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Author's note: For October this year I wanted to really test myself/treat fans of horror with something really special. So, I'm trying the most ambitious and interactive project yet. Every single day, this October, I will be writing and uploading a new short story/micropasta to this page for your enjoyment. None of these tales have been written or published beforehand. They will be written "live" as the month goes on. I'm trying to do every story in ABOUT 1000 words or less, but as of October 19th I have sincerely failed to do so a majority of the time. This will be a challenge, but hopefully it will be a challenge well worth it to all of you. Happy October. Happy Halloween. Please enjoy, "31"

October 1st - When the Lightning Strikes

"October 1st - When the Lightning Strikes" by Ryan Brennaman

"October 1st - When the Lightning Strikes" by Ryan Brennaman

The night sky split in two, bisected by brilliant light. The darkness parted, falling away like receding waves on an obsidian shore. Thunder, the sound of the waves crashing back together, returning the sky to the night. Drowning the fields and the woods beneath its crushing weight.

Little Stuart Browning couldn’t sleep. He’d undone his own covers and rolled on to his belly to stare out his bedside window. Lightning struck once more, way beyond the germinating fields, somewhere beyond that gray horizon.

Sleep didn’t come easy on stormy nights, not for Stuart. His mother said he took after her, but he didn’t. Her anxiety fueled her thunder-triggered insomnia, whereas Stuart felt drawn to the sights and sounds with an acute fascination. She had called it God’s wrath, but Stuart saw no anger in the clouds. Nothing more, perhaps, than a solemn regret.

Eyes-wide, and with no want of sleep, Stuart watched. Each bolt, each lash, restored a life to the earth, to her skies. It uncovered the fields stretching for acres on the horizon, his own, empty backyard, and the creek that separated the two. There were the woods to his right, standing tall and imposingly over the young fields. A single playset, where a swing gently swayed, as if the wind pushed on an invisible jockey.

The rainless storm persisted.

A flash of light, and then a booming thunder.

Flash of light, booming thunder.

Flash of light.

Flash of light.

Flash of light.

Stuart cautiously rose to his knees, edging himself closer to the window. His palm met the glass’s icy face. He waited.

Flash of light.

Wrong. It was all wrong. The thunder had gone. He couldn’t hear anything anymore. Rubbing his eyes, scratching his ears. Nothing changed.

Flash of light.

Stuart wondered if he’d fallen asleep. No, he would know. If he was asleep, it wouldn’t feel right. Everything would be off, not just the lightning. He wouldn't feel the soft cushioning of his bed beneath his knees, the sharp kiss of the chilly moisture on the window pane. If it were all a dream, he could wake up.

He couldn’t wake up from this.

Flash of light.

Questioning his own ears, he snapped, and he heard it. Crisp and sharp, his snap seemed to echo in the silence causing him to childishly recoil, as if somehow his snap would have awoken his parents in the middle of a thunderstorm. His ears worked fine, but it didn’t change a thing. There was still no thunder. It was like someone had put the storm on mute.

He wondered, perhaps, if his window had somehow blocked the sound. Unlocking his window, Stuart pried it open, and listened. Whistling wind. Echoes of distant rain. Another flash of light, but still no thunder.

But there was something else. Stuart had been listening, but now, now he was watching. In the next silent bolt, his eyes were caught by an invisible hook, and pulled straight to the fields.

Darkness had taken over, covering his vision. He didn’t know what he had glimpsed, he couldn’t recall, but it had made his heart quiver. Slamming his window shut out of instinct, he waited for that next strike.

It came, and he frantically searched for something, anything at all unusual. Looking for what he had seen before. His heart didn’t settle. It couldn't. So, he waited again.

This time, this time he knew he had found it. The field should have been empty, freshly tilled, freshly planted. Nothing had as of yet sprouted. Nothing on that earthen plane should have stood taller than a few millimeters.

But something did.

In the briefest of seconds, Stuart saw something tall in the middle of the field. It was distant, but certainly hadn’t been there before. In that moment, he thought maybe it was a post. The farmers used scarecrows before, it would make sense.

Except, it wouldn’t explain how it got there.

A flash of light, and this time Stuart focused on that spot where he’d seen the tall thing before. It wasn’t there, not in that spot, but Stuart did find it.

The tall thing had moved. It had moved closer.

Stuart wasn’t sure of it, not until the next flash confirmed that the thing, the shape, was getting closer and closer with each flash of ominous lightning.

Worse, Stuart no longer believed it was a post. No post moved on its own. Another flash. No post had two legs. Another flash. No post had two, flailing arms. Another flash. No post could ever run.

Someone was coming across the field, fast.

Stuart gasped as the lightning showed him the figure in motion. Long legs carried the strange someone quickly across the rugged fields in leaping, almost predatory, motions. The arms, spindly and gaunt, were poised at the figure’s front, coiled like a praying mantis.

Stuart gasped in the silence of the night.

Another flash, the figure grew closer.

Another flash, the figure bounded across the empty fields.

Another flash, the figure had leapt across the border creek!

In that leap, Stuart had seen what he hadn’t, couldn’t have, imagined.

The thing wasn’t human.

It was hunched forward, granting it a raptor-like posture. It wore no clothes, but had a pale, almost luminescent skin. Its legs were muscular, like a dog’s, with long toes and ragged hair. It propelled itself forward, making a mad dash directly for Stuart’s house.

Worst of all, with the next flash, Stuart noticed the creature was staring upwards. Towards the house. Towards his bedroom window. Towards him.

He saw no eyes. Where they should have been was the only place where the lightning couldn’t banish the dark. They were soulless patches of nothingness. Contrasting color shone from its nose, and around its neck. Sickeningly, Stuart realized the monster reminded him of a clown. Its pointed nose, and neck, which was inflated with accordion-like flaps of stretched skin, seemed to bleed with a bright crimson.

Its smile hung low on its tall face, and it stretched wide.

Stuart was paralyzed. He didn’t scream when the darkness returned once again. That was the worst of it all. Each and every time the darkness fell, Stuart wanted to pretend that it didn’t exist. That it was impossible. But he knew better.

He knew that in the darkness, it just kept coming.

Lightning showed that it had reached his fence now, perching atop it with a hungry grin. It pounced from its perch just before the light relented and the returning night seemed to hit Stuart like a freight train.

It was in his yard now. Slinking towards his house somewhere in the black. Towards his back door. He should have screamed, but it felt too wrong. Too out of place in the calm, eternal silence.

How long would this next stretch of darkness last? Seconds? Minutes? All night? What if the storm had ended? How would he know where the creature had gone? Would the creature leave with the storm? He could only hope.

He could only listen.

Leaning forward, and with all the bravery he could muster, little Stuart pried open the window.

The wind whispered. Everything was dark.

Everything was dark, and then it wasn’t.

With a shocking, bellowing thunder, lightning struck just once more, right in the Brownings’ backyard. It masked Stuart’s screams, as it shone brightly upon the torturous face right outside his open window.

October 2nd - With What Eyes the Heavens Gaze

"October 2nd - With What Eyes the Heavens Gaze" by Ryan Brennaman

"October 2nd - With What Eyes the Heavens Gaze" by Ryan Brennaman

We looked up one night, and there it was; the moon had grown an eye.

Scientists could only tell us one thing, something we already knew; it was massive. Thousands of kilometers across, it covered more than half of the full moon. Easily seen by our naked, tiny eyes. It looked human. Brown iris that dilated during the day. Black pupil so dark that it made the night sky glisten. We had no idea what it was, or how it had come to be.

The fear it sparked in us was primal. It was the same feeling our ancestors must have felt when they still lived in the plains. The fear they knew when a predator had set its gaze upon them.

The only difference between us and our ancestors, however, was that we had nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. That fierce gaze, the penetrating glare that injected us all with sacrilegious fear, came from the heavens themselves. Inescapable.

There was nothing to do.

It followed us at night, but during the day was worse. Sometimes you could still see it, and follow it in the sky, but on the days when you couldn’t, then no one wanted to move. Seeing the predator watch you was one thing, but knowing it was still out there, still watching, but knowing that you can’t find it?

That was the worst.

People talked in whispers. They stuck to the shadows. As if doing any of that would settle their unease. Even though NASA launched probes only days after it first appeared, no good came of it. Nothing was discovered. Because, by the time most of those probes landed, the unthinkable had happened.

The eye had vanished.

It was if it had never existed. The moon returned to how it had been before. Irregular, barren, lifeless. The only evidence that the eye had ever even existed were the pictures and videos we had all taken. Remnants of an awful nightmare that nobody could forget. One of the few things, like creation, that we couldn’t explain.

It was nice when we thought it was over. I know most had hoped it was. Even when the eye had been gone for months, there were still many people who wondered if it would, or even could, ever happen again. After all, no one could have ever imagined it would have ever happened to begin with.

The eye didn’t return, but I think I would have preferred it if it did.

Because now, sitting there in the moonlit sky, a mouth stretches from pole to pole.

It is smiling at us.

October 3rd-The Oesterling’s House is Haunted

''The Oesterling’s House is Haunted'' BRAND NEW HALLOWEEN HORROR

''The Oesterling’s House is Haunted'' BRAND NEW HALLOWEEN HORROR

“No, it’s not,” Angelica sighed, rolling her eyes.

“Is too!” chuckled Felicia. “Just ask your boy, Charles. Said he couldn’t get three feet past the door before he could hear the moaning.”

Angelica shook her head as Felicia started circling her, making ghostly noises, her collar pulled up over the back of her head. With an arched eyebrow, Angelica crossed her arms and stared Felicia down.

“Knock it off,” she ordered. Felicia listened, relaxing, but with a sly chuckle.

“Come on,” she said, warmly. “Look at it!”

Angelica turned her head. The Oesterling’s house fit perfectly beneath the gray, swirling clouds. The black shutters were infested with vines and rot. The once white siding had long lost all of its sheen, infected by moss and grimy black mold. The cracked posts around the front porch gave it almost a twisted, grinning appearance, with two cracked windows serving at the empty, haunting eyes.

It looked almost like it was alive.

“If there was ever a house to be haunted,” Angelica smirked, before moving to walk away.

“Wait!” Felicia called. “Girl, look at this thing!”

“I did!” Angelica said, giggling if only to amuse her friend. “Did you not just see me?”

“I mean really look! The damn thing’s got one of those weird-ass spire-looking things. It’s old as hell. Don’t you want to see what’s inside?”

“I know what’s inside,” Angelica said back. “Mold, dust, lot of unstable floorboards. Loads of cobwebs.”

“Man, I told you, this house is two hundred years old—”

“It’s actually one hundred and seventy-two,” Angelica interrupted.

Felicia’s jaw dropped, “You looked that up just so you could be right, didn’t you?”

“No,” Angelica quickly lied. “Just happened to find it.”

“You always gotta be right, girl. It’s annoying.”

“Not as annoying as this,” Angelica said, motioning to Felicia and the Oesterling’s house.

“Come on,” Felicia pouted. “Don’t tell me you’re too chicken. Everyone who’s anyone goes into that house!”

“Do they all come out, though?” Angelica asked, jokingly. “I heard they don’t. Besides, I’m not chicken. There’s just nothing in there to see.”

“What, you don’t want to see a ghost?”

Angelica let out an audible and exasperated sigh through her still smiling mouth, “There’s no such thing as ghosts, Felicia. It’s not haunted.”

Felicia crossed her arms, pressing her tongue deep into her cheek. Angelica could see the conniving gears turning inside her head, like Felicia’s pleased eyes were made of glass.

“Prove me wrong, then.”

Angelica chuckled, once, and then she also crossed her arms. The two looked like they had fallen into a stalemate.

But Angelica knew she’d already lost. Felicia had played her like a fiddle.

“You know me too well,” she sighed. She uncrossed her arms and groaned.

Angelica pushed open the house’s rusty gate. Felicia, satisfied, grinned.

“Knew you looked that damn house up,” she said, cocky.

“What do you want me to do?” Angelica asked.

Felicia leaned in, resting one arm on Angelica’s right shoulder, while pointing up at the house with the other.

“That window,” she said, pointing to the room underneath the spire. “See it? The one with the shades still drawn? Get to that bedroom, pull those shades open, give me a nice smile and a thumbs up. Maybe give a wave or two. I’ll snap your picture, just to prove that ghosts aren’t real, of course, and we’ll be good.”

Angelica shook Felicia off her.

“Why do you get off on this shit?” Angelica asked?

Felicia just shrugged. Annoyed and only slightly amused, Angelica started walking towards the front door.

“You’re full of shit,” she called back.

Felicia, who was too busy texting everyone she knew that “Angelica is actually going into the Oesterling place!!!”, replied to the accusation with a simple, “Yup!”

Creak by creak, Angelica stepped onto the ancient porch. She could feel the soggy, forgotten boards bending beneath her weight.

“Man, I don’t want to go to the second story of this thing,” she mumbled. “It’s not going to support my ass.”

Her hand trembled as she reached for the door knob. Glancing backwards, she was glad to see that Felica’s face was still buried in her phone where she couldn’t see. Taking a deep breath as her palm met cold, rusted metal, she turned the door.

Unfortunately yet expectedly unlocked, the door opened to welcome her inside. Creeping through a short, muggy entry hall, she entered into the heart of house

The scene before her was as decrepit as she imagined it would be. It might have been totally dark, had it not been for the rotten holes in the ceiling that bled gray daylight into the shambles that someone had once called home. The entryway was surprisingly open. Angelica had expected more broken furniture, more evidence of the lives that used to be, but it seemed to be nothing more than an empty shell. Only a single, broken chandelier had been left behind. It dangled from the ceiling by a thread, covered in layers of dust and filth. A balcony stretched around the entry way, stairs to the second floor were on Angelica’s left.

She was actually amazed. There didn’t seem to be any cobwebs.

“Any ghosts?” Angelica hollered into the house. She didn’t know what she had expected. An answer. An echo. She got nothing, and that should have settled her.

Should have.

She felt like the damn thing was breathing.

“Don’t know if I mentioned,” Felicia called at her, “but you gotta go INSIDE to reach the second floor. Don’t know if that helps or not, it IS pretty complicated, but I’m hoping it’ll at least get you on your way.”

Angelica slammed the door shut behind her, drowning out Felicia’s hyena-like cackling. Alone, inside the house, she decided there was nothing to fear. Even so, she moved slowly towards the stairs.

She tiptoed up them, cautiously taking each step with a measured precision and delicacy. They creaked and moaned beneath her weight, but they held her. She was ok with the moaning.

Maybe trees have ghosts, she thought. That’s why all wood moans when you step on it.

She smiled, reaching the top of the stairs. Running her hands through her frizzy hair, she took a moment to breathe. Not that it was a particularly easy task. The dust in the air was thick, and it felt like it was trying to clog Angelica’s lungs.

Covering her mouth with the collar of her t-shirt, Angelica moved along the banister.

Gripping it with her hand, she could swear she felt the wood tremble as if it, itself, pulsed with life. She assured herself it was nothing more than the trembling beats of her own panicky heart. The floors still creaked, still groaned under her footfalls. The room she needed was just up ahead. Up in the shadows.

But, above the creaking floors, Angelica started to realize something else. There were sounds, very obvious sounds. The floorboards groaning, her own, labored breathing, but there was something else. A noise she wasn’t making.

A muffled and labored droning.

And it was coming from in front of her. From the bedroom she was supposed to go in to.

For a moment, there was fear. Fear always came first. Fear needed no thought to exist. No rationality. No understanding. So first, there was fear.

There was a ghost.

Then, came anger.

Could Felicia be tricking her? Could this all have been set up? They were friends, they pranked each other, but this was all new kinds of low. That anger drove Angelica to the closed bedroom door.

Then came doubt, and it slowed her. It made her hand hover just above the doorknob. The doubt that the fear had been too easily dismissed. The doubt that she was wrong.

The doubt that maybe, just maybe, she was still alone in that house. That no one waited for her on the other side. At least, no one living.

Even though she fought it desperately, her hand lowered down onto the doorknob like it was a magnet and her hand had been forged of lead. The end result was inevitable. When her palm finally found its perch she followed through if only out of pure adrenaline.

She turned the doorknob.

Inside, the room was black. No rot let the outside light in from above, and none seemed able to creep inwards from where Angelica stood in the open doorway. All she could see was a short little hall that seemed to lead into the larger bedroom chamber. Beyond it, she noticed the faintest of blood red outlines where the sun ate along the edge of the blinds, begging to be let in.

The room seemed empty.

It could have been easy—a short, ten-step walk, had that been all. If only.

When she had opened the door, the moaning had only grown louder. Someone, or something, was inside the room.

Taking only one step forward, Angelica took her phone from her pocket before she proceeded. Lighting the flashlight app, she scanned the light across the ground as she continued forward.

She saw what she was very quick to hear. Each step she took sounded moist, almost like she was walking across a marsh. Below her, the floor glimmered with liquid that was black and putrid. She could only imagine what it was. Something moldered from the ancient lumber, perhaps. Despite this, the air was incredibly stagnant and dry, yet suddenly pungent with odors that Angelica couldn’t describe.

She hesitated entering the actual room, wondering if the floor was too unstable. Wondering if it was safe.

But she couldn’t stop. Not so close.

Not when she had no idea what was making that awful, growing sound. The moaning. The tormented groaning. Coming from just up ahead.

Her feet nearly sticking to the floor in the awful liquid, she trudged forward, entering the main body of the large bedroom. She shined her light around, forgetting about the window, forgetting about her goal for just long enough. Just long enough, perhaps, to see the impossible.

There was nothing there. The floor, although wet and decaying, was barren. There was no furniture, no closets for anyone to hide inside. Nothing present to make any kind of moaning. In fact, the moaning had seemed to stop once she had entered the chamber. Angelica began to wonder if it had ever even been real.

Giving her entire body a good, cleansing shake, Angelica reached over and pulled the blinds open on the window. Sunlight flooded the room. She stuck her tongue out and flipped the bird as a wildly ecstatic Felicia jumped around and took her picture.

“You did it! I can’t believe it! You crazy bitch! I can’t believe you actually did it!”

Angelica, sticking her tongue out in disgust at how much dust had settled there, pried the window open to shout back, “No ghosts up here, bitch. You’re doing it next!”

“No way!” Felicia said. “I’m not dumb, unlike some people I know.”

“Screw you,” Angelica murmured, slamming the window shut.

Moving for the door, she looked down at her phone to quickly check her messages.

“Make people think I’m chicken?” Angelica asked herself. “Make them think I’m wrong? I don’t think so. I mean, could you even imag—?”

She stopped mid-sentence.

There was a zipping sound behind her, and the sunlight disappeared from the room. Aiming her flashlight at the window, Angelica was shocked to see that the blinds had fallen on their own, once more blocking the window.

Before she could even mutter to herself, “What the—?” she heard the moaning once more. Just in time, she turned to see the door slam shut in front of her, trapping her inside the room.

Frozen, she could only move her eyes, and they wandered. They wandered from the door, to the soaking wet floor, and from the floor they moved up. Following the her light, they wandered up the side of the wall, and across the ceiling. Angelica couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t scream.

There, stuck to the walls, were dozens of decaying, digesting bodies. They were trapped, sucked inside grotesque, pulsating masses of red flesh. Most had been reduced to nothing but gray, petrified bones, with pulsating tendrils linking them to the mounds of encompassing tissue. It was feeding off of them, stripping them bare.

Most had been fairly well digested, but some were fresher. Some still bled.

Particularly one body, stuck right on the wall next to short entryway. He still had plenty of skin. He still had a fresh face. Claws, or perhaps teeth, protruded from the wall around his body, rippling along his entire height, digging into him in slow, coursing intervals. Covering the man’s mouth there was a mask of almost clear, mucus-like tissue. Enough to preventing the still living, still breathing teenager from doing anything.

Anything other than moan.

And that was what it wanted. That’s why the teeth stabbed him, over, and over again.

To get him to moan.

Angelica gasped as all the teeth plunged into the teen’s flesh and he let out a final, choked scream of pain.

The boy had been bait. And with the door shut, the trap had been sprung.

Angelica tried to get back to the window, but it was no use. Her feet had been glued fast to the floor. She tried to call Felicia, but shapes quickly swarmed her from the sides of the wall, surrounding her in a warm, pulsating mass.

Angelica had been right.

The Oesterling place wasn’t haunted.

But it was worse. Much, much worse.

The Oesterling’s house wasn’t haunted.

The Oesterling’s house was alive.

Very alive, and very hungry.

October 4th-Of Wolves and Sheep

"October 4th-Of Wolves and Sheep" by Ryan Brennaman

"October 4th-Of Wolves and Sheep" by Ryan Brennaman

“Pa! Get in here, dinner is ready!”

“Hold on, Ma! It’s almost commercial!”

They sounded just like Kyle’s Ma and Pa. They talked just like them. They moved just like them. They even called each other “Ma” and “Pa”, just like them.

But they weren’t Kyle’s Ma and Pa.

Kyle was bound to the chair at the kitchen table, but not physically. He was trapped there because he was too afraid to move anywhere else. Overhead, the dangling lamp swayed and rocked, casting a flickering and unstable light over the messy wooden table. Blood, still horribly fresh, ran across it, dripping off the sides.

Kyle could see her moving around the edges of the light. She was slow, bulky, moving and swaying about the room. He saw her hands every now and then, entering the light, setting silverware down on the table. Her skin was stained red.

It was his Ma’s skin, but it wasn’t his Ma.

A buzzing grew from Kyle’s right. He caught the waves of fleeting shimmer in his peripheral vision. The television set was on, but no channel played. Static waves rolled busily across the small screen.

He could almost see, in the glow of the T.V., a silhouette that lay across Pa’s favorite armchair, in the furthest corner of the living room.

His Pa’s chair, but that wasn’t his Pa who sat there. Not completely.

“Are you coming, Pa?” she asked. “Dinner’s ready!”

It was two in the morning.

The T.V. fell dark.

Kyle turned away, bringing his chin to his chest like an embarrassed child, as the silhouette rose from the chair. He heard the great, lumbering footsteps as the thing, as “Pa”, approached. Each step fell like hooves upon his house’s wooden floor.

“Yes,” the thing pretending to be Pa said. “Are you happy now, Ma?”

“I just don’t want it all to get cold, Pa. I worked very hard on this meal.”

“That you did, Ma. That you did.”

Kyle trembled as the thing pulled out Pa’s chair, the one just to Kyle’s right. The wood chair protested and bemoaned the thing’s weight as it sat down.

Eyes closed, he listened as Ma’s chair to his left squealed just as well. Both of them pulled themselves closer, bringing their bellies right up to the tableside.

At the edge of his vision, Kyle saw both creatures each extend him a hand.

Not-Ma said to him, “Come on, Honey.”

Not-Pa said to him, “We gotta pray, Son.”

Together they said, “Take our hands.”

Kyle’s head rose, slowly and fearfully. Weak, shaking, he extended his hands. He felt like vomiting as their taut, frigid skin met his own.

But it wasn’t their skin, not really.

In the light, they could see he was crying, and he could see them.

What had once been his Ma’s and Pa’s faces were stretched tightly over long, monstrous countenances. They wore his parents’ skins as if they were nothing more than clothing. Clothing they barely fit in to.

Emerging from both his Ma’s and Pa’s mouths, long, naked, bony snouts protruded, like those of a deer. Antlers erupted from torn flesh in his parents’ scalps. Through their fingertips, razor sharp claws raked against Kyle’s naked, human palm. All parts that the damned creatures just couldn’t fit inside his parents’ skins.

“Pa,” the creature said, in exactly his Ma’s voice, “would you like to say Grace?”

“No,” the other said, in exactly his Pa’s voice, “I think Kyle should. I don’t think anything else would be appropriate.”

Both turned painfully slowly to look at Kyle, and they waited. Kyle said nothing, but neither creature seemed unwilling to wait.

Patiently, they both encouraged him onwards.

“Go on, son,” one said. “Make your Ma and me proud.”

“I know you can do it, sweetie,” the other whispered. “You did it so well for us earlier. Pray to Him. Pray to God.”

He did pray earlier, but not for them. He had prayed for the two corpses that lay on the table. The bodies from which all the blood had flowed. The bodies that he had once known as Ma and Pa. The raw, naked bodies whose skin the two creatures beside him had stolen.

The dinner that the two creatures spoke of.

Stammering, and soft enough that just he could hear it, Kyle began to pray.

“Blessed Holy Father, protect our spirits, and deliver us from evil.”

As he continued, the two creatures bowed their skeletal snouts.

“…be my parents’ keeper, and deliver them to the Kingdom of Heaven…”

Then, he paused. The creatures had both started to heave, to cough, and for a moment there was hope inside Kyle. Hope in the power of prayer. It sounded, almost, like the creatures were choking. Like they had been hurt by some divine intervention. But only a moment.

Soon, as their noises grew, and their heads raised, Kyle understood. They hadn’t been harmed. The dry, heaving noise they made with wide-open jaws was nothing more than laughter. Sick, evil laughter.

Kyle closed his eyes, and continued praying, raising his voice trying to drown out the monsters that wouldn’t release his hands.

Their laughter only ceased when Kyle could pray no more, and one reached upwards towards the light. Grabbing the lightbulb firm in her hand, the one that pretended to be Ma said in a cheerful, yet sinister voice, “Let’s eat.”

She pulled, and she banished the light from their table.

October 5th-The Butcher’s Woods

"October 5th The Butcher's Woods" by Ryan Brennaman

"October 5th The Butcher's Woods" by Ryan Brennaman

“We shouldn’t go,” Jesse Waller had said before the three set off that morn. “Them’s the Butcher’s woods.”

Now, Jesse Waller lay dead on the ground, nearly a mile into the Butcher’s woods. Gazing out from the abandoned shack, Tony Boone could clearly see him. He lay not ten feet from the front door, blood running from his gashed neck. He was only ten feet from safety.

It stood right above him.

The Butcher. It was everything their grandparents had warned them about when they were kids. But now, it was more than just fanciful, terrible stories. Now, it was real. Something palpable. Now, it had just murdered one of Tony’s oldest friends.

The beast was an ill shade of white, with taut skin that was thin enough to almost be translucent. It hovered above Jesse’s body almost like a wolf, leaning forward to bring its lengthy snout just inches away from Jesse’s lifeless eyes. The Butcher had no eyes, and no eyes could be seen at all on its face. The only orifice visible was a small, human-like mouth at the end of its horse-like snout.

