The Little Girl
It was a beautiful day to be walking home along a tree-lined road. Carlos hastily checked his watch; darkness was already falling, Soon, the only light will come from street lamps. Apart from Carlos, the road is empty … or so he thinks. Suddenly, he hears a strange, shrill voice coming from the darkness behind the trees.
Carlos froze. The hairs behind his neck stood up as he turned towards the source of the shrill voice. It came from behind the trees.
“Is anybody there…?” he asked into the void of the forest.
There it was again. The echo of the voice rang like a siren in his ears. The cold voice seemed to beckon him, as if it was a hypnotising spell. Carlos quickened his pace, nervously trodding through the damp grass.
He could feel his heart thumping like a bird trying to escape its cage. Taking short quick breaths, Carlos silently dashed along the road.
“Hi there, have you come to play with me?” whispered the voice, now closer. In fact, Carlos thought he had felt someone breathing down his neck...
He took a deep breath, and turned around slowly, only to face… a little girl! Heaving a sigh of relief, Carlos examined the figure. She wore a red bow on her head, and seemed to be snuggling under her cyan jacket while staring up at him. He was baffled; what was a little girl doing alone on the road at dusk?
“Hello there, where are your parents?” questioned Carlos, ” And how did you get here?”
The little girl frowned. “Answer my question first!” she grumbled.
Carlos sighed. He promised the girl he would play with her after she told him where her parents were. ‘Such inconsiderate parents’, he thought, ‘leaving their kid wandering around the streets at night’. The girl introduced herself as Mia. She explained that she went for a picnic with her parents, and got lost when she went to play in the woods. Carlos felt a pang of sympathy for the girl and decided to walk her home. Maybe his mother would know what to do.
Mia and Carlos strolled along the dark road, with only the street lamps and stars to lead them. The cheerful chatter could be heard between the two, as Carlos chatted and told jokes to brighten the little girl’s spirits. Mia looked into his eyes while giggling softly. However, he noticed that the sparkle in her eyes looked so faded and lost despite her young age. It was almost as if the flaming spirit inside of her had been extinguished.
“Look, we’re here!” exclaimed Carlos, shrugging off his thoughts.
They had just arrived at his house, and his mother was walking to and fro at the entrance, clearly anxious. Mia smiled and thanked him for all his help, as he ushered her into the house.
“Carlos, there you are! I was worried sick, what took you so long?” scolded his mother, running to embrace him in a tight hug.
“I’m sorry mom,” apologised Carlos, “ I was walking home when I found this lost girl. Her name is Mia, and I was wondering if you could call the police station to help find her parents.” he explained, nudging Mia to greet his mother.
“Hello ma’am,” mumbled Mia, staying behind Carlos.
Carlos’ mother looked at him with a raised eyebrow, “Carlos, that’s funny, but you don’t need to make up a silly excuse for being late.”
Carlos was baffled, “What do you mean, mother? I found her alone in the woods, I couldn’t just leave her there” Carlos.
Now his mother was clearly irritated, “Carlos, don’t test me. Do you take me for a fool?”
Carlos was puzzled. He turned to Mia and pushed her forward. He told his mother to let Mia explain what happened, but instead his mother backed away. Mia giggled, much to his surprise.
“Play with me,”she abruptlu said cheerily.
“Stop it, Carlos,” his mother warned, “I know this is another one of your pranks, and you can stop now,” she stammered.
“She said she was lost mom, you of all people know I wouldn’t randomly bring strangers into the house!” argued Carlos, insulted that his mother would think he did such a thing.
“Play with me,” hissed Mia, now with a hint of anger.
His mother’s face turned pale. She whisked out her phone and snapped a picture of Carlos and Mia. Baffled, Carlos opened his mouth to ask a question, when his mother showed the photo to him. Carlos felt his blood run cold. He was unable to believe his eyes, and even rubbed them before glancing again at the picture.
“PLAY WITH ME!!!” shrieked Mia.
The picture showed a furious Carlos, but Mia did not show up in the photo. Speechless, he turned around and pointed while saying, “But she’s right over-”
There was no one there.
Suddenly, Carlos heard the same shrill voice in his ear, and shuddered as it coldly whispered, “You didn’t keep your promise…”
It’s Terror Time
Sitting by the Willow tree
Two children as silly as can be
Enjoying their time together
Despite the cloudy weather
No storm can keep them
From playing leap frog
Or trying to throw sticks into the bog.
Susie: (smiles) Hey, Bob— would you like to build a-?
Bob: If you say snowman~ I’ll have to stop you right there. It never snows here in Warth. You know that already, Susie. I don’t have to remind you that every single day. (sighs)
Susie: (laughs) Oh, come on. You never know...I believe in miracles..okay.
Bob: (shakes his head) Keep believing, Susie. I wouldn’t want to crush your faith in such a long hoped for miracle...
Susie: (snaps her fingers) Hello there, Bob? What are you staring at? Huh?
Bob: (points toward the willow tree) Did you see that?
Susie: What are you talking about? I didn’t see anything.
Bob: Don’t you see the crows circling around the Willow tree?
Susie: No, I don’t see any crows.
Bob: (gulps) Susie (he spoke in a hushed tone) Susie, we need to head back in the house. Play time is over.
Susie: No. I still want to play on the swing and pick some sunflowers.
Bob: The swing will still be here even tomorrow morn’. Now Susie, when I tell you to run— run-
Susie: (sniffs) Bob? Bob, where are you?
