how a community functioned at a really basic level.
You’ve probably heard of this activity. On one Friday (I remember it being Friday because I was excited about the project and it being the end of the week) toward the beginning of the year, we walked into the classroom in the morning and saw that there was a fully-inflated balloon tied off with string taped to each of our desks. Sitting on each of our desks was a marker, a pen, a piece of paper, and an envelope. The project was to write a note on the paper, put it in the envelope, and attach it to the balloon which we could draw a picture on if we wanted. Most of the kids started fighting over the balloons because they wanted different colors, but I started on my note which I had thought a lot about.
All the notes had to follow a loose structure, but we were allowed to be creative within those boundaries. My note was something like this: “Hi! You found my balloon! My name is [Name] and I attend ______________ Elementary school. You can keep the balloon, but I hope you write me back! I like Mighty Max, exploring, building forts, swimming, and friends. What do you like? Write me back soon. Here’s a dollar for the mail!” On the dollar I wrote “FOR STAMPS” right across the front, which my mom said was unnecessary, but I thought it was genius, so I did it.
The teacher took a Polaroid of each of us with our balloons and had us put them in the envelope along with our letter. They also included another letter that I assume explained the nature of the project and sincere appreciation for anyone’s participation in writing back and sending photos of their city or neighborhood. That was the whole idea – to build a sense of community without having to leave the school, and to establish safe contact with other people; it seemed like such a fun idea . . .
Over the next couple weeks the letters started to roll in. Most came with pictures of different landmarks, and each time a letter would come in the teacher would pin the picture on a big wall-map we had put up showing where the letter had come from and how far the balloon had traveled. It was a really smart idea, because we actually looked forward to coming to school to see if we had gotten our letter. For the duration of the year we had one day a week where we could write back to our pen-pal or another students’ pen-pal in case our letter hadn’t come in yet. Mine was one of the last to arrive. When I came into the classroom I looked at my desk and once again didn’t see any letter waiting for me, but as I sat down the teacher approached me and handed me an envelope. I must have looked so excited because as I was about to open it she put her hand on mine to stop me and said “Please don’t be upset.” I didn’t understand what she meant – why would I be upset now that my letter had come? Initially I was mystified that she would even know what was in the envelope, but now I realize that of course the teachers had screened the contents to make sure there was nothing obscene, but all the same – how could I be disappointed? When I opened the envelope I understood.
There was no letter.
The only thing in the envelope was a Polaroid, but I couldn’t really make out what it was. It looked like a patch of desert, but it was too blurry to decipher; it appeared as if the camera had been moved while the picture was being taken. There was no return address, so I couldn’t even write back if I wanted to. I was crushed.
The school year pressed on, and the letters had stopped coming for nearly all of the other students. After all, you can only continue a written correspondence with a Kindergartener for so long. Everyone, including myself, had lost interest in the letters almost completely. Then I got another envelope.
My excitement was rejuvenated, and I reveled in the fact that I was still getting a letter when most of the other pen-pals had abandoned their involvement. It made sense that I received another delivery – there had been nothing but a blurry picture in the first one, so this was probably to make up for that. But again there was no letter at all . . . just another picture.
This one was more distinguishable, but I still didn’t understand it. The photograph was angled way up, catching the top corner of a building, and the rest of the image was distorted by a lense-flare from the sun.
Because the balloons didn’t travel very far, and because they were all launched on the same day, the board became a bit cluttered, and so the policy for the students still exchanging letters became that they could take the photographs home. My best friend Josh had the second highest number of pictures taken home by the end of the year – his pen-pal was really cooperative and sent him pictures from all around the neighboring city; Josh took home, I think, 4 pictures.
I took home nearly 50.
The envelopes were all opened by the teacher, but after a while I stopped even looking at the pictures However, I saved them in one of my drawers that housed my collections of rocks, baseball cards, comic book cards (Marvel Metal cards, for those who might remember), and little miniature baseball batting helmets that I’d get out of a vending machine at Winn-Dixie after T-Ball games. With the school year over my attention turned to other things.
My mom had gotten me a small snow cone machine for Christmas that year, and Josh had really coveted it – so much so that his parents bought him a slightly nicer one for his birthday which was toward the end of the school year. That summer we had the idea that we would set up a snow cone stand to make money; we thought we’d make a fortune selling snow cones at $1. Josh lived in a different neighborhood, but we eventually decided that my neighborhood would be better because there were a lot of people who cared for their lawns; the yards in my neighborhood were slightly bigger. We did this for 5 weekends in a row until my mom told us that we had to stop, and I’ve only recently come to understand why she did that.
On the 5th weekend Josh and I were counting our money. Because we both had a machine we each had a separate stack of money that we put together into one stack and we then split it evenly. We had made a total of $16 that day, and as Josh paid out my 5th dollar a feeling of profound surprise consumed me.
The dollar said “FOR STAMPS.”
Josh noticed my shock and asked if he had miscounted. I told him about the dollar and he said, “That’s so cool, man!” As I thought about it, I came to agree. The idea that the dollar had made it right back to me after changing so many hands floored me. I rushed inside to tell my mom, but my excitement coupled with her being distracted by a phone call made my story incomprehensible and she responded simply by saying “Oh wow! That’s neat!” Frustrated, I ran back outside and told Josh I had something to show him. Back in my room, I opened the drawer and took out the stack of envelopes and showed him some of the pictures. I started with the first picture, and we went through about 10 before Josh lost interest and asked if I wanted to go play in the ditch (a dirt ditch down the street from my house) before his mom came to pick him up, so that’s what we did.
We had a “dirt war” for a while, but it was interrupted several times by rustling in the woods around us. There were raccoons and stray cats that lived in there, but this was making a little too much noise and we traded guesses at what it was in an attempt to scare each other. My last guess was that it was a mummy, but in the end Josh kept insisting that it was a robot because of the sounds that we heard. Before we left, he got a little serious and looked me right in the eyes and said, “You heard it didn’t you? It sounded like a robot. You heard it too right?” I had heard it, and since it sounded mechanical I agreed that it was probably a robot. It’s only now that I understand what we heard.
When we got back Josh’s mom was waiting for him at the kitchen table with my mom. Josh told his mom about the robot, our moms laughed and Josh went home. My mom and I ate dinner, and then I went to bed.
I didn’t stay in bed for long before I crept out and decided that, due to the day’s events, I would revisit the envelopes since now the whole affair seemed much more interesting. I took the first envelope and set it on the floor and set the blurry desert Polaroid on top. I laid the second envelope right next to it and placed the oddly angled Polaroid of a building’s top corner on top and did this with each picture until they formed a grid that was about 5X10; I was always taught to be careful with things that I was collecting even if I wasn’t sure they were valuable.
I noticed that the pictures gradually became more decipherable. There was a tree with a bird on it, a speed limit sign, power line, a group of people walking into some building. And then I saw something that vexed me so powerfully that I can now, as I write this, distinctly remember feeling dizzy and capable of only a single, repeating thought:
“Why am I in this picture?”
In this photograph of the group of people entering the building I saw myself holding hands with my mother in the very back of the crowd of people. We were at the very edge of the photo, but it was undeniably us. And as my eyes swam over the sea of Polaroids I became increasing anxious. It was a really odd feeling – it wasn’t fear, it was the feeling you get when you are in trouble. I’m not sure why I was flooded with that feeling, but there I sat floundering in the distinct sense that I had done something wrong. And this feeling only intensified as I looked on at the rest of the photos after that the one that had so powerfully struck me.
I was in every photo.
None of them were close shots. None of them were only of me. But I was in every single one of them – off to the side, in the back, bottom of the frame. Some of them only had the tiniest part of my face captured at the very edge of the photo, but nevertheless, I was there. I was always there.
I didn’t know what to do. Your mind works in funny ways as a kid, but there was a large part of me that was afraid of getting in trouble simply for still being up. Since I already had the looming feeling of having done something wrong I decided that I would wait until tomorrow.
The next day, my mom was off work and spent most of the morning cleaning up around the house. I watched cartoons, I imagine, and waited until I thought it was a good time to show her the Polaroids. When she went out to get the mail I grabbed a couple of the pictures and put them on the table in front of me as I sat waiting for her to come back in. When returned she was already opening the mail and threw some junk mail into the trashcan and I said,
“Mom, can you come here for a second? I have these pictures--”
“Just give me a minute, honey. I need to mark these on the calendar.”
After a minute or two she came and stood behind me and asked me what I needed. I could hear her shuffling with the mail behind me but I just looked at the Polaroids and told her about them. As I explained more and pointed to the pictures her frequent “uh huh’s” and “ok’s” decreased, and she was suddenly completely quiet and only making a little noise with the mail. The next noise I heard from her sounded as if she was trying to catch her breath in a room that had no air left in it. At last her struggling gasps were conquered and she simply dropped the remaining mail on the table and ran to the kitchen to get the phone.
“Mom! I’m sorry, I didn’t know about these! Don’t be mad at me!”
With the phone pressed to her ear she was walking/running back and forth and shouting into it. I nervously fiddled with the mail sitting next to my Polaroids. The top envelope had something sticking out of it that I thoughtlessly and anxiously pulled on until it came out.
It was another Polaroid.
Confused, I thought that somehow one of my Polaroids had slipped into the stack when she threw the mail down, but when I turned it over and looked at it I realized that I had not seen this one before. To my dismay, it was me, but this one was a much closer shot. I was surrounded by trees and was smiling. But it wasn’t just me, I noticed. Josh was there too. This was us from yesterday.
I started yelling for my mom who was still screaming into the phone. I repeatedly yelled for her until she finally responded with
and I could only think to ask, “Who are you calling?”
“I’m talking with the police, honey.”
“But why? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do anything…”
She answered me with a response that I never understood until I was forced to revisit these event from the earliest years of my life. She grabbed the envelope off the table and the picture of Josh and I spun and slid, landing next to the other Polaroids in front of me. She held the envelope up to my eyes but I could only look at her and watch as all the color began draining out of her face. With tears welling up in her eyes she said that she had to call the police because there was no postmark.
| 17 days ago
Mangadex doesn't like me posting into one post so here are the next parts.
If you haven’t read “Footsteps” or “Balloons” please do so before reading what’s below so you’ll understand.
For those of you who have read my other stories and asked if there was more and received cryptic answers from me, I want to apologize for being dishonest. I said several times in the comments that nothing really happened after “Footsteps,” but that wasn’t true. The events of the following story weren’t locked away in the recesses of my mind; I’ve always remembered them. It wasn’t until I remembered “Balloons” and spoke with my mother about the following events that I realized how intertwined this story was with everything else, but I originally hadn’t really planned on sharing this anyway. My desire to withhold this memory was due mostly to the fact that I don’t think I showed good judgment in it; I also wanted consent from another person to tell it, so as to not misrepresent what transpired. I didn’t expect there to be a lot of interest in my other stories, so I never thought I’d really get pressed for more details, and I would have been happy to keep this to myself for the rest of my life. I haven’t been able to reach the other party, but I would feel disingenuous withholding this story from those who wanted more information now that I’ve spoken with my mother and another connecting line has been drawn. What follows is as accurate a recollection as I could manage. I apologize for the length.
I spent the summer before my first year of elementary school learning how to climb trees. There was one particular pine tree right outside my house that seemed almost designed for me. It had branches that were so low I could easily grab them without a boost, and for the first couple days after I first learned how to pull myself up I would just sit on the lowest branch, dangling my feet. The tree was outside our back fence and was easily visible from the kitchen window which was just above the sink. Before too long my mother and I developed a routine where I would go play on the tree when she washed the dishes because she could easily see me while she did other things.
As the summer passed my abilities grew and before too long I was climbing fairly high. As the tree got taller its branches not only got thinner but more widely-spaced and so I eventually reached a point where I couldn’t actually climb any higher, and so the game had to change; I began to concentrate on speed, and in the end I could reach my highest branch in 25 seconds.
I got too confident and one afternoon I tried to step from a branch before I had firmly grasped the next one. I fell about 20 feet and broke my arm really badly in two places. My mom was running toward me yelling and I remember her sounding like she was underwater – I don’t remember what she said but I do remember being surprised by just how white my bone was.
I was going to start Kindergarten with a cast and wouldn’t even have any friends to sign it. My mom must have felt terrible because the day before I started school she brought home a kitten. He was just a baby and was striped with tan and white. As soon as she put him down he crawled into an empty case of soda that was sitting on the floor. I named him Boxes.
Boxes was only an outside cat when he escaped. My mom had him declawed so he wouldn’t destroy the furniture, so as a result we did our best to keep him inside. He’d get out every now and then, and we’d find him somewhere in the backyard chasing some kind of bug or lizard, though he could hardly ever catch one because he had no front claws. He was pretty evasive, but we’d always catch him and carry him back inside. He’d scramble to look back over my shoulder – I told my mom that it was because he was planning his strategy for next time. Once inside we’d give him some tuna fish, and he came to learn what the sound of the can-opener might signal; he’d come running whenever he heard it.
This conditioning came in handy later because toward the end of our time in that house Boxes would get out much more often and would run under the house into the crawlspace where neither of us wanted to follow because it was cramped and probably crawling with bugs and rodents. Ingeniously, my mom thought to hook the can-opener to an extension cord out back and run it right outside the hole that Boxes had gone through. Eventually he would emerge with his loud meows, looking excited by the sound and then horrified at how we could run such a cruel ruse on him – a can-opener with no tuna made no sense to Boxes.
The last time he escaped to under the house was actually our last day in it. My mom had put the house on the market and we had begun packing our things. We didn’t have much, and we stretched the packing out a while, though I had already packed up all my clothes at my mom’s request – my mom could tell I was really sad about moving and wanted the transition to be smooth for me, and I guess she thought that having my clothes in the box would reinforce the idea that we were moving but things wouldn’t change that much. When Boxes got out as we were loading some things into the moving van my mom cursed because she had already packed the can opener and wasn’t sure where it was. I pretended to go look for it so I wouldn’t have to go under the house, and my mom (probably completely aware of my little scam) moved one of the panels and crawled in. She came out with Boxes pretty quickly and seemed pretty unnerved, which made me feel even better about getting out of it. My mom made some phone calls while I packed a little more, and then she came into my room and told me that she had spoken to the realtor and we were going to start moving into the other house that day. She said it like it was excellent news, but I had thought we had more time in the house – she originally said that we weren’t moving until the end of the next week and it was only Tuesday. What’s more, we weren’t completely finished packing, but my mom said sometimes it was just easier to replace things than pack them and haul them all over the city. I didn’t even get to grab the rest of my boxed clothes. I asked if I could call Josh to say bye, but she said that we could just call him from our new house. We left in the moving van.
I managed to stay in touch with Josh for years; which is surprising since we no longer went to the same school. Our parents weren’t close friends, but they knew that we were and so they would accommodate our desire to see one another by driving us back and forth for sleep-overs – sometimes every weekend. For Christmas one year our parents even pooled their money and got us some really nice walkie-talkies that were advertised to work across a range that extended past the distance between our houses; they also had batteries that could last for days if the walkie-talkie was on but not used. They would only occasionally work well enough that we could talk across the city, but when we stayed-over we’d use them around the house, talking in mock-radio speak that we had taken from movies, and they worked great for that. Thanks to our parents we were still friends when we were 10.
One weekend I was staying over at Josh’s and my mom called me to say goodnight; she was still pretty watchful even when she couldn’t actually watch me, but I had gotten so used to it that I didn’t even notice it, even if Josh did. She sounded upset.
Boxes was missing.
This must have been a Saturday night, because I had spent the night at Josh’s the previous night and was going to go home the next day because we had school on Monday. Boxes had been missing since Friday afternoon – I gathered that she had not seen him since returning home after dropping me off. She must have decided to tell me he was missing because if he didn’t come home before I did then I would be devastated at, not only his absence, but how she could have kept it from me. She told me not to worry. “He’ll come back. He always does!”
But Boxes didn’t come back.
Three weekends later I stayed at Josh’s again. I was still upset about Boxes, but my mom told me that there had been many times when pets had disappeared from home for weeks or even months, only to return on their own; she said they always knew where home was and would always try to get back. I was explaining this to Josh when a thought hit me so hard that I interrupted my own sentence to say it aloud. “What if Boxes thought of the wrong home?”
Josh was confused. “What? He lives with you. He knows where his home is.”
“But, he grew up somewhere else, Josh. He was raised in my old house a couple neighborhoods away. Maybe he still thinks of that place as home, like I do.”
“Ohhh I get it. Well that’d be great! We’ll tell my dad tomorrow and he’ll take us over there so we can look!”
“No he won’t, man. My mom said that we couldn’t ever go back to that place because the new owners wouldn’t wanna be bothered. She said that she told your mom and dad the same thing.”
Josh persisted, “ok then we’ll just go out exploring tomorrow and make our way to your old house—”
“No! If we get spotted your dad will find out and then so will my mom! We have to go there ourselves . . . We have to go there tonight . . .”
It didn’t take that much convincing to get Josh on board since he was usually the one to come up with ideas like this. But we had never snuck out of his house before. It actually turned out to be incredibly easy. The window in his room opened to the back yard and he had a latched wooden fence that wasn’t locked. After those two minor hurtles we slipped off into the night, flashlight and walkie-talkies in hand.
There were two ways to get from Josh’s house to my old house. We could walk on the street and make all the turns or go through the woods, which would take about half the time. It would have taken about 2 hours to walk there taking the street, but I suggested that we go that way anyway; I told him it was because I didn’t want to get lost. Josh refused and said that if we were seen they might recognize him and tell his dad. He threatened to go home if we didn’t just take the shortcut, and I accepted it because I didn’t want to go by myself.
Josh didn’t know about the last time I walked through these woods at night.
The woods were much less creepy with a friend and a flashlight, and we were making pretty good time. I wasn’t entirely sure where we were, but Josh seemed confident enough and that bolstered my morale. We passed through a particularly thick patch of tangled trees when the strap on my walkie-talkie got caught on a branch. Josh had the flashlight and so I was struggling to get the walkie free when I heard Josh say,
“Hey man, wanna go for a swim?”
I looked over to where he was shining the flashlight, though I closed my eyes as I did, because I now knew where we were. He was pointing at the pool float. This was where I had woken up in these woods all those years ago. I felt a lump in my throat and the sting of fresh tears in my eyes as I continued to struggle with the walkie. Frustrated, I yanked on it hard enough to break it free and I turned and walked to Josh who had partially laid down on the pool float in a mock-sunbathing pose. As I walked toward him I stumbled and nearly fell into a fairly large hole that was sitting in the middle of this small clearing, but I regained my balance and stopped right at its edge. It was deep. I was surprised by the size of the hole, but more surprised by the fact that I didn’t remember it. I realized it must not have been there that night because it was in the same spot where I had awoken. I put it out of my mind and turned to Josh.
“Quit messing around man! You saw I was stuck over there, and you were just laying here joking around on this float!” I punctuated the sentence with a kick to an exposed part of the float. A screeching rose from it.
Josh’s smile inverted. He suddenly looked terrified and was struggling to get off the float, but he couldn’t in a quick manner due to the awkward way he had been laying on it. Each time he would fall back on the float the screeching would intensify. I wanted to help Josh but I couldn’t move myself any closer – my legs wouldn’t cooperate; I hated these woods. I picked up the flashlight that he had thrown in his thrashing and shined in on the float not knowing what to expect. Finally, Josh got off the float and rushed next to me looking at where I was shining the light. Suddenly there it was. It was a rat. I started laughing nervously and we both watched the rat run into the woods taking the screeches with it. Josh lightly punched me in the arm, the smile slowly returning to his face, and we continued walking.
We quickened our pace and made it out of the woods faster than we thought we would, and we found ourselves back in my old neighborhood. The last time I had rounded the bend ahead I had seen my house fully illuminated, and all the memories of what transpired came flooding back. I felt a skipping in my heart as we were finally turning the corner and about to face the full view of my house, remembering last time how incandescent it was. But this time all the lights were off. From a distance I could see my old climbing tree and as my mind traced the steps of causality backward I realized that I wouldn’t back here this night if that tree hadn’t grown, and I was briefly in awe of how all events were like that. As we got closer I could see that the lawn looked terrible; I couldn’t even guess when it had last been mowed. One of the shutters had partially broken loose and was rocking back and forth in the breeze, and over all the house just looked dirty. I was sad to see my old home in such a state of disrepair. Why would my mom care if we bothered the new owners if they cared so little about where they lived? And then I realized:
There were no new owners.
The house was abandoned, though it looked simply forsaken. Why would my mom lie to me about our house having new people in it? But, I thought that this was actually a good thing. It would be easier to look around for Boxes if we didn’t have to worry about being spotted by the new family. This would make it much quicker. Josh interrupted my thoughts as we walked through the gate and up to the house itself.
“Your old house sucks, dude!” Josh yelled as quietly as he could.
“Shut up, Josh! Even like this it’s still nicer than your house.”
“OK, OK. I think Boxes is probably under the house. One of us has to go under and look, but the other should stay next to the opening in case he comes running out.”
“Are you serious? There’s no way I’m going under there. It’s your cat, man. You do it.”
“Look, I’ll game you for it, unless you’re too scared . . .” I said holding my fist over my up-turned palm.
“Fine, but we go on ‘shoot,’ not on three. It’s ‘rock, paper, scissors, SHOOT,’ not ‘one, two, THREE.’”
“I know how to play the game, Josh. You’re the one who always messes up. And it’s two out of three.”
I wiggled loose the panel that my mom would always move when we she had to crawl under here for Boxes. She only had to do it a couple of times since the can-opener trick usually worked, but when she had to do it she hated it, especially that last time, and as I looked into the darkness of the crawlspace I had a greater appreciation for why. Before we moved she said that it was actually better that Boxes ran under here, despite how hard it could be to get him out. It was less dangerous than him jumping over the fence and running around the neighborhood. All that was true, but I was still dreading doing this. I grabbed the flashlight and the walkie and began to crawl in; a powerful smell overtook me.
It smelled like death.
I turned on my walkie. Josh, are you there?
This is Macho Man, come back.
Josh, cut it out. There’s something wrong down here.
What do you mean?
It stinks. It smells like something died.
Is it Boxes?
I really hope not.
