Browsing Category Horror

Hameln

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I watch carefully as it rests on my chaise lounge. Sat myself with hands sheathed to the elbows in claret, I have poured generously into his trembling glass, provided grapes with only slight hints of rough cutting. Its eyes settle somewhere between the top of my head and the oil painting of my parents. I have lived lonely in my castle for so long that the colour has all turned stale; the silk has turned to cobwebs. The velvet is so drenched with blood that we can no longer tell what is dye and what is death; how many gallons have been shed and soaked up. Sharp corners follow you always and catch echoes. There are a hundred long corridors fit for racing down, if one ever had a child or friend. Rocks have long shot out the ornate windows, and I have long ceased replacing the wood boards when they rot. Old visitors would complain of the dust and dim light, the china plates and furniture left to fall into ruin; the clock always oscillating between midday and midnight. The cracking paper, grown grotesque with points and curls that were once purple, shrinks from corners, like dewy lettuce leaves folding back. Remembering to smile with no teeth, my voice lilts to grow musical and warm – to soft-speak the shivering thing with tones of saffron into a haze of almost-sleep.

On moon days, when melancholy has held me in bed for weeks upon months, I rouse myself with force. I float along upturned soil, chin held up as though pulled by elastic threads and a heart that I batter with threats. At my best I need only the barest of weapons to convince my prey to come hither. Sometimes just a smile will do. You have never seen such unsettling perfection that will not age and derelict with her home: eyes and canines that bicker so silently over which will pierce you first. My hair rushes for the ground like cascades of worm silk; my face, so unfairly proportioned the religious villagers cursed me and would not look in my eyes.

And I have nothing to do these days but catch strays. Invite them in and serve cold duck; bewitch them rotten and take out each eye. These eyes, most nights, become ornament: crystalline bluebells for lonely corners, that whisper to the sparkling sea. I hang up their shirts to replace the curtains long nibbled at by moths, spend endless nights sewing pocket squares into bunting. And I butcher, and I ravage, and I sing myself to sleep.

Do not look in her eyes, do not look in her eyes, chant the old hags. Eyes are the mirror of your wanting: eyes are the black pits of lost light wherein flesh is soaked in and gobbled up.

Picking my claws and brittle teeth, I sit for days in front of my mirrors, tripping into ever so slightly distorted reflections till I cannot be sure who I am. I talk and pretend they talk back. Whole floors are filled with them, by now – huge and small things that reflect each other and myself. Of course, it is easy to get lost, in this maze of distillations. Sometimes they do all the work for me – disorientating the poor rabbit until days have gone by and you are just full of imploration to be eaten: to be devastated and annihilated by the most delicate set of ivory hands.

Raised to be appreciative of beautiful things, I display my prey as I have seen others do in huge mansions. I have stared many a decapitated fox in the glassy eye, conversing with its master over red wine and soft cheeses that were always poked through with little bulbs of garlic. They hoped to catch me out, I suppose, the superstitious people who were once my neighbours, and spat over their left shoulders whenever we talked of blood.

Revolted, however, by the thought of decapitation, I hang up my dead bodies by the neck. Marionette threads pass through small holes in each hand and foot, before my tall babies are suspended from the ceilings and walls. And they dance! Oh, do they dance – they jerk in beautiful harmony with me; spin and entangle themselves in their strings, so they can never be freed to run away. When I tangle in with them, stay pressed to the skin as it cools – oh, you have not known such loveliness. I rub my cheek against their chests, smiling at a stillness of heart alike my own. Mais je suis désolé, jeune fils –désolé, désolé – we ballet. I bewitch more men to help manage the strings, sometimes; when there are over twenty marionettes and I cannot coordinate the dance myself. They spiral, they pirouette – they flit like the velveteen bats blending impeccably into our sharp, melancholy-spangled nights of red and rich blue. Our days are only pale lavender for countable hours a year; they dissolve, clandestine, into dusk-ridden nights that sit witness to endless slaughter.

But not yet, not yet, my new-born men. First, I will cradle your infantine bodies. Depleted, you shall dance through cobwebs and pools of sinking vermillion, learning the most ancient of this family’s footsteps. Dust rouses, blushing chests splice open and deluge: cataclysms follow each other with no breathing space, in these withering turrets of derelict that home a once tender, young mellow of a girl. She comes back up for air, at brief moments, when I lower my cocoons into safe-spaces under the floorboards, to rest for long hours and recoup.

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Hazel

( 5 stars · 2 reviews )

The eyes were staring at me through the window, colder than the breeze that caresses a lake in the winter.