Bob: (shaking) Run, Susie, Run!
Susie: (looks around & dashes toward the farm house)
Bob: (sobs) I know you’re out here. Don’t you dare hurt little Susie.
A cloaked figure stepped out of the shadows. It stretched out its claws. Bob tried to run, but his feet were frozen to the ground.
The razor sharp claws tore the kid’s chest apart. His lungs were pulled out & swallowed whole by the cloaked figure.
As soon as he snapped his claws, he vanished. The crows in the Willow tree flapped their wings & flew toward what was left of Bob.
Their beaks pulled at some flesh left on his bones and other organs that had been left torn into shreds like pieces of meat.
The Surprise Was Mine
I was so excited to be meeting my best girlfriend whom I hadn’t seen for a few years, at the airport. I knew we had a lot to catch up on but I was shocked when I saw her carrying a small girl in her arms. There would be time for questions when we got back to my home so I didn’t ask the circumstances of her child. And I have to admit that I was a little bit jealous because my husband, Theo, and I had been trying to have a baby for a very long time. Theo was on a business trip so this was the perfect time to enjoy visiting with my friend.
After I had shown her to her room and she had freshened up, she joined me on the back porch for a glass of lemonade and milk and cookies for little Teddie Ann. We started with small talk but I was dying to ask about her child.
Finally, I asked, “Who is Teddie Ann’s father? Did you get married or divorced? I’m not making judgment calls, you understand. I’m just glad you have such a beautiful little girl.”
And the child was gorgeous with long black curls and blue eyes with dark lashes. I really wished she were mine. I quietly wiped away a tear.
“Will you get me a Kleenex out of my purse,” my friend, Jan, asked her little girl in order to get her out of the room. “This child is a love child but it didn’t work out and he decided not to leave his wife,” she said sorrowfully.
That night, something began eating away at the back of my mind. “Why did Teddie Ann look so familiar? Did I know her father?” All of a sudden, I glanced at a picture of my husband. He was so handsome in his navy suit with his black wavy hair and brilliant blue eyes. All of a sudden, it dawned on me that Teddie Ann was his. No wonder Jan had left so quickly several years ago.
The next day, I went down to the basement where Jan was washing her clothes. I picked up a short piece of clothesline and tightened it around her neck until she wasn’t breathing. I grabbed a shovel and began digging a hole in the floor where I buried her. Next, I called a tradesman to put in a new basement floor. I would tell Theo that I had adopted this child when he came home from his trip, knowing he would be thrilled.
Next, I went up to Jan’s bedroom and began taking her belongings out of her suitcase to get rid of them. There in the bottom was an envelope with ‘birth certificate’ written on it. Imagine my horror, when I saw the name of the father. It wasn't my husband!
Where am I?
This was the strangest museum I’d ever walked through. The portraits moved, if you remember Munsch’s Scream, then you know what I was seeing. They wavered between the scream and their natural face, which I surmise is how they looked whenever the demonic device took their photo. The silence in the endless hall was complete. I couldn’t even hear my heels clicking on the mirror like granite promenade.
Cautiously I approached the two last portraits and noticed the slight shaking of their heads. I looked up and there it was. An ancient Browne camera. Sitting just past them, begging me to come touch, to hold the iconic symbol of the beginnings of photography.
The closer I got to the Browne, the more animated the screaming faces on the wall. Still the deadly silence, their voices unheard. I shook my head, there had to be something wrong with my ears. I could feel the tap of me shoes, I knew I was forming words, but nothing confirmed I’d made a single sound.
What was wrong with that camera? There had to be some connection between it and the two hundred portraits, each of them recognizable when they settled to their original capture by the camera. These were some of the most famous photographers of all time. Anson was the first. The faces continued down the hall, and since I would heed their warning, I turned back.
What was going on? I went right back to Anson. He’d been trapped here the longest. He was writing something. He’d managed to bring his hands into the picture, but it was backward. Like you see in your mirror in the car. Okay, I dug into my tote and pulled out my powder flipping it open. Turning my back to him, I watched what he was printing.
“This is the hall of fame; we were all listed as famous photographers at some point in our lives. Be careful of this dream. If you go past the end of the line, you’ll never wake, you’ll be trapped here with the rest of us. The camera is the first Browne ever made. The inventor’s soul is in it. He hates us for never giving him the honor he deserves and finds us in our dreams to steal our souls. What he thinks is a dream, is the moments before our death. We were never allowed to move on.”
Well that explains the silence, but why am I having a near death experience? I remember I was balanced on a rocky ledge trying to get a shot of the rainbow at the Seven Veils Falls. Oh, oh, what have I done to myself?
Her heart pounded in her chest, as loud as the thumping on the door in front of her. She tried to shrink down more and a shiver was sent down her spine througout her whole body when she heard a voice whisper menacingly, "Oh, little pooh bear, I know you're in there."
Fear paralyzed her as the voice continued.
"You can't hide from me forever, pooh bear. I'll get you eventually. This is gonna be a fun game we play here." She heard a sliding on the outside of the door, so she assumed he had sat down.
"Oh my little pooh bear~
I'll love you forever,
I'll make sure you are mine for eternity
I'll break down every wall you put between us
because you are mine
and I always take whats mine
no matter what I have to do
so, pooh bear, you better come out right now.
I'll kill your family." He sang this part, making it a haunting melody that would stay in her mind for the rest of her life. Shakilly she stood up, having to grab the wall to stay standing.