I set down the walkie and moved the flashlight around as I crawled forward. Looking through the hole from the outside you could see all the way back with the right lighting, but you had to be inside to see around the support blocks that held the house up. I’d say that there was about 40% of the area that you couldn’t see unless you were actually in the crawlspace, but even inside I discovered that I could only see directly where the flashlight was pointing,; I realized that this would make scouting around the place much more difficult. As I moved forward the smell intensified. The fear was growing in me that Boxes had come here and something had happened to him. I shined the flashlight around but couldn’t see much of anything. I wrapped my fingers around a support block to pull myself forward and as I did that I felt something that made my hand recoil.
My heart sank and I prepared myself emotionally for what I was about to see. I crawled slowly so I could prolong what I knew was coming and I inched my eyes and the flashlight past the block to see what was on the other side.
I staggered back in horror. “JESUS CHRIST!” escaped my trembling mouth. It was a hideous and twisted creature, badly decomposed. Its skin had rotted away on its face so the teeth appeared to be enormous. And the smell was unbearable.
What is it? Are you ok? Is it Boxes?
I reached for the walkie No, no it’s not Boxes.
Well what the hell is it then?
I don’t know
I shined the light on it again and looked at it with less fear in my vision. I chuckled.
It’s a raccoon!
Well keep looking. I’m gonna go into the house to see if he might’ve made it in there somehow
What? No. Josh, don’t go in there. What if Boxes is down here and runs out?
He can’t. I put the board back.
I looked and saw that he was telling the truth.
Why’d you do that?
Don’t worry man, you can move it easy. This makes more sense. If Boxes ran out and I missed him then he’d be gone. If he’s down there then grab him tight and I’ll come move the board, and if he’s not then you can move it yourself while I look in the house!
Some of his points were good, and I doubted he’d be able to get in anyway.
OK. But be careful and don’t touch anything. There’s a bunch of my old clothes still in boxes in my room, you can look in there to see if he crawled in one. And make sure to bring your walkie.
Roger that, good buddy.
I realized that it would be pitch-black in there; the power would have been turned off since no one was paying the bill. With any luck he’d be able to see from the streetlights that might cast some light inside – otherwise I’m not sure what he’d do.
Before too long I heard footsteps right over my head and felt old dirt raining down on me.
Josh is that you?
chhkkkk Breaker, Breaker. This is Macho Man coming back for the big Tango Foxtrot. The Eagle has landed. What’s your 20, Princess Jasmine? Over.
Macho Man, my 20 is in your bathroom lookin’ at your stash of magazines. Looks like you’ve got a thing for dudes’ butts. What’s the report on that? Over.
I could hear him laughing without the walkie and I started laughing too. I head the footsteps fade away a little – he was on his way to my room.
Man, it’s *dark in here. Hey, are you sure you had boxes of clothes in here? I don’t see any.*
Yeah, there should be a couple boxes in front of the closet.
There aren’t any boxes in here, lemme check to see if you maybe put the boxes in the closet before you left.
I started thinking that maybe my mom had come back and gotten the clothes and just given them away because I had outgrown a lot of them, but I remembered leaving the boxes there – I didn’t even have time to close the last one up before we left.
While I was waiting for Josh to tell me what he found, I kicked out my leg which had started falling asleep because of the position I was in and it hit something. I looked back and saw something really strange. It was a blanket and all around it there were bowls. I crawled a little closer to it. The blanket smelled moldy and most of the bowls were empty but one had something that I recognized still in it.
It was a different kind than we gave to Boxes, but I suddenly understood. My mom had set up a little place for Boxes to encourage him to come here instead of running around the neighborhood. That made a lot of sense, and it seemed even more likely that Boxes would have come back to this place. “That’s so cool, mom,” I thought.
I found your clothes
Oh cool. Where were the boxes?
Like I said, there are no boxes. Your clothes are in your closet . . . They’re hanging up.
I felt a chill. This was impossible. I had packed all my clothes. Even though we weren’t supposed to move for another two weeks when we left, I remember packing them and thinking that it was stupid for me to have to get clothes out of the box and put them back in. I had packed them, but someone had hung them back up. Why though?
Josh needed to get out of there.
That can’t be right, Josh. They’re supposed to be in boxes. Stop messing around, and just come back outside.
No joke man. I’m looking at them. Maybe you just thought that you left them. Haha! Wow! You sure like to look at yourself, don’t you?
What? What do you mean?
Your walls, man. Haha. Your walls are covered in Polaroids of yourself! There are hundreds of them! What’d you hire someone to—”
I checked my walkie to see if I had switched it off somehow. It was fine. I could hear footsteps but couldn’t tell exactly where Josh was going. I waited for Josh to finish his sentence, thinking that his finger had just slipped off the button, but he didn’t continue. He seemed to be stomping around the house now. I was just about to radio him when he came back.
There’s someone in the house
His voice was hushed and broken – I could hear he was on the verge of tears. I wanted to respond, but how loud was his walkie turned up? What if the other person heard it? I said nothing and just waited and listened. What I heard were footsteps. Heavy, dragging footsteps. And then a loud thud.
“Oh God . . . Josh.”
He had been found; I was sure of it. This person had found him and was hurting him. I broke out in tears. He was my only friend, next to Boxes. And then I realized: What if Josh told him I was under here? What could I possibly do? As I struggled to compose myself, I thankfully heard Josh’s voice through the walkie.
He’s got something, man. It’s a big bag. He just threw it on the floor. And . . . oh God, man . . . the bag . . . I think it just moved.
I was paralyzed. I wanted to run home. I wanted to save Josh. I wanted to go for help. I wanted so many things but I just lay there, frozen. As I lay unable to move my eyes focused on the corner of the house that was right under my room; I moved my flashlight. My breath hitched at what I saw.
Animals. Dozens of them. All of them dead. They lay in piles all around the perimeter of the crawlspace. Could Boxes be among these corpses? Was this what the cat food was for?
Seeing this broke my shock as I knew I had to get out of there and I scrambled to the board. I pushed on it, but it wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t move it because it was wedged in there and I couldn’t get my fingers around it since the edges were outside. I was trapped. “Goddamn you, Josh!” I whispered to myself. I could feel thunderous footsteps above me. The house was shaking. I heard Josh scream, and it was matched by another scream that wasn’t full of fear.
As I continued pushing I felt the board move, but I knew it wasn’t me who was moving it. I could hear footsteps above me and in front of me and shouting and screaming filling the brief silences between the footsteps. I moved back and held my walkie ready to try to defend myself, and the board was thrown to the side and an arm shot in and grabbed for me.
“Let’s go, man! Now!”
It was Josh. Thank God.
I scrambled out of the opening holding the flashlight and the walkie. When we got to the fence we both jumped it but Josh’s walkie fell, he reached for it and I told him to forget it. We had to move. Behind us I could hear yelling, though they weren’t words, only sounds. And we, perhaps foolishly, ran for the woods to get back to Josh’s quicker and be somewhat harder to follow. The whole way through the woods Josh kept yelling,
“My picture! He took my picture!”
But I knew the man already had Josh’s picture -- from all those years ago at the ditch. I supposed Josh still thought those mechanical sounds were from a robot.
We made it back to Josh’s house and back into his room before his parents woke up. I asked him about the big bag and if it really moved and he said he couldn’t be sure. He kept apologizing about dropping the walkie at the house, but obviously that wasn’t a big deal. We didn’t go to sleep and sat peering out the window waiting for him. I went home later that day as it was about 3am already.
I told my mom the basics of this story a couple days ago. She broke down and was furious about the danger I put myself in. I asked her why she made all those things up about bothering the new owners to stop me from going – why did she think the house was so dangerous? She became irate and hysterical, but she answered my question. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it harder than I thought her capable of and locked her eyes to my, whispering as if she was afraid of being overheard:
“Because I never put any fucking blankets or bowls under the house for Boxes. You weren’t the only one to find them . . .”
I felt dizzy. I understood so much now. I understood why she had looked so uneasy after she brought Boxes out from under the house on our last day there; she found more than spiders or a rat’s nest that day. I understood why we left almost 2 weeks early. I understood why she tried to stop me from going back.
She knew. She knew he made his home under ours, and she kept it from me. I left without saying another word and didn’t finish the story for her, but I want to finish it here, for you.
I got home from Josh’s that day I threw my stuff on the floor and it scattered everywhere; I didn’t care, I just wanted to sleep. I woke up around 9pm to the sound of Boxes’ meowing. My heart leapt. He had finally come home. I was a little sick about the fact that if I had just waited a day none of the previous night’s events would have happened and I’d have Boxes anyway, but that didn’t matter; he was back. I got off my bed and called for him looking around to catch a glint of light off his eyes. The crying continued and I followed it. It was coming from under the bed. I laughed a little thinking I had just crawled under a house looking for him and how this was so much better. His meows were being muffled by a shirt, so I flung it aside and smiled, yelling “welcome home, Boxes!”
His cries were coming from my walkie-talkie.
Boxes never came home.
There was a comment in the last post that made me remember an event from my childhood that I always took as odd but never considered it to be related to any of these stories. I know now that it is. It’s funny how memories work. The details might all be present in your mind, though scattered and disarrayed, and then a single thought can stitch them back together almost instantly. I never thought of these events much because I was focused on the wrong details. I went back to my mom’s house and went through my old childhood school work looking for something that I think is important. I couldn’t find it, but I’ll keep looking. Again, sorry for the length.
Most old cities and the neighborhoods in them weren’t planned with the thought that the population would begin to grow exponentially and it would have to be accommodated. The layout of the roads is generally originally in response to geographical restrictions and the necessity of connecting points of economic importance. Once the connecting roads are established, new businesses and roads are positioned strategically along the existing skeleton, and eventually the paths carved into the earth are immortalized in asphalt, leaving room only for minor modifications, additions, and alterations, but never a dramatic change.
My childhood neighborhood must have been old, then. If straight lines move “as the crow flies” then my neighborhood must have been built based on the travels of a snake. The first houses built must have been placed around the lake and gradually the inhabitable area increased as new extensions were built off the original path, but these new extensions all ended abruptly at one point or another – there was only one entrance/exit for the entire neighborhood. Many of these extensions were limited by a tributary which both fed and drank from the lake and passed right by what I came to call (and have called in these stories) “the ditch.” Many of the original homes had enormous yards, but some of those original plots had been divided, leaving properties with smaller and smaller boundaries. An aerial view of my neighborhood would give one the impression that an enormous squid had once died in the woods and some adventuring entrepreneur found the corpse and paved roads over its tentacles only to withdraw his involvement and leave time, greed, and desperation to divide up the land among prospective home-owners like an embarrassing attempt at the Golden Ratio.
From my porch you could see the old houses that surrounded the lake, but the house of Mrs. Maggie was my favorite. She was, as best as I can remember, around 80 years old, but despite that she was one of the friendliest people I had ever met. She had a head of loose-set, white curls and always wore light dresses with floral patterns. She would talk to me and Josh from her back porch when we were swimming in the lake, and she would always invite us in for snacks. She said that she was lonely because her husband Tom was always away on business, but Josh and I would always decline her invitation because as nice as Mrs. Maggie was there was still something a bit odd about her.
Every now and then when we would swim away she would say, “Chris and John, you’re welcome here anytime!” And we could hear her still yelling that when we were walking back into my house.
Mrs. Maggie, like many of the older home-owners, had a sprinkler system that was on a timer, though at some point over the years her timer must have broken because the sprinklers would come on at various points during the day and often even at night all year. While it never got cold enough to snow very much, several times each winter I would go outside in the morning to see Mrs. Maggie’s yard transformed into a surreal arctic paradise by the frozen water. Every other yard stood sterilized and dry by the biting frost of the winter’s cold, but right there in the middle of the bleak reminder of the savagery of the season was an oasis of beautiful ice hanging like stalactites from every branch of every tree and every leaf of every bush. As the sun rose it reflected off and each piece of ice splintered the sun into a rainbow that would only be viewed briefly before it blinded you. Even as a child I was struck by how beautiful it was, and often Josh and I would go over there to walk on the iced grass and have sword fights with the icicles.
I once asked my mom why she left it on like that. My mom seemed to search for the explanation before she said,
“Well, Sweetie, Mrs. Maggie is sick a lot, and sometimes when she gets really sick she gets confused. That’s why she messes up yours and Josh’s names sometimes. She doesn’t mean to, but sometimes she just can’t remember. She lives in that big house all by herself so it’s ok if you talk to her when you swim in the lake, but when she invites you in you should keep saying ‘no.’ Be polite; her feelings won’t get hurt.”
“But she’ll be less lonely when her husband comes home though, right? How long will he be away on business? It seems like he’s always away.”
My mom seemed to struggle and I could see that she had become very upset. Finally she answered,
“Honey . . . Tom’s not going to come home. Tom’s in heaven. He died years and years ago, but Mrs. Maggie doesn’t remember. She gets confused and forgets, but Tom’s not ever coming home. If someone moved back in with her she might even think it was Tom, but he’s gone, Sweetie.”
I would have only been around 5-6 when she told me that, and while I didn’t understand it completely, I was still profoundly sad for Mrs. Maggie.
I know now that Mrs. Maggie had Alzheimer’s. She and her husband Tom had had two sons: Chris and John. The two had worked out payment plans with the utility companies and paid for Mrs. Maggie’s water and electricity, but they would never visit her. I don’t know if something happened between them, or if it was the illness, or if they just lived too far away, but they never came around. I have no idea what they looked like, but there were times when Mrs. Maggie must have thought Josh and I looked like they did when they were children. Or maybe she saw what some part of her mind so desperately wanted her to see; ignoring the images transmitted down her optic nerve and just for a little while showing her what used to be. I realize only now how lonely she must have been.
During the summer after Kindergarten, before the events of “Balloons,” Josh and I had taken to exploring the woods near my house, as well as the tributary of the lake. We knew that the woods between our houses were connected, and we thought it would be neat if the lake near my house was somehow connected to the creek around his, so we resolved ourselves to find out.
We were going to make maps.
The plan was to make two separate maps and then combine them. We would make one map exploring the area around the creek near his house, and make another following the outflow from my lake. Originally, we were going to make one map, but we realized that wasn’t possible since I had started drawing the map of my area so huge that the route from his house wouldn’t have been to scale. We kept the map from the lake at my house and the map from the creek at his house, and we would add to each when we stayed the night with each other.
For the first couple weeks it went really well. We would walk through the woods along the water and pause every couple minutes to add to the map and it seemed like the two maps would come together any day. We had no equipment needed for the job – not even a compass – but we tried to make due. We had the idea to impale the earth with a stick when we had reached the end of a venture so that if we came upon the stick from the other direction the next weekend we would know we had joined the maps. We might have been the world’s worst cartographers. Eventually, however, the woods became too thick near the water coming from the lake and we were unable to proceed further. We lost interest in the whole project for a bit, and reduced our explorations significantly, though not completely, when we started selling snow cones.
After I showed my mom all the pictures I had taken home from school and she took away my snow cone machine our interest in the maps revitalized. We had to come up with another plan. Although I didn’t understand why, my mom had placed what I considered to be extremely severe restrictions on what I could do and where I could go, and I had to check in frequently if I went outside to play with Josh. This meant that we couldn’t stay in the woods for hours and continue to look for a new path. We thought that we could just swim when we got to the cutoff in the woods, but that clearly wouldn’t work since the map would get wet. We tried going faster when we were coming from Josh’s house, but we eventually ran into the same problem. Then we had a brilliant idea.
We’d build a raft.
Due to the construction in the neighborhood, there was a large amount of scrap building material that the company would set in the ditch to keep it out of the road and offsite since they no longer needed it for building. We original conceived of a formidable ship complete with a mast and an anchor, but this quickly diminished into something more manageable. We set aside the wood and took several large pieces of Styrofoam that were backed with foam board and tied them together with rope and kite string.
We launched our vessel a little down water from Mrs. Maggie and waved a farewell to her as she motioned us to come back her way. But there was no stopping us.
The raft worked very well, and while we both behaved and spoke as if the functionality of the raft was a given, I know at least I was a little surprised. We each had a fairly long tree branch to use as a paddle, but we found it was easier to simply push against the land under the water than actually use them as intended. When the water became too deep we’d simply lie on our stomachs and use our hands to paddle the water, which still worked – albeit less well. The first time we had to resort to that method of propulsion I remember thinking that from far above it must have looked like a colossally fat man with tiny arms was out for a swim.
It actually took us several trips to get the raft to the impassable patch of woods that marked the farthest we had made it. After we had come up with the idea of marking the ground with the stick, we had taken to running through the woods until we got to the stick and then, as carefully and precisely as we knew how, charting our course. This meant that the impasse was actually quite a bit away, so to sail from around my house all the way to the blockade in the woods was taking longer than expected. We’d sail for a bit and then dock the raft, and then next time we’d run through the woods to the raft and go a little farther.
We continued this well into first grade. Josh and I were assigned to different Groups that year so, since we didn’t really see one another during the school day, our parents were more willing to let us hang out all weekend each week. What’s more, Josh’s dad had taken on a lengthy construction job that required him to work over the weekends, and his mother was on-call, so this meant that Josh would stay at my house most every weekend for weeks on end.
We should have been making excellent progress, but when we finally made it to the impasse and had the opportunity to explore past it we couldn’t find a place to dock the raft. The woods were simply too thick, and the water had eroded the land to the point that there was nearly a two-foot rise of earth over the tributary which exposed the twisting and damp roots of the trees above. We’d have to turn back every time and leave the raft at the same thick of trees that prompted us to build it in the first place. Even worse, winter had arrived, so we couldn’t justify leaving the house in our swimsuits; we were getting nowhere – we always had to come home before we could gain much ground.
On a Saturday, around 7pm, Josh and I were playing when one of my mom’s coworkers knocked on our door. Her name was Samantha, and I remember her well now because I would propose to her a couple years later when I was visiting my mom at work. My mom said that she had to go to work to fix a problem that had arisen and that she’d back in about two hours. Her car was being repaired so she’d have to ride with Samantha, but I gathered that the problem was the Samantha’s fault and discussing it in the car was why it would only take two hours. She said that under no circumstances were we to leave the house or open the door for anyone, and she was in the middle of explaining that she would call every hour when she got there to check in, but she ended that statement prematurely when she remembered that our phone had been turned off for delinquent payments – this was why Samantha had just come by unannounced. She looked me dead in the eye as she was closing the door and said “Stay put.”
This was our chance.
We watched her drive down the serpentine road toward the exit, and as soon as the car rounded the last visible bend we ran back to my room. I dumped my backpack out while Josh grabbed the map.
“Hey, do you have a flashlight?” Josh chimed.
“No, but we’ll be back way before dark.”
“I was thinking just in case, we should have one.”
“My mom has one, but I don’t know where she keeps it . . . Wait!”
I ran into my closet and pulled a box down from the top shelf.
“You have a flashlight in there?” Josh asked.
“Not exactly . . .”
I opened the box and revealed 3 roman candles that I had taken from the pile that my mother had amassed for the 4th of July that past summer; along with a lighter that I had managed to take from her some months before, this would ensure that we at least had some light if we needed it. This was a little bit before I had been given an opportunity to be afraid of the woods at night, so it wasn’t fear that motivated our search for a light source – only practicality. We threw it all in the backpack and bolted out the backdoor, making sure to close it so Boxes wouldn’t get out. We had one hour and fifty minutes.
We ran through the woods as fast as we could and made it to the raft in about 15 minutes. We had our bathing suits on under our clothes, so we stripped off our shirts and shorts and left them in two separate piles about four feet from the edge of the water. We untied the raft from the tree, grabbed our branch-paddles, and cast off.
We tried to move rapidly to reach a point beyond the contents of our ever-expanding map, as we didn’t have time to waste seeing old sights. We knew that we were slower in the raft than on land, and that we would be in the raft for quite a while after the cutoff since the woods were too thick to walk through and there wasn’t a place to dock; this meant that we’d have to ride the raft back to the original docking site even if we found a new place to dock it further ahead.
After we passed the last charted part of our map the water began to get really deep and eventually we could no longer touch the bottom with our tree branches, so we lay on our stomachs and paddled with our hands. It was getting darker and as a result it was becoming harder to distinguish the trees from one another, and we were both becoming slightly unnerved. In the interest of making good time we were paddling fast with our arms, but this caused a lot of noise as our hands repeatedly confronted and then broke through the water’s surface tension. During these periods we could both hear the crunching of dead leaves and the snapping of fallen sticks in the woods to our right. As we would slow our pace and quiet our actions the rustling in the woods would cease, and we began to wonder if it was really ever there at all. We didn’t know what kinds of animals resided this far into the woods, but we did know that we didn’t wish to find out.
As Josh amended the map that I was illuminating with the lighter we were suddenly confronted with the fact that the sounds were not imagined. Rapidly and rhythmically we heard
It seemed to be moving slightly away from us, pushing through the woods just beyond our map. It had become too dark to see. We had misjudged how long the sun would linger.
Nervously, I called out.
There was a brief moment of breathless tension as we lay static in the water. This silence was suddenly broken by laughter.
“‘Hello?’” Josh cackled.
“Hello, Mr. Monster-in-the-woods. I know you’re sneaking around but maybe you’ll answer to my ‘hello’? Hellooooooo!”
I realized how stupid it was. Whatever animal it was, it wouldn’t respond. I hadn’t even realized I’d said it until afterwards, but if anything was actually there I obviously wouldn’t get a reply.
Josh continued, “Helloooooo,” in a high falsetto
“Helloooo” I countered with as deep a baritone as I could manage.
“’ello there mate!”
“Hel-lo. Beep Boop”
We continued mocking each other, and were in the process of turning the raft around to head back when we heard,
It was whispered and forced as if it were powered by the last breath in a pair of deflating lungs, but it didn’t sound sickly. It had come from the spot just off the map, which now sat behind us since we had turned the raft around. I slowly shifted on the raft and faced the direction of the sound as I fumbled with the roman candle. I wanted to see.
“What’re you doing?!” Josh hissed.
But I had already lit it. As the sparking fuse sunk into the wrapper I held it toward the sky. I had never actually shot one of these myself and thought to just use it like a flair in the movies. A glowing, green orb rocketed out toward the stars and then quickly extinguished. I lowered my arm more toward the horizon; I could remember that there were several colors, but I couldn’t remember how many times one of these fired before being depleted. A second ball of red light burst out and fizzled above the trees, but I still saw nothing.
“Let’s just go, man!” Josh pressed, as he turned to face the direction back home and began paddling desperately.
“Just one more…”
Lowering my arm directly at the woods in front of me another red ball of fire was launched from the tube. It traveled straight ahead until it collided with a tree, briefly exploding the light in a much greater diameter.