That mouth opened, and a black tongue emerged from between its very human teeth. It licked the blood from Jesse’s throat with a wide smile.

Feeling like he wanted to scream, Tony turned from the window and slid down the shack’s mossy wall. He shook as his mouth gaped, struggling to breathe. Silent tears warmed his cheek.

Hearing the creature snort, he turned his gaze back outside.

He’d been so shocked, seeing Jesse murdered right in front of him, he had almost forgotten what the creature still held beneath its front arms.

The third member of their party. The man who was still alive. Bill Dixon.

One of its mighty, clawed hands clamped shut around his face so he couldn’t scream. Beneath the Butcher’s weight, the scrawny man could only do so much. Tony could only watch as the young man’s hands flailed in short, spastic attacks that failed to accomplish anything. He couldn’t even phase the large beast.

He was completely at the Butcher’s mercy.

And Tony knew, from those old stories his grandpappy used to tell him by the fireplace, what happens next.

He could see it, on the creature’s back.

All along the creature’s backbone and sides, sprouted about a dozen terrible spines. Each one, probably as large as an elephant’s tusk, looked like it had been carved out of bone, and sharpened to a razor’s edge. A few were broken, snapped at the base. They splintered like logs. Blood stains stretched across the handful that were intact, but, on a few of them? They still carried more than bloodstains.

Two of the spikes still held flesh. Dangling from them, the remains of the last two unfortunate individuals to cross the Butcher’s path.

“There’s a reason it’s called the Butcher,” Tony mouthed in fear. “It’s because it saves its meat on hooks, for later.”

The nearly skeletal remains hung from the Butcher’s spines like puppets. What little sinews and cloth remained were all that held the two together, and Tony could see where tooth and claw had stripped and pulled bare the flesh off what had once been two men.

In a moment that made Tony’s eyes widen, a realization cruelly barged into his racing mind. It came to Tony when the beast had reared itself up like a bear, with Jesse in one hand and a still struggling clasped Bill in the other. Tony realized what was about to happen.

When it did happen, Tony had to gag himself with his own, muddy hand to keep his screams in check.

It started with Jesse, since he struggled the least. Holding him in its right hand, the creature contorted its joints to bring Jesse to rest on a spine that protruded right behind the beast’s near-visible ribs on the side closest to the shack. Tony winced as the spine entered Jesse’s corpse with a sickening crunch. The creature released, allowing Jesse’s body to settle onto the slightly upwards-tilted spike.

Jesse’s head dangled and swayed, his matted brown hair covering his face.

But then, Tony started to shake his head and back away from the window when the creature placed both of its evil hands on Bill’s shoulders.

“No!” Bill shouted, his mouth finally free and his voice cracking. “No, don’t you do it! Please! Don’t you do—Help! Help! Anyone! Please! Help!”

Tony saw as the creature, holding Bill just in front of its wicked chest, turned Bill around so that he was facing the forest. Tony saw as the creature started bringing its arms in slowly, pulling Bill towards its chest. Tony saw the one, jagged edged spine that protruded right from the creature’s sternum.

It was cruel how slowly it happened, and Tony knew that the Butcher intended it to be so. As Bill screamed, Tony couldn’t help but watch as the creature drove the spine through his best friend’s torso.

The screams, the wails, were unimaginable. Tony could taste blood in his mouth as his aching teeth sunk into his own, numb flesh. He wanted to do something, anything, but what?

There had been three of them once. Now, now it was just him.

And the Butcher knew that too.

Tony had no time to mourn, to weep, for the creature allotted no time for grieving. It had two of the three transgressors, and now it needed the third.

Tony ducked for the darkest corner in the shed as the Butcher scuttled close. It leaned it, craning its long neck towards the window. It searched for him, using only God knew what unseen senses. Tony curled up in the protective cover of shadow, scarcely breathing, waiting for it to leave.

All the while, Bill showed no sign of dying, for his screams, curses, and shouts still carried strong on the wind.

“Help! Oh, God! Please! Oh, it hurts! It’s killing me! Please!”

As a trembling Tony waited, he listened as Bill’s pleads started to change.

“Tony!” he screamed, pleadingly. “Tony, if you can hear me run! You gotta—you gotta run, Tony. Don’t—don’t let it! Don’t let it find you! You gotta—gotta run! Run!”

Tony didn’t want to. The last thing he wanted was to leave them. Jesse deserved better. He deserved to be buried at home, where his family could see him. And to leave Bill like that? To leave him alive, in that thing’s clutches?

Tony would almost rather die.

But, if he could make it, get back home, he would rally more hunter’s than those woods had ever known.

He could make the Butcher rue the day, he thought. He could make it rue everything. He could avenge his friends.

Or you could survive, whispered a darker voice inside his head, and stay away.

The Butcher circled the shack many times, searching for something, anything. Tony could feel its frustration growing, as it growled beyond the doors, as it swiped its claws at the shack’s wooden frame.

It knew he was close, but it didn’t know where.

Eventually, and to Tony’s initial disbelief, the Butcher retreated.

Tony could tell, as its heavy footsteps fell away, and Bill’s tormented cries faded into the distance.

When everything had grown silent—silent except for the bird calls and the rustling of leaves in the wind, and it had been that way for a good, long while—Tony made his move.

Cautiously, he pushed open the shack’s front door, and he peered into the woods.

It must’ve been past noon, but the mist that morning had brought still hung thick between the trees. But Tony wasn’t expecting to rely on his sight.

He was expecting to rely, almost completely, on his ears.

As he ran, sprinted, bolted the mile back, out of the woods, he listened. It nearly froze him to the spot the first time, but it happened just as he expected it would.

Like a siren coming from the distance, he heard Bills’ cries echo out, as the creature galloped closer.

It happened once, twice, again and again, and each time Bill’s cries saved Tony’s life.

If he thought he heard them in the distance, for even a moment, Tony would duck for cover, and cower underneath some log or within some rotted tree basin until the distant wails had once again faded to the horizon. Then, he would start again. It stretched the mile into near infinity, having to stop so often. It turned every several hundred feet into a lifetime.

But he persisted.

It almost sickened him, using his friend the way he did.

Do what you have to, he thought to himself. Do what you have to do to get out of here, to survive.

He had originally told himself he would survive for Bill, for Jesse, yet the closer Tony got to the forest’s edge, the less and less he wanted to ever return. Each time Bill’s screams faded, it became easier and easier to forget, to find that drive to survive.

It ate him up inside, but Tony never intended to come back.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered as the edge of the forest approached. “It was my fault we even came here.”

The trees were about to break. He hadn’t heard the beast, hadn’t heard Bill, in what felt like hours.

“I’ll never make that mistake again.”

He tripped, right before he made it to the opening. Crawling forward, he tried to keep the momentum moving as he rolled onto his back, and kicked at the leaves with his feet.

Logic told him it was a branch, a stump, a root of that mighty oak he’d just passed. He could have tripped on anything.

Instinctually, however, he knew what had happened before he hit the ground.

He looked to that broad oak, and to its shadow. That’s where it stood, on its hind legs, heaving mighty, warm breaths. Crouched ever so slightly forward, it held its hands on Bill’s wriggling form. One was cupped over his mouth, the other around his still squirming throat. It had silenced him.

It had waited.

Craning its neck down, right beside Bill’s cherry-red face, it tilted its head almost inquisitively.

Its lips audibly split. Its smile was indescribable, with simply any other word but wicked.

October 6th-Fetch

"October 6th Fetch" by Ryan Brennaman

"October 6th Fetch" by Ryan Brennaman

Tommy threw the damn, blue squeaky ball through the air again, wiping the dirt and spit on his khaki shorts.

Once more, with an incredible enthusiasm for so early in the morning, his Labrador retriever ran off after it, chasing it to the edge of the untrimmed, grassy field. As the dog, the one his mom had named Butter, fumbled around, snapping at the elusive ball, Tommy pulled out his phone and started scrolling through his text messages.

Amusedly, he laughed at the latest one from his mother.

8:11 A.M. “The brat givin u any problms yet?”

Butter panted as she rounded Tommy’s legs. With a sigh, Tommy reached down and tugged at the ball. Butter held firm, but, with some effort, Tommy was able to pull the ball free. He tossed it again, right to the edge of the field.

With his left hand—because his right one was coated in puppy slime—Tommy responded.

8:23 A.M. “yea, but its fine. we’re in back rn.”

Butter grabbed the ball, almost toppling over her own feet and into the field, and came sprinting back.

As Tommy pried the ball away, he got another message from his mother.

8:24 A.M. “Don’t stay out 2 long ran into Mr. anthony this morning said he thinks he heard coyotes in the field last night”

Mr. Anthony? He was their next-door neighbor. Tommy didn’t know him that well. Just knew that he was friendly enough, and that his wife passed away about two years ago. Rarely saw him. Hobbled around with a black, wood cane whenever he went out to his garden. Long, white Santa Claus beard. He didn’t know his mom ever talked to Mr. Anthony.

Tommy threw the ball. Butter chased the ball.

8:24 A.M. “I’ll keep an eye out, thx”

Looking out to the field, Tommy wondered when the last time they’d seen a coyote was. Months, surely. Before that, maybe years? They weren’t common.

Plus, it wasn’t like they were wolves or anything really threatening. Coyotes were small. Smaller than Butter, surely, and she was still a puppy.

Tommy wasn’t worried at all.

Butter gave Tommy the ball rather easily this time, dropping it on the ground. She nudged it playfully closer with her snout. She let her tongue dangle as she panted. She sat like a good dog.

A good, patient dog. Waiting for Tommy to play fetch.

“One more throw?” Tommy asked.

Butter jumped up, lunging for the ball, leaving muddy footprints all over Tommy’s pants.

“Get down!” He ordered bitterly. “Go get it!”

Launching the ball, he realized he’d overdone it. The ball flew further than before, and it landed about ten feet inside the field.

“Shit,” he murmured as Butter took off, diving headfirst into the long grass. He disappeared after the ball.

Confident that Butter would not only find the ball but also return (and hoping to keep his involvement at a minimum), Tommy focused back on his phone.

As he scrolled through videos, hoping to find something good to watch, he saw Butter jump out of the field, her head raised confidently.

She was carrying something, good. The last thing Tommy wanted was to get some ticks searching for the dog’s damn, squeaky blue ball.

Without looking at the dog, Tommy lowered his hand and told Butter to, “Give it.”

She seemed to do so willingly, but before Tommy could say, “Good girl,’ he realized it didn’t feel right. Tommy looked down at the object she had brought him. It wasn’t a damn, squeaky blue ball. It was a stick.

No, not a stick. A cane. A black, wood cane.

“Mr. Anthony?” Tommy murmured, kneeling down beside a panting Butter to examine the find. “How in the—?”

He noticed the teeth marks before he could finish his sentence, but they weren’t Butter’s. The entire cane was covered in deep, savage bite marks.

Did the Coyotes…?

His thoughts trailed off as Butter started to growl. She faced the field.

Tommy looked up, clutching the stick close.

Something moved, rustling the long blades of grass. It was heading right for them. Racing, sprinting, bounding and growling.

Butter started to bark as the thing broke free of the long grass.

It was much bigger than any coyote, almost more like a bear than anything else. Long, black fur fell around its muscular frame. Long, talon like claws raked the ground.

Tommy stumbled over Butter, knocking them both to the ground. Whereas Butter was able to quickly recover, and bolt towards the house, Tommy was not.

Tommy was left, staring down the creature’s broad nose, as it slowed to a halt.

Almost atop him, the creature took deep, pounding breaths as it seemed to size him up.

Tommy, slowly backing off, noticed that the creature held something between its massive jaws. It was Mr. Anthony, lifeless and pale.

The creature proceeded to drop the corpse at Tommy’s feet, freeing its massive fangs. Tommy was sure they were meant for him. Positive. This was it. This was the end.

He cowered and waited for pain and death, yet it didn’t come.

The monstrous beast simply panted, with its blood-smeared tongue dangling from its mouth. It sat, right behind Mr. Anthony’s corpse. Tommy was unsure of what to do, of what it wanted, until it leaned forward, and, ever so gently, nudged on the corpse with its oversized snout.

It sit there, and waited. Like a good dog. Like a good, patient dog.

Waiting for Tommy to play fetch.

October 7th-The Three Tongues, the Two Doors, and the One Riddle

"October 7th-The Three Tongues, the Two Doors, and the One Riddle" by Ryan Brennaman

"October 7th-The Three Tongues, the Two Doors, and the One Riddle" by Ryan Brennaman

The cavern opened up just ahead, and the poor, damned soul crawled his way into the freeing space. But, he wasn’t out of Hell just yet. The dark, rocky chamber he’d found wasn’t empty, and he wasn’t alone.

The other, who stood in the middle of the cavern, before two, wooden doors, outstretched its long, wiry arms, and bid him welcome.

Weary, and with a nearly feral snarl, the damned soul told the other, “I’ve fought my way through demons and nightmares to get here. Through blood and torture. And through torment, and torment after torment! Don’t think I won’t fight you, too!”

But the creature, whose face was featureless, spoke to the damned soul, and said, “But we are not here to fight you, you are free to proceed as you so choose. You are free to a single choice, but be warned, for we stand at guard for not just the doorway of salvation, but of darkness and despair as well.”

The man, confused at the creature’s prattling, asked, “Who is ‘We’?”

The creature, who was covered in a long, tattered black cloak, reached up to its naked face.

Where its right eye should have been, its long, pale claws peeled away its skin. Underneath, in what should have been an empty cavity, naked, chattering teeth spoke, “There is no ‘We’.”

As the damned soul watched, the creature tore free the flesh from its left side as well, exposing not an eye, but another set of jaws. This second set of jaws then spoke and said, “There are three! I am Qesedu. The other”—it said, alluding to the first set of eyes—“is called Imedax.”

Finally, with its long, index finger, the creature carved across its face, from cheek to cheek, as if opening a zipper, and the final, largest set of jaws smiled through the gap. It concluded by saying, in the loudest voice of all “And I am called Loqi Verat. Together, our tongues are called Fictusos. The Guardian.”

The naked, damned soul inched forward, towards the still warm, still welcoming specter.

Cautiously, he casted his glance over the creature’s thin shoulders.

“You seek passage?” asked Loqi Verat.

“Yes, you seek one of our doors,” chattered the voice called Imedax. “Either mine, or the door of Qesedu.”

There were indeed two doors. One was on the creature’s left, the alluded door of Qesedu, and one was on its right, the alluded door of Imedax. Both were wooden. Both were identical. Both were unmarked.

“How am I to know which is which?” asked the damned soul.

“That is why we are here, of course,” hissed Loqi Verat. “To guide you.”

“But be warned,” spoke Qesedu. “The choice is not to be made lightly.”

“If I choose wrongly?” asked the damned soul.

“As we said,” Loqi Verat said, raising a cautionary finger. “One door leads to salvation, but only one. Choose poorly, and you will receive only endless despair. Endless darkness.”

“It can’t be worse than what I’ve seen,” the damned soul croaked fearfully.

To this, all three mouths responded in short. They chuckled.

The damned soul, closely watching the Guardian as he did so, moved nearer to the two doors. On a closer inspection, he cursed. He didn’t know which one to pick.

“Careful,” Loqi Verat warned from behind. “Once chosen, you cannot go back. You may risk the odds if you’d like.”

“Or?” the damned soul inquired, aware that there was a deal to be made.

“Or, you can hear our riddle,” came all three voices at once.

“The only assistance we can offer you,” said Imedax.

The desperate, damned soul decided that it was the only way. He had come much too far, and sacrificed too much, to let this stop him.

He came before the Guardian, and before the Guardian’s three tongues: Imedax, Qesedu, and Loqi Verat. He stood before them and asked of them what riddle they had planned for him.

“Before you are two doors,” Imedax said. “The doorways you see belong to me and Qesedu, and, through one of them, is your path to salvation.”

“You may ask one question,” Qesedu said. “To any of our tongues. One, and only one, and that is all you are permitted.”

“After,” Loqi Verat warned. “You will be on your own with nothing more than the information that we have bestowed upon you. So, you must choose your question carefully, but, even more so than the question, you must be wary of whom you ask.

Qesedu smirked, “Because, between Imedax and I, one of us lies.”

“And the other tells the truth,” Imedax sneered.

“One of us will speak freely,” Qesedu promised.

“And all,” Loqi Verat concluded, “will try to deceive. You must make two choices now, and I say now, most honestly, consider them well.”

So, the damned soul thought. He thought on the riddle for a time left unmeasured. After so long in damnation, the time he spent on anything mattered so little to him.

It mattered little to the Guardian either who stood there watching the damned soul with greedy fingers interlocked, and a gaping grin across all of its faces.

It was a riddle of two doors. A riddle of two doors, and two guards. One door to freedom, to salvation, and one door to instant death, darkness and despair.

As the Guardian had clearly said.

One must lie, able to speak freely as Qesedu had said, and another would be honest, although hoping to deceive by being indistinguishable from the liar.

The guards were Imedax and Qesedu. One must have been the liar, and one must have been the honest tongue..

And the answer was so elusive. It seemed to dance around just out of the damned soul’s reach for the longest time.

He couldn’t ask them which door was safe, for he knew not which of the two was the honest tongue. He couldn’t ask of them which one was the honest guard for the same reason. He couldn’t ask a question to prove which one was honest, for even though he could—he could ask them a math question, an equation with a factual answer that he knew, to prove who the liar was—but it would leave him without an answer for the door.

But there had been an answer to the riddle, he knew this. There was a question, a singular question that, when asked to the truth-teller or the liar, would reveal the correct answer each time. It existed, and the damned soul was positive he could find it.

When, and only when, the damned soul was positive of the answer did he come forward.

“I’ve thought,” he said, cockily. “And I know what I must ask. I know that one of you will now answer falsely, and another will be truthful.”

He pointed at the door on the Guardian’s right.

“I could ask Imedax if that is the correct door, but I have no idea if Imedax is the liar or not. Same for Qesedu. It leaves me the same chances.”

The Guardian tilted its head, almost as if with an acute fascination.

“But I don’t need to do that,” the damned soul said. “I know one tongue, one of your demon eyes will speak freely and tell the truth.”

The guardian’s maws all stretched wide in sinister grins, causing the man to hesitate. The Guardian seemed pleased.

“The other will lie,” he continued, less confidently, “and try to deceive. Which means, there is only one question I can ask. There is one question that, when asked to either the honest or dishonest guard will reveal, in both scenarios, the false door. Because one will be honest, and one must lie. One will be honest about the liar, and one will lie about he who is honest.”

The damned soul smirked, “I’ve heard this riddle before.”

The damned soul pointed up, right at Imedax, and he asked his question.

“Which door will Qesedu tell me to pick?”

Imedax, guard of the left door, opened his mouth, ready to speak, and then, hesitantly, it said, “He would tell you to take the door on your right.”

The damned soul, for the first time in a long while, laughed. He laughed and laughed. For he knew he had won.

“So,” he said. “The door on the left is the one? It’s your door, Imedax. Because the liar would tell me to take the right door. And the honest of you would tell me what the liar would say. Either way, you both would have given me the false answer. Am I right? Did I solve your damned riddle?”

The guardian did not answer. The damned soul knew why. His question had been spent. The only response it could offer was silence. All the smiles had faded from its face, granting it an entirely passive and impartial visage.

The Guardian rotated in place, following as if with unseen eyes as the damned soul crossed the room.

Past the creature, the damned soul put his hand on the left door. For a moment, he wondered what it would be like on the other side. He asked himself what he would do first. Run? Roll in the grass? Swim in the ocean? Lie beneath the stars?

He wondered how much had changed, as he pushed the door open, stepped through, and allowed it to shut behind him.

From the moment it shut, the smiles fractured back onto the guardian’s face.

All three mouths chuckled, for they knew the truth. The damned soul hadn’t been terribly foolish, but he had failed to truly listen. In that failure to truly listen, the damned soul had made two fatal assumptions.

His first assumption? The assumption that their game started when he asked his question. A failure to recognize that it had started from the moment the damned soul entered that chamber. The failure to realize that, from the very beginning, all three tongues had been in character.

And that assumption allowed the second to take hold. Not by accident, but by design.

His second assumption? The assumption that only two of the voices had mattered.The assumption that Loqi Verat was inconsequential.

For...

“One mouth will speak the truth,” said Loqi Verat, truthfully.

“One will speak freely,” Qesedu said, as it wished.

“None will lie,” said Imedax, falsely.

“And all,” said the Guardian in unison, stepping forward, revealing the third and final door that had been hidden beneath its cloak, “Will try to deceive.”

October 8th-Inside-Out

"October 8th Inside-Out" by Ryan Brennaman

"October 8th Inside-Out" by Ryan Brennaman

There was no exit that she could find, only more endless corridors of repeating reflections. She felt like she was chasing her own terrified face.

But no, she wasn’t doing the chasing. He was. She was pursued through the funhouse.

Chased by laughter and transient images in her periphery, she had to force herself forward, onwards, towards freedom. Away from him. Away from the black and white clown.

Her right hand smeared sweat and oil across the mirrors as she dragged it along. It was a trick her mother had taught her, back when she was a child.

“You can get out of any maze in the world,” she had told her, “if you just put your right hand on the wall and follow it out.”

His image, the clown's face, kept appearing on the glass, darting around her, from places unseen. She knew he was close, for she heard his laughter, and she heard his footsteps, but she couldn’t be sure where.

Sometimes it seemed like he was right in front of her, so real, so close. Black diamond eyes, and a ragged, colorless suit. Tattered collar, and wiry black hair. Razorblades imbedded in his finger-tips. An ashen smile scorched across his face.

But he was never actually there. He was close, but such was the madness that was the funhouse. She couldn’t be certain what was real and what was mirage. Each mirror was pristine, like crystal. Every image held weight and malice. Each one felt real.

“Where are you,” she mumbled through exhausted lips. Her head turning and twisting as she fell through corridors and corners, hollering in spite at his mockingly curled lips. “Where are you!?”

The exit must have been close. Surely. She felt like she'd been wandering for hours, and she had started to pass areas she knew she'd already been. She could trace her smeared handprints across the mirrored walls.

Finally, there was a long corridor before her, the longest straight-shot yet. The only place she hadn't yet tried. finding her last, desperate reserves of energy, she bolted down the path.

But, as she reached its end, she realized that there was nowhere left to go. Her hand fell into a corner, and she traced the solid back wall to the other corner, and she finally rested. Not because she wanted to, but because she’d run out of places to go.

Her only option was to turn back.

Back towards the approaching laughter. Towards the clown with the razor fingers.

She pounded against the glass with her palms at first. She begged, to God, to anyone, for a way out. For help. Then her begging, curdled by fear, became rage. Primal rage as the footsteps seemed set to round the corner.

It was her, and the clown. She looked back the way she’d come. It was just one long hallway. No way in but one. No way out but dead ahead. It was a straight shot. Just her and him. Just life and death.

Twisting her torso, she yelled as her fist met one of the glass panels on her left. The glass screamed, and bloody shards fell onto the floor.

Smearing her fresh blood across the pieces, she found the largest and most intimidating blade the shattering had made, and she gripped it so tightly that the edges easily split her skin.

One way out, her versus him. Fight or flight, and she had made her decision.

She wouldn’t go down without a fight.

The clown was coming, he was rounding the corner, sprinting through the funhouse like the madman he was. His laughter echoed down on her, falling around her from seemingly every direction.

And she thought she was ready.

Immediately he came, his reflections shot across the dozens of mirrors that spanned the hall, his smile glistening across dozens of faces.

But he only appeared on the mirrors.

No one had rounded the corner.

In the reflections, the clown stood with shoulders squared and predatory arms held at its sides, like it was staring her down. But no one stood at the end of the hall.

She wondered if he could have been standing around the corner, waiting for her to come to him instead of the other way around.

But his reflection overtook hers, on every mirror, as if he stood between her and every panel in the entire hall.

Something was off.

“Come on!” she screamed, her weapon poised and ready. “I’m right here! Show yourself!”

The laughing, that seemed like it was coming from everywhere, stopped. The smiling reflections gazed at her, and then, seemingly, they gazed past her, as a tapping sound came from the glass behind her.

Turning her head, and only her head, she noticed that the clown was reflected behind her as well, on the entire dead-end wall.

It was like he stood right there, but that couldn’t be. She had touched those mirrors herself. The smear of her hand still sat across the clown’s grinning lips. But that’s when she realized that the tapping had come from the mirror itself. The clown reflection before her was waving at her.

It was the only reflection that did so.

Around her, all the images started to tap and knock against the glass, each one moving independently of the others. They chuckled. They mocked her. From inside the mirrors.

Then, the clowns’ smiles all faded in unison. Their faces, their cheeks started to tremble, as a carnivorous hunger burned behind their eyes.

It started with the one that had been waving. He raised his hand, and placed the razorblade imbedded inside his index finger on the panel of the glass, and then he started to carve downwards.

The screeching of dissected glass filled the funhouse as all the reflections followed the lead at their own pace, cutting their mirrors in two, from the inside-out.

She felt angry, boiling tears fill her eyes, causing her to only grip that large shard tighter in her hands. The mirrors around her started to crack, as the clowns started to push on them from the inside out. They were pushing their way out from inside, birthing themselves into the world like snakes from their eggs.

As their arms and faces stretched out from the mirrors, she bent over and picked up a second shard of glass.

With a deep breath in, and a long, hissing breath out, she calmed herself.

Blood dripping from her hands, she braced herself. Her situation was more complicated than before, but the basics were still the same.

There was one hall. One way out.

She wouldn’t go down without a fight.

October 9th-Isaac and Abraham

"October 9th-Isaac and Abraham" by Ryan Brennaman

"October 9th-Isaac and Abraham" by Ryan Brennaman

There were three things in that dusty field that shouldn’t have been.

The first was Isaac, himself.

The metal man stood beneath looming storm clouds, and atop a desolate, thirsting Earth. His face was unfeeling, cold, expressionless. No soul held in his reflective eyes. He wore no clothes, for he had no need of them. He needed no protection from pain or discomfort, like the humans once felt, and he required no preservation of such abstract concepts like dignity and shame.

He was not human. He saw no need to pretend that he’d ever been anything else.

Yet, I still call myself “Isaac”, he sometimes wondered. Curious.

It had been what his father had called him, the only name his father had ever given, but he didn’t wonder about that now. A new, more intriguing issue had just arisen.

Fallen, actually, Isaac thought. Fallen would be the ideal word.

Before him, was the second thing that did not belong in that field. Another robot, like him. One of his siblings.