"I'm coming out, okay?" She whimpered, terrified.
"So you finally decided to come to your senses pooh bear~" he said this tauntingly, knowing he had succeeded.
"I'll stay with you, just don't hurt my family." She said, gaining a bit of her strength back, walking to the door that seemed miles away. After what seemed like an eternity, she grasped the doorknob.
"I'm opening the door now." She uttered, the terror making its way back into her bones. She turned the doorknob slowly, and opened the door, revealing the eyes that had haunted her nightmares for years, and will stay by her side for the rest of her life.
"Theres my pooh bear!" He exclaimed, eyes still glowing with menace. He wrapped her in a suffocating, too tight hug, and whispered in her ear, "You're mine forever pooh bear~"
Upon entering out of the harsh winds, it is evident that no one else is here. The evening
twilight is setting in. The room is dimly lit with only faint light coming through the
windows to assist visuals. The wind is blowing heavily outside. Scraps of debris, dirt and
leaves thrash against the outside walls because of its force. The powerful sound of the
wind twisting the structure's wooden frame echo throughout the eerie interior and create
a slight concern for the stability of the structure. As wind whips around the outside
extremities of the structure, a gut-wrenching howling sound is emitted in various tones
You quickly reach over to the light switch to flick it on.
It doesn't work. Electricity must be knocked out. Not to worry, you have a flashlight in a
drawer. Hopefully the batteries are still good.
You walk over to the drawer, slowly and partially blind and get the flashlight out. You
hurry to switch it on but it's dim and you can still barely see. You slap it a couple of times
but that's not helping much. You hear another slap sound that you didn't make coming
from further away. You freeze and become completely silent as you listen as hard as you
can for the noise to repeat itself; but it doesn't. You figure it was just an echo of what you
where just doing and try to forget about it. This has all been taking time and the twilight
is starting to darken completely. You have to think quick. You remember you have some
decoration candles on the kitchen table but where's a lighter or some matches? Oh yes,
you remember that drawer with all the miscellaneous crap in it; there must be one in
there. On your way to get it, you hear the front door obviously open and let a burst of
wind in and finally slam shut. It startled you but also relieved you because you knew who
it was. After digging around in the drawer for a minute the flashlight burns out. You grab
the lighter and shout, "I'm coming, had to get something to light some candles, can you
believe this storm?!
No one answers and you instantly know something is wrong. You slowly, carefully and
quietly feel your way back to the table. The room has become pitch black without even
the smallest light from the weak flashlight. You put the palm of your hand on the table
and slide it forward to try and feel where the candle is. In it's near, the air around your
hand becomes warmer than where you were standing. You feel the candle and then grab it
with a trembling hand. You click the lighter once and it creates a spark but it does not
light. On your next try, the flash brightens up something very large that is quietly sitting
at the table and watching you with a very large smiling mouth full of blood-soaked, razor-
sharp teeth and a knife and fork planted in each of its hairy beast-like paws...
Hateful is the Heart
Anger is like a water leak. It doesn’t burn or smolder. It doesn’t consume, like wrath or rage. It can be a subtle thing in the beginning, but a lethal one. It seeps inside and leaks into the vulnerable places. It takes the path of least resistance and drips into the chasms and holes, accumulating, and soaking through everything in its path. It spreads on the inside, slowly, but thoroughly. From there, it rots everything it touches. And usually, by the time you notice it, the damage is already done.
The delivery man parked his van at the dusty clearing at the top of the hill where the path snaked down to an old cabin nestled into the hillside and dug through his packages while the soothing sounds of AC/DC thumped in his AirPods.
“Last one, thank fucking christ,” he mumbled to himself.
It was his last delivery of his shift and he was sore from a day in the truck carrying so many boxes of other people’s shit, he just wanted to get home to his couch and a six-pack. He stumbled a little down the steep walk and escorted the package up to the front door. He rested the box between his thigh and the doorframe as he reached over to ring the doorbell. He thought he heard some shouting, and maybe someone dropping something heavy, then quiet.
“Fucking weirdos out here, I’m out of here” he mumbled again. He set the box down and was just about to turn away when the door opened and he found himself facing a manic looking man with an untamed mop of red hair and a crazed look in his eyes. The house smelled terrible and looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for months.
The delivery man was just about to raise the electronic pad for a signature when the man shifted, in a subtle motion at first, then in a blur, and he felt the axe blade slam into his head.
Well he didn’t ACTUALLY feel it. That’s the funny thing about head wounds sometimes. He felt the pressure and he felt himself land on his back on the front porch. He felt the blood start to trickle down his face and tried to wipe it away with his left hand, but his body was already useless. He didn’t feel any pain, though, just shock and fear. The man picked up his feet and began to drag him into the house leaving a trail of blood behind. Through the hallway and wreck of a living room they went, and down the stairs to the basement.
Thump, thump, thump. The delivery man’s head bounced off each step and he was carried to a stop in front of an old well pump. He was grateful then, as grateful as you can be with an axe in your head, that whatever that blade had done had removed his ability to feel pain, because the red-haired man ripped the axe out of his skull and started to go to work. Disassemble the body, make it just a pile of meat. It makes an easier job for the chemicals and it’s easier to look at if it’s not looking back. Easier on the eyes, easier on the soul. He started with the feet and worked his way up.
The last thing the delivery man saw and heard was the red-haired man pausing his gruesome work and looking up, across the basement with wild eyes, and shouting, “BE QUIET! LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO! JUST BE QUIET!”