I dropped the firework in the water and watched as one more struggling fireball burst free only to quickly die, suffocated by the water. As we began paddling in the direction toward my house we heard a loud and unconcealed rustling in the woods. The breaking of branches and the trampling of fallen leaves overpowered the sound of our splashing.
It was running.
In our panic we jostled the raft too violently and I felt one of the ropes under my chest loosen.
“Josh, be careful!”
But, it was too late. Our raft was breaking. Before too long it had completely fallen apart. We each held on to a separate piece of Styrofoam, but the pieces weren’t big enough to keep us completely afloat, and our legs dangled beneath us in the winter water.
“Josh! Quick!” I yelled as I pointed at the water right next to him.
He scrambled, but it was too cold to move quickly and we both watched as the map floated away.
“I’m c-c-cold, m-man.” Josh shuddered, dejectedly. “Let’sss get out of the w-water.”
We approached the shore, but each time we attempted to pull ourselves up we’d hear the frantic rustling thundering toward us from the woods just above. Eventually we were too cold and weak to even try anymore.
Steadily we kicked our legs and found ourselves nearing the dock site. We toppled off the debris and tried to pull it on land, but Josh’s piece slipped away and floated in the direction of the lake. We took off our swim suits and were desperate to get into dry clothes to shield us from the biting chill of the air. I slid my shorts, but there was something wrong. I turned to Josh.
“Where’s my shirt, man?
He shrugged and suggested, “Maybe it got knocked into the water and floated into the lake?”
I told Josh to go back to my house, and to say that we were playing hide and seek if my mom was home. I had to try to find my shirt.
I ran behind the houses and peered out over the water and scouted along the shoreline. It occurred to me that with any luck maybe I could find the map too. I was moving pretty fast because I needed to get home, and was about to give up when my concentration was interrupted by a sound coming from just behind me.
I whipped around. It was Mrs. Maggie. I had never seen her at night before, and in this poor light she looked exceedingly frail. The usual warmth that wrapped her manner seemed to have been snuffed out by the chill. I couldn’t remember ever seeing her without a smile, and so her face looked strange.
“Hello, Mrs. Maggie.”
“Oh, Hi Chris!” the warmth and smile had returned to her, even if her memories had not. “I couldn’t see it was you in the dark there.”
Jokingly, I asked her if she was going to invite me in for a snack, but she said maybe another time; I was too busy looking for my map and the shirt to really engage her, but she sounded happy so I didn’t feel bad. She said a couple other things, but I was too distracted to pay attention. I said goodnight and ran down her driveway toward my house. Behind me I could hear her walking across the frozen yard, but I didn’t turn around to wave; I had to get home.
I made it home a couple minutes before my mom did, and by the time she came in Josh and I had already changed clothes and warmed up. We’d gotten away with it, even though we’d lost the map.
“Couldn’t find it?”
“Nah, but I saw Mrs. Maggie. She called me Chris again. I’m telling you dude, just be glad you’ve never seen her at night.”
We both laughed and he asked me if she invited me in for a snack, joking that the snacks must be terrible since she couldn’t even give them away. I told him that she didn’t and he was surprised, and now that I had time to think about it so was I. Literally, every time we had seen her she had invited us in for snacks, and here I had, albeit sarcastically, invited myself, and she said no.
As Josh talked more about Mrs. Maggie I suddenly realized that the lighter might still be in my pocket and that it would be disastrous for my mom to find. I grabbed the shorts off the floor and padded my pockets; I felt something, but it wasn’t the lighter. From my back pocket I slid out a folded piece of paper and my heart leapt. “The map?” I thought. “But I watched it float away.” As I unfolded the paper my stomach turned as I tried to understand what I was seeing. Drawn on the paper inside of a large oval were two stick figures holding hands. One was much bigger than the other, but neither had faces. The paper was torn so a part of it was missing, and there was a number written near the top right corner. It was either “15” or “16.” I nervously handed Josh the paper and asked him if he had put it in my pocket at some point, but he scoffed at the idea and asked why I was so upset. I pointed toward the smaller stick figure and what was written next to it.
It was my initials.
I shook it off and told Josh the rest of the conversation between Mrs. Maggie and I. I had always attributed the odd exchange to her being sick until revisiting the events in my mind all these years later. As I think about it now, the feeling of profound sadness for Mrs. Maggie returns, but it is augmented by a looming feeling of despair when I think about why she said “maybe another time.” I knew what she had said, but I didn’t understand what it meant that night. I didn’t understand what her words had meant weeks later when I watched men in strange, orange suits bio-hazard suits carry what I thought were black bags full of garbage out of her house, or why the whole neighborhood smelled like death that day. I still didn’t understand when they condemned the house and boarded it up a little while before we moved. But I understand now. I understand why her last words to me were so important, even if neither she nor I realized it at the time.
Mrs. Maggie had told me that night that Tom had come home, but I know now who had really moved in; just as I know now why I never saw her body brought out on a stretcher.
The bags weren't filled with garbage.
| 17 days ago
Mangadex doesn't like me posting into one post so here are the last parts.
I’ve intentionally withheld some details from a lot of my stories. I’ve let my hopes concerning the way things might be influence my evaluation of the way they actually are. I don’t think there’s any point to that anymore.
At the end of the summer between Kindergarten and 1st grade I caught the stomach flu. This has all of the components of the regular flu; however, with the stomach flu, you throw up in a bucket and not the toilet because you are sitting on it – the sickness gets purged from both ends. This lasted for about 10 days, but just before it had passed the sickness was granted an extension in the form of pink eye. My eyelids were so fused together by the dried mucus generated during the night that the first day I awoke with the infection I thought I had gone blind. When I started 1st grade I had a kink in my neck from 10 days of bed-rest and two swollen, bloodshot eyes. Josh was in another Group and didn’t have my lunch, so in a cafeteria bursting with 200 kids I still had a table to myself.
I started keeping spare food in my backpack that I would take into the bathroom to eat after lunch since my school meals were usually confiscated by older kids who knew I wouldn’t stand up to them since no one would stand with me. This dynamic persisted even after my condition cleared up since no one wants to be friends with the kid who gets bullied, lest they have some of that aggression directed toward themselves. The only reason this stopped was due to the actions of a kid named Alex.
Alex was in the 3rd grade and was bigger than most of the other kids in any grade. Around the 3rd week of school he started sitting with me at lunch, and this put an immediate end to the shortage of my food supply. He was nice enough, but he seemed kind of slow; we never really talked at length except for when I finally decided to ask why he had been sitting with me.
He had a crush on Josh’s sister, Veronica.
Veronica was in 4th grade and was probably the prettiest girl in the school. Even as a 6-year-old who fully endorsed the notion that girls were disgusting, I still knew how pretty Veronica was. When she was in 3rd grade, Josh told me, two boys had actually gotten into a physical fight which erupted out of an argument concerning the significance of the messages she had written in their yearbooks. One of the boys eventually hit the other in the forehead with the corner of the yearbook and the wound required stitches to close. While not one of those two boys, Alex wanted her to like him and confessed that he knew Josh and I were best friends; I gathered that he had hoped that I would convey his ostensibly philanthropic deed to Veronica and that she would presumably be so moved by his selflessness that she’d take an interest in him. If I told her he would continue to sit with me for as long as I needed him to.
Because this was during the time when Josh mostly stayed at my house building the raft and navigating tributary with me I didn’t have the chance to bring it up to Veronica because I simply didn’t see her. I told Josh about it and he made fun of Alex, but said that he would tell his sister since I wanted him to. I doubted that he would. Josh was annoyed that people seemed to be so taken with his sister. I remember him calling her an ugly crow. I never said anything to Josh, but I remember wanting to say, even then, that she was pretty and would one day be beautiful.
I was right.
When I was 15 I was seeing a movie at a place my friends and I had come to call the Dirt Theatre. It was probably nice at some point, but time and neglect had weathered the place severely. This theatre had movable tables and chairs on a level floor, so when the theatre was full there were very few places you could sit and see the whole screen. The theatre was still open, I imagine, for three reasons: 1) it was cheap to see a movie there; 2) they showed a different cult movie twice a month at midnight; and 3) they sold beer to underage kids during the midnight showings. I went for the first two, and that night they were showing Scanners by David Cronenberg for $1.00.
My friends and I were sitting in the very back. I wanted to sit closer to the front for a better view, but Ryan had driven us so I relented. A couple minutes before the movie started a group of girls walked in. They were all pretty attractive, but whatever beauty they might have had was eclipsed by the girl with the dirty blonde hair, even though I had only caught a glimpse of her profile. As she turned to move her seat I caught a full view of her face which gave me the feeling of butterflies in my stomach – it was Veronica.
I hadn’t seen her in a long time. Josh and I saw progressively less of one another after we snuck out to my old house that night when we were 10, and usually when I’d visit him she’d be out with friends. While everyone stared at the screen, I stared at Veronica – only looking away when the feeling that I was being a creep overcame me, but that feeling would quickly subside and my eyes would return to her. She really was beautiful, just like I had thought she’d be when I was a kid. When the credits started to roll my friends got up and left; there was only one exit and they didn’t want to be trapped waiting for the crowd to clear. I lingered in hopes of catching Veronica’s attention. As she and her friends walked by I took a chance.
She turned toward me looking a little startled.
I got out of my seat and stepped a little into the light coming in through the open door.
“It’s me. Josh’s old friend from way back . . . How . . . How’ve you been?”
“Oh my god! HEY! It’s been so long!” she motioned to her friends that she’d be out in a second.
“Yeah, a few years at least! Not since the last time I stayed over with Josh. How is he anyway?”
“Oh, that’s right. I remember all you guys’ games. Do you still play Ninja Turtles with your friends?”
She laughed a little and I blushed.
“No. I’m not a kid anymore . . . Me and my friends play X-men now.” I was really hoping she’d laugh.
She did. “Haha! You’re cute. Do you come to these movies every time?
I was still reeling from what she said.
Does she really think I’m cute? Did she just mean I was funny? Does she think I’m attractive?
I suddenly realized that she had asked me a question, and my mind grasped for what it was.
“YEAH!” I said much too loudly. “Yeah, I try to anyway . . . what about you?”
“I come every now and then. My boyfriend didn’t like these movies but we just broke up so I plan on coming from now on.”
I was trying to be casual, but failed. “Oh, well that’s cool . . . not that you guys broke up! I just meant that you’d be able to come more often.”
She laughed again.
I tried to recover, “So are you coming the week after next? They’re supposed to show Day of the Dead. It’s really cool.”
“Yeah, I’ll be here.”
She smiled, and I was about to suggest that maybe we could sit together when she quickly closed the space between us and hugged me.
“It was really good to see you,” she said with her arms around me.
I was trying to think of what to say when I realized the biggest problem was that I had forgotten how to talk. Luckily Ryan, who I could hear approaching from the hallway, came in and spoke for me.
“Dude. You know the movie’s over right? Let’s get the fuck outtu— OHHH YEAAHHH.”
Veronica let go and said that she’d see me next time. She was played out of the room by the porn music Ryan was making with his mouth. I was furious, but it dissipated as soon as I heard Veronica laughing in the lobby.
Day of the Dead couldn’t come soon enough. Ryan’s family was going out of town so he wouldn’t be able to drive us, and the other friends I was with that night didn’t have cars. A couple of days before the movie I asked my mom if she could take me. She responded almost immediately by denying my request, but I persisted and she picked up on the desperation in my voice. She asked why I wanted to go so badly since I had seen the movie before and I hesitated before saying that I was hoping to see a girl there. She smiled and asked playfully if she knew the girl and I reluctantly told her it was Veronica. The smile disappeared from her face and she coldly said “No.”
I decided that I would call Veronica to see if she could pick me up. I had no idea if she still lived at home, but it was worth a try. But then I realized that Josh might answer. I hadn’t talked to him in almost 3 years, and if he answered I obviously couldn’t ask to talk to his sister. I felt guilty for calling to speak with Veronica and not Josh, but I dismissed that feeling quickly; Josh hadn’t called me in years either. I picked up the phone and dialed the number that was still embedded in my muscle memory from having dialed it so often all those years ago.
It rang several times before someone picked up. It wasn’t Josh. I felt a mixture of both relief and disappointment – I realized in that second that I really missed Josh. I would call after this weekend and talk to him, but this was my only chance to see if Veronica could or would take me so I asked for her.
The person told me I had dialed the wrong number.
I repeated the number back to her, and she confirmed. She said they must have changed their number and I agreed. I apologized for the disturbance and hung up. I was suddenly intensely sad because now I couldn’t contact Josh even if I wanted to; I felt terrible for having been afraid that he might answer the phone. He had been my very best friend. I realized that the only way I could be put back in touch with him would be through Veronica, so now, not that I needed one, I had another reason to see her.
I told my mom the day before the movie that I was no longer concerned with going, but was hoping she could drop me off at my friend Chris’ house. She relented and dropped me off that Saturday a couple of hours before the movie. My plan was to walk from his house to the theatre since he only lived about a half-mile away. They went to church early on Sundays so his parents would go to sleep early Saturday night, and Chris was fine with not coming with me since he had planned on chatting with this girl he met online. He said that the walk back to his house would be even lonelier after she laughed in my face when I tried to kiss her, and I told him not to electrocute himself when he tried to have sex with his computer.
I left his house at 11:15.
I tried to pace myself so I’d get there just a little before the movie. I was going by myself and so I didn’t want to just hang around there waiting. On the way to the theatre I figured that if Veronica showed up at all it would be too lucky for us to arrive at the same time, so I debated whether I should wait outside or just go in. Both had their pros and cons. As I was grappling with these concerns I noticed that the steady stream of streaking car lights that had been overtaking me had been replaced by a single, constant spotlight that refused to pass. The road wasn’t illuminated by streetlights, so I was walking in the grass with the road about two feet to my left; I stepped a little more to my right and craned my neck over my left shoulder to see what was behind me.
A car had stopped about 10 feet behind me.
All I could see were the violently bright headlights that were cutting through the otherwise stygian surroundings. I thought that it might be one of Chris’ parents; maybe they had come to check in on us and seen that I was gone. It wouldn’t have taken much pressing for Chris to confess. I took one step toward the car, and it broke its pause and started driving toward me at a slow pace. It passed me and I saw that it wasn’t Chris’ parents’ car, or any car that I recognized for that matter. I tried to see the driver but it was too dark, and my pupils had shrunk when faced with the blinding lights from the car just moments before. They adjusted enough so that I could see a tremendous crack in the back window of the car as it drove away.
I didn’t think much of the whole affair; some people find it fun to scare other people – I’d often hide around corners and jump out at my mom, after all.
I timed it right and got there about 10 minutes before the movie. I had decided to wait outside until around 11:57, since that would give me time to find her inside if she was already seated. As I was considering the possibility that she might not show, I saw her.
She was alone, and she was beautiful.
I waved to her and walked to close the distance. She smiled and asked if my friends were already inside. I said that they weren’t and realized that this must seem like I was trying to make this a date. She didn’t seem bothered by that, nor was she bothered when I handed her the ticket I had already bought. She looked at me quizzically, and I said, “Don’t worry, I’m rich.” She laughed and we went inside.
I bought us one popcorn and two drinks and spent most of the movie debating whether or not I should time reaching my hand into the popcorn bag when she reached in so they would touch. She seemed to enjoy the movie and before I knew it, it was over. We didn’t linger in the theatre, and because this was a midnight show we couldn’t loiter in the lobby, so we walked outside.
The parking lot of the theatre was big because it connected with a mall that had gone out of business. Not wanting the night to be over just yet I continued the conversation while causally walking toward the old mall. As we were about to round the corner and leave the theatre out of sight I looked back and saw that her car wasn’t the only one left in the parking lot.
The other one had a large crack in the back window.
My immediate uneasiness turned to understanding.
That makes a lot of sense. The driver of that car works here and must have figured I was on my way to the movie.
Injecting real horror into the life of a horror fan seemed like an obvious move.
We walked around the mall and talked about the movie. I told her that I thought Day of the Dead was better than Dawn of the Dead, but she refused to agree. I told her of when I called her old number and about my dilemma about who would answer the phone. She didn’t find it as funny as I now did, but she took my phone and put her number in it. She commented that it might be the worst cell phone she’d ever seen. Her evaluation wasn’t rescinded when I told her I couldn’t even receive pictures on it. I called her so she’d have my number and she programmed it in.
She told me that she was graduating, but she hadn’t done well in school so far that year so she wasn’t sure if she’d even get into college. I told her to attach a picture of herself to the application and they’d pay her to go there just so they could look at her. She didn’t laugh at that one and I thought she might be offended – she might have thought I was implying that she couldn’t get in based on her intelligence. I nervously glanced at her and she was just smiling and even in this poor light I could see that she was blushing. I wanted to hold her hand but I didn’t.
As we walked down the final side of the mall back toward the theatre I asked her about Josh. She told me she didn’t want to talk about it. I asked her if he was at least doing alright and she just said “I don’t know.” I figured Josh must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and started getting into trouble. I felt bad. I felt guilty.
As we approached the parking lot I noticed that the car with the cracked back window was gone and that her car was now the only one in the parking lot. She asked me if I needed a ride and even though I really didn’t I said that I’d appreciate it. I had drunk my whole soda during the movie and all the walking was putting pressure on my bladder. I knew that I could wait until I was back at Chris’, but I had decided that I was going to try to kiss her when she dropped me off, and I didn’t want this biological nagging to rush me out of the car. This would be my first kiss.
I could think of no ruse to conceal what I needed to do. The theatre had long closed so I only had one option. I told her that I was going to go behind the theatre to piss but that I’d be back in “two shakes.” It was obvious that I thought it was hilarious and she seemed to laugh more at how funny I found it than at how funny it clearly was.
On the way toward the theatre I stopped and turned toward her. I asked her if Josh had ever told her that kid named Alex had done something nice for me. She paused to think for a moment and said that he had; she enquired as to why I had asked, but I said it was nothing. Josh really was a good friend.
When I went to go behind the theatre I realized that there was a chain-link fence extending off and running parallel to the walls of the building. Where I stood she could still see me, and the fence seemed to stretch on endlessly, so I thought I’d just hop it, duck out of sight, and return as quickly as I could. It may have been too much of an effort, but I thought it polite. I climbed the fence and walked just a little ways until I was out of sight and urinated.
For a moment the only sounds were the crickets in the grass behind me and the collision of liquid and cement. These sounds were overpowered by a noise that I can still hear when it is quite and there are no other noises to distract my ears.
In the distance I heard a faint screeching which quickly subsided only to be replaced with a cascade of thundering vibrations. I realized quickly enough what it was.
It was a car.
The growling of the engine got louder. And then I thought.
No. Not louder. Closer.
As soon as I realized this I started back toward the fence, but before I could get very far at all I hear a brief, truncated scream, and the roar of the engine terminated in a deafening thud. I started running, but after only two or three steps I was tripped by a loose piece of stone and fell hard and fast onto the concrete – my head striking the corner of a chair as I fell. I was dazed for maybe 30 seconds but the renewed rumbling of the engine drew my senses back and my equilibrium was restored by adrenaline. I redoubled my efforts. I was worried that whoever had crashed the car might harass Veronica. As I was climbing over the fence I saw that there was still only one car in the parking lot. I didn’t see any evidence of a crash. I thought that I might have misjudged its direction or proximity. As I ran toward Veronica’s car and as my orientation changed I saw what the car had hit. My legs stopped working almost completely.
It was Veronica.
Her car was sitting between us and as I closed the distance and walked around it she came fully into view.
Her body was twisted and crumpled like a discarded figure meant to represent a catalog of things the human body cannot do. I could see the bone of her right shin cutting through her jeans, and her left arm was wrapped so hard around the back of her neck that her hand fell on her right breast. Her head was craned back and her mouth hung widely open toward the sky. There was so much blood. As I looked at her I actually found it hard to discern whether she was laying on her back or her stomach, and this optical illusion made me feel sick. When you are confronted with something in the world that simply doesn’t belong, your mind tries to convince itself that it is dreaming, and to that end it provides you with that distinct sense of all things moving slowly as if through sap. In that moment I honestly felt that I would wake up any minute.
But I didn’t wake up.
I fumbled with my phone to call for help but I had no signal. I could see Veronica’s phone sticking out of what I thought was her front right pocket. I had no choice. Trembling, I reached for her phone and as I slid it out she moved and gasped for air so violently that it seemed as if she were trying to breathe in the whole world.
This startled me so much that I staggered back and fell onto the asphalt with her phone my hand. She was trying to adjust her body to get it into its natural position, but with every spasm and jerk I could hear the cracking and grinding of her bones. Without thinking I scrambled over to her and put my face over hers and just said,
“Veronica, don’t move. Don’t move, OK? Just stay still. Don’t move. Veronica, please just don’t move.”
I kept saying it but the words started to fall apart as tears came streaming down my face. I opened her phone. It still worked. It was still on the screen where she had saved my number and when I saw that I felt my heart break a little. I called 911 and waited with her, telling her that she would be ok, and feeling guilty for lying to her every time I said it.
When the sound of sirens tore through the air she seemed to become more alert. She had remained conscious since I found her, but now more of the light was coming back into her eyes. Her brain was still protecting her from pain, though it looked as if it was finally allowing her to become aware that something was terribly wrong with her. Her eyes rolled over to mine and her lips moved. She was struggling, but I heard her.
“Hhh...he...P...pi...picture. M...my picture...he took it.”
I didn’t understand what she meant, so I said the only thing I could “I’m so sorry, Veronica.”
I rode with her in the ambulance where she finally lost consciousness. I waited in the room that they had reserved for her. I still had her phone so I put it with her purse and I called my mom from the hospital phone. It was about 4am. I told her that I was fine, but that Veronica was not. She cursed at me and said she’d be right there, but I told her I wasn’t leaving until Veronica was out of surgery. She said she’d come anyway.
My mom and I didn’t speak that much. I told her I was sorry for lying, and she said that we’d talk about that later. I think that had we talked more in that room – if I had just told her about Boxes or the night with the raft; if she had just told me more of what she knew – I think that things would have changed. But we sat there in silence. She told me that she loved me and that I could call her whenever I wanted her to come get me.