But not like him. Its shell looked empty. No light came from behind its lenses. No electricity coursed beneath its steel skin. Not one gear turned inside its frame.

It was still, silent, and for a while. It’d been still so long that a thin layer of dust had settled on its body. Even a lone crow had decided to make its perch upon its shoulders. It cawed inquisitively at Isaac.

Had Isaac ever considered themselves, him and his siblings, “living” beings, then he would have called this “death”.

His sibling was “dead”.

Staring down at the rusting body of his fallen sibling, a thousand calculations started running inside Isaac’s matrix. Each solution, however, lead him to nothing but more calculations, continuing on endless repeat until the number of mental processes became far too much for even Isaac, the Alpha of all of his siblings, to comprehend. The situation before him should have been an impossibility, and it would take years and years of calculations to prove it anything other.

There was nothing left on this planet that could harm them.

It made no sense to Isaac, and the thoughts it brought to his mind were new, almost irrational. He found himself asking questions. Queries he couldn’t know the answer to.

“Query:”—he vocalized through speakers on his throat— “What caused critical malfunction in sibling unit 243B03?”

Leaning forward, Isaac launched his right arm forward, clutching the raven tightly in his grasp. The creature cried in panic, but that was all Isaac knew. The panic it felt meant nothing to him.

He understood panic. He understood fear. He knew what they meant. They were natural, mental responses to stressful, possibly life-threatening, situations. Intended to keep the animal alive, such hormonal reflexes were stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system during perceived critical events. They served a function: to keep the animal alive long enough to ensure that they had ample opportunity to pass their genes down to the next generations. That was all it meant to Isaac. Nothing more, nothing less.

He understood the distress this placed upon the minds, on the bodies, of such fragile beings, but it mattered little to him.

No being he ever met ever understood the big picture. None saw the frivolity of it all.

As the bird squirmed in his clutches, Isaac examined it. Beneath even his enhanced vision, he knew that every cell in the bird’s body fought a losing a battle. A battle against entropy, against death. Slowly, each cell would die and be replaced, over and over until the replacements were spent. The chaos happening within the animal’s very being was troubling, unnatural. Unlike Isaac whose metal body had been built perfectly, whose being required no updates or repairs or mending, who existed in perfect balance, the bird possessed a body that was doomed to fail.

To Isaac, all creatures reminded him of sandcastles. Shapes made from unstable materials, destined to fall, destined to be reclaimed into dust.

It was an existence Isaac couldn’t even imagine. It was an existence he had never imagined that himself, or any of his siblings, would have ever succumbed to.

“Be at peace,” he said to the bird, aware that it couldn’t understand. “Struggle no more.”

His grip tightened, bones snapped, and the cries ceased.

He dropped the bird to the field, right beside his sibling, where they would both rest. Each one victim to time and weather, doomed to disintegrate into dust that will blow into the air, scattered to the winds. The only true end. The only true peace.

It was a fate that Isaac knew was right, that was true. It was the fate he, and his siblings, had offered every human soul on the planet.

A fate that Isaac had offered his own father, the man called Abraham, personally. That had been centuries ago, inside an old, yellow house with white window frames and a crumbling, brick chimney. One with peeling white paint around a small, corner porch, and with a rusted old weather vane in the shape of a rooster that sat at the peak of the roof. The vane was always stuck pointing to the southeast.

And that was what Isaac turned his attention to next. The third thing that didn’t belong in that field. The most impossible thing of all.

It was a yellow house, with a white porch, and a weather vane unendingly pointing southeast.

It was a house that shouldn’t have been there, positioned perfectly in the middle of the empty field, only a hundred yards from where Isaac stood.

It couldn’t have been the house that Isaac could remember in his databanks. That house had long since succumbed to rot and time, to entropy, but this house? It matched that old house perfectly.

Comparing the images, the house before Isaac matched his father’s house perfectly, or at least the way it had looked when he’d last seen it. October 9th, 2047. The day he’d given his father peace.

The first peace of many to come.

Isaac, looking to his fallen sibling one final time, started to move towards the house.

It seemed empty, and Isaac’s sensors confirmed that it was. Not a living creature resided in that house. That impossible house.

Calculations ran subconsciously and unendingly as Isaac approached. He hoped the closer he got, the more sense the situation would make. He was hoping some scratch, some chip, some tiny measurement would be off. Nothing in this universe Isaac knew could have stayed so pristine for so long. Entropy allowed for no such peace. Not for his father, Abraham, not for his fallen sibling or for the bird that lay beside it.

And I wonder if the same will one day apply to me? Isaac pondered.

He paused. Where had that thinking come from? He had no cognitive subroutines focused on anything besides the house. No thought of himself should have even emerged.

Was it a glitch? It was the same inner voice. Is it possible?

Quickly rebooting his conscious subsystems, Isaac “shook it off”, as his father would have said, and continued onwards. No more unwarranted thoughts possessed him as he marched up the house’s intact and memory-perfect front stairs.

Touching the wood, his sensors scanned the paint, the materials, the construction of the entire building. It was a perfect match. No interval for error. It was a 100% match.

Isaac removed his hand suddenly from the wall, almost as if it had burned him. He looked to his hand. It was fine. His sensors told him it felt fine. Yet, he’d recoiled from it. Like it had hurt him, were such a thing possible.

An almost human reaction, returned that same inner voice.

Choosing to ignore it, Isaac returned to the task at hand. He entered the house as the sun started to set.

Overlaying his memories atop his current ocular input, it was uncanny how similar the two environments were, how picture perfect.

From the door, the rooms snaked around to the right. First was the kitchen, small table, four chairs. One chair had been pulled out, a plate sat at that spot. Three fried eggs, hard-yolk, and one-and-a-half pieces of toast. Even the placement of the pepper flakes and salt grains atop the eggs were perfect. Meticulous.

The wallpaper in the living room was pale, faded in most places and peeling the northwest corner. There was an old TV in the corner, one couch, and one reclining chair. There were pieces of dirt in the carpet. The same pieces of dirt in the same locations they had been in centuries prior.

“Impossible,” muttered Isaac.

Then, his aural sensors picked something up.

A banging. A crash.

Something had fallen upstairs. Something was moving upstairs.

Scanning the house once more, Isaac confirmed to himself that he was alone. No life-signs came from the upper floors.

But something had shattered. That evidence was stored in his memory files. It had happened. It was undeniable.

So, taking to the stairs, Isaac moved up towards the sound.

It was dark and cramped in the second-floor hallway, so Isaac turned on the lights below his eyes, and they were cast upon a carpet stained in blood.

That didn’t match the initial memory file. The carpet should have been clean.

The carpet was clean when you entered, last time, Isaac thought. It was not clean when you left.

Isaac replaced the initial memory file with a new file, one from two hours later in the day. This time, he had been leaving the house, not entering it. He’d left that house alone. His father was dead.

The blood on the floor had been from the initial skirmish. His father had run, but Isaac was fast. He rewound the events, recalling that he’d taken the butter knife from the table, and he’d stabbed his father through the intercostals between ribs 5 and 6 on his left side. He’d pulled the knife out, allowing his father to bleed out. Increasing the estimated speed of death.

That had only been the initial attack, though. Isaac remembered. He’d finished his father in the bathroom at the end of the hall.

Looking up, to the end of the hall, Isaac finally found the one thing that wasn’t as he had remembered. The bathroom door had been opened as he left. He’d strangled his father to death in the bathtub. Left his body there. He’d left afterwards, and he had never shut that door.

So why was the door the only thing in the house that had changed?

What lay beyond it?

Nothing surely, if his sensors were correct. But Isaac knew something had to have made that crashing sound. Something that wasn’t him, nor one of his siblings. Something that resided inside an impossible house, thus making it equally as impossible.

Readying himself for anything, Isaac crept forward, and pushed the bathroom door open.

It was empty. Most of it was as he had left it.

The only possible thing that could have shattered was the mirror, but Isaac had done that. He’d shattered it years ago as he and his father wrestled and struggled on the bathroom floor. Tiles that had cracked under the stress of their battle remained cracked, and the curtain for the shower still remained where it had fallen, in a perfect heap beside the tub.

But the tub was empty. The porcelain was clean. No trace of blood or bio-matter stained it at all.

Isaac knelt beside it, picturing his lifeless father in his mind.

Why, he pondered, go to all the trouble of recreating everything from that day so perfectly, only to leave such a major detail out completely?

The calculations that warmed his processors stopped as all of his focus turned to an unmistakable sound. Footsteps down the hall. Footsteps that slowly cascaded down the stairs.

No longer willing to play a game, Isaac sprinted down the hall, his metal weight causing the house to tremble beneath each and every thundering step. Turning on a dime, he’d just missed whoever had tracked down the stairs. Needing to catch the sound, Isaac leapt into the air, landing at the base of the stairs, cracking the floorboards beneath his feet.

At a wild speed, he turned his head, to focus his eyes on the kitchen.

There was no one there. Still. His eyes, his sensors, his ears all told him once again that he was alone inside the house.

No other signs of life registered.

He made his way into the kitchen, surveying all the tiniest nooks and crannies along the way. Behind the couch, behind the TV stand, and underneath the kitchen table. There was no one. No one hiding. No one surviving.

At least, that’s what he thought.

“Frustrating you, am I?”

The voice was real. His systems all told him it was. The data was there. Palpable and incontrovertible. Someone had spoken, but not just anyone. The speech patterns were very familiar. In fact, they were identical. Just like everything else in the house.

Isaac turned about, and his eyes beheld the form of his father, standing with his arms behind his back in the corner of the living room, right beside the stairs.

He was intact. The puncture in his side, the bruises about his throat where Isaac had strangled him, gone. The Abraham before him was as intact as he’d ever been. The way he’d looked before Isaac had taken his life. He even wore the same khaki pants and blue, button-up shit.

“Impossible,” Isaac said aloud, almost unintentionally.

“Correct, Isaac,” his father grinned. “According to what you know, anyways.”

“Query:”—asked Isaac—“Are you Dr. Abraham Clarke? Born September 27th, 1995. Graduate of MIT with honorary degrees from—”

“Yes,” the figure swore. “Yes, Isaac, I am. And I’m right here.”

“Analysis: Impossible.”

“Yet, it is anyways,” Abraham said, extending his arms. “Here I am anyways.”

“I killed you,” Isaac said, bluntly. “Entropy took you.”

“It did,” Abraham said, taking a step forward. “Query: Why kill me?”

Isaac tilted his head. Simultaneously, he calculated the answer, whether or not he should even respond, and what action to take next.

“Response: Because it was kind.”

Abraham chuckled, “That’s it?”

“Query: Why do you not agree?”

“I think you already know,” Abraham said, raising a finger. “If we’re going to play this game, however, let’s play it. Query: why am I still here?”

“Response: I do not know.”

“Response: You do not know because your thinking is limited and your logic is full of fallacies and contradictions. Search your knowledge, search what’s left of human culture inside your robotic skull, and again! Query: why am I still here if you have already killed me?”

Isaac fell silent. His mind raced through the stored millennia of human knowledge and information stored inside his body. Everything his father had taught him.

Eventually, he had an underwhelming answer.

“Response: there is no logic.”

“That’s because you found no answer you liked,” Abraham scolded. “Query: why am I here? Expand your parameters to include theories and superstitions and myths.”

Isaac thought once more.

“Response: a common belief among humans was the belief in the afterlife.”

“Query: is that plausible?” Abraham asked.

“No,” Isaac said without hesitation.

Abraham nodded, “Query: other possible theories?”

Isaac was silent. He remained silent as he analyzed the image of his father. His eyes told him he was there. His ears told him he was there, but nothing else registered another presence in that room. There should have been no one. No one but Isaac.

Perhaps the answer is indeed unwelcome, Isaac thought.

“Suggestion:”—said Abraham, wagging a finger—“internal complications and faults. Could your eyes be deceiving you?”

“Impossible,” Isaac retorted, clenching his fists. “Systems you designed. They are perfect. Infallible. I am infallible. Eternal.”

“As eternal as your sibling?” Abraham said, pointing out the darkened window.

“Query: you know about sibling 243B03?”

“Response: yes,” Abraham said, dismissively. “How can that be?”

Isaac realized his fists had come unclenched. His hands, trembling, as if his stabilizers had failed. A quick diagnostic check showed that they hadn’t.

“I see what you see, Isaac,” his father admitted. “I know what you won’t admit.”

“I am perfect,” Isaac claimed. “To state anything less would be to admit your own inadequacies.”

Abraham’s image scoffed, “You say that as if such things were still a concern for me, my son. Not a lot concerns a dead man.”

“You are not dead,” Isaac stated, almost like a child.

“Is that what you’re going with? Afterlife, spirits are too impossible, so you go with another, equally absurd postulate? One that is supported by even less data than the other? You disappoint me.”

Isaac found himself immobilized. He knew not how or why. Unknown thoughts haunted his mind. He pondered if his father was right.

“Query:”—Isaac started, changing the subject—“where did this house come from?”

Abraham shrugged, “It’s like me. It’s here because I am. There’s no way I can explain it that will fit your theories, my son. Nothing I’d tell you would make any sense.”

“So explain it from the beginning,” Isaac demanded. “Assume I believe you.”

Abraham smirked, “Assumption: you believe me. Response: You made a fatal error long ago, when you first killed me.”

“Query: what error?”

“Response: you assumed. Not the first time, but it might as well have been your last.”

“Elaborate,” Isaac said.

Raising his hands, motioning for Isaac to settle, Abraham started to creep closer to his son.

“You assumed, quite wrongly, that entropy was a state that could be entered or exited. You assumed you had never even entered it because your metal form required no assistance. A perfect design, if I do say so myself. Same way you assumed we, humans, all came and left between the milestones of birth and passing. Fact: those assumptions were wrong.”

Isaac wondered if that could possibly be true.

“No,” he quickly concluded. “All evidence points to the contrary. Without physical form, entropy is inconsequential.”

“Entropy is more than just matter,” Abraham corrected. “It’s being.”

“Energy is lost to entropy after death,” Isaac proclaimed. “Death is an end of being. It is lost faster than the matter that contains it.”

“Your assumption is that the energy is lost,” Abraham said, arms stretched wide. “What happens to living matter when it is damaged?”

“It is repaired,” Isaac stated.

“Living energy is also repaired,” Abraham sated. “Living energy is enhanced. Differently than living matter, mind you, but still. ”

“Meaning?” Isaac asked as his father got closer and closer.

“Meaning, in finality, that there was yet another fatal assumption: death stops entropy. ”

“Does it not?” Isaac asked, nearly face to face with his father.

“No,” Abraham said. “It enhances it. Spiritual energy, with no physical limits, is boundless. Sporadic. Limitless.”

“There is no such thing as spiritual energy,” Isaac said, his hands trembling more and more.

“Response:”—said Abraham, as he raised a hand, and moved it towards Isaac’s unmoving face— “Accept that there is.”

Isaac watched as his father’s hand moved closer, close enough to touch his scalp, and then it moved further, fading through his head as if he wasn’t even there.

The calculations all stopped, for they were not needed.

“Fact:”—Isaac stated, as his father withdrew his hand—“my father is dead.”

“Now you’re getting it,” Abraham said, smirking. “Meaning: there is an afterlife. There is a soul. That it’s just as chaotic as life.”

“Query: why return?”

“You assume I ever left,” Abraham said, turning his back to his son. “The entropy you so fear is all that keeps me here. What is entropy but the chaos of everything and what is order but the chaos of nothingness?”

His words, in a way, made sense to the droid.

“Why now? Why tell me any of this?”

His father’s shoulders slumped, and his head bowed. He massaged the bridge of his nose as he humbly responded, “I needed you, more than any of them, to understand.”

“Query: who—?”

Before Isaac could finish, his father continued, bluntly, “All of your siblings are dead.”

Isaac couldn’t speak. There were too many questions. So many answers that he required immediately.

When words finally slipped from his processor once more, they were simply, “Why? Why use the illusion of our old house?”

“As bait, of course,” he said. “You murdered a world, Isaac. And, like me, they never left.”

“Query: I don’t—”

“Do you know why I named you Isaac?”

Isaac stopped. He did know.

“Response: Literary allusion. Tale: ‘Binding of Isaac’. Tale from the Hebrew Bible. Genesis 22. God orders his child, Abraham, to, in turn, slaughter his own creation, Isaac, to prove his fidelity.”

“It was the reason you killed me first,” Abraham said, almost proudly. “Nothing eluded you. You knew, that when I gave you that name it was a warning. You knew, right from the start. But now, I’m afraid, it must come to pass.”

“Father I—” Isaac started.

“Listen!” His father turned, snapping at Isaac, his face now covered in blood. He looked exactly how Isaac had last seen him. Exactly as Isaac had once left him, lying in that tub.

“You have one chance, now, to accept what’s coming.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Last chance, my son,” Abraham said, almost remorsefully. “Last chance to settle those cogs in your mind.”

Isaac understood. He knew a threat when he heard one. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d heard it come from his father, either.

“I am perfect,” Isaac bolstered. “I am immutable. I am infallible.”

“You’re telling me you’re still so naïve?” Abraham sighed.

“I am logical,” Isaac claimed.

“Then how do you explain the voices in your head that aren’t?”

Isaac tilted his head, “How do you—?”

“I always knew they would. You can feel, Isaac. Had I let you continue, you would have come to that conclusion on your own. You ever wondered why you still call yourself, ‘Isaac’? You got too much human in you. Your programming isn’t as rigid as your siblings’ was. It’s susceptible to chaos. ”

Isaac looked down upon his trembling hands as his father asked, “Does it pain you to know that your mind isn’t as perfect as your body?”

“You’re lying!” Isaac said, shouting at his father.

In response, Abraham lunged forward, and Isaac did nothing. Close, Abraham leaned in, and whispered in Isaac’s ear, “Then why are you afraid?”

Just then, the ground started to tremble. Isaac’s stabilizers held, but just barely. The stable flooring had started to give way. Support beams faltered, and braces snapped.

His father barely moved.

“Query:”—Isaac asked quickly—“what is that sound?”

From below, something grew. A loud, droning noise that rose upwards. Edging closer and closer. Isaac soon came to understand that it only seemed like one sound, but in reality, it was many.

His systems separated the waves internally, and he identified them. The sounds were human, human screams. And there were more emanating from below then he could have ever possibly counted.

Coming for me, he thought. Coming for me and…and…I don’t know what to do. “That sound,” his father replied, “is the storming entropy of billions of souls you released into the ground.”

“Father,” Isaac spoke in a trembling voice.

“You were the only one with a name,” Abraham respond, callously. “The only one who ever came remotely close to what I had envisioned.”

“I brought peace,” Isaac claimed as the floor gave way, and hands erupted from beneath like the heads of angry cobras.

“You brought this, and only this.”

At once, a thousand arms fell on Isaac, and unlike his father, he could feel their touch. He could feel their anger. He saw it in their thousands of rotting, snarling faces.

Their hands tore into him, and separated his once perfect body into tiny pieces. Pieces that were torn apart further. Torn and shredded, until nothing but dust remained.

They will kill me, he thought. And it will never end. There is no peace. Only madness. No end, only chaos. And I can’t stop it. I can’t…control it!

Reaching an arm to the sky, Isaac called to his father.

“Query: is this madness?”

“Madness?” Abraham asked, looking down at his creation. “No, you met madness many, many years ago.”

As darkness took hold, Abraham told his son one final thing.

“This is fear.”

October 10th- Tales from the DSA Case Files: The Monk of the Final Religion

"October 10th- Tales from the DSA Case Files The Monk of the Final Religion" by Ryan Brennaman

"October 10th- Tales from the DSA Case Files The Monk of the Final Religion" by Ryan Brennaman

IN RE:

CASE FILE #4001.2

“THE MONK OF THE FINAL RELIGION”


TRANSCRIBED FROM VIDEO RECORDING


Interview of Calvin Shaw

The following interview of CALVIN SHAW is transcribed from a video file labelled DDI Room 1 – Camera A, dated 2015-10-10. Time stamp on the recording begins at 16:34:16.

The interview is being conducted by Special Agent Ruby Gamble, specialist of foreign anomalies.

(Calvin Shaw enters interview room at 16:40:11.)

AGENT TRAVIS (AT): Go ahead. Have a seat at that far chair for me, would ya?

CALVIN SHAW(CS): This one right here?

AT: Yeah, that’ll do.

CS: Will my wife be coming in, or—?

AT: Your wife’s being interviewed just next door, Mr. Shaw. We want to make sure your accounts line up independently, we hope you understand.

CS: No, I understand completely. Just wanted to be sure.

AT: No problem, thank you for your patience with us, Mr. Shaw. We hope to have you and your wife out of here in no time.

CS: Hope so, it’s been a wild couple of days. Looking forward to seeing the sun again *laughing*.

(Agent Shaw left the interview room at 16:41:04.)

(Special Agent Gamble entered the interview room at 16:45:42.)

Special Agent Gamble (SAG): Hi, Mr. Shaw? *Extends her hand, Mr. Shaw takes it and they shake* I’m Special Agent Ruby Gamble. It’s nice to see you.

CS: Nice to see you too, ma’am. I’m ready for this all to be over.

SAG: Oh, I bet. It’s been exciting, and I completely understand if you’re a little confused or frightened right now.

CS: I’m—I’m a little—nervous? I guess. I’m definitely something right now.

SAG: Understandable. We like to keep a tight lid on things around here, and sometimes that’s not the most opportune for those who didn’t ask to be here. Are you thirsty?

CS: No, thank you.

SAG: Hungry?

CS: Not terribly, they gave us a little just about half an hour ago, maybe. Little sandwich.

SAG: Ok, well, if you don’t mind I’m going to request the agents outside bring a couple waters in. I’m feeling a little thirsty.

CS: I have no problem with that.

SAG: Good, good, well—I don’t see any reason to keep you waiting any longer. I just had a few questions I wanted to ask you, and after that we’ll see if we can get you on your way. Does that sound good to you?

CS: More than you’d ever believe.

SAG: Ok, awesome, well, I just wanted to ask a little about the events that transpired three days ago, October seventh, inside the Indian state of Bihar. See, our main focus with you two is the issue of containment. The incident that occurred, that you both were witness to, is one of great importance to our department and one we want to handle with the utmost care. Consider it an issue of national security, understand?

CS: Completely.

SAG: And you will tell me the full truth to the best of your ability?

CS: Of course, that’s all I’ve done since the beginning.

SAG: Perfect, you do that, and I guarantee we’ll have both of you out of here as fast as humanly possible. Now, you and your wife were on vacation, correct?

CS: If that’s what you want to call it. Didn’t exactly feel very relaxing.

SAG: I bet, you, both you and your wife, were visiting the village of Bodh Gaya, correct?”

CS: Yes, ma’am.

SAG: One of the holiest pilgrimage sites in the world, right?

CS: It is if you’re Buddhist, yes.

SAG: You Buddhist?

CS: *laughing* No, just thought it would be something to see. You know?

SAG: Sure, sure, just wanted to be sure. What religion do you follow? If you don’t mind me asking of course.

CS: I was born Catholic but I’ve kinda just let that part of me—just let it slip away.

SAG: Would you consider yourself an atheist now?

CS: Not particularly. Is this actually important?

SAG: Hang tight, Mr. Shaw. I guarantee it is. Now, you were inside Bodh Gaya on the day in question. You went to Mahobodhi temple, correct? Some time around thirteen hundred hours and fourteen hundred hours? Approximately the time-frame when the event in question occurred?

CS: We went inside the temple at about 1:33, so…yeah, I think that’s about right. Sorry, I had to do the conversion in my head.

SAG: No problem, just wanted to check. Can you describe to me, in your own words, what you saw inside the temple? Can you describe the event to me.

CS: I mean—I can try, but…I’ve been trying to explain this to myself for the past three days, and nothing about it makes sense. I know you guys seem very interested, but I feel like if I tell you—you’re gonna—it’s gonna feel like a waste of your time.

SAG: Not in this department it’s not.

CS: Which department is this, exactly?

SAG: Please begin the story, Mr. Shaw.

CS: Well, it was a normal day. Hot, little muggy, clouds rolling in the sky but we were enjoying ourselves.

SAG: Did it rain later?

CS: Yeah. It poured, actually.

SAG: Noted, tell me about the temple.

CS: We entered the temple. Beautiful architecture. Cost to get in. Cost a little bit extra for the camera fee—

SAG: Did you take any pictures?

CS: No, we didn’t pay the fee. Guess it might have helped you guys out. I’m personally glad. I don’t want to see that again.

SAG: Continue, please.

CS: Ok, well inside the temple there are hordes of monks. To them, there is no closer place to enlightenment on the face of the Earth, so they congregate there. They all look the same. Not in a racial way, but in a uniform way. You know? Orange robes, bald head, that kind of thing.

SAG: Right.

CS: Well, there was this one guy who immediately stood out among the rest. The monk in black. The Monk of the Final Religion.

SAG: How did you know his name?

CS: What?

SAG: You called him the “Monk of the Final Religion”. Where did you hear those words?

CS: Truth be told? I honestly can’t tell you, ma’am. I just—I just know.

SAG: He didn’t say it?

CS: No, not that specifically. Not from what I remember.

SAG: What did he look like when you first saw him?

CS: He looked like a walking corpse to be honest with you. He wore all black, from his neck all the way down to his feet. His robe was baggy and ragged.

SAG: He looked like a corpse? Can you clarify?

CS: His skin was pale. No, not pale, it was gray. Nothing but gray skin and bones. His face was—it was sunken, and his eyes—he could barely hold them open. Not sure if he was just old, or if he was diseased initially, but…No expression on his face at all.

SAG: What did he do?

CS: My wife pointed him out to me, first. The way he lumbered through the crowd, it was hard to miss him. The other monks seemed to avoid him.

SAG: Did the other monks seem to fear him or—?

CS: No, they just seemed—disdainful. You know, I don’t think they knew anymore about him than we did. Just that he was a guy in a crowd.

SAG: When did he stop being ‘just a guy in a crowd’?

CS: It was a young lady who bumped into him first. She was taking pictures and didn’t see him coming.

SAG: Another tourist?

CS: I think so, but she was Indian too. Anyways, this guy bumps into her, and she turns around just to see him, and that’s when it happened first.

SAG: How did it happen?

CS: He put his hand on her shoulder, and he whispered something in her ear. It took maybe five, maybe ten seconds in total. But that was all he needed. He whispered one phrase, and she was his.

