The town of Hallowroots is the sort of place that you enter, flee, and somehow end up returning to despite a lifelong promise to never go back. It has an unfortunate reputation amongst a lot of people as a death sentence, but if you’re going to someone’s house to audit them you need to be aware of threats no matter the nature. Everyone here who does audits will have had guns, knives, and much more, pointed at them. It’s no different with Hallowroots, except that the things pointed at you will be a lot stranger. But Hallowroots is also kind of heartening. Like I’ve said to many other employees here; plenty of people live long lives there and a shocking number of them just adapt to the weirdness. It’s nice to see what people can just get over with enough time.
Still, none of you young folk want to hear about that. You want to know all the gory details. I’ve worked for a long time at the IRS and I’ve had my fair share of crazy stories but people only really want to know about my experiences at this specific town. Maybe it was the way Annie Davies came back after trying to audit Intra Inc., or maybe it’s the fact that most of you have snuck a peak at how much the DoD is paying Intra Inc. for a ‘secrecy clause’. I’d like to remind you, by the way, that doing so is a federal crime. Still I’m not here to chide you—Hallowroots is a poorly kept secret—but when I finally retire I’d like you have an understanding of what Hallowroots truly is.
First thing you might want to know is that yes, I lost my eye because of Hallowroots. But you might not also know that I lost one kidney, three metres of intestine, and a third of my liver because of it as well. You might also want to know that you’ll never find it in the same place twice. First time I drove there it took me eight damned days going in a straight line. It was a pretty torturous journey; some of the diners on the way hurt my head to think about. Hell, I’m pretty sure one of them had pictures of an old JFK shaking Thatcher’s hand, another had an American flag with just thirteen large stars on it. One place I went to had a plaque commemorating John Wilkes Booth – wanna know what’s really scary? Weren’t nowhere near Hallowroots when I saw that. Oh well…. It’s still important that you know that in Hallowroots time doesn’t really flow in any one direction. Be prepared to mention a name in passing, like Bush or Cheney, and have the locals look at you like a simpleton.
What else is important? Well… you won’t hear the same story each time when you ask around. I remember a pretty quaint little place, but Alec from down the hall made it out to be a bustling town with a moderate population. Anne Davies, back before she needed that laptop to speak, called it a ‘frozen shithole’ though she always did seem to come back with a wonderful tan. Most people though tend to remember the same key details.
For one, Hallowroots will always give you a scar no matter what happens. You could stand on the border and put your little pinkie toe across the line and something, somehow, will happen to give you at least some kind of permanent reminder that you’ve been there. Second thing is the people there are shockingly nonchalant about their lives. Alec told me he once hit a kid and the mother was furious that the boy wouldn’t be able to take the garbage out on account of his feet pointing the wrong way. Similarly, when I drove into town I watched a funeral where everyone was laughing and jostling each other. At the time I thought nothing of it but later that day I found out it was the funeral of a kid aged nine, maybe ten.
There’s loads of other quirks… It’s not easy to list them all. Thing is though no matter how weird, or different it may be, we all know that it’s the same place; it just presented itself a little differently each time is all. For me it was a dry little Southern town. I remembered tumble weeds rolling from out of alleyways and across the road, and old folks sat on porches with pipes and cigars. I saw banjos and spitting jars for tobacco and fat old women with missing teeth. It seemed kind of nice actually because it was a bit like where I grew up. I felt strangely happy strolling up to the small little Inn in the centre of town and asking for a room.
I guess I’m telling you all this because it’s important to let you know that it might not meet your ghoulish expectations straight away. You ain’t gonna rock up and see Dracula chasing villagers. In fact, it may make you feel right at home. Just don’t let your guard down. Oh and Alec gave me a great bit of advice, he reckons some of the inns are safe places for strangers, but not all of them. It’s a good thing to ask if the innkeepers are staying in the same place because they’ll avoid somewhere that’s likely to lose a couple of guests each night. You’re gonna want to remember that one.
Oh… that’s right. I didn’t say did I?
You will be taking over the Hallowroots’ accounts. I know you’ll likely have plenty of reservations… and you’re right. You should. I ain’t lying when I say that you won’t see Dracula chasing villagers but you won’t come back the same from that town either. You get yourself ready, and prepared, and with a little bit of common sense you might even find it fun. Thing you have that I never had is some useful advice so heed all I’ve said ‘til now because it’s gonna be necessary to staying alive. There isn’t a list of things I can tell you to do or not do but all throughout my life I’ve collected stories from that place. Every time I had to go there I took the time out to make sure I left with a new story. Some are first-hand accounts; some are... more complicated. Still, each one of them will tell you something about the place and hopefully keep you on your toes.
Value these stories, and value mine too because mine is in there as well. Read them, hold on to them, and don’t forget what they teach you.
Written by ChristianWallis
You’ve heard of Intra Inc., right? Everyone has. What you might not know is that Hallowroots has had a richer industrial history than you might expect. I found the remnants of one company in some books no one had touched since 1932, and I thought that if I could get back taxes on this ‘RoxWell Mining Co.” then I’d get my boss’ attention. Back then it was all about kicking down doors and kicking ass and there was a lot of unbridled ambition. RoxWell was my introduction to Hallowroots. It was why I went there.
I shouldn’t have left without some help but I didn’t want to share the glory either. It took a while to find the place on a map, but I finally took off from the West Coast on the 15th May and eventually found the right place on the 23rd May. And yes, I drove in a straight line. It was disorientating, and kind of confusing. When I finally arrived and I decided to skip the first Inn I arrived in since there was some poor guy collapsed down the road from it with a finger missing and blood pouring out everywhere. I did take a moment out to try and help but he just pointed at a handkerchief in his top pocket so I took it out and it, uh… it just kept coming. It was the longest damned handkerchief I ever saw, and it was all sorts of colours, but he just snatched it from me and starting wrapping it around his bloodied fist. No matter what I said to him he wouldn’t look at me so in the end I gave up and just kept going.
Luckily I didn’t need to stop in the town itself. I just kept going along the through road towards the home of RoxxWell Mining company that lay somewhere along the Easterly region. You gotta appreciate that because I hadn’t paid much attention as I drove along that everything that happened in RoxWell totally rewrote my understanding of the world. It was… unreal.
The first thing I noticed was the place was in ruins. The building would have been shoddy looking in its prime and it sat in the middle of nowhere. In particular, it seemed to sit in the middle of some flat long reaching fields which had filled with wheat and corn. I’d only found records of this one particular mine and it seemed real busy so it must have been doing something despite the location and lack of mountains. As far as I could tell somewhere between the buildings and warehouses the mine itself must have been hidden away. Still, it was clear as day that the place was abandoned, so I remained in my car parked up on the side of the road for some time while I wondered what to do. Part of me wanted to call it a day and leave but I’d invested a lot of my time by this point so I decided to brave it and enter. There was a lot of piled up corrugated iron by the fence, and the overgrown bushes let me know it’d been empty for a long time. When I noticed all the doors were locked, and that they were far too heavy for someone like me to kick down, I kept on looking until I found some iron rungs that formed a ladder on one of the walls. A little pressure revealed them to be reasonably stable.
What can I say? I was young and a little bit adventurous. I climbed them, and I wound up on the roof of the first building. The metal beneath my feet felt pretty unstable so I was really careful as I inched across the rusted ceiling towards a small hatch that was left open. At first I was just going to look down into room below but by the time I’d clocked an old-timey typewriter and an office chair covered in cobwebs I began to hear some creaking and fell straight through one of the panels. It was a painful fall, but thankfully I landed on a large desk which collapsed when I hit it. I think it helped break my fall enough to stop me breaking any bones, though I’d still been scratched up pretty bad on the way down.
You know when you’re bleeding, but the dust cakes the wound anyway? And it itches like hell, and stings like a bitch? The palms of my hands and most of my right shoulder felt like that. I stood up and coughed out a big lung full of dust and gripped my arm while trying to ignore just how much it had fuckin’ hurt. Looking around I saw the usual fifties office but it was hidden away in this kind of sepia darkness. The window to the right of the desk was cracked and let a lot of amber tinted light through but not enough to make the place feel safe. Once I’d let my eyes adjust I limped up to the desk and noticed that the typewriter still had paper in the tray and once I’d yanked it free I saw a memo half typed.
All administrative staff are instructed to not discuss work details with our competitors; especially Intra – and then it stopped. I looked and saw that across from the typewriter were a pair of post-war style women’s glasses with a smashed lens. It was clearly the receptionist’s desk as it faced an entrance and had its back to a long hallway that led into the facility itself. It was much darker the further the hall went but I still managed to see one lone little woman’s red shoe some distance away. I limped away from the dusty desk and towards the shoe. Shuffling past the cracked window I looked out towards the distant road where my car remained parked, and reminded myself that despite the dark and abandoned office I was only a thin wall away from safety and the outdoors. It was a bright and sunny day too and it helped to calm me down.
It was a shame then that once I looked back from the window I saw that the shoe was surrounded by a rust-coloured splotch. Curious, I leant down and picked the shoe up but as I turned it around I heard a rattle from within and saw a collection of small marble coloured rocks come tumbling out onto the floor. Most of them scattered away to the dark corners but one fell into my hand, and it didn’t take me long to realize it was actually once a toe. I threw the damn thing away but damn if I it didn’t pique my curiosity. I actually kind of wanted to know what the hell was going on in, and if this place was the source of all those strange rumours in Hallowroots.
Of course, that place is only one facet of the town and hardly the start of all its problems. But that’s another story isn’t it? What’s important right now is you know what I found elsewhere in that place. Well in that back room there was an archive and what I pulled outta there told me they’d dug up all sorts of strange things. Not just oil and coal but remains of old marble rock too large for them to haul up out of there. The last few entries made mention of a ‘sonic engineer’ coming to test this marble for signs of weakness; I inferred that this made reference to ultrasound.
Either way I kept on going, and past the archives were a load of offices, and even a few primitive computers, that had been smashed to hell and back. I’m talking about chairs in the damn plasterwork and a femur in the door of a bathroom stall. A lot of the place was like this. There were splintered bones and destroyed machinery, and a lot of signs of panic including blood splattered hands, barricaded offices, and skeletons propped on top of one another. It just seemed so old at the time that I thought the threat was long gone. Or maybe, I just really really wanted to know.
Anyways, I eventually found the shaft that went down below. It involved walking through a mile of smashed up rooms. The shaft itself was just after a set of communal showers; the sign for which was shredded on the floor and sprayed with blood. I ignored this room and kept walking until I found the actual shaft only metres ahead. Looking down it I felt a terrible fear rise up in me. Wide as it was, and riddled with machines, I could see that it was a tremendous rip in the face of the Earth. More than anything else I had seen before me that one sight struck me as a genuine threat to my person.
I also noticed that near the shaft was a lump of that marble they must’ve pulled up. Jesus Christ such a thing has never been seen before. It was a cascade of colours that never seemed to stay still and it was radiant even in the dark. Being near it was unpleasant and it emitted an audible hum that didn’t seem to get louder or quieter no matter where you stood. To think they’d hauled that up out of the Earth was an unsettling thought, and I couldn’t help but assume that it was that stone’s radiations that made me feel afraid, and not the shaft itself.
At the side of the large elevator that descended the shaft was a ladder. Again I ain’t gonna make excuses so just accept that I was a moron and that this particular moron went down. A lot of you will have seen me as the big honcho up-top so it might be good for you guys to know that I too have been young and stupid. Anyways, by the time I was near the bottom I could scarcely see the top. It hung above me like a star in the distance. It helped me feel safe enough to rush the last few rungs. Once I reached the bottom I was thankful to see that there was a load of torches piled up on the ground—still charged—so I picked one up and shook off the bony hand that still gripped it. When I lit the hallway ahead of me up I saw several tunnels stretching off into the distance.
Most of them I didn’t pay attention to. Most of them looked like good old fashioned mine shafts. But one of them was wrecked with carnage; shattered metal was embedded in the rock beside skulls and grimy ribcages that were strewn along the tunnel with what seemed to be near a hundred empty overalls caked in blood and dried viscera. Around about now I started to realize I’d volunteered to be the victim in a horror film but when I looked back up I could only see the darkness. The ladder stretched on for a while but there was nothing there above it. I panicked and thought I had been trapped by someone above who had covered the entrance. But just as I began to lost control a draft washed over my face. It didn’t take a genius to know which of the several tunnels was beckoning me.
So I went onwards, shuffling around the empty suits and smashed pickaxes, until I came to a point in the tunnel where the walls opened up to reveal a colossal chasm made of that very same stone marble. It was expansive beyond imagination. I could not see another wall or roof in the place except for those that surrounded the arch from which I had emerged. For a moment I remained fixed on the spot unsure of what to do when a most peculiar filament rolled down from the darkness above. It lay ahead of me by about a foot, and dangled precariously at head height while shimmering in the light of my torch. I was transfixed for a moment when I noticed another hanged low beside it. I shone my light upwards and saw that the darkness above was riddled with this complex web of a thousand strings made visible only by my torch.
And then another strange thing happened. In the darkness high above the webbing I saw a red and smoky shape convulse just beyond the veiled abyss. It seemed almost fluid, but it was also clearly solid; it reminded me of fabric in the ocean. Or perhaps like a quivering and billowing drop of velvet red ink dropped into black water. I stared at this mesmerising fleshy movement when, from further above it, some lights started to glow dimly. Suddenly they flashed much more brightly and there was a shimmering symmetrical kaleidoscope of bioluminescence, and it dawned on me that I was staring at some sort of colossal thing most reminiscent of a jellyfish. It floated up in the air like the entire place was the deep ocean, and I couldn’t help but revel in the beauty of it all. This thing was at least fifty metres across, and I could see that its tendrils dangled beneath it while it floated alone in the abyss. It really was beautiful.
And then its lights went off, and I could see it no more. For a moment I felt sad but I pushed this aside to appreciate the glory of what I had seen. It was a most strange but enchanting creature, and the knowledge that such an unknown variable could exist was an awe inspiring discovery that reaffirmed within me some spiritual hope. I wanted to see it again but as hard as I tried to reach up with my light I could only glimpse bits of its red and fleshy underbelly. I breathed a sigh of relief and happiness when, for a moment, I saw the bell flare up and glow faintly like it had before. Once again it flashed suddenly and revealed itself in a glorious halo.
But my feeling of joy lasted only a moment for I saw something else in the darkness. A gaping maw, and white eyes that possessed no intelligence but whose cornea bore scratches as thick as my arm. I saw the jellyfish swallowed whole in an instant, and watched the tail of the predatory beast whip past me by no more than fifteen feet. It was neither a fish, nor a squid, nor really anything anyone would have ever seen before. It just… was. It was a skittering mess of legs, fins and teeth that was large enough to dwarf the empire state building.
And it too lit up to reveal that this abyss was colossal, and that it was not alone. It, and many others like it and the jellyfish it had just eaten, bobbed up and down and swam through the air between the ruins of a city carved from the stone of the floor and the walls. I caught only glimmers of towering turrets with cephalopod tentacles coiled around the base, and of glowing eyes set within the darkness of strange and hollow temples. Each step of each building must have been thirty of forty metres high, and the buildings themselves were simply too large to make any rational sense, even if their architecture was somehow instinctively familiar. This city was at once classical and modern; there were aquaducts, broken and overgrown with strange and writhing growths, and walkways that crumbled onto the floor below. There were pillars, and columned ruins that held images of things I could not quite see—for this I am rather thankful—and it all seemed to glisten in that shimmering luminescent marble.
And all of it, every inch of it, was infested with that strange and physics defying life.
I cried with madness, and remained there for some time until I found my stomach started to feel light; like the moment when you dangle over the edge of a roller coaster. I noticed also that my coat tails rose behind me, and my feet felt like they made less and less contact with the floor beneath me. It was at this moment that I started to sense some sort of impending danger, and used what little traction I had on my surroundings to fling myself back into the mine. As I passed through the air I grew increasingly weightless and for a second I felt like I was floating. But as soon as I crossed the marble arch back into the mine itself I collapsed with my usual weight.
I don’t remember much of what followed. Not really. I do have strong memories of reaching the top of the shaft and realizing that the tunnel curved in such a manner than the light above me was obscured when I was below, meaning that I had no need to think I was ever trapped. I also remember struggling through the endless hallways back into the entrance where I fell through the window near the receptionist’s desk. I wanted a quick way out and that seemed to do. But I don’t remember driving home, nor do I remember the date and time of year when I returned.
But this was all a long time ago, and it was the first of many other visits in my lifetime. Like I said Hallowroots isn’t that dangerous a place you just need to be careful. Like this story it will reveal as much as it conceals, and it will never let you feel safe or secure in any meaningful way. Just don’t be an idiot like I was, and don’t think that the laws of reality will keep you safe.