Then he fell to his knees, gagged, and vomited a thick stream of steaming red liquid on the basement floor. It mixed with the growing pool of blood and seeped into the french drains around the basement. The delivery man’s eyes rolled back into what was left of his head, and the world went dark.
Andrew Dobbs used to have a great life, or at least that’s what he wanted everyone to believe, and what he wanted to believe about himself. He was a writer in New York and lived in Brooklyn. He went to artsy bars and sipped craft cocktails and dated a model. When he went home for visits, his family would love to hear about his latest stories and the gossip from the city. He loved this last part best of all. His parents had always been hard on him, expecting great things, and he relished their impressed smiles when he casually told them about his girlfriend’s modeling gigs, or which celebrity he ran into at the neighborhood bar.
But as those old adages go, “you have to love yourself before others can love you,” and “confidence is king.” Dobbs loved nothing but the image of the lifestyle he was living and how it made others look at him. The problem was that most of it was a lie.
The only things Dobbs had ever successfully published were two poems in the monthly leaflet of a local coffee shop, so if that makes him a writer, he was a bad one, and he never actually made any money doing it. His day job was as a tutor and proctor at a test prep company where he spent his days getting talked down to by rich kids and their obnoxious parents.
He did live in Brooklyn and drink fancy cocktails, but most of the money came from his girlfriend who had a brief but successful modeling career. But she knew that wasn’t a long term position and was now working as a paralegal and was planning to use a chunk of that money for law school. Since she’d left the industry she’d also gained some weight. Not a ton, and she was still beautiful by any stretch, but that’s not what Dobbs had envisioned when he cultivated this story of his life.
Dobbs was a shallow man and cared deeply for that image. But when you scratched the surface of the image, the deep flaws underneath became clear. The problem for Dobbs was that life didn’t just scratch at the surface. Life sawed deep through skin, muscle, and fat, and dug right into the marrow.
At first, he brought it on himself. His dad was a real man’s man, and he was raised to care deeply about what the old misogynist thought of him. His dad loved that his son dated a model and showing off his girl wasn’t the same now that she wasn’t a size 0. He started to push her a little about letting herself go. But unlike Dobbs, she was confident in who she was, and didn’t tolerate that for a second. She dumped him then and there and changed the locks. There went the craft cocktails and the apartment in Brooklyn. He couldn’t afford to live in New York on a tutor’s salary.
Drip, drip, drip.
With her went most of their friends. He had to move across the river into Jersey, and even the friends that weren’t pissed at him were harder to hang out with. He had to commute back to Secaucus at the end of each day while they drank in swanky bars and comedy clubs. At first they took the effort to invite him, knowing he could rarely come, but even that eventually slowed down. They were forgetting all about Dobbs.
Drip, drip, drip.
He stopped going home, it was harder to maintain the charade. All he wanted was to impress his parents, he loved them in his damaged kind of way, and hated them. But he wanted them to love him too. But it was harder to impress them with his new life. He didn’t want to come crawling back until he righted the ship.
That made it hurt all the more when he learned that the colds they’d had were more than colds. The novel virus had sickened them and claimed them both within twelve hours of each other. In his anger and bitterness he hadn’t even gotten to say goodbye.
He looked around at his dingy Secaucus apartment and decided there was nothing more for him here. His parents had left him their cabin and a decent amount of money. And all that was waiting for him in Secaucus and New York was anger and betrayal. So he packed up and moved home, this time alone.
The cabin, nestled into the hillside, was small but well maintained with sweet smelling gardens and mountain views. “I can reinvent myself here,” he thought, but then the nights came, and with them the loneliness. He would spend them drinking and calling his old friends, inevitably venting about his problems and all he had lost. At first they heard him out. Friends would stay on the phone long into the night, but after time they would stop taking his calls, or cut him off short. They got compassion fatigue and didn’t have the time for him that they used to.
He probably should have moved on with building his new life, and left the old wreckage behind. But he just got more and more angry, and more and more resentful. “Nobody cares about Andrew Dobbs”.
His rage built and built, and perhaps not surprisingly, he actually started to do some pretty good writing. He lost weight, and not in a healthy way. He lived off beer and cheese sandwiches and his pen issued wrath and violence onto the page. It didn’t calm him, and he felt ever more the victim. He got tunnel vision, and his world started to blur.
One day he was nursing a bottle of Shiner Bock on the phone with unemployment. He hadn’t applied to jobs, and they informed he was going to lose his unemployment benefits. He still had some money from his parents, but this was a huge loss.
“Fuck!” he screamed as he slammed the phone to the ground. He walked in a couple of loose circles as his head swam with rage. “FUCK!” he scream again as he slammed his fist against the wall of the cabin. It went all the way through up to his elbow. He pulled his hand out in pain and stared in surprise at his bloody knuckles, then at the hole in the wall. Behind the wall was a gap between the sheetrock and the exterior wall, at least 18 inches deep. “Maybe it’s for the pipes, or electric?” he thought.
He reached forward and pulled a piece of drywall off the damaged wall, just enough to be able to fit his head in and get a look around. It was dark inside and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but it looked to be just a gap for plumbing and electrical, though larger than he would have expected. He looked to the left and saw nothing, then looked to the right and saw … what? He jerked his head out of the hole, banging it on the drywall on his way out. As he rubbed his head he tried to calm himself. He could have sworn he saw a person inside the wall. A woman, impossibly thin and pale, slinking inside the walls of his house. Her hair thin, black, and stringy. The way she moved was wrong. He had to have imagined it. He felt sick to his stomach.