They were intimidating, but they didn’t scare me. In fact, they were interesting. Something within them was enough to whet the appetite of anyone that peered into them, and it was the only thing that was present in them. No feeling, no liveliness. Just the incomprehensible, captivating, tempting…

The year was 1985, and I was standing outside the front window of Schroeder’s Antiques, a quaint, unimpeachable store that stood on the edge of the street of Maple Lane. It was surrounded by a handful of other businesses and stores, so it was typically overlooked. Not by me, though. I had always loved that store. The smell of the old wood filling my nostrils always relaxed me, eased my nerves. Besides, it was a nice distraction from all of hullabaloo rummaging through the town.

It wasn’t everyday that something like this happened in a small town like mine. Four children murdered in a span of three weeks? It was almost too much to handle. The town was still trying to wrap its head around it, but I didn’t want to. I just tried to ignore it. I had to ignore it. Dark things had no business being in such a bright place. And I guess you could surmise that my mind was on the list of bright places. You know what thoughts like that could do to you.

But I couldn’t ignore the doll in the window. Those eyes. The way it stood in the window like he was waving at everyone on the other side. He had been there since the first murder. I could remember him so vividly, yet I don’t remember why. I had never stood outside the window of the store before, I had always gone in. But yet it still lingered in my mind that I had seen this particular doll before, felt it before. And though I couldn’t recall every exact detail of it, it appeared to me like garden variety on that day on Maple Lane. Some part of me could only place one singular plastic balloon in his hand when I had first seen him, but somehow he had four as I watched him that day.

The eyes that were gazing at me were queerly human-like. Mere yellow orbs with their own life inside of them, like they each had their own heart. And though they were plastic you could almost see the breath rising behind them. I knew it wasn’t the case, though. There was no way that a doll could be even remotely human-like. That was stuff that only happened in movies.

Even if the doll was a clown, and it resembled something so alive, like it did there in the front display of the store.

In the reflection on the window in front of the clown’s face, I could see Jax. My son with chocolate brown hair like mine whose eyes would light up when the sun glinted against them just right. My pride and joy, the one that made it seem like everything that was good in the world was thriving inside of him like glorious caged heat. Jax was seven-years-old, and he had the liveliest attitude I had ever seen. How thrilled would he be to see a doll like the clown in the window.

One of Jax’s favorite things was to go see the circus with his father whenever it came to town. I never came along — the circus had always creeped me out — but Jax would always come home cheering of all the remarkable things he had seen. The music, the acrobats, the animals. But he had always loved the clowns; those seemed to be his favorite.

So of course, when his dad left and never returned, it was hard to see something like that stolen from him. To Jax, the clowns were his father, and when his was father was gone, so were the memories. The saying goes to let the dead dog lie, but when the dog was something that Jax needed, then I couldn’t just turn my head and walk away. It was medicine that he lurched for.

I scrutinized the doll a little closer. His demeanor seemed to send chills backflipping down my spine. His skin was a pallid, porcelain white, a scarlet painted-on smile hung over his face like Christmas lights. Those eyes that were staring so intently at me were a bright hazel, narrowed almost to slits, like a cat’s. He was dressed in a rainbow jumpsuit, with red pom-poms running down his front, finished with oversized, orange shoes. Tufts of vivid, sunset-orange hair protruded from his hairline, rays of the sun circling his head.

With my hair tickling the nape of my neck, tugging my sweater closer around my body, I made a decision. Swinging the door open to the store, I strolled in, the familiar smell of the ancient oak overwhelming my senses, giving me a similar feeling of strong vellichor. It seemed like I was the only customer. There was only one other person in the store besides me: a short, stout man with a thick mass of curly, brown hair on his head, dressed in a red floral Hawaiian shirt tucked into worn jeans. He was standing behind the counter of the checkout desk, and he flashed me an amiable smile upon entering. Anything to keep a customer, I guess. Any other reason couldn’t service the forced smile on his face, and it wasn’t like this place was Disneyworld.

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The House At St. Joseph’s

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It was a hot late summer’s day, and as the sun’s rays were reflected on the glass of the estate agent’s window, it was difficult to see the houses they were advertising. James, a town guide who worked for the council, and Rosie, a newly qualified schoolteacher, were linking arms and looking at the descriptions. Their eyes suddenly latched on to one of the photographs.

The Old School House
Period property in need of modernisation. This is believed to date from the 16th Century, and was a former school.
Two bedrooms
Lounge / diner with large dormer window
Kitchen

Rosie gave James a squeeze. “Huns, this looks lovely. It’s just perfect. Can’t we go in now and make an offer? Please?”

James gave a nervous frown. “Look at the price. Can we afford it?”

“Darling, you’ve got a good job at the council. You could be a museum curator in ten years. By that time I could be a Head of Department. We can do it! Please say yes!”

Moments later they were through the door.