If you’re still curious though; I lost my eye while staying in the Moonlight Inn. Some of its permanent residents have a perverse understanding of the old saying ‘it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye’ (I kept telling them that the saying didn’t confer a desired unit of ‘fun’). I lost a third of my liver due to alcoholism after my first trip (I know that’s cheating but I feel like it counts). A kidney of mine was ‘borrowed’ by some rather unpleasant fellows who ran a butcher’s shop in town but who were later chased out by unhappy residents. And the three metres of intestine? I’ll just say that Intra Inc. hate their tax audits, and that you should never drink the coffee they give you.
Written by ChristianWallis
The Moonlight Inn
The Moonlight Inn wasn’t just old, it was also in a sad state of disrepair. Stella, the night clerk, liked to comment that the name was appropriate, seeing as some of the guests could actually see moonlight through the cracks and holes in the ceiling. Still, it was a historic motel, and well known for being haunted, so it tended to get visitors who weren’t as interested in a good night’s sleep as they were in a heart-stopping scare. It was those thrill seekers who kept the shabby motel in business, but most of them left disappointed. The ghosts who inhabited the crevices and pockets of the old rooms rarely showed themselves to those who called out for them. And why would they want to? Most of them hadn’t been sociable in life, and there was no reason for them to be sociable in death. Yes, the dead liked their peace, that can be said for certain. Yet every once in a while, an especially intriguing guest could entice them from their crevices…
WUB WUB WUB – The car with two flat tires made a garbled sound as it limped into the motel’s parking lot. In addition to the deflated tires, the car was covered in a brown, viscous fluid that seeped into its joints. Its wipers had left thick streaks along the windshield that the man could barely see through. Stella briefly looked up from her book as the car slowed to a stop. The exasperated driver killed the engine and looked at the motel in front of him. He glanced at his watch, then back at the motel. Sighing, he finally reached into his backseat, grabbed a trunk, and walked into the front office.
“Got some trouble with your car?” Stella asked without looking up from her book.
“A bit,” the man replied. He scratched his head in confusion and pointed to the car. “I don't know if you'll even believe me, but all that brown slime... it exploded out of the road right in front of me. I swear, a manhole cover flew right by and missed my car by only a foot. It was all I could do to swerve into a curb." He shook his head and continued in an exasperated tone, "What a night."
The man sighed and suddenly took notice of the peeling wallpaper around him. “Is this the only motel in the area?”
“The Wagon Inn is about three miles up the road. It might be more to your liking,” Stella ventured in a dry tone.
Looking out the window, the man contemplated the condition of his car. “Naw, I’d better just stay here for tonight. Make the best of every situation. Right?” His dour expression suddenly gave way to a smile. “Complaining about my circumstances won’t fix them, but an upbeat attitude will make them go down easier."
Stella reached down and pulled out a set of sheets. “Twenty dollars, upfront,” she said. The man placed a twenty dollar bill on the counter, then, with a wave of his wrist, he produced a flower, seemingly out of thin air. “This is for you, m’dear.”
Stella did not look impressed. “Checkout is eleven AM.”
“It’s magic! Don’t you get it?”
“Yeah, I saw what you did,” Stella droned. “You pulled it from your sleeve.”
“You know, magic is a good way to get to know people. I use it to help break the ice with my clients when…”
Stella slapped a key on the counter. “Room eight,” she said before returning to her book.
The man, undaunted, tipped his hat at Stella and collected the key and his sheets. He soon found that room eight was every bit as shabby as the lobby. The mattress had stains on it from god-knows-what, and possible blood spatters marked the carpet. Looking around, the man suddenly didn’t feel as tired as he had moments earlier. “Maybe I should just practice my tricks,” he thought to himself.
Slight-of-hand tricks were a source of great pride for the salesman, and he found that the move towards a potential sale was often greased by a feat of the impossible. The key, of course, was to always practice. Dexterous hands needed a workout, just like any other part of the body that one desired to keep in top form. He retrieved a deck of cards from his trunk and deftly shuffled them with one hand. Sitting down at the rickety table, he spread them out atop its surface. “Pick a card,” he said to nobody.
Responding to his own request, he closed his eyes and randomly grabbed a card from the pile. He held it up momentarily, then shoved it back into the pile. He one-hand shuffled the deck, then tapped its top. “And this,” he lifted the top card up, “Is your card!” He chuckled heartily at his trick, until a soft, womanly voice sounded out directly behind him. “That was amaaaaazing!”
The man jumped up, knocking the table over as he did so. He turned around but saw nothing. “Can you do that again?” the soft voice asked in wonderment.
“Where are you?” the man asked shakily.
“Here I am.” Wispy tendrils of smoke appeared before the man. They hung in the air for a moment before they coalesced, and a phantom form began to take shape.
The man thought to run out the door, yet his curiosity demanded that he stay, and he watched in awe as the disembodied voice was reunited with its owner. After a few moments the form was complete, and a slightly translucent woman of about thirty years floated before him. “I’m Martha,” she said in a voice that could best be described as a loud whisper.
“I’m...” The man wet his pants as he tried to spit out his name. “I’m Carl.”
Martha had a pretty face and short brown hair. Her dress might’ve been red, though it was difficult to tell in the poorly lit room. She repeated her question, “Can you do that again?” With her almost puppy-like expression, Martha looked harmless enough to Carl. Not taking his eyes off of her, Carl kneeled to the ground and collected his cards. He set the table upright and started the trick again, but his shaking arm made it difficult to shuffle. Martha stared at him in quiet anticipation. On his third try, he finally shuffled the cards successfully and spread them out on the table. “Please, pick one,” he stammered.
Martha pondered for a moment, then slowly pointed her spectral finger towards one of the cards. Without looking at it, Carl picked it up and showed its face to Martha. Taking a deep breath, he reshuffled the cards and tapped the top of the deck. “Recognize this?” he said as he removed the top card and showed it to Martha.
“Oh that’s fantastic!” Martha cooed.
Carl smiled at Martha’s enthusiastic response. “I find that magic tricks are a good way to introduce yourself,” he said with somewhat increasing ease.
“Oh! I see.” Martha pondered for a bit. “I have a trick I can do for you!”
Carl thought for a moment, then replied, “I’m almost afraid to ask what it is.”
“Look!” she said excitedly. Martha leaned her head backwards, and Carl saw for the first time that her throat had been slit wide open. She deftly moved her hand toward her neck, and then promptly pushed it into the wide-open slit. Her fingers disappeared for a moment as she pushed them upward. When he saw them again, they were protruding out from the back of her mouth and dripping some sort of goo. Martha wiggled them and smiled. Carl almost fainted at the sight. Martha pulled her fingers from the backside of her mouth. “Do you have more tricks you can show me?”
Reassessing his situation, Carl looked towards the door again, but decided to stay. Martha, though a bit ghoulish, was still being friendly. He poked through his trunk and retrieved a few items. For the next half hour, Carl entertained Martha with tricks – a red ball pulled from her ear – flowers from thin air! Martha clapped as the magic unfolded.
Carl showed her most of his repertoire, and even though a magician shouldn’t be expected to repeat his tricks, he obliged Martha every time she asked to see something a second time. His pants had started to dry and he felt more and more comfortable with the unusual situation in which he’d found himself.
As he completed his final few tricks, he noticed Martha glance to an empty corner of the room repeatedly. She finally spoke to whatever was in the corner. “Oh, come out, Hank. Let him see you.”
A gruff, disembodied voice sounded out. “Yeah okay.”
Another specter began forming in front of Carl, and soon, the fully formed ghost of a man was present in front of him. Wearing brown pants and a sleeveless t-shirt, the new ghost also sported a shotgun wound in the middle of his stomach.
His voice, much louder than Martha’s, was directed towards Carl. “Well, I showed myself, so now why don’t you do one of them tricks for me, and make it good.”
“Uh, yes!” Carl didn’t like this demanding new ghost nearly as much as he liked Martha. He got the feeling that Hank was the kind of ghost who didn’t like it when people said no to him. He fumbled through his trunk and found his last trick. It was a bit of a gory one, but it was one of his favorite illusions. With exaggerated fanfare, Carl pulled a chopping knife and a wooden, hand-sized box from the trunk. “Here! Carefully examine this blade and make sure it’s real.” He started to hand the knife to Martha, then realized his mistake.
Martha, unable to hold the knife, looked closely at it. “Ohhh, it looks sharp.” She looked impressed. Hank did not.
“I assure you, it’s very sharp!” Carl replied. “Now, please watch carefully. I stick my finger in this box…” Carl placed the box on the table and pushed his index finger through a small circular opening in its side. The opening was just big enough for his finger to fit through, and the box was small enough so that the tip of the finger protruded from another opening on the other side.
“Now, the knife quickly comes down…” Along the top and sides of the box, there was a slit that allowed the knife to move easily downward. Carl slammed the knife down in a quick, guillotine-like motion. He noticeably winced as the knife cut into his finger, and then, “Voilà!” Carl shouted as he pulled his hand up from the table. The two ghosts gasped as they saw that Carl’s hand had one less finger. Martha looked back and forth between Carl’s hand and the box on the table that still had part of a finger sticking out of it.
Carl smiled as the ghosts stared in awe at his trick. “And now, I think I’d like my finger back.” Carl pushed the stub of his lost finger back into the box. With his other hand, he covered the entire contraption with a cloth. Only seconds later, he pulled his hand from under the cloth to show them that it was whole again. He put the box back into his suitcase. Martha cooed over the trick, and even Hank gave a begrudging smile.
“Can you do that again?” Martha asked with schoolgirl anticipation.
Carl’s smile dropped. “Uhhhh, I don’t think so.” He looked down into his trunk at the fake finger he’d just cut in half. A little bit of glue had held it to his hand, and with some agile finger movements, he had given a very convincing show that it was his own finger. It was a special order prop that he’d bought in bulk, but it was his last one, and it was only good for a single performance.
Carl picked up his deck of cards. “How about another card trick?”
“Hey, the lady said she wanted to see that finger thing again,” Hank said with a raised voice as he rolled his hands into fists.
Carl began sweating as he looked desperately through his trunk, hoping to find an unexpected prop finger, or at least another trick he hadn’t shown them yet.
“C’mon,” Hank said impatiently, “the lady’s getting bored. I wanna see that finger come off again, or else.”
Carl looked toward the door, calculating how fast he’d have to move if he were to successfully run away. He weighed his options and let out a sad moan. Then, he reluctantly put the fingerbox back on the tabletop. He shakily stuck his finger, his real finger, inside of it. Martha, giddy with anticipation, seemed to have no idea that something was different. Carl grabbed the knife, closed his eyes, and spoke. “And now, the knife quickly comes down,” he said meekly. He looked up into Hank’s angry and impatient eyes. Gathering his courage, he slammed the knife down into the box. His screams were heard throughout the motel as blood started spurting from the openings of the box. When his pain became greater than his fear of Hank, Carl dropped the knife to the floor and ran to the door, passing effortlessly through both ghosts along the way. With a fluid motion, he flung the door open and ran out into the night, screaming all the while.
Martha was crestfallen upon witnessing Carl’s disappearing act. “He’s gone,” she said sadly.
“Yeah, but he left his finger behind,” Hank said, pointing to the bloody box. “Why would he do something like that?”
“Maybe you should’ve been nicer to him, Hank. I think you scared him.” Martha stared at the finger and sighed.
“Aww I was just messing around with him. B’sides, I couldn’t hurt him even if I wanted. You know that. I was just jokin’ with ‘em.”
Martha shook her head remorsefully, then the two ghosts faded slowly away. In the lobby, Stella didn’t even look up as Carl ran screaming out of the parking lot and down the road.
Written by Creepy Thomas O.
Clint Owen, PI
I was a Private Investigator for a long time before I ended up here. I was always pretty intuitive, but my particular way of solving cases didn’t exactly fit the bill for someone wanting to work as a police detective. I wasn’t afraid to step outside the strict boundaries of the law if it meant getting answers to the questions I had and that didn’t always sit well with cops. Despite their disapproval, however, the police often came to me for cases that had them stumped.
I was mostly catching small time criminals and following cheating husbands until I moved to Hallowroots. I felt like I needed a change of pace, a challenge maybe, and I had heard talk of many “inexplicable” cases here. It wasn’t until I arrived that I found out just what people meant by that statement.
When I got to town, I found the police here were surprisingly more willing to work with me than the departments I had worked with in the past. In fact, they were sending me out on cases within my first week of setting up shop. They explained to me that their force was too small to handle the workload and they needed someone to take care of special cases for them, cases of the paranormal variety. The way they laughed when they first told me this made me think they were just yanking my chain, but I quickly learned that cases like this were very real and I was never going to have to follow any cheating husbands to supplement my income again.
In my first month, I got photographic evidence of a haunted motel, iced a few older residents who had trouble staying in the afterlife, and took down a giant furry creature that had been swallowing some poor family’s pets whole. It turned out I was so good at what I was doing, that I was quickly able to afford a custom window pane for my office door. “Clint Owen, Hallowroots’ Official Paranormal Investigator” it read.
I’d been working in town for a few years when I heard the rumors of the ghost at the asylum. For most people, rumors might not seem like the most solid piece of evidence to go on, but I specialized in the investigation of rumors. What was so unusual about this particular rumor was that this ghost had allegedly driven a man to take his own life. The police offered my standard rate if I could find anything out of the ordinary, but I probably would have made the trip regardless. Rarely did I ever encounter vengeful spirits, and it wasn’t long before I, intrigued, got a ride from one of my police officer buddies over to the asylum.
Pulling around the driveway alone, I could see the age of this building. It was obvious that they were trying to keep up with repairs, but were having little success. Several windows were boarded over and some shutters hung haphazardly. Paint was visibly peeling on most sections of the outside that weren’t covered by the overgrown shrubs lining the bottom of the wall. The only thing that seemed up to date were the large, immaculate double doors at the top of a small, concrete set of stairs leading into the building. I saw a man in his early thirties with a white coat and dark hair exit these doors and stand, waiting, at the top of the steps while the officer driving me got out and opened my door for me.
“I could open my own door if you hadn’t made me ride in the back,” I spat at the cop as I climbed out of the car.
“I’m sorry, Clint, but you know the rules,” the officer said apologetically.
“I know, Wally,” I smiled back. “I just like giving you a hard time. Who’s this?” I asked, indicating the man at the top of the steps.
“Hello, I am Dr. James Bennett,” he answered for himself. “I’m the head doctor here. I was told we were to have company today. May I ask your name in return?”
“Clint Owen, PI,” I responded, a little caught off guard by his strange manner of speaking.
“Ahh, a private investigator,” he mused.
“Paranormal investigator,” I corrected. “I’d like to take a look around your facility, if that’s alright.”
“Of course,” he said with strange, crooked smile. “Come right in.” He beckoned me up the steps with his long, gangly arm and turned to open the door.
“I’m gonna head back to the station,” Wally said, getting back in his car. “Best of luck in your investigation.”
I gave him a nod as I followed the strange doctor up the steps and into the building.
The inside of the building was not what I was expecting at all. The walls were freshly painted white, all of the furniture looked new, and everything seemed to be clean. The entrance of the asylum was much like the foyer of a large home. There was a small living room to the left and a row of doors to the right with a large staircase in the center, taking most of the focus of the room. At the foot of the stairs was a small welcome desk. Dr. Bennett brushed right by the desk and I followed him up to the second story. He led me through a series of hallways and, after a few more minutes of walking, we finally stopped outside a door.
“This is my office right here,” Dr. Bennett announced, opening the door. “Please, step right in.”
The office was surprisingly bare. There was a desk with a chair on either side of it, a bookshelf, and a filing cabinet. The desk had only a light on it and a bronze nameplate that read “Dr. James P. Bennett.”
“Please, take a seat,” the doctor implored as he walked around the desk and sat rigidly in his chair. I followed suit. “While we are more than happy to accommodate you here, I must inquire as to the nature of your investigation.”
“There have been reports of a ghost sighting on the premises,” I disclosed. “It was said to have even pushed one man to the point of offing himself. I’m just here to get to the truth of the matter.”
“I see,” the doctor began slowly. There was a slight change in his once welcoming, albeit strange, demeanor. “May I ask where you heard such reports?”
“It’s the talk around the town,” I replied. “Rumors are usually where I find the basis for most of my cases.”
“Many of the patients here are extremely delusional,” the doctor quickly countered. “They see things that aren’t there and that’s one of the reasons they require a whole staff to take care of them. Unfortunately, we occasionally do lose a patient or two, but I’m afraid you’ll find the rumors you’re chasing here to be just that. Nothing of a paranormal nature for you to investigate.”