As my mom was leaving Veronica’s parents rushed in. Her dad and my mom exchanged a few words that appeared to be quite serious while Veronica’s mother talked to the person at the desk. Her mother was a nurse, but didn’t work at this hospital. I’m sure that she had tried to get Veronica transferred, but her condition was prohibitive. While we waited the police came in and talked to each of us – I told them what happened, they made some notes, and then they left. She came out of surgery and 90% of her body was covered in a thick, white cast. Her right arm was free, but the rest of her was bound like a cocoon. She was still under, but I remembered how I felt when I had my cast before Kindergarten. I asked a nurse for a marker, but I couldn’t think of anything to write. I slept in a chair in the corner, and went home the next day.
I came back every afternoon for several days. At some point they had moved another patient into her room and set up a screen around Veronica’s bed to act as a partition. She didn’t seem to be feeling better, but she made more moments of lucidity. But even during these periods we wouldn’t really talk. Her jaw had been broken by the car, so the doctors had wired it shut. I sat with her for a while, but there was nothing much I could say. I got up and walked over to her. I kissed her on the forehead and she whispered through her clenched teeth,
“Josh . . .”
This surprised me a little, but I looked at her and said, “Has he not come to see you?”
“No . . .”
I found myself really irritated. “Even if Josh had been getting into trouble, he should still come see his sister,” I thought.
I was about to express this when she said, “No . . . Josh . . . he ran away . . . I should’ve told you.”
I felt my blood turn to ice.
“When? When did this happen?”
“When he was 13.”
“Did . . . did he leave a note or something?”
“On his pillow . . .”
She started crying and I followed her, but I think now we were crying for different reasons even if I didn’t realize it. At this point there were a lot of things I still didn’t remember about my childhood, and there were a lot of connections I hadn’t yet made. I told her I had to go but that she could text me any time.
I got a text from her the next day telling me not to come back. I asked why and she said she didn’t want me to see her like that again. I agreed begrudgingly. We texted each other every day, though I kept this from my mom because I knew that she didn’t like me talking to Veronica. Usually her texts were fairly short, and mostly only in response to more lengthy texts that I would send her. I tried calling her only once, I was sure she was screening her calls, but hoped I could hear her voice; she picked up but didn’t say anything – I could hear how labored her breathing was. About a week after she told me not to come see her anymore she sent me a text that simply read,
“I love you.”
I was filled with so many different emotions, but I responded by expressing the most prevalent one. I replied,
“I love you, too.”
She said that she wanted to be with me, and that she couldn’t wait until she could see me again. She told me that she had been released and was convalescing at her house. These exchanges carried on for several weeks, but every time I asked to come see her, she would say “soon.” I kept insisting and the following week she said that she thought she might be able to make it to the next midnight movie. I couldn’t believe it, but she insisted that she would try. I got a text from her the afternoon of the movie saying,
“See you tonight.”
I got Ryan to drive me since Chris’ parents had found out what had happened and said I wasn’t welcome at their house anymore. I explained to Ryan that she might be in bad shape, but that I really cared about her so to give us some space. He accepted that and we headed down there.
Veronica didn’t show.
I had saved a seat for her right next to me near the exit so she could get in and out easily, but 10 minutes into the movie a man slid into the chair. I whispered, “Excuse me, this seat is taken,” but he didn’t respond at all; he just stared ahead at the screen. I remember wanting to move because there was something wrong with the way he was breathing. I forfeited because I realized that she wasn’t coming.
I texted her the next day asking if she was alright and I enquired as to why she didn’t show the previous night. She responded with what would turn out to be the last message I’d receive from her. She simply said,
“See you again. Soon.”
She was delirious, and I was worried about her. I sent her several replies reminding her about the movie and saying it was no big deal but she just stopped replying. I grew increasingly upset over the next several days. I couldn’t reach her at her home because I didn’t know that number, and I wasn’t even sure where they lived. My mood became increasingly depressed, and my mother, who had been really nice as of late, asked me if I was OK. I told her that I hadn’t heard from Veronica in days, and I felt all the warmth leave her disposition.
“What do you mean?”
“She was supposed to meet me at the movies yesterday. I know it’s only been like 3 weeks since she got hit, but she said she would try to come, and after that she just stopped talking to me altogether. She must hate me.”
She looked confused, and I could read on her face that she was trying to tell if my mind had simply broken. When she saw that it hadn’t her eyes began to water and she pulled me toward her, embracing me. She was beginning to sob, but it seemed too intense a reaction to my problem, and I had no reason to think that she particularly cared for Veronica. She drew in a shuttering breath and then said something that still makes nauseous, even now. She said,
“Veronica’s dead, sweetheart. Oh God, I thought you knew. She died on the last day you visited her. Oh baby, she died weeks ago.”
She had completely broken down, but I knew it wasn’t because of Veronica. I broke the embrace and staggered backwards. My mind was swimming. This wasn’t possible. I had just exchanged messages with her yesterday. I could only think to ask one question, and it was probably the most trivial I could ask.
“Then why was her phone still on?”
She continued sobbing. She didn’t answer.
I exploded, “WHY DID IT TAKE THEM SO LONG TO SHUT OFF HER GODDAMNED PHONE?!”
Her crying broke enough to mutter, “The pictures . . .”
I would come to find out that her parents thought that her phone had been lost in the accident, despite the fact that I had put it in her purse the night she was brought to the hospital. When they retrieved her belongings the phone was not among them. They intended to contact the phone company at the end of the billing cycle to deactivate the line, but they received a call informing them of a massive impending charge for hundreds of pictures that had been sent from her phone. Pictures. Pictures that were all sent to my phone. Pictures that I never got because my phone couldn’t receive them. They learned that they were all sent after the night she died. They deactivated the phone immediately.
I tried not to think about the contents of those pictures. But I remember wondering for some reason whether I would have been in any of them.
My mouth went dry and I felt the painful sting of despair as I thought of the last message I received from her phone . . .
See you again. Soon.
On the first day of Kindergarten my mother had elected to drive me to school; we were both nervous and she wanted to be there with me all the way up to the moment I walked into class. It took me a bit longer to get ready in the morning due to my still-mending arm. The cast came up a couple inches past my elbow which meant that I had to cover the entire arm with a specially-designed latex bag when I showered. The bag was built to pull tight around the opening in order to seal out any water that might otherwise destroy the cast. I had gotten really adept at cinching the bag myself; that morning, however, perhaps due to my excitement or nervousness, I hadn’t pulled the strap tight enough and halfway through the shower I could feel water pooling inside the bag around my fingers. I jumped out and tore the latex shield away, but could feel that the previously rigid plaster had become soft after absorbing the water.
Because there is no way to effectively clean the area between your body and a cast, the dead skin that would normally have fallen away merely sits there. When stirred by moisture like sweat it emits an odor, and apparently this odor is proportionate to the amount of moisture introduced, because soon after I began attempting to dry it I was struck by the powerful stench of rot. As I continued to frantically rub it with the towel it began to disintegrate. I was growing increasingly distressed – I had put as much effort as a child could into his very first day of school. I had sat with my mom picking out my clothes the night before; I had spent a great deal of time picking out my backpack; and I had become exceedingly excited to show everyone my lunchbox that had the Ninja Turtles on it. I had fallen into my mom’s habit of calling these children I hadn’t yet met my “friends” already, but as the condition of my cast worsened I became deeply upset at the thought that surely I wouldn’t be able to apply that label to anyone by the time this day was over.
Defeated, I showed my mom.
It took 30 minutes to get most of the moisture out while working to preserve the rest of the cast. To address the problem of the smell my mom cut slivers off a bar of soap and slid them down into the cast, and then rubbed the remainder of the soap on the outside in an attempt to cocoon the rancid smell inside of a more pleasant one. By the time we arrived at the school my classmates were already engaged in their second activity and I was shoehorned into one of the groups. I wasn’t made very clear on what the guidelines of the activity were and within about five minutes I had violated the rules so badly that each member of the group complained to the teacher and asked why I had to be in their group. I had brought a marker to school hopes that I could collect some signatures or drawings on my cast next to my mother’s, and I suddenly felt very foolish for having even put the marker in my pocket that morning.
Kindergarteners had the lunchroom to themselves at my elementary school, but some of the tables were off limits, so I didn’t have to sit alone. I was self-consciously picking at the fraying ends of my cast when a kid sat across from me.
“I like your lunchbox,” he said.
I could tell he was making fun of me, and I grew really angry; in my mind that lunchbox was the last good thing about my day. I didn’t look up from my arm, and I felt a burning in my eyes from the tears that I was holding back. I looked up to tell the kid to leave me alone, but before I could get the words out I saw something that made me pause.
He had the exact same lunchbox.
I laughed. “I like your lunchbox too!”
“I think Michelangelo’s the coolest,” he said while miming Nunchuck moves.
I was in the middle of rebutting by saying that Raphael was my favorite when he knocked his open carton of milk off the table and onto his lap.
I tried very hard to stifle my laughter since I didn’t know him at all, but the struggling look on my face must have struck him as funny because he started laughing first. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad about my cast, and thought that this person would hardly notice now anyway. Just then, I thought to try my luck.
“Hey! Do you wanna sign my cast?”
As I pulled out the marker he asked me how I broke it. I told him that I fell out of the tallest tree in my neighborhood; he seemed impressed. I watched him laboriously draw his name, and when he was done I asked him what it said.
He told me it said “Josh.”
Josh and I had lunch together every day, and whenever we could we partnered up for projects. I helped him with his handwriting, and he took the blame when I wrote “Fart!” on the wall in permanent marker. I would come to know other kids, but I think I knew even then that Josh was my only real friend.
Moving a friendship outside of school when you are 5 years old is actually more difficult than most remember. The day we launched our balloons we had such a good time that I asked Josh if he wanted to come to my house the next day to play. He said he did and that he’d bring some of his toys; I said that we could also go exploring and maybe swim in the lake. When I got home I asked my mom and she said it would be fine. My enthusiasm was boundless until I realized that I had no way of contacting Josh to tell him. I spent the whole weekend worrying that our friendship would be dissolved by Monday.
When I saw him after the weekend I was relieved to find that he had run into the same obstacle and thought it was funny. Later that week we both remembered to write down our phone numbers at home and then exchange them at school. My mom spoke with Josh’s dad, and it was decided that my mom would pick up Josh and myself from school that Friday. We alternated this basic structure nearly every weekend; the fact that we lived so close made things much easier on our parents who seemed to work constantly.
When my mom and I moved across the city at the end of 1st grade I was sure that our friendship had seen its last day; as we drove away from the house I had lived in my whole life I felt a sadness that I knew wasn’t just about a house – I was saying goodbye to my friend forever. But, Josh and I – to my surprise and delight – stayed close.
Despite the fact that we spent the majority of our time apart and only saw one another on weekends, we remained remarkably similar as we grew. Our personalities coalesced, our senses of humor complimented each other’s, and we would often find that we had started liking new things independently. We even sounded enough alike that when I stayed with Josh he would sometimes call my mom pretending to be me; his success rate was impressive. My mom would sometimes joke that the only way she could tell us apart sometimes was by our hair – he had straight, dirty-blonde hair like his sister, while I had curly, dark brown hair like my mother.
One would think that the thing most likely to drive two young friends apart would be what’s out of their control; however, I think the catalyst of our gradual disengagement was my insistence that we sneak out to my old house to look for Boxes. The next weekend I invited Josh over to my house, in keeping with our tradition of alternating houses, but he said that he wasn’t really feeling up to it. We started seeing progressively less of one another over the next year or so; it had gone from once a week, to once a month, to once every couple months.
For my 12th birthday my mom threw a party for me. I hadn’t made that many friends since we’d moved, so it wasn’t a surprise party since my mom had no idea who to invite. I told the handful of kids I’d become acquainted with and called Josh to see if he wanted to come. Originally, he said that he didn’t think he could make it, but the day before the party he called me to say that he’d be there. I was really excited because I hadn’t seen him in several months.
The party went pretty well. My biggest concern was that Josh and the other kids wouldn’t get along, but they seemed to like each other well enough. Josh was surprisingly quiet. He hadn’t brought me a gift and apologized for that, but I told him it wasn’t a big deal – I was just glad that he was able to make it. I tried to start several conversations with him, but they seemed to keep reaching dead ends. I asked him what was wrong; I told him that I didn’t get why things had become so awkward between us – they were never like that before. We used to hang out almost every weekend and talk on the phone every couple days. I asked him what happened to us. He looked up from staring at his shoes and just said,
Just after he said that my mom yelled in from the other room that it was time to open presents. I forced a smile and walked into the dining room as they sang “Happy Birthday.” There were a couple of wrapped boxes and a lot of cards since most of my extended family lived out of state. Most of the gifts were silly and forgettable, but I remember that Brian gave me a Mighty Max toy shaped like a snake that I kept for years afterwards. My mom was insistent that I open all the cards that had been brought and thank each person who had given one because several years before on Christmas I had torn through the wrapping paper and envelopes with such fervor that I had destroyed any possibility of discerning who had sent which gift or what amount of money. We separated the ones that had been sent by mail and the ones that had been brought that day so my friends wouldn’t have to sit through me opening cards from people they had never met. Most of the cards from my friends had a couple dollars in them, and the ones from my family members contained larger bills.
One envelope didn’t have my name written on it, but it was in the pile so I opened it. The card had a generic floral pattern on its face and seemed to be a card that had been received by someone else who was now recycling it for my birthday because it was actually a little dingy. I actually appreciated the idea that it was a reused card since I’d always thought that cards were silly. I angled it so that the money wouldn’t fall to the floor when I opened it, but the only thing inside was the message that had come printed in the card.
“I Love You.”
Whoever had given me this card hadn’t written anything in it, but they had circled the message in pencil a couple times.
I chuckled a little and said, “Gee, thanks for the awesome card, mom.”
She looked at me quizzically and then turned her attention to the card. She told me it wasn’t from her and seemed amused as she showed my friends, looking at their faces trying to discern who had played the joke. None of the kids stepped forward, so my mom said,
“Don’t worry sweetheart, at least you know now that two people love you.”
She followed that with an extremely prolonged and excruciating kiss on my forehead that transformed the group’s bewilderment into hysteria. They were all laughing so it could have been any of them, but Mike seemed to be laughing the hardest. To become a participant rather than the subject of the gag I said to him that just because he had given me that card he shouldn’t think that I’d kiss him later. We all laughed, and as I looked at Josh I saw he was finally smiling.
“Well, I think that gift might be the winner, but you have a couple more to open.”
My mom slid another present in front of me. I was still feeling the tremors of suppressed chuckles in my abdomen as I tore the colorful paper away. When I saw the gift I had no need to suppress the laughter anymore. My smile dropped as I looked at what I’d been given.
It was a pair of walkie-talkies.
“Well go on! Show everyone!”
I held them up, and everyone seemed to approve, but as I drew my attention to Josh I could see that he had turned a sickly shade of white. We locked eyes for a moment and then he turned and walked into the kitchen. As I watched him dial a number on the corded phone attached to the wall my mom whispered in my ear that she knew that Josh and I didn’t talk as much since one of the walkie-talkies had broken, so she thought I’d like it. I was filled with an intense appreciation for my mom’s thoughtfulness, but this feeling was easily overpowered by the emotions resurrected by the returning memories I’d tried so hard to bury.
When everyone was eating cake I asked Josh who he had called. He told me he wasn’t feeling well so he called his dad to come get him. I understood that he wanted to leave, but I told him that I wished we could hang out more. I extended one of the walkie-talkies to him, but he put his hand up in refusal.
Dejected, I said, “Well thanks for coming, I guess. I hope I’ll see you before my next birthday.”
“I’m sorry … I’ll try to call you back more often. I really will.” he said.
The conversation stagnated as we waited by my door for his dad. I looked at his face. Josh seemed genuinely remorseful that he hadn’t made more of an effort. His mood seemed suddenly bolstered by an idea that had struck him. He told me that he knew what he’d get me for my birthday – it would take a while, but he thought that I would really like it. I told him it wasn’t a big deal, but he insisted. He seemed in better spirits and apologized for being such a drag at my party. He said that he was tired – that he hadn’t been sleeping well. I asked him why that was as he opened the door in response to his dad’s honking in the driveway. He turned back toward me and waved goodbye as he answered my question,
“I think I’ve been sleepwalking.”
That was the last time I saw my friend, and a couple months later he was gone.
Over the past several weeks the relationship between my mother and I has grown increasing strained due to my attempts to learn the details of my childhood. It’s often the case that one cannot know the breaking point of a thing until that thing fractures, and after the last conversation with my mother I imagine that we will spend the rest of our lives attempting to repair what had taken a lifetime to build. She had put so much energy into keeping me safe, both physically and psychologically, but I think that the walls meant to insulate me from harm were also protecting her emotional stability. As the truth came pouring out the last time we spoke I could hear a trembling in her voice that I think was a reverberation of the collapse of her world. I don’t imagine my mother and I will talk very much anymore, and while there are still some things I don’t understand, I think I know enough.
After Josh disappeared, his parents had done all that they could to find him. From the very first day, the police had suggested that they contact all of Josh’s friends’ parents to see if he was with them. They did this, of course, but no one had seen him or had any idea of where he might be. The police had been unable to turn over any new information about Josh’s whereabouts, despite the fact that they had received several anonymous phone calls from a woman urging them to compare this case with the stalking case that had been opened about 6 years before.
If Josh’s mother’s grip on the world loosened when her son vanished, it broke when Veronica died. She had seen many people die at the hospital, but there is no amount of desensitization that can fortify a person against the death of her own child. She would visit Veronica twice a day since she was recuperating at a different hospital; once before her shift, and once afterward. On the day Veronica died, her mother was late leaving work, and by the time she arrived at her daughter’s hospital Veronica had already passed. This was too much for her and over the next couple weeks she became increasingly more unstable; she would often wander outside yelling for both Josh and Veronica to come home, and there were several times her husband found her wandering around my old neighborhood in the middle of the night – half-clothed and frantically searching for her son and daughter.
Due to his wife’s mental deterioration, Josh’s dad could no longer travel for work and began taking construction jobs that were less well-paying, so he could be closer to home. When they began expanding my old neighborhood more, about 3 months after Veronica died, Josh’s dad applied for every position and was hired. He was qualified to lead the build sites, but he took a job as a laborer helping to build frames and clean up the sites and whatever else was needed. He even took odd jobs that would occasionally come up; mowing lawns, repairing fences – anything that to keep from traveling. They began clearing the woods in the area next to the tributary to transform the land into inhabitable property. Josh’s dad was tasked with the responsibility of leveling the recently deforested lot, and this job guaranteed him at least several weeks of work.
On the third day, he arrived at a spot that he could not level. Each time he’d drive over it, it would remain lower than all the surrounding land. Frustrated he got off the machine to survey the area. He was tempted to simply pack more dirt into the depression, but he knew that would only be an aesthetic and temporary solution. He had worked construction for years and knew that root systems from large trees that had been recently cut down would often decompose leaving weaknesses in the soil that would manifest as weaknesses in the foundations above. He weighed his options and elected to dig a little with a shovel in case the problem was shallow enough to fix without needing a machine that would have to be brought over from another site. And as my mother described where this was, I knew I had been at that spot both before the soil was broken and before it had been filled in.
I felt a tightening in my chest.
He dug a small hole about 3 feet down until his shovel collided with something hard. He smashed his shovel against it repeatedly in an attempt to gauge the thickness of the root and the density of the network when suddenly his shovel plunged through the resistance.
Confused, he dug the hole wider. After about a half-hour of excavating he found himself standing on a brown blanket-covered box about seven feet long and four feet wide. Our minds work to avoid dissonance – if we hold a belief strongly enough our minds will forcefully reject conflicting evidence so that we can maintain the integrity of our understanding of the world.
Up until the very next moment, despite what all sense would have indicated – despite the fact that some small but suffocated part of him understood what was supporting his weight – this man believed, he knew, his son was still alive.
My mom received a call at 6 p. m. She knew who it was, but she couldn’t understand what he was saying. But what she did comprehend made her leave immediately.
“DOWN HERE … NOW … SON … PLEASE GOD.”
When she arrived she found Josh’s dad sitting perfectly still with his back to the hole. He was holding the shovel so tightly it seemed that it might snap, and he was staring straight ahead with eyes that looked as lifeless as a shark’s. He wouldn’t respond to any of her words, and only reacted when she tried to gently take the shovel from him.
He dragged his eyes slowly to hers and just said, “I don’t understand.” He repeated this as if he had forgotten all other words, and my mother could hear him still muttering it as she walked past him to look in the hole.
She told me she wished she had gouged her eyes out before she faced downward into that crater, and I told her that I knew what she was about to say and that she need not continue. I looked at her face and it was expressing a look of such intense despair that it caused my stomach to turn. I realized that she had known of this for almost ten years and was hoping that she’d never have to tell me. As a result she never came up with the proper arrangement of words to describe what she saw, and as I sit here I’m met with the same difficulty of articulation.
Josh was dead. His face was sunken in and contorted in such a way that it was as if the misery and hopelessness of all the world had been transferred to it. The assaulting smell of decay rose from the crypt, and my mother had to cover her nose and mouth to keep from vomiting. His skin was cracked, almost crocodilian, and a stream of blood that had followed these lines had dried on his face after pooling and staining the wood around his head. His eyes lay half-lidded facing straight up. She said by the look of him he had not been long-dead, and thus time had not brought the mercy of degradation to erase the pain and terror that was now etched into his face. She said it was as if he had fixed his gaze right on her, his open mouth offering an all-too-late plea for help. The rest of his body, however, wasn’t visible.
Someone else was covering it.
He was large and lay face-down on top of Josh, and as my mother’s mind stretched itself to take in what her eyes were attempting to tell her she became aware of the significance of the way in which he laid.
He was holding Josh.
Their legs lay frozen by death, but entangled like vines in some lush, tropical forest. One arm rested under Josh’s neck only to wrap around his body so that they might lay closer still.
As the sun passed through the trees its light became reflected by something pinned to Josh’s shirt. My mother stooped to one knee and raised the collar of her shirt over her nose so that she might block out the smell. When she saw what had caught the sun her legs abandoned her and she nearly fell into the tomb.
It was a picture…
It was a picture of me as a child.
She staggered backwards gasping and trembling and collided with Josh’s father who still sat facing away from the hole. She understood why he had called her, but she could not bring herself to tell him what she had kept from everyone for all these years. Josh’s family never knew about the night I had woken up in the woods. She knew now that she should have told them, but to tell him now would help nothing. As she sat there resting her back against Josh’s dad’s. He spoke.