April 2019

Rosie stood in the centre of her new house. A fresh maroon carpet had been laid, a sofa nestled by the bay window, and many unpacked boxes littered the floor. She looked up.

“Don’t you love the smell of an old house? You can smell history, past loves, past conquests and romances and arguments!” James stood still. The smell reminded him of his time as a guide at Hatfield House, where he would take wide-eyed tourists to the room where the lives of kings were made and broken. “This is ours now”, he mused. “The panelling over the old beams will have to go though.

Rosie turned and smiled. “You know what? I’m knackered. We’ve still got all these boxes to unpack, but I just can’t face it right now. How about we get some fish and chips and get an early night?”

James gave her hand an affectionate squeeze. “Good idea! I’ll just pop down now. Have we unpacked the kitchen stuff yet?

“Yes – that’s one box I have done. See you in fifteen. I’ll be ready for you!” She gave him a broad smile.

It was just after Midnight when Rosie woke up with a start. She was sure she had heard something. She slipped on her kimono dressing gown and tiptoed down to investigate. A wine glass was lying shattered on the stone floor of the kitchen, its stem, still intact, pointing accusingly at her. She stood for a moment. She was sure she had unpacked all of the glasses, laid them in the cupboard above the sink in neat rows, and closed the door. She wasn’t so sure now. Maybe she had left the door open. Her memory was beginning to blur. She’d ask James in the morning. Determined to make no sound, she sidled gingerly up the stairs, opened the bedroom door, and very slowly and quietly eased it shut behind her.

The Easter Sun was streaming in through the bedroom window when James rolled over in bed and gave Rosie a kiss. “So how was your first night in our new bed?”

“Beautiful, slept like a baby”, Rosie lied

Maybe it was just a dream. Maybe it didn’t happen. Rosie slipped on her dressing gown again and crept downstairs. She always liked to have breakfast before she got dressed, something that often annoyed James, who stepped out of his side of the bed, slipped on a T shirt and shorts and followed her down, as Rosie turned towards him in the kitchen.

“Did you leave the cupboard door open last night?”

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Jury Duty

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“We the jury find the defendant guilty of six counts of murder in the first degree.”

With those words, three long months of sequestration was ended, and the twelve individuals who held the fate of Jonas Slab in their hands could go back to their lives. The trial had been intense- Slab was accused of murdering at least six people over the course of three years. The evidence was vile and nightmarish- more than one of the jurors had begun to have nightmares, and several talked frequently of needing the number of a good therapist.

It was not all bad. The jurors bonded. Tess- mother of three- and Abigail- grandmother of eight- had formed an almost mother/daughter bond. Reggie, Clive, and Zed had all decided it would be fun to go together to see their mutual favorite football team- the Houston Texans- play during the upcoming season. Sam and Liz had been flirting a lot during the time, and several jurors had actually placed bets on whether or not he would ask her out before the trial ended. Alexis and Ted won when after the previous night’s deliberation ended, Sam caught Liz in the hall and asked her to coffee after the verdict. Luis, Jeb, and Olga were just glad to be done.

Jonas Slab waived his right to appeal, and declared- “I just want it over with.” His execution was set for one year to the day after the trial concluded.

*****

They all received the notice about a week before the execution.

A jury summons.

They all had the same reaction- not surprising considering that they had just given three months of their lives the year before.

But a summons is law, so begrudgingly, they all showed up. Even though the location was at the old courthouse (Which they paid no attention to), and the summons was for eight in the morning (Which they did pay attention to).

When Reggie saw Alexis, he thought it odd that both of them would get called again. Olga, Liz, and Clive arrived next, then soon after all the rest were in the dark courtroom, in a vacant building. Ted was a contractor, and he noticed right away that the building was altered. But he couldn’t tell why.

Abigail noticed Liz and Sam were on opposite sides of the room. “Sam, did you not come with Liz?” Liz averted her eyes, and Sam gritted his teeth and mumbled, “We’re not together anymore.”

“Guys, something isn’t right,” Ted began. “This room has pipes it shouldn’t.”

Luis grunted. “It also has people it shouldn’t.”

As if on cue, a fine mist filled the room. “I don’t feel so good,” said Tess, just before passing out. The others followed in rapid succession.

*****

When Zed and Clive woke, they made eye contact. They both immediately displayed expressions of shock and terror. What they saw was the rest of their fellow jurors in a circle around the room. Each was strapped to a rudimentary wooden chair and each had a variety of devices behind them. Some looked like surgical instruments- needles and scalpels and knives. Some were more electrical in nature. Some were tools. And a few had large blades- like guillotines laying on their side.

Olga was the first to scream, then Sam, then a chorus of terrified voices cried out- some tearful, some angry, some pleading.