“I understand your concern,” I shot back. “But I’m sure you’ll also understand why I’m hesitant to take your word for it when there are lives on the line.”
At this point the doctor paused for a long time, looking down at his nearly empty desk. Finally he sighed and said “I don’t want you upsetting my patients by making them think they’re under investigation. If you’re going to be walking around and talking to them, they need to think you’re one of them. You’re going to have to wear this.” Dr. Bennett pulled a set of white scrubs from under the desk and passed it over to me.
I took the scrubs without taking my eyes off the doctor. I was glad to have been granted access to the hospital, but it almost seemed too easy. The doctor knew something, there was no other reason for his lack of objection and his current aversion to eye contact. I would have to keep an eye on him I told myself as I changed into the scrubs and handed him my other clothes. The only personal possession I was allowed to keep was the leather bound notebook in which I document all my cases. Dr. Bennett begrudgingly let me hold on to that and a few pencils to keep track of my investigation.
After a brief explanation of the asylum’s rules, the doctor wished me well and had an orderly lead to the rec room located off the left side of the first hallway from the top of the stairs. I asked a few questions of the orderly, but the responses were considerably short. Apparently, the first floor was off limits for patients. I asked why, but I received no response. I also found out that the asylum was quite a bit larger than I had previously imagined. The first hallway contained the rec room and various classrooms and offices for working with patients. The next hallway with Dr. Bennett’s office contained many of the offices and sleeping quarters for the hospital staff. Four more hallways branched off behind that which contained the housing for the patients.
I tried to ask a few more questions, but as soon as we reached the rec room the orderly left to attend to other business. I looked around the large, open space broken up by regular support pillars. There was an area with tables, a chess set, some couches and chairs to the right as well as a large radio set on a table broadcasting some fuzzy coverage of a baseball game to the zoned out patients dotting the room. This noise clashed with the music emanating from an old record player to the left, situated between two more couches and surrounded by windows. There was a regular popping sound created by two men playing ping-pong on a table just next to the record area. A few of the similarly dressed patients were talking loudly to one another (or themselves, it was difficult to tell) adding to the cacophony.
The patients here were certainly characters. They spanned many age groups and had several different looks about them, but they all gave off a similar vibe of not really being present in their own bodies. They all wore matching scrubs but a few supplemented the look with glasses, robes, hats, and colorful scarves. I wandered around the room, making eye contact with a couple of them and even listening into their rants. I finally settled on a couch right across from an older gentleman huddled in his robe and staring off into space as the music from the record player washed over him.
“Hello,” I said. “My name is Clint.”
He opened his mouth slightly and I leaned in to hear his response, but I quickly realized his was wordlessly singing along to the music.
“What’s your name?” I continued. Still nothing in the way of a response. I was about to try again, when one of the ping-pong players jumped in.
“You’re wasting your time, he doesn’t talk.”
I glanced up to see the man not even looking at me as he continued to play ping-pong. He had short, bright red hair and looked even a few years younger than me. He was tall and thin and seemed to have more life in his eyes than any of the other patients I had seen in the rec room.
“Oh, I didn’t realize,” I replied. “I’m new here today.”
“I know,” the man said back, still focused on the game. “I know all the patients here and I’ve never seen ya. I woulda remembered ya, too. Not too often we get another sane guy in here.”
“What?” I tried to keep my composure; I had promised Dr. Bennett I wouldn’t blow my cover.
“Every other person here is crazy. Bennie here is the most sane guy in this place other than me and he’s crazy as hell,” he said, indicating his opponent. “I woulda remembered somebody like you who has at least some of his marbles.”
I babbled something else to try to brush off his accusation, but he didn’t seem to care. To be honest, he caught me a little off guard with his mannerisms. Compared to the other patients I had seen in my short time in the rec room, he really did appear sane.
“Were ya an employee, or a casualty?” he questioned.
“What?” I honestly had no idea of the basis of his question.
“Of Intra,” he added. He could clearly tell from my confused expression that I had no idea what he was asking so he continued to clarify. “Everyone here is either a former employee or a casualty of Intra.”
“Oh, neither, I’m…” I began before trailing off. Force of habit had caused me to begin my normal introduction, but I was starting to think maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea. Sure, I had agreed to be undercover, but my loyalty was to the case and not some doctor who clearly had something to hide. Plus, this guy really seemed to be sane and it wouldn’t hurt to have some inside help on the case. I decided to go for it. “I’m Clint Owen. I’m a paranormal investigator and I’m here on a case.”
The red head’s opponent, Bennie, gasped and dropped his paddle. “The ghost?”
I nodded and, for the first time, the red head turned to look at me. He sized me up for a few seconds, unsure if he could trust me. Finally, he broke into a smile.
“No shit? You’re exactly what we need,” the red head said excitedly, extending his hand for a shake. “My name is Frank, Frank Belmont. This is my roommate, Bennie, he’s nuts.” Bennie stepped around the table and shook my hand as well, though with much less strength. “We’ve been seeing this thing for months, Bennie most of all, and the docs would not listen to us. I can’t believe they finally hired someone to look into it.”
“The hospital didn’t hire me,” I replied, watching the initial smiles fade from their faces. “I’m actually working with the police.”
Frank’s face lit up again. “Even better, the docs here are hiding something. It’s better to be working outside their radar. What do ya need from us?”
“Well, for starters, I need to know what you know about the ghost,” I said, taking out my notebook and pencil.
“Geez, where to start?” Frank began. “I been in here six months or so and everything seems to be normal. Well, as normal as they can be when you’re surrounded by lunatics. One day, Bennie mentions something about a ghost. I didn’t think nothing of it, that’s classic Bennie bullshit. He won’t drop it for the next few weeks though, and I start to think he’s really losing it. That is, until I sees it, too.
“It was one night when I was feeling a little hungry after hours so I break out of my room for a little midnight snack. I’m just finishing up in the cafeteria, when I hear this noise. I look up and see some figure over in the corner of the room. I assumed it was one of the orderlies tryin' to scare me, they’re all assholes like that, so I yell at him to just take me back to the room if that’s what he’s gonna do. That’s when this thing turns around and stands up to its full height and I really see it. It’s like eight or nine feet tall and pitch black. It’s shaped like a human, but there’s something off about it. Animalistic almost. It’s got these glowy red eyes and spikey hair that goes all the way from its head down a stripe on its back. It made this horrible sound at me like some kind of tortured howl and I could see its giant mouth filled with rows and rows of teeth like knives. This thing looks like a fucking killer. Rip to fucking shreds as easy as lookin' at ya. As soon as I saw it full on, I took off back to my room and thank God it didn’t follow me. I couldn’t breathe for damn near a week I ran so fast. I ain’t seen it that well since, but every once in a while I glimpse it outside my room. I never see it during the day but I know it’s out there every night. I still hear its screech. Now that it’s seen me once, I think it’s following me.”
“Hmm,” I thought aloud. “That’s a bit unusual.”
“Yeah,” he snorted. “It’s not every day you see a fuckin ghost.”
“No, I meant your description of the ghost,” I clarified. “Most ghosts I’ve encountered look like they did during life. Sometimes they take the shape of themselves after they were killed, but I’ve never seen one that takes such an abstract form.”
“Well it’s still a monster, same as all ghosts.”
“I’d hate to disagree with you again, but most ghosts are just bored, not vengeful. In fact, I could direct you to a motel just down the road where there is a perfectly friendly…” I trailed off realizing from the look on Frank’s face that these two would never be leaving this asylum. I was getting off track anyway. “What about you, Bennie? You’ve seen this thing as well?”
Bennie nodded vigorously then began grabbing his right earlobe and pulling it outwards from his body. It was a comical sight, especially when he began shaking his hand. “Bear, coyote,” he began to say over and over again.
“Damn it, Bennie,” Frank sighed. “Ya couldn’t just give the guy a real story for once?”
Right about then, the orderlies announced it was almost lights out and began escorting the patients to their rooms. I said “bye” to Frank and Bennie as they were carted off. I took a few steps towards the hallway before I was cut off by a large orderly who seemed to already be pretty angry.
“Follow me to your room,” he grunted at me.
“I don’t have a room,” I replied. “I’m not actually staying here overnight.”
“I cleaned and prepared an entire fuckin room for a new patient, so someone is staying there.” His grunt had escalated to a growl.
“I just need to talk to Dr. Bennett and we can get this all sorted out,” I reasoned.
“You can talk to Dr. Bennett until you turn blue,” he began. “Tomorrow. Now, you’re coming to your room.” With that, he grabbed me by my arm and dragged my down the hallway to the block of patient rooms. My objections fell on deaf ears and I was forced into what had been designated as my room. It was clearly designed for two patients, but I guess I was lucky enough to be living there solo.
Initially, I was pretty upset at the misunderstanding that made this into an overnight work session. I eventually figured that it was fine in the scheme of things because I was gonna have to ask to stay here all night at some point, it might as well be right then.
I waited until I didn’t see any more orderlies walking past the window in my door and the lights in the hallway dimmed down to just barely enough light to see. Then, I got out of bed and took a quick peek outside. There was no one that I could see in either direction. I slipped out through my partially opened door and headed back past the offices and towards the first hallway. It was dark enough that I felt comfortable hiding in the shadows if needed, but not so dark that I couldn’t see any danger that might be approaching. I peeked into several of the classrooms, but nothing stood out to me as unusual. It wasn’t until I reached the door to the foyer that anything out of the ordinary happened.
Somewhere just around the corner at the far end of the hall some sound caught my attention. I turned to face the direction from whence I came, but I couldn’t see anything. The noise got louder as the source approached. It had begun as a growl then quickly escalated to a roar and then a howl. The sense of dread I had was growing and I began fumbling for the handle to the foyer. Just as I got it open, I looked over my shoulder one more time and caught a glimpse of two glowing red orbs glaring at me from the end of the corridor. Without a second thought, I leapt into the foyer and stumbled down the stairs.
The front door was locked and I realized as I tried to undo the bolt that you also needed a key to unlock it from the inside. Turning from this dead end, I glanced up to the top of the stairs as the noise began again. In a panic, I ran past the stairs and flung open one of the doors on the lower level of the asylum. I was almost immediately blinded by the bright white light that flooded from the open door. It was hard to see much of anything on the other side, but I heard many voices shouting, incensed by my presence.
The next thing I knew, I was seized by several sets of hands and dragged away from the doorway. They injected something into my arm and the last thing I remember before everything went black was a small bit of writing on a plaque on the inside of the door.
I awoke back in my room on the second floor. The throbbing in my head was almost intolerable and I had to keep my eyes closed to block out the overhead fluorescent lighting that was only exacerbating the pain. I must have lain there for half an hour until the pain in my head had died down to a dull roar. I sat up on my bed and realized by the light from my outside window that it must already be early afternoon.
A knock on the door behind me made me jump and I whirled around to see the faces of Frank and Bennie staring into my room from the hallway. I waved them in and Frank excitedly burst into the room.
“Did ya see it?” he asked. “Bennie and I live two doors down and we saw ya walkin past our room last night after hours so we figured ya were on the hunt. We didn’t see ya in the rec room this morning and we got all worried. Glad to see ya alive and well. I hope ya got that bastard.”
“I barely saw it,” I began slowly, my voice weak but slowly gaining strength. “It chased me down the front hallway and cornered me at the door. I tried to escape on the first floor, but… someone brought me back here.” I trailed off, gingerly rubbing my head.
Bennie’s eyes widened. “No, no. Stay up, stay up.”
“Shit,” Frank groaned. “If they caught ya, you’re in trouble. They’ll probably check your room specifically at night, there’s no chance of ya sneaking out anytime soon. Maybe you outta…”
“Intra Inc.” I interrupted, remembering something else from the last night. “You mentioned them yesterday. I know they’ve been a business around town for a long time, but I don’t know much else about them. What do they have to do with this asylum?”
“Hell, they own it,” Frank replied. “So many of their employees were ending up places like this, they bought their own to keep them all together and to keep them from talking. I ended up here after I lost most of my memory working in their R&D department and Bennie went nuts after they sent him to investigate and old mine they bought. Ask anyone here who can still talk and they’ll tell ya they had some run in with Intra. The docs don’t say anything, of course, cause Intra pays them enough to keep their beaks shut, but sometimes the orderlies let something slip.”
I was so engrossed in what Frank was saying that I didn’t see Bennie anxiously indicating the door until it slammed open and the grumpy orderly filled the doorway. “Owen,” he grunted. “Dr. Bennett needs to see you.”
Frank gave me a sympathetic glance. “Find us later,” he said before he and Bennie slipped into the hallway.
I stood up and followed the orderly down the hall and to Dr. Bennett’s office. We walked in silence, partially because of the pain still plaguing my head and partially because I knew this orderly was unlikely to tell me anything at all. He opened the door for me and followed me in, standing just behind me as I stepped into the office.
Dr. Bennett looked up at me from his desk, giving me another one of his unsettling smiles. “It pleases me to see you up and about today, I heard you slept pretty soundly last night.”
“Yeah, remind me to thank your goons for their assistance,” I retorted, watching his smile flicker for the briefest moment.
“I apologize for the manner in which they subdued you, but that is just hospital protocol I’m afraid,” Dr. Bennett explained. “I don’t meant to interfere with your investigation, but the rules of this hospital must be followed to the letter.”
“Are these the hospital’s rules, or are they directly from Intra?” I asked. “Or is there even a difference?”
The smile completely vanished from doctor’s face. “I don’t know to what you’re referring.”
“Cut the crap,” I shot back. “Frank told me everything.”
“Mr. Belmont is a conspiracy…”
“What the hell is going on here?” I was almost shouting at this point. “I saw what you have wandering these halls at night and you and I both know it isn’t a ghost. What are you doing on the first floor?”
“Mr. Owen, you need to calm down.”
“Give me some Goddamn answers and maybe I’ll calm down,” my shouting was full-blown now. “I’m here to investigate on behalf of the police and you will co-op…”
I stopped as the familiar feeling of blackness began to envelope me. I glanced down at my arm to see the large orderly injecting me with a syringe. “Son of a bitch.”
I awoke once again in my room, but this time the lights were down. I went through a similar process to recover, but the pain wasn’t quite as intense this time. Maybe I had been injected with less of whatever the sedative was, or maybe I was developing a tolerance. Either way I was soon mobile and ready to be out of the asylum. Looking out the window I could tell it was night. Frank had said it would be more difficult for me to sneak out now, but I was sure I could still pull it off with his help.
I slipped silently out of my room and into the room Frank had indicated as his earlier. The lights were off, but the moonlight was enough for me to see one of the beds was empty. Bennie rolled over to face me in the closest bed and quickly stood up when he saw who it was. I looked around the room, but it appeared to be vacant other than us.
“Bennie, where’s Frank?” I asked him.
“Where’s Frank? Where’s Frank?” Bennie repeated as he began shuffling around in a circle. The expression on his face was one of determination but I couldn’t help but feel bad for him. He looked so pathetic pacing in his white robe and army green beanie.
“Gone, GONE,” He said after a few seconds. “Where’s Frank? Gone. Skinny doctor. Gone. Where’s Frank?”
“Skinny doctor,” I mused. “Dr. Bennett? Bennie, did Dr. Bennett take Frank?”
Bennie nodded and I realized what I might have done. Revealing to Dr. Bennett that Frank knew enough about what was happening to tell me might have put him in grave danger. I knew I couldn’t leave this asylum without some hard evidence to shut them down, otherwise who knows how many people might also be put into danger? Something was not right here.
“Bennie, I need your help. I’m going to break into Dr. Bennett’s office and then I’m going to escape from this God forsaken place. I need you to not tell anyone that you saw me tonight, okay? I’m going to come back with the police and we’ll get you out of here.”
Bennie nodded and I left their room, heading down the hall. It wasn’t long before I heard the scuffling of Bennie’s slippers behind me and I realized he was following me. I stopped at the end of the hallway and looked back to see his hunched silhouette moving slowly towards me. “Bennie, go back to the room. I’ll come get you tomorrow.” I could see him nod, but he continued moving closer to me. I waited for him to catch up and tried again. “Bennie, just go wait in your room. It’s not safe out here.”
No sooner had I said those words when I heard a familiar sound and my stomach dropped. At the far end of the patient living quarters, a large black figure turned the corner. Its jaws were open wide as it continued its howl and I could feel its red eyes locked on us. It stood there for a second before it charged. It was maybe a hundred yards away, but it moved with terrifying speed.