“I can’t tell my wife. I can’t tell her that our little boy---” his speech staggered in fits as he pressed his wet face into his dirt-caked hands. “She couldn’t bear it…”
After a moment he stood up still shuttering and lumbered toward the grave. With a final sob he stepped down into the coffin. Josh’s dad was a big man, but not as big as the man in the box. He grabbed the back of the man’s collar and pulled hard – it was as if he intended to throw the man out of the grave in a singular motion. But the collar ripped and the body fell back down on top of his son.
“YOU MOTHER FUCKER!”
He grabbed the man by the shoulders and heaved him back until he was off of Josh and sat awkwardly but upright against the wall of the grave. He looked at the man and staggered back a step.
“Oh God … Oh God, no. No, no, no please God, PLEASE GOD NO.”
In a struggling but powerful movement he lifted and pushed the corpse completely out of the ground and they both heard the sound of glass rolling against wood. It was a bottle. He handed it to my mother.
It was ether.
“Oh Josh.” He sobbed. “My boy … my baby boy. Why is there so much blood?! WHAT DID HE DO TO YOU?!”
As my mother looked at the man who now lay facing upwards, she realized she was facing the person who had haunted our lives for over a decade. She had imagined him so many times, always evil and always terrifying, and the cries of Josh’s father seemed to confirm her worst fears. But as she stared at his face she thought that this didn’t look like who she imagined – this was just a man.
As she looked at his frozen expression, it actually looked serene. The corners of his lips were turned up only slightly; she saw that he was smiling. Not the expected smile of a maniac from a film or horror story; not the smile of a demon, or the smile of a fiend. This was the smile of contentment or satisfaction. It was a smile of bliss.
It was a smile of love.
As she looked down from his face she saw a tremendous wound on his neck from where the skin had been ripped out. She was at first relieved when she realized that the blood had not been Josh’s. Perhaps he had suffered less. But this comfort was short-lived as she realized just how wrong she was. She brought a hand up to her mouth and whispered, almost as if she was afraid to remind the world what had happened,
“They were alive.”
Josh must have bitten the man’s neck in an attempt to get free, and although the man had died Josh couldn’t move him. I began crying when I thought of how long he might have laid there.
She looked through the man’s pockets for some kind of identification, but she only found a piece of paper. On it was a drawing of a man holding hands with a small boy and next to the boy were initials.
I’d like to think that she was remembering that part of the story inaccurately, but I’ll never know for sure.
As Josh’s father carried his son out of the grave my mom slid the piece of paper into her pocket. He kept muttering that his son’s hair had been dyed. She saw that it had – it was now dark brown, and she noticed that he was dressed oddly; his clothes were all far too small. After Josh’s dad delicately laid his boy on the soft dirt he began gently pressing his hands against his son’s pants to feel his pockets; he heard a crinkle. Carefully he retrieved a folded piece of paper from Josh’s pocket. He looked at it but was vexed. Absently, he handed it to my mother, but she didn’t recognize it either. I asked her what it was.
She told me it was a map, and I felt my heart shatter. He was finishing the map – that must have been his idea for my birthday present. I found myself strangely hoping that he hadn’t been taken while expanding it – as if that would somehow matter now.
She heard Josh’s father grunt and looked to see him pushing the man’s body back into the ground. As he walked back toward the machine that had found this spot for him he put his hand on a canister of gasoline and paused with his back toward my mother.
“You should go.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. I did this.”
“You can’t think like that. There was nothi--”
He interjected flatly, almost with no emotion at all. “About a month ago a guy approached me as I was cleaning up the site on the new development a block over. He asked me if I wanted to make some extra money, and because my wife’s not working right now I accepted. He told me that some kids had dug a bunch of holes on his property and he offered me $100 to fill them in. He said that he wanted to take some pictures for the insurance company first, but if I came back after 5:00pm the next day that would be fine. I thought this guy was a sucker since I knew clearing that lot was coming up so someone would’ve had to do it anyway, but I needed the money so I agreed. I didn’t think he even had $100, but he put the bill in my hand, and I did the job the next day. I’ve been so exhausted that I didn’t even think about it after it was done. I didn’t think about it until today when I pulled that same guy off of my son.”
He pointed at the grave and his emotions started to push through as he broke into a sob.
“He paid me $100 so that I would bury him with my boy…”
It was as if saying it aloud forced him to accept what had happened, and he collapsed onto the ground in tears. My mother could think of nothing to say and stood there in silence for what felt like a lifetime. She finally asked what he would do about Josh.
“His final resting place won’t be here with this monster.”
As she looked back when she reached her car she could see black smoke billowing and diffusing against the amber sky and she hoped against all hope that Josh’s parents would be ok.
I left my mom’s house without saying much else. I told her that I loved her and that I would talk to her soon, but I don’t know what “soon” means for us. I got into my car and left.
I understood now why the events of my childhood had stopped years ago. As an adult, I now saw the connections that were lost on a child who tends to see the world in snapshots rather than a sequence. I thought about Josh. I loved him then, and I love him even still. I miss him more now that I know I’ll never see him again, and I find myself wishing that I had hugged him the last time I saw him. I thought about Josh’s parents – how much they had lost and how quickly that loss had come. They don’t know about my connection to any of this, but I could never look them in the eyes now. I thought about Veronica. I had only really come to know her later in my life, but for those brief few weeks I think I had really loved her. I thought about my mother. She had tried so hard to protect me and was stronger than I would ever be. I tried not to think about the man and what he had done with Josh for more than two years.
Mostly I just thought about Josh. Sometimes I wish that he never sat across from me that day in Kindergarten; that I’d never known what it was like to have a real friend. Sometimes I like to dream that he’s in a better place, but that’s only a dream, and I know that. The world is a cruel place made crueler still by man. There would be no justice for my friend, no final confrontation, no vengeance; it had been over for almost a decade for everyone but me now.
I miss you, Josh. I’m sorry you chose me, but I’ll always cherish my memories of you.
We were explorers.
We were adventurers.
We were friends.
| 17 days ago
Again guys. Please count and label your stories so its easier for the next person to know which number we are up to
| 12 days ago
Title: The Boo Hag in his bed - a ghost story from the United States
Author: Albwin based on a folktale from the USA
Story Number: 15
Hello, here I go again with another fictitious story based on actual folklore belief. This should now be story 17 is @EOTFOFYL's multiple part stories are counted seperately or story 15 if they are not. Enjoy.
It was likely the happiest day ever for Lonnie, a young, mid-twenties Afro-American boy living in Charleston, South Carolina. Finally the day had come he and his (also Afro-American) girlfriend of three years, Mariah, would move to their first shared apartment to live together. Although he got a little irritated when his beloved grandma presented him a bucket of paint as a moving gift - and then even indigo blue, so called haint blue known to ward off evil spirits. "So that the boo hag won't get to you." the old woman had said with a well-meaning smile.
A boo hag. Of course Lonnie knew what a boo hag was. As much as he loved his good old granny, her obsession with boo hags left him somewhat bewildered. He knew the tales about boo hags inside and out ever since he had been a little child. So much, in fact, that he would have been able to recite them in his sleep. He disn't believe in them, of course. Who would? Except for his old grandmother, that is? But her unwavering belief in boo hags was one of the parts that made the old woman who she was and he wouldn't have it otherwise. He loved his grandma how she was, all crazy obsession aside.
The mover just brought in the last piece of furniture. Lonnie didn't believe his eyes. It was a spinning wheel! Where, except for museums or the like, could you see a spinning wheel nowadays. But there it was, right before his eyes.
"What is that?" Lonnie asked his girlfriend.
"A spinning wheel, as you can see." Mariah replied "It's a memento of my late great-grandma I just can't bear to part with. I thought we could place it into the living room as decoration or so."
"Whatever makes you happy." replied Lonnie who had both a soft spot for his girlfriend in particular and grandma stories in general.
Soon after moving together Lonnie who generally had just a light sleep soon became aware of the fact that Mariah left their shared bed for most of the night - every night! After a week or so he became so curious that he couldn't help himself any longer. He didn't want to beieve that his girlfriend cheated on him but at the end his curiosity got the better of him.
One night he feigned to be asleep and listened to the sound of Mariah next to him standing up and leaving the bedroom. He waited until she had left before he stood up and followed her quietly. Soon he heard squeaking noises coming from the living room. He peeked through the keyhole - and got the shock of his life!
In front of the spinning wheel there sat a bloody red being with bulging blue veins, spinning its skin from its body. As soon as the monster had finished its gruesome task, it started to float and flew out through the open window in the living room.
Lonnie couldn't believe it. The boo hag his grandma was obsessed with really did exist and his very own girlfriend, in fact, was one such being. From his granny's tales the boy knew just to well what a boo hag's business was like. Boo hags rode their victims at night, all nightmare-hag-like, and consumed their flesh and bones. And if one night Mariah would be unable to hind a new victim in time it would be his turn to be eaten.
Such a revelation was of course just like a bucket of ice water on the fire of love in Lonnie's heart. And since the boy thought to himself that it was better to have no girlfriend than to have a literally man-eating monster for one, he wanted to deal with her once and for all, if nothing else to be safe from the boo hag's ire if he ever should incur it.
Lonnie knew how to deal with boo hags, no question. His grandma had told him often enough. So he took out his tools and went right to work. Always keeping in mind that time was short, he hastened outside to paint all window frames of his apartment in haint blue. Now he was more than happy to have his grandma's silly little moving gift. Luckily the apartment was on ground level so painting them was not very difficult, the more so as it was a clear, bright full moon light and there was a street lantern close by, too. Then he returned to the apartment and also painted the door frame of the entrance door. If he would get into trouble with the landlord for this, so be it.
Inside the flat again, Lonnie closed and locked both the doors and windows, save only for the one Mariah or rather the boo hag had left through. This also was the only window left unpained.
Then he went and took his girlfriend's wobbly skin. It was her indeed, as shown by a mole only the two of them knew. Then he filled the gross insides of the skin with a big pack of salt he had taken from the kitchen. After he was done he retreated to a shadowy corner to wait for what was to come.
When dawn approached the boo hag finally returned. If she didn't want do die burnt from the rays of the morning sun Mariah had to return and slip into her skin. Lonnie knew it too well.
And really. Mariah came home, easily too, as she didnt try to enter through any of the newly painted windows, and approached her skin. As she tried to wear it again a downright inhuman howl of pain came from her mouth. The salt began to sizzle on the boo hag's body as it lowly burned her.
Crazy with pain Mariah suddenly discovered Lonnie standing in a corner and observing her with horror and disgust. With a cry of rage she lunged in his direction, stetching her sharp claws for his neck and shurely would have clawed or strangled him to death if not in that very moment the first rays of sunshine heralding the beginning of a new day set her aflame and burned her to nothing.
Lonnie never was the same again. He told everyone that Mariah and he had a falling-out and that she had suddenly disappeared in the dead of night. Only his grandmother got to hear the truth, telling him that he had done the right thing. Then she introduced him to a secret circle of boo hag victims - she was one too, in fact, having lost her younger brother to a boo hag when she was a child.
It was there Lonnie met a nice girl called Jessie who had a similar experience - the boo hag had been her college roommate - he soon became closer with and Mariah was all but forgotten. The only thing which set Lonnie and Jessie apart from other pairs was their obsession with boo hags but that is yet another story.
Last edited 12 days ago by Albwin.
| 12 days ago
Let's count them as one,
it's weird if it's seperate.
Here's story sixteen(?)
Can we set standards?
Uniform posting format
starting this moment?
Title: StarCraft web stories: Broken Wide
Author: Cameron Dayton
Story Number: 16
Tactical Data: L45.967.22
Remnants of the damaged audio files recovered from the wreckage of the battlecruiser Emperor’s Fury (holo files were completely unsalvageable)
Subject: Private Maren Ayers, Medic, 128th Platoon “Iron Jesters”
Receiving: Captain Serl Gentry, Doctor, Special Research Ops
Captain Gentry: Have a seat, Private. I can imagine that you’re upset after what you’ve just been through.
Private Ayers: Upset? Don’t be silly, Captain: this wasn’t a complete surprise. Nature doesn’t just adapt. Nature cheats, changes the rules, and slips out the back door with your wallet while you’re still trying to figure out what happened.
Captain Gentry: I’m not sure I follow.
Private Ayers: Sorry; those aren’t my words. That’s from my father, the venerable Dr. Talen Ayers. It’s his own special flavor of insight: one part renowned research geneticist and two parts backwoods yokel. Always embarrassed the hell out of me.
He’d throw that proverb out whenever I complained about unexpected results in my research. Force of habit, I suppose.
Captain Gentry: Private, if we could start at the beginning?
Private Ayers: It’s like the time an entire control group of my fruit flies decided to breed small enough to escape the netting in its container and spread into the other habitats. They deliberately ruined three months of long-chain protein sculpts. At least it seemed deliberate to me.
I was twelve at the time and had been slaving away on my own custom mutation of Drosophila melanogaster for a school project. Dad just laughed, told me to use jam jars next time. Old bastard. He didn’t have a clever maxim ready when I dropped out of grad school to join the marines, did he now?
Captain Gentry: Private Ayers, if we could please just stick to the matter at hand?
Private Ayers: Sorry – too personal? You said to start at the beginning, but I guess you’re not interested in my daddy-daughter issues. It’s just… it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to really talk with anybody who has more than a boot-camp education, and we’ve got a long flight back to civilized space.
Captain Gentry: (Clears his throat.)
Private Ayers: OK, I’ll cut to the chase.
Captain Gentry: Please.
Private Ayers: Six months back, our platoon was headed to a remote sentry outpost on the frosty side of Anselm, swapping chairs with the poor slobs who had been assigned to that ice world for the previous year. We had just warped in-system and were calculating to make our final jump when we got the priority call from Korhal IV: all Minotaur-class battlecruisers were being recalled to the capital to be refitted for interatmospheric combat.
Instructions were for any non-critical missions to belay their progress, drop any passengers and payloads at the nearest habitable checkpoint, and warp to HQ posthaste. Retrieval would be assumed by secondary military vessels as command deemed appropriate. That sobered us up real fast. You know as well as I do that the term “habitable” can be used a little too loosely by the Dominion.
Captain Gentry: Unexpected transfers are a part of military life, Private.
Private Ayers: Yeah, well, I don’t think anybody was happy about being indefinitely sidelined for a vehicle upgrade.
Our nav comp calculated that the nearest rock fitting these criteria was a barren mining world on the edge of our in-system range: Sorona. You’ve seen it – a rust-orange planet with a slender asteroid ring around its midsection. Looks like a fat kid wearing a dirty little belt.
Captain Gentry: (Laughs, then catches himself.)
Yes, I’ve seen Sorona.
Private Ayers: Right. I’d been a medic with the 128th platoon for two years at that point. We called ourselves the Iron Jesters, under the command of Lieutenant Travis Orran. Only a handful of our crew had ever seen combat before, and most of that was just minor peacekeeping actions. Yeah, we were hardly the Heaven’s Devils, I know; they don’t send war heroes out to sit watch on Anselm. Regardless, I don’t think any of us imagined that our temporary setback was going to be somewhat more than temporary.
That was six months ago. Six months, Doc.
Captain Gentry: That’s Captain….
Private Ayers: Regardless, there was no welcoming committee waiting for us on the hot tarmac.
Captain Gentry: This is not uncommon, Private. Some of the smaller colonies lack the personnel to keep a starport fully staffed.
Private Ayers: This wasn’t a case of arriving during lunch break, Doc. The place was empty. Had been for a long time.
The lieutenant’s plan was to gather whatever supplies we could carry and slog the fifteen miles to the nearest colonial outpost, a little hole in the ground called Cask. There we would make contact with the local mayor and try to find a comfortable place to camp out for the duration. Lieutenant Orran joked that we’d at least be able to work on our tans before shipping out to Anselm. There were a few laughs; I think we were all trying to look on the bright side of the situation.
The zerg cut that short.
(This is followed by a long pause and the sound of Gentry shifting in his seat.)
Captain Gentry: Please, Private.
Private Ayers: We were about five miles from the colony when the ground just… just exploded all around us. All I can remember is a chittering sea of claws, gnashing teeth, and blood. So much blood. The zerg swam through our platoon like fish in an ocean of red. Private Braden was just in front of me, and I watched as his arm was ripped clean off – armor, bone, everything – and he went down under a pair of the beasts.
You and I both know there hadn’t been any zerg activity in terran space for years. I’d heard of these xenos, seen the training vids. But nothing can prepare you for the sheer animal terror that hits you when these monsters attack. The speed. The savagery. I’ve seen hundreds of zerg since that time, but the first attack still haunts me. Always will.
(Another long pause.)
Captain Gentry: So how did you survive the ambush, Private?
Private Ayers: Well, it was the lieutenant who kept his head, who finally pulled us out of a blind panic. He called for the Jesters to drop their packs, circle up, and open fire. I can remember his voice – steady and even in the midst of that chaos. He’s a good leader. A good man.
Five marines were already wet piles on the sand before the first shot was fired. On instinct, I had holstered my A-13 and was headed to Braden with medkit charging when Private Delme grabbed me and shouted that I should save my breath. She was right. There’s not much my nanos can do when a marine’s had his viscera pulled out through the belly of his CMC.
It probably wasn’t two minutes before Lieutenant Orran called for a halt. The smoke cleared, and we just stood there, stunned.
Captain Gentry: Stunned? Come now, Private. All Dominion marines are trained for the eventuality of a zerg attack.
Private Ayers: You’ve never seen combat with the zerg, have you, Doc?
Our troop of sixty marines had just dropped by twelve, and three more would be joining them shortly. The zerg had caught us flat-footed, and all the training in the world hadn’t counted for squat. The worst part? After checking and double-checking, we were only able to recover ten alien bodies. Ten xenos. A handful of zerglings had taken out a quarter of our platoon in a matter of minutes.
And we wouldn’t have seen the next dawn if the colonists hadn’t heard our shots and come to investigate. We saw a dust cloud on the horizon, red in the evening light. The lieutenant called us into formation, and we readied ourselves for another attack. Then we heard the welcome sputtering of a heavy terran motor. A mining vehicle – a big ore loader, by the look of it – was heading our way, and we started cheering.
The cheer stopped when the vehicle got within eyesight.
Captain Gentry: Not what you had expected?
Private Ayers: Let’s just say that the loader had seen better days. Deep gashes cut through the chassis in places, and the treads appeared to have been gnawed through on one side. Mounted on the front of the transport were two hydralisk skulls, and the plasteel headlights shone grimly through the empty sockets. Not the welcome wagon we’d been hoping for, but at least it had room to spare for our platoon in the dented ore trailer. We loaded up and tried to ignore the hopeless look on the faces of the civvies crewing the thing. They’d obviously been expecting more than our wide-eyed platoon.
We got the story on the drive back. The zerg had first hit the outlying Soronan settlements about eight months ago and then quickly swept across the remaining terran holdings. Yes, that’s right – eight months. The colonists claimed to have been sending emergency messages to the Dominion and any nearby ports on a daily basis ever since then. No reply. They assumed that their comm station must have been faulty. Helluva time for the fones to go out, huh, Doc?
Captain Gentry: So how did a civilian population of unarmed miners survive an eight-month siege by one of the most dangerous enemies mankind has ever come across? This has us baffled.
Private Ayers: Any chance you got a look at the recon vids from when you finally decided to show up? If they haven’t already, have your tech boys pull up the schematics on Cask.
The colony is well named. Situated in one of the most perfect natural fortresses I could ever imagine, the colony is a military architect’s dream come true. Cask is nestled in the folds of a high-walled canyon that terminates under a massive arch of rock. Apart from providing shade from the planet’s twin suns, the arch shields the colony from anything but the heaviest air attack. A land-based assault would be forced through a narrow bottleneck that the miners have affectionately named the Wedge. Even our single transport was scraping the walls as the miners opened the scarred paristeel gates to let us pass inside the makeshift barricade.
Doc, the zerg had been swarming the Wedge for eight months on a daily basis and had been held off by civvies armed with shotguns and mining lasers. It was the first time I’d ever heard of civilians stemming a zerg assault, and I think we dared to hope that a strategy of attrition might bear fruit. The zerg couldn’t sustain this kind of activity on a practically lifeless world forever, could they?
Captain Gentry: I am unable to relay any further scientific information on the xenos than what you have been cleared to see in your training vids, Private. Please continue with your report.
Private Ayers: Right. Sorry.
So we made contact with the local leader, who grew more and more despondent as we made it clear that, no, we weren’t part of a larger force and, no, we didn’t have any idea when our transport would return. The colony’s doctor had taken his own life only a month before, so I found myself quickly inundated with sick and injured civvies.
Malnourishment had set in once the supplies had run low, and the civilians were scraping together whatever they could from the beleaguered hydroponic gardens and a native mold that grew along the shadowed edges of the canyon. The stuff was acidic, tasted like paste, and had an odd peppery scent. But it had enough protein and carboxylic compounds to keep the people from starving. The acid had worn through most of the enamel on their teeth, so I actually spent a lot of time doing dental extractions. Not what you’d expect following a zerg attack, I know.
The first wave of zerg hit only an hour after our arrival. We were unloading what gear we had been able to bring with us when the Klaxon went off. In between the sounding alarms, I could hear a rustling crescendo as the canyon walls seemed to shiver. The lieutenant had us drop everything and take posts along the makeshift walls the civvies had erected.
Being ambushed by the zerg is one thing. Being prepped, locked, and loaded for them is an altogether different experience. The first zerglings turned the corner to meet a withering crossfire of three dozen C-14 rifles and eight mining lasers. A shower of ichor painted the canyon walls, and the next wave of creatures rushed forward, the aliens wet from the remains of their siblings. They were mowed down just as quickly.
The next twenty minutes were filled with regular bursts of gunfire punctuated by the hissing cries of dying zerg. After it became obvious that my field-dressing skills wouldn’t be needed, I took a spot on the wall and started firing with a loaned C-7.
Firing. Punching wet holes into zerglings. Watching them squirm, drop to the ground, twitch before going still. Hippocratic Oath notwithstanding, it felt good.
Captain Gentry: Mmm?
Private Ayers: Yeah. It felt really good. Putting spikes through those fekking demons. After they had murdered so many of us… just being able to kill and kill and kill and…
(Soft sounds of crying.)
Captain Gentry: (Into his lapel) This is Gentry. I don’t think I’m going to be able to get any further here. Get meds down here and a gurney prepped for –
Private Ayers: No! No, I’ll be alright. Just need… just need a minute.
Captain Gentry: (Still into his lapel) Hold on that.
Private Ayers: (Sniffs, then takes a big breath.)