He noticed then the growing pain in his hand, and the swelling was already starting. He was dripping some blood on the floor. He grabbed his beer and headed off towards the bathroom to clean it, but not without taking one last suspicious look at the wall. He’d fix that hole tomorrow.
The next time he saw something, it was a few days later. He’d been having vicious nightmares and his sleep was troubled. One night he was thrashing in his dreams and rolled out of bed onto the hardwood floor. He jolted awake in pain and as he rolled over he looked under his bed. On the other side, standing up, he saw pale white feet, veiny, with signs of rot and decay. He thought he was still sleeping but the pain in his back and his hand let him know he was awake.
The feet started to walk towards the edge of the bed. He quickly got to all fours and crawled to the end of the bed and looked around just as the feet should be turning the corner, but he saw nothing. The room spun and he felt sick again. He wretched once and threw up on the floor, mostly liquidy water and beer, but mingled with blood. He stood up slowly, looking around his empty room, and wandered off towards the kitchen. That would be enough sleep for tonight,
He saw things more often after that. One morning while sipping his coffee he looked out the windows on his back deck and saw, just for a moment, a pale woman in a white nightgown in the distance hanging by her neck from a tree, at least 60 feet up. He blinked and shook his head. When he looked again she was gone. While showering he washed the soap out of his eyes and opened them, looking through the glass shower door and saw the woman in the nightgown with her stringy black hair standing in the middle of the bathroom, looking at him, blurred out by steam and soap. When he wiped away the accumulation on the door, she was gone.
Dobbs felt alone and scared, but most of all he felt angrier than ever. He was already betrayed and abandoned by everyone he knew, and now he couldn’t even trust his own mind. When would life give him a break?
But it all came to a head about a week later. Dobbs was drinking more and more to bury his feelings, and hide the visions of the pale woman who was always lurking in the corner of his eye. And one night, after a particularly vicious bout with a bottle of Cutty Sark, he called his ex-girlfriend, and for whatever reason, she picked up.
He paused for a moment, dumbfounded. He hadn’t expected to hear her voice. What we wanted to say was “I’m so sorry for how I treated you. I know how I tried to undermine your confidence and how much that must have hurt, I’m just a flawed man, dealing with a lot of trauma, but I always loved you.”
But, the anger…
What he really said was, “How could you fucking do this to me? After all I did for you! Just cast me aside and ruin everything? How fucking could you?!!”
She hung up immediately, and he turned and in a fit of rage threw his phone through the sliding glass door over his deck. Breathing heavily, he turned back around, and there she was, in plain view.
She wore only a ripped white nightgown. Her skin was white and lined with blue veins, stretched tight over her bones except for the areas where it was swollen and darkened with wet gangrene. Her arms were longer than they should have been, stretching to her knees. Her chest rose and fell with wet, rasping breaths. Her mouth was a ruined mess, with a few remaining teeth putrefying in rotting gums. But it was stretched into a vicious smile, wider than should have been possible. She smiled ear to ear, as if she was thrilled by his rage and misfortune. But the worst part was her eyes. They were dead and rotting, but her gaze pierced through him all the same. Those eyes were so full of hate, hate, hate. A deeper hate than he had ever seen.
He stumbled backwards over the coffee table and fell. She inched forward with those wheezing excited breaths. Hate, hate, hate. And relish. He got up and ran to the bathroom where he collapsed over the toilet, vomiting red liquid. When his stomach was empty he looked back up, but there she was, in the doorway of the bathroom, watching him, with hate in her eyes.
She was always there from then on out, and Dobbs’ world crumbled more and more. She whispered to him, though he couldn’t make out her words. His vision was always blurred and he constantly felt the hum of her presence. It used to be that there was blood in his vomit, now he was throwing up pure red at least once a day.
She would follow him around the house. When he tried to call someone on the phone, she would put her face right next to his the entire time, watching him with those hate filled eyes. When he woke up from whatever sleep he managed to drink himself into the night before, she was crouched on his dresser, her legs splay out and her arms hanging between them almost all the way to the floor. Always with that fucking grin. Always with the hate.
The trees and grass around the house withered away to nothing. Everywhere there was a stench, and sickness, and death.
One day, Dobbs couldn’t take it anymore, and he went to the shed to get his father’s axe to put an end to this. He stumbled back into the house with the axe and walked straight to the living room where she was crouching in that horrible pose on the coffee table. He walked right up and swung the axe at her with all his strength.
The axe crashed right through the coffee table as the woman chuckled, now crouched on the back of a rocking chair swaying slowly back and forth.
Dobbs looked down in dismay, then lifted the axe in front of his face and looked directly at the blade. Maybe this wasn’t for her after all. Maybe it was for him the whole time. Could he kill himself with an axe like this? How? He couldn’t swing it at himself, but he could slit his throat.
He started to lift the axe to his neck as the woman wheezed and cackled and watched with those hateful eyes. The pumping of his blood and the laughter was deafening and he felt the bile rising in his throat again, and then everything was interrupted by a loud buzz.
Dobbs stopped and looked at the woman, still smiling, but not laughing. The doorbell? He dropped the head of the axe which hit the ground with a loud thud. And looked back at the hall. Someone was at the door. He walked slowly to the door, dragging the axe behind him. He stood in front of the door and suddenly the woman was to his right, so close her nightgown almost brushed his arm, never taking her eyes off of him.