“Bennie, run!” I screamed as I took off down the next hallway. I was in pretty good shape at the time and it didn’t take long for me to reach the junction where the front hall with the rec room connected to the row doctor’s offices. I chanced a glance over my shoulder and I realized, to my horror, Bennie was barely ten feet away from where I had started running. He was shuffling along as fast as he could, but he was making almost no progress. I stopped and turned around to go back for him, but it was too late.
I still remember the look of sheer terror on Bennie’s face when the dark figure rounded the corner behind him. There was a loud crunch of smashing ribs as a clawed hand of the beast exploded through the front of Bennie’s rib cage right where his heart must have been. In the span of just a few seconds, Bennie’s life was extinguished as the monster destroyed his body.
I made eye contact with the figure for a brief moment. It seemed bigger than I remembered and, at this closer distance, much angrier. It was not ingesting the remains of my friend, it appeared to just be destroying them for the sake of doing so. I turned away from the gruesome scene and fought back my tears for Bennie as I continued my sprint to Dr. Bennett’s office.
I could hear the monster behind me as I stumbled through the door and slammed it behind me. I turned the deadbolt and stepped back several feet, hoping it would hold. There was no window in the door for me to watch, but I almost felt grateful for that at this point. The monster began banging on the door with enough force to rattle the hinges. I jumped at the sound, falling backward over the desk and knocking all of its contents onto the floor.
As I lay there on the floor, fear gripped me more tightly than ever before. I knew there wasn’t a lot of hope the door would hold up and even less hope of me escaping this place. I pictured myself being torn apart like Bennie and I wondered how much pain I would feel. How quickly would it be over?
I looked around the room hoping to find a weapon of some sort. Instead, my eyes came to rest on a file lying on the floor illuminated by the moonlight. I must have knocked it off the desk when I fell. The little tab on the side read “Clint Owen.”
I don’t know why I took the time to read it in such a dire situation. Maybe I had become numb to the idea of my own death or maybe I just wanted to learn as much as I could in case I was able to escape. For whatever reason, curiosity got the best of me and I opened the file. There was a single sheet of paper inside.
Clint Owen is a thirty-one year old male brought in by the police. He appears to suffer from the delusion that he is a paranormal investigator working for the station. He has justified his time here by telling himself he’s working a case and needs to investigate ghost sightings.
He has already shown himself to be a hostile, delinquent patient who encourages the paranoid thoughts of others.
He is a danger to himself and patients around him. I recommend solitary care.
- Dr. James Bennett
It took a second, but it finally clicked. Dr. Bennett knew I was on to him and the only way to stop me from uncovering the truth was to insure that I could never leave the asylum. After our confrontation today, he must have drawn this up in order to frame me and eliminate my credibility.
As I read the file, I failed to realize the banging on the door had changed to a much calmer knock. Finally, a jiggling of the door handle snapped me back into reality.
I stood up and turned to face the door as Dr. Bennett strode in flanked by two burly orderlies. I looked just outside the door for the monster, but there was nothing in sight.
“I was afraid it would come to this,” Dr. Bennett sighed. “Take him to a solitary care room.”
I protested as the two orderlies dragged me from the room and down an unfamiliar hall. I screamed that he wouldn’t get away with any of this and that I was on to his game as he walked behind us. He met my threats with his silent, strange smile. Finally the orderlies tossed me into a padded room with a single window on the back wall and a small window in the door, which they slammed shut behind them.
I stood up immediately and threw myself at the door, screaming profanities at the slowly retreating figures through the small transparent rectangle. Seconds after the doctors disappeared around the corner, a new figured appeared outside my door, one that looked like the mutated shadow of a human with horrible fangs and glowing red eyes. It looked straight through me with those inhuman eyes and I knew it was just picturing tearing me apart.
I shrunk back into the corner of my room and covered my eyes waiting for the horrifying creature to leave.
It never did, though.
It doesn’t always stand in front of the window, but I know its nearby, I can sense it. It’s patient, waiting just around the corner for its perfect opportunity to get to me. The workers here want it to succeed. Every time they bring me food, they intentionally leave the door open as long as possible no matter how much I scream for them to close it. I don’t know how long I’ve been in here, months maybe. I only know that I don’t have much time left. It will get me one of these days, sooner more likely than later.
It seems fitting that the account of this monster is taking up the last few pages of my notebook. I can only hope that my life is not wasted and someone can use the information in this book to clean up this mess of a town. As soon as I finish writing, I’ll slip this through my outside window and into the courtyard below. Maybe someone will find it there.
Learn from my mistakes, make this right.
- Clint Owen, P.I.
Written by Firsttoleave
The smoke from the fires had turned the sky the color of bloody egg yolk, muddy orange-red and yellowish white, a hazy screen through which a faraway sun shone faintly, apocalyptically. The columns of smoke twined together, gathering in the sky over the house, slipping up through the fanned branches of evergreens.
The boy stood looking out the window. Twelve. There were twelve fires, in a circle around the cabin, and they had burned all night, gasping into ash and coals several hours previous. Now the sun was threatening to set again, to give up to darkness, and the boy knew it was time to relight the fires. He turned from the window of the little house’s kitchen to where a big brown mutt sat on his haunches, and he watched silently, ears flat against his skull, as the boy made ready for his patrol.
He sat on one of the three chairs at the table, tying the dusty laces of his boots. The dog stood up with a soft clicking of claws and the scratchy padding of big paws and sauntered over to where the boy sat. He stuck his cool nose up against the boy’s cheek, then gave him a gentle lick with his sandpaper-taffy tongue. The boy laughed quietly and sat up straight, saying “Good boy” and gave the animal a scratch under the chin before standing up. The dog whined.
The boy looked across the kitchen to the small window, out at the hastening dark, and shivered. Perhaps he’d waited too long this time, came the evil thought, unbidden and cruel in its plausibility. Perhaps the fires won’t be enough, came the next.
He picked up the shotgun from where it rested on the table, and cocked the slide back. Eight rounds in the tube, one in the chamber, just like dad said. The weapon felt heavy and real in his hands, and he realized for one horrifying second how small those hands were, how weak and pale compared to the gray and black metal of the gun. He waved the thoughts away and slung the weapon over one shoulder, then retrieved the key to the fuel shed where the propane burner sat.
The front door had many locks. The boy undid each of them while the dog waited patiently to be let out, and when the boy pulled the door open the animal sprinted past his legs and off the porch, clearing the two rickety steps to the yard in one ecstatic leap. The boy laughed again, louder this time, at the dog’s antics, but it was tempered by guilt. He couldn’t take the poor creature out like he used to. For one thing, the dog was old, and the boy found he had only noticed this fact in the last few months. His black nose was gaining a fringe of white hairs that were spreading down along his jaw, frosting his lips and outlining the grayish pink of his gums, and he was slower than he used to be, taking extra effort to get up and lie down. Even now, as the boy was closing the door behind him, the dog clearly seemed to be regretting the jump from the porch to the ground; he eased painfully onto his haunches as he waited for the boy to finish with the door.
“Careful,” the boy said. “I can’t fix a broken leg.”
The dog cocked his head to the side, his slack mouth closing in confusion. “Nevermind,” the boy said. “Come on.”
The two of them walked to the shed, where the boy retrieved the propane weed-burner from under a tattered green tarp. The metal striker banged hollowly against the tank as he walked toward the first of the fires.
When they stopped the boy dropped the tank to the ground and opened the valve. The gas rushed into the hose with a hiss and he rebuilt the pile from the stacks of nearby brush.
The dog sat watching, ears cocked, brown eyes angled toward the deep woods, where a thin curtain of yellowish smoke settled between the trees. It looked like the abode of ghosts.
The boy concentrated on the fire, opening the valve on the hose and striking a spark where the gas spilled out of the tip in a foul-smelling vaporous haze, and the gas ignited with a quiet roar. He placed the hose at the base of the pile, letting the flames spread up through the dry sticks and branches.
Then he heard them. Long, mournful howls echoing through the pines. The dog, to his credit, did not bark, but stood, hackles straight up along his nape, yellowed teeth bared against the invisible menace shrieking towards them through the trees.
They were waking up, and it was time to move. The boy pulled the hose from the pile, twisting the valve shut, and sprinted to the next fire, hurriedly rebuilding and reigniting it, the dog at his heels.
Between the fifth and sixth fires, the boy slowed and stopped to look at where two low mounds of dried earth lay, side by side. His eyes wandered over the stones that he had placed over them in the shape of the Old Cross—a narrow, gangly X with a circle between the top arms, to represent the Sanctity of Man. Hurry up, he told himself. You’re done crying. There’s work needs done. At his heel the dog whined, licked the boy’s hand.
“Okay,” he said, the urgency of the task at hand returning. “Okay. We’re moving. Come on, boy!” He jogged from fire to fire, the dog panting at his heels, propane tank banging against his thigh. It had gotten lighter in the months since he’d inherited the lighting of the fires. He didn’t dare think what would happen once the two giant tanks behind the cabin ran out. Just keep them burning, boy. That’s the most important thing.
All the while, the sun crept lower, and the howls in the trees grew shriller.
God lives in Hallowroots, the words flashed into his mind as his eyes tracked the descent of the blood sun, and he is thy neighbor. Keep thy neighbor as thy neighbor keeps you.
He was finishing with the tenth fire as the last light of the sun disappeared behind the pines. “Oh no,” he whispered. He could hear their cries echoing through the trees, the predatory sounds of night beasts rising to the hunt. “Oh no,” he repeated. “Run, boy! Back to the house! Now!”
He turned and sprinted back toward the cabin, discarding the propane tank and readying the shotgun as he did so. Losing the tank was bad, but if they got him, it wouldn’t matter whether he had it or not. He heard them tearing between the trees near the unlit fires, breaching the circle; his only hope now was to make it to the porch, where the Old Crosses burned onto the surface would keep them out.
I knew it, he thought, I knew I waited too long, oh merciful god help me. He could hear them behind him, the alien scratching of their limbs along the ground, the groan and creak of their breaths between hideous calls raising the short hairs along his neck.
It was almost full dark now, and he was feet from the porch when he realized the dog was no longer at his side. “Baron!” the boy yelled. “Baron, where are you?” As he leapt up the steps, he heard his answer. They had dragged him into the forest beyond the flames. The boy turned, listening to the savage sounds of Baron’s last stand, heard the defiant growls and anguished bellows as he fought the things in the woods for his life.
There’s nothing to be done. The words stilled the boy as he moved to run to his friend’s rescue. It was the voice of his father. He’s fighting, but he knows his time is up. Let him go, son.
The boy stood on the porch, listening as Baron’s battle cries quieted, and for just a moment, after the shrieks had faded, the silence came rushing in like water through cracked glass. All he could hear was the minute snapping and popping of the ten eager blazes around the cabin. He turned and opened the door, stepped inside, locked the many locks. After he had drawn the Old Cross in charcoal on the back of the door and by every window, he stoked the fire in the woodstove, and pulled a chair in front of it. He would be safe for tonight, but— tomorrow was another matter.
He looked to where he had left the shotgun, leaning against the doorframe, and was suddenly furious. They hadn’t even let him fight, dammit! They’d just taken Baron, and left him alone. It seemed the old maxim still rang true: Hallowroots scars us all.
“God is my neighbor in Hallowroots,” the boy muttered, “and I shall keep him as he keeps me.”
Outside, the ten fires continued to burn, and the smoke that hid the stars was like a fog that no sun’s heat could burn away.
Written by GarbageFactory
I found Hallowroots driving on my way from Red Deer to Thunder Bay. A quaint little place, it interested me, and as it was on the way, I figured I may as well stop for the night. I found it to be to my delight, a place that seemed to be off-the-grid, so to speak, and had been left behind at the turn of the century. I drove in my 2009 Subaru, and found there to be no paved roads, and to my surprise, no cars whatsoever. This made me need to focus on driving through the narrow streets, and couldn’t see the town like I had wanted. Because of this, I was in a hurry to explore the town, so I tried to find a hotel to check into as quickly as possible.
Finding the closest inn, I parked my car along the street, as I couldn’t find a lot. I opened the doors, the clicking noise of the locks startling me. I shivered, goosebumps running up my back, and realized that my hands were shaking. I assumed it was from the drive over, but I’d be lying to say I felt comfortable in Hallowroots. The lack of modern technology in general was eerie to say the least. They grey skies and small, wooden buildings seemed to stare down upon me, judging me. Telling me to move on from this town. I looked up at them, and tried to say that I wanted to leave, but I realized I had already stopped for too long to get to the next town over before dark.
My footsteps echoed against the boardwalk, as I walked to the hotel. As I did this, I noticed a smell unlike any other I could recognize. I wasn’t able to place it, but I knew that there were at least hints of gasoline fires, somewhere. I wondered why, considering that I couldn’t find a single piece of familiar technology, especially nothing to do with pumping gasoline. I became worried that I might not be able to make it to the next town, but was snapped out of the thought by a crow’s shrieking cry. I looked around, then up at the inn, feeling even more out of place than I had before. I cautiously went towards the doors, the steady treading of my footsteps whispering a message of my arrival. I opened the door, a steady creak announcing my presence to everyone in the inn. The sign hung over my head as I walked through, making me realize yet again how out of place I was. I didn’t want to be stared at by the locals, so I tried to be low-key, but I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on with the locals and their strange, pioneer-like customs and old timey dress.
The inside of the place was made of straight wooden walls, with some boards crudely hammered on over large cracks in the wall. The kerosene lamps provided tiny sparks of light inside the otherwise midnight-black emptiness of the inn. The smell of cedar and booze floated lazily around the place, and the lights gave off a light smell of smoke, which added a feeling of edge to the place. I walked up to the desk where I assumed I was supposed to get a key to a room, and met eyes with a somewhat strange character that was, I assume, playing poker. The others sitting around the table simply sunk their heads into the cards or pulled the brim of their hats down so as not to make eye contact. I pressed the little bell on the desk with a sharp tink, and waited for someone to tend to me. After about fifteen or so seconds, a woman came walking out from a door and began writing things down in a notebook.
“Excuse me,” I said, “could I check in to this hotel for the night?”
The lady behind the desk looked up at me, and asked about my style of dress. I replied that it was simply my work clothes; she gave me a strange look, but inquired no further. I simply requested a key, and she gave it to me, then asked for a small sum of money. I reached into my pocket, the coins jangling as I grabbed them. The metal on metal gave me chills, goosebumps running up my arm like lightning. Breathing out harshly, I handed over my pennies and dimes so that I may stay the night. I put the key in my pocket, and started walking up the stairs, each step softly creaking under my weight. I moved quickly, as I was beginning to become unnerved, but before I got to my room, I felt a hand, icy as that of death grasp my shoulder.
“What’re you doing here, stranger?”
I turned around, looking for the origin of the voice, and found a man, dressed in casual clothing looking at me. A red beard ran down his chin, and his hair was cut down to an inch or so. His manner seemed to indicate a level of knowledge about something that I didn’t have.
“You’d best be getting going. I smell fire, and that means something’s going on.”
“What do you mean?”
He simply gave me a puzzled look, as if there was something I should know. Sighing, he spoke once more, his voice taking on a much more serious tone, the words coming much more slowly.
“The fire means they’ll come. They’re drawn to it like moths are to a lamp.”
I looked at him, the kerosene lamps blinking like stars behind him. His brow was furrowed in a worried look, his eyes stern. I was taken aback by this, as I assumed Hallowroots to be a simple town that was strange for the attractions of tourists more than anything, and in no way outright dangerous. He must have seen my confusion, so just said one thing.
“Don’t go out after dark.”
Puzzled by this, I simply nodded, and turned to leave.
I found my room easily, and put the key in the lock. It went in with a scrape that reverberated up my arm, as if to announce I had committed to staying here. I never enjoyed the feeling of being stuck doing any one thing, but I had stopped here, and nothing I could do would change the fact that I would have to pull an all-nighter to get to the next hotel. Opening the door, I looked inside.
The room was pitch black, as though something inside was sucking out all the light. I stepped cautiously in, feeling around for a sign of something, anything to create a light. I stumbled more than once over something loose on the ground before finding a small cardboard box. Assuming this to be a matchbox, I opened it up and pushed my hand inside. The matches felt old and rotted, but nonetheless match-like, so I took one out and struck it. The orange glow penetrated the darkness like a single star in the emptiness of the night sky, giving everything I could see a slightly orange hue. Right next to the matchbox was a kerosene lamp, and a note, saying “For your use”. I lit the lamp, and the larger flame burst up with a puff of sweet-smelling smoke. I swung the light around the room, and I found a single bed. Sighing with relief about the room, I realized something was off. The crimson sheets seemed wet, almost shiny. I looked at it, disgusted, but tried to dismiss this as a simple spill. Yes, perhaps the previous guest had been drinking wine, and the housekeeping had forgotten to clean it up. Of course, that was it. I began to hum a tune to myself, and sat down on the duvet.
