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Ground Score

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DarkHallHotel

I know why you’re here. You’re here because you have some understanding of the things that go bump in the night and send waves of terror down your spine. You want to hear about the things that haunt the edges of your vision. You want to be scared.

But why am I here?

I’m just like you, only one day the creepy part of my life could no longer be contained to the realm of other peoples’ stories. Every person who writes one of these has had this moment. All of a sudden, everything is real and inescapable, and you regret ever seeking a quick scare in the first place. Sometimes it happens on purpose, and sometimes it just pops up at an unexpected place, and you don’t even realize it until it’s too late. Sorry for rambling, but this is one of those. It all began with a hippie roommate and a Lot, or “the place where things get weird.” It’s a music festival, but it’s more. Lot is a place where music and people and drugs all become one (for the right price). If you’re really concerned about technicalities, it’s a version of the parking lots where Grateful Dead fans used to accumulate before/after/during shows.

It was at one such show where it all changed.

I was wandering around between bands one afternoon when a glimmer of something in the tall grass caught my eye. With a sense of childlike wonder one can only attribute to being high as a kite, I approached the shiny. When I got closer I saw that it was pouch of aluminum foil. Trash anywhere else, at a hippie festival this is a ground score. Like a child on Christmas, I peeled open the little envelope to expose a few small squares of paper.

Each of the squares was different. I’d seen blotter acid a few times and recognized most of the prints. One was a mystery to me. I spent a lot of time fixating on it, but the best I could figure from the piece I had was that it was some kind of fractal with an odd script I didn’t quite recognize. When I first looked at my prize it had appeared to be purple and green, but later it seemed reddish. Who knows, because I promptly ate a few of the more familiar pieces and went about my weekend, having a good time.

When it was time to return to the real world, I brought the mystery dose home and promptly forgot about it.

A few months later the restaurant I worked for closed and I found myself moving back in with my parents. Luckily, they were at the point in life where travelling had become a semi-regular occurrence and about two weeks into unemployment I found myself sitting in their empty house staring at my little foil pouch on a Saturday night.

I was unburdened by responsibilities and my parents wouldn’t be home until next Friday, so I knew I had plenty of time for that mystery hit. I decided to take some time to fast and meditate to get the proper ‘set’ to go with my setting and the unknown dosages I was in for. I took the hit around six in the evening and watched dusk creep in.

I started watching some Doctor Who around seven, and began to feel screwed about nine. I know it’s wrong to feel screwed out of something free, but I was really excited about this unknown experience. It was looking like it was all for nothing. By 10:30 I had retired to my normal evening past time of browsing r/nosleep and assorted Creepypasta archives while making sarcastic and skeptical comments. Something about laughing at the story that just made me pee myself a little softened the blow, doing wonders to alleviate my fears.

A little bit before midnight, and long after I’d written off the drug, it felt like lead ball fell in my stomach. I doubled over in surprise and tried to catch my breath. I thought I heard someone laughing. I closed my eyes as another wave of cramping shot through my guts and when I opened them, everything had gone grey. Usually acid made my world vibrant and new, but this was just scary. The shadows seemed to pulse and ebb with some sort of malicious intent I couldn’t quite understand. I quickly pulled my feet up to the couch and wrapped my arms around my legs. I sat there shaking for what felt like hours. Any time I glanced at the clock it said the same thing: 00:00.

I kept reminding myself that this was a drug-induced state, that this would eventually end and everything would go back to normal. It’s the hardest thing to believe when you begin to lose yourself, and the overwhelming despair that threatened to drown me was making my situation even more difficult. The shadows seemed tangible as they ebbed towards my upholstered sanctuary, and I knew dread. Not the fight or flight, adrenaline-pumping terror, but a deep certainty that something was wrong, I was in danger, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

I still don’t know why I thought it would help to close my eyes. Tortured faces, distorted in agony, screamed behind my eyelids. I only saw their faces, so I was left to imagine the cause of their misery. As soon as their eyes began to cloud over to embrace death as their final relief, they would be replaced by a new victim. And screaming…

I didn’t understand how I could have missed that screaming before; it seemed to be surrounding me. It sounded off though, like some demented sound editor chose only the peak moments of anguish from thousands of screams and blended them together in an unending loop of the most brutal and unnerving compilation of human suffering. A blood curdling shriek from the pale blonde housewife faded into a teenage boy groaning into an old man’s wail into another face and another voice.