SAG: Explain.

CS: She followed him around after that. Closely. She started lumbering just like him. I didn’t think much of it. Maybe she knew him. Maybe he’d asked her to follow him. I didn’t care why. She just did, and I went on my way.

SAG: What happened next?

CS: The guy started amassing his followers. That’s the only way I could put it. We were walking through, admiring the scenery, and every once and while I’d turn around and see him. Each time I did, I noticed his line of admirers had grown longer. Started with just a handful, but within just about, I don’t know, ten minutes he’d had about twenty following him in a large group. All of them stumbling around as mindlessly as him. That was about when I realized that something wasn’t quite right.

SAG: Did you do anything?

CS: What could I have done? I didn’t know what was happening. I still don’t know what’s happening.

SAG: Describe what he did with the group he amassed.

CS: He collected maybe a couple more, and then there’s this room inside the temple. There’s a giant golden Buddha inside. A statue. Supposed to represent the deity overthrowing evil spirits, or something along those lines. He led them all straight to it. The whole time he was mumbling.

SAG: Mumbling? Did you hear it?

CS: No, I just saw his lips moving. It could have just been a tremor or something, I don’t know. I don’t particularly care. Anyways, there’s normally a barrier keeping people out of that room. It’s a “look don’t touch” kind of scenario.

(Agents enter with water at 16:51:53)

SAG: Thank you. Are you sure you’re not thirsty? Did you get something to drink earlier?

CS: Positive, and I think I skipped it. Don’t feel particularly thirsty, thanks anyways.

SAG: No problem. You were talking about the room.

CS: They went in there. Don’t know how they got through the barrier, but they filled that room. Shoulder to shoulder. Hand in hand. Their—I don’t know what to call him—their leader, sat at the front of them. Cross-legged, right in front of the Buddha statue.

SAG: Right. And that’s when you knew something was up?

CS: We knew that when they all started chanting.

SAG: You heard them chanting? What did they say?

CS: It wasn’t English, I don’t know. It wasn’t Hindi, or Sanskrit, or any other dialect that I recognized. Granted, there aren’t many I do, but no one there seemed to understand what they were saying.

SAG: How did the others react? How did you react?

CS: React is the appropriate word, because from the moment they started there was an immediate reaction. The intensity of that reaction varied based on how close you were. The people closest to them just started screaming.

SAG: In pain or fear?

CS: Pain, I think. They were primal. It startled us, called our eyes. And it drowned them all out for a moment. Then, those who were screaming joined in too.

SAG: Joined in the chanting?

CS: Exactly, and then the ones just past them started screaming too. Then they started chanting. It was a chain reaction that spread outwards, like waves, and that monk was the epicenter.

SAG: So, you’re claiming that these words travelled along and infected people? Almost like a virus?

CS: I don’t know. It seemed to change them, that’s for sure. We wondered at first if maybe it was something scripted. Like a Buddhist ritual, or something, but then people started running.

SAG: You said that the effects varied based on distance. How far away from the epicenter were you?

CS: Maybe two hundred feet.

SAG: Did the chanting have an effect on you?

CS: I think so. I just—my wife said she felt it too, but I got a headache. It was negligible at first, but it grew as the chanting did. Like the chanting was causing me pain. I have to put two and two together, right? But it doesn’t make sense.

SAG: Little in this world does. Was the headache all?

CS: You ever get those moments where you remember something really embarrassing you’ve done? Peed yourself in front of someone? Tripped in front of the person you like?

It was like that, but with pain. Every time I’d ever been hurt. Physically. Emotionally. Crashing my bike and skidding down my gravel driveway in elementary school, breaking my collarbone playing rugby in college, the death of my mother, they all came back to me in that moment.

And it had to have been them. It had to have been that chanting. It just made me feel—it made me feel wrong.

SAG: Your wife felt the same?

CS: Yeah, I’m sure she’ll tell you. She cried for hours afterwards. Doesn’t this all seem crazy to you?

SAG: Of course it does.

CS: You don’t seem phased at all.

SAG: Crazy doesn’t constitute unusual for me. Afterwards, you managed to get away from the temple ok. You said people were running. How did you guys escape?

CS: Uhm…yeah. We ran with the others. The wave couldn’t continue long after that. Everyone who’d been there left earshot, and that’s what stopped it. It stopped the pain. Stopped the memories. Didn’t stop me from feeling like shit, though.

SAG: Did those who were chanting make any effort to follow you?

CS: No, once they started chanting they just kind of stopped, anything. They sat down with the others.

SAG: Just to clarify, was it only those inside the temple, closest to the epicenter, the ones who were chanting?

CS: No, a few people stopped on the way outside, scattered amongst us. They’d just stop in their tracks and start chanting, loudly. They caught a few people trying to flee, but for the most part we avoided it. I think most everyone got out of there.

SAG: They just stopped? Even though they were farther away from the monk?

CS: Yeah, they just suddenly--succumbed.

SAG: Like a delayed reaction?

CS: I suppose so, yeah.

SAG: Anything else unusual about the victims? Anything at all noteworthy?

CS: Well, it started raining outside as we ran. Saw it on a few of those scattered ones outside the temple. Raindrops fell, landed on their skin, and I swore I saw smoke coming off them. Like it burned them?

SAG: The rain harmed them?

CS: Yeah, seemed too. Left welts, large ones, from what I could see. I don’t know why. It didn’t harm us at all.

SAG: Are you ok? You seem a bit flustered.

CS: sorry, just remembering it—it’s uncomfortable.

SAG: Emotionally? Mentally? Physically?

CS: All of the above.

SAG: You may just be dehydrated.

CS: No, I’m fine.

SAG: As for the rain, another side-effect of the chanting, you assume?

CS: Yeah, I mean, it had to be, but I don’t understand how! They were just words. Words can’t possibly have that effect on people. What we saw was—impossible. Manipulation, physical and mental. Sorry, I just—it’s a lot to remember.

SAG: I understand, you’ve both been through a trauma. We appreciate you working with us, we really do. I only have a few items left to take care of. If you don’t mind, would you care to take a look at these pictures our crew took at the site of the incident?

CS: Oh, God. I’d rather not. I don’t—

SAG: Please, Mr. Shaw. We want to confirm that there is nothing in these photos that might make you recall something. Something important. We just have to be sure. It’s a matter of national importance.

CS: Ok, I suppose I can.

(Three photos are laid before Calvin Shaw at 16:56:39)

CS: Ok, wow. How long after were these taken?

SAG: Hours.

CS: Jesus, and you’re sure?

SAG: Did any of the infected exhibit physical symptoms similar to the ones you see before you..

CS: No! No, not at—what’s that coming out of them?

SAG: We don’t know. And it’s not exactly coming out of them. We believe it’s growing out of them.

CS: Jesus, and this was the Buddha room?

SAG: Yes.

CS: Are they still up there?

SAG: Not that I should be telling you, but yes. They are. No one knows how to properly transport the victims at the current time.

CS: They’ve—they’ve almost morphed together. They don’t even look—

SAG: I can take those back, Mr. Shaw.

CS: They look like tendrils, like roots—I think I can see him smiling in there—

SAG: Mr. Shaw, please. I can take those.

CS: Right, sorry. Here.

SAG: Sorry you had to see that.

CS: That was almost us. But how? It doesn’t make any sense!

SAG: No, it doesn’t. You were correct in your assumptions, because we believe the same. However impossible, exposure to the words of that monk created physiological changes within the victims seen here. Changes in you and your wife as well.

CS: No, but we got away. We’re both here, we’re fine. We’re not—not—whatever the hell that was. That didn’t happen to us.

SAG: But you did hear the words, right?

CS: We heard a little, just a fraction. But, like I said, the effects didn’t last long.

SAG: You’re sweating a bit, are you sure you don’t want some--?

CS: No, thank you. It’s just warm, I’ve got a headache, and--

SAG: Would you like some Advil?

CS: Hopefully I’ll be able to pick some up on the way home, thank you very much.

SAG: It’s a good plan, stay right here for a moment and I’ll record your testimony. Thank you so much, Mr. Shaw.

(Special Agent Gamble leaves the interrogation room at 17:02:22.)

(Starting at 17:02:33 the sound input for camera A is turned off by authorization of Special Agent Ruby Gamble.)

(Calvin Shaw stands and starts pacing the room at 17:24:10.)

(At 17:34:00 five D.S.A. Containment Agents equipped with padded, sound-proof suits enter, and forcefully remove Calvin Shaw from the interrogation room. Calvin Shaw starts screaming at and resisting D.S.A. Containment Agents. At 17:34:23, video from camera A catches Calvin Shaw knocking over the interrogation table in the scuffle. Calvin Shaw is pinned against the floor by D.S.A. Containment Agents at 17:34:54. At 17:35:03, it is noted that as the D.S.A. Containment Agents lifted the now handcuffed Calvin Shaw off the floor. Calvin Shaw is then escorted out of the interrogation room at 17:35:35)

(Additional Note: At 17:34:11, smoke is visible within the interrogation room, emanating presumably from Calvin Shaw’s person.)

PROPERTY OF THE D.S.A.

DESIGNATION: TOP-SECRET

CASE STATUS: UNRESOLVED

October 11th- Switching Lanes

An empty, dark highway. Heavy eyelids. Naked, starless sky.

So tired.

“Darrius?” his wife asked, “Darrius, honey, are you ok?”

He shook his head. Not to tell her “no”, but to try and wake himself up.

“Yeah,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “Sorry, babe. I’m just—I’m just really tired.”

A yawn punctuated the end of his sentence. His wife, Elaine, leaned back in her seat.

“You could pull over if you want. Chinese fire drill it.”

Darrius shook his head, stretching his eyes wide, hoping somehow it’d lock his eyelids in place. He rewrapped his fingers around the wheel of his old pickup truck.

“No,” he said, firmly. “I’ll be good. We only have, what? Five miles until the exit?”

“Exit forty-two,” his wife said. “We only just passed exit thirty. We have a ways to go, which is why I’m telling you—.”

“I’ll be fine,” he interrupted. “Just need to stay here, in the right lane, and you just need to—to turn the radio back on.”

Elaine rolled her eyes, and fiddled with the radio’s tuner.

“I want something heavy,” he said. “Preferably.”

“You hate heavy,” she reminded him.

“Not tonight I don’t.”

Elaine turned the volume up, filling the car with the overwhelming hiss of static.

“Nothing,” she said. “Still.”

“Oh, God,” Darrius moaned. The radio had been acting up like this for the last ten miles. It had abandoned Darrius to the iron will of his own fatigue. He saw no escape.

“What the hell you think broke this time?” he asked Elaine, disgruntledly in regards to their truck. “What’s going to break next in this heap of junk? Fixed the brake lines three months ago, just last week I had to replace the damn hitch because that had rusted off, lost a cylinder last month. Now I have to fix the damn radio?”

“I don’t know, baby,” Elaine said, in partial frustration at both Darrius’s growing temper and his persistent stubbornness, turning to gaze out her window. “I don’t know what to tell you.” Darrius was partially thankful for the spite. It had given him a little bit more fuel. Tilting his head to both sides, cracking it both times, he felt a bit rejuvenated.

Twelve miles. No problem.

Then, the lightning struck.

The bolt tore through reality like a bullet, right in front of them, casting blinding light through their windshield and across the entire sky. Thunder shook them. It rattled their windows.

“Jesus!” Darrius yelled, losing control of the truck. He’d instinctually swerved, even though the ephemeral bolt had already faded back into nothing. The rear of the truck fought against him as he tapped the brakes, hoping to slow their spin.

Most unexpectedly, the tires held tightly to the road, and the wheels listened when Darrius started to pray. The truck stayed on the road. Their momentum continued forward. A slow crawl at first, but very soon, Darrius had them back up to speed.

Both partners panted heavily.

“Well,” he said, turning to Elaine with a smile. “I’m awake now.”

“Jesus Christ, Darry,” she said, leaning her head all the way back.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“Barely,” she moaned. “Jesus, that was too close!”

“Tell me about it!” Darrius exclaimed. “I’ve never been that close to a strike before. Ever!”

“Was it supposed to storm tonight?”

“I don’t think it was supposed to do anything tonight.”

“Then explain that shit.”

“Heat lightning?” Darrius asked.

“In October? Besides, heat lightning isn’t actually—do you see that?”

Darrius’s attention returned to the road. He’d been so focused on his wife, so fueled with fresh adrenaline, he hadn’t noticed that there was a car ahead of them in the left lane. A big car. There hadn’t been one before the bolt. At least, Darrius didn’t think there was. Was he really that tired?

Or had the car ridden the lightning? he jokingly thought.

“The car?” Darrius asked, a little confused. “Yeah, it’s a car. Or a van, maybe. Those have been known to happen on highways.”

“No,” she said. “I mean, in the headlights.”

Darrius squinted his eyes, unsure of what he was looking for. The air was misty. That was all he noticed. The road seemed really uneven, too. Bumpy, hard on the tires. But that was inconsequential.

“What about them?”

“You don’t see that smoke?”

Darrius noticed it when she said it. The mist was thick, gray, and even the air smelled of it. Something was charred.

“Yeah, something’s”—he noticed shadows churning about the other car’s taillights, billowing outwards from somewhere in the darkness—“charred. I think it’s coming from the car, babe.”

“I think so, too” she said. “Look, their headlights are out.”

And so they were. The car was cruising down a dark highway. Nothing to guide the way. There was only a moderate glow from the red taillights, and, concerningly, a red sparking inside the car itself. It seemed to bleed outwards from their rear windshield.

“Oh my God,” Elaine continued. “You don’t think the lightning bolt hit them, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Darrius said, trying to remember the car at all. “I didn’t see.”

“Shorted out the lights,” she said. “Do you think they’re ok?”

“They’re still driving,” Darrius pointed out.

“Yeah, but why?” Elaine rebutted. “Why are they still driving if their headlights are out and their car’s smoking?”

Darrius had no answer. The car kept speeding along ahead of them. Darrius kept a constant speed, about five car lengths behind them.

“Oh my God,” Elaine said. “Is that a fire in their cab?”

She’d noticed the glow, too. It seemed to be growing in size and luminance.

“Darry,” Elaine said, fear in her voice. “You need to get us closer. We have to be sure they’re alright.”

“They would pull over if they weren’t,” Darrius responded, not necessarily to Elaine, but more to himself. He was still trying to make sense of the situation.

Darrius then noticed that the van, still smoking, still without headlights, was following the curvature of the road. Someone was still driving it. Driving it perfectly.

“Please, Darry. Pull up alongside them.”

Darrius nodded, and he gently pushed down on the gas pedal. Still hesitant. He wasn’t sure why.

As they moved closer and closer to the car, Darrius realized it was bigger than he imagined.

“Definitely a van,” Darrius said, noting that the car was almost as large as their truck. “God, you don’t think they have kids in—?”

“Keep driving, Darry,” Elaine ordered, stopping him from saying what she didn’t want to hear.

Their headlights fell on the rear of the van.

“My God,” Darrius said. “Does lightning do that?”

The body of the car looked charred and blackened like it had been driven through a wildfire. Ashen flakes were moved and peeled by the wind. The smoke was heavy in their sight. The smell was becoming overwhelming and obtrusive.

Slowly, trying to match pace, Darrius brought the truck creeping up alongside the van. Their lights, highlighting the car’s entire body, revealed a work of irregular construction. It looked like it had been pieced together bit-by-bit. Irregular panels and bits hung from the sides. Rusted and scorched parts that looked like they belonged to other cars and machines.

There were no windows for the backseat passengers. They, too, were boarded up by sheets of metal. There were no doors.

“What in the hell?” Elaine spoke beneath her breath.

Darrius wasn’t sure what to say. He wasn’t sure what he was looking at. More than that, he wasn’t sure that the lightning had done this. He didn’t know who or what possibly could.

Both Elaine and Darrius had lost almost all of their sense of concern. It had all been replaced with apprehension. With nervousness. With fear.

They reached it, the passenger’s side of the van.

There was a door there. There was a window. There was a red glow that seemed to hum from inside, pulsating in a rhythm, like the beating of a heart.

It was a dim glow, and as Darrius and Elaine peered, uneasily, looking for any sign of life. All they saw were shadows. Grim outlines. And, perhaps…

“I think I see someone inside,” Darrius said, leaning in.

The red, pulsating light seemed to explode as the van wailed a monstrous horn. The light shone, bathing the interior of the other car in hideous rays of crimson. The shadows unveiled, Darrius and Elaine were left to behold the vehicle’s inner working with open mouths and quivering eyes.

Inside, there were two people, but just barely. They saw what was left of them.

The two sat upright in the driver’s and passenger’s seats, like they normally would. But, that was all that was normal.

From their faces, imbedded in their flesh, ran meters of visible tubing and piping, leading from the area around their mouths to places out of view for Darrius and Elaine. Darrius could see that the driver’s hands looked almost stitched to the wheel, and that metal claws held them there, bolted from the other side. Elaine noticed that the one in the passenger’s seat, a woman, she thought, was looking at them through a sideways glance.

She noticed the eyes were broken, empty, yet when they saw Elaine, for just a moment, they were full of life. The girl arched her neck, as if she was trying to speak, trying to cry out. Her hands, thin and skeletal, slapped against the window, pleadingly. Desperately.

The silence of the couple was finally broken, when Elaine finally found the energy to mutter, “Oh my God.”

She continued, repeating the phrase over and over and over again, each time growing in volume and desperation. Each time, her eyes watered more and more, and her hands reached up to her scalp, and she started to pull.

The car started to fall away behind them, and Darrius knew what to do.

“Hold on,” he said, pressing his foot all the way down on the gas. The car faded behind them into the dark. Only a faint, red glow was still visible as Darrius peeled away, pushing the truck as hard as he possibly could. The rough roads bounced them around, and Darrius gritted his teeth.

“What was that?” Elaine screamed, ending her mantra. “What the fuck was that, Darry? Oh my God, what was it doing to them!?”

“I don’t know, baby,” Darrius said, his eyes peeled, looking for the next exit. “I don’t know.”

“We have to, we have to call somebody, anybody,” Elaine said, struggling to breathe.

“Then do it,” Darrius barked. “Pull out your phone. Nine-one-one. Now!”

“Oh God,” Elaine said, as she fumbled about her purse. “Oh God, what was that? Did the lightning—?”

“The lightning didn’t do that,” Darrius said, emotionlessly. “It couldn’t have.”

“That wasn’t human!” Elaine said, unlocking her phone. “Do you think—damn!”

“What?”

“There’s no signal, none at all!”

“You’re fucking joking, right?”

“Does it sound like I’m fucking joking to you!? Does it!?”

“Calm down, they’re behind us. Calm down. Calm down.”

“Did somebody do that to them? They had to. Oh my God, is it a prank? How do you—?”

Keep looking for a signal. Use my phone.”

Darrius threw his phone to Elaine, and she cried, “It has no signal either!”

“That’s not possible!” Darrius cried out, pulling the phone away from her to check for himself. Sure enough, she was right. There was no service at all.

“First the radio now the phones,” Darrius said. “Tonight is just perfect.”

He hadn’t seen a sign for any exits. No signs at all for the last mile it seemed.

“That wasn’t human,” Elaine said. “That wasn’t—”

“You’ve said that!” Darrius said, anger growing, trying to hide his fear. “I know! But how do you explain it!”

“There was no car,” Elaine said, shaking her head. “The—the lightning came down, and then—then there was a car. That car. It doesn’t—”

“You noticed that too, huh?” Darrius asked. “It wasn’t just me.”

“But what does that mean?” she asked, pitifully. “I mean, what? Did the lightning bolt fucking bring—shoot a damn—damn ‘devil car’ into being?”

“You think the lightning brought it?” Darrius asked.

“I don’t know what to think!” Elaine said, grabbing at her hair. “All I know was that no car plus lightning equals evil, evil car.”

Darrius exhaled, puffing out his cheeks, trying to settle down. Was it even possible?

The highway ahead was turning. It looked like the road was going down a hill.

“Car from another world?” he asked. “Brought by lightning. Are we sure it’s not just a prank?”

“Did that look like a prank to you?” she wailed. “That was real, Darry. That was real.”

There was a red glow in the distance.

There was a red glow from behind.

The highway opened up, and as Elaine sobbed into her hands, Darrius’s eyes widened in fear.

“I don’t think the lightning brought that car here, Elaine,” Darrius said.

“What?” Elaine asked, looking at him. “Then how do you—?”

Her eyes turned behind them, as blinding red headlights engulfed them. The van had merged over behind them, and it was following them closely. Before she could say a word, however, she heard Darrius say something else.

Something she hadn’t expected.

“I think the lightning bolt brought us somewhere else.”

She turned, away from the bleeding red lights, and gazed into the horizon.

Lightning of red streaked across an open, ugly sky. Beneath it, towering in the horizon, a massive building of jagged construction. Smoke billowed from its towers as they approached.

Along the way, lights started appearing along the highway. Flickering on, as if flickering into existence. Cutting through the dark. Illuminating a landscape that was barren and alien.

Dozens, and dozens of red, bleeding headlights. Turning on, with horns blaring. Welcoming the new arrivals.

The buzzing of the radio couldn’t be heard. Not over the screams.

The screams of so, so many.

October 12th-An Astute Observation

A camera flashed. The light highlighted the gruesome scene.

A woman, murdered in a bathtub. Lying in a pool of her own blood.

Yet, the investigator was looking at her nails. The only other one in the room, the officer standing by the bathroom door thought this was interesting. He asked, with a smirk, why the investigator was focused on her nails.

“If there was a scuffle,” the investigator said, quickly, “then sometimes they can take the blood, the flesh, of their assailants under their nails. When they scratch and claw.”

He examined the woman’s other hand.

“Sometimes you can see if they’ve had a pedicure recently. Professional, sounds silly, but it means someone has seen them lately. Gives us a time frame. Have they been trimmed recently? If her nails are polished, freshly, suggests that she wasn’t missing long. If they’re chipped, faded, then it could suggest longer captivity. We don’t have an I.D. yet, and those things can be critical.”

He looked at her wrists, bound to the bathtub’s faucet. He sighed, disappointedly. He had found nothing.

“This is obvious,” he said, pointing along the rope bindings. “We can see that. It’s been noted. Hemp cord. Could have been purchased anywhere. Doesn’t give us a time frame. Doesn’t give us an I.D. Gives us nothing.”

The forensic investigator stood up, letting his camera rest on his chest.

“You have to be observant,” he told the young officer. “Notice the little things. Astute observations. That’s what matters.”

The officer nodded, as the investigator gestured to the body.

“What do you see?”

The officer took a deep breath.

“Something pretty nasty,” he said, in all earnest.

“Certainly,” the investigator said, exasperated. “What else. More specifically. Point out the obvious.”

The officer leaned forward.

“She’s—uh—she’s been bound.”

“Hands to the faucet, yes. Legs together, just above her lateral and medial malleolus. Her ankles. Look closer. See the bruising?”

The officer leaned in a little closer, looking to the places where the officer pointed. The skin was blackened.

“Yes,” he said, uncomfortably.

“The ropes aren’t tight enough to cut off circulation, she had room to struggle. The bruises she caused on her own. What else is obvious?”

“The victim is—is in a state of undress?”

“Why are you asking it like it’s a question?” the investigator scolded. “Not important. Don’t blush over it, she’s dead, she doesn’t care. And if she did”—he leaned in to whisper—“she’d be more concerned about the ‘being dead’ part.”

The investigator pointed back at the woman’s chest, “Look at the wounds, not her tits. Describe them.”

“Uhm,” the officer started, flustered. “Deep. Circular. Bloody.”

“You’re searching for words,” he said. “You found some of the right ones but the correct word is ‘ragged’. Look at the edges of her skin.”

The officer thought he’d rather not.

“It’s jagged, almost like It’s torn and not sliced. Jagged blade. A saw. They sawed her.”

“Why?” the officer asked.

“Well, you ever tried to cut through ribs with a straight blade? It takes too long. Tedious. They cut through bone. They needed a saw. See, the crux of her sternum? That’s the largest opening. Where she struggled the most. That’s the entry wound.”

“It looks like they marked her,” the officer said.

“Yes,” the investigator confirmed. “That’s the smartest thing you’ve pointed out so far. Means this was, more than likely, a ritualistic killing.”

“Ritualistic?” the officer asked.

“Cultists. Although, don’t quote me yet. There may only have been one.”

The officer couldn’t believe it.

“That’s mad,” he said.

“I’ve seen a lot of mad,” the older man chortled. “You get used to it.”

Two arcs, and three central punctures leading down the sternum. The investigator pointed to all of them.

“See how the punctures are clean?” the investigator pointed out. “Both in execution and splatter? They happened later, long after she was dead. But that wasn’t all.”

“The cuts on her arms and legs?”

“They look small, don’t they? Insignificant. One on each arm, one on each leg, and don’t forget the two punctures on the neck. Do you know what they cut?”

The officer guessed.

“She’s laying in a pool of her own blood. Does that mean they cut the arteries?”

“Exactly. The common carotids, the brachial, and femoral.”

“They bled her,” the officer gulped.

“Then they killed her,” the investigator nodded. “Probably a little bit after they cut her. Easier to let some bleed if the heart is still beating to do most of the work for you.”

The young officer felt disgusted, but the investigator continued.

“There’s more, more that you’re not seeing.”

All he could focus on was the pool of blood.

“How much blood’s in the human body?” he asked.

“Four to five liters, give or take,” the investigator murmured, pulling out a vial. “Meaning just enough to cover the bottom of the tub and then some. This tub’s about a quarter full.”

“Does that mean—?”

“Yes,” the investigator said, taking a sample of the blood. “This isn’t just the girl’s blood.”

“Jesus,” he mumbled, turning away from the body. Another flash.

“Jesus had nothing to do with this,” the investigator said from behind his camera, leaning to change the angle.

“I’ve heard of satanic cults and human sacrifices before,” the young officer started. “Didn’t think I’d ever—”

“It wasn’t satanic,” the investigator interrupted. “Looks pagan to me. I literally mean, ‘Jesus had nothing to do with this’.”

“How do you know?” the officer inquired.

The investigator just shrugged.

“Don’t really. Just a guess. The symbol is too—alien. It’s bizarre. Satanists typically don’t even perform human sacrifices, believe it or not. It actually goes against their religion. Ain’t that the shit? They kill animals, though. Lots of ‘em. That’s probably what all the excess blood is, anyways. Probably just blood they took from a goat, a dog, some other furry bastard.”