The salty smell of dried blood hit me straight in the nose.
I jumped off the bed, and ran straight downstairs, the boards shrieking under my weight, my footsteps crashing and echoing through the entire inn, announcing my presence to everyone within the walls. I slammed to a halt at the front desk, and bent over, panting. My breath tasted salty in my mouth. I stood up straight, and slammed my hands down on the desk with a sharp ‘crunk!’ that made my palms sting with a vengeance. I pulled my arms away, the unpolished wood leaving a few splinters in there as painful souvenirs. The lady looked up at me in a strangely calm fashion.
“Yes?” she said.
“What is going on in there?”
She looked at me again in a calm manner.
“The crimson liquid! The blood!” I shouted, my eyes darting around the room. I wanted to run far away from Hallowroots, to just get away from this fucked up town.
“We like to provide our guests with the very best experience, sir. If you don’t like this, may I suggest the Moonlight Inn?” she said, still quite calm.
That’s when I realized something. This wasn’t a hotel.
“Excuse me, but what is the purpose of this place?” I inquired.
“That’s simple, sir. We provide meat to the local restaurants when the other stuff becomes too expensive. If you were simply looking to stay the night, the Moonlight Inn will suffice.”
I looked around the room, and everything began to make sense. Everyone in this town was going to eat me. The woman behind the desk, she just wanted to make a quick buck. That man, warning me not to go out simply wanted a cheaper dinner.
I began to scream.
He looked through the window, his unkempt red hair glistening in the light of the kerosene lamps. The stranger hadn’t held up well in this place. They never do. A heavy breath escaped his lungs. That stupid kid was burning those fires again, making it even worse for him. The shrieks of the banshees had started up again, as they do every night a fire is lit. They screamed monotonously, almost harmoniously. He sighed. The stranger shut the door to his car, and the headlights lit up. He should have told him about the stranger things that go on in this town, but then again, that probably would have frightened him off anyway. Hallowroots was a bigger place than most people expected, and the stranger wouldn’t have made it even if he had left.
He turned away from the window as the car was engulfed by the shrieking darkness.
Written by Derpyspaghetti
David’s greatest accomplishment was that he was good at something. While most people struggled to find what they were great at, David had discovered, as a young man, that he was an excellent custodian. He enjoyed working for Intra Inc. which was a small, but—by their own admissions—morally ambiguous, company situated in the town of Hallowroots. And he was regarded by the workers within the building as the resident expert on all things that dripped, plopped, and clanked behind the fluorescently lit, off-white walls.
David also just so happened to have the perfect temperament for this type of job. He was the ideal mix of stoic and suicidal, and on occasion David was known to go above and beyond the call of duty. Just one example of his tendency to do more than what was asked of him would be his solution to the pipe problem that sprang up some time in the summer of 2009. It was on a Monday morning when David had entered the building early to work in peace. He was busy cleaning the floors of the fourth floor toilets when a dishevelled engineer walked in. He was tired, and it was not uncommon for the researchers to stay overnight, so David just waved politely and the man waved back. David continued cleaning up when he suddenly heard a tremendous and furious noise comparable to a garbage disposal being fed a 200lb steak.
It lasted only twenty seconds. Which was long enough for David to realize he wasn’t going mad, but too quick for David to overcome his shock and actually do something. It had come and gone with unfathomable vigour. Quite afraid, David stepped away from his bucket and walked across to the cubicle. The little indicator on the door was clearly red, and marked occupied, so he leaned forward and, anxiously, knocked.
“Hello,” he said. “Are you okay?”
All of a sudden there was an audible pop, and David looked down to see the red bar flick to green, indicating the door was unlocked. He pushed it and it swung open with a loud creak, only to reveal a perfectly clean and untouched toilet. Confused David turned around and stared at the long row of toilets lit only by the flickering bulbs. “Hello,” he cried out once more. “Is… is anyone here?” But there was no reply. David remained frozen for a few moments before resuming his day.
And it was a peculiar day indeed. Sinks were broken, the taps spurted brown liquid, many people reported strange and unpleasant noises coming from the walls, and one executive came back from a meeting to discover that her entire office had been flooded with shit. This was a particularly vexing problem for David since she did not have a private bathroom anywhere near her office. Still, he was content to rush from place to place desperately struggling to make people happy while calling for numerous clean up teams.
One person he tried to make happy was Victoria. She was a pretty young woman who worked in human resources and was inclined to occasionally borrow from David either a cigarette or a lighter. She caught him in one corridor as he rushed from room to room and called out to him as he totted past,
“David. David, darling. Can you help me with something?”
“Um, of course,” David smiled, sweating profusely. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s my phone,” Victoria told him. “I did something really stupid and dropped it down the toilet. Only thing is though I didn’t realize until…”
“…until after you flushed it?” David added. Victoria smiled and nodded awkwardly. “Why don’t you show me which one and I’ll sort it out?” David asked. Victoria thanked him and then walked him to the fourth floor’s women’s bathroom. Once there she took him to a stall and popped the door open only to point and say,
“It was this one. God, I feel like such an idiot.”
David took a deep breath and walked towards it. He asked her if anyone else had used it since and she shook her head. “Okay,” he said to her. “Give me a minute and I’ll look and see if I have the right kit on me to take a better look.”
David then knelt down by his bag, facing away from the stall and Victoria, and began to rummage away between the spanners and wrenches, and of course the company-issued grenade that had been handed out after the water-cooler incident. David paused for a second as his hand rolled over it and remembered the last time he’d been forced to use it, and felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise up. Lost in these thoughts, he was startled to hear,
“Oh, that’s odd,” spoken by Victoria behind him. David, sweating and exhausted merely grunted an acknowledgement and continued to search through his bag when there was a sudden, and horrifically familiar, noise. David’s heart sank and he turned around in time to see Victoria crying, and screaming, with a pink and flushed face clamped between her ankles. She had been folded haphazardly hips-first into the bowl, and as she reached across, writhing in agony with bloodshot eyes that began to bulge, desperately crying for help, David heard her ribs crack from the pressure.
He fumbled upwards and ran towards the toilet only for the door to slam shut with such force that it sent him flying by a few feet. David, relentless in his desperation, struggled back upright as quickly as he could, but as he ran towards the shut door he heard the pop of the lock once more. He stopped dead in his tracks, and anxiously looked down to see it was green. Nervously he gave the door a push, and saw it swing open only to reveal the spotless, and perfectly clean, porcelain bowl of the toilet. For a moment he was inclined to simply think that he had gone mad, but as he shuffled about and leaned against the door to support his shaking legs, he noticed a small plastic hair pin laying on the floor.
He picked it up and stared at it for a moment or two when all of a sudden there was another interruption.
“David,” screamed his boss, Angela. “Stop sniffing the fucking seats and get out here.” David fumbled around for a moment before pocketing the clip and resuming his day, quite clearly in a state of shock. “David!” Angela barked as soon as he was in sight. “How the fuck are my boys down in R&D meant to do their research when nothing works!”
“Uh… I, uh.. I don’t…” David stuttered.
“Exactly!” Angela cried. “You don’t know shit, monkey man! That’s why they have to go through me. Go speak to Ryan he’ll tell you what, and where. Now,” she huffed. “I need a shit.” Angela pushed past David smacking him up against the wall and began to walk towards the women’s bathroom.
“A...Angela,” David mumbled.
“What the fuck is it Dave?” she snapped.
“Nothing,” he stuttered.
“Inbred peasant,” Angela snarled before entering the bathroom. David promptly picked up his toolkit and began to run towards the elevator. It was not too long before he had been shooed through the complicated security procedures that were demanded from those entering the R&D sub-basement and was met by Ryan, the friendly and occasionally condescending head researcher.
“Hi Dave,” Ryan smiled while sweating nervously. “It’s through here.” David had no time at all to reply as he was quickly grabbed at the elbows by two colossal men in awfully intimidating hazmat suits. They picked him up and shuffled him towards a large steel door and then placed him down. With perfect coordination they proceeded to step forward and open the vault-like door via the separate wheels on either side. Once the amber lights had stopped flashing and the hazmat-clad men had lightly jogged away, the tremendous slab of steel and lead swung open once more. “It’s in there, Dave,” Ryan said through the intercom. David, surprised, looked up towards the speakers on the ceiling, and then turned to notice that a large plastic sheet had been erected behind and around him, through which he could see at least a dozen researchers glaring with anticipation.
“Are you sure it’s still in there?” he heard one of them whisper.
“Shut up!” another one cried. “Angela could be coming any second.”
David sighed, and walked into the research sub-basement. Immediately the automatic lights began to clank on one by one revealing the huge underground area that housed all of the company’s secrets. The first thing he noticed was that a fork lift had been tipped to one side, and the enormous steel crate that it had been ferrying was smashed open upon the ground. Around it lay a large and giblet filled pool of blood.
“Don’t worry about that Dave,” the intercom buzzed. “It’s uh… it’s uh… it’s part of our food initiative! Soup… believe it or not.” David looked down at the puddle of viscous matter and curiously recoiled as he noticed a single eyeball float towards the top. Groaning with disgust he stepped away and looked around at the speakers which addressed him and shouted,
“What am I doing?”
“Just keep walking. You’ll find it,” the ceiling buzzed.
David rolled his eyes and kept walking through the building. During this time, he took the liberty to poke and prod at the large array of strange and wonderful machines that were part of whatever it was that his company did. There were glowing things, buzzing things, and floating things as well. Some of them were labelled with relatively mundane names such as “Remote Binocular Enucleator”, or “Balloon-Wine”, while others were a tad more idiosyncratic. David took particular umbrage with what, initially, appeared to be a baseball bat covered in thick glowing cables that gave off an audible hiss, but which bore the name “Marital Aid”. David could only attribute such an invention to the loneliness of the R&D workers, so he continued looking until he finally came around one particular shelf. There he noticed another large steel crate that was identical to the one which lay torn asunder near the entrance. David walked over to it and read the label on the side.
“Subject 189613,” he said aloud. “Cirripedia Ixodidae. Aka the Lamprey Spider – extremely dangerous. Do not expose to water… What on Earth-” David muttered.
“Wait!” the intercom buzzed. “What are you looking at? Don’t… no no.”
“Hey guys,” he shouted back. “Come on, there’s nothing here. What do you want?”
“Just keep looking!” the intercom cried. “But don’t… don’t read anything.”
“Fuck this,” David shrugged and began to walk back out of the warehouse. As he approached the toppled forklift, and the massive bungled crate he saw that the viscous puddle of blood and gore lay along a familiar crease in the floor. Curious, he walked over to a nearby wall and picked up a large solid broom which he then used to brush the gore and blood away from the crease. It was sent spattering across the clean and dusty concrete floor only to reveal a smashed and mangled drain below.“Oh, Ryan!” David cried, ready to announce his discovery.
“You’re still alive!?” the intercom buzzed. “My God… what is it you’ve found!?” David took a deep breath and looked back towards the large steel door that had been shut, covertly, behind him.
“Nothing,” David said. “Didn’t see nothing. Open the door please.” David then had to wait for the amber lights to flash and for the vault door to be opened once more. Ryan was already standing there, shaking with anticipation and fear.
“You saw nothing?” Ryan cried. “Seriously?” David shook his head and watched as the dozen scientists from behind the plastic screen began to whisper furiously and grow agitated. Ryan bit his finger and stared off into the distance. “What will Angela say,” he muttered to himself.
“Can I go now?” David asked. Ryan was distracted, and quite clearly afraid. “Can I go?” David repeated. Ryan glanced up and nodded.
“Yes,” he said. “Y…yes. Just um… shit. If Angela asks tell her you didn’t find me, okay?”
“Okay,” David nodded.
“Oh and David,” Ryan asked in a whisper. “Where would be a good place to hide… from Angela?” David paused for a moment before answering,
“Oh thank you so much Dave,” Ryan said, slapping David against the arm. “Oh thank you thank you thank you!”
David then smiled and left the quarantine. As he approached the elevator he thought for a moment about the young Victoria and could not help but wince with regret. The company had frequently been compared to a meat grinder, but he still struggled to just accept her disappearance. Before he had the chance to press the button so that he might resume his thankless job he stopped the elevator doors, and proceeded to find Ryan. David knew to look in the bathroom near the engineers’ offices, and after popping his head around the corner of one of the doors he knew he had found Ryan when he heard him crying quietly in one of the toilets.
Before David called out to him he proceeded to open his tool kit and removed from it the small hand grenade.
“Ryan,” David called out. “Is that you? Do you hear anything?”
“It’s me. And no, no I haven’t,” Ryan stuttered. “Why? Have you!? Has Angela been asking about me?”
“No,” David answered.
“Then why the fuck are you here Dave?” Ryan hissed. “You’re going to give me away. Please just leave me be… wait. Oh… what’s that? That’s strange-”
“Ah shit,” David cried before kicking the door open. Ryan was not as fortunate as Victoria who had experienced a, relatively speaking, comfier fold along the waist. David could hear Ryan struggle to breath and scream from below the toilet water while his back and arse poked awkwardly up from out the bowl. David knew he didn’t have long so he quickly pulled the pin on the grenade, and slipped it into the waist band of Ryan’s trousers.
“What’s that?!” Ryan bubbled from below, while David leapt haphazardly from the stall. Once again the door slammed shut and was locked from within, and David could hear the snapping of Ryan’s spine as he was sucked into the building’s pipes. For a moment things were tremendously quiet until, suddenly, there was a muted thump, followed by a thunderous and bellowing noise from every toilet in the bathroom. David was thrown back with surprise as he watched each toilet spew out a colossal and violent explosion of shit and water. There was a moment of realisation for David who remembered that the company took care of the town’s sewage system in its entirety and that there’d probably be terrible consequences for the people just a mile or two away. David cringed at this thought but took comfort in the idea that it would be difficult for anyone to connect it to him. Besides, he thought, the last time something got loose it cost the town a football stadium so he dismissed any lingering guilt.
Just before he readied himself to leave though he decided to take a closer look at what was left of Ryan. He forced the door open only to reveal a blood spattered mess of brains, viscera, and sausage-link intestines strewn across the walls and toilet. At David’s feet was Ryan’s shit splattered ribcage with a lung slumping out, which David pushed away with his feet before inspecting the toilet. He looked down the bowl and saw a brown, muddy mess of arthropod legs not too dissimilar to what happens when you stamp on a fat spider, although he was positive there was more of the thing tucked away elsewhere. David chalked the job, along with any bigger worries for the town, up to the following day as he heard the alarm go off signalling the end of the day. Tired, and relieved, David left to go home.
By the time David had reached his house he felt a little bit of guilt as he’d been forced to drive past an array of damaged buildings and drenched, quivering, citizens. He was most put off by the sight of a manhole cover lodged into the wall of a nearby shop. Once again David thought heavily about he knew was right and put any concerns out of his head as he rolled onto his driveway.
“Long day?” his wife asked when he entered the house.
“Nah,” he replied. “Kinda quiet actually.”
“Better than last Monday?” she asked.
“Aye,” he answered. “Although I had to use my grenade again so that’s another deduction from this month’s cheque.”
“Oh that’s a shame,” his wife cooed.
“At least there weren’t any fucking clowns this time,” David sighed as he sat down on his sofa, turned on the television, and thumbed the hair clip he had kept with him all day.
Written by ChristianWallis
Like a fiend with his dope and a drunkard with his wine
A man will have lust for the lure of the mine
And pray when I'm dead and my ages shall roll
That my body would blacken and turn into coal
Brian Miglucci listened to Johnny Cash air his grievances out a tinny car radio as he absentmindedly drummed his fingers against a clammy steering wheel. With the other hand, he wiped a sweaty palm across his tired face and gray stubble. He gave his stinging eyes a few hard blinks and let out a long, noisy yawn. He had been leaning back in his driver’s seat for a couple hours now, and being stuck in a poorly air-conditioned minivan—with the same steamy highway road and desert-like offroad terrain as the only visuals—had taken a toll on him. Of course, the constant replaying of the fight with Diane back home was wearing on his mind too. In fact, Brian found it difficult to shift his thoughts away from it at all. He could still see it so cleanly, so vividly, in that tiny kitchen, the desperate and fed up look in her eyes as she said it. He could still feel the sick, shrinking feeling in his gut as he sat there helplessly.
“Take the kids out and go.”