I apologize, Captain. For a moment I was back down there and…
Captain Gentry: Steel yourself, Private. This is information the Dominion needs to save lives. Remember that.
Private Ayers: Save lives? Ha. I’m glad you put it that way, Doc. That will make this much easier.
So my platoon is locked down on this dirt world, and the zerg are hitting us on a daily basis. Like clockwork. We hold the line. Days go by. Weeks.
We learned to conserve ammo, relying on the mining lasers the civvies had jury-rigged onto platforms above the walls to control the xenos. The Wedge really did seem to nullify the zerg offense: no matter how many claws stormed down that canyon, they could only get close enough to scratch at the barricades before being picked off. It was almost more work to burn away the corpses with the lasers when the attack was over.
We settled into a routine. Attacks would come at indeterminate times during the day, but only once in any twenty-four hour period. It started with a few dozen zerglings, then spilled into a rush – hundreds of the things crawling over each other in such masses that each shot was guaranteed to pierce two or three bodies at a time.
Captain Gentry: Alright, Private, now we’re getting to the important information. What form did the attacks take? Were you only assaulted by the smaller zergling strain?
Private Ayers: Yes. I asked about the other types of zerg that I’d learned about – hydralisks, ultralisks, devourers – you know, the whole cast of uglies. Apparently they had been part of the initial assaults, but their numbers had diminished as the siege wore on.
Captain Gentry: Diminished?
Private Ayers: Diminished and then disappeared entirely. The colonists noted this as a significant change as the months passed, and we surmised that this was a sign of the zerg population being worn down to its cheapest weapons.
Captain Gentry: Is that still what you think was happening?
Private Ayers: No. I wish I had seen it for what it really was.
Captain Gentry: Care to elaborate?
Private Ayers: I’ll get there. You need to hear the rest to understand.
The civvies were grateful to have us there, and they made sure that we were provided with water from the colony well and ammunition hot off the colony’s modified tool factory. The food and supplies that we’d packed in provided some relief, and our tech-savvy Private Hughes did a checkup on the comm gear. It was all up to spec: as far as he could tell, the messages had been going out. It’s just that nobody was answering.
(A long pause. Captain Gentry again clears his throat.)
Captain Gentry: Go on.
Private Ayers: It wasn’t until the first few weeks had gone by that my suspicions started to grow.
Captain Gentry: About the comm system?
Private Ayers: No, about the zerg. Why would I be suspicious about the comm? I’m no techie. It was the constant and utterly fruitless zerg attacks that got me thinking.
I was reminded of an argument I’d had with my father after his lecture one day. We had been focused on evolutionary theory, and I made the mistake of complaining about one of his tenets – something about instances of mutation occurring more frequently in populations that suffered from drastically diminished numbers. I thought it was ridiculous to consider a population of organisms as some sort of collective unconsciousness that could react to threats with a gestalt reasoning apart from the whole.
Captain Gentry: “Gestalt reasoning”? Private, I’ll give you high marks for vocabulary, but you’ve just used a lot of fancy words to describe the widely accepted zerg cerebrate concept. It’s certainly nothing new or groundbreaking.
Private Ayers: Pardon me, Doc, but I don’t think you understand. That’s not what he was proposing. He claimed that a separate population of individuals within a species could have a group-wide increase in its offspring’s mutation frequency due to severely dropping numbers. This supposes that some sort of biochemical communication exists at the genetic level for all species. Even my damn fruit flies.
Captain Gentry: So… you’re saying that an isolated group can mutate to deal with unexpected situations. This is nature slipping out the back door with your wallet, right?
Private Ayers: Well, you’re getting warmer.
The theory was stupid, I thought. It didn’t follow any formulas, algorithms, or predictable patterns. Most of science is like a pistol, right? You load it, pull the trigger, and it fires a slug. Once you understand the mechanism, you can predict it every time. Why do you think I joined the marines? Daddy issues aside, I mean. Fire guns; patch the holes they make; and win the battle. Simple, clean, and easy. My father hated my hunger for that simplicity, an unrealistic black-and-white universe that he called “a foolish binary fantasy.”
“Maren,” he’d say, “sometimes A plus B doesn’t equal C. Sometimes it equals M; sometimes it equals 42; and sometimes it responds in the form of an essay. You have to accept the fact that the most important questions have too many facets for you to count. You have to step back and be content with the fuzzy big picture.”
He failed me that semester in spite of perfect test scores. Said I just didn’t get the most important part.
Captain Gentry: So Cask had you rethinking your father’s theories?
Private Ayers: Yeah. It burns me to say it, but yeah. Something about being stranded on a desolate rock, being surrounded by homicidal cockroaches, and eating alien mold. I finally started to see the big picture. Father would be so proud of his little girl.
First of all, why would supposedly intelligent spacefaring aliens deliberately and systematically throw their forces at an impenetrable target? And why do so at such a constant, methodical rate? Cask certainly didn’t hold any position of strategic importance. Neither did Sorona, for that matter.
My studies in xenobiology had never gone too deep; I was out of school, out from under my father’s thumb, before zerg physiology was really taught at a scholastic level. From what I’d been able to piece together from the dumbed-down boot-camp vids, the zerg Overmind used an adaptive form of DNA to incorporate other useful bits from distinct, unrelated organisms into its own genetic palette. This made my fruit fly gene sculpting look like child’s play.
What if whatever consciousness was controlling this population had recognized a unique dilemma in this terran holdout on Sorona? What if my father’s theory was true? What if the inverse relationship between a population’s survival rate and random mutations was a concept not only understood by this consciousness, but also used to overcome obstacles when all other tactics proved useless? Was our desperate holdout providing a damn testing ground for the enemy?
Captain Gentry: I’m impressed, Private. I can’t go into detail here, but your field analysis syncs up with much of the data our tactical team has been running through. What was your conclusion?
Private Ayers: I had to know. Had to know if we were being used, even helping the zerg by playing into a forced mutation strategy. We had to seek out the hive responsible for this population of xenos. We had to destroy it.
The lieutenant laughed at me. I tried explaining it to him again, and he cut me off; this time his expression was stern. He told me that he had no idea how long we were going to be stuck on this rock and that, through the grace of whatever god looked out for atheist marines, he had found a way to keep his platoon alive in the midst of a zerg assault. He was going to sit tight and wait for the cavalry. “Leave the science to the scientists, Private.”
That stung. Believe it or not, it stung. I’d been trying to distance myself from my father and his world of intellectual vagaries for years, and now I ached for that understanding. That perspective. Here I was literally stuck in the center of what was potentially the next evolutionary step of an entire species, and I lacked the tools, training, and support to do anything about it.
Captain Gentry: So what did you do?
Private Ayers: I did what I could. I waited until the next attack had petered out, and I climbed over the barricade.
Captain Gentry: A little field research?
Private Ayers: Exactly.
The other marines all started shouting, and I could hear Private Delme calling to the lieutenant. Something about “losing another quack to suicide,” and I had to smile at her tender concern. Hey, if the pattern held true, the next attack wouldn’t come until tomorrow morning at the soonest.
The lieutenant had reached the top of the wall and was yelling by the time my feet hit the sand. I ignored him and got to work, collecting samples from carcasses. The attenuated surgical lasers on my armor made quick work of this, and I kept my C-7 at the ready in case the zerglings weren’t as dead as they seemed.
By the time I had gathered a good sampling, Lieutenant Orran had raised the gate and was standing just inside, fuming.
What was he going to do? Shoot the only medic on the planet? I was shouted at for a good hour and then confined to quarters. The moment my door was shut I set to work, turning the room into a miser’s laboratory. Most of the equipment I needed could be adapted from the instrumentation in my armor, and within the hour I was doing comparative analysis on the flesh of our attackers.
Captain Gentry: You built a lab out of your armor? Again, I’m impressed, Private.
Private Ayers: You higher-ups think we grunts are all a bunch of brain-dead apes, don’t you? Didn’t really expect us to see what was going on?
Captain Gentry: “Going on”? I don’t know what you’re implying, Private, but I suggest you continue with your report.
Private Ayers: Uh-huh. The lab was nothing fancy – just enough to run some basic tests. It didn’t take long to locate the mutation, even with my rusty training. You know how human transplant surgery is all about fighting the host’s bodily rejection of the foreign new flesh? Well, imagine the reaction if the new cells are from an entirely different species.
The zerglings’ connective tissue – the tough, leathery stuff that binds the hardened zerg exoskeleton to muscle tissue – was blistering. Every sample that I collected showed some level of swelling and agitation due to the bulbous pustules clustered across it.
My next discovery took me completely by surprise. The agitated flesh had a unique peppery smell. A smell I’d grown accustomed to at every meal since we’d arrived on Sorona.
Captain Gentry: The same smell as the –
Private Ayers: Why the zerg would want to absorb a local mold into their potpourri of genetic features was beyond me.
Maybe this wasn’t deliberate. An alien infection caused by some?? insidious algae? Ha. I doubted that anything could get through the bio-defenses of these monsters, but it was possible. I decided to dissect one of the smaller blisters, an angry green specimen the size of my fingertip. I charged up the med-laser and made a small incision.
Captain Gentry: And?
Private Ayers: And I woke up two hours later in the med-bay with my skin burning. Lieutenant Orran was standing over my gurney, his face sick with worry. He told me how the grenade had brought him running, how he had found me underneath a collapsed wall in the next room. That’s when I glanced down and saw the remnants of my suit. The entire right side looked like a candle that had been held to a flame: the armored plates had been fused together. The lieutenant told me that, the next time I wanted to “off” myself, I should remove my armor first. Yeah, he’s a funny guy.
I asked him to take me to my quarters. Either Lieutenant Orran was feeling pity or he had just given up fighting me, because he ducked under my arm and half dragged, half carried me from the med-bay. My room had been flattened, with the walls blown out in all directions. I was lucky to have survived.
“This wasn’t a grenade,” I told the lieutenant. “It was a blister.”
He laughed, convinced that I’d gone insane. I asked him to explain how I had managed to find an acid grenade in my quarters. He supposed that I’d cobbled it together from parts of my suit: they’d found pieces of my makeshift lab scattered throughout the wreckage. I could hardly fault him, you know. Who would believe my story about vicious alien pustules?
In the end, I was confined to another room with Private Delme on constant watch. My skin blistered, cracked, and then started peeling; you can still see the patches on my hand here. I told the private about my worries, about the need to broadcast what was happening here. I told her that maybe news of a new zerg mutation would get somebody to listen to us.
She only nodded, smiled, and then focused on cleaning her sidearm. Delme must have cleaned that stupid thing a dozen times over the next few days.
Captain Gentry: Meanwhile, your troop was still coming under daily zerg assaults, correct?
Private Ayers: The zerg? Oh, no. They stopped coming.
Captain Gentry: They stopped?
Private Ayers: Yes, sir. One last assault the morning after my accident, and then nothing. Delme told me that everybody was being cautiously optimistic, and even I dared to hope. Maybe this really was some sort of miraculous infection that had blistered the zerg into submission. Did we owe our lives to the Soronan mold?
Lieutenant Orran relented after a few days and let me out of my confinement. I’m not sure who was more relieved: me or Private Delme. Another week went by without incident, and the lieutenant decided to risk a scouting party. He picked three marines from a crowd of raised hands; we were all feeling some high-grade claustrophobia after so long in that damned Wedge.
I found some tools and got to work on my poor melted suit, and I freed up the leg joints to a point where I could wear the ugly thing. Zerg or no, it felt better to walk around in my modified CMC again. I wasn’t the crazy wannabe scientist anymore. I was a Dominion medic, damn it. My father’s views on nature as a shrewd pickpocket had been gloriously shattered by an infectious mold.
Captain Gentry: Yes, yes. What did the scouting party find?
Private Ayers: We were all curious when it got back, and the civvies gathered around too, hopeful to hear if the attacks were over for good. Lieutenant Orran decided to break protocol and take the report in front of the crowd.
Orran asked if the party had encountered any hostiles. The three marines just looked at each other and smiled. Private Godard even started laughing. They said that they’d found an entire valley full of sick, dying zerg. Claimed that the beasts were swollen with disease, sluggish.
Private Evans said that they had spent the afternoon emptying their clips into “the poor bastards.”
The civvies started cheering, and Lieutenant Orran had a big grin on his face. It was the first time those canyon walls had echoed something akin to hope in a long time. But something the marine had said struck me as odd. Maybe I’d misheard him. I had to shout over the noise.
I asked if they’d really emptied all of their clips. I asked how many of these sick zerglings they had seen. Evans smirked and shrugged his shoulders. Said he wasn’t sure, but the valley was full of ’em.
My insides went cold. This was wrong. Very wrong. An infectious disease would result in a population producing fewer offspring, not more. The zerg weren’t dying. The zerg had found their mutation. A new strain was swarming, and the Wedge was about to burst wide open.
I turned and ran. Lieutenant Orran called after me, confused by my reaction. I had to get to the comm station, had to make some attempt at getting the message out. I don’t remember how long I ran, but I made it to the station by the time the first explosions started echoing through Cask.
(Another long pause.)
Captain Gentry: Private?
Private Ayers: The rest you know, or at least most of it. You heard my message. You came. The right motivation got you here with an entire fleet of battlecruisers in only four days. Four fekking days! You monsters had been listening to this colony die for months and didn’t lift a damn finger until we had some precious military intel for you!
Captain Gentry: I’ll ask you one more time for the rest of your report, Private. You’re on dangerous ground here.
Private Ayers: The rest of my report? You want to know what happened in those four days? I got to see a wall we’d defended for six months dissolve under a slowly crawling wave of acid. I got to watch a platoon of marines giving their lives one by one, trying to stop an endless horde of swollen green xenos inching closer and closer with every detonation. I watched the last rays of hope disappear in those marines’ eyes as the next generation of explosive zerglings arrived – creatures that had gained the ability to roll into balls and project themselves along the terrain faster than a fully armed marine can run.
And finally… finally I got to watch a colony of civilians die, screaming in slow motion while this new breed of zerg destroyed Cask inch by inch, an endless series of explosions echoing through the Wedge.
Captain Gentry: That’s your report?
Private Ayers:' That’s my report. Yes, I know that I have rambled and not shown you the proper respect due a superior officer. I also know that I’m not going to see the end of this flight, that you’re just the first and gentlest of the Dominion interrogators who will be visiting me. I’ve known ever since you brought me onboard with Lieutenant Orran. He’s not going to see daylight either, is he?
Captain Gentry: If that is all, Private, I can have you escorted to –
Private Ayers: That is most certainly not all. Perhaps you’ve been listening close enough to my report to know what this is.
(Sounds of a gasp and a chair scraping backwards.)
Yes, I brought a sample for your labs, Doc. It’s significantly bigger than my fingertip, isn’t it?
Sit down. Sit down, sir. You stand up again, and I will blow this room through the fekking hull. I barely survived a blast in a suit of armor, and that pustule wasn’t half as big as this one. That’s right: sit still.
You were so anxious to get my report; you probably should have gotten me out of this beat-up suit of armor first, eh? Or at least searched my storage vials for foreign matter, maybe deactivated my little lasers? A dumb field medic would never turn violent, would never suspect….
Captain Gentry: (Whispering into his lapel) This is Gentry: I need security in interrogation room 7E stat.
'Private Ayers: Oh, by all means, call for security. This won’t take long.
I know that you bastards heard our cries. That you’d been listening the entire time. I know that you wanted to see how long a civilian population could stand against an incursion. And I know that you wanted to see how the infamous zerg adaptability would deal with an insurmountable problem. I can read the excitement in your eyes from this new data, you sick, murderous sonuvabitch. Well, I’ve got some bad news for you.
I saw something else in those four days. I saw the zerg pull back once they’d beaten the Wedge and destroyed the colony. The lieutenant and I watched the creatures turn and crawl from the smoking ruins of Cask, watched from our hiding place in the cliff face where you found us. They left because their experiment was done. It was a success.
You thought you were experimenting on them? They were experimenting on themselves. It’s how they grow, how they become stronger.
And for the last twenty-four hours before your fleet arrived, we listened to the massive spore cannons that they’d grown in the surrounding mountain ranges. Cannons that could have been turned on Cask at any time, mind you. But that would have ruined the experiment. No, these cannons were firing spores into space – no doubt on trajectories to other zerg planets. They were sharing what they’d learned with the rest of the Swarm. I know that it has been years since we’ve seen any zerg activity in terran space. But I hope you’re prepared for the next encounter. The zerg are coming. The zerg are nature in all her fury.
Still recording? Good.
Dad was right, Doctor. Nature doesn’t just adapt. Nature cheats, changes the rules, and slips out the back door with your wallet while you’re still trying to figure out what the hell happened. Now shut off your recording and stand up.
(The recording registers a long pause, a gasp, and a wet explosion. It then cuts to static.)
Last edited 12 days ago by EOTFOFYL.
| 12 days ago
Do you talk about introducing your "Title - Author - Story Number" as standard? Anyways, it's fine with me. I will adapt my older stories accordingly.
Already done. I think it would be only consequent if you would do the same , considering you suggested this, even if likely based on @Teddy's request from further up. I would very much like it if we as the main contributors in this thread set a good example. As for the stories you posted in several intallments: Why not number them as No. X.1, X.2, X.3 etc. In this regard it doesn't really matter if anothes story was posted inbetween (as has happened already), for the sequence would be X.1, Y, X.2.
Last edited 12 days ago by Albwin.
| 12 days ago
To make this thread clean
and uniform for readers
digging up old posts.
The "standard" I want to propose is to at the bare minimum have title, author(s), story number (since y'all want it), and any optional info. Stories should be enclosed in a spoiler tag to keep things tidy (optionaly enclosing your text in a quote block for formatting). My previous post only had title and source so I'll try to implement later.
| 10 days ago
Are you scared of frogs?
It's probably unlikely
but would this change things?
Author: Michael Yichao
Story Number: 17
Innistrad: The name of the Plane this story takes place; think of it as another dimension. Not very important to know.
Nephalia: Coastal province of Innistrad that deals mainly in trade.
Gavony: Inland province home to Thraben, the largest city in Innistrad.
Avacyn: Archangel Avacyn, an inhabitant of Innistrad and central figure of The Church of Avacyn for her role of keeping human civilization safe from the Plane's other inhabitants.
The Church of Avacyn: Both a religious and a body of government, The Church handles many functions in society in form or another. They also serve as a military, dispatching agents to subjugate demons and monsters that appear.
Skiltfolk: A group of mercenaries usually hired out to travel across Nephalia without using the Erdwal, a network of pathways between cities, or wish to travel through dangerous roads.
Prologue: Dark and deep, Lake Zhava lies in the highlands of Nephalia, near the border with Gavony. Villagers who live on the lake's shores and fish its waters have long spoken of a monster living in its depths. But despite the villagers' pleas, the church of Avacyn has sent no cathar or angel to protect them. As the madness in Innistrad grows, how will the villagers face the horrors of the lake?
Mia didn't believe in the old horror stories.
Not because she didn't believe in horrors. Quite the opposite. She believed in many things that even most adults would consider too horrible to think about. Spirits that haunted the living. Reanimated corpses, stitched together by madmen. Werewolves, feral and ravenous. Vampires who viewed villages as nothing more than a selection of choice morsels. She believed in these things, things that were not polite to speak of—as if not speaking of them would keep them from being real.
No, there were too many horrors in the world, horrors the village elders feared to name, for her to give much credence to town gossip, vague in details and heavy in hysteria.
Wilbur had quite a different opinion.
"It is too real," he insisted, pounding his fist on the grass. "Veryl said he saw it once—just a glimpse, but it was as wide as his ship."
Mia rolled her eyes. "Veryl also once claimed he kissed an angel," she said. "How long have we heard tales of the Gitrog? And how many credible people have seen it? Aren't we a little old to believe such nonsense?"
Wilbur stood up, shaking his head. "This isn't some dumb story. You don't go out on Lake Zhava every day, Mia. You don't see what I do. Especially lately. The unnatural fog. The lingering chill. There's more than fish in those depths."
"Is that your expert opinion as a fisherman? A fisherman who has turned fifteen and still isn't allowed to sail on his own yet?"
Wilbur blushed. "This has nothing to do with that, Mia! I'm being serious, and you're being a jerk."
Mia shrugged as she walked toward her flock. A few had straggled farther afield than she liked. "There's no sense in being afraid of the dark, Wil. What you should be fearing is what's in the dark."
Wilbur scowled, chasing after her. "What is that, another quote from your brilliant father?" Mia didn't take the bait, but Wilbur pressed on anyway. "Famed slayer, traveling the land as a noble agent of the Skiltfolk, but too busy to deal with monsters back home?"
"Too busy to deal with the whining delusions of small-minded townsfolk!" Mia whipped around, brandishing her crook. "Look around, Wilbur. None of this matters. This village doesn't matter. We don't matter. This stupid little hamlet isn't even big enough for real terrors to haunt it! We're just a no-name nowhere mountain town slowly driving itself to madness through runaway imaginations."
She turned, looked out at her flock, and sighed. One sheep had wandered far from the group. The little bell around its neck jangled faintly as it continued its adventure up the stony hillside. She started after it.
"Is that what your father told you when he left you behind? That you don't matter?"
Mia stopped in her tracks. She shot Wilbur an angry glare. Wilbur, to his credit, looked slightly green and like he was trying to swallow the words that just flew out of his mouth. Mia scowled.
"You didn't mean that."
"...Maybe I did—"
"We both know I can take you in a fight. You didn't mean that."
She turned away before Wilbur could answer and whirled the crook above her head, breaking into a light run. A short jog, a few sharp commands, and one crook under a stubborn sheep's chin later, she had herded most of her flock toward the field.
She glanced back to see if Wilbur had run home. To her surprise, he still stood there, looking dumb and lost.
"I didn't mean that!" he shouted across the field. Mia sighed, a smile sneaking across her face.
"I know." Mia let out a sharp whistle, herding her sheep onto the path back home. Wilbur hurried across the field to catch up.
"And it's not because you could take me in a fight. I mean, you could. But that's not why." Wilbur fell into stride next to her. Mia laughed.
"I know, Wil. That's why I like you."
The two walked on, the comfortable silence between them broken by occasional bleats from sheep.
Later that week, Mia awoke to a cold, gray dawn and found a section of her sheep pen broken. A quick count showed that one sheep was missing. She spent the morning searching to no avail. A rambunctious sheep probably broke out of the pen, as they were wont to do from time to time, and wandered off to get eaten by wolves in the woods. Mia cursed her luck and mended the fence, thinking nothing more of it.