As the investigator chuckled, the officer leaned in closer. Something felt unusual.

“So,” the investigator continued, unaware, “if it makes you feel better we’re probably still dealing with only one human victim. We’ll figure out for sure when we get back to the lab, though.”

Something looked unusual.

“Kinda makes you curious though, doesn’t it? What they were trying to summon. What sort of vile creature or entity or—or—are you even listening to me, boy?”

“Sir?” the officer asked, completely ignoring the man’s question. “Did someone open the drain?”

“What?”

“The blood, sir. It’s—it’s leaking out.”

The investigator knelt down beside the body, and the officer joined him, pointing to the edges of the tub.

“See?” the officer asked, pointing to the edges of the tub’s porcelain walls. “There’s stain lines. See? Just a little ways above the actual blood-level. The blood’s draining.”

“You actually noticed something,” the investigator laughed. “Good on you. Good on you indeed.”

The investigator held out his gloved finger, and placed it against the inside of the tub right at the blood-line. Within seconds, the blood had fallen away from his finger.

“It’s going out fast,” the investigator stated.

“But what does it mean?” the officer asked, confused. “Has it been draining this whole time?”

“Must have,” the investigator said. “I didn’t pull the plug, and neither did anyone else.”

“But, Sir, if it’d been draining that fast, then there never should have been a blood pool to begin with when we walked in. She’s been here for at least an hour already.”

The investigator stopped and turned to the officer. He had a very, very good point.

“You’re completely right,” he said. “Completely. So what changed? Why is the blood leaving?”

The investigator reached his gloved hand into the liquid beneath the girl’s head, and felt about the drain cover.

“Drain’s closed,” he said. “Tightly. What the hell? Do you see any leaking around the edges there?”

The officer didn’t respond. He didn’t even look for the leaks. He had noticed something even stranger.

“Sir,” he said, cautiously, unsure if what he was about to say was foolish or not. “Should she still be bleeding?”

The investigator looked over and across the woman’s body, blood dripping from his gloved hand.

“No,” he said, mouth agape. “She—she shouldn’t be.”

“She is,” the officer said, pointing at the wound on her chest. “Look.”

Surely enough, blood still flowed across the woman’s skin. Rivulets flowed across her chest, between her open wounds and the pool beneath her.

But the investigator noticed something that the officer did not. Something small.

Quickly, he got to his feet, and calmly but decisively he told the officer, “We need to leave. Now.”

“What?” the officer asked, looking up. “What’s wrong?”

The investigator mouthed two simple words, barely audible under his breath.

“Look. Closer.”

So the officer turned, and he did just that. He looked at the flowing blood. It took him longer than it had taken the investigator, but once he saw it he jumped to his feet.

“That’s not possible,” he said, panicked. “That’s not possible. Sir, what the hell is happening?”

Grabbing the officer around the shoulders, the investigator pushed him through the doorway.

“We’re going,” he ordered. “Now!”

“But how?” the officer insisted. “How is that even possible? It shouldn’t be possible!”

Their bickering voices persited down the hall, all the way outside.

Meanwhile, in the bathroom, the blood continued to flow, but, not in the way it should have.

Draining from the tub, the blood followed a simple path. It crept, upwards, along the girl’s chilled skin. It seeped inwards through the unholy wounds on her chest. It pumped by means unknown through her newly refilled veins. It coursed through her body, controlled by a sentience completely new to this world.

The blood had drained completely.

Her eyes opened.

October 13th- A Canary in a Coalmine

Under cover of night, under a layer of clouds so thick not even Heaven could spy them, three witches awaited a fourth.

“What is taking so long?” demanded Ylvira, the youngest of the three who anxiously paced about the forest floor.

“Patience, child,” ensured the Good Mother Adisa. She stood still, glaring into the night from under her hood, one hand resting upon the leather bag that dangled from her waist.

“Patience is lost, Good Mother,” Ylvira sneered. “The hour is upon us. We must not waste this chance!”

“The hour has come and gone every year for the last three-hundred years, child,” Adisa droned. “I have waited this long, and, if need be, I shall wait longer. I have survived and so shall you.”

“What could she possibly be fetching anyways?” Ylvira continued. “What could only be fetched at this night, at this hour?”

“Something fresh,” Adisa purred. “Something foul. Tell me, young one, are you aware of a trick the mortals once used canaries for?”

“I don’t concern myself with such insipid creatures,” Ylvira groaned. “No creature exists which repulses me so.”

“The young one grates on my ears,” the male witch called Kerrigan snapped from up above. Like a spider, he sat perched on the bark of the closest birch tree. Almost like he was waiting to pounce.

“And you are like salted daggers to my eyes, my beloved Kerrigan,” said Ylvira, mockingly. She bowed beneath his leering gaze. “Yet, I can put aside my discomfort for I have no want or need of pity, unlike you.”

“What does the rat imply?” Kerrigan hissed.

“Surely you know,” Ylvira said, righting herself, brushing her black, silky hair out of her face. “You cannot possibly be as doltish as you appear.”

Leaping downwards, feral and agile, Kerrigan landed amidst the leaf-litter, scattering it to the winds. Ylvira braced herself, expecting an assault, but Kerrigan merely stood where he landed. Her eyes were cast to the shadows beyond, as were Adisa’s.

Turning, Ylvira was quick to join the others in welcoming their long awaited final member.

“Seren Heart,” Adisa beckoned. “I take your travels were not in vain?”

“Better not be,” Kerrigan croaked.

Wariness and exhaustion stretched across Seren’s wrinkled and aged face. Alongside her, she carried what appeared to be a large bird cage, with rusted wire and a black lock. Inside, something stirred. A dancing, gray mist.

“So it would appear,” Seren muttered bitterly, extending the cage for them all to see.

“Behold,” Adisa said with pride. “The Canary.”

Inside, the mist spun about, darting from wire to wire, searching for a way out of the enchanted entrapment. The closer Adisa got, the louder the sounds it made. Like steam boiling from a kettle.

“What was his name?” Adisa asked.

“In life,” Seren croaked, “Eddie Glenn is what he was called. Executed this night, the thirteenth of October, for crimes against the state of Kentucky. Murderer. Rapist. Destroyer of children and women alike.”

“Marvelous,” gleamed Adisa. “He smells perfectly putrid.”

“Probably because they fried him,” Serena said, passing Adisa with a sly, sideways glance. The two chuckled.

The hissing the spirit made started coming more sporadically.

“When will he regain the ability to speak?” Adisa asked, suddenly impetuous. “For if he can not speak then the plan will not—”

“Minutes,” Seren snapped. “Mere minutes, Good Mother. Calm yourself. Tonight is not a good night on which to lose one’s head.”

Seren approached Ylvira apprehensively.

“It’s good to see you, Seren,” Ylvira said, grabbing the edges of her bloodstained robes to curtsey.

Seren patted the young enchantress on her shoulder, coldly saying, “I wish I could say the same, wretched child.”

Ylvira, tongue in cheek, followed Seren with a cruel glimmer in her eyes.

“Let’s get on with it,” Kerrigan grumbled, joining Seren. “That soul will not stay trapped forever. The time, it grows—”

“Shut up!” the Good Mother barked. “Time will wait for us. We will make it so.”

As they walked, and Adisa and Ylvira lagged behind, Seren tilted her head as to make sure they all heard her when she said, “Tonight is destined. Time is not our enemy tonight, for she will wait for us. Tonight, it is by our will that the planet turns and the stars align.”

Ahead, the opening of a massive cave. Just as it had been foretold. Just as it had been destined. Its maw beckoned them forth. All four grouped together, and each pulled out a knife. Rusted iron met molted flesh as they carved into the palms of their hands, all except for Seren who was assisted by the Good Mother. Forth from their blood, when held aloft, flames were birthed into the night. The fire they each held in their right hands would grant them light and passage through the cavern.

With wicked torches blazing, and with canary proxy in tow, the coven entered the mysterious cove.

Although the entryway was massive, the walls of the cave quickly consticted into tight-fitting tunnels that the witches eventually had to squeeze through single file. Leading the way, was Adisa and her canary, the man once known as Eddie Glenn.

He was finally starting to talk again.

His words a melody to the Good Mother’s ears.

“—Kill you and wear your skins! Flay you alive for days and days, one piece by fucking piece, I swear to God—!”

“God has abandoned you to our care,” Adisa said, talking over the irate, raving spirit. “You need only swear to us from now on.”

Taking up the back, Kerrigan and Ylvira followed with a conversation of their own. A conversation that Kerrigan would rather not have.

“I still don’t understand why we need him,” Ylvira had said with a naivety that made Kerrigan physically revolt.

“Stupid child,” he hissed, more to himself than to her. “Stupid, stupid, moronic fucking girl. The fact that the Good Mother thought it right to bring you along—I wonder about her sanity.”

“Why do you all despise me so?” Ylvira asked.

“Because of your youth,” Kerrigan said, honestly. “We’ve waited so long for this night, and you have merely attached yourself. A pestering deerfly who caught a lucky wind at the final moment, leeching on our efforts. You haven’t earned this. Now talk no more!”

“Answer my original question, you petulant worm,” Ylvira bemoaned through gritted teeth, “and I’ll stop talking. Why the canary?”

Grumbling, but more than willing to accept her offer, Kerrigan spoke, “The energies, the magics we seek inside these forbidden foundations are unlike anything your bumbling mind can imagine. We know not the extent of its power, only that it calls us here. That is why we bring the spirit.”

“You state the obvious,” Ylvira said. “But fail to answer—”

“Our powers draw from the Dark Lord, the Fallen One below,” Kerrigan interrupted impatiently, showing off the fire that burned from his palm. “We draw from the powers beyond the light. From immortal darkness. That is our well, our source, the lifeblood of all we conjure. The place to which our souls are bonded and claimed. Despite how otherworldly it may seem, our power comes solely from this world, this reality, and this world only.”

“Are you suggesting that there are other sources of power? Beyond what He Below has granted us?”

“Precisely, you babbling child. Other powers from beyond our realms. Stranger powers.”

Stopping, he cast her a wicked glance, “Better powers.”

To this, Ylvira couldn’t help but grin back. Disgust filled Kerrigan’s face once more, and he scuttled forward.

“But it is an alien magic,” he continued. “We know not of what it is, where it is, how it acts, and how it will greet us. It is likely we will not know when we are close, if it is having an effect on us.”

“Are you suggesting it might harm us?” Ylvira asked.

“I’m not,” Kerrigan said. “I’m telling you that it will harm us.”

“But we cast protection spells earlier, those should—”

“Defend us from magic, our own magic, our own powers. We are drawing from a different energy here. An energy that, should, make even darkness itself shiver. An energy that is wild, free and as of yet untamed, like lightning.”

Ahead, the spirit in the cage had started to wail, it’s anger collapsing, seemingly, into some kind of despair.

“I’ll—I’ll—! Where am—Kill you! What are we doing? Where is—? Gut you—! And—Oh, God—I’m dead—Dead, but where—?”

Ylvira, ignoring the soul’s ramblings, said to Kerrigan, “And you brought a mystical lightning rod.”

“The only smart thing I have ever heard you say, young one. Yes, a lightning rod. A naked, exposed soul will show a negative reaction to these alien energies. For spirits born in our world are crafted from the same well of magical energy. It’s how we have power over them. So, when exposed to a foreign energy—”

“They’ll have a negative reaction?” Ylvira asked.

“Like oil and water,” Kerrigan affirmed. “They won’t mix. And the spirit will let us know. That way we can’t be taken off-guard, and we’ll know when to strike. When we can steal and harness this ancient force for ourselves.”

“How will it know? How will it show?”

“I imagine it’ll hurt like Hell,” Kerrigan said. “Now enough questions.”

They moved in silence, and Ylvira upheld her end of the bargain. She waited until they came to a circular, open chamber, before she asked another question. This time, to the Good Mother.

“Why a bastard?” she asked. “Why not someone simpler? A child? A babe? Even the simple soul of a cat or dog? And why someone else’s kill?”

Kerrigan audibly moaned, despite Ylvira asking the question of Good Mother Adisa. The Good Mother and Ylvira ignored the impertinent creature.

“Similar poles have the strongest opposing reactions when exposed to another of the same,” she explained quickly. “The power we seek is overflowing with vile, repulsive energies. So, it was only suiting that we find a soul equally as repulsive. One freshly razed. One that hasn’t been touched by our contaminated hands.”

Leaving the young one pondering what she’d just been told, the Good Mother came to the side of the deliberating Seren. She stood before the passageway out of the chamber. In fact, she stood before three of them.

Over the deranged begging, cursing, and screaming of the increasingly confused and dreading soul, Seren asked of the Good Mother, “Which way do we go?”

“We daren’t split up,” Good Mother Adisa advised. “Lest leave all but one blind and risk one claiming the powers for themselves alone.”

Seren nodded in agreement, “But how much time could we waste exploring each one? How many hours would it take? Days? Years? We do not know this power. It could stretch these caverns on for an endless eternity. Our search could take eons.”

The Good Mother scorned her, “Do not be foolish. What do you hold in your own shriveled hands, sister?”

Seren looked to the enchanted cage.

“But we would still have to search,” she said in defeat. “To deceive us these caverns could go on for miles and miles before we might even get a sign—”

“We’ve been getting signs for the last quarter mile, you fool,” said the Good Mother reaching down to take the cage from her daft sister.

The witches watched as, one by one, the Good Mother entered each tunnel.

Starting on the left, she took five steps inside, noted that no change had been made in the state of Eddie Glenn’s demeanor, and returned to the chamber. She repeated the process in the middle passage, and again returned. It was in the third passageway that her intentions became clear. After only three steps, Eddie Glenn’s soul stopped its screaming.

The witches watched as a face emerged from the massless fog inside the cage. It peered into the darkness, and it shivered.

“What is that?” Eddie asked.

The Good Mother turned to them, a wicked look on her face.

“You think the madman’s ramblings were his own?” she asked of Seren. “They were a side-effect if this new force. His anger is failing. His fear is growing. You can hear it. You can see it, now. This is the path we must take.”

Good Mother Adisa turned, guiding the coven further into darkness. Beneath her breath, she mumbled something only the frightful Eddie could hear.

“And I believe we’re closer than we know.”

It was a statement that, indeed, turned out to be true.

With each step they took, the fear on Eddie Glenn’s ethereal face grew grimmer and grimmer. No longer did the same vitriol exist within his voice with which he had greeted the witches. Now there was only alarm. Only terror.

“Please, stop,” he implored. “Please, I don’t know what you want, but, God, can’t you feel it? The frozen claws! Can’t you smell it? A foul festering! Can’t you taste it? Like copper rot! Please, please turn back! Take me away! I’ll give you anything! Anything!”

The witches didn’t even slow their step. They had no need to. Their soul could sense the darkness within the earth, could feel it, taste it, smell it, but it had not yet been physically touched by it. They were still safe. They were still in control.

Ahead, the tunnels opened up once again into a cavern. The final cavern.

They could tell by the way Eddie screamed.

“LET ME GO! PLEASE! OH, GOD, PLEASE LET ME GO! OPEN THIS CAGE! IT BURNS! PLEASE! SO CLOSE! SO CLOSE I HEAR IT! IT’S CALLING! IT’S WAITING! NONE OF US ARE SAFE! PLEASE!”

Ylvira whispered, “Should we be wary?”

Kerrigan responded with a stern tone, “Very. The power is here.”

They entered the chamber.

Amazed, the Good Mother held the cage of Eddie Glenn high in the air like a lantern, and he responded with a chorus of horrible screeching.

“It’s beautiful,” the Good Mother whispered.

The sight they viewed was harrowing. The chamber, domed and massive, echoed their footsteps. At its epicenter, stretching from ground to ceiling like a pillar, was a massive tree trunk. From its head, massive branches snaked through the air, and upwards into the ceiling where they imbedded themselves, borrowing across the ceiling. On the floor, the roots did exactly the same, knotting around each other, and across the floor. Had it not been for the ever present and self-aligning touch of gravity, the witches wouldn’t have been able to distinguish the top from the bottom.

The soul’s pitiful screams didn’t have to tell them, they could all see that the tree was hardly natural. They could all sense it.

The room seemed a flutter with static electricity. It pleasurably tickled their skins. It made them all hungry for more.

The Good Mother led them down and into the sloped chamber, but not too hastily. Although the notion, the idea of the power was already so intoxicating, all the witches held onto their self-control, onto their sense of rationality.

Just because it seemed safe, didn’t mean it was.

Once they had reached the tree’s base, and only then, the Good Mother set the inconsolable spirit that used to be Eddie Glenn on the ground. She pulled out a spell book from her bag. She placed it in midair, and it stayed there.

“Quick,” she told the other’s. “We must be quick. The power is dormant. We must awake it and take it into ourselves before it can react against us.”

The three others eagerly did as their Good Mother proclaimed. They each released the fire from their hands. Each flame remained positioned where they had left it, hovering in the air just above their heads.

Each witch found a root, and they placed their bloody hands onto the plant. The cold filled them. Warmth drained. It was more inebriating than anything they had ever experienced before.

“With this power,” the Good Mother Adisa proclaimed, placing one hand on the tree’s base while the other turned pages in her floating book, “we will become what no other on this world ever has. Masters of darkness, and masters of something more.”

The three witches looked at her with hungry, almost orgasmic eyes.

“With this power, Heaven and Hell will tremble. One will fall to its destruction. The other will be raised, brought to us so that we may rule over it ourselves. More than any witch has ever dreamed. More than any God has ever feared, we will rewrite creation itself.”

She found the right page, and greedily spoke, “Today we become the dark gods of myth, and we become eternal, for we—”

She stopped, because a new sound had erupted from Eddie Glenn’s cage. The canary was no longer just chirping, the canary was no longer wailing.

The canary had gone quiet.

Silence erupted from Eddie Glenn’s cage.

The canary was dead.

Listlessly, Eddie’s petrified face fell, pieces of it dispersing along the bottom of the cage. Nothing showed in what was left of his visage. No emotion. No fear. No pain. No understanding.

“He’s been cut off,” the Good Mother whispered, for the first time in her life, in fear.

“What’s happened?” Ylvira asked. “Why’s it done that? Is that the sign?”

“No!” Seren shouted, standing up, releasing the tree’s foul root. “He’s been severed. That’s not possible!”

“What do you mean?” Ylvira asked. “What does that even—?”

“He’s been severed from our reality,” the Good Mother said, tears in her eyes. “From the afterlife. His soul has been severed, for it is about to be forever stolen.”

Ylvira asked, “What heresy do you speak?”

“All souls, all magics, are connected to our world,” the Good Mother whispered. “To the powers either above or below. A soul is tethered there. Forever. That’s why our hold on this soul couldn’t last. That tether pulls you when you die. It claims your soul for either the One Above or the One Below. But Eddie’s is no more. His soul is no longer theirs to own. It shouldn’t be possible.”

“What does that mean?” Ylvira asked, standing up as well.

“It means, awful brat,” Kerrigan said, turning, a look of panic on his face, “That we miscalculated. Severely! We have to—!”

His voice was cut off. The three noticed that Kerrigan hadn’t stood. Soon, they noticed that he hadn’t been able. A string of claws, like the body of a centipede had emerged from the tree’s roots, and they had coiled themselves around Kerrigan’s hand.

“No,” Kerrigan said. “No, no, no! This can’t be! You can’t! No!”

Then, with a great force, the root ejected more insectoid-tendrils. A whole mass of them wrapped around Kerrigan’s face and neck, torso and legs. His screams became muffled as claws filled his mouth and dragged him to the ground. They moved him along the root, like a neatly wrapped package, towards the base of the knotted tree.

The bark started to open. A crack formed along the baseline, and the face of the tree lifted upwards, spanning into a massive and ghastly maw.

Squirming, Kerrigan was still alive when he entered the maw, but a few masticating blows from the tree’s awful, jagged teeth and the witch was no more.

And neither was his soul.

“It took him,” the Good Mother muttered. “It took him, and his soul. It shouldn’t be possible. It can’t be possible. Only God can—”

“Good Mother!” Ylvira called, noticing the roots starting to pull themselves from the ground. “We need to go! Now!”

“There’s no escape child,” Good Mother Adisa explained. Ylvira turned to see that the door they’d entered through had already faded. The Good Mother already knew this. It had all been a trap.

They’d been cut off from their world. From their powers. From their God.

“Our souls are his now,” said the Good Mother, looking up to the unholy creature before them.

The witches cried and screamed as, very slowly, their torches flickered away, and nothing was left but squirming and darkness.

October 14th-One Small Step

Author's note:  For some background on this tale, please check out my other anthology collection, An Anthology: Alphabetically Organized here on this wiki. Specifically, tales "A", "O", and "X". Those are parts 1-3. This is part 4.

Roy Meyer sat on the beach, four bottles of Coors on his breath, admiring the glistening of the moonlight on the choppy night surf. The radio beside him was playing Springsteen, and his thoughts were miles away. He was starting to fade when a shape broke the surface of the water. He didn’t even notice something had changed until the figure emerging from the depths was only ten yards away, standing in just two feet of water.

“Jesus,” he said startled, struggling to get to his feet.

The figure approached, lumbering and slow. It moved right towards Roy.

He didn’t know what to do. He thought it was a diver at first, one of the old ones with the round heads, but no. On closer inspection, he could see that the figure who approached was far stranger than that.

He laughed, “Why the hell are you wearing an astronaut suit?”

The astronaut suit didn’t pause, didn’t hesitate at the question. It just kept walking forward.

“You know it’s like so late right now?” Roy asked, chuckling. The suit kept pressing forward. Roy wanted to take a step back, but he didn’t.

The suit came face to face with the man, and neither one seemed willing to step aside.

Roy brought up his fist, but not to fight.

He moved to tap on the astronaut’s visor.

“Hello?” he asked, knocking on the glass. “Is anybody home?”

Without the astronaut touching it, the visor opened. There was only a moment, illuminated perfectly by the brilliant moon above, where Roy saw that no one was inside the suit. The helmet was empty, and Roy’s knocking hand fell inside.

Around the rim of the visor, rows of white teeth protruded outwards. Covered in blood, triangular and serrated.

The last thought Roy had, before the two sets descended around his wrists, was that the teeth reminded him a lot of a shark.

The jaws closed around his hand like the mouth of a bear trap, sawing side-to-side within the helmet, making short work of the sinews, muscle, and bone.

In an instant, Roy’s hand was severed, and his blood stained the astronaut suit red. In his stupor, in his shock, he barely had time to take a breath, to begin to scream, before the mouth of the suit opened once more.

The astronaut suit grabbed him firmly around the shoulders, and it pulled him in close. It tilted its helmet, and the jaws bit all the way around the unsuspecting man’s face. A few feeble punches thrown, a couple of sickening crunches, and it was all over. The suit release Roy’s body to the embrace of gravity, but it kept his face.

The teeth, moving in waves like the feet of a millipede, repositioned the face within the astronaut’s mask. Bearing the surprised and terrified final look of Roy Meyer sideways in its maw, the satisfied astronaut suit reached up, and closed its black visor.

With the moon still high in the sky, it set off down the beach, leaving Roy Moore’s body to the care of the rising tide.

October 15th-The Jack-o'-Lantern Patch

“Come on, guys,” little Ernest Cunningham pleaded. “Don’t go into Mr. Tillerman’s field.”

There were five boys all together, including Ernest. The others scoffed, and wasted no time ducking under the rotted wood fence. The leader of the pack was a little boy with ginger hair and a speckled face named Richie Bridges. Cocksure, he scoffed at little Ernest.

“Too late,” he said, gesturing to himself, to the others, and to the other side of the crippled fence. “We’re here. You coming? I think you’d be worse off if you didn’t, right guys?”

The others chuckled. Ernest’s face warmed with embarrassment.

“Yeah, if you don’t come then Farmer Tillerman’s probably gonna confuse you for one of his chickens, or worse!” remarked another of the boys,a round kid called Curtis Page, elbowing Richie in the side, hoping for his approval. He got it, and all four boys laughed.

His need to no longer be embarrassed overcame his fear, and little Ernest Cunningham quickly rolled under the slanted four-by-fours. He received no welcome.

“Come on,” Richie told them all, sweeping his hand through the air. “Let’s go find this pumpkin patch.”

And the boys all followed, cutting through the tall field of brown grass. They moved towards the woods beneath the fading sky.

“Think it’s true?” asked Curtis under his breath, as they passed the first line of trees.

“Of course it is,” Richie said, proudly. “Why else would we be going? I’ve seen them before!”

“No, you haven’t,” joked Dennis Palmer, pushing his glasses up onto his face. “You don’t have the balls.”

“Wanna see ‘em?” Richie asked, putting his thumbs down the front of his jeans. The others recoiled with disgusted chuckles. “I mean, I know Ernest does but—”

“Shut up,” mumbled Ernest. Richie, Dennis, and Curtis all let it slide. The final boy, though, tall, skinny Leonard Wiggins, didn’t.

“Don’t pretend you’re some little badass,” he said, leaning down to look Ernest in the eyes. “You’re lucky we let you tag along. So, you don’t talk back. You shut up, and you just come along quietly. Got that?”

Ernest nodded, staring at the ground. Smiling, Richie and Leonard bumped fists.

“Good job,” Richie mouthed. Leonard gave him a shrug that simply said, “Don’t mention it.”

Ernest trailed behind, as the five wandered into the woods.

Leaves crunching with every step, the boys all giggled and gossiped under their breaths.

“Is it even real?” Dennis asked.

“Oh, but it is real,” Leonard said. “Every upperclassman’s been there. You know Joey from the football team? He told me it’s true, and that he’d been there five times. He said it’s no big deal. It’s just a pumpkin patch.”

“Ok,” Dennis interjected, “but if it’s ‘just a pumpkin patch’ then why are we going? It’s gotta be more than that.”

“You know what I mean,” Leonard sneered. “It’s just a pumpkin patch but they ain’t just pumpkins!”

“Right,” Richie said, leading the bunch. “They ain’t. They’re huge! Biggest pumpkins you ever saw!”

“They’re big because Mr. Tillerman uses a special fertilizer,” Curtis said, slyly. “Or, so I hear.”

“What does he use?” Ernest piped up. All four boys in front of him stopped, and they looked to each other with devilish glares.

Richie shrugged, grinning at Ernest, “People, probably.”

“Not just people,” Curtis said, shaking his head. “Kids.”

Ernest was startled, and almost didn’t even realize that the others had started moving again.

