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For over 20 years I worked for a now-defunct chemical company called ChemiSOL based in northern Sweden, in the barely inhabited municipal of Storuman. (P.S Don’t try Googling the company, all traces of them, including company history and financial presence seem to be unavailable and marked as ‘Pending Investigation’) I was born in London, and had worked for a few pharmaceutical companies in my time before this job offer came into my life from an old friend I had not seen since Uni.
Anyway, ChemiSOL was a leading R&D company in audio-visual disabilities and illnesses causing loss of vision, and specialised in chemical compounds that can help to restore sight to those who are losing it. The effects of the drugs were limited, temporary and of course, expensive, but to a certain extent, they worked. People reported recovering up to 30% of their lost sight, so all looked well for our company. I had started at the company in early ’99 as a general clerical worker, manning the phones and computers. It was a standard job, as jobs go. Paid the bills and wasn't too soul-draining as such.
But from day one, I knew, I just knew deep down that something wasn’t quite right. Ever have those lingering thoughts, the ones that dance on the edge of your subconscious, teasing and prodding your mind? That was how it felt. It faded over time of course and as I worked at the company, eventually I managed to all but dismiss the feeling as a demonstration of the inherent paranoia that I had garnered from a childhood of living with suspicious and obsessive parents.
Typical, I mused. Even in later life, their legacy permeated my thoughts.
Life at ChemiSOL was relatively uninteresting until late 2003.
On the 4th October, I received an email. It was from one of the understudies that worked with our Auditory Damage research team. His name was James Kess. Good kid. Only spoken to him one or two times, as I worked in management in the Visual Damage team. He always seemed ok, pleasant enough. College kid, seeking to become the next Nobel Prize winner; they all were, by the way. But this email was puzzling to say the least. It had no subject field, no title, category or any other information. The email body merely said:
‘Tick… and then you’re all but gone.'
I blinked. Weird. It was addressed to everyone in the company. I closed the email and picked up my phone. I dialled the admin desk. Rebecca picked up. I liked Rebecca; we got on very well and enjoy an occasional flirt at lunchtime.
“Hi Becky, could you put me through to James Kess please?”
She said she would and I thanked her. The phone rang and I tapped my fingers on the desk while I waited. Ten rings. No answer. I put the phone down and frowned. A part of me said, ignore it and get back to work. We had deadlines. Product wasn’t going to manage and ship itself. But my curiosity (or more likely my rampant paranoia) was piqued. I had to investigate.
A quick walk across the company grounds took me to the AD research department. It was oddly cold that day, despite the sunlight that beamed across the cloudless sky. No wind. No clouds. But a definite chill in the air. I shrugged it off; along with the constant niggle at the base of my mind that gnawed at me. Like a stray thought that flitted across my brain for a nanosecond then retreated into the confines of my lost memories. I was getting a headache and needed an aspirin. I reached the polished white double doors of the research building and they slide open with an almost inaudible hiss.
Just like Star Trek, I had thought upon my first ever arrival at these doors. These days, the novelty had worn off. Inside, the admin desk was unmanned so I stood and waiting. I tapped my foot on the floor and gently hummed to myself while I studied one of the pamphlets advertising new ‘injected hearing aides’ that would last up to 15 years. I smirked. These guys were good at their job. My mind halted for a second.
The tune I was humming stopped in my mouth, the next note sat on the tip of my tongue. What was that song? I tried to recall the tune, but found that in the second I had stopped, it had been forgotten. My mind boggled. What was that? My mouth tried to move to reform the sounds but I had no recollection of what it was. Had I even been humming?
The phone rang on the desk and I snapped from my daydream, realising my headache had intensified. I leant over the desk to peer at the phone's caller ID screen. “[J. Kess]”. I frowned. Did he know I was on the way to see him? I picked up the receiver, my temples throbbing.