Mia walked through the market, picking at the meager wares. The village's marketplace had never been thriving, but last season's poor crops and the decrease in caravans coming through the mountain pass made the options even more sparse than usual. Even the selection of fish seemed paltry, with the best offering being a sad sack of unimpressive cod.
"Poor haul this week, Lehren?" Mia nodded to the old fisherman.
Lehren shook his head, letting out a sigh. "Haven't spent much time on the waters. Fog's heavier than usual. Dangerous."
"It's dangerous all right," croaked a voice. "And not just due to fog. Wise fishermen are staying off the lake."
Mia looked at the speaker and rolled her eyes. "If all the fishermen were as wise as you, Veryl, they'd all have starved to death by now."
"The wise know that the Gitrog rises again!" pressed Veryl, a sneer sneaking into his voice. "Only a fool would fish the lake."
"I've never met a fisherman so afraid of the lake, or so eager to blame his poor skills on imaginary beasts." Mia picked out the fattest cod from Lehren's haul, making a show of handing him extra coin as she did so.
"Watch what you call imaginary, girl," a deep voice rumbled.
Mia turned to face the speaker and stopped, surprised. Kalim, barrel-chested and towering above the rest of the merchants, looked stern as ever. Thick brows, a thick, dark beard, thick arms sculpted from hauling nets—the only slender thing on his body was the curved fishing knife on his belt.
"The Gitrog is real. Surely a slayer's daughter knows better than to doubt the monsters of the world."
Mia noticed several other merchants and shoppers leaning in to listen or sneaking furtive glances. She gritted her teeth.
"A slayer's daughter knows to first rule out all other possibilities before crying 'monster' like a frightened child."
Veryl sidled up behind Kalim, greasy blond hair flopping across his eyes. "Rude words from a shepherd girl. Talking like you are the slayer."
"I'm more of a slayer than you are a fisherman, Veryl." As much as she wanted to knock the smugness (and just a few teeth) from Veryl's face, she knew better than to throw a punch with Kalim watching. She turned her attention to him.
"Surely you of all people do not believe Veryl's tall tales about actually seeing the Gitrog, Elder Kalim."
"I believe. For I have seen it."
The marketplace fell silent, and Mia lost all decorum as she stared at Kalim. Veryl started to say something, but Kalim put his hand across Veryl's chest, shushing the lad, and turned to address the whole marketplace. "The Elders convened last night, and we decree that fishing on the lake is suspended until further notice. We will post the announcement in the square this afternoon." He held up his hand against the groans and alarmed shouts. "The safety of the village comes first. I...I have also written to the Church of Avacyn for help." His gaze fell back on Mia. "Perhaps you could write your father as well."
A hushed silence fell over the crowd. Mia's pulse quickened as she met Kalim's gaze. Beneath the calm and commanding exterior, she saw it—terror, deep and rumbling, a flooding undercurrent in his otherwise resolute stare. She swallowed, a feeling of dread creeping up and clenching her throat.
"Father, I finally found some coriander!" Mia and Kalim turned as Wilbur came running down the market street. He waved the leafy greens, a stupid grin plastered on his face—until he tripped and went sprawling across the cobblestones. Mia let out a nervous laugh, exhaling—only then realizing she had been holding her breath. Around her, onlookers resumed their previous activities, some laughing at Wilbur, many whispering and murmuring, all dispersing, the tension of the moment broken.
Kalim took the coriander and ruffled Wilbur's hair. Wilbur looked around sheepishly until he caught Mia's eye. His face went from goofy embarrassment to serious in an instant, his brow furrowing. You okay? he mouthed.
Mia blinked, surprised, and shrugged. She started to speak, but Wilbur had already turned to Kalim, chattering and leading him from the marketplace, away from her. She stood alone, awash in a whirlpool of emotions, thoughts, and questions.
"He asked you to write your father?" Wilbur stared, incredulous. Mia nodded, stirring slowly. "But...he hates your father."
"Trust me. I haven't forgotten."
Mia tasted the soup, then offered the spoon to Wilbur. He sipped, made a face, and reached over to throw another pinch of salt into the pot.
The two huddled in Mia's cabin near her small hearth. The flickering flame cast a warm glow over the room as the woodsmoke mixed with the savory smell of mutton stew. Mia carefully pulled the pot off the fire and set it down on a nearby table while Wilbur retrieved a fresh loaf of bread from his pack. Mia slumped into a chair and drew a knife from her hip, slicing the bread. Wilbur frowned. "Tell me you've cleaned that since using it to cut rope in the sheep pen this morning. Or since cutting mutton for the stew. Or since cutting your hair three months ago."
Mia scowled. "It's my best knife. Multifunctional."
Wilbur shrugged, grabbed bowls from the nearby shelf, and sat down to spoon out generous portions of stew. "Do you even know how to reach him?" Mia looked up, confused. "Your father, that is."
"I know the branch of Skiltfolk in Drunau where he is based," Mia answered, sheathing her knife. She dipped the bread into the stew and took a bite, marveling at how it always seemed to taste better when Wilbur helped make it.
"Has he ever written back?" Wilbur watched Mia intently, ignoring his stew.
"I have never written him."
"I did not want to trouble him with trivial matters." Mia ate another spoonful and gestured to Wilbur's stew. Wilbur grumbled, then took a bite.
"Are you going to write him now?"
Mia continued eating, trying not to grind her teeth. Wilbur didn't seem to notice.
"Do you think he'd come? Maybe bring others? I mean, I don't think even he could take on the Gitrog without help—"
"I don't know!" Mia slammed her fist on the table, cutting him off. "I don't even know if I'll write to him."
"But—I mean, this is what he does, right? Slay monsters?"
Mia stood, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation. "We still don't know if there is a monster!"
Wilbur gaped at Mia, dumbfounded. "You still don't believe?"
"I still don't know for certain. It's all anecdotal evidence—"
Now Wilbur stood, an edge of anger sharpening his voice.
"My father has seen it! Veryl has seen it! Mia, I don't know why you refuse to—"
"Veryl is still an idiot, and your father is—your father." Mia looked into Wilbur's eyes. The two stood across the table, faces flushed and tempers raised. Even in that heated moment, Mia couldn't help but notice she and Wilbur stood eye to eye. Just that summer she had stood taller than him by a palm.
"My father is what, Mia?"
"An Elder. It's his job to err on the side of caution," Mia backpedaled.
"He said he saw it. He's not issuing decrees because he's cautious. He saw it."
"Unless he didn't." Mia sat down and started eating Wilbur's stew.
"Are you calling my father a liar?" The pain in Wilbur's voice cut far deeper than the angry shouting moments ago.
"People make mistakes. See things in the fog. They always have. A slayer must distinguish—"
Wilbur groaned. "Stop talking like that, Mia! You're no slayer!"
"And you're no fisherman!" Mia's eyes flashed angrily.
Wilbur's brow scrunched in anger for a moment, then his face slowly cleared and he sighed.
"None of us are. Fishermen, that is. Not until aid comes from the Church." Wilbur walked to the pot, grabbing Mia's empty bowl and scooping himself more stew. Mia frowned. Stupid Wil, can't even get angry long enough for a real fight. She shoveled stew into her mouth as Wilbur sat back down.
The two ate in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts.
"It's not just anecdotal."
Mia looked up over her bowl at Wilbur, curious. Wilbur stared into his. "Boats destroyed. Property damaged. And recently, livestock going missing. Pa says we're lucky no person has been hurt."
Mia paused. Her missing sheep...
Wilbur looked up. "Please, Mia. You have to believe. Or at least, pretend to. Just...be safe? I—I don't want you to get hurt."
Mia hesitated. Wilbur looked at her with the same seriousness as that moment in the market, a seriousness that looked strange on a face so familiar. It made him seem older. It made her feel...she couldn't figure out how it made her feel, so she looked away.
"You're right," she sighed. "I'm not saying I'm convinced," she interjected, catching Wilbur's excitement out of the corner of her eye. "But there's enough reason for doubt. There's the possibility. And the moment we move from improbable to possible, we must stand watch. Now, vigilance and diligence is demanded—if you're on watch, no noise is harmless and no shadow can be ignored."
"Why do you always talk like you're reciting some slayer handbook?" Wilbur rested his head against his hand, raising an eyebrow at Mia, a crooked grin sneaking onto his face.
"I may not be a slayer yet, but I turn fifteen in just two months." Mia went over to the cabinet and began rummaging through it, partially to find something, and partially to avoid looking at Wilbur's stupid face. Stupid, dopey, kind, sweet face.
"You're going to join the Skiltfolk?"
Mia pushed aside some old parchment and books in the cabinet, still searching. "I'm going to try. I have no intention of tending sheep the rest of my life—aha!" Mia turned around, bringing a small case back to the table. Though simple, it looked sturdy—oak panels, iron reinforcement, a heavy lock on the front. Mia reached to the necklace hidden beneath her blouse, took the key, and unlocked the chest.
"Oh wow." Wilbur's eyes grew wide as she pulled out a small crossbow, ornately dressed in silver. The craftsmanship was clear, even in the dim firelight. Holy runes lined both sides of its stock. Though it was slender and light, Mia felt its power as she cranked back its bowstring with a practiced hand. She took sight down its length, pointing it toward the front window, her finger lightly brushing the trigger. A heavy twang rang out, dust flurrying in the flickering light, cast loose by the reverberating string.
"Is that your father's?"
"It's mine." Mia grinned. "You don't think Olgard, famed Skiltfolk shieldbearer, would stand for the embarrassment of a daughter who couldn't defend herself, did you?"
"I know you can handle yourself. I just didn't know you knew how to shoot." Wilbur leaned back, admiring the weapon. "Why do you keep it locked up?"
"Weapons heighten tension and danger, even if there's none present before." Mia took out the quiver of bolts, counting through them. "Only have your arms at ready when necessary. Only draw them when you must."
Wilbur shook his head, grinning. "I think, very soon, no one can tell you to stop speaking like you're a slayer."
"I certainly hope so." Mia picked up the crossbow and quiver, walking to the small room in the rear to place it by her bed. When she returned, Wilbur had already cleared the bowls. He smiled at her.
"Thanks, Mia. Even if you're just doing this for me."
"Don't flatter yourself." Mia grinned at him, ignoring the fluttering feeling in her stomach.
Wilbur stood. "You'll see. The Church will send help. Or, if you decide to write him, perhaps your father will come back. In the meantime, though, we'll do what we can to keep the Gitrog at bay."
"If it exists." Mia couldn't help herself. Wilbur graciously ignored it.
"I trust my father to do what he can to keep us safe."
Wilbur looked at her again, serious again.
"And I'll do what I can to keep us safe."
Mia walked up to him, close, their noses inches apart.
She then planted her palm on his face, giving it a light shove.
Wilbur laughed in surprise, stumbling back a step. Mia rolled her eyes.
"Get out of my house, Wil. Lest the Gitrog eat you as you walk home in the darkness."
Wilbur grinned and gave her a little wave, turning and walking out the cabin. Mia walked to the door and watched him amble out of sight.
Yeah. That was the correct way to react to his stupid face.
The joy of that evening didn't last long. Days turned to weeks, creeping by cold and dreary. As winter approached, the fog reached its gray tendrils farther and farther off Lake Zhava, creeping deeper into the village before the feeble sun would chase it back to the shore. On colder mornings, it even enshrouded Mia's cabin on the hill.
Mia kept her crossbow by her bed at night, and carved time out to practice her aim.
In all that time, no slayer from the Church came. Soon, the caravans stopped altogether, and more and more fishermen loitered around the marketplace, huddled together, grumbling and whispering. Mia broke down and wrote her father, scrapping a dozen drafts before settling on a brief and formal missive asking for aid.
She received no reply. Shortly after, the postal rider stopped coming to town. Within two days, accounts of the Gitrog devouring the mail carrier transformed from rumor to story to fact. Mia thought the poor lad didn't want to make the cold and dangerous trek to a wretched little village. He probably chose to spend the winter in Drunau instead.
However, there were many Gitrog rumors that Mia couldn't explain away. By first snowfall, three more sheep had gone missing. Each time, the fence was broken in a different spot—as though something was testing the strength of her pen. Or, as Mia reminded herself, spooked sheep pick random points to break fences. But what could be spooking them? The latest time, she had heard the fence snap in the night, but by the time she burst out of the cabin, crossbow in hand, there was nothing but broken wood and alarmed bleating.
After that, she had finally given in and hired the local carpenter to help her reinforce the pen, dipping into the money her father had left her. Though she hated spending anything she hadn't earned herself, she knew she was fortunate to have this cache. The fishermen, banned from the lake early in the season, struggled as snowfall began. Many relied on the kindness of neighbors—but the poor soil of the village could only produce so much. Fights in the local tavern became more frequent. Cursing the Gitrog intensified. More and more townsfolk retreated to their homes earlier and earlier in the day, barring their doors and boarding up windows as the pervasive fog rolled in thicker and deeper than ever before.
Through it all, it appeared that Wilbur was right when he promised his father would do something. As winter deepened, armed men and women began patrolling the streets, some wielding torches and blades, but many armed with only a pitchfork or meat cleaver. They always wore heavy cloaks with the hoods drawn up—to guard against the creeping chill, but also as uniforms. Mia wondered what a baker with a bread knife could do against the Gitrog. It gnawed at her until one afternoon, she made the mistake of asking Wilbur.
"They're patrols. Extra eyes. You said it before yourself, Mia. 'Vigilance and diligence.' We watch, and sound the alarm if we see anything." Wilbur looked annoyed, his lanky figure dripping from the rain.
"I just wonder if it's actually useful." Mia also wondered why Wilbur refused to take off his coat and boots. Or take a seat. Or smile.
"I just wonder if you'll sell me the wool so I can go home."
"You're not staying for dinner?"
"Some of us have more than ourselves to take care of." Wilbur crossed his arms, and Mia wondered when he had grown taller than her.
"What, do you have to walk around brandishing your fishing rod, protecting the people?" The words left her mouth as her heart begged her to shut up.
"There are things I can't tell you. You see the surface of what we're doing to keep the village safe, to keep people alive, and all you can do is mock."
The truth in his words dragged like sandpaper across her heart, leaving her bloody and raw.
"Why are you still here, Mia?"
Mia looked at his the stern line of his mouth, his furrowed brow, his eyes cold and questioning. Her stomach churned between anger and sadness, a bitterness rising in her throat. Wilbur pressed on. "Why haven't you left for the Skiltfolk headquarters to take your test and leave us behind like your father did?"
"I am not my father. And I...I'm not fifteen yet."
Wilbur laughed, and Mia's chest tightened. She had never heard that laugh from him—empty of joy, full of daggers.
"You knew the snow would come before your birthday. You know the pass is nigh unpassable after the snowfall. If you really wanted to test, you would've left already." His words snapped, sharp and biting as the frigid air. "You're scared. Scared you're all memorized rules and bluster."
Mia grabbed the bundle of wool and threw it at him. "Take it. Get out."
Wilbur reached to the pouch at his belt, but Mia gave him a hard shove. "I said get out! Keep your father's coin. I don't want it."
"You mean you don't need it."
Mia bit her lip. It was her own fault he knew how to hurt her most.
Wilbur turned with the wool under one arm and tossed the pouch behind him as he crossed her threshold. The coins bounced out and scattered, clattering against the floor.
Mia paused, sweating despite the cold. This was the third time today she'd had to change the water for her sheep, breaking through the ice that formed in the troughs. Between this and all her other errands and chores, she hardly had a moment to catch her breath. The sun was already sinking below the horizon, throwing a few last, feeble rays against a sky of iron clouds. The wind howled as she returned to her cabin, cutting through her coat, chilling her to the bone.
At least it isn't snowing, she thought.
Two hours later, Mia watched the flurry of white slowly overtake the scenery through the window. Of course. What a perfect end to a cold and miserable birthday.
She had hoped to make it into the village. Hoped to find her way to Wilbur's house. They hadn't spoken since their fight, and the intervening time grew heavier every passing day, lending heft to the silence and breadth to the distance now separating them. Though she did not put much stock in them, she couldn't help hoping that her birthday would bring Wilbur visiting like he used to.
She sighed, forehead on the glass, breath fogging.
She didn't know when she had dozed off—just that something woke her some time later.
She stretched. The fire had died down to soft orange embers, and outside, the faint glow of moonlit snow edged a silhouette of the landscape. The storm had broken crisp and clear, stars winking in the inky sky. All seemed so peaceful. What had woken her?
Then she heard it again.
A loud snap-crack! rang outside the cabin. Mia sat up with a start, heart racing. She listened intently, peering out into the silvery semidarkness, senses on alert, mind racing. Nothing but silence.
She took a deep breath and leaned back, head drifting sleepily back onto her arm. It was likely a frozen tree, bursting as its sap expanded in the cold. Nothing to worry about if there wasn't anything el—
Suddenly, Mia was sprinting, grabbing her crossbow, throwing on her coat, and bursting outside, fear and dread clutching at her chest.
It wasn't the sound that scared her.
It was the silence that followed.
No bleating of startled sheep. No jangling of bells. Even as she ran out into the snow, she could hear nothing. She held her crossbow at the ready, slowing to a brisk walk as she approached the pen.
The sight that greeted her stopped her cold.
An entire side of the pen was in tatters, the fence posts ripped clean from the ground. Broken planks littered the snow, and as she watched, one post cracked and the lean-to roof collapsed.
Slowly, Mia crept closer, praying and hoping, even though she already knew. As she quietly crossed into the pen, her fears were confirmed.
Not one sheep remained. Instead, blood and gore covered the ground and splattered the few planks still standing. Cold wind swept through the wreckage, and the pungent smell of viscera hit her. She doubled over, crossbow falling by her side as she inhaled through her coat sleeve, trying to calm her stomach.
As she gathered herself, a strange shape in the snow caught her eye. She snapped erect, crossbow leveled, squinting at the...thing. She cursed herself for not bringing a torch, slowly moving aside, shifting her shadow away.
The pale moonlight revealed a massive footprint in the fresh powder. She walked closer. The imprint looked like a large, webbed foot, with three talon-like divots at one end. As she looked across the pen, she saw several more prints, scattered among sweeping, dragging tracks and more pools of blood.
Mia's pulse pounded in her ears as she gazed out. Leading away from the pen was a wide swath of drag marks and three-toed, webbed footprints pointing to the woods toward the lake.
Her mind swam. The Gitrog was real! It had devoured her flock. Which also meant it roamed quite far from the lake. Which meant it probably had ventured into the village! She had to tell Wilbur. Had to apologize. Had to warn them! She began marching toward the faint lights in the distance, boots crunching through the snow, when a nagging voice in her mind stopped her.
If a menace is confirmed as monster and not man, a slayer must track and isolate it if possible. Slay it away from townsfolk and cities—avoid the panic and mayhem of frightened innocents.
Mia stood, her breath flaring in front of her in pale puffs, torn on what to do. Surely there's no way she could handle something like the Gitrog. Not alerting the town seemed incredibly foolish. She needed to talk to Wilbur—Wilbur's father, rather. Kalim and the Elders would know what to do.
But would they even help her? After all her doubts? Even if they wanted to help, what could they do? The image of bakers and farmers armed with bread knives and pitchforks flashed through her mind. If the Gitrog could devour her entire flock with hardly a sound...
Mia looked down at the crossbow in her hand. The silver gleamed in the moonlight, and she ran her finger along the runes etched in the side. She reached to her hip and rested her hand on the hilt of the long dagger there. The familiar blade had seen more use as a utility knife, but its cold iron edge was crafted to slay spirits and witches.
She had dreamed of becoming a slayer, following in her father's footsteps. But he left her here where it was "safe" and gave her a flock to keep her busy—keep her distracted. Her weapons gathered dust or became household tools, even as she tried to hone her skills on her own. Now, here she was—fifteen years old, with danger falling into her lap. She had played the role of shepherd too long, waiting for permission to become what she most wanted.
Mia took a deep breath through her nose, the cold air sharpening her focus. This was it. Her first step toward becoming a slayer. A practical trial. Even if she couldn't take down the Gitrog, she would at least track it, learn more of its patterns, perhaps even catch sight of it before it slipped back into the lake—and then she could bring that information to Kalim, or her father and the Skiltfolk of Drunau.
Mia shouldered her crossbow and followed the tracks methodically, her reckless, fear-driven pace slowing in the face of purpose.
It didn't make any sense.
She had followed the tracks carefully into the woods. They were easy to follow—the Gitrog did little to hide. However, the tracks vanished just a short span past the tree line. It did not make sense, unless the Gitrog could climb thin trees or burrow into ground frozen solid. Something that left footprints that big didn't just disappear.
She doubled back, examining the tracks more closely, expanding her search to the surrounding area. That's when she found it—a fresh, human footprint some distance from where the Gitrog trail ended. At first, she feared someone had been caught. However, the faint, isolated print didn't suggest struggle. Something didn't add up.
Mia again held her crossbow at the ready and spiraled out from the footprint looking for clues, ears sharp to any sound. Two spans from the footprint, a series of tracks and signs of dragging resumed—but they weren't Gitrog tracks. Human footprints intermingled with long furrows like sled marks, headed to the lake.
Anger replaced fear. Mia walked faster, eyes darting between the tracks and her surroundings. Someone had gone to the trouble of faking an attack, of making false prints, then sweeping away their tracks. Someone wanted to make her look like a fool. Someone had slaughtered her flock.
Someone was going to pay.
The tracks led her almost straight to the lake. As she got closer, her pace slowed. Flickers of torchlight danced by the shore. She moved quickly from tree to tree, staying under cover. Soon, she was near enough to hear voices drift through the cold night air. The torches illuminated several figures, all wearing dark cloaks with hoods pulled up. From Mia's spot, she couldn't make out any faces—nor could she hear any words that were spoken. They stood in a circle, heads bowed, chanting something in a low drone. After a moment, they filed onto a nearby ship, a fair-sized fishing vessel. Lehren's ship, Mia realized, heart dropping. What was going on?
Mia watched as the hooded figures boarded. She ground her teeth, suppressing an angry shout, as she watched each stop to load their cargo—lamb carcasses lifted from a nearby sled. She nocked a bolt, about to demand an explanation, when a strange sight stopped her.