Ted was still looking around the room- the same they had entered into. But the furniture was different before- more like the courtroom. Now, it looked eerily similar to their deliberation room. Where the judges seat was, there was a large television. The lights were fluorescent, stark, and flickery. Below the television, on the wood panel was a clock. It read 6:00 in digital red numbers.

The television flickered on.

There was a shape- a dark, hooded shape not unlike a grim reaper. But where the face should be, there was only blackness. When it spoke, its voice was mechanical. Altered by some device to mask the true voice. There must have been speakers spread around the room, for when the shape spoke, it seemed to be right behind everyone at the same time.

“Welcome jurors. Today, we are holding court to judge crimes so heinous, so cruel that should a guilty verdict be rendered, then death will be swift and equally cruel. You are judge, jury…and defendant.”

It took a moment for that to sink in. Sam began to weep, as did Liz and Tess. Abigail, a woman who had been through much in her life, steeled herself. Jeb began to struggle with his restraints.

Ted- who had been foreman- fell back into his leadership role. He was a man of medium build, but large forearms that strained against the restraints told a story of a life wielding heavy hammers and tools. “What do you want from us?” he demanded, his stubbled jaw tense.

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The Horror Within

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The shadows danced in the flickering torch light, my trembling hands pressing lightly against the smooth stone wall as I observed my surroundings coolly.

The cobbled hallway stretched on and the torches that were mounted every dozen feet or so did little to help my vision penetrate the dim light.

Every step I took was attempted with the utmost secrecy as I made my way in the direction of the college’s magical archives.

As I rounded the corner, the sounds of hushed voices fluttered in the air. Instinctively, I felt every muscle in my body tense. Standing stalk still, I forced myself to hide away into one of the hall’s many narrow classroom doorways.

“You must search for Malik! He cannot be allowed to perform the ritual!” A whispering voice spoke as an assortment of footsteps seemed to join it. “It’s your fault he can even accomplish this in the first place.” Another voice answered; this one sounded effeminate, angry and annoyed.

It could have been one of the many professors that lectured here but it was too difficult to tell at this distance. Tilting my head away from the whispers, I had to remind myself to not idly waste time. Pushing out from my dark shelter, I turned and double backed the way I came searching for a detour.

The voices and footsteps were echoing out from the far corner down the hall and they were all too close for comfort.
Years of preparation were in danger of being destroyed! I had spent so many days and nights secreting the materials in and out of the archives that were usually reserved for only the most accomplished of scholars.

Usually.

My eager and apparent innocent demeanor had earned me the title of the assistant to the curator and I had taken every advantage it afforded me to delve into the taboo secrets that were forbidden by law.

Blood rites, conjuration and divination into the outer planes were a few of the many subjects I had conspired to learn under my instructor’s complacent watch.

Reminding myself of the task at hand, I realized that the large wooden double doors of the archives had just come into view. I quietly padded down the last steps of the northern most stairway towards the doors.

It seemed no one had even searched down here yet in the archives themselves. My pursuers must have assumed that I would attempt the rituals away from the college grounds to avoid their interference.

‘They think too little of me.’ I thought to myself, a smug smile growing on my face as I reached for the wooden doors’ iron handles. My reach faltered as I realized my hands were trembling. It was difficult at this point to tell if it was from fear or excitement.

Shaking the thoughts away, I resumed pushing heavy oak doors open. They swung easily; the archives left unlocked by a ‘certain someone’ earlier in the evening when they watched the Curator leave for the night.

The doors were truly a testament of the craftsmen who balanced them delicately on their hinges in the year’s past. The very same hinges that squealed loudly in detest to their late-night use.

Surprise shot through me as I sharply turned to look over my shoulder at the staircase.

I forgot to grease the bloody hinges!

The yawning silence that followed went uninterrupted for a brief few moments. Relief flooded through my mind as I exhaled a breath that had somehow found itself stuck in my chest.

Grinding my teeth in frustration, the doors closed with similar argument as I shut them.

This time however, I swung them quickly to cut the noise down as I crossed into the threshold of the room. Hustling over to the nearest bookshelf by the door, I reached behind it into the tight space between the wall and the shelf.

The object I was searching for was still there. A hard beam made of yew that I had stashed away days previously. I had it cut by the village woodsman to a very specific size weeks ago. A size that with some clever positioning would work well as a barricade.

Awkwardly pushing the beam into the frame of the door, I grunted with exertion as I delivered some small applications of brute force to ensure it was thoroughly lodged across the entry way.

Satisfaction grew in my heart as I turned away to face the grandeur of the college’s archives.

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Kieran’s Jellyfish

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The gull stabbed at the bread with its beak. Kieran threw another slice. Then another.