And go he did, of course. He had blindly swiped a forgotten tourist pamphlet off the table as he quickly left the room, nearly knocking over his ultra-light Michelob in the process, whispering some choice names under his breath that he would never have the courage to say to her face. It was only after arduously herding the two children, Tyler and Sarah, from their rooms and into the minivan that Brian actually bothered to read the brochure. It was advertising a far away town the family had never been to before, a grimy tourist trap-type place that had been around for ages. Supposedly the “most haunted town in the country”, it was a rather large town by the name of Hallowroots. Brian had done a good deal of traveling for his job and was slightly familiar with the place, but he had never actually set foot in it. He had heard there were many family attractions and various other areas of interest to be found there, and the idea of paying the spot a visit had come to him before, but the prospect of driving the entire family out there in a rancid van on a sweltering summer day ultimately proved too unattractive. With Dianne’s “blessing”, however, Brian didn’t mind the drive as much. And it also helped that it seemed no one else in the world was interested in visiting the place today, as the highway road had basically been deserted for the ride thus far.
Suddenly Brian remembered that he had two other souls in the vehicle with him, and he fixed his gaze in the mirror at his two children. Knowing they were getting close to the town, he tried to cheer up his disinterested, stonefaced kids.
“Hallowroots, teeen miles, ooooooohh!” he teased in a loud, sustained voice, playfully whirling his fingers behind him in their direction. “Beware Hallowrooooots, the deeeaaadliest town in the wooorld, ooooohh! Abandon all hooope, ye who enter here! Who knows how far its terrrible curse reaches!"
The children giggled and Brian felt satisfied that he had done at least something right that day. Sarah looked down laughing and instinctively toyed with a green twist tie that she had wrapped around her finger. Tyler ended his giggling fit with a loud cough. Brian turned back toward the road and regained his attention, smirking. “Daddy,” Sarah asked, “how much longer until we g-get to Hallowr-roots?”
“Just about a half hour, sweetie,” Brian assured, momentarily cleared of his troubles. “And once we get there, we’ll do all sorts of fun things. Funhouses, landmarks, uh, Burger Kings, uh, there's famous hote-”
“Will we get to play games?” she asked.
“Of course,” Brian said. “Arcade games, trampolines, umm, whatever you want. There’s a place—maybe a few—in town that have that sort of thing.”
“Oh, okay,” replied Sarah absentmindedly. She was stupidly gazing out the car window at a passing tumbleweed. There seemed to be quite a lot of them. “Daddy, when w-”
“Jesus fuck!” screamed Brian. He jerked the steering wheel to the left and the car creaked loudly, quite horribly. The vehicle hurtled across the highway at a blazing speed and sailed across the median. The children yelled helplessly as Brian uselessly tried to gain control of the van once again.
The car careened into the guardrail with an overwhelming thud. The heads of all the occupants violently rocked about and the metal shell powerfully teetered back and forth. A soft smoke started emanating outside the car as the passengers slowly assessed their situation. Painted pieces of stripped metal littered the road and dark tire marks stained the tired pavement. The radio skipped and repeated endlessly:
I miss those arms that-
I miss those arms that-
I miss those arms that-
I miss those arms that-
before giving out entirely.
Everyone in the car was silent in the bizarre aftermath, before Brian finally reacted with a panicked “A-are- is everyone alright?” Brian could see his children’s silhouettes through the smoky film, squirming and dazed from the unforgiving collision into the highway rail.
“Yes daddy,” Sarah managed to shakily squeak out. Brian was about to call for Tyler’s response until he saw the small figure of his son groggily nodding its head. Things were strangely quiet for another few moments before Brian opened the driver’s door while saying, “Okay, just hold still guys.”
Once he got out, Brian could see the damage and what had caused the wreck. The car’s hood was crumpled up like a plastic cup, and an uneasy smoke emitted from within the car’s now-exposed inner workings. Brian shifted his eyes to the road behind him and saw a long, still-flowing wave of liquid flooding across the highway road. Only then did Brian notice the rank smell of sewage and the odd brownish color of the unknown water. He looked around for a possible source for the waste water, but no pipes or sewer entrances could be spotted from where he now stood. Brian also found it odd how he apparently didn’t spot the water on the road when he ran over it, instead only feeling the car violently losing control.
Brian once again came to his senses and refocused his attention on getting his kids out of the wrecked car. He walked over to the intact passenger side doors and opened one; thankfully the impact of the crash hadn’t dented the passenger doors inward, which might’ve prevented their opening. He looked inside to see his shaken, yet unharmed children and—after inquiring about their condition—carefully lifted each one out and placed them on the side of the highway where they sat down. It was only then when Sarah began to weep in fear. Brian distractedly consoled her, surveying the broken vehicle while Tyler stared still stonefaced at the odorous flowing water. Brian wiped a sweaty hand over his quivering mouth, let out a shaky sigh, and dialed the number to Triple A.
As he was anxiously pacing around listening to the dial tone of his cell phone, Brian noticed something he had overlooked. Off in the distance, a couple hundred feet ahead, was what looked to be a small roadside miniature golf course. Brian could even make out the course’s name, thanks to a very large unlit neon sign reading “Pennybaker's Putting Paradise”. Having seen this, an idea came to Brian.
"Hey guys," Brian started as he closed his cellphone, having just made arrangements with Triple A. "The tow truck guy said that the entire sewage system is messed up for a few miles, and a bunch of roads are blocked by water right now, so it'll probably be a while until they can get to us. There's a, uh, minigolf course up the way there, d'you wanna go up there and play a while until the tow truck guy comes?"
Sarah began to nod her head excitedly and loudly say "Yes, yes!" The trauma created by the recent crash seemed to almost disappear. An odd child.
Tyler seemed less enthused, evidenced by a small, apathetic shrug. "C'mon," Brian pressed with a wink. "It'll be fun." Then Brian leaned closer to Tyler, placed a hand on his small shoulder, and added quietly, "For your sister." After a moment Tyler relented with a slight nod and the three started to walk up the wet highway road.
As they were making their way, Brian silently chastised himself inwardly for not paying enough attention to the road and getting everyone into a big, stressful mess.
"Dumb fat piece of shit. You fucked up everything for everyone yet again. Congratulations. Won't Diane just be giddy to hear-" but he cut his self-loathing train of thought off. He could stand—even encourage—the self-hate, but the last thing he wanted to think about right now was Diane. Brian tried to calm himself internally and shifted his focus to making sure the kids had at least a little fun today.
At last the three were starting to approach the entrance to the course, and all of them were at once very disappointed with what they saw. Far from the homey, quirky roadside attraction they had pictured, this "Pennybaker's Putting Paradise" was instead a run-down, outdated and seemingly abandoned tourist trap of a place. The entrance booth was a dull pink Victorian style structure, almost like that of some grandmother's house. There were long cracks and even occasional spots of rust on the entire front of the green entrance building, and the spot where Brian assumed payment was to occur was beneath a tattered and tacky polka-dot awning. The entire establishment smelled of algae and the inside of an old, sticky beer can. Brian took a peek over a rusty chain-link fence at the rear of the place and to his dismay, the golf track itself somehow looked even worse. Overgrown grass intruded over nearly all of the course green. An array of old litter, bottles and branches was scattered across the property. Then he noticed the statues.
There seemed to be no rhyme nor reason to the faded and cracked sculptures that populated the course. There were fairy tale characters, oversized food items, historical and political figures, tiny multicolored houses that even children couldn't fit in, a few scattered dinosaurs, and even what looked to be cryptids like Bigfoot and a Lizardman, albeit friendly smiling versions. Anything and everything seemed to be there in statue form somewhere, and the course looked very crowded and ugly because of them. Some were positioned along the sidelines of the tracks’ grass, while others were seemingly bolted down directly on the track play fields, making for second-rate obstacles. If he had to estimate, Brian would've guessed that there must have been four dozen statues in all, perhaps even more.
This all could perhaps be somewhat forgivable, if the statues didn't look the way they did. That is to say, the grotesque and malformed figures and objects Brian saw barely resembled the characters they were supposed to portray. The proportions for the human characters were too long and thin, almost as if the Mad Hatter and Captain Black Beard and all the others had become anorexic. Their paint was chipped and cracked, and it seemed as if the painting job for each figure was rushed, with some characters’ eye areas being completely white and others' mouths being devoid of any color. The poses the characters were in were rather odd as well. Most were standing stiff like soldiers, with their right hands at chest level in an awkward half-wave, their elbows not even bending correctly, instead looking like curved macaroni pieces.
But perhaps worst of all were the faces, the exact same for all figures, barring the occasional face or body detail discoloration. They appeared almost purposely poor quality, with the overly-large oval cartoon eyes being simply stickers. The noses were a small vague bump that resembled a stray nipple. The ears were smooth half-circles at either end of the head except where covered by hat or hair, with no attention to any inner ear detail. The mouths were actually sculpted into the head, but were far too large to be aesthetically pleasing. They were an odd crescent shape, resembling a half moon lying flat on its back. Inside the mouths was a pure fire engine red, with no teeth to accompany it. All these bizarre design choices resulted in a thoroughly distressing facial expression. Brian was beginning to seriously wonder if the company responsible for the statues had outsourced the labor to some overworked sweatshop in Timbuktu.
"This place looks like shit," Brian muttered under his breath to himself.
"I like this place," Sarah said aloud. "It's autistic."
"Artistic, honey," Brian corrected. "And come on, you don't really wanna play at a place like this, it's-"
“Jack Sparrow!” Tyler suddenly yelled while breaking into a sprint towards a statue near the start of the first hole. Brian groaned slightly and turned his attention away from Sarah to control his son, who was presently losing it in front of another one of the awful statues. This one apparently was supposed to be an imitation of Captain Jack Sparrow, but it ended up looking like a generic Chinese knock-off “pirate” character to Brian, and how Tyler even recognized it as “Jack Sparrow” was a mystery. Brian briskly walked up behind his finally-excited son and placed his hands on his son’s shoulders.
“Hey c’mon, relax, Tyler,” Brian reasoned, quietly.
“Let’s go on the course let’s go!” Tyler demanded, getting too overworked which caused him to launch into a minor coughing fit.
Brian subdued his apprehension for the premises and decided to try to make the kids happy for once that day.
“Okay, okay, we’ll go. Just take a breather, son,” Brian relented, while gathering his children to the nearby faded lime-green ticket booth. “And I don’t like that cough of yours,” he added.
Brian turned his sight away from the booth for a moment to fish out his wallet from his pocket, when he was suddenly startled by a blasting sound which came from a loud speaker above him. The children jumped as well. An electric jolt of bassy sound pierced his ears, and at once his brain recognized it as a song. He froze in that moment with his hand in his pocket, a profound, odd feeling in his head as he listened to the lyrics through the jumping bassline:
The Indians send signals from the rocks above the pass
The cowboys take position in the bushes and the grass
It was an old song he used to hear decades ago with his drinking pals in dingy dive bars across the state. Brian swore he could feel his head warm up and tingle slightly, and he lost a bit of attachment with his surroundings. If he didn’t know any better, he would have guessed he had been transported back in time, back when marriage and children and taxes and workweeks seemed galaxies ahead in the far, far-off future. Brian was so taken aback by the song, he didn’t even consider why it had at once started up.
Brian absentmindedly sang along with the music fuzzily playing over the loudspeakers as he finally brought his wallet up out of his pocket, his mind not in the current decade. He peeked up at the ugly green booth and looked around for an employee. It was hard to believe that someone might actually want to work at a place like this, but obviously someone was around to see Brian and the kids enter and to turn the music on, perhaps in a futile attempt to make the wretched place seem a little more inviting. After poking his head around the small booth for a few moments, Brian grew somewhat impatient and started to yell for someone to help him.
“Hey, anybody around? We’re looking to play here! Hello? Hey, Hello?”
Brian felt an angry vein in his head start to protrude, when he noticed a small paper index card taped near a glass jar with a few crumpled dollars in it. The card read in large blue writing, “PAY HERE PLEASE THANK-YOU”. Brian looked at it in disbelief for a brief moment, confusion swirling in his head. He hadn’t noticed any signs anywhere dictating prices, and with no employees present to assist him, Brian came to the humorous conclusion that he apparently was supposed to pay whatever price he wanted to. If this little place wasn’t closed down already, it was an enigma to Brian how it managed to stay open at all.
Brian let out an exasperated “What?” and stood puzzled for a moment, before tossing a folded ten dollar bill into the jar, annoyed by the more-than-below-average service on display. He didn’t know or care if that was a fair price or not.
“C’mon guys, let’s go here and hurry up before the truck guy gets to the van.”
They picked out three putters—all the same minuscule size—from a basket in front of the booth and Brian grabbed a handful of colored balls as well from a tin can. They all took a few steps to the right and arrived at the underwhelming beginning of the course: a straight track for ten feet with a hole at the end. It was agreed that turns would be decided by age, so Sarah went first. She laid her pink ball down on the dirty blue indent mat, scrambled into putting position, and whacked the ball so hard that it skipped off the current track and flew into a nearby puddle of mucky rainwater. As Sarah sprinted after it, happily screaming all the way, Brian let out another strained sigh and glanced at the now-less-than-enthused Tyler leaning on his putter. It seemed his excitement had run out. The sonic jazz music continued to lazily play over the speakers. Brian felt a dull throbbing in his skull. He was just now remembering why he didn’t take the kids out so often.
After an encouraging light push on the shoulders from his father, Tyler stepped up to putt. Sarah hadn’t yet sunk her ball, but Brian made sure to keep the game moving for the sake of time. Tyler gave his ball a light tap and it ended up a foot away from the hole. Brian decided that it was his turn. He tiredly stepped up to putt and bent himself over to place his ball down. He could barely reach the ball at all with his tiny putter, but with enough effort he managed to smack it directly into the hole at the end of the track, where Tyler stood boredly holding his ball. Sarah was with him, still fishing around for her ball in the puddle, being careful not to get her finger twist tie wet.
“How many holes of this shit?” Brian asked himself quietly. He then noticed the music coming to a close, and half-wondered to himself what other tunes this trashy minigolf joint had to offer. The instrumentation faded out and for a brief moment the place was once again silent. At once a familiar crashing cymbal sounded and the music began.
The Indians send signals from the rocks above the pass
The cowboys take position in the bushes and the grass
The same exact song. Brian stood surprised for a moment before he realized that it was probably due to an absent employee’s iPod being on repeat, or perhaps a programming issue with the sound system. No real reason to be shocked. He didn’t exactly mind its replaying however; it was nice to revisit the past a little while longer.
Brian collected his ball from the hole, looked up from the ground and was face-to-face with one of the statues, this one the exalted Jack Sparrow. Brian wasn’t able to pull that from what the statue actually looked like, but rather from Sarah fawning over it, touching it all over and rubbing its long black sculpted jacket. To him, it looked like any generic swashbuckler. It was then that Brian spotted a tiny wooden sign near the beginning of the next track; he surmised that each track had one. This one read “PRINCESS PUTTERS PALACE” in faded purple cursive. Brian looked up at the track: another straight course, but with a poorly modeled all-pink castle in the middle serving as an obstacle. The “palace” had surely seen some better days, as its cracked exterior and collection of pink paint chips as its base revealed. Brian wondered if it was too late to grab that ten dollars out of the jar and book it.
Sarah went up to putt, still apparently thrilled to be playing, when Tyler approached his father from behind.
“Dad, I’m bored.”
Brian looked his son in the eyes, secretly empathizing with him, and responded,
“Just a little while longer, bud. We can’t do this entire track today anyway.”
Brian immediately regretted his uttering of “today”; hopefully Tyler didn’t take it to mean that his father would ever bring him here again. Brian didn’t care how much his daughter liked it; Sarah liked almost everything anyway, it was just her age. Brian decided to give this dump a few more holes before heading back to the car. Then maybe they could all see the actual Hallowroots, and not just a shitty highway minigolf course technically within it. Father and son trudged through to the next hole, this one titled "ASTROPUTT LAND". Tyler let out a tiny cough again, and his father gave him a few pats on the back.
"You alright, buddy?" Brian asked tiredly, his mind on future activities to do in Hallowroots with the kids.
Tyler paused for a brief moment and gave another small shrug. Brian had almost had enough of his son's continued discomfort, and issued an ultimatum. He leaned in close and whispered in Tyler's ear, "We'll leave after this hole if you're feeling sick."
Tyler gave a little nod in return.
Sarah was done putting before the two were even through speaking, and she was currently slipping her small hand into the dirty brown ball hole. Tyler stepped up, readied himself, prepared to swing, and suddenly grabbed his throat and went down to his knees in a coughing fit. Brian gave an aggravated groan and quickly strided over to his downed son. Tyler now had his hands flat on the course green, and his back was arched in an odd curl. He was coughing quite violently, and each one sounded like it was eroding away at the lining of his lungs. Brian could do little more than lean down the best he could and place a concerned hand on Tyler's small back.