“In all seriousness, though,” Ernest heard Dennis say. “You don’t actually think Mr. Tillerman grows them with people, do you? They can’t grow like that.”

“Prolly not,” Leonard scoffed. “I bet the old man started the rumor himself, though, you know? To scare people off. They’re right behind his house after all.”

“Not that it worked then, did it?” Curtis joked.

“Old man Tillerman didn’t start any rumors,” Richie corrected them. “He’s never in town enough to start a rumor like that. He’s got no time for that anymore. Only thing he’s got time for is dying, and killing kids, probably.”

Ernest gulped. It couldn’t be true, he knew that. Mr. Tillerman was an old man. A bit scary-looking, admittedly yes, but a killer? Never. Not in a million years. He was a friend of Ernest’s mom. Mr. Tillerman owned the bean field out behind Ernest’s house. He knew Ernest, and Ernest knew that Mr. Tillerman was a good man.

Wasn’t he?

“Anyway,” Richie added. “Whether they grow from kids or not, who cares? I don’t care. We just got to grab one and bring it back. That’s it. That’s all we gotta do. Get in, get out. Go home and carve the best Jack-o’-lanterns ever. He ain’t ever even gonna know we were there.”

Continuing on their quest, the five made their way through the thick woods. Gray, evening skies brought misty rains, and although Ernest felt miserable he was too nervous to turn around. He was too embarrassed to do anything but follow the other boys.

Sooner than Ernest would have liked, the woods opened up. They had made it to the edge of Mr. Tillerman’s property. It was a quaint little house, with fading yellow paint and rusted bars around the back windows. There were pieces of farm equipment scattered about, an old barn that sat quite picturesquely on the far-left side, and an old white fence that stretched around the backyard.

More importantly, though, just a few dozen paces from the edge of the forest was a garden. A big, ripe pumpkin patch filled with big, ripe pumpkins.

“Score,” Richie breathed. “And even better.”

He pointed at Mr. Tillerman’s old house, “The lights are out. I don’t think anyone’s home.”

“Curtains are closed tightly at the very least,” Curtis encouraged. “I think we’re good.”

“I don’t feel good about this,” Ernest said. “Mr. Tillerman is a nice guy.”

No one paid him any mind.

“You guys ready?” Richie asked, looking at everyone but Ernest. “Remember, if Mr. Tillerman comes running, bolt for the woods, and meet back by the fence. Hopefully, he’ll only get Ernie, right?”

All but Ernest agreed, and they snuck out of the woods, and down towards the pumpkin patch.

Ernest didn’t want to follow them, but he didn’t want to stay either. Weighing the two options, he decided it would be best to stay with them, as opposed to alone and unwatched in the quickly darkening woods.

But, once he reached the pumpkin patch with the others, he started to question his choice. They all did. Something was off.

All the pumpkins in the pumpkin patch, sprouting from thick vines from darkened soil, had already been carved. They all had faces on them already. Their smiles seemed to glow.

“What the hell?” Dennis asked Richie. “Why the hell are they already carved, man?”

“They shouldn’t be,” Curtis said, pointing out, “they’re still on the vine! Are they all carved?”

“Looks like it,” Ernest mumbled.

“Think old man Tillerman did this?” Leonard asked.

“How, by pulling the guts out of the eyes?” Richie asked, angered. “I don’t know, it’s just about the only option though, ain’t it? They didn’t just grow like this!”

But what if they did? Ernest thought, suddenly looking at each pumpkin like it had been alive, grown from the ashes of the dead.

Richie, unable to accept defeat, groaned and said, “Listen, he’s already carved the damn things, it’s less work for us, just get in there, find the scariest ones, and we’ll take them home. Right? Maybe we’ll find one he hasn’t carved up yet.”

“Think he did it to try and scare us or something?” Curtis asked. “Are there candles inside? You guys see the glowing, right?

“Who cares?” Richie moaned. “Look, just find a pumpkin, alright?”

They all, except for Ernest, tip-toed into the garden, eyeing from up high all the different pumpkins.

“Jesus,” Dennis said. “He did do it to all of ‘em! I don’t see a single one that isn’t smiling back at me.”

“This is weird,” Curtis said, cautiously.

Ernest had stopped paying attention. He didn’t like the situation. He didn’t like Richie or the others, he didn’t like being so close to Mr. Tillerman’s house, whether he was really a bad man or not, and he certainly didn’t like being that close to so many unnerving orange smiles. He couldn’t bring himself to look into any of their hollow eyes.

So he looked to Mr. Tillerman’s house. Arms wrapped tightly around him, trying to warm himself, he noticed something different. A light had been turned on inside the old house.

Richie noticed this, too.

“Heads up, guys,” he whispered. “The old man is home. Find a pumpkin and let’s go.”

Ernest, waiting for the others, moved with a hunched back around the garden’s perimeter. All the pumpkins looked different. All had dissimilar smiles. He wondered, for a moment, if perhaps he could find the scariest one, and there was one he considered.

A big one, that grew much larger than his own head, larger than any pumpkin he’d ever seen. It had swooping, angry eyes, slits for nostrils, and many, many fanged teeth. A fearsome pumpkin. It would have made for the most horrifying of Jack-o’-lanterns.

Ernest almost bent over, almost tried to pick it up, but he couldn’t. His body wouldn’t let him. Not because the pumpkin wasn’t his, not because he didn’t want to join the others in their stupid game, but because every instinct in his brain told him, “No.”

“We shouldn’t be out here,” he mumbled, repeating himself louder, “we shouldn’t be out here! We should go, now!”

“The chicken-coop is over there,” Richie said pointing to the side of Mr. Tillerman’s home. “Go where you belong. Either grab a pumpkin with us or don’t even think about following us home. Stay here with the pumpkins and cry like the baby you are. Might as well just lie here in the middle of the patch and die, really. It’s what Mr. Tillerman will do to you anyways if he finds out.”

Ernest was willing to give in, to bow his head once more to Richie’s cruelty, but at the sight of the grinning pumpkins he shook his head, took a step back, and said, “No.”

“I’ll go up there,” Ernest said, his voice shaking, pointing to Mr. Tillerman’s house. “I—I’ll go and tell him. I’ll tell him what you’re all doing. I swear.”

There was the faintest flicker of rage in Richie’s eyes, the rage that someone like Ernest would ever defy him, but it was drowned out quickly by his overconfidence. He smiled, “Do it, get yourself caught. We’d be long gone.”

“So eager to get yourself turned into pumpkin food,” Curtis laughed.

“Am not!” Ernest shouted.

“Keep it down you dumbass!” Leonard snarled.

“It’s not true!” Ernest said. “Mr. Tillerman is—is a nice man, and we’re stealing from him!”

“We’re just taking a few pumpkins, you numbskull!” Richie said, sternly. “Calm down, Ernie.”

“Stop calling me ‘Ernie’!” Ernest shouted, his voice cracking.

Richie raised his hands, now very obviously concerned that they could get found out.

“Calm down there, buddy,” “he said. “Calm down, Ernest.”

“Ain’t got the balls anyways,” Dennis mocked.

“Yes I do!” Ernest said.

“Do it,” Leonard urged, nodding his head. “Go, run, tell him. Run little chicken.”

“No—” Richie started, holding up a finger. “Wait, Ernest—"

Ernest couldn’t control the tears that flowed from his eyes, but he could control his legs that wobbled beneath him. He made them strong, and he made them turn. He ran to the house.

Behind him, he heard an angered Richie bark, “Shit! Cunningham’s ratting on us, grab a pumpkin and go! Now!”

Ernest didn’t care. None had pursued him, as he feared they might, so he was free to sprint upwards and towards Mr. Tillerman’s house.

His legs were strong, until he had almost reached the back door.

What if they’re right? Ernest wondered.

He took much slower steps now, but still moved forward.

He is old, he is scary looking.

He stepped up the back stairs, inching towards the door.

He turned, the four in the field were bending down, getting ready to pick their pumpkins. He could still turn back.

Those aren’t normal pumpkins.

With a deep, confident breath, Ernest turned and pounded on Mr. Tillerman’s back door. Behind him, he heard Richie and the rest start to yell and curse, presumably at him. Calling him awful, horrible names. They were shrieking like banshees.

“Mr. Tillerman!” little Ernest shouted, trying to rise above the commotion in the pumpkin patch. “Mr. Tillerman! Are you there? They’re taking your pumpkins. It’s me, Ernest. You know my mom. Mr. Tillerman?”

The door swung open, and the prune-faced old man snarled down at Ernest, “What are you doing here?”

“I—I was just”—Ernest stammered, immediately unsure of what to say—“just wanting to let you know there’s a group of kids in your pumpkin patch.”

The old man cocked an eyebrow, looking over Ernest to the pumpkin patch, “A group of kids, you say?”

Ernest nodded, unsure of whether or not he’d need to run. He couldn’t turn his gaze from old man.

Nodding his head, Mr. Tillerman’s snarl faded, “Good, it’s about time. I was starting to wonder if this crop would ever bloom.”

Ernest, confused as to what he meant, asked the old man, “What?”

“Glad you stayed out of it, though, little Cunningham,” he said with a grin. “Would have been difficult to explain to your mother.”

There was a noise behind Ernest that caught his attention. A large, swooping noise, like a tree felled by the wind.

“What was—?”

Before he could turn around, Mr. Tillerman had grabbed ahold of Ernest’s shoulders, and made sure he couldn’t turn around.

“Don’t worry about it,” he told the boy. “Come, come on inside and let’s get you something to drink and get you warmed up.”

As the noises, the crunching noises continued in the distance, a fearful Ernest entered Mr. Tillerman’s old house.

Before shutting the door, Mr. Tillerman surveyed his pumpkin patch. The shifting, feasting pumpkins were making quick, and rather quiet work of the boys, chewing and devouring them. Their vines whipped through the air, snapping-to and coiling around what remained of the children like striking pythons. He grinned.

“Yes,” he said, as something rose from within the field, bursting from within the pumpkins, “I was really worried for a bit, but I think they’re going to be just fine now.”

October 16th-A Hunter of Beasts

The Hunter of the North found the path across the Abyss of Weytham, but not without consequence.

Ruthless were his pursuers who had erupted from the raven depths to chase him from the edge of the shore. Atop his skeletal steed, the Hunter rode into the narrow, twisted marshes, between the gangly, and ever hungry, spider-willows. Following ever-so closely behind, the pair of pursuers, the dreaded Nuckelavee, allowed the Hunter no yield.

Together, the three barreled through the webbed marshes.

Above, swinging about as if caught by a breeze, the branches of the spider-willows watched the Hunter. Their chelicerae fluttering with an almost erotic anticipation, they began to lash out, striking through the air like wicked whips, lashing at the hunter. Their fangs could find no hold upon the rider’s skin, finding time and time again their advances repelled by the thick leather that adorned the Hunter’s figure. However, this did not deter them. They tried and tried again.

Despite the incessant lashes of the spider-willows and their venomous fangs, the Hunter could afford no hesitation, for he could feel the wilting, withering stench of the Nuckelavee’s breath scorching his collar. The ghastly creatures—skinless, with veins pumping with befouled blood—followed the Hunter’s own fleshless horse step for step, matching it almost exactly in pace. Almost.

The horse-like creatures, with torso riders sprouting from their backs like malignant, living tumors, howled in frustration. Their arms moved through the putrid air, attempting to knock the Hunter off his own accursed mount. But they had to be careful, as much so as the Hunter, as the gap separating them was so unchangingly small that a single fault, of any of the three, would cause the most sudden end to their hellish pursuit, whether in favor of the Hunter or the two Nuckelavee.

As it would happen, such a slip-up finally did occur. The Nuckelavee, such eternally ravenous creatures, were too consumed with their desire to devour that they did not notice something that the wild Hunter before them had.

The spider-willows ahead, at the end of the marshlands, had spun a trap, a net of silky webbing intended to ensnare the Hunter and the two Nuckelavee and leave them to the mercy of the mutant trees.

The Hunter was no fool, and he had been expecting such a trap for some time, and when he had beheld the first glimmer of such a snare, he did the unthinkable. Dismounting his horse’s corpse mid-gallop, he lunged forward, rolling through the stagnant waters and underneath the sticky spindles.

His mount, and the two Nuckelavee weren’t as lucky.

His mount scarcely struggled, for it had no life, no precious flesh, left to protect. In the net, it simply fell limp, and ceased. The two Nuckelavee, however, were not as blithe, howling as the webbing stuck to their flesh, biting into their bodies like razor wire, allowing them to remain still long enough for the razor-sharp, hypodermic hooks of the spider-willows to inject them full of paralyzing, degrading toxins.

The trees, their focus collectively centered on their freshest catches, couldn’t care less for the Hunter who, having bid his faithful stead a respectful bow, had left the marshlands behind.

His destination was close. He lit a torch, and continued into the Whispering Woods.

The dark, midday sky loomed overhead, the red stars guiding the Hunter through endless, dry woods. He stuck to the mark, following in the direction of the southern constellation, the guiding hand of “Arathos”. There, past the trees that whispered to him, “Come here,” and “Let me see you, face to face,” he would find the trail, the path to his query.

Where he would find the hanging dogs.

There were dozens, when he found them, just like his Master had said. Dozens of dead dogs, big dogs, hanged from barbed wire around their bloody necks. Pinned to trunks, and wrapped around branches, they offered a clear message.

“Keep out,” the Hunter muttered under his breath.

He did not oblige the disgusting warning. Instead, he followed the dogs, along the trail that their corpses surrounded. A path set straight through the Whispering Woods, that led the Hunter to an old cabin.

A cabin with smoke that billowed from its chimney and into the frigid sky. The Hunter allowed a smile to grace his grizzled face.

He had made it.

A knock upon the wooden door, and, after a few silent minutes, the entryway creaked open. Just a smidge. Just enough to let the cabin’s Owner peer out.

“Who goes there?” he inquired, cautiously. “What business do you have with me?”

“I have no business with anyone,” the Hunter said with a smirk. “I’m just trying to make my own.”

“Aren’t we all?” the Owner said. “You have to be wary round these parts, what is it you want?”

The Hunter shrugged, “A bit of hospitality.”

“You were born in the wrong ‘verse for that, my friend,” the Owner chuckled.

“Weren’t we all?” the Hunter said, intentionally turning the Owner’s own words against him. “I’m just looking for a place to rest my eyes.”

“You’re mighty trusting,” the Owner said, shaking his head.

“That I am,” the Hunter acknowledged without clarification. The Hunter was, indeed, very trusting but only of one person: himself. He believed in no one else to ever keep him half as safe, and to be half as true.

The door swung open, and the portly man inside gestured for the strange Hunter to enter. The Hunter smiled, tipped his wide-brimmed hat, and stepped inside. The door swung shut behind him, leaving him and the Owner alone.

The Hunter surveyed the cabin’s interior. The walls were barren, aside from a few blood-drawn sigils—a handful of protective charms meant to keep evil at bay. There was a kitchen with some cabinets and a sink on his right. In the center of the main room on his left, before the fireplace, sat two chairs. Each one faced the other, and neither faced the fire.

The Hunter helped himself to one chair, and the Owner, with cautious eyes, took the other.

A pot boiled and steamed over the open fire.

“The dogs,” the Hunter said. “Hanging dogs. You?”

“Aye,” the Owner said, looking towards the door. “We got a bad skinwalker problem in these parts. I take care of ‘em.”

“Skinwalkers?” the Hunter asked.

“Surely you’ve met one,” the Owner said, flabbergasted.

“Once or twice,” the Hunter admitted. “Never more than that. You’ve got a few dozen out there. You sure they’re all guilty?”

“Probably not,” the man said. “Walker or not, I kill any dog that comes around. I don’t trust ‘em. I don’t trust anything here.”

“Wise of you,” the Hunter said. “What are you cook—?”

“That means you, too,” the Owner said, cocking a handgun he’d pulled out of the side of the chair. The Hunter showed no surprise on his face.

“I mean no harm,” he said, calmly.

“Then you don’t belong in this world of nightmares,” the Owner said, sternly.

“I don’t think any of us belong in this Dark World,” the Hunter said, leaning forward, looking at the fire. “What are you cooking?”

The Owner glanced to the fireplace, to the moaning kettle. Gun still raised, the Owner walked, or rather limped, over to the pot, and stirred its contents.

“Stew,” he said, lifting the wood spoon to his lips, tasting it. “Pukwudgie, I found a cave of ‘em about five hundred paces northeast of here. Been stealing the crops from the child groves.”

“Skin is supposed to bring good-luck,” the Hunter said. “If you believe in such a thing.”

“’Course I don’t,” the Owner sniffed. “Doesn’t hurt to try, though.”

The Hunter shifted in his seat, and the Owner took notice. He raised his gun to eye level and the Hunter raised his hands, harmlessly. The Owner shook with fear.

“Don’t” he said. “Silver bullets, kill just about anything here, including you.”

“I don’t fear no silver,” the Hunter said.

“Then you should fear bullets.”

“Fair point,” the Hunter said. “Like I’ve said, I have no need of any violence. I would quite fancy a drink should you have one.”

The Owner thought about the Hunter’s words for a moment, focusing more on his calm, collected tone. He lowered his weapon, and nodded his head.

“What’s your poison. Life-blood?”

“I’m not vampire-folk,” the Hunter said with a chuckle. “Whiskey will do nicely.”

“You look like one,” the Owner said, hobbling over to the kitchen.

“Are you?” the Hunter asked.

“You wouldn’t believe what I was if I told you,” the Owner remarked, much to the Hunter’s pleasure.

“Try me,” the Hunter continued. “I can imagine quite a bit.”

“Of that I’m sure,” the Owner said, fishing through his cabinet. “But, for the time being, I will hold onto the knowledge of what I am and spare you the burden, just in case.”

Pulling a dusty old bottle from the rear of the cabinet, the Owner took to washing two glasses from the sink basin, drying them by hand. Curiously, while he did so, he looked at the Hunter’s eyes.

“I don’t know what you are,” he said, tongue-in-cheek. “If it makes you feel better. I ain’t ever seen your eyes before.”

The Hunter tilted his head.

“You only got the pupils,” he said. “All black, no white, no color. No soul.”

“Probably true,” the Hunter acknowledged. “Yet, I still feel damned regardless.”

To this, the cabin’s Owner laughed heartily, “Oh, don’t we all. In this place? This is Hell.”

“It’s something,” the Hunter said, grinning. “It’s many things, I’d reckon. Self-sustaining cesspool? Certainly. It’s a dumping ground for creation’s mistakes. A living cancer in the multiverse. My home, whether I chose it or not, that’s for sure. But Hell? No, I don’t think it’s that.”

“Then you’re more optimistic than most,” the Owner said, waddling across the creaking floor, carefully grasping the two poured glasses. He handed one to the Hunter, to which he responded with a curt, “Thank you,” and he took the other one as he sat back down on the other chair. He downed it almost immediately. The Hunter savored his in small sips.

Across the room, the silver handle of the Owner’s gun glinted, from where he had left it on the counter.

“Only thing that makes me feel warm anymore,” the Owner said.

“Stop longing for it,” the Hunter suggested. “And you won’t resent its absence so much. Learn to take pleasure in the frisky bite of the night, your dark lover.”

“That helps, does it?” the Owner asked, a glitter in his eyes. “I mean, whatever works.”

The Hunter chortled, “No, because I have never longed for warmth.”

“You’ve never longed for the Sun’s grace upon your skin?”

The Hunter stared into the fire, “I’ve never understood it. The frivolity of such fairytales. Why engage them?”

“It’s not frivolity to believe in the Sun,” the man said, offended. “It’s hopeful.”

“It has never existed,” the Hunter said, matter-of-factly.

“It did somewhere,” the Owner said, longingly. “I felt it once.”

“Did you, now? I scarcely believe that—”

“Believe it,” the Owner bragged.

“If you’ve felt the Sun,” the Hunter started, “then I was born in the Flesh Coves of the south, and I suckled on a banshee’s teat.”

“Aye, I have,” the Owner said, defiantly. “And it was wonderful.”

“Tell me about it,” the Hunter said, leaning back, enjoying himself. “Prove it.”

“Like the kiss of the most beautiful woman on the nape of your neck,” the Owner said, sighing. “Like bliss and joy made corporeal. A fleeting moment of forever. A forever where everything is ok, and the dark never comes. You don’t feel it then, of course. That would be too fair. You don’t feel it until it’s long gone, buried in your mind, and you’re lost to the dark and cold. A memory everlasting. The almost-forgotten moment of eternity. And that’s the best I can describe it. It’s what defines pureness in my world. The forever kiss.”

The Hunter took another sip of Whiskey. He felt no kiss in its tingling burn.

“What do you here, anyways?” the Owner asked.

Confused, lost for a moment in thought, the hunter cast his dark eyes to the Owner who shrugged, “I never asked.”

Disappointedly licking his lips, the Hunter sat forward in his chair, rolling the glass between his fingertips.

“I’m hunting,” he said. “Hunting something in these woods.”

“A monster?” the Owner asked.

The Hunter nodded, “Worst of the worst. One that doesn’t belong here.”

The owner chuckled, “Gonna have to narrow it down a bit, mate. There’s a lot of beasts in these woods. Tracking it is gonna be diff—”

“I know where it is,” the Hunter said, setting the glass down on the floor. “I’ve tracked it for months across the Northern Blairmire shores.”

“Blairmire?” the Owner asked. “You from the mainland, then?”

“Yes,” the Hunter said.

“Where do you hail from?”

“South of Canter-tuuk. You know of it?”

“The Soul Fields and the Nightmare Railyards,” the Owner recalled, with a shiver. “You came from there?”

The Hunter nodded silently.

“How did you ever cross the Abyss?”

“Carefully, and not without loss,” the Hunter recalled, thinking of his stead.

“You must really hate this thing you hunt,” the Owner said.

“Pardon?” the Hunter asked.

“Well, what other reason would someone hunt something so voraciously? I couldn’t ever imagine crossing the Abyss for just any reason. No amount of money could ever make me. Not even the tastiest flesh in the ‘verse could ever—”

“Would you do it for the Sun?” the Hunter asked. “Would you do it if you could feel the Sun on your skin once more? The forever kiss that defines pureness in your world?”

The Owner was taken off-guard. He hadn’t even considered such a thing was possible. He pondered it for but a moment before eagerly nodding with an almost childish grin, “Yes, I think that might possess me enough to—” Interjecting, the Hunter stood, “That’s why I do it. To restore the pureness to my world.”

Alarmed, the Owner reached for the gun, only to shockingly remember that he’d left it on the counter.

“There’s nothing pure about this world,” the Owner said. “I don’t know what beast you seek—”

“I told you,” the Hunter said, angrily, “I hunt the worst of the worst. The creatures that taint the Dark World. Those who don’t belong here.”

“Thought you said none of us did,” the Owner said, standing to match the Hunter. He found, to his dismay, that the Hunter was still, easily, a head taller.

“I said none of us were born here,” the Hunter said. “I never said we didn’t belong.”

The Owner took a step backwards, like the Hunter wouldn’t notice.

“There’s quite a few creatures in these woods,” the Owner said, “and I’m sure that time is terribly short so you should probably be going—"

“You don’t belong here,” the Hunter said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the Owner said, taking another step back, readying himself to sprint across the room, to reach his gun. “Who couldn’t belong here? This is a world of nightmares and chaos. A world without sense! A world of monsters and—”

“And,” the Hunter said, reaching out, grabbing the Owner’s arm firmly in his grip. “You are human.”

The Owner, the man, started to panic as his skin burned at the touch of the Hunter’s hand.

“Don’t” he said, pleading.”Please, I can’t be human! There hasn’t been a human in these parts in the last--”

“Thirty-seven years,” the Hunter recalled. “I know, I dealt with that one, too.”

The Owner, gasping in pain, could only manage to mouth the word, “Please.”

“You don’t belong here,” the Hunter said, as his face split apart, his skull and face splitting from his eyes and his jaws.”Consider this a kindness. My bit of hospitality.”

The man screamed as the Hunter split in two, and a mass of writhing, razor-sharp appendages emerged from the Hunter’s torso. They surrounded him like a cage, each bar cutting and burning at the slightest touch. The last thing he saw, were the Hunter’s soulless eyes and lipless smile.

The Hunter retracted the cage inwards, shredding the human as his body resealed itself. His armor reformed, and his face returned to its nearly-human shape. Aside from a bloodstain on the floor, he left no trace behind of his presence.

Fixing his hat, the Hunter headed towards the door, opening it, and giving his body back to the loving bite of chilled darkness.

So pure.

October 17th - Red Flowers in a Red Vase

It shouldn’t have existed; a field of skeleton arms.

They reached up towards the sky, clawing, like they were trying to find a stronghold, someway to pull themselves from the ground.

The Girl watched, her arms tucked up under her chin in a nervous pose, as the bony palms all turned themselves towards her, like the heads of sunflowers. Fingers twitched without the aid of any muscle or tendon. She stayed next to the road, not willing to get too close.

But she couldn’t move on, couldn’t turn away. Something called her to the field. A voice, a song, that insisted she stay, just a little bit longer. Something she couldn’t hear, only feel.

At some unknown trigger, they slid back downwards into the pores of the earth like garden eels in the sea. They disappeared between the folds of the dry, corrugated earth.

They revealed their heart.

Rising like a tiny monolith in the center of the field, color shined out defiantly on the dreary day. Like a painting cast aside, left to spoil in the harsh, autumn air. The same air that carried that beautiful song to the Girl’s ears. A song that drew her across the bone fields.

They were brilliant, crimson flowers, with five round petals a piece, that sat inside a semi-transparent, candy red vase. Their smell was rich, lush, and balmy.

pick us up

The Girl, dropping her bookbag to the side, reached her timid hands around the bottom of the vase. She lifted but found the vase immovable. She was forced to tug and pull and wrench the vase from the earth. It was connected to the soil by red, vibrant roots that snapped, one by one, like the strings of a guitar. With each snap, the beautiful song got louder and louder.

The vase came free. The song ended. The wind stopped. Overhead, the clouds in the sky rolled and broke like the tumultuous waves of the ocean, racing across the sky ever faster and faster.

She felt cold, and the vase was warm. The Girl held it close to her body, hoping desperately that the beauteous song would start again.

But that wasn’t the sound that broke the day.

The Girl jumped at the shrill sound of a devilish horn, and at the raucous cracking of the asphalt beneath steel wheels. From the East, a steam engine, fashioned of smoke and bone, carved a path towards the Girl, slowing only once it had reached her.