When I opened my eyes, the faces were gone. The shadows seemed subdued, no longer emanating the same aggression that was so intimidating before. The screaming continued though. It was soft and nagging, barely louder than the sound of my heartbeat pounding in my ears. I figured I could tune it out with a little music. Hopefully, the right tunes would draw me to a better trip on their own.

I couldn’t find my iPod, so I weighed my options. I could risk it with the TV, but I had some mildly unsettling experiences in the past involving cable while tripping so that should probably stay out. The entire CD collection in my mom’s 50-disc changer was hair metal, country, and adult contemporary. Computers, with their screens and mouses and keyboards, are just too hard for one in my condition. Time to fall back on vinyl.

I’m going to interject here things I wish I would have remembered before getting my heart set on some Beatles. Thing the first is that the record player was located in a spare bedroom on the far end of my basement. The room in itself was nice enough ever since I cleaned and furnished it to have a ‘me zone’ when I was a teen, but that’s where the next thing comes in. The rest of my basement was an unfinished pit full of junk we were too frugal to throw away but hadn’t missed in years. I mean, concrete floors, exposed rafters, constant leaking, and plywood ‘walls’ separating the rooms. You also had to walk through the cluttered garage and down the stairs with the impossible to reach light bulb socket to get there. Filled with the bravado of my new mission, I began my journey. The trek went smoothly enough through the well lit garage, but the stairs were menacing even when sober. When the bulb that lit the stairwell burnt out, replacing it involved a precarious arrangement involving balancing our ladder about two-thirds of the way up the stairs. All I’m trying to say is, this bulb was seldom replaced. With the unlit basement waiting at the bottom, the pool of garage light seemed powerless against the shadows.

As I began the long descent, I watched as the amorphous tentacles of darkness crawled up the pale wall past me. It was surrounding me. I didn’t brace myself with the handrail for fear this thing hiding in the dim corners of my world might touch me. I jumped and tripped down the last couple of stairs and stumbled through the basement door. I could have sworn I heard my name in the screaming. At this volume, the screams were almost like a song. They were still as gut-wrenchingly brutal as ever, but now that it wasn’t as overwhelming I could hear how the rise and fall and changes in tone between the screams meshed together to resemble something like the slow, drawn out chanting of monks. Maybe my mind was just looking for patterns, trying to make sense of this chaos any way it could. I felt around on the wall for the light switch I knew had always been there. I knew this basement well, but for some reason I couldn’t find the switch. The darkness seemed to throb while I continued my search in vain.

My only option was to sprint to the corner where the next light switch was. For some reason I didn’t want to show weakness to the shadows that were threatening my sanity, if not my very existence. That, and my fear of physical contact with the shadows, kept me from safely feeling my way along the wall like a sane person. I darted to the point where I thought the corner was and reached for the light to my left.

There was nothing. No wall, and certainly no instant safety brought on by a welcome pool of light. I ran blindly, now certain this was not a safe place to be. I couldn’t see the light from the garage where I had come in, and I began to panic. I thundered through another door and finally found the light switch I’d been searching so desperately for. Somehow I had found my way to my room, my sanctuary, and there was light.

The light was so welcome at first that I didn’t miss color. Compared to the unknown I’d traveled through to get here, even the sharp shadows cast by the naked bulb hanging from the ceiling were accepted. I couldn’t welcome the sight of anything that menacing, that ominous, but at least I knew where it was and where it stopped. If I could see it, I could run away; if I could see it, I would be safe.

I was beginning to think everything was going to be okay after all. If I couldn’t get myself out of this bad trip, I could still exert control, even if only by responding rationally to an irrational situation. I convinced myself that I was on the other side of the peak and that things would only get better from this point. I fired up the turn-table and started digging through the vinyl bin. I needed something mellow enough to calm me down, familiar enough to take me to a good place, and trippy enough to distract me. That meant the acid rock classic, Sergeant Pepper. I’d tripped to it many times, and it was a sort of stand-by. I started up a couple of novelty lights I had (a variety of colored lights and a laser light projector). Soon I was ignoring the menacing shadows on the floor in favor of the shifting patterns on my ceiling. I was getting through this trauma with a little help from my friends. When it came time for Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, I fell into the song as I had many times before.