"Tyler, hey Tyler, are you okay? What's wrong?"
Brian got no answer, and just as he was about to yell at Sarah to come back, he felt his son tense up and shiver.
Flying spittle gave way to specks of blood, which came to rest calmly on the course green. Before Brian could act, Tyler readied one final awful heave, producing a sound not unlike that of a dying bird, and painfully spit out a large, blue-ish object. A long trail of blood and mucus quickly followed afterward. Brian kneeled there, his hand still on his prone son’s back, and looked at the object covered in red, milky saliva that had been regurgitated. He felt his eyes unconsciously pull backward in instinctual disbelief. His mouth quivered ceaselessly and forbade any speech. His overworked heart could barely stand seeing the blue golf ball now laying on the green, which—if his recent memory was to be believed—apparently came somewhere out of Tyler’s throat.
Brian found that he felt internally different, as if some foul, calamitous force had filled itself into him. His mouth became locked in a permanent O as his vision gained a layer of confused blur. He could physically feel his body going into panic mode, and he could even vaguely feel himself receding inward. The phrase “fight-or-flight” strangely popped into his head and wouldn’t leave. At once Brian seized up violently and fell backward awkwardly on his rear end. An agonizing, otherworldly fear had possessed him, crippling him psychically and mentally. He moved his glazed eyes over to look at his son. Tyler was laying face-first on the green presently, the coughed-up ball near his head. His face was turned slightly in his father’s direction, and Brian could see a stream of slow-moving bright blue paint flowing out of his son’s tiny mouth and nose, staining the grass. It was at that moment—seeing that—that Brian’s mind irrevocably fractured. His self-identity, ego and lucidity promptly dissolved at that moment, leaving him an infirmed and paralyzed husk.
The ruined Brian craned his neck over to look at Sarah at the other end of the track. Curiously she had her back turned to her father and the entire coughing ordeal.
“Sarah, Sarah,” Brian softly wheezed, failing to gain the attention of his daughter.
Instead she continued to stare straight in front of her, her hands clasped oddly behind her back. Brian then found himself lying flat on his stomach, a reverberating ring invading his ears. Light-headedness took over, and a twisted, painful knot formed in his belly. He sluggishly got himself into crawling position, and attempted to make his way over to Sarah. To the unhinged Brian’s battered mind, Tyler was apparently of no further concern.
“Sa- Sarah...” he tried again, with the same result.
What happened next unfolded almost as a series of sequential stills to Brian: being downed on the green on his hands and knees next to his unconscious son, staring at the neon blades of grass tying themselves around his fingers in tiny knots, feeling some strong, dull force pressing him down into the ground, and looking inbetween the blades of grass on the ground to see a pair of legs clunkily walking towards him. In the next moment, Brian somehow found himself on his feet again, unclothed, with his hands on the back of his head. It was dusk now, and he was currently looking into a vaguely familiar pair of artificial oval eyes.
It was standing just a few feet in front of Brian. Slowly, he scanned his stunned eyes across the figure. The long black justacoat and breeches, the tall brown cavalier boots, the round black-bearded gaping face: all the same as it had been when he first saw it. Brian opened his dry mouth and tried to make a sound—any sound—but faltered. Then, in another confused instant, scores of the other spindly figurines were at once positioned around Brian and Sparrow. Superheroes, scaled-down dinosaurs, pirates, oversized hamburgers and hotdogs, soldiers, knights, goblins and a dozen other assembled oddities stood side by side in the same odd position. Brian continued to mindlessly hold his hands atop his head, and as he stood nude encircled by the figures he felt himself instinctively shrink in. Finally after a few agonizing moments "Jack Sparrow" abruptly took a couple jerky steps toward Brian. An electric, bounding bolt of terror ricocheted around inside Brian's upper chest. Sparrow's sculpted face was just inches from his now, and the vague odor of burning hair began to occupy Brian's flaring nostrils. Tyler and Sarah were presently nowhere to be found, but they were no longer on Brian's mind, nor would they ever be again.
Brian's gaze finally settled on something he hadn't noticed before—the yellow-tipped putter somehow clenched in Sparrow's raised molded fist. He idly watched as the figurine's arm began to audibly tick upwards, eventually becoming fully erect after a few seconds. It was only then that Brian became aware of the music playing over the park loudspeakers:
So what's the problem? What's wrong?
This kiss-and-miss, you know it can't go on
It's your move, I've made up my mind
Time is running out, make a move
'Cause we can't go on, I want you to know
Sparrow's arm instantaneously fell with inhuman speed, bashing the head of the putter into the top of Brian's skull, which created a visible dent in his forehead. He crumpled to the damp grass in a tremoring heap, his bewildered face almost already completely stained with gore. From then on Brian's already fractured world started to drift in and out, and time meandered onward without any particular purpose. Still images came and went, but it was any guess to Brian whether they were psychically being seen or visualized.
The number for Triple A appeared on a digital clock in Diane's bedroom, which gave way to Sarah and Tyler passionately embracing and kissing over their father's naked body, which turned into Brian's old college bong falling from the sky and shattering loudly on the family minivan's hood. Some undefined time later Brian was observing every statue in the minigolf park stacked on top of each other, one by one, which created a tower that teetered incessantly and reached out endlessly into the atmosphere.
Some time later Brian opened his eyes, finding himself staring straight up at the overcast evening sky on his back. His head was currently resting on his clothes, which were in a small pile on the ground. It felt as if someone had ran through his mind, deleting information and memory and pulverizing his thoughts. Brian somehow felt even more lost and hazy than he had before, almost unbearably so. He instinctively reached to touch his throbbing forehead, and when he did he felt a small depression which was coated in dry blood that trailed down to cover the entirety of his face and front neck. When his index finger met the dent, an agonizing wave of pain shot out from the front of his head and on down through his upper torso. Brian decided to leave his wound be and laboriously got himself up off the rocky ground and stood up.
There was no minigolf course to be seen anywhere anymore, and instead Brian was unsteadily standing alone on the side of the desert highway road. He turned around slowly and saw the green family minivan pulled over on the road, the engine still running. Brian was done trying to rationalize or process anything that was happening anymore, regardless of whether it was real or not. Unquestioning, he walked around the back of the vehicle and opened the driver side door, ignoring the gravel from the road cutting and digging into his bare feet.
Brian eventually got himself up into the driver's seat and closed the door at his left side. The inside of the van smelled like someone had burned a wig in a microwave. Now that he was in the driver's seat, he could now see that there was a sizable dent in the van's hood, and large pieces of shattered glass were sprinkled along the entire front end of the vehicle. Brian made a slightly perturbed face at the sight and stared thoughtlessly at the bent metal for a few moments as he loosely gripped the steering wheel with both hands. A small tapping noise from behind him broke the quiet. Brian placed his right hand on the passenger side seat headrest and gradually craned his neck around to look at the back of the van.
Golf balls. Thousands of them; there had to be. Red, lavender, royal blue, yellow, hot pink, turquoise, orange, black and a dozen tacky others. The same shiny multicolored balls from the course, enough of them to make a prodigious pile that reached the back of the minivan's roof. Enough to completely cover the rear passenger seats and totally fill in the rear half of the vehicle. From there on, the pile roughly slanted downwards toward the front of the van and the balls decreased in number until the mass eventually ended a few inches from the driver's seat. As Brian looked longer, though, more came to his sight. Progressively he began to notice bits of cut grass, snapped golf pencils, crumpled scorecards, and detached multicolor putter heads all strewn together atop the mountain of golf balls.
But it wasn't this unimaginable accumulation that finally destroyed the already demented Brian, it was what he ultimately saw poking out of the haphazard mass. There, sticking out near the bottom of the ball pile, was a small, scrawny forearm, its skin pasty and lacerated. On the hand's index finger, a faded green twist tie.
That was it. Brian simply grimaced and turned away to look back at the road, a profoundly empty feeling in his chest and his will to live missing. He didn't care to look and see if Tyler was in there too, something already assured him he was. He didn't question how the kids ended up cut up and dead in the back of the van underneath all that stuff. It all was of no consequence now.
His clammy hands returned to the wheel, and this time they gripped it tightly. It didn't matter anymore. The minigolf course, the statues, the power, Hallowroots itself—whatever it was—had won. Brian knew it was time to admit defeat. It had physically and mentally battered him into utter submission and just now finally demolished him. Brian reasoned that he had made for a suitable toy for it, but now playtime was over and it was simply time for him to go.
Up ahead on the highway about thirty feet away, Brian's hunch was proven to be correct when a jet-black, square shaped void casually came into existence, swallowing up the area where the road had been. It looked to be twenty by twenty feet, and seemed to absorb all light around it so that it was always perfectly black. Brian knew that this exit was provided to him by it. He knew he was supposed to dispose of himself in it. And he was more than happy to oblige.
Brian stepped down hard on the gas pedal with his bare foot, which caused the van to lurch backward forcibly and sent dozens of golf balls rolling towards the front of the vehicle. Four old and dusty wheels sped loudly down the road, and as he mindlessly charged towards his demise, the indifferent Brian turned the radio dial up one last time:
I've stood some ghostly moments
With natives in the hills
Recorded here on paper
My chills and thrills and spills
Take me I'm yours
Because dreams are made of this
Forever there'll be a heaven in your kiss
The fuzzy music apathetically played as the minivan hurtled over the edge of the void, thousands of golf balls simultaneously smashed into the windshield as the van fell vertically, and Brian was buried by the deafening ocean of balls and saw no more.
Written by Dr. Frank N. Furter
A Dip in Lake Nigeros
Whistling Winds summer camp had laid just on the outskirts of town for as long as anybody could remember. Grandparents fondly remembered the stories their own elders told them about the place, the ghost stories around the campfire, the hiking along the forest trails, and of course, the rope swing into the water at Lake Nigeros. Everyone who had been there seemed to agree that it was completely unsafe for children and adults alike, but they all vouched for its entertainment value. The thrilling rush of wind through your ears after dropping off that moldy rope, the long forty-foot drop, and (for many) the feeling of urine running down your legs made it an unforgettable experience.
The camp had unfortunately closed several years back, but it lived on through Hallowroot's people, a fond memory of simpler times. Cooper's grandfather had told him about the camp many times, and his tales always kept going back to that rope swing, the senile old fart getting that glassy look in his eyes and that goofy grin on his face whenever he mentioned it.
"I got my first kiss near that swing, you know."
He would always say.
"Was about the same age you are now, I think. When we found that old bit of rope hanging from a branch, all the kids were scared to go on it, whining 'bout how they'd die if they fell that far. I called 'em all babies and stepped up onto that little wooden board all by m'self...almost fell 'n broke mah neck when that sweet lil' thing Betty Sue spun me around and planted one right on the smacker, said I was bein' so brave."
It was at this point grandma would usually give him a dirty look.
"The jump down after that was somethin' wonderful, son. I ain't never been so excited in mah life."
Cooper had never thought much of the story before, but after grandpa passed away, it had stuck at the forefront of his mind. Every time he thought of his pappy, he would think of that story about the rope swing, the one he had heard a hundred times over, and part of him would always long to experience it for himself. But now, staring out at the decrepit rope and that moldy plank of wood, he was beginning to have second thoughts.
"Are you coming down, you big baby? The water's fine!"
The moon shone bright enough to see Robbie calling out to him from down in the lake, his long, auburn hair so wet that he had to keep brushing it out of his eyes. Cooper took a deep breath, extending a foot towards the plank before pulling away, hesitant.
"It's a long drop, Rob!"
Cooper had even been the one to suggest this little outing, he was disgusted that this was such a difficult thing to muster up courage for. He had snuck out of the house for this, he couldn't back out now!
"Look, I made it down here fine! Just close your eyes if you're scared!"
"I ain't scared!"
Cooper sighed, running a hand through curly brown locks and licking his lips nervously, free hand on his hip. It seemed like the perfect night to do it, too. The stars were out, the moon was full, the temperature mild...a swim certainly did seem like a good idea, and grandpa had always talked about how fun this was...hell, this was the reason he was out here in the first place, wasn't it?
"Alright, I'm comin'!"
"Atta boy, Coop!"
The lanky pre-teen took his first tentative step onto the creaky wooden board, the thing so moldy that it almost snapped just from having one foot placed on it. Still, it seemed to hold well enough, prompting the second foot to follow, Cooper breaking out into a gentle jog before leaping to snatch at the rope hanging off the branch above him. With a whoop of delight, he grabbed tight, the braided nylon managing to miraculously hold his weight as he sailed through the air, legs kicking frantically.
Letting go was the hard part, but he managed it, eyes shut as he started to drop towards the water below. It was just as grandpa said it was. The wind was exhilarating, the piss in his trunks warming them despite the chill in the air, the feeling of falling overwhelming him as he hollered in childlike glee. It was dangerous, sure, but it was a feeling that couldn't be matched anywhere else. The tallest rollercoaster in the world was nothing compared to the feeling of free-falling like this, Cooper was sure.
The water hit fast and hard, murky liquid surging into his ears and nose, eyes shut tight and cheeks puffed as he felt the lake envelop him. It all seemed...warmer than he thought it would be. Cooper's eyes flickered open slowly as he prepared for the journey back to the water's surface, his feet already kicking before he truly noticed where he was. Well...he wasn't sure exactly where he was, but this was certainly not the lake. Ridged, pulsating pink walls ebbed all around him, sucking in and out as if they were breathing, what had once been the surface of the water above him now replaced with a veined pink dome, a tiny pocket of air smaller than the young boy's head seeming to be the only place of respite.
Cooper gurgled, suppressing a scream, his breath held tight. The walls pulled in close enough to gently squeeze him, then pushed back enough where his fingertips could barely brush against them, the living corridor creating a sense of claustrophobia that the middle schooler had never quite felt before. He had little time to dwell on that, though, kicking his feet frantically towards the sweet, sweet oxygen above him as he flailed his way to the top of his unusual prison. It was close, Cooper only just managing to break the surface before suffocating completely. The boy's lips almost managed to press against the flesh above him, so tight was his space, but he treasured the precious seconds of survival like nothing else.
Such a spot of hope was soon lost, though, as Cooper realized with a sudden panic that he was trapped...somewhere. The meat-tube he was stuck in only went down, and who even knew if it had a bottom? Even the air he was currently chugging into his lungs would not last forever, he could already feel it getting thinner with every inhale that he made...he had no choice but to go down. Brain still in full-on panic mode, he gasped for one last mouthful of air and took the plunge, small hands using the walls around him to begin shimmying his way down.
Every few seconds, his descent became even more difficult, the corridor's 'exhales' making it nearly impossible to manually drag himself down, forcing Cooper into a thrashing struggle to continue down the fleshy pipe before he could get his grip again. His vision blurred at around twenty feet down, feeling himself unable to hold his breath for much longer. It passed through his mind that perhaps he should go take another gulp or two of air before trying again, but he knew there was no point. If he was to escape, he would have to take his chance now.
The deeper he went, the more strange things seemed to become. The walls didn't have eyes before, did they? They were dead, glassy stares, like those of fish, watching him struggle, uncaring and unblinking as the child passed them by. Everything here seemed so...passive. It was as if Cooper was not prey nor intruder, just a visitor to the strange breathing intestine that resided in the lake, as strange as that all sounded. Sharp teeth began to sprout amidst what was now dozens of eyes all watching him pass, but even they laid mostly dormant, only managing to exert weak wriggling as the child's hands gripped them in order to hasten his escape.
What had once been just gentle ridges in this disgusting tunnel was now a horde of various body parts lining the walls, Cooper grabbing on to anything and everything that might bring him to the bottom. Arms, noses, legs, not human ones, but something similar. The middle schooler hardly even registered what he was grabbing onto, bubbles escaping his lips as he clamored down, down, down. Eyes grew on these limbs, then eyes grew on top of eyes, deeper and deeper, color flushing from Cooper's face as his mouth opened, a surge of water dumping into his lungs as he sank deeper into the grotesque abyss, until finally...
His head broke the surface, and he took in as big a breath as he could before violently coughing, choking on the water within him and beginning to vomit, the lake around him warming as he pissed his trunks again. Robbie stared expectantly, beaming a bright smile in the light of the moon.
"See, it wasn't so bad, was it? Do you want to go again?"
Cooper finished hurling up his stomach, clawing his way onto the nearby rocks before turning his pale, grinning face towards his friend.
His grandfather hadn't been lying.