He ripped the door open and stared at the obviously startled delivery man. There were a few beats of silence as he started to raise his electronic tablet, and Dobbs slammed the axe blade into his head.
There was a streak of blood, and the man twitched and fell flat on his back, spasming as his nerves fired aimless, useless signals.
“Wha … why did I … what did I just do?” Dobbs gasped to himself.
“Yeessssssss, yeeeeesssssss,” wheezed the woman.
“I ... uh … I have to get rid of this.” Dobbs paced the hallway for a few frantic laps and then picked up the delivery man’s feet and dragged him into the house and down into the basement with the axe still protruding from his skull. He had barrels and lye down there. He could make this go away. He dragged the body to the corner, put his foot on the man’s chest, and ripped the axe from his skull.
Too big for the buckets, gotta take it apart. Disassemble the body, easier to dispose of meat.
He went to work with his axe. Then he looked up and she was back in the corner of the basement, her smile wider than ever, her joyous wheezing absolutely deafening.
“BE QUIET!” He yelled. “LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO! JUST BE QUIET!” Then he fell to his knees and felt the familiar retching. He bent over in the growing pool of blood and vomited out a pure stream of liquid hate onto the basement floor. It mingled with the blood and seeped into the french drains. Death spread around the cabin.
Of course, the delivery man’s van had a GPS tracker, and when he didn’t check in, the company reported its location to the police, who arrived to find the cabin a house of horrors. Everything within 50 yards of the cabin, every tree, every blade of grass, was dead. Inside they found the cabin coated in refuse and a red liquid. And down in the basement they found two barrels full of dissolving body parts, and a scrawny red-haired man, who looked more like a wild animal than a person, shivering alone in the corner.
He made no fight as they took him away. He was eager to go. He just looked between them as they dragged him away, where only he could see the woman now clinging to the ceiling, staring back at him, her head twisted around 180 degrees. All he wanted in the world was to be rid of her.
That didn’t happen though. He wished it was the house that was haunted, but that had never been the case. He was obviously incompetent to stand trial, so they committed him to a mental hospital and locked him in a small white room. And the woman was there at the foot of his bed when he awoke and she watched him through the small window in his door as he paced the room. And he hated her. He hated her so much. And at least once a day he vomited pure liquid hate into the drain in the corner of his room.
When he had been in the cabin, the damage had been contained. The cabin was on a septic system. So when the hate leached out from the septic field it could only harm what it could touch. But the hospital was on city water, where it would be cleaned, reclaimed, and reused. Water spreads easily, and so does anger.
Like a water leak, Dobbs’ contagion spread.
A water leak takes the path of least resistance. It seeps into the vulnerable places first, and some places are more receptive than others.
Sophie sits her water glass down on the counter and leans her head over the sink, breathing deeply. Her three kids scream behind her, falling over the sofa and throwing plastic toys. She tries to drown out the cries of “Mommy! Mommy!” but her head is swimming. The kids have been more difficult of late, needier, and she could just use a few moments to herself. Her youngest runs into the doorway with his plastic sword and yells to her and she shouts, “Shut up! Everyone be quiet! Mommy needs a minute!” And there is silence. Her kids stare at her from the living room before running off. She wouldn’t normally shout like that. She doesn’t know why the stress is getting to her this way, but her heart is racing. She shouldn’t yell like that, and she’s embarrassed. She’s a good mom, and she knows they won’t remember. She coughs up a bit of blood into the sink and stares at the glass of Pinot Grigio. Maybe it’s time to cut back.
Dave sits at the neighborhood bar after a rough shift. His arms and legs are burning, he feels like he’ll always have dust in his eyes. He’s glad work is done but he feels like there’s a rage just simmering beneath the surface and he doesn’t know why. He wishes he could just relax, but he watches the blood pump in the veins in his hands. As he raises his beer a man in a soccer jersey bumps into him and he spills it on his shirt. “Sorry mate!” the man shouts, but Dave spins around with rage in his eyes and grabs the man by collar. His friends try to pull him off, but Dave’s muscles are carved like stone after 25 years of hauling rebar and positioning I-beams. He throws the kid down and empties his gums before his friends pull him away. Weeks later he’s coughing up blood into his handkerchief in his lawyer’s office as they settle out of court.
Ronald sits in his car watching the hookers on the street ahead of him, his hands twitch with trepidation and fear. He’s got chloroform, zip ties, and a snub-nosed revolver in the passenger seat and a bone saw and a roll of plastic sheeting in the trunk. He’s not sure he should go through with this, but he can’t stomach his anger anymore. There’s too much profanity and depravity in the world, and those responsible need to suffer. Later, after he’s dumped the plastic wrapped pieces into the swamp, he falls to his knees and vomits up a stream of liquid hate, turning the swamp toxic.
There’s no apocalypse, no mass destruction. Society doesn’t break apart, but it bends, and more and more people are crushed in the bending.
Eventually, politicians and activists will wonder “how did we get here?” They’ll propose campaigns and community engagement, but it’s not that simple. It drips, and drips, and drips.
Dobbs will never be free again. But he sits in his room and he listens to the radio the orderly plays on his desk outside in the hallway. He hears about the violence, the neglect, the rape, and the murder. And he smiles. He smiles so wide he thinks his mouth might tear open. He smiles wider than he should be able to, and he feels the burning hate behind his eyes. Because Dobbs may still be angry, he may be angry forever, but he knows he’s no longer alone.