A second gull landed and nudged its rival aside from the free lunch. The first bird lunged at the usurper and they exploded in a flurry of wings and feathers.

‘Kieran, don’t!’ his mother said.

‘Nothing but vermin, them creatures,’ his stepfather remarked from behind the daily paper.

Kieran turned from the gulls to the bright, shimmering shore. Scores of families had set up camp for the day. Everywhere he looked he saw overweight Mums and Dads, small children building sandcastles, dogs yapping. A nearby group of youths, a mix of lean boys and girls in undersized bikinis, were laughing aloud at some secret joke. There was no one Kieran’s age.

Kieran was eleven, a small dark-haired boy with eyes the colour of emeralds and a habit of squinting. His vision was perfect, but somehow the world seemed better through narrow eyelids.

The gulls ripped the bread to crumbs. They screeched in disappointment and flapped away. Kieran returned his attention to Mum and Archie.

He squinted at his mother. She looked a lot like him, except her locks were lighter and her eyes a dull brown. Archie, now in his third month as Kieran’s official stepfather, was a porky man with shiny bald pate, a greasy moustache and eyes as big as golf balls.

‘Feel free to wonder off, Kieran,’ Archie said, lowering his newspaper.

‘You’re so thoughtful, Archie,’ Mum added. “Kieran doesn’t want to hang around all day with crocks like us.’

Archie’s wide-eyed scowl burned into his stepson as if to say ‘clear off, I want your mother to myself, with no dumb kids in the way.’ Kieran retaliated with a frown, but his resolve melted faster than ice cream in the sun. He had to be careful. Archie’s temper was like a lurking crocodile. Kieran never knew when it would erupt from the depths and strike.

Kieran turned down his lower lip and threw his mother a look. She didn’t notice.

‘Yup, okay,’ he said at last, collecting his bucket and spade and stumbling off.

Kieran walked towards the far end of the beach, where jagged rocks broke through the sand like razors. As he came closer the sound of the holidaymakers faded.

The rocks were deserted.

‘Here there be monsters,’ he remarked in a glum voice.

He stopped at the first slab of basalt and rubbed the back of his hand across his lips. His flesh reeked of sunshine and sweat, summoning up a memory from last year.

Last year with Dad.

The two of them had explored this slanted world, charting rock pools, hunting crabs, inventing stories. Dad liked to pretend each sea-puddle was an uncharted lagoon teeming with bloodthirsty creatures. Everything was fun.

“Here there be monsters”, Dad used to say, over and over, grinning his cheeky grin and pushing back his wispy hair.

But Dad was gone now, Mum had seen to that. Mum and Archie.

Kieran sighed and inched nearer to his favourite rock pool. He knew from his explorations with Dad that this was the largest, the size of a paddling pool. A glassy underworld where fish and crustaceans lurked in seaweed jungles.

‘Here there be monsters,’ Kieran mumbled sadly, kneeling down on the stony rim.

He sat very quietly, as his father had taught him, and watched as the pool revealed its inhabitants. Small fish darted from side to side, searching for an escape back to the Atlantic. Shrimps glided over the sand like submarines. Limpets clung to the rock, hard as stones. Ruby red anemones trailed poisonous fronds in the water.

There! A slender, silvery young crab scuttled into the shadow of the rocks.

Kieran beat his chest in best King Kong fashion.

‘I am the giant of doom. Come to destroy-oh!’

A severed claw popped out.

‘Who’s snacking on you then?’ Kieran remarked to himself.

He waited. The minutes ticked away. Then, as he was about to give up and move on, something stirred. He almost missed it. A ripple in the sand, nothing more.

He hunched over the pool and lowered his head to the surface. A crescent of translucent skin had emerged from its hiding place, then halted. Perhaps it had seen him?

Kieran leaned back and froze every muscle in his body. More moments passed. The creature began slowly drifting out, across the sandy floor.

‘A jellyfish!’ he said. At least he thought it was a jellyfish. It reminded him of all the dead jellyfish scattered along the shoreline. Revolting blubber pancakes. This creature had a similar appearance. A circle of clear flesh, riddled with veins and dark spots.

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From The Earth

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They were everywhere. Each corner Leanne turned, her stomach lurched at the sight of another friend screaming in agony as hordes of the undead pulled and chewed at flesh and bathed in blood. For Leanne, it had stopped being about winning a long time ago. Now, all she wanted to do was survive long enough to see the light of day again. To see her family again. But as each second passed, salvation receded further and further out of reach. Soon enough, hope was a distant memory and the only thing left to keep her going was adrenaline, and it was running out, fast. As if sensing the end, Leann’s body started giving out, legs twanged and snapped with each step and every breath became more laboured than the last.