The phone touched my ear. A scream, an animal thing, like someone breathing in, inhaling but screaming and piercing my ears. So loud and blood-curdling. Guttural yet high pitched, like a squeal of rusty brakes on a car mixed a woman’s screams, but almost reversed. I threw the phone down and jumped backwards. When the receiver left the side of my head the sound stopped. It had lasted for less than half a second. It lay on its side on the desk, the dead line tone quietly sounding. My breathing calmed and I composed myself. The phone clicked and suddenly, a voice. Or rather, a muffled mumbling, talking. I picked the phone up and cautiously raised it to my ear, preparing for another deafening. It didn’t happen, but the voice was still indistinct. Inaudible. It sounded someone shouting; the voice was getting louder. I could have sworn I had heard singing as well, but it disappeared the moment I being to acknowledge it. I felt so unnerved, my palms began to sweat and become clammy. Someone fumbled with the receiver on the other end of the line. I pressed the phone tighter to my head to try and hear. A voice, distorted and unnerving, sounding cut up and fuzzy, but panicked:
‘Tock… I think you’d better run.’
I slammed the phone down a shiver jolting my spine. These dumbasses were pulling one over me. They’d done stupid stuff like this before. The fear escaped my head and was replaced by frustration at my gullibility and the time I had wasted chasing this wild goose. I turned to leave, but as I did I blinked and lost balance for a single moment, and then returned to normal. I slowly turned back to the desk. It all looked the same, but felt different. The phone still sat where it was before. The papers still jumbled and untidy. An empty mug still stood in the corner; red lipstick marks gracing one side. The corkboard was still…
The usual notices, posters and memo’s that dotted the corkboard were gone, replaced by a single crisp white piece of paper, pinned there by a thumbtack. I froze. I didn’t move. This was no longer a prank. I was beyond explanation of this. I tentatively edged toward the board, flexing my hands and wiping my brow. I saw a single line of text; my eyes squinted.
əlıɯs əɯ əəs əɯoɔ əsɐəld ˙˙˙ʞɔıʇ
I reached up and turned the paper around, swivelling it round on the thumbtack.
‘Tick… please come see me smile’
I backed away, turned and ran. I didn’t care about the prank; I was too paranoid to care. I wanted out. Too much for me. I was gonna get my things and go home, call in sick, whatever. I need a sleep to clear my head. My head!
The headache had become a full throbbing migraine. The double doors slid open and I reeled back in pain, the almost silent hiss sounding like a violet roar of wind and thunder in my sensitive ears. I fell to my knees and grabbed the side of my head, writhing in pain. I think I blacked out for some time. Don’t know how long. I just woke to the sensation of someone shaking me.
“Mr Enser? Are you ok? David!?”
My eyes opened slowly. Ellie, the admin who should have been at the desk was knelt beside me, a concerned look resting upon her pretty face. I slowly sat up. My headache had gone but I felt groggy.
“What… what happened?” I asked, rubbing my cheek where I had obviously smacked my jaw on the floor.
“You don’t remember?”
No, Ellie. I just woke up from a blackout with total memory recollection of all the events and reasons leading up to this moment. People who stated the obvious annoyed me, but I maintained my calm and just gently shook my head.
“You just walked in here through the double doors and the moment you set foot in, you fainted. I ran over and you woke up.”
I frowned, and jumped to my feet. I looked at the corkboard. It was covered in pamphlets, memos and adverts, as normal. I looked over the desk. The phone was gone.
I turned to a confused and concerned Ellie.
“The phone?” I said. “Where… is the phone?”
“It’s been broken for weeks, Mr Enser. They kept saying they’d fix it but no one has managed to get over here.”
My mind was cracking. What in the hell was going on. I walked from the building and into the air, ignoring the questions from Ellie. It was freezing! The sun was burning so bright in the blue sky but I shivered and grabbed my body in the chilling temperature. I lightly jogged back to my building. I must be hallucinating with a fever. Aspirin and a sleep, I thought. And possibly a whiskey. Or two. Or ten. I got back to my desk, passing a few co-workers who didn’t seem to notice my flustered state. I began to pack up my papers when I noticed another email. This time from head office. The big boys at Corporate. I had never gotten an email from them before. I sat down slowly. Corporate were very hush-hush about their dealings, and their sources. It hadn’t bothered me too much oddly, until now. I hesitantly opened the email which was marked:
It was blank, save for an attachment named ‘sarah.ajp’. It was a CCTV recording. Of course, I didn’t have any video software installed on my work PC, but I did at home. I popped my USB flash drive into the tower and quickly transferred the file to watch at home. The drive back to my apartment felt so long. The air felt thick and heavy around me. It was closing in on me, crushing the breath from my body. I don’t hesitate to mention that I greatly exceeded the speed limit on my way home. I arrived back at my apartment 20 minutes or so later and dragged my feet towards the door. I dropped my coat on the floor and wandered to the kitchen. Aspirin. I pulled open a few drawers and scuffled through the contents till I found a few pills in a bottle.