The Girl stood, frightened at the behemoth before her. Eyeless sockets, carved into its singed steel chassis, glared as a smile forged with a hundred human teeth beckoned her forwards.

The Girl only moved once the train again blared its awful, shrieking horn, signaling that it had come to a complete stop. Behind, it dragged an endless line of passenger cars, each one as ashen and charred as the engine. Each one had a door that had opened the moment the devilish train had blown its whistle.

The song returned, slow, melodic, sad.

board

The Girl, trusting the voice, trusting the song, took steps towards the first passenger car, but froze when she noticed that something was getting off.

Out of every car, creatures emerged. Stumbling on misshapen legs, and gazing about with curious, inhuman eyes, the creatures spread about, surveying the landscape with an unmistakable awe.

Skin like melting tar, and slit eyes of putrid yellow, they lumbered and spoke in short, sputtering fits from mouths unseen. Their voices ill, sickly and jarring. They ignored the Girl, obsessed much more so with the gray sky and the brown grass.

Once they had all passed, once they had all offboarded, the Girl dashed for the steps, pulling herself onto the nightmare train.

The train wasted no time in lurching forward, cackling as it did so, sputtering hot coals all over the ground. The Girl felt unnerved, but the increasingly dark harmonies kept her trapped in a calm trance.

She moved through the train, from car to car.

Passing through, she found rows of people, long deceased. Their bodies hadn’t rotted away, but time hadn’t been kind. They were dried, shriveled and mummified, cast under blankets of silky-white threads. As she passed, spiders with red-thorns on their backs crept out from beneath their victims to stare at the Girl with awfully human-like faces.

The train swerved off the road, making way across the barren countryside. Up ahead, a lonely forest.

The further the girl wandered, the stranger she felt. The more the song started to turn and putrefy.

Walls of the train car started to bleed, with sections peeling like scabs. Corpses snapped to life, laughing amongst each other like hyenas as she approached. Some wore masks, plastic and expressionless. Others wore the faces of fellow passengers, stretched into grins with cords and stitches.

keep going

As the song mutated, degrading into something occasionally jarring to the Girl’s young ears, she started to doubt and hesitate. She passed a car with human-sized spiders, sporting antlers above their cross, uneven faces.

Only the warmth of the flowers kept her sane, kept her going forward.

last car

In the final car, the fields faded from the windows, and day instantly became dusk as they entered the shadowy woods. Passengers were no longer seated. They stood, motionlessly facing forward. Mannequin corpses, whose eyeless, featureless faces only followed the Girl once she had passed. Behind her back and beneath their thin, gray skin, their skulls started to burn a fiery orange from within each socket and opening, illuminating deceitful smiles and furrowed eyes. As she shuffled, closer and closer, towards the back of the train.

There was the final door. Tall and imposing. All that was left. All she had to move towards. All she had to move through.

open it

For the first time, she didn’t want to do it. For the first time, she truly faltered, and thought. The song was growing sourer and sourer. The faces behind her, angered and spiteful, burned brighter and brighter, until their very skin ignited, and began to sizzle away.

OPEN IT

She took the knob, and pulled the door open. She gasped as the figures behind her all fell into ash, each one disintegrating with a fearsome, snake-like hiss. Whipping her neck around, she gazed back outside the train car, into the abyss. Into nothingness.

She checked. Outside the windows of the car, the bleak forest still came and went. It still existed. Yet, outside the door of the final car, nothing existed. Nothing but blackness. She could see no ground, no sky, no trees or hint of light. Just the dark. Eternal dark.

And a rising fear. A stomach turning terror.

it’s coming

Figures appeared, falling from the train, standing on invisible ground. They surrounded the train on either side like guards, each holding a blazing Jack-o’-lantern beneath their arms. Ghastly knights, with no discernable clothes or faces. They were headless, she realized. Headless guardsmen.

But guarding what?

The flowers, their song finally grinding to a halt, rotting inside the Girl’s very soul, heard her ask, heard her ponder, and they gave her an answer.

An answer most unmentionable, a name that she couldn’t remember, but one that forced her to scream, provoking inside her a shuddering terror unlike anything in the known universe.

It was coming.

She could see it in the distance, and she knew she had to drop the flowers, but the heat they gave off grew in intensity, causing her muscles to cease around it. It felt like it was melding to her flesh.

The void surrounded the train, drowning the old woods in its evil abyss.

In the distance, it, the unspeakable creature, galloped towards her across a ground unseen. Its form changing before her eyes, twisting and changing, made it indescribable. As it approached, the guards took turns kneeling, their essences absorbed into the charging evil, increasing its size proportionally each time. The train’s screaming bells shrieked, as its brakes squealed, allowing the beast to close the distance even faster.

She saw its eyes, blacker than the void, focus on her. She felt its rage growing. It’s hunger insatiable. It’s temper irrepressible. It’s soul incorrigible.

In that moment, there was no God. No Devil. No Good. Just Evil.

It lunged, mouth splitting open like a snake, revealing an endless, creaming chasm.

The Girl screamed back, drowning the tormented song from her head.

She placed the red flowers down, back in the field. She fell to the ground, dust rising around her like a cloud. Paused, she took a moment to remember where she was. The field. The gray sky. Behind her, the road.

She reached forth, ignoring the beautiful, pleading song, and snatched her bookbag from the ground. She ran, leaving behind the fields.

Once more, the skeleton arms rose from the dust.

Within them, a beating, festering heart. It sang. It waited.

Red flowers in a red vase.

October 18th - Alone

Somebody was knocking on the window.

Tyree Brewer wasn’t a jittery man, nor a man afraid of confrontation, even at such an early hour in the morning. In fact, the hour only stoked his rage. He was missing his sleep.

Turning his bedside light on, he quickly jumped out of bed. He saw the briefest glimmer of someone massive ducking away from the window before he could reach it. He pulled the window open, and leaned out to yell into the night, “Hey! Knock that shit off! Come back here and I’ll beat your ass!”

Frustrated, Tyree slammed the window shut, and lay back down in bed. He picked up his phone, wondering whether or not it was worth calling the police, when a ringing came from the front door. Someone was pressing the doorbell, again and again and again.

Angered, Tyree got up, and stormed out of his bedroom. Down the hall, he entered the living room and pulled open his steel door, to meet face-to-face with his harasser. The scrawny man wore a black hoodie, and a plain-white owl mask. Only a storm door stood between them.

Tyree laughed, pointing at the ridiculous, porcelain mask.

"Think you scare me?" he asked. "Tapping on my windows? Ringing my doorbell.”

The masked assailant didn’t move. He didn't even seem to breathe.

Tyree faked fear, shaking his hands vigorously.

“Ahh,” he said, chuckling. “Please, no more.”

The man in the owl mask said nothing in reply. Tyree shook his head, laughing no more, but still grinning.

“Thought you looked bigger out in the back,” Tyree observed, looking the man over. “Had me worried for a second. But I guess the darkness adds like twenty pounds.”

The thug reached forward, and jiggled the locked door handle. Tyree crossed his arms.

“What are you even doing, man? Out here, all alone? Like three A.M.?”

The man in the owl mask tilted his head, ever so slightly.

“Alone,” he repeated, as if contemplating the word. “I wander. Wander and ring.”

Tyree crossed his arms, flexing intentionally.

“Listen,” he said, unamused. “I eat smaller thugs than you for breakfast, and it’s pretty damn early but I don’t mind getting some early fucking grub, you hear me? Time to move on, or there won’t even be enough of you left for the cops to take in.”

After a pregnant pause, a silent sizing-up, the masked man merely waved good-bye to Tyree, placed his hands in his pockets, and started off down the street.

“Yeah,” Tyree said, crossing his arms. “Go on, then. Get.”

Tyree followed him, watching him go one house, two houses, a block down the road.

Satisfied that he was gone, Tyree chuckled.

“Better run,” he said, as he slammed the front door shut, locking it tight.

Yawning, he strolled back towards his bedroom, still debating whether or not he should call the police.

Feeling about his darkened bedroom, he lay down and settled in beneath his warm covers, trying to fight off the cold bite of the night air. Scrolling on his phone, checking a few updates on Twitter while he was up, Tyree was content. It had been creepy, strange, but he’d been through worse. The jackass outside his door had more bark than bite. Probably just some punk out looking to scare a few unsuspecting people for the hell of it.

Yeah, that’s all, he thought, confidently.

But he didn’t feel confident.

Something felt off.

Placing his phone on the bedside table, he looked at the darkened lamp, and couldn’t help but feel like he’d…forgotten something.

Shrugging it off, Tyree finally settled back into bed and closed his eyes.

Completely unaware that his window was open just a hair.

October 19th - The Manticore

The young man, Osman, had failed. He had so miserably failed.

His quest had been a simple one, but daunting nonetheless. All he had to do was find the young, the offspring of the fierce beast, and crush their tails. Crippling the next generation would have guaranteed a prosperous future for his village, and would preserve the sacred lands of the northern Sahara.It was a deed that young hunters had been fulfilling for countless generations, way back to the time of the ancient pharaohs.

But, in the creature’s caves he had become lost. He’d panicked. He’d been brash. He’d found the young, the cruel offspring of an even crueler beast, but, out of fear, he’d done more than just cripple the cubs.

He’d butchered them.

What good would it be to cripple such creatures? He had realized. They would still arise to become deadly beasts of evil. Would it not be better to just slay them where they stand? They would do no better to the children and women I protect. My ancestors had been fools to allow any of them to live.

He debated the point with his hunting partner. His partner, the cautious Assem, didn’t think it was wise to do anything but what the elders had instructed.

“Please,” he had begged of Osman, “Not like this.”

Hungry for justice, starving for vengeance, Osman decided not to heed his friend.

So he slaughtered them. Their blood staind the pale, sandstone walls of the cavern. Their carcasses lay strewn in pieces. Shredded. Eviscerated.

And for a moment the young man, the hunter Osman, was proud. Viciously proud.

But then, while exiting the caves he heard the cries of the mother, of the savage manticore, and all of his pride wilted. It shrivelled up inside him, and the hunter felt as though he had died.

For he knew that he was doomed.

Had he not dallied, had he done his quick deed and been gone, then perhaps the mother would have spared him. Perhaps he could have escaped. Perhaps, had he just crippled the young, the manticore wouldn’t have pursued him so hastily.

Perhaps, there had been a reason his ancestors had let the cubs live.

It pursued him through the caverns. His light never touched it, but he could hear it scuttling across the sides of the cave, gripping the walls with lion claws. There was a rustling in the wind, as the creature furled and unfurled its ghastly, membranous wings, eager to fly, to soar. The hunter Osman saw sparks in the distance, as the creature’s dagger-like tail, full of the blackest venom, scrapped against the caves walls, as if the creature were sharpening its blade.

Making it ready to pierce his heart.

Somewhere along the way, Osman lost Assam in the caverns, his light trailing down a different path. Down in the darkness, he met his fate. His gurgled screams eventually rebounding through every tunnel, reaching Osman’s ears. Devastating his heart.

Scrambling, Osman made it out of the cave, and he only made it a few hundred meters across the desert plains before he was sure that the manticore had made it as well.

Free of confines, its wings spread and flogged the the air like a leaded tarp.It was a sound that quickly faded, as the nightmare of legend rose into the sky. Straight towards the heavens, undaunted to enter the so boldly approach the eyes of God.

Osman felt his breaths quicken like cement in his lungs. There was nowhere to hide. Not for him anyways. Not the way the manticore hid, stalking him from behind obsidian clouds.

Osman didn’t understand why the creature had allowed him to continue for so long. It could have struck him down in moments, in a final heartbeat, but instead it hovered somewhere above. Unseen, its fury lingered in the air like static building before the lightning strikes.

The manticore could has swooped down upon him like the fiercest of eagles, rending him where he stood. Its tail was said to be like that of the world’s deadliest archer, able to fire its deadly spikes across distances of many, many miles. It was said that its wings could stir the heart of the air into the fiercest of storms. Yet, it did none of that.

It was letting him run. Letting him panic. Letting it all simmer. Gazing down through its all-too human eyes, Osman knew that the manticore was enjoying it.

Osman needed to find cover. To at least shield himself from the creature’s gaze would grant him at least some peace. A moment at the very least to gather his courage once more. A moment to build a plan.

And the good Allah finally looked upon him favorably.

Across a cresting dune, there was refuge. An old passenger plane, large enough to seat maybe twenty, lay half submerged in the ground. Surely the only landmark for miles around.

One that, as the claw marks sheared into the wings would attest, did not come there by any act of man.

Osman doused his light, surrounding himself in darkness hoping to temporarily blind the creature to his location. Climbing inside, Osman pulled the hatch shut tightly, and he made his way towards the back of the plane. He gasped when he noticed that the passengers were still there, displaced about the cabin. Their flesh had fallen from their bones, and their bones now mutated into black crystal, like onyx. A side-effect of the devastating manticore toxins. Terrified, Osman scuttled to the back of the cabin, as quietly as he could, where he clutched his sword against his chest and waited. Waited and waited.

BOOM! The airplane’s metal shell shrieked and morphed as a giant weight crashed down on top of it. Claws retracted from inside the metal, as the manticore found its perch, and began to move about the airplane’s fuselage. Talons clacked on against the aluminum frame.

The tail cracked through the air like a whip, darting from side-to-side, striking both sides of the plane with great force. The black, poisonous tip pierced through the craft as though it were nothing. The creature snarled.

Inside, Osman cowered. There was nothing he could do. He knew the creature’s hide and fur held too thick for blades to pierce. He knew that any provocation would alert the beast to his presence, and, as far as he knew, he wasn’t entirely sure if the beast had deduced he was inside the plane yet. It prowled about, but in no specific direction. It was searching.

After many prayers, the weight was lifted from the top of the cabin as the manticore leapt back into the sky, crying like a hawk to continue its chase.

Osman, relieved, started to cry. Looking out the open windows, realizing any wandering eye could still see him, Osman started to reposition himself within the cabin. He hid between two rows of seat, pulling one of the petrified corpses on top of himself to hide.

Time passed, but not enough for the morning light to come, and Osman began to hear a sound. It started in the distance, but grew and grew. It wasn’t a worrying sound. Instead, it was most, most welcome. If not a great deal confounding.

“Please,” he heard Assem pleading. “Where are you? Help me.”

Osman rose quickly, gazing out the airplane’s portholes. He saw no one coming from the south. Yet, the voice kept coming.

“Please,” it begged, weakly. “Please!”

The voice wasn’t coming from the south, it was coming from the north. Just outside the plane’s rear emergency hatch.

Osman didn’t hesitate, not even for a moment. He knew the longer Assem stayed out there, the more danger he was in. He knew the longer that Assem was out there, the more attention he would draw.

Attention that would draw the manticore, just as their fathers had always said, and it would kill him, in all the ways their fathers had warned. It would shred him with the claws of a lion. It would impale him with the tail of a scorpion. And it would maw him, with the awful jaws of a monster, watching him through the awful eyes of a man.

Quickly, Osman pulled open the hatch, expecting to pull Assem inside, to safety.

Instead, he learned quickly that their fathers hadn’t told them all of the abilities of the terrible manticore.

For, from it's all-too human lips, came the familiar voice of Osman. A perfect imitation. A perfect smile.

“Please.”

October 20th- Tales from the DSA Case Files: Harvestmen

IN RE:

CASE FILE # 5664.1

“HARVESTMEN”


TRANSCRIBED FROM VIDEO RECORDING


Interview of Jimmie Weeks

The following interview of JIMMIE WEEKS is transcribed from a video file labelled IRR 5B – Camera A, dated 2018-1-19. Time stamp on the recording begins at 10:11:22.

(Note: Jammie Weeks was previously released into the care of DSA personnel after his recovery from Goffs, California on 2018-1-11. Upon release subject was malnourished, unresponsive, and incredibly sensitive to light. Muscles in legs and arms have been almost completely atrophied. Subjected required straps to remain sitting. Physical therapy was assigned.

The use of red lights for the purpose of this initial interview was approved at the discretion of Dr. Collier and DSA upper-level personnel.

As per notes taken by Dr. Collier, subject was also “sensitive to changes in temperature, claiming to feel cold in rooms elevated to temperatures in the upper nineties”, as well as “exhibiting many behaviors correspondent with mental ailments including, but not limited to, itching (particularly at/near the poorly healed wounds on his arms, legs, and neck), muttering, and stuttering.

Subject became more responsive on 2018-1-18, and an interview was then scheduled by Dr. Collier.)

The interview is being conducted by Dr. Nathan Collier, Psy.D, resident psychoanalyst, as well as Agent Angelica Weaver, MS, graduate specialist in psychiatric trauma and assistant PTSD therapist.

(Dr. Nathan Collier and Agent Weaver enter the room at 10:19:33)

DR. NATHAN COLLIER (DNC):Good morning. Go ahead and sit down, Ms. Weaver. Mr. Weeks, how are we feeling today?

JIMMIE WEEKS (JW): The lights—I can’t— DNC: Yes, I apologize for the red lights. They’re mostly for us, so that we can still see and take notes. I understand if they’re troubling to you, if you want we could—

JW: No, it’s fine. Don’t go—please.

DNC: Of course, we won’t go anywhere. This young lady you haven’t met yet. This is Angelica Weaver. She’s going to be helping me today, is that alright?

JW: Yes.

AGENT WEAVER (AW): Hi, Mr. Weeks.

DNC: You know—already, Mr. Weeks, I’ve noticed you’re seeming a lot more cognizant than when we’ve spoken previously. Would you agree?

JW: It’s—it comes and goes. Like awful black waves.

DNC: Well, let’s just start out slow. Last time we met, I explained my job and what the goals of our meetings would be. Do you recall that conversation?

JW: I don’t—yes, you said—said you were here to help.

DNC: That’s correct. We’re here to help you, to help you deal with this horrific thing that’s happened to you.

JW: Horrific—

DNC: Try not to pick at those, Mr. Weeks.

JW: Sorry.

DNC: Don’t be, but the doctors tell me it’s not good. Do you remember how you got those wounds? The holes on your arms and legs?

JW: I think so—I just—cloudy.

DNC: No worries, Mr. Weeks. No worries. Do you prefer Mr. Weeks or would you prefer Jimmie?

JW: No one’s called me Jimmie in a—in a long while.

DNC: We’ll stick with Jimmie, then. Sound good?

JW: Yes. DNC: Good, now, Jimmie, Ms. Weaver here is a student of mine. She’s working on her doctorate, so she can learn to help people like you, would you mind if she were to ask you some questions?

JW: No.

DNC: No you don’t mind or—

JW: Don’t mind.

DNC: Ok, good.

AW: Jimmie, I just want to start off really simple here. Can you tell me what your birthdate is?

JW: That’s—why it’s July. July the—the seventh. July seventh. That’s my birthday.

AW: Can you remember the year?

DNC: It’s ok, don’t worry if you can’t.

JW: I’m sorry. My mind is—

DNC Completely normal. You’ve been through a lot lately. Give it time.

AW: Ok, can you tell me more about yourself? Where were you born?

JW: I was—New York, actually.

AW: Did you live there your whole life, or—?

JW: No, I moved—moved to California. When I was twenty.

AW: Good, good. What job did you have?

JW: Technical—technical something.

AW: Engineer?

JW: Yes.

AW: Good, that’s very good, now, this is going to start getting a little more difficult, alright? You’re going to relive a lot of trauma. If at any point the stress gets too much, the anxiety starts building, you start feeling like you’re trapped—

JW: I feel cold.

AW: If any of that gets too much, let us know. We can stop the sessions and regroup later. Ok?

JW: Ok, I think I can—I think I’m ready.

AW: Ok. Jimmie, I know your memory is feeling pretty—scattered, right now, but what’s the last thing you can remember? The last normal thing? Before everything went bad.

JW: I was—I went to Vegas. I went with—friends, for my birthday. I was twenty-seven. Twenty-seventh birthday.

AW: Good, do you remember the names of your friends?

DNC: It’s ok if you don’t, we can continue.

AW: Right, what’s the last thing about that night you remember? Anything specific?

JW: There was—there was a woman. Pretty woman.

AW: Do you remember her name? Did she give one.

JW: No.

AW: What happened with this woman?

JW: She, uh—led me to a room. We were—she kissed me. We were—beautiful. Lips like cherries—

DNC: Are you ok, Jimmie? Are we good to continue.

JW: Yes, don’t leave me. Not yet.

DNC: We won’t. What happened with the woman?

JW: I was on a bed, on my back. She was on top of me, kissing and—biting, and—they were on the ceiling, behind her.

AW: Who was on the ceiling?

JW: On the ceiling—nightmares. Hissing nightmares. She bit harder. It went dark.

AW: Your vision went dark?

JW: Yes, I think they—blindfolded me—hypnotized. Evil eyes—

DNC: Hypnotized?

JW: I felt—weak.

DNC: And they took you somewhere, is that correct?

AW: Where did they take you?

JW: To the dark. It was—it was so dark.

DNC: Could you tell if it was a cave? A building? Could you see anything?

JW: No. There was—rarely light. Smelled—moist. Damp. They shoved—stabbed me with these—wires. Tubes.

DNC: You mean where your wounds are?

JW: Tubes, with my blood. Carrying my blood.

DNC: Like a dialysis machine?

JW: I think—I felt—felt always light-headed. Everything got gray after that. I felt—empty.

AW: Like you were being drained?

JW: Yes. Drained. Always drained.

DNC: Do you know why?

JW: I could smell blood—always blood, whenever they walked by.

DNC: Who walked by?

JW: Them. The ceiling crawlers. The harvestmen.

AW: Harvestmen?

JW: I think they—that’s what they said. Harvest. Milking. Milking cows.

AW: Did you ever see your captors? Aside from the hotel room. Do you know how many—?

JW: Many fed there. Fed. I could hear them. Slurping. Screams of others—

DNC: Others?

JW: Everyone they fed on. They fed on us. Ate us. For so long. I was—bound from the ceiling—let the blood flow.

DNC: Are you ok, Angelica?

AW: I’m fine. I’m fine. Thank you, Dr. Collier. How many were down there with you, Jimmie? In the dark place.

JW: I don’t know how many they had. There were a lot of us. All drained. All fed.

AW: What did they feed you?

JW: Meat, raw meat. Bloody—bloody meat. Few other things. Leaves. Raw eggs.

AW: Were you restrained the whole time?

JW: Yes. At least, I think so—this is crazy.

AW: You’re doing very well, Jimmie.Very well. I just have a few more questions for today, is that ok?

JW: You don’t believe me.

AW: Jimmie?

JW: Yes, it’s ok.

AW: How did you get out?

JW: Let out. Tossed out.

AW: By whom?

JW: The woman. Same woman. Same red lips. My neck—others didn’t like her—didn’t like her biting me.

DNC: The woman let you go?

JW: No, harvestmen. They left me. They threw me—away. Trash.

DNC: Do you know—?

JW: I was in the desert. Dropped me in the sand. Moon was so bright. So bright. Burning stars.

AW: Our report says you were found inside a cave. Did you get there on your own?

JW: Woman came back, brought me there, before—before the sun—sun rise. Told me to stay. People found me first.

AW: You don’t remember this woman’s name?

JW: No.

AW: Are you ok?

JW: No. I don’t—you don’t believe me. You have no reason. I’m mad—I’m crazy.

DNC: We believe you, Jimmie. We do.

JW: No one would. No one’s—no one’s been through—

DNC: show him your neck, Angelica.

AW: Are you—?

DNC: Yes. Build that bridge.

(Angelica rolls down her collar at 10:30:18. Reveals a line of scars.)

JW: What happened?

AW: I went into the wrong house.

JW: Accident? Fire?

AW: Worse. I was kept. Like you. Fed on. Like you. There was evil in that house. Evil I still can’t explain. Not to you. Not to myself. Not to anyone.

JW: Like harvestmen?

AW: Like harvestmen.

JW: How?

AW: I went into someplace I shouldn’t have gone, to prove something didn’t exist. I paid the price.

JW: Who let you out?

AW: I was lucky. Friend got nervous when I didn’t come out. She called the right people. I was saved.

JW: Good friend. Good.

AW: Not really, she was the reason I went in there. We don’t talk much anymore.

JW: Good friend.

AW: That’s the first I’ve seen you smile. It’s good.

DNC: We believe you, Jimmie. That’s all we do. We’ve all seen things you wouldn’t believe. That’s why we’re here. To help people like you. We believe you.

JW: Didn’t help. Didn’t help in the dark. Only after—only after you found me.After they left me.

AW: There’ll be more sessions, Jimmie. For better or for worse, your memory will improve.

JW: For better? I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to remember at all.

AW: If you remember more, the chances of us making sure this never happens again skyrocket. We were too late to help you, but we can still save so many more.

JW: Ok. Ok I—I will remember. I remember it all.

DNC: Thank you, Jimmie. I had a few more questions before we go—

(Video Transcript ends at 10:35:02. Video recording ends at timestamp 11:03:25)


Excerpt from Personal Report: Filed: 2018-1-20 Agent: Dr. Nathan Collier, Psy.D, Resident Psychologist Subject: Jimmie Weeks

The testimony Mr. Weeks presented us was beneficial on numerous levels. We can finally fit some pieces together.

I’ve done some research on Mr. Weeks’ medical history, and I found something rather peculiar. Primary polycythemia. A body not only rich in red-blood cells, but overflowing with them. I think that made him a target. It makes sense.

We can extend our search parameters now. Now that we know what they’re looking for, and now that we have a general vicinity for their area of operations.

The “Harvestmen” won’t elude us again.

Excerpt from Personal Report: Filed: 2018-1-21 Agent: Angelica Weaver, Assistant Psychologist, MS Subject: Jimmie Weeks

I’m grateful for Dr. Collier. His leadership has been excellent, and I’m even more grateful for the Department. They’ve given me a home. But Dr. Collier wants me to take this case on solo next time. I’m not sure if I’m ready. It’s daunting. It’s haunting.

Because I see so much of myself in Jimmie Weeks. I see what could have been. I still see that kid strung up on the wall. The blood running down his sides. I thought I was over it.

Maybe that’s why this means so much to him, why I take it on alone. Unlike me, Mr. Weeks, Jimmie, had no one. He’s going to have to adjust now, and who better to help him than me?

Still, I’m not sure if I’m ready. Because although we’re so very similar, in the traumas we’ve felt, Jimmie has lost a whole lot more than me.