Eventually Dobbs will be gone, but he will never REALLY be gone. And one of these days you or someone you know might get so angry you feel like your world is ending, and you’ll punch through a wall and you’ll see a face there staring back at you, pale and decayed, with a mop of red hair, a hideous grin, and those eyes full of hate, hate, hate.
Maybe you can turn back at that point. Or maybe not. After all, you’re feeling the drips now, and by the time you see the signs, the damage is already done.
Whilst investigating the death of a local scout, an intuitive lawyer called Barry Jones uncovers a legend about a supernaturally-cursed, squidgy newspaper circulating throughout Africa. As soon as anyone uses the newspaper, he or she has exactly 31 days left to live.
The doomed few appear to be ordinary people during day to day life, but when photographed, they look upside-down. A marked person feels like a cosy maggot to touch.
Barry gets hold of the newspaper, refusing to believe the superstition. A collage of images flash into his mind: a squat rat balancing on a skinny scout, an old newspaper headline about a boating accident, a hooded mouse ranting about elbows and a drinking well located in a grey place.
When Barry notices his thighs have maggot-like properties, he realises that the curse of the squidgy newspaper is true and calls in his nephew, a nurse called Toby Blacksmith, to help.
Toby examines the newspaper and willingly submits himself to the curse. He finds that the same visions flash before his eyes. He finds the squat rat balancing on a skinny scout particularly chilling. He joins the queue for a supernatural death.
Barry and Toby pursue a quest to uncover the meaning of the visions, starting with a search for the hooded mouse. Will they be able to stop the curse before their time is up?
Gary cuddled on the couch with his fiance, every now and then giving her a kiss, as they watched a scary movie. The movie had gotten to the climax and so had Gary and the fiance, they were paying no attention to the movie and all they heard was a dark melody, setting their tone.
A minute into the climax there was a thump from above and they both jumped off the couch, hurriedly flattening out their clothing, the thump came again and they both looked up. The finance dashed out the door suddenly leaving Gary behind to face the thump.
He stared after her then called 911 but the line was busy. He pulled a butter knife from the counter as fast as he could, not carring it was dirty.
He walked over towards the stairs and looked up into the dark. He tip toed up the stairs and faced all the closed doors. He had to choose one, he went to check the bathroom first.
All was good in the bathroom except for something laying in the tub, he gasped and looked in fearing the worst. It was just a pair of his underpants, he sighed. He turned around to face a man.
The man was standing in all dark clothing, facing him. Only his red eyes could be seen from under the mask he was wearing. The word he muttered struck fear into Gary and yet when Garies finance was thrown in front of him, dead, he was even more fearful.
“What...wh... are you... doing?” Gary muttered and dropped to his knees. Yet his life was over, the boom sounded and the man disappeared, it was a week later when Garies and his finances bodies were recovered. There was no sign of the man who killed them.
Pickman’s Virtual Model
My brother began hacking because he believed there was more to the universe than we currently knew. Or, more accurately, were allowed to know.
He didn’t subscribe to the idea that the world was secretly run by a consortium of elitist illuminati in cahoots with the reptilian overlords who lived underground, but he strongly suspected that there was some knowledge that governments deemed unsuitable for public knowledge. On many occasions, Howard had told me that the line ‘not wanting to cause public panic’ was just a ruse to keep information suppressed.
‘Aliens,’ he answered when I’d asked him what type of secrets he suspected were being kept from us. ‘Sasquatch. Chupacabra. The Loch Ness monster.’
‘You think there’s a conspiracy to hide the existence of Nessie?’ I joked.
‘Possibly,’ he answered seriously. ‘Think about it, Phillip. If the British government discovered and studied whatever giant aquatic creature lives there, they’d be one step closer to adapting it to a sea-going weapon.’
Howard creased up at the thought. ‘Okay,’ he laughed, ‘so Nessie was a bad example. But can you honestly say you wouldn’t put it past the US Army to want to recruit and train an army of Bigfoot? No matter how ridiculous it may sound, it sure gives an incentive to keep any discovery of such a creature under wraps.’
‘And you think you can hack into some evidence of this?’
’Absolutely. When a cryptozoologist creature is found, the first people the government are going to call are the leading professors in nature and biology. Now, those experts will probably be bound by NDAs but somewhere there will be an electronic trail. Emails between the brainiacs, conference calls with the top brass. Somewhere, there will be a hackable conversation which would bring it all to light.
‘And I’m going to find it.’
When I saw him the following week, Howard was animated in his excitement.
‘You’ve found something?’ I asked, incredulous.
‘I’ve found nothing,’ he said with glee.
I shrugged, lost for words in my confusion.
‘I’ve found nothing,’ he repeated, ‘where there should be something.’
‘I... I don’t follow.’
‘You know how the internet works?’
‘I’m familiar with Google and Amazon, if that helps.’
Howard pulled a face at me.
‘They’re the face of the web,’ he said. ‘Do you know how it works behind the screen?’
I had a rudimentary understanding of binary and I knew that every computer has an IP address, though I had no idea what that was. As the internet was essential birthed in the USA, I assumed it involved a zip code rather than a post code.
I guessed Howard could tell the limits of my computing knowledge from my blank expression when he said, ‘Please don’t tell me you actually think the cloud is in the sky?’