My eyes slid shut as I began to picture myself in a boat on a river in a wonderful, awesome, and colorful world. Somebody called me, and I turned in my mind to the place where the girl with kaleidoscope eyes often stood. She was there, but she too was screaming. Her eyes weren’t the pools of color I was used to getting lost in, but pits writhing with the constant swell of the shadows. The screams came back with renewed vigor, drowning out John Lennon’s attempts to soothe my freakout. In my mind, I turned to run from the terrifying vision of Lucy, and was greeted by tangerine trees smoldering against an ash-streaked marmalade sky. The shades of grey invaded my imagination; painting the entire landscape in harsh and uninspired tones.

When I opened my eyes, I was relieved to see traces of color had slipped in under the radar while I had been gone. The warm colors seemed to be creeping back in through the reds in the wood paneled walls and the lights I was running cast intermittent beams of red light through the otherwise greyscale world. As welcome as the small step towards normalcy was, the red glow was almost as unsettling as the shadows. I stood up to kill the lights and locked eyes with my reflection in a mirror across the room.

The woman in the mirror looked just like me. She had my hair, my nose, my mouth. But her mouth was screaming. I could hear her clearly in my mind not instead of the other screams, but over them. The chorus of shrieks seemed to be speeding up, sounding more and more like a message. If only I would stop screaming, maybe I could make out what they were trying to tell me.

The eyes in the mirror were just like the girl in my mind: oceans of darkness and menace twisting and surging against the surface and threatening to break free. I lifted my hands to my mouth and found it closed as I’d expected, though I’d hoped I really was the one screaming. My mirror self also lifted her hand to her mouth. She had a pistol in her hands. I watched anxiously as she placed the barrel in her mouth. Her screaming had stopped, but I filled the vacancy with my own.

I turned away when she put her finger on the trigger. I heard the gunshot. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the mirror again. I couldn’t sit by and idly watch myself blow my brains out, and I didn’t want to see what was left of me. I wrapped myself head to toe in an old sleeping bag and curled up in the recliner. The looping screams continued to build momentum, coming faster and faster until it was impossible to deny it was a carefully crafted message.

The shadows inched closer to me, licking the floor at the base of my chair. The dread that had been growing since this started had grown into an inferno of terrified adrenaline, with every muscle in my body pleading me to run. As much as I wanted to flee, to escape this horror, I knew it would follow me wherever I went. I knew the shadows would always be a few steps outside of the light, creeping and waiting. For now, they seemed content to toy with me. The darkness seemed eager, but for whatever reason it wasn’t closing in. Was it waiting for something?

On queue, the looping chain of cries grew almost deafening. After listening to the repetition for so long, it was hard to hear anything but disjointed syllables. Unfortunately, like Mad Gabs, once it clicked it was impossible not to hear. “Jenny, we are the monsters in the shadows. We are the things that go bump in the night. We’ve been watching you.”

I remained in my cocoon until the sun lit my basement room. I never bothered to turn the record over, I just sat in the red room and stared at the grasping fingers of my shadowed tormentors. I ran through the basement up into the house like my life depended on it. Maybe because it did. The rest of the colors came back gradually once I was upstairs and in the sunlight. I figured I was straight again. That was about noon on Monday. I wasted the rest of the day playing mindless flash games and watching Netflix. Everything was golden until I went to bed.

I haven’t been able to sleep. According to my computer, it’s Thursday. That means it’s been five days. Five days and every time I close my eyes I see the same victims from before, only now I’m just watching them die. The housewife appears and sobs softly before letting go of her suffering. The teenage boy cries out for his mother one last time. The old man chokes mid-scream and twitches silently for a few moments.

The screams have stopped. I actually haven’t heard them at all since I deciphered the message. That’s all they needed to say to me. I never thought I’d say this, but I wish they’d come back. I wish they would tell me what they want from me. The silence is deafening.

I keep catching glimpses of myself in the mirror. I can’t bring myself to look directly at it. I’m terrified that’s their last message for me. They wanted me to see it the first time, but I ignored them. They’re telling me what I have to do. They’re showing me the way out.

My parents will be home tomorrow. I only have to make it one more night and Mommy and Daddy will be here to make it safe and warm. I made sure to turn on all of the lights in the house well before dusk, but that doesn’t keep them away entirely. There will always be another dark corner and another void behind the couch or under the bed. They always find a place to creep in, and they are constantly reaching just a little further into the light than they should.

The light in the kitchen just flickered out. Only an extremely paranoid person would say this is anything more than chance. Then again, the bathroom down the hall just went dark.

There are things that reside in the dark corners of our world. They are very real, and they don’t like to be mocked.

-



Credited to Torak 

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