I downed three of them before noticing the expiry date. 2 years old. Damn. Well, it’ll just give them a bit more of a kick I suppose. I remembered the flash drive. Walking over to my work bag, I knelt beside it and opened the pocket I had stored the drive in. It was empty. I frowned, rubbing my forehead to quell the throbbing. I searched through my bag but, nothing. Had I left it in the office during my hurry? No. I remembered putting it in my bag. Or was it my pocket. I patted my trousers down. Again, nothing. I picked up my coat and felt the pockets, nothing… wait! The inside pocket had a familiar shape inside. I reached in and withdrew the drive. Phew.
I traipsed over to my PC and thumbed the power switch. It quietly whirred into life and I slumped in the chair.
I reached forward and rotated the little wheel underneath the monitor to lower the screen brightness. It was dazzling my sensitive eyes. When it was up and running I opened VLC media player and inserted the drive into my USB port. I loaded the file ‘sarah.ajp’. It was exactly 5 minutes long. For the first two minutes it was just video of a dull office. A desk and a few chairs and a potted plant in the corner. The office seemed vaguely familiar but then again, all offices in our buildings looked almost identical. The video clicked and popped and fuzzed and the audio was choppy and unclear. A distorted scraping sound, like iron against rough stone. It was deep and unnerving; driving into my temples. Suddenly, two minutes and seventeen seconds in, the video cut out. Black screen, no sound. I watched the blackness for another two minutes until exactly two minutes when the video came back.
I almost vomited.
The room was back; only this time it was freshly painted with blood and decorated with gored entrails, pinned to the walls with what looked like large nails. A man lay bent backwards over the desk, his body gutted and eviscerated. His face was turned to look straight into the camera. His eyes had been gouged from their sockets and his forehead was sliced across the front. But his mouth… He was smiling. His mouth had been sewn closed with dark thread, but sewn in a painful wide ear to ear smile. I leaned closer, trying to hold back my nausea long enough to identify the corpse. My mouth opened. I was sure that it was James Kess. I panicked and checked the datestamp on the video file.
It had been recorded only 2 hours ago.
My heart was racing at a thousand beats per minute. I was hyperventilating and I felt my stomach doing a triple-backflip. I was about to run to the bathroom to hurl my guts up, when I heard something. Singing. It was the video. My eyes returned to the grainy, gory scene. I recognised the song. I had been whistling it in the admin room at work before the phone rang and before my blackout. The tune was discordant and deranged, elongated notes that were breathy and high pitched. I could have sworn it was something being sung backwards.
Then I saw it.
It was faint but unmistakeable. It was a little girl. I watched the shadow intensify, before its source came into view on the screen. I saw her. She looked only to be six or seven years old. She was wearing a little summer dress with stains it; they looked like blood but I couldn’t tell on the black and white video. Her long straight dark hair looked wet and clung to her scalp. For a split second it crossed my mind that this might be a fake. A little girl in a dress? Way too cliché. The fear and nausea instantly disappeared. I had done it again. I’d fallen for it again. Those jackass co-workers and really gone out of their way to screw with me. I sighed slowly and moved the mouse up to x the video and go to bed when the girl started to twitch.
Thirty seconds left on the video. My curiosity made me watch the rest. The girl turned. She was moving jerkily, uneasily, like a stop-motion movie almost, like she was being moved by invisible hands as if her movements were not her own. She turned to face the camera and I paled.
Her eyes were missing, ripped messily from their little sockets. Her face was awash with blood and bits of gore. She was smiling. The singing was still drifting through my speakers but her lips were not moving.
She smiled at the camera. No, at me. This wasn’t a prank. This was happening. She suddenly stopped singing, as if she had heard my thoughts. Her bones began to crack and impossibly, her legs and arms began to extend. They elongated and her bones broke and reshaped. She grew taller, but her body and head remained the same size. I watched in horror as she deformed like some kind of twisted little spider human, spindly legs and arms distorting her little figure. Her legs and arms must now have been twice her body length. Abruptly, she stopped growing and moved erratically towards the camera, her eyeless gaze unwavering, and her painful smile unflinching.