‘No,’ I retorted. In truth, I’ve never given any thought to where it is.
‘All the big IT companies have banks of servers.’
‘Yeah, we’ve got one at work. I know because I keep getting the “unable to connect to server” error.’
‘Yes, most companies have servers,’ Howard relented, ‘it’s what allows all the individual nodes – computers – to communicate. But the big IT companies have masses of them. Like, roomfuls. Maybe even entire floors made up of servers.’
‘And they connect to the cloud?’
‘No.’ He rolled his eyes at my ignorance. ‘Suppose you created webpage and saved it internally on your laptop’s hard drive.’
I nodded. I recognised the words, at least.
‘Well, even if I could normally remotely access your laptop, I wouldn’t be able to open the file if your laptop is switched off. But if you saved it to a server then, even when your laptop is off, people can still visit your webpage.’
‘So these floors of servers are the cloud?’
‘Yes. Every company that has a website, from big businesses to the local caff, all store their content on servers somewhere. All the servers connect to one another to create a globally interconnected network.’
‘The inter net,’ I said. Howard has a circuitous way of teaching me things, but I do learn from him. ‘But that’s something. And it’s been around for decades. You haven’t found it.’
‘I’m just getting to that bit. All these servers store all the webpages that exist. Everything from the lyrics of Tom’s Diner to the history of Polish cooking. Which means the servers are pretty full.’
‘Okay,’ I said, but it more of a question because I still wasn’t following him.
‘Well, I’ve written an algorithm to determine the free space of any targeted server, or bank of servers. This is Telehouse North.’ He waved at one of his two screens.
An outline of a cube rotated slowly, blinking rapidly as it refreshed in real time. Much of the shape was solid, except for a fraction of one corner. Beneath the picture was the legend: ‘Capacity: 98%.’
‘The overall polygon represents the total capacity of the servers. The shaded volume displays the used content which leaves the hollow volume as free space.’
He tapped a few buttons on his keyboard and the image was replaced with another. At least, I think it was; the only difference I noticed between the two was the lower capacity of 97%.
‘Colocation,’ Howard announced. More buttons, another near-identical image. ‘HostDime.’
‘I don’t know what I’m looking at or what you’re saying,’ I admitted.
‘I’m just showing you the normal working parameters of these corporate data centres. Floors of servers,’ he added when he saw he’d lost me with his technospeak. ‘This is the good one: the Ministry of Defence.’
He turned to look at me before tapping the last button.
This time I definitely saw a difference in the image. Although the size of the cube remained the same, less than half of it was filled in.
‘So, the MOD has a lot more free space. I don’t understand.’
Howard tapped the screen to bring my attention to the capacity: 100%.
Assuring me that his algorithm was working correctly, Howard explained that the MOD servers were completely full. The empty part of the display represented inaccessible data.
‘That’s not surprising,’ I reasoned. ‘I’m sure the Ministry of Defence has lots of data they don’t want the public to access. Names of spies, weapon blueprints, contingency plans for keeping the Prime Minister safe. The list is endless.’
‘You still don’t understand,’ Howard said, rolling his eyes again. ‘None of this is available to the public. It took me days to even discover this data centre. What’s hidden in these servers is inaccessible from everyone, even the MOD themselves. Which leads me to the question: why would they devote half of their storage space to something they cannot retrieve?’
I didn’t see Howard for the next three weeks, until he video-called me in the middle of the night. Unshaven and with unkempt hair, he looked dreadful.
I rubbed sleep from my bleary eyes and croaked a hello.
‘Phillip, I think I’ve found an in.’ Howard’s voice was strained, either from tiredness or excitement. ‘Something to do with the name Crowly and the date 12th October 1875. I’ve got no idea what they mean, but they’ve combined to open a path to the hidden files. I’m opening it now. You gotta come an-’
His voice was lost under a sharp ‘Kuh’ sound which fill his room. It was followed by a long ‘too’ which seemed to be issued by a hundred different voices. The noise raised the hairs on my neck and chased the last vestiges of sleep from me.
Our connection was lost just after the chilling voices began uttering ‘loo.’
Howard didn’t answer when I called him back. Something about the nature of those sounds put me on edge. Worried about my brother, I quickly dressed and rushed to his home.
Using my spare key to let myself in, I walked carefully through the darkness to Howard’s study. The house was silent. I was equally glad that those terrible voices had stopped and concerned that I couldn’t hear my brother tapping away on his keyboard.
At the door to his room, I paused. A primordial fear told me to leave, to run. I swallowed several times, summoning the courage to open the door. What if Howard needed me?
Regretting it even as I was doing it, I stepped into the study. The air was redolent with a metallic tang, something familiar yet unnameable. The only light came from the two screens by the PC. Even from this distance, over the high-backed office chair, I recognised the half-filled cube of the MOD servers.
My legs trembled as I approached the desk. I reached for the back of the chair and moved it aside. My hand came away sticky with blood and I then recognised the scent in the air. I had initially thought Howard was not in the room; now I realised he was everywhere in the room.
As my mind reeled at this shocking revelation, my eyes turned to the screen and I read the caption under the 3D model: ‘Capacity 47%.’
Howard had been successful in accessing the hidden parts of the MOD’s servers and had paid the ultimate price for doing so. Whatever had been secreted away, whatever had reduced Howard to a liquified mess, was now free from its prison. As it was no longer physically present in the room, I can only assume that it has returned to the internet.
Though it is anybody’s guess where it will next strike.