One of the hooded figures stood on the boarding ramp, blocking the way. Even with the high ground, the one on the ramp seemed dwarfed by the figure before him, the latter casting an imposing shadow in the moonlight. The taller figure leaned forward and whispered something to the person on the ramp, then walked past. The two bumped shoulders, and the face of the figure on the ramp caught the moonlight. Mia stifled as gasp as Wilbur gave one last lingering gaze into the woods before turning to board.
A million questions flashed through her mind—but she had no time for them as the ship began to pull away from the shore. Slinging her crossbow across her back, Mia sprinted, leaping to catch the boat as it pushed off into water, hanging on the small ladder on the stern. She was sure she would be seen, but peeking over the deck, she saw most of the hooded figures had moved to the bow, looking ahead. A few held torches and lanterns that illuminated the group feebly. Only one stood near her, and his eyes were glued to the horizon as he helmed the ship. Two more poled on either side, pushing hunks of ice away from the ship. Her feet dipped into the water as the ship bobbed, and she shifted up a rung—but she didn't dare move farther.
As she clung to the ship, voices drifted back to her, familiar voices she had heard countless times. They talked about the weather and the icy conditions as though they were all just gossiping at the marketplace. If it weren't for the hooded cloaks and pile of dead lamb carcasses piled high at the center of the deck, Mia would've thought this were a casual outing onto the lake. The effect was dizzyingly surreal—a terrible dream come to life.
She wasn't sure how long she held onto the side of that ship. The temperature dropped as they sailed farther onto the water, and the fog grew thicker. Just when she thought she couldn't hold on any longer, they lurched to a stop. Mia looked about—on all sides, gray mist obscured her sight. The water looked calm, a few jagged blocks of ice bobbing nearby.
"We are here," announced a deep voice. Mia knew that voice, knew the face even before she looked over the deck, even before she saw Kalim pull down his hood and stand before the gathered assembly.
"Brothers and sisters, tonight we bring sacrifice in the hopes that it brings peace. Tonight, we offer that which was unwillingly given, from a nonbeliever. Tonight we gift the Gitrog with the sheep of the slayer's daughter."
Curses and dark muttering spread among the gathered hooded figures, but Mia had stopped listening at that point. She had pulled herself over the ledge of the boat and had the butt of her crossbow lined up with the back of what she was fairly certain was Lehren's head. Just one quick, sharp blow, she thought.
The figure coughed a sad, wheezing cough. Mia grimaced. She couldn't hit a frail old man.
A frail old man who helped half the village slaughter your entire flock.
She sighed. Lehren started to turn.
Lehman dropped like a sack of potatoes. Mia immediately flipped her crossbow around, aiming it at the cluster of figures in hoods—just in time to watch them begin to throw the lamb carcasses overboard.
"What the hell are you doing?!"
The hooded figures turned to stare at her almost as one. Not one person spoke. Mia took an uneasy step back, lifting her crossbow higher.
"You do not understand, child." Kalim broke the silence, striding forward. He sounded calm and quiet. She trained the crossbow on him, and Kalim halted.
"You have a lot of explaining to do," she snarled, "and reparations to pay."
"Your sheep are serving a greater purpose," Kalim said. Many hooded figures muttered in agreement, echoing Kalim's words.
"What purpose is that?" She swung her crossbow to aim at a figure who had started inching toward her. The figure halted, and from beneath the hood, Veryl's face stared at her. She shivered a little, almost not recognizing him. His cheeks had taken on a gaunt look and his eyes flickered wildly from staring at her to gazing back to Kalim to looking off in seemingly random directions.
"We must appease the Gitrog!" shouted one of the hooded figures.
"The Gitrog!" echoed among the crowd.
"There is no Gitrog! You destroyed my pen and slaughtered my herd!" A sudden realization dawned on her. "It was you all, wasn't it—killing my sheep, a few at a time, before tonight?"
"They're the only thing that could stop it." Kalim again moved toward her, right hand now drifting towards his waist. Mia raised her crossbow again, but this time he continued at his glacial pace forward, forcing Mia slowly back. "The only thing that could satiate its hunger. The only thing that stopped it from coming for us."
"You're mad. You're the only one who's seen it." Mia took another step back, her foot hitting the edge of the boat.
"We have all seen it. Why do you think we're all here? We have seen the truth. We have gazed into its eyes. We know we cannot stop it. We can only feed it so it does not feed on us." Kalim was almost upon her now. Her eyes jumped to the other villagers in hoods. Familiar faces, twisted by shadows and the moonlight, gazed blankly back at her. She didn't want to shoot Kalim, but if he didn't stop...a sudden idea flickered in her head.
"Show me, then."
Kalim stopped, looking at her. Mia stood up straighter. "Show me your Gitrog." Kalim stared at her for a long time.
Finally, he took a step back and waved his hand. The other villagers all rushed to the pile of sheep carcasses, carrying them to the bow of the boat and casting them into the water. One loud splash after another broke the stillness of the lake and the quiet of the night. Soon, all that remained was a bloody stain on the wooden deck. All the hooded figures stepped back from the edge. Mia kept her crossbow trained on Kalim, walking with her back to the edge of the boat until she could look off one side toward the bow. She saw an inky patch of water spread, the blood from the sheep staining the water. A few bubbles floated to the surface, then stillness resumed.
A tense silence ticked by as everyone on the ship watched the placid waters.
"Nothing," whispered Mia. "There's nothing there."
She turned to the villagers on the boat. "Do you all see now? There's no such thing as the—"
A sudden burst of water and roar of sound cut Mia's tirade short. The horrific sound of the crunching of bones rang out across the water, and hooded villagers scrambled and shoved their way toward the back of the boat. Mia pushed her way through the terrified crowd, rushing to the bow to see what happened.
The water churned and roiled a short distance from the boat. Mia squinted her eyes in the moonlight, looking for what was out there. As the water settled, she saw it. The monster. The Gitrog.
"That? That's it? That's the Gitrog?" She looked back at the villagers huddled on the other end of the boat. "It's...it's just a giant frog."
Veryl ran up to her, pushing back his hood. He grabbed her shoulders before she could swing her crossbow up and shook her violently, a look of sheer terror in his eyes.
"You don't understand, Mia! If it isn't satisfied by the sheep, then we are all—"
Mia never did get to find out what they all were. At that moment, Veryl went flying backward off the ship, screaming through the air, and disappeared with a splash into the water. Mia didn't understand what happened—until she saw the Gitrog open its mouth again and a dark shape lash out and fly at the ship. She dove for the deck as the thing whizzed overhead, striking the mast and knocking shards of wood clean off the boat. As villagers screamed and cried, Mia realized—that thing was its tongue.
Another loud crack boomed out as the Gitrog struck again, punching a chunk out of the mast this time. As the Gitrog pulled its tongue back, Mia sprang up from the deck and took aim with her crossbow. Just as she pulled the trigger, however, a sudden force hit her from behind and she fell back to the deck, hard.
She turned around and saw a hooded figure clinging to her legs. "What are you doing!" she cried, squirming against his grasp.
"You must not anger the Gitrog! We cannot bear its wrath!" The hood had flopped down in the struggle, and Mia saw the village baker clinging tighter to her legs, his voice squeaking as he shouted.
"Too late for that," Mia grunted, pulling one leg loose. She kicked hard, hitting the baker square in the nose, her boot producing an audible crunch. The baker let go and Mia rolled away, scrambling to her feet.
"The sheep no longer satisfy it!" She looked back to the cluster of hooded villagers crying out.
"It wants more."
"Feed it the girl!"
"What did you just say?" She stared at the woman who shouted the last thing. It was the blacksmith's wife, Sarah, who had once baked her cookies for her birthday.
"Kill her! A sacrifice to the Gitrog!" Sarah let out a chilling scream and rushed towards Mia, drawing a mean-looking knife. With a shout, several others followed suit, hoisting their makeshift weapons. Mia scrambled backward, loading a new bolt into her crossbow as the crazed villagers descended on her. Sarah slashed at Mia's face, coming closer with each swing, when another battering from the Gitrog's tongue swatted her and two others overboard.
Screams rang out, cut short by sudden gurgles and muffled pleas for help. In the chaos, another pair of hands grasped her throat from behind, squeezing hard. Mia struck out blindly with an elbow. The grip loosened and she turned around and fired blindly into the stomach of her assailant.
The man fell back, and Mia caught sight of familiar blue eyes—Kyle, the cobbler's apprentice—just before another hooded figure charged her, his hood down—Terrance, Veryl's younger brother. Mia reached for another bolt, but he was on her, an actual sword in hand, swinging wildly. Mia stumbled back and fell, the tip of the sword grazing her shoulder and drawing blood. Terrance drew back for a killing stroke—and was knocked across the back of the head by another hooded figure wielding a club. As Terrance slumped to the deck, Mia finally loaded a bolt. She leveled the crossbow to the club-wielding figure's face, finger on the trigger.
"Wait! Mia, it's me!" The figure threw back his hood, and Mia cried out.
"Wilbur! What is—"
"I'm so sorry. Everything got out of hand. We were just trying to keep the village safe, but when they started stealing your sheep—"
Another loud crash resounded behind them as the Gitrog's tongue swung by.
"So you've seen it before this?"
Wilbur shook his head. "Only bubbles."
A burst of splinters rained down on the pair. They looked up—just in time to see the Gitrog's tongue retract, leaving a massive hole in the mast. With a slow, creaking groan, the mast wobbled, leaned, and finally snapped and toppled over, smashing against the side of the boat and into the water.
"Tell me more later." Mia grabbed his hand, fired the crossbow at another villager charging toward them with a pitchfork—Verna, flower girl—and ran for the aft of the boat.
"Where are we going?" Wilbur shouted.
"I—I don't know!" Mia looked out at the chaos surrounding her. With each swing of the Gitrog's tongue, more villagers were knocked into the water or grabbed and swallowed whole. Some just cowered in the boat, trying to hide. A few had dived into the water and were now trying to swim away. Mia considered jumping overboard as well—until she saw one swimmer (Elder Ethan's son) disappear beneath the water, leaving nothing but a trail of bubbles in his wake.
"There's nowhere to run." Mia and Wilbur spun around, looking at the speaker. Kalim stood before them, his gaze locked onto Mia.
"Dad! What do we do? This...this is insanity!" Wilbur still held tightly onto Mia's hand, and even in all the mayhem, Mia could feel his pulse throbbing through his fingers.
"Your dad's right," Mia said, looking at Wilbur with sudden clarity. "We can't outrun it. We have to try to kill it." Mia let go of Wilbur's hand and raised her crossbow, drawing one of her bolts as she looked back to Kalim. "That's our only hope now."
To her surprise, Kalim laughed.
"You are a fool. You cannot kill the Gitrog. There is only one thing to do." Kalim's eyes narrowed. "Sacrifice."
Kalim lunged forward, fishing knife suddenly drawn and in his hand, swinging straight for Mia's throat. Mia stumbled back, surprised, falling to the deck and barely dodging the assault. She scrambled back as Kalim flipped the knife in his hand into an icepick grip and drove it down toward her. Mia rolled out of the way of a second strike and fired her crossbow wildly. The bolt lodged into Kalim's shoulder on a lucky shot—but he seemed not to notice, slashing again at Mia's face—just as Wilbur tackled Kalim to the ground.
Mia loaded a new bolt and aimed it at the two struggling on the deck, unable to get a clean shot. Just then, the ship lurched to port with a sudden thud. All three turned to look at the source of the sound. Immediately, Kalim and Wilbur pushed off each other, scrambling to stand while Mia swung her crossbow around, backing up as fast as she could.
The Gitrog lumbered forward onto the ship, its webbed limbs heaving its body over the side of the boat and plopping wetly on the deck. Kalim, Wilbur, and Mia stood frozen and staring. The Gitrog gazed back at them with blank, dead eyes. With lightning speed, Kalim reached out and grabbed Mia, flicking the knife against her throat and holding her body to him in a bear grip.
"Oh great Gitrog! I offer this girl in sacrifice to you! Eat, and forgive this village of its sins, and slumber so we may live in peace!"
He's mad. Mia pushed against his hands, but Kalim's grip was too strong. Wilbur was shouting something, but all Mia could see was Kalim raising his hand, the dagger flashing in the torchlight.
Thwap! The Gitrog's tongue suddenly lashed out and smashed straight into Kalim's face. The dagger flew out of his hand in surprise as he let go of Mia, both hands grabbing onto the tongue. The Gitrog pulled, and Mia was knocked into the ground as Kalim flew forward, his yells muted by the monstrous tongue wrapping around his head. Mia scrambled up, letting loose one, two, three bolts into the Gitrog as it dragged Kalim along the ground. The beast didn't even flinch as the bolts were buried into its flesh, drawing its tongue slowly back. Mia watched in horror as Kalim's head disappeared into its gullet, watched as his feet kicked desperately once, twice, then no more as the Gitrog's maw closed down. Another swallow, and Kalim's feet disappeared as well.
Mia was vaguely aware that Wilbur was shouting as she turned to again grab his hand. She tossed her crossbow down as she ran to the aft of the boat, stopping only to knock over a torch onto the deck. As flames bloomed, she saw the Gitrog slowly waddle toward them, stopping to devour the villagers huddling behind barrels. She watched as it scooped up the unconscious form of Lehren. She watched as it lethargically plodded through the flames, coming slowly their way.
Only then did Mia snap back to herself. She turned forward and without a pause dove into the icy water, dragging Wilbur with her.
The two swam hard, pushed beyond endurance by terror and adrenaline. Slowly, the boat became nothing but a bright ember fading in the fog. The two swam, the freezing water a thousand needles stabbing into skin, toes and fingers falling numb, then hands, then bodies as they flailed back toward the shore. Mia was certain the Gitrog would find them at any moment, would drag them under, would swallow them whole.
Somehow, they made it back onto land.
The two crawled from the water. Wilbur flopped down, face-first in the pebbles, shivering. Mia forced herself to sit and tried to think. They needed to make it back to her cabin. Back to warmth. Otherwise the cold would kill them before the Gitrog could. Then, the moment they were dry and warm...they would leave. Flee the village. Leave it all behind. Run anywhere else. Face down a thousand vampires, or werewolves, or ghouls. Anywhere without the Gitrog.
A wet plop sounded from behind Mia.
She sat, frozen.
She needed to stand. Needed to see. Needed to run.
But she could do none of those things.
Another plop, and suddenly Wilbur was dragging her to her feet, pulling her away. The two didn't make it far before they collapsed on the stones. Mia's muscles screamed. The adrenaline had worn away, leaving nothing but stiff bodies locked with terror. Slowly, she rolled over.
The Gitrog loomed over her, its girth taking up all her vision. It gazed down at her, its eyes two black, fathomless pits, empty of emotion, empty of thought. Mia stared into its eyes and saw...nothing. Wilbur was pulling her to her feet again, yelling something about running, but Mia couldn't hear him. A low drone echoed in her skull, growing in volume, as she fell into the endless hole of the Gitrog's gaze. She fell, tumbling through oozing shadows, fell through the crevices of her mind, collapsed through the membranes into the spongy slime of delirium, cocooned by a strange warmth seeping into her bones and chasing away the pesky cold of doubt and fear and uncertainty. She knew, knew everything now. She saw truth in its blackest form, the clarity of a thousand lifetimes compressed into one moment.
She turned to Wilbur, who was still tugging at her arm. She saw his lips move, trembling blue, saying something to the Gitrog, begging, pleading. She reached a tender hand to his cheek, stopping his babbling. He did not see. He could not hear. He did not know yet. Wilbur turned, his frantic eyes locking with Mia as the Gitrog loomed over them. How green they were, two crystal clear pools, currently swimming with tears. Mia could see herself in them, in their fractured, speckled surface. She smiled, and for a second, Wilbur seemed to calm a little. She saw trust and faith in his eyes, and she smiled as she caressed his cheek, smiled as she ran her fingers through his sandy hair, smiled as she slid her dagger out of its sheath and through his rib cage in one smooth motion.
She heard him then, finally surfaced from the drone in her skull to hear his gasp of surprise, his breath turning from the ragged pant of hypothermia to one of pain and shock. Mia smiled softly and put a finger to his lips, sliding the dagger out, then back in again, this time through his abdomen. She smiled as Wilbur slumped against her, smiled as he whispered her name weakly. She whispered quietly in his ear.
"All hail the Gitrog," She breathed more than spoke. She put her ear to Wilbur's chest, listening as his pulse slowed and stopped. She looked up at the Gitrog, bowing her head in supplication.
"All is sacrifice."
The Gitrog gazed down at Mia. Then, slowly, it opened its maw, and a monstrous tongue lapped out, grasping the body of the broken boy beside her. Mia sat in her position, a wide grin on her face, as the slurp and crackle of bone and blood and organs sloshed over her. She smiled as the wet sounds of webbed feet plodding against stones echoed away from her. Smiled until all was still again, the chill fog pierced by the now-rising morning sun. Then she rose, still smiling, stumbling away from the shore.
When spring broke that year and the snows finally melted, a young apprentice rode his horse through the pass, into a sleepy little fishing village near Lake Zhava. He carried with him a satchel of letters, many long overdue, written before the first snowfalls of the winter before. He did not think too much of the windows and doors snapping shut as he rode by; many small hamlets had fearful or mistrusting townsfolk, especially after a harsh season. He also noticed but didn't think much of how many empty homes there seemed to be, letters delivered to properties clearly abandoned.
His final letter carried him to a small cabin on the hill. As he rode up, he couldn't help but notice a dilapidated pen of some sort rotting nearby. He feared he would find yet another empty home, until he noticed the small wisps of smoke coming from the chimney. He knocked on the door, and a wild-eyed girl answered. She seemed uninterested in the post, even unimpressed by the letter that came from the Skiltfolk of Drunau. However, her eyes lit up when he mentioned the lake, and she invited him in to stay for the night, offering to feed him and give him rest, and even to take him onto the lake if he wished. The boy blushed and agreed, as he had always been curious of boats and the water. He thanked her for her kindness.
Last edited 10 days ago by EOTFOFYL.
| 7 days ago
Story Number: 18
She was always smiling.
whenever I returned home, she was there for me to embrace her. She'll apologise for her cold hands and I'll boil some hot water for us to share.
Sometimes I worry for our future, her father disapproved of our relationship and we had to run away from her home. It was hard in the beginning, hers tears flowed endlessly. Then she harden her heart, from then on she was so soft. I love how she is all for me now.
But sometimes it feel as though, this wasn't what she wanted; that her smile is fake and just because she doesn't want to worry me: her make up is meticulously made each day, despite just staying at this cozy home of ours. She doesn't get any exercise outside nor does she talk with our neighbours. Though its hard for us to socialise when we are both introverted.
She doesn't desire much, no jewelley nor expensive hand bags. I love that about her; I only get a palty sum from being a janitor at the local funeral parlor to sustain us both. I hope I can bring her out to a five star Restaurant someday. I feel like our story is a horror story about modern capitalism.
We still get date night every week, but usually only at home but we'll then help each other take a bath, one after the other.
I love to feel her warmth but everytime I see that bullet hole in her side, it wrenches my heart. She took that bullet for me, that night we left her father's house. I put it mildly when I said her father disapproved our relationship. Her father was a violent man and had a hunting rifle, I think he was aiming for me but it was dark...
When we left, he was shouting all sorts of profanity, I wanted to princess carry her faraway from him but I wasn't strong enough so I had her over my shoulder.
That was one year ago, Officer. We've been happily living since then, I'm really sorry for stealing, please help me apologise to my boss. When she tells me she wants something I just can't resist, I'll buy her formaldehyde next time, I was just lacking money this week. I hope my boss can forgive me. By the way, Officer I overheard there was a home invasion and kidnapping case getting new developments, I hope you guys will be able catch the criminals soon...
| 6 days ago
Title: The hitchhiking Kelun Velnis - a travel-related ghost story from Lithuania
Author: Albwin based on a folktale from Lithuania
Story Number: 19
One evening in autumn Jurgis drove home from Kretinga in Western Lithuania to the nearby town of Darbėnai. He had heard that his dear old mother had fallen severely and broken some bones. Thus Jurgis decided to close his restaurant for the day and visit the old woman who had raised him.
It was already after sunset when man and car drove along a forest road. The pine trees looked almost threatening in the darkness of the autumn night.
All of a sudden a young, blonde-haired woman dressed in white appeared in the light beam of the spotlights. Surprised Jurgis hit the breaks and stopped his car, exiting it. He asked the girl why she was out in the woods so late at night and if he should give her a lift. The girl assented with a nod.
Soon both sat inside the car but a heavy silence filled its interior. Juris thought about starting a talk to shorten the time and distance but he didn't really know what to talk about with such a young woman as the old bachelor he was. But before he could even utter a single word the motor died down.
"Oh no!" he shouted "Please don't! Not out here in the wilderness!"
Assuring the still unresponsive girl that he would check the motor in a moment Juris exited the car again but when he looked what was the matter he couldn't find anything wrong. Everything looked as it should be.
When Jurgis looked after the hitchhiker on the passenger seat while closing the hood, he found that she had vanished. But the very next moment a black calf stared at him with fiery eyes. And what'd more, it sat on the driver's seat. And even worse, it started the engine since Jurgis had left his car keys inside. However it managed to do this with hooved claws, fact was that it did. And then, with the craziest smile ever seen on a calf it stepped right on the gas and began to chase Jurgis with his very own car.
Panicky Jurgis fled in between the forest trees but that din't hinder the car-stealing calf in the least. It simply drove off the road and chased him relentlessly. That the car lost the mirrors, some windows, doors and even wheels in the process didn't slow it down even a bit.
But although the car was faster than a human usually, always the same space remained between the desperately fleeing Jurgis and the vehicle chasing him.
Jurgis didn't know just how long he was already escaping his own car which had become very much a driving wreck at this point of time - he was half frozen to death and his legs had grown so tired that he didn't feel them anymore as he was helplessly stumbing through the woods - but the end came quite sudden and unexpected. As dawn was finally coming in the distance, signalling the end of a very long and very cold autumn night, a rooster crowed on a farm somewhere near the forest.
All of a sudden Jurgis sat in his fully intact car again at the very same place he had met the girl. He still managed to stop the running motor before he lost consciousness.
When he told his mother laying in bed of his nightly experience when he finally had reached Darbėnai she told him: "Kelun Velnis, the devil of the paths, must have played a prank on you. He often did when I was young but is rarely seen nowadays. In a certain way you had incredible luck to meet him since it doesn't happen often anymore."
"I would rather be able to live without such doubtful luck." Jurgis declared which caused his mother to laugh. He soon joined her in laughter, his being a laughter of relief, though.