As her haunting pallor closed in on the camera, I backed away from the screen, sickness tearing at my guts and bile clawing its way up my throat. She twitched and all of a sudden, she screamed and her face contorted. Her mouth ripped open, spraying blood at the camera and lacerating her gums and lips. Her cheeks tore open and her jaw broke, spreading her maw wide and fearsome. Her perfect sparkling teeth grew instantly into jagged broken needles, hundreds of them, piercing her bloody gums at all angles. The scream was the same as the one I’d heard on the phone. I lunged back, falling from my chair and at the same instant the scream stopped and the video went blank. I turned back to the black video. Ten seconds to go. My hands were shaking and my mouth was dry. What in the hell was that? I watch the video tick away to completion and finish. The screen flickered as the video file automatically closed. I frowned. The video file had gone! It had deleted itself from my computer! In its place sat a single .jpg file.
It was simply titled ‘sorry.jpg’.
I opened it.
It was a high definition photo of an old couple sat outside a little rustic house in the middle of a forest. They were wearing hiking gear and the woman was leaning on the shoulder of the man. They seemed perfectly happy and normal. I scanned the image for anything unusual.
In the window of the house was a small girl. She was only barely visible but I managed to zoom the photo in so could see the pits of her eyes; blackened and dark and the painfully wide smile plastered across her sweet face. I paled. This isn’t real, this can’t be real.
The photo promptly also deleted itself from my PC and was duly replaced by a .txt file. I didn’t even know how this was possible, but before I could wonder, the file, entitled ‘4.txt’ automatically opened. It was a blank .txt file.
My mouse moved on the screen, but my hand stayed still. My heart leapt into my mouth as I watched. It moved jerkily to the .txt file and the typing curser began to blink. One letter at a time, a message appeared.
'Tock… eyes blind for a while'.
My computer shut down. I stared blankly at the dark screen, listening to the fans whirred and slowed down. I hit the power button but it didn’t respond. I stood and pushed the chair under the desk. I felt cold and empty. My existence had been turned upside down in the space of one day. I had seen things I had never even known to be possible.
I didn’t get much sleep that night. I woke the next morning with yet another throbbing migraine. I rolled out of bed and dressed for work. Trudging down the stairs, I yawned and scratched my scruffy hair. I stepped into the living room and saw the PC. It all came back to me. Was it real, did it happen? I walked over to my PC, frowning. I thumbed the power switch. Nothing. My stomach turned. It was real. I retched as I recalled the image of the mutilated corpse and the entrails and… that girl.
I had to go back.
I had to settle this.
Find out what the hell it was before I lose it for good. I will admit that I packed a loaded air pistol in my briefcase to work. Might sound a little lame to only bring a single-shot air pistol that fired .177 metal pellets, but when you’re in a life-or-death panic, any weapons seems feasible.
I left my house and drove to work. I didn’t speed this time. The facility was deserted. I parked in the empty car park, and nervously got out. Why was it deserted, it was the busiest time we’d had in months?! Oh. It was Saturday. Duh.
I shook my head and continued, but the fear refused to leave. I made my way over to the AD research building. Surely someone will found James’ body and reported it to the police. How could they not have? He was literally all over the room! I unlocked the metal shutters and punched in the access code. The doors hissed open. Last time I stepped into this room, I had ‘apparently’ blacked out the minute my foot entered. I stepped in with caution. Nothing so far except the persistent migraine. I was beginning to tune it out by this stage.
I will admit that at this point I drew my air pistol, leaving my now empty briefcase on the admin desk. There was no phone on the desk. I frowned. I climbed the steep stairs to the third floor, where I would find James’ office. I kept the gun low in my shaking hands. It felt stupid but did provide me with a measure of comfort. My footsteps echoed through the building as I climbed; the sound mixing with the rapid thudding of my heartbeat. I approached James’ door and my hand gripped the doorknob. I turned it gently and crept inside. My eyes widened. The room was untouched. No blood, no gore, no disembowelled bodies. What? I pushed the door open fully, lowering the gun and standing straight. My mind was fuzzing and confused.