Finally, too bloody and bruised to carry on, Leanne slowed from a panicked sprint to a defeated stumbling. With almost all options exhausted, she gave into darkening dread and dropped to her knees at the mercy of one of the surrounding cameras and begged until she could cry no more. But all the camera did was look down at Leanne in pity, and the omniscient voice that once droned in the ear like a bee, was as quiet as a tomb. Leanne’s fate had been sealed. It was over. It was all over. Almost on que, waves of the undead began pouring in from both sides of the hallway, trapping Leanne in the middle like a sitting duck. Against the crescendo of Leanne’s beating heart, the undead inched closer and closer until all she could see was bared teeth and soulless eyes.

Her scream was like a gunshot.

*

As Leanne was torn limb from limb, Marcus and Ali clapped and cheered triumphally – the bitch was dead. As Marcus switched from camera to camera to ensure not a single spurt of blood went unseen in glorious high definition, Ali scrolled through and read each and every comment beneath the live stream on the website. Laughs and giggles laced his every word.

BiggWolf69: The bitch had it coming…

BritishBullDog11: Gutted. I had money on Leanne to make it out.

Long’n’Juicy:  Best show on the internet!

BuggzBunne: That’s it, I’m applying for the next season. I could out survive these spoilt rich kids, easy…

DonaldTopTrumps: @BuggzBunne, No, you couldn’t. Leanne kicked ass!

I really think she could have made it out, she just gave up too early.  

BuggzBunne: @DonaldTopTrumps, You don’t know what I’m capable of.

I’m ex-marine, bitch.

DonaldTopTrumps: @BuggzBunne, Ex-marine? Right… and I am the real Donald Trump.

JohnDoe88: I wish we still had dead heads in Britain! We killed the last of ours too quickly.

We could have had fun shit like this if we hadn’t. #BringBackTheDead   

Biscuit00001: @JohnDoe88, Fun shit? Watching the undead get exploited and butchered for mere entertainment is ‘fun shit’? You are fucked up.   

BiggWolf69: @Biscuit00001, Looks like we have a DeadLib p*ssy in our ranks, boys.

RealNi88er: @Bisucit0001, Get the F*ck out of here. They are dead, we can do

what we want to them. And the ‘human beings’ signed up for this…

As Ali continued to read through the comments section, Xanadu found himself increasingly feeling feint and lightheaded. He even had to close his eyes to help stop his head from spinning, which did not go unnoticed around the room.

Usually, it was Xanadu reading the comments aloud with macabre glee. However, in the last couple of weeks, he had been struggling to rustle up anything approaching enthusiasm for the bloodbaths. Some days, when it really got bad, Xanadu had to flee the room to avoid vomiting right there and then. Once in the hall, he would stay there until the survivors escaped or the last body had been devoured.

Because of his sudden, and stark, aversion to the violence of the game show, Xanadu had become a pariah in the control room and office. So much so that, unless it was absolutely necessary, no one spoke to him or even looked in his direction. And, when he wasn’t in the room, his colleagues often joked about knocking him out cold and locking him in the House of Horrors to fend for himself. But, as much as everyone had grown to hate him, there was nothing that could be done – Xanadu was the boss.

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The Cabin

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1

“Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move,” Milo told himself over and over standing at the window. For fifty-one nights he stood this post, whispering his chant and staring out into the dark void of the woods surrounding the cabin. “Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move.” Fifty-one nights of pounding heartbeats and moist, nervous hands gripping the slick steel of the shotgun he held close to his chest. He didn’t dare sit, fearing even the slightest bit of comfort would make him vulnerable. Milo needed to be alert for the fight of his life. “Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move.”

The descent into madness can be slight. So, much that one could begin that slow decline into mental turmoil and fail to realize the shift until it is too late to seek help. For days, Milo worked in the cabin, with a firm hold on his sanity, stippling leaves on his canvas of seaweed green acrylic landscapes. That was before the crazed anxiety and paranoia stalked him, begging him to come and join them in the dark corners of his mind. He was sure he wasn’t going mad, for fifty days he convinced himself of it. But on the fifty-first night of the fifty-first day, his certainty wavered, and he wondered if the fear that kept him at his post every night was coming from madness corroding his mind or a true threat from beyond the cold glass that separated him from the night air.

Milo wondered if his constant solitude created a fertile bed for insanity to grow. If hour after hour with only the sound of his breathing to comfort him had lulled him into this state. He had come to the cabin to be alone, truly alone far from civilization and distractions. When he left the busy city encouraged by his agent to reacquaint himself with his artistic talent, this had been the goal. He wanted to find a space to create uninhibited. The cabin was to be the birthplace of his renewed dedication to his painting. And, it had worked. The cabin gave him room to let his imagination stretch and crack its joints in satisfaction. In the 427 days he lived in the cabin, he had managed to create some of the most astounding pieces he ever saw. For 427 days he lived and worked in the forest surrounded by beauty and the sweet silence of nature punctured only by the sounds of the living earth.