Written by SkullMunch
Trevor shouldered his backpack, grabbed his sleeping bag and the case of beer, and closed the car door with his foot. He stepped around the “No Camping” sign and hurried along the overgrown path. Looking ahead, he could just see his friends rounding a bend in the trail through the growing shadow of the trees as the sun slowly sank in the sky. He knew his way to the site, they scouted it out before they began unloading, but he still had no particular desire to try remember it alone. He quickened his pace, hoping to gain some ground.
Even though they were briefly out of his sight, Trevor could still hear Max’s voice clearly cutting through the ambient woodland sounds. He was laughing at some joke Brian had made and commenting that tonight was their last chance to get crazy before Brian signed away his freedom forever. Trevor smiled. Brian might be getting married tomorrow, but if anything Kate was likely to encourage him to be even crazier.
Trevor turned the corner and jogged the last thirty feet to catch up with his friends.
“About time,” Brian smiled as Trevor joined the group. “I was afraid we were gonna have to start the party without you.”
“You might have been able to start without me,” Trevor laughed. “But you wouldn’t be able to get very far without these.” He indicated the large case of beer in his left hand.
“Ahh, you know our weakness,” Max laughed. “All right, all right. You can stay.”
Trevor grinned in response, but he couldn’t help but take Max’s words a little personally. Trevor and Brian had been almost inseparable when they were kids, but Max and Brian had lived together in college and gotten very close. Trevor couldn’t help but feel a little left out. Nowadays it seemed like he and Brian didn’t click as well anymore and Trevor was fighting just to be accepted by his best friend. Tonight wasn’t the night to be thinking about that, though. Tonight was about celebrating Brian starting a new life with Kate.
The three young men cleared the line of trees and stepped out onto a small beach on the edge of the lake. The sand was a little rough and littered with rocks, but it still made for a beautiful scene as the sunset reflected orange and purple across the water.
Trevor gazed across the water and noticed not the sunset, but the sand lining all sides of the lake. This made him a little worried that their campsite could be easily seen by park rangers looking for campers violating the park rules. Max, being the best man, had insisted on this location. Trevor would have preferred something closer to home, but Max had a buddy that told him there was no better camping than at the Hallowroot’s lake. Trevor begrudgingly agreed, but told Max that he could be the one to explain to Kate why she had to bail Brian out of jail on their wedding day.
Max was right that the site was perfect, the tent would fit snugly just on the edge of the water, but Trevor couldn’t shake this feeling that something was going to go wrong. Of course, that could be attributed to his tendency to overthink and worry. It had been a long time since he had broken any rules and he was a little out of practice.
It didn’t take long for Trevor to set up the tent or for Brian to make a fire from the wood Max had gathered. That was probably a good thing because in a matter of minutes the sun had completed its trip below the horizon and the only light remaining was the warm glow of the campfire and the pale reflection of a waning moon.
A few beers loosened Trevor up quite a bit. The three young men spent hours around the fire laughing and cooking brats. Trevor still wasn’t terribly comfortable with Max, but he was enjoying himself nonetheless. They had begun trading stories of past adventures and eventually made their way into ghost stories and then on to the myths and legends of the town of Hallowroots. Growing up an hour or two south of Hallowroots, depending on the day, Trevor had heard a few stories of this unusual town. Max on the other hand was somewhat of an expert. He knew every story Trevor could tell and filled in the blanks when Trevor missed something. Eventually both Brian and Trevor permanently relinquished the floor to Max who was more than happy to recite as many tall tales as he possibly could.
“Okay, guys, this next one’s a true story,” Max began, crushing and empty beer can and tossing it out of the ring of light from the fire. The boys fell silent for long enough to hear a slight splash informing them that the beer can had found its mark.
“That’s what you’ve said about the last four,” Brian laughed.
“I know, I know, but this one actually is,” Max replied, feigning offense at the suggestion.
“Just tell it,” Brian insisted between a grin and swig of beer. “If it’s a good enough story, who cares?”
“It’s more of a general fact,” Max corrected in his best storytelling voice, opening another can. “The Hallowroots lake was actually man-made on accident.”
“Is that it?” Brian mocked after Max paused dramatically. “Tell me more tell me more, like did the guy who made it have a car?”
“Make your jokes, but it’s actually a great mystery of nature,” Max defended. “See, this used to be a somewhat successful mining town back in the day. This company kept buying up a bunch of land to use for their mines and drilling down into the hills. There was already a natural valley in this area when they bought it, but they had no plans of making it into a lake. They dug down really deep to make a mine and suddenly water started pouring out of one of the holes and filled up the tunnel. They tried to pump it out but the water just kept coming and coming until it eventually flooded the whole mine and kept rising until it formed this. The company had no use for a lake, so they bought more land elsewhere and tried drilling again. A few years later they went out of business and the town inherited this land and that is the story of the Hallowroot’s lake.”
“A real nail-biter,” Brian commented sarcastically. “That’ll be really useful information in case I ever decide to write a history textbook about this town.”
“This is why I tell you all the fake stories,” Max shot back. “I tell you a real one and you hate it.”
“I thought it was interesting,” Trevor jumped in. He had planned to say more, but lost his nerve intruding on their rapport.
“I like this guy,” Max shouted, clapping Trevor on the shoulder.
“Thank him, Brian. He’s the only reason I’m willing to keep gracing your ears with my stories.”
“Damn it, Trevor,” Brian muttered causing all three boys to erupt into laughter.
This exchange boosted Trevor’s confidence a little and he immediately felt more included as part of the group, though he still felt a little resentment toward one of the members. He watched Max finish his new beer, crumple the can and toss it towards the lake. Trevor listened for the splash but heard only silence this time. He realized Max must be getting pretty drunk if he couldn’t even hit the lake anymore.
A few more hours and many beers later, the three boys retired to the tent and nearly immediately passed out. Maybe it was something about the gentle lapping of the water on the shore or maybe the warmth of the late summer evening but it was incredibly easy to fall asleep. The tent was large enough that they could all have their own space and neither of the other two boys awakened when Trevor shot up to a seated position from his slumbers.
He was still a little intoxicated, but he was sure he had heard some sound in the distance. He cocked his head to the side and listened more carefully in the direction from where he thought it came. Through the babble of the small waves and the chorus of bugs, something stuck out again. He couldn’t make out any distinct words, but it sounded a little like two male voices yelling back and forth to one another. Feeling instantly sober and wide awake, Trevor strained his ears to listen more carefully, but it was if nothing had ever happened. He heard no more of the voices.
The source of the sound seemed to be near where they had parked earlier that evening. Trevor realized it was most likely a team of rangers who had found their car and deduced that there must be people camping in the area. It was only a matter of time, before they followed the path and found the site.
The stirring of the other two boys in the tent made Trevor jump slightly. It was possible that they had also heard the sound and were waking up. Maybe then they could make a plan to move the site and get back to the car before they were caught. He glanced over to them, waiting for one of them to say something or sit up as well, but he was disappointed. Their stirring must have been merely coincidence as they soon settled back down and continued their sleep.
Trevor attempted to follow suit, lying back down on his sleeping bag. They had been so mellow about the idea of getting caught and all he could do was try to match their attitude. If they got caught, they got caught. There was nothing he could do alone to stop that. In the long run, it was worse to spend the whole night dreading the rangers finding them than to simply get caught when they arrived. Plus, he was bound to hear them again as they got closer if they were already audible at this distance.
Despite his attempts to convince himself he was as easy going as his friends, the terror had successfully woken him up completely and rest was now a fleeting memory. The night suddenly seemed less pleasant and the lapping of the lake much louder and not quite as relaxing. The moonlight through the mesh at the top of the tent was bright and directed right at Trevor’s eyes.
Time seemed to slow down as Trevor lay there waiting for sleep to take him. His phone initially read 2:51 and a glance an hour or so later told him 3:07. If only he could wait a few more hours for sunrise he could leave the tent and not have to worry about being alone in the darkness.
As he was about to check the time once again, felt a strange sensation. Looking down the length of the tent he could see water leaking through the wall and pooling at their feet. Shocked, he pulled his feet out of the surprisingly cold water and brought his knees up to meet his chest. He turned to wake up Brian and Max but, before he could make a noise, he felt something press up against his left hand, which was pressed to the tent wall.
He yanked his hand away in terror, and scrambled to his feet in the opposite direction, running into the other two young men in the process.
“What the hell, man?” Max exclaimed angrily as he awoke.
“Why are my feet wet?” Brian demanded in a similar state.
“Shh, guys, shut up,” Trevor responded, the terror in his voice sufficing to silence them. “There’s something outside.”
The trio fell silent, listening carefully. They waited for a minute or so, but heard nothing. Even the sounds of the water had died down, leaving almost complete nothingness.
Eventually, Max grew tired of waiting and just as he opened his mouth to speak, they all heard very clearly on the other side of the thin wall of polyester a child’s voice utter one word.
The tent was immediately and violently dragged down the beach and gallons of the dark, freezing water rushed in. The force of the moving tent threw Trevor off his feet and into the opposite wall. He struggled to regain his footing while the other boys fought to escape from their drenched sleeping bags and get above the rising water level.
“What is happening?” Brian spluttered through mouthfuls of waters as he finally freed himself from the sleeping bag.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Trevor screamed. This was too unreal. The water level was steadily rising and the ground below was getting less stable making it almost impossible to stand. It was obvious the tent was being dragged into the lake.
“Well, we need to get out of here,” Max shouted over the sounds of rushing water. He half stumbled half swam to the tent flap and began fumbling for the zipper.
“Wait,” Trevor said in terror. “We don’t know what’s out there!”
“And you’d rather drown in here than find out?” Max asked incredulously. Without waiting for an answer, he unzipped the door to the tent. With the door open the water rushed in even faster with enough force to knock Max backward. A tentacle of sorts shot through the opening in the door, feeling around as though it were searching for something. The dark red tendril snaked further into the tent and wrapped itself around Max’s ankle. Max had enough time to glance up at the other two with a look of horror on his face before he was yanked into the dark waters outside.
Brian and Trevor both let out screams and tried to move as far away from the door as they could, not that it mattered much. With the door open, the water had filled the tent almost completely. They were far enough out in the lake that the water was starting to pour through the mesh at the top of the dome as well. Trevor took one last breath as the water reached his chin before the tent became completely submerged and everything went black.
Trevor blinked into consciousness as the light from the rising sun struck his eyes. Shading them with his right hand and pushing himself to a seated position with his left, he could feel sand under his palm. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the brightness of the morning, a process elongated due to his intoxication the previous night. When the light finally became tolerable, he found he had fallen asleep directly on the beach. Chuckling, he realized he must have been even more drunk than he thought. It wasn’t until he saw the remains of the tent floating in the shallows that the memories of the previous night came flooding back.
The terror rushing back to him, Trevor jumped to his feet and frantically looked around the beach for a sign of either of his fellow campers. He quickly found Brian, who was also just waking up a few yards down the beach from Trevor.
“Brian, over here,” Trevor called. “Are you okay?”
Brian also rose to his feet, blinking and rubbing his eyes. “Other than a killer hangover, I’m fine. Please tell me last night was just a horrible dream.”
“I was about to say the same thing to you,” Trevor sighed. “So I’m guessing we’re probably both out of luck there.”
“Where’s Max,” Brian asked, suddenly more urgent. “That thing grabbed him last night.”
“Oh shit,” Trevor replied, realizing that they might not have all made it through the horrors. “Maybe he also washed up on shore?”
The duo scanned the beach around them to no avail. They were beginning to lose hope and give in to the thought that maybe Max was still in the lake until Brian pointed a few hundred yards down the beach to a figure walking just by the water. “Is that him?”
They walked a little closer to the figure and discovered that it was, indeed, Max. He appeared to be holding a bag of sorts as he walked. As the two boys closed the distance between them and their missing comrade, it became clear that Max was picking up pieces of trash along the beach and the shallows of the lake.
“Max,” Brian shouted. “What are you doing? Are you okay?”
Max turned to face them as soon as he heard Brian’s voice and they could see sunken, bloodshot eyes. He shook his head worriedly and backed away from them when, suddenly, the same red tentacle from the night prior burst out of the water and slapped him three times in the face before pointing to the next piece of trash. After shaking off the force of the blows, Max jumped to return to his task, once again turning his back on the other two boys.
“What the hell is that?” Trevor asked once he got over his initial shock.
“I don’t know,” answered Brian. “But I guess it really doesn’t like littering.”
Written by Firsttoleave
The night was quiet.
Janet Thompson hurriedly made her way towards Lake Nigeros in her fiance's blue Cadillac, disturbing the peaceful atmosphere. She was cautious and hoped that she didn't look suspicious tearing through the winding roads on a night like this.
The pale moonlight illuminated the lake. The water was still. The car pulled up near the shore, spraying dirt as it came to a stand- still. Janet pushed open the car door, kicking it with her heels as she pulled herself up from within. There she stood, lighting up a cigarette as she gazed at the fading sunset. Lights began to appear dotted around the town. It was getting dark rapidly.
Then the noise started.
Janet jumped, dropping her cigarette and quickly crushing it into the soil. She looked at the trunk of the car and her eyes widened. She stood dead still, trying to determine the source of the noise. The banging continued.
“Ross, baby?” She asked.
Dull murmuring could be heard, filling Janet with concern. He had woken up. She ripped open the back door of the car and searched for anything to help rid herself of this problem. She reached under the seats and found a few receipts and a half eaten apple that had been left there by that hideous girl Betty. She kept searching and eventually felt the crowbar that she stole from her fiance's garage. She slammed the door shut and hurried to the trunk of the car. Upon opening it, she was greeted with her fiance's bloodied face and bloodshot eyes. He stared at her, bound in rolls and rolls of gaffer tape. She stared back, pulling up her silk gloves as she prepared herself.
“Ross, baby? You gotta be quiet now ok?”
Looking around to see if nobody was present, she raised the crowbar and brought it down with force onto his head repeatedly. After quite some time, Ross's life had slipped away and his head was nothing more than a red mess. Janet reached into the trunk and grabbed Ross's legs, struggling to pull him out. With enough effort, she removed him and he fell to the ground with a large thud. She dragged him along the soil. It wasn't long before her right heel wedged into the ground and sent her stumbling backwards. Focused on her task, she didn't bother to put the heel back on.
The sun had nearly set now. Janet could barely lift him but with a struggle, she was able to toss him into the lake. He sank like a pebble. The force of his body created ripples in the water and she watched as they dispersed. She began to wander back towards the car, relieved that the only thing standing between her dream of Hollywood stardom and herself was now disposed of. She pondered over what she would do when she got to LA. Who would she meet first? What movies would she star in? All this ran through her mind when out of nowhere, she heard movement in the water behind her.
Janet span around and saw nothing but ripples. She continued up the slope and onto the soil, retrieving her heel that had lodged itself into the ground. While struggling to remove it, the water began to churn violently. That's when she looked over and saw something drifting towards the shore. A small amount of blood emanated from the mass and began meandering through the water. She recognised the jet black hair and chequered shirt.
Janet looked on in horror as the supposed love of her life hurriedly swam through the lake towards her. Ross had reached the shallow water and began crawling on all fours, struggling to stand. He had purpose. He lifted his head and stared at Janet. The blood had rinsed away, revealing the contorted face that Janet had created. He violently coughed up dirty water as he struggled to breathe. He raised himself onto his own two feet. He stared at her like an eagle hunting its prey. Janet's eyes widened in fear. She let go of the heel and stood up ready to run. Ross let out a gargled scream and he began sprinting towards her.
Janet turned and booked it towards the Cadillac, limping as fast as she could while trying not to lose the remaining heel. She could hear him making his way up the slope. Janet flung open the door, dived onto the seat and turned the keys. Ross came into view.
“Ross! Please! Ross! Don't be angry! You really ne-” Janet was greeted with a scream and her beloved abruptly stopped in front of the car. “Ross! Get away!”
Ross extended his right arm and opened the palm of his hand wide. Without warning, Janet slumped back into the chair, her eyes sinking into the back of her skull. All life began to drain from within her. She breathed so shallow. She couldn't move. She couldn't speak. She could merely listen and do nothing as she was rapidly beginning to realise what she was and what she had done. An immense pain erupted in her chest. Blood began trickling out of her mouth and down her chin, landing on her blue silk dress. Suddenly, a luminescent blue ball of light began to force its way up from her chest. The light could be seen through her pale skin as it forced its way out of her system. It shot up through her throat and out of her mouth before flying into Ross's hand.
Janet was dead.
Ross stood overlooking her soulless, lifeless corpse. The blue ball of light glowed in his soaked hand, illuminating the drops of water all over his body. Without care or remorse, Ross slowly shuffled back to the lake carrying the very life of Janet with him. He calmly swam to the middle before disappearing below the surface and into the depths.
The night was quiet once again.
Written by Elliot Cowling