A noise sounded from the ceiling; I jumped.
My heart throbbed again. It was soft, almost imperceptible but it was there. Singing.
A twisted, backwards, beautiful song. Bright light flashed in my eyes. Lightning outside. Thunder echoed through the building and rain began to pour outside. In a second, the weather had gone from totally calm to a raging storm. A window blew open and a deafening roar enveloped the room. Wind blasted in, scattering papers and knocking over picture frames. I stumbled, shielding my eyes, towards the window and tried to push it closed. It wouldn’t shut. I forced and pushed and strained but, nothing. I heard the door swing around and crash into the wall and I turned. Despite the roaring rain and howling wind and the terrific crashing of thunder, I heard it again. The scream. That, blood-curdling, nightmarish scream.
Light filled my eyes once more and suddenly the room changed. My eyes had closed for a split second but when they opened, the walls were smeared in blood and skin. Entrails and organs decorated the furnishings, and sections of bone had been driven into the walls and ceilings. The distorted and disfigured body of James Kess lay sprawled on its back over the desk. Its face, with that sewn up ear-to-ear smile, and bloody empty eye sockets was facing me, staring at me with a hauntingly happy eyeless stare. I screamed and backed away from the desk. My back hit the wall and something squelched and I lunged from the wall, realising I had leant on an organ or some other repulsive chuck of innards that had been splattered across the wall. I receded into the centre of the room, clutching my pistol as bile rose in my throat. She was coming.
Another scream. Louder, closer this time.
I looked for somewhere to hide. Another noise now, grinding, like iron on stone. It pierced my ears and I cried out in pain and fell to my knees. I clambered for the desk and hid behind it, trying my best to avert my eyes from the stinking corpse that lay spread open like a hollow shell in front of me, scooped clean of organs.
Lightning flashed and the thunder rolled and I heard the song get louder. The words, backwards and unintelligible seemed to ring through the violent weather, not loud as such, but they seemed to echo right into my head. I heard the door slam open and the scream perforated my eardrums once again. She was in the room. It - it wasn’t a ‘she’ anymore - was in the room. It was coming for me. I felt it. I heard its singing. I knew it was close.
It crept into the corner of my panicking eyesight. Slowly, and unsteadily, like bad animation. My eyes were fixed on the open window across the room. I couldn’t look at it in case it noticed me, so I fixed my vision on a single spot on the window, while I gripped my curled up knees and hugged myself. But it kept closing in my vision. Its long, elongated arms and legs clicking and clacking and moving with delicate grace and precision. Its sweet, childlike face smiled and beamed. Its song, lovely and beautiful, yet dissonant and twisted escaped from its mouth, but its lips stayed close in that painful cartoon-like smile. Its eyes, nothing more than bloody hollow sockets, fixed in the skull gave it an emotionless glee-filled stare.
It suddenly screamed, its mouth tearing open in a savage rip, blood spraying from its gums and its blackened tongue lashing out, spitting red saliva. Its teeth, once tiny and perfect cracked into razors and needles and split from its jaw, growing yellow and sharp. Its scream, lasting only a fraction of a second, ended and almost as suddenly, the twisted, disfigured face reverted back to the cute face of the little girl, and the song began again.
It moved so slowly, and every few steps, it would have one of those outbursts, those horrifically violent eruptions, sending blood and teeth and bone shards scattering through the air as its skeleton deformed. With every surge, its limbs grew longer and more twisted, its bones stuck through its skin and its flesh tore in long slits up its wrists and legs. I began to cry as the creature continued to invade my line of sight. I was curled up on the floor behind the desk looking out the window at the black tempestuous sky. My eyes didn’t move from the glass, but I could see it. Just in the corner, walking towards the window I was staring at.
I didn’t know if it knew I was there. Lightning lit up the office room and I saw its shadow. Those long double jointed arms and legs connected to that little girl’s twisted body. It was normal in proportions apart from the arms and legs that grew from her frame, impossibly long and too thin to be real. I slightly turned my head to increase my peripheral vision of her. Her tiny body was hunched and her spine looked fractured and buckled. The dim light from the ceiling barely illuminated her frame, but with every lightning flash, I saw the wet thin hair that was plastered to her scalp. Wet with blood. I breathed in and the creature stopped. It had heard me.