It could be that 427 days of solitude is the limit for a healthy mind to survive on its own. That this is the threshold one shouldn’t cross to avoid the threat of losing the leverage of rational thought. Maybe this is the number of days a mind can exist without any companionship before the imagination takes over and the line between reality and fantasy blurs. Maybe 427 days was Milo’s personal breaking point, and his psyche could take no more of the seclusion. But on the 427th night of the 427th day, he saw something that held him at the window for 51 nights to follow.

He had developed a routine in his time in the cabin, slowly breaking the time restrictions of the rapidly moving city and the constant fear of being late for everything. That routine placed him in a rocking chair with lemon tea, reading as the skies darkened in the evening. He liked the way the smell of turpentine mixed with the scent of the pine walls as the air grew humid at night. He spent his days trying to capture the soul of the verdant grass and thick patches of moss in the woodlands but at night when he rested his relationship with the forest was purely platonic. Milo only wished to admire from a distance. Taking a moment to rest his eyes he stared out at the treetops just below the stars. He sat there with his book resting on his chest, doused in his comfort and mused about the success of his decision to come to the woods when his world changed. Very slowly, like someone standing with a stiff back after sitting too long, a few of the tree tops began to bend from side to side. His sane mind told him it was a strong wind causing the trees to move that way. But in the fringe, those dark corners where madness and doubt go to play, his inner voice spoke and reminded him that the wind would disturb all the trees, not a sporadically selected few.

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Sharper Image

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I am writing this report with the hope that someone someday will find it and still be able to read. My wish is that my words will explain what happened and give the reader some insight as to how things went so terribly wrong.

Today, I am writing from a cave I found in an area which was never well populated. That fact should help keep me safe for a little while longer. But I know they will find me. They always do.

It has now been just over ten years since the first noticeable problems began to appear. I can remember the time well because it was the last time I saw my family. When I say saw my family, I mean actually living, breathing and standing in front of me. As much as I can, I still search for them. My heart tells me I am probably too late.

So many mistakes had already been made by the time I was called up. In the beginning, they weren’t sure of the cause. Even when I tried to tell them the truth, they refused to listen. They said I was wrong. They said my facts were all distorted. They also said I was crazy. Not listening to me, not heeding my advice was their biggest mistake.

I remember when this new technology was introduced. Nothing of this magnitude had been presented since Alexander Wolcott patented the first camera back in 1840.

Imagine, three-dimensional photographs so real you felt like you could stick your hand right inside the picture and pull out what was in there. I often wondered if there was a sudden rise in the amount of sprained or broken fingers heading to the emergency rooms.

Don’t ask me how they got it to work. After all of my investigations, I still don’t know. What I do know is that it caught on and spread across the globe like ants invading a sugar cube factory.

At first, the new cameras were somewhat expensive. Three-Dee Pics incorporated held the patent for the first five years and were reaping in the early benefits. But, as with any new, popular toy, demand increased and, after a government-imposed mandate, soon everyone could afford one. I must admit I was also impressed. Eventually, I got one for each member of my family. It is a mistake which will haunt me until the time I can no longer draw breath.

I think the first real sign was when that plane fell out of the sky and nosed dived into an apartment complex in Queens. The media, along with most of us, immediately wondered if the terrorists were at it again. With the tragedies of 911, who could blame us for thinking that way. But, when that second plane fell, outside of Denver, two days later, just missing a crowded high school by a quarter mile, I began to wonder if something else was the cause.

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Evil Eyes

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Sarah hurried through the bustling streets and dodged other people who were also eager to get home after a long day’s work. Her mind was numb from hours of filing and answering phone calls at her job as an administrative assistant, but the fog in her brain began to clear as she inhaled the cool autumn air, her breath coming out in wisps.

Her heart thumped in anticipation. Jay, her long-distance boyfriend, had arrived from Toronto that afternoon and let himself into her apartment with the key she’d given him on his last visit. She hadn’t seen him in a month, and her excitement made her anxious to get home. She hoped that this would be the weekend that he would propose.

Sarah was annoyed at having to stand on her tiptoes to see over people’s shoulders as she waited to cross the street. Instead, she looked up at the grey sky, the daylight already fading into dusk, and wondered if it would rain again. She brushed her blonde hair out of her eyes and tapped her toe as she waited for the light to change. When it finally did, Sarah strolled briskly with the crowd, anticipation quickening her steps. She walked twenty minutes, past monochrome office buildings only shades darker than the sky, making the world seem colourless, though she hardly noticed, and toward a cluster of squat apartment buildings. When her building came into view, a red-bricked two-storied cube, she pulled out her keys and jogged the last few steps. Her hands trembled, making it difficult to put the key in the lock. She threw the door open and hurried up a small, worn flight of stairs to apartment number eight. Her keys jangled loudly in the quiet hallway as she unlocked the door, and when she tried to push it open, the chain banged loudly, giving her a start and preventing her from getting in.

Sarah peeked through the crack into her apartment and called out, “Jay? Jay, why am I locked out?”

She caught a glimpse of him leaning out of the kitchen, which was directly adjacent to the entrance. He looked nervous. He pushed his glasses up with one finger and wiped sweat from his forehead as he examined her. He did not move to open the door. “Sarah?” he said, his voice low and shaky.

“Yes, it’s me. Can you please let me in, so we can say hello properly?” She felt her excitement fade as she watched him fidget with the hem of his shirt. Something was wrong.

Jay took one step, then another, and peered through the crack, looking into her eyes for a long moment before nodding, closing the door, and unhooking the chain.

Sarah did not rush in right away. All day, she’d imagined jumping into his arms and kissing him, and holding his face in her hands, while his arms wrapped around her. Now, she entered slowly, narrowing her eyes at him. She looked him up and down, tying to determine the cause of his unease. “What’s the matter?”

“Something weird happened,” Jay said. He hurried past Sarah, locked the deadbolt, and then put the chain back on. He looked out the peephole for a minute, tested the door handle to make sure it was locked, and then finally turned to face her. He looked pale, and his eyes darted in every direction.

“What?”

He avoided her gaze, looking instead at his short, clean fingernails. His cheeks burned a bright red, contrasting strongly against his pale skin. “I-I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not even sure it happened.”

“For God’s sake, Jay! What is it?” Sarah dropped her bags to the floor and stood there with her hands on her hips, waiting. She looked around as she waited for an answer. The apartment was dim on the best of days, the light blocked by taller buildings, but today it was downright gloomy. Jay had drawn all the curtains. She raised an eyebrow at him.

“Please, can we just move on? I’m fine, but I want to talk about something else.” Jay finally put his arms around her and held her tightly, as though he’d wondered if he’d ever get to hold her again. She felt his heart pounding wildly in his chest.

“No! Something obviously happened, and I want to know what.” She pushed his shoulders back, so she could look into his wide, fearful eyes.

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A Letter From The Grave

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Me

I remember how cold I was, how scared. My eyes opened slowly, heavy from whatever drugs you had poisoned
me with. Damp, dark and freezing; those are the words I used to describe the stone room I awoke in. You were
not there when I woke up, though, it was just me and my thoughts.

Relief poured through my tired body when I heard footsteps; I should have known they would be yours.

Before the first girl arrived, I was lonely and scared, in constant fear of what you would do when you came in next. You never spoke, just watched as I ate, as I drank, as I cried. You watched with a confused expression on your face as if you had never seen a real human before. It scared me.

The First Girl

You always picked the pretty ones. The first girl to arrive after me was Robyn, black hair swinging as she fought you; punching, kicking, scratching and scraping. Until you injected her with something, and she fell to the floor like a rag doll her head cracking painfully on the concrete.

I remember being mesmerised by her clear, pale skin; her black hair and plump lips. It made me feel worthless with my bruises and flat, brown hair.

She arose angry, cursing at you again and again until her voice cracked.

She wouldn’t speak to me though. She just sat and stared, analysing. It wasn’t until she saw the littering of bruises on my skin that she started to warm to me.

It was the next day that she finally conversed with me, her voice dry and cracked – yet she’d refuse to drink any water. “I’m not touching anything that that creep gives us,” She would say, determined, “I’d rather die.”

The next day she guzzled the whole bottle of water in one sitting.

The Second Girl

Abbey was next, her arrival like a kick to the throat. I remember looking at her school uniform and clenching my fists so hard that my nails broke the skin.

She was still drugged as you yanked her through the large metal door, murmuring nonsense into your empty chest. Robyn, who was much braver than me, lunged at you. You dropped the young girl on the floor to backhand Robyn around the face. This was the first time you ever hit one of us.

Abbey cried a lot that day, wet, incurable sobs that racked through her tiny frame. It felt good to comfort someone.

We didn’t eat until Robyn went to her knees to apologise.

The Third Girl

Lily was next. Beautiful of course, and scarred – jagged lines marking from wrist to elbow. Robyn didn’t fight this time; her punishment was still too vivid, the memory of you in her mouth too rich. Witnessing the limp woman, dropped like trash at her feet, made Abbey cry again.

You wrinkled your nose. “Don’t cry,” You said, “It’s ugly.”

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