That was that. I was dead. This thing had slaughtered James. It had torn him to pieces and mutilated his corpse in moments. It had taken the creature a second, just a tick of the clock.
Could those messages have been clues? James obviously knew about this and tried to warn others, leaving messages and notes for us to find! But I must have been the only one to investigate! Maybe… just maybe…
I started whispering as I saw it approach the desk, singing its song, barely audible over the rain and thunder, and occasionally bursting into a horrific scream, its face deforming with rage, before recovering to the sweet little girl before. I whispered frantically:
Tick… and then you’re all but gone,
Tock… I think you’d better run,
Tick… please come see me smile,
Tock… eyes blind for a while.
I heard it start to sing louder and became bolder. It could hear me and it didn’t like what I was saying. I closed my eyes tight and whispered louder. It crept closer, climbing over the desk and singing its beautiful backwards lullaby, blood oozing from its sewn up lips.
Tick… and then you’re all but gone,
Its long arms advanced over the desk, seeking me, searching for my flesh to rip from my bones.
Tock… I think you’d better run,
Its torn up and disfigured face appeared over the desk and I could feel its dead eyes hungrily tasting me.
Tick… please come see me smile,
I was shaking and shivering, tears streaming from my sore eyes. I felt its clammy fingers trace across my cheek and I heard its motionless mouth sing into my ear. I screamed the last line.
Tock… eyes blind for a while.
My head lulled. I had just witnessed hell and lived through it. I didn’t know where the creature had gone, or if it would return. I didn’t care. I wanted to curl up and sleep. Sleep for years and years.
A man entered the room. He was wearing a blue suit and had a kind face. He approached my shivering body and crouched beside me.
“David? How are you today?” he said, in a calm voice.
I lunged at him and grabbed his suit pulling my face into his chest, my eyes streaming with tears. He patted my back and spoke again.
“Not that great I see? Did you see her again David?”
I nodded through the tears.
“It’s ok, David. Let’s get you up and changed and we’ll sort you out.”
I agreed and went with the man, I didn’t know who he was, but I just needed to be with him. I needed another human after all that hell. He led me from the office into another room with a bed inside and a few cabinets. He left me, and I changed from my lab coat and trousers to jogging bottoms and an orange top. The man re-entered.
“Feel better, David?”
I nodded. I felt calm. The memory of the nightmare was fading slowly.
The man handed me some tablets.
“These will help with the headache.”
I took them.
“Where’s Sarah? Can I see her?” I said, weakly.
“David,” the man sighed, “Sarah has been dead for 14 years. This fantasy needs to come to a close. You have to let go if you ever want a chance at a normal life again.”
“I have to get to Sarah,” I insisted and stood up from the bed. Or at least, I tried to. Something was stopping me.
I looked down to see the leather straps keeping me bound to the bed.
“Let me see Sarah!” I yelled, struggling against the bonds. “They’ll find me! When I don’t show up for work tomorrow they’ll look for me!”
“David, ChemiSOL doesn’t exist. You’re in Echo Mils Psychosis Centre in London, and you have been for the last 10 years, ever since your breakdown, 4 years after your daughter was killed. We go through this every week. You’ve been strapped to that bed every night for 2 months now to stop you from hurting anymore people! You attacked James, your social worker! Tried to cut his stomach open with a kitchen knife threatening to spread his organs across the walls! And you threated Ellie, the cafeteria nurse. Remember that? You kept telling her these riddles and rhymes, like something from a poem! You’re broken David, but soon, you’ll be fixed.”
“Let me go! Sarah needs me!” I screamed, trying to rip the bonds from the bed.
He stood up and left the room. I could hear him talking to another man just outside the half opened door. I strained to make out what he was saying.
“…still delusional… can’t accept… daughter dead… increase medication… having hallucinations… possible need to euthanize…”
I had to tell Sarah about it. My daughter would understand. I knew what I’d seen and what I’d been through. She was only young but she’d listen.
I lay on the bed and closed my eyes.
They fluttered open and I saw the man walk slowly back into the room, a syringe in his hand.
I blinked and the little girl was there, behind the man, her mouth sewn shut and her eyes gored from her skull.
“Hi darling,” I said.
I smiled as she tore him limb from limb.
Written by CynicalSloth