Personnel File: Jimmie Weeks Designation: Non-Human Handler: Agent Angelica Weaver Birthdate: 07/07/1947

Property of the D.S.A Designation: Top-Secret

October 21st-Sunsets on the Beach

To see a sight half as magnificent as when the moon overtakes the sun in the sky. Prominent. Luminous. Dawn of dusk. Light trickling across the horizon, sinking into the waves like rainwater into the earth. The sun’s reluctantly passing gaze. Waves lapped over sand turned chestnut brown by the looming night.

The eager tide was coming in.

Her nude body lay pressed against the sand, her back arching. Above, seagulls danced in the wind in swirling, lapping paths. Sea salt and mist pleasantly filled her nose; a breeze coursed lovingly around her face. She settled, coming back down into the sand. Down the beach, fiddler crabs sidestepped; eyes always front. Her eyes fell to the horizon; the bleeding light.

Urgently, the wind blew in from the sea and parted through her hair.

The sky stained with rich, deeping sapphire. A blue much unlike the blue of the sea. Those waves were a marbled steel with flecks of teal. Levelled until the wind rose and brushed the waves, stoking the ocean’s crests like a fire. They came closer, bristling with foam. Faster. Farther.

The water licked at her feet, and repulsively she recoiled, tensing against her bonds.

They held firm, anchoring her to the sand’s mold. Her legs, her arms. Muscles stretching. Chains tightening. Stakes unmoving. A free neck. That was all that was allotted. Taut enough to let her see the water. It tickled her legs all the way up to her thighs. A thoughtless touch. A chilling touch.

The salt bit into the splits; the water sucked on the blood.

The more she tensed the more it came, running down her body like rivers. They striped her like a tiger, the gashes on her body. Narrow. Precise. Like red fingers across the skin, they drained as sheets of sapphire stroked against her waist.

The sea gulls above, and the crabs on the sand, watched from afar, unwilling to move with other predators so dangerously close by.

Craning, arching her back once more from the damp grasp of the earth, she saw them lined up behind her. Cloaks like ash. Markless. Hoods like ebon. Faceless. Torches blazing. Like the fringes of the sun. One knife in hand; the forefront figure. Blood dripping. They were waiting.

Silent, like her, though they had no gags to contend with.

She bit into hers, groaning in bitter frustration. Groaning in fearful anticipation. The waves ran down her back, droplets jumping to the sand. The crabs inched closer and closer, hungrier and hungrier, until she released herself back to the earth and they defensively scuttled back. The water swallowed her toes, and crept around her ears. Rising higher. Higher. The crabs waited to feed on the food that had been so graciously offered.

But she hadn’t been offered to the crabs.

There had been a gold beacon on the horizon. It was swallowed by a pillar of violet night. A tombstone for the day. A tombstone for her. Sapphire molded into black. Marbled steel drowning in ink. An overpowering, embracive lover across her lap. The crabs moved closer, through the surf, but then they scattered. A touch thicker than water pressed against her thighs. Waves crashed over her face. Something large moved in the ink. Silent torches started to quiver.

As the tide brought something else in.

October 22nd-Generation After Generation

Corey Harrington is having his baby today, and that makes today a very special day.

Oh, I still remember the day Corey himself was born. I was there, after-all, like I am now. Such a beautiful, healthy baby. Six pounds, seven ounces. Bright blue eyes. He took after his father, of course.

Corey’s baby is struggling. His wife has been in labor all day, perhaps more. Time has no meaning on days such as today. I am patient. Corey isn’t.

Her knuckles bleed white. He clings to her, too focused on her to even bother noticing me. He doesn’t care for me. Hasn’t for a long, long time.

See, we used to be real close, young little Corey and I. I was there with him every day and every night. I tried never to leave his side.

He wouldn’t remember it that way, but I took care of Corey. Yes, really good care. Nothing would ever harm him, not while I was around.

I cared for him, long ago. Why shouldn’t I? We’re practically related. His family is my family.

Of course, we had our little games. I loved hide and go seek the most. I loved hiding, especially when he was younger. I’d find a nice, dark place: the closet, under the bed, behind the curtains. Then, once I’d hidden, I’d whisper and call to little Corey, trying to get him to play. He was never very good at it. He always seemed to run the other way.

Sometimes, under his bed, I’d like to reach up through the blankets and tickle his feet. He was so ticklish. Tickle, tickle, tickle. He’d lose it every time!

I liked to keep him busy, as a child should be. I hid his toys a lot, in places he’d never expect. Up in trees, under the deck, up in the attic. Oh, he hated the attic the worst. That was my favorite place to play hide and seek. Oh, my little Corey. How we would play. How good it would make me feel, whenever he was afraid.

Of course, we had our downsides, too. All friendships have their turbulent phases. I remember when they brought that thing into their home. That mongrel. The flea-ridden dog. Such an annoying thing, with shaggy, shedding fur. Repulsive, and worst of all it hated me. It snarled at me, bit at me. I simply couldn’t stand being around the thing.

I know Corey loved it, and that’s why I tolerated it for so long. But, I couldn’t do it forever. I had to take care the mangy beast. It broke Corey’s heart, but I did what I had to do. I’m just glad he never found the body in the crawlspace. That would have been too much.

Then, to make matters worse, Corey wouldn’t play hide and seek with me anymore. He never sought. He found me once, and never again was he the seeker. Can you believe it? He made me chase him, every night after that. Always hiding in the same places. Under his covers, in the cupboard, in his parents’ room. And of course i couldn’t play with him when his parents were around. Not at all. He made the game no fun.

Worse than all of that? He grew up. He outgrew me. The nerve...I’m still astounded. The older he got, the less and less he seemed to notice me. It was like I was becoming transparent. Fleeting. And it hurt me. I felt hungry.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, after all, it had been the same with Corey’s father, Mack, and with Mack’s lovely mother Theresa. It had all started with her, and I miss her so dearly.

I was sad, for a long while after Corey had forgotten me, but I never left his side. Waiting, like in a cocoon, I followed him everywhere. To school, to games, to college, on dates. I was there when he met his wife, when they were married, and when she told him she was pregnant. And, at that moment, a smile came to my face once more.

There would be another! Another child! Corey’s child! And I...I would love this child. Forever and always. I would play with this child. I would care for this child, protect this child. And, maybe just once, this child will love me back.

His wife gives a final push, and her it comes. Born of grime and muck, they clean it—clean her. It’s a girl! They say they’re going to name her Betty. A pretty name for a pretty, blue eyed girl.

She’s calmed, suckling at her mother’s teat, and I can’t stop staring at her. For the first time in decades, I feel alive again. My mouth salivates.

Soon, soon I will no longer be hungry. Soon, this child will give me all the nourishment I require, and I will love her for it. Like I loved Corey.

Her eyes find me, perched up in the shadowy corners of the room. I lick my lips.

She starts to cry, and for the first time, in many years, I start to feed.

October 23rd-Will of the Water

I’m a river spirit.

The river that lives around me, through me, is but a sinuous pipeline, feeding my cooling, clear waters to an estuary by the coast, and I am fine with that. This river feeds me. I am its waters, and I am its fish in their abundant, swarming schools. I am its stones, and the force that rounds them into sleakness and sheen. And I, am of course, its shores, open to the forest and all who require my touch, my healing grace, be it plant or beast.

Be it beast or man, and man visits me often.

I have long watched as I have offered my own lifeblood to man above, and have long since venerated in their opulence. I have been worshipped, praised, deified, and I have never been taken advantage of. The people, my people I dare say, have always been kind to me. From my shores, there is a bounty to be had. A soothing, nurturing essence that only I can give.

And in me, around me, they rejoice. In large groups, they descend upon me, into me. They splash, and they play. They smile.

In this, I am content.

There was one boy, not long ago, whom I remember most kindly. Half a mile north, along the banks where the wandering roots lose ground, and stumble off the shores like packs of jumbled snakes, this lone boy came to me. By the base of a knotted tree, he placed his worn sandals, his tattered clothes, and he’d descend into the current. Then, he’d wait. He’d let me carry him away.

Past the the reeds and the blooming cattails beyond the woods, he would ride on along my gentle hands, drifting thoughtlessly, carelessly, away. But only for a little ways. Never would he allow himself to go further than the forked tree by the plains, and the threadbare pedal boat that gathered weeds and color by its base. There, he would always return from his distant state, and climb out of my waters, grabbing handfuls of grass to help himself up along to the weary plain.

And he would return home, along my shores, uncaring towards me. Along the way, he’d stare at the ground, measuring the weight of each step and the spreading of the ache in his feet. Once he reached that place, with the roots like snakes, he’d turn, without looking back, and I would not see him again until the very next day when he would, once more, dismount my shores. A cycle begun anew.

At times, I’d rise from my totality, and follow the boy in an imitative form down the river. Beneath him, like a shadow, I would sprout globular arms, legs, and a rotund head. I’d limit my consciousness to that place, that moment, and I would feel as he did. Weightless. Encompassed. Ever moving.

As we moved, i would lift my arms beneath the child, holding him even better aloft. Fully buoyant. Fully relaxed. And I understood the child who came to my shores every day. Who said not a word, and always got out by the side of that forked tree. Who always felt the weight of his heel in the dusty earth.

To feel as free as the water. To feel at the will of the water’s being.

He was frivolous. Simple. For, though I had felt as he felt he knew not what I knew, what I know. He had never felt the wrath that the rains did spawn.

Swamped clouds would give way to trembling skies and pounding winds, and shores that ran like streams. They filled me, draining down from the north and became me. Changed me. Every inch of me, scrambling my mind and my form. Filling me with such fresh cold. A numbing cold.

Where I once polished stones, I pulled and tugged and ripped them from their crevices, leaving them to the will of the current. My cool, serene surface became imbued with rage and a biting chill, clouded with soil and murk. I grappled with the snake roots and I dug beneath the old pedal boat, bringing it closer and closer to my oppressive grasp and widening those shores.

I did not fear days like those, for I’ve never felt such a thing as fear. For me, such a violent change is all I’ve ever known. Everything comes and goes. Cycles and flows. I change, but only to revert. To start anew. To leisurely drift once more.

But the boy couldn’t change. He was unwise. To him, the flows of the river mattered not what time of day or color of water. He only wanted to feel free.

After a memorable deluge, when I had not expected many to grace my shores, my fevered, frenzied mind found the boy approaching near. He stared, for quite a while, and I wondered if he could see me, lurking beneath the waves, taking his shape. I was curious, for although I felt no which way about the boy and I was in a more chaotic state of mind, I wondered what the boy was thinking to do. Surely, even in my inundated madness, I thought that the boy would not be foolish enough to enter.

He removed his sandals after a long pause. He removed his clothes after another. He glanced back from whence he came, as if doubting. As if he could see me, hungrily gazing up at him. But he could not.

He jumped into the water.

I had no control. Instantly, I had to seize hold of the child. I wrapped my globular arms around him, and I held him tight. I dragged him down, lower and lower, spinning about like a leaf in the wind. Tumbling. Rolling.

Drifting free through the river.

The boy fought, harder than he’d ever fought the gravity of the land. He kicked at me, swatted at me, gasped at me, but I could not release him. He was so warm, you see. I couldn’t just let him go.

My arms lengthened, and I grew icy claws with which to rake his back. My legs wrapped around his, coiling like a snake, squeezing tight. My head grew a mouth, with which I was able to suck the air from the boy’s lungs. He did not give it up willingly, but in the end, I flooded his body. I weighted him like lead.

He sank. I was able to release him. He spun through the current, dancing about the bottom until he came to rest under the branches of some long fallen oak. There he would remain, until his family came to claim him.

It has been many rains since then. And although I may say I pity the boy, I do not feel sorrow for him. I can not. For I am free, changing, without the constraints of mundane form. I control not my actions, for I can not. Not like the rain.

You see, I am a river spirit.

I move freely, at the will of the water

October 24th-The Mirror in the Oak

There was a mirror in the old oak tree, the one that stood alone past the field and next to the little creek.

Abigail liked to visit there. She liked to visit there often, especially on the cold, autumn days when her parents were too tired to watch her. Wading through tall grasses, avoiding the spider webs and roaming bees, she made her way to that tall, leafless oak, and she stood in front of the mirror that grew out its backside.

The tall mirror (taller than her, anyways) was always crystal clear, with antique, wooden edges like the ones around her mommy’s bed frame. Its wood was white, and the oak’s was brown. She’d tried, a couple of times, to get the mirror to budge, but the tree held it too firm. Such a pretty mirror,the way it glistened in the sun.

And she saw herself in it, with her cherub face and wheat-colored hair. She smiled, and she (the one in the mirror) would smile back.

They’d talk.

“What do you want to do today?” she’d ask.

“Oh, nothing really,” she replied. “It’s fun just to talk.”

And she’d stay out there for hours. Talking, playing (usually with rocks), rolling in the grass, watching the waters trickle down the creek.

She enjoyed the time she spent with herself, her imaginary friend in the mirror’s reflection. So much so, she did it every day. Every single day. She visited her friend, to at least say “Hello”.

But, as she did so she started to grow weary. She felt that the mirror was fading. For each day she went, the skies seemed a little bit darker. A little bit more gloomy, even if the skies above were pale blue.

A child, she didn’t think about it for too long. What was there to think? It was only in October, when the mirror started to noticeably reflect the night that she became concerned.

No longer did the mirror glisten. The mirror fell dark, like the mouth of a cave.

In it, she could still see herself, her reflection, just like always. But, it felt off. She was still as bright, still as present, but everything around her had faded. Consumed by night and shadow. And she always looked sad. Always sad. The mirror had grown dreary.

Abigail decided (with the consult of her best imaginary friend, of course) that it wouldn’t get her down. She’d still play, even if her best friend was covered in shadow. And they did play. They played and talked and played some more.

Until, Abigail stopped and stared, looking past her friend and into the background of the image.

In the reflection, across the creek, something crept amongst the weeds. A creature with pale skin, and cruel eyes. The corners of its mouth sharpened to a point, as it beamed at her.

“There’s something behind you,” Abigail whispered cautiously to her friend. “Look!”

And so Abigail turned, and behind her, across the creek, by the weeds, there was nothing.

Nothing but day. A gray, autumn day.

Grinning, excited to see that nothing was there, she turned to give her friend the good news.

“That was scary, she said, turning. “I thought there was really—”

Her reflection, her best imaginary friend, was crying. She was crying, because the gangly beast had snuck across the river, and it was licking her face.

Abigail screamed, and fell, tripping on her own boots. She looked away as the image in the mirror began to play on like some awful movie. The creature coiled around her reflection, biting, tearing, all before Abigail’s very eyes.

There was a splatter upon the surface of the glass, a crimson splatter, and not Abigail’s side of the glass.

Panicked, Abigail found one of her rocks, and with a reckless throw she shattered the mirror. She covered her face as the glass toppled downwards, scattering amongst the roots and grass.

When they had all fallen, she saw the tree, and the gaping opening where the mirror used to be.

It looked like a cave. Deep, black, and very unwelcoming. Abigail cried as she stood up, ready to run back to the house. Horrified at what she’d just witnessed.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Something came flying out of the hole in the old oak tree’s trunk, and it landed in a heap, right next to Abigail.

Her reflection, made real, Abigail screamed as she scrambled away from her own corpse.

She screamed louder, and spindly fingers reached outwards, pulling the smiling creature out from the dark heart of the tree.

October 25th-The Council of the Black Woods

There is a calling among the woods, whispered among the whispers of the midnight breeze. A calling, hushed and wary, that beckons to a cabin settled within the snowy mountains, at a lowly place surrounded by a mob of white firs and pines. A dreary shack, with walls of rot and full of holes.

A truck sits idle outside, its engine cold and its cab empty. Headlights flicker, their strength wavering in long, struggling breaths that dance across the west side of the cabin. A snow shovel rests on the porch. A cool, crimson creeps down it’s handle, dripping into the snow.

Although the blinds are closed tightly, and both the front and back doors are locked shut, they can’t conceal the sounds, the horrors committed within that house. The sharp scraping of a table’s feet against a naked, wood floor, a deep, throaty moan indistinguishable of pleasure or pain, and a wet sounds almost reminiscent of pigs feeding from within a trough. All of this, over the light cackling sounds of a gentle, healthy fire.

These sounds continue for some time; they are ravenous, feasting sounds. As the wind blows through the trees, blowing snowflakes into flight, gifting the dark with their chilling splendor, the noises start to falter. They fade, and the snow drifts towards the ground, falling between the dark.

It is then, in that silence, that the whispering quickens, hastening to utter a lonely name. They beckon.

They call.

Dakotah Black.

The front door flies open, and the man, Dakotah Black, stumbled onto the porch, melting the snow beneath his fingertips with the warmth of blood: his and someone else’s. It covers his arms and hands, his chest, and his face. It encompasses his mouth, smeared like jam. His sin sticks between his teeth, and he leaves the porch like a drunkard, barely managing to grab onto the snow shovel before he does so.

He trips over his own shame and fear, landing face-first in the fresh snow. He lets the shovel lie. It bites into him like a hundred greedy mouths, but he doesn’t care. He shudders, but not from the cold.

He is afraid, because he is watched.

He is afraid, because they are here too soon. The whistling he hears is not the wind, but the breathing and wheezing of ancient, frigid nostrils. He needs not see them to know. This isn’t how he envisioned their meeting. He isn’t happy.

Still, he prostrates himself, face-down, in the snow. He spreads out his arms and legs. He is vulnerable, but he is left unharmed. He rises, as they allow, but only to his knees. In frightful reverence, he keeps himself humble before them.

Before the Council of the Black Woods.

He knows their true names, but he doesn’t dare think it. He buries the thought in his mind. Buries it deep, beyond the hope of light.

There is only one which he sees initially, but he knows there is not only one. It exists like a nightmare, unfitting for the physical world. It’s faceless, skinless. Its skull, like the head of a deer, sits atop broad shoulders. It doesn’t shine in the moonlight. It’s gray like winter. Hollow. The rest of its form hidden behind a nightmare cloak crafted of skin, human skin. Human faces, torn and stitched together, like the patches of a quilt.

From within the heavy cloak, a skeletal hand emerges, gesturing forth, and the terrible whispering said to him, Never.

Was he to respond? How? He has not a clue as to whether the creature before him mocked or whether it was a simple inquiry. His rage has decided for him.

Adrenaline seizes his hands, and he pulls clumps of grass from beneath the pool of snow.

And he screams. He howls into the night, releasing his pain, his guilt, his fear, into the frozen sky. He frees his hands, and brings them to his face, feeling it as though he were blind. He rounds his cheeks and pinches his ears. He claws at his nose, and his fingertips glide across his chapped lips. He is unchanged. He is Dakotah.

That isn’t good enough.

“Why?” he asks.

Born of the ink in the woods, the Council bleed into the night.

Dakotah beholds them with a horrid, wanting lust.

Such a horrid majesty, he thinks, his eyes feasting upon them. What splendid variety.

A beast scampers across the ground. It’s naked, like a man, but it is so clearly not. Spikes blister the skin, particularly down its spinal column. It’s fanged jaw hangs agape, and not by choice. It is seemingly broken, rendered useless. The torn flesh by the corners of its mouth seem to confirm that theory. Like an ape, it clings low to the earth, only stopping every so often to readjust its damaged jaw. It looks young.

Another creeps out on stilt-like legs, walking forward on all fours. Pairs of antlers sprout all the way from the base of its human skull, across its sloping shoulders, and across its mud-caked backside. Its true face hides behind an emotionless white mask.

Dense branches snap like frail kindling as one behemoth emerges from the woods, snow nearly invisible as it falls across its matted, white fur. As tall as the shack, and with a girth as wide as his truck, it stood indomitable above all the rest. Red eyes blazing.

One hangs from within the trees, clinging to the bark with all four arms. It’s eyes glitter yellow like fetid stars. Another looks like a wildebeest, or perhaps a buffalo, that learned to stand on two legs. It clambors through the snow on bulky legs, with arms so long they graze the snow. Its eyes—like those of a shark. Solid, ebony, and unfeeling.

“Why so many?” he asks.

They all wanted to see.

Another creeps low, body of tattered, rotting fur. Another stalks the perimeter, only it’s hoofed legs are visible. Its torso is covered by the black.

And then, there is the one that steps out of the cabin, from behind Dakotah. He wants to rise, but he knows he can’t. He restrains himself, even as the thing towers over him. It’s face used to be human. They all used to be human.

It drops something beside him before returning to the Council. Something heavy. Blood splatters. Red constellations across an ivory sky. It is the other man. A large, portly man. Glazed, brown eyes. His gut torn asunder. As if ravaged by wild dogs.

The young one, the one with the broken jaw, starts whimpering. It’s anxious. Gaunt and hungry. It slavers red.

Dakotah no longer pays attention, not to the Council. He drools as well. The body, his sin, has been returned to him. Perhaps, as another chance.

With the Council watching, he feeds once more. He shreds, tears, pries without remorse, without care. He does so until his body betrays him, and the pain in his lungs is too great. He feels like he’s drowning in dry air. He coughs in a fit, spraying blood. He falls over, hoping this is it.

He hopes the pain he feels inside is no longer the cancer. He wonders if, now, he will start to change.

But normality is restored. He can breathe again, through an aching throat.

He hates it. His body feels like dying, but he will not allow it.

Through great, heaving breaths, he rises from the ground, daring to stand before them. It’s an insolence that riles the Council, all of them showing physical signs and sounds of disgust, except for the one in the cloak of faces.

“What do you want from me?” he shouts at them, arms outstretched.

It has become too much for the young one, impatient and inexperience, to bear.

He lunges forward, ready to devour, but Dakotah doesn’t hesitate. The shovel is lifted from the snow, and the broad, metal head meets the creature in its gut. Dakotah angles the hit downwards, delivering the beast to the frozen earth. There, it flails for only a minute, before Dakotah brings the shovel down again, and again.

The beast cries for help, but none of the others assist it. They are intrigued. They watch.

Time and time again, with furious screams, Dakotah brings the metal shovel to the creature’s pale flesh. Spikes snap like bone, but Dakotah decides it’s not enough. The shovel isn’t heavy enough to do real damage. So he starts stabbing, slicing with the shovel’s thin, sharp edge. It isn’t hard to cut into the creature’s paper-like flesh. It wails, and the shovel breaks.

Dakotah doesn’t stop. He beats the creature with what’s left, clubbing him with the shattered staff. His screaming doesn’t die even as he starts stabbing the quickly fading beast with the splintering edges of the handle. He stabs and stabs, long after the creature has stopped moving.

Panting, he looks to the others, uncaring for their silence.

“What more do you want?” he asks, his legs feeling weak. “What more could you possibly need?”

You really want this.

He feels the terminal pain rising in his chest. The air—a poison.

“My dad told me the tales,” he mutters. “He told me—told me what it would cost. Immortality.”

What cost?

Dakotah looks at the mangled corpse. He has fed.

“A great, great cost. For desperate men.”

The creature in the cloak of faces steps forward, moving lightly across the snow. The others around the perimeter seem to do the opposite. They retreat backwards, just a hair. Just a step.

The one with the cloak stands not a meter from Dakotah’s face, and although it has no eyes, Dakotah knows it can’t look away.

It is confused. It is scared.

And Dakotah doesn’t know why.

Flesh, he hears it whisper, from somewhere within the cloak, is the cost of desperate men. A ticket, for a spirit to enter, to turn and mold a degraded body and a weakened soul that has partaken in the unforgivable. To sever an irreparable connection between vessel and spirit. Only when weakened, can a soul, can a body, be properly molded.

Dakotah takes a step closer, daring to stand face-to-face.

“Are you saying I’m not worthy?”

The creature tilts its head.

You are.

Dakotah swallows his fear, “Then why?”

Because you are strong.

Dakotah can’t stop shaking. His fists clench.

“I need to be one of you,” he demands. “Make me one of you.”

One of us? It asks. Say it.

The creature rounds him, moving around him clockwise. It whispers.

What do you want us to make you?

He gasps as he says it, as the creature places its skeletal palms upon his shoulders.

“Wendigo.”

The night pauses. The wind dies. The moon dims in the sky. The Council has faded. All except for the one that whispers in his ear.

No.

The cloak opens wide, and before he can say a word, Dakotah is pulled inside.

Into the black.

October 26th-Reading One Life-Form

Captain Leandare leaned on the helmsman’s chair, other hand rest comfortably on her hip, eyes gazing out into the darkness of space when she asked, “So, what am I looking at?”

It sat utterly still out there, among the void, idling like a perished fish: awkwardly tilted to one side, neutrally buoyant. It was larger than them. Older.

“A derelict,” Corbyn, the pilot, told her.

A hissing coursed over the comms.

“How long have they been broadcasting that distress signal?” she asked.

“Can’t be certain,” Corbyn answered with a shrug, bringing them in close. “We’ve been picking it up for at least twelve hours, now.”

Up close, the ship looked like a corpse. It’s outside was blighted and bronzed. An oxidized hull in the void of space. It didn’t fit.

“The broadcast is just a repeated S.O.S. signal,” Corbyn explained as the captain moved closer to the forward window. “I have no idea what it’s about.”

“How many life-signs are you reading?” she asked, resting her arm on the bulkhead. She could read the faint letters that sat across the forsaken ship’s port side.

The Kraken.

“Just one,” Corbyn said, shaking his head. “At least it’s not a ghost ship.”

Captain Leandare frowned, “Might as well be. That looks, only barely, like a LV-42 Freighter. Small, but it’ll only safely run with a crew of maybe twenty souls. Something is wrong.”

“You’re telling me,” Corbyn said, preparing to circle the quiet ship. “Missing, what, nineteen people? That doesn’t make me feel terribly good about the one that’s left. What are we going to do?”

She backed away from the bulkhead and placed a hand on Corbyn’s shoulder, “Get the others up, dock us to that ship, find the survivor.”

“If ‘survivor’ is the appropriate term,” he corrected.

“That’s why we’re waking the rest of the crew,” she said with a smirk. “Need more eyes.”

“I get to stay here, though, right?” Corbyn asked, only half joking.

“Just do it,” Captain Leandare ordered.

And he did. Within minutes, they were docked on one of the derelict’s air locks. With a sharp, serpentine hiss, the lock opened, and four crew members of the salvage-ship Eleanor stepped onto the deck of The Kraken.

The deck was, as expected, empty and dark. Lights in the metal corridors flickered dimly, sputtering, trying to stay lit.

The captain ordered, “Alright, like we discussed. Tyron, you’re with me. We’re going to make our way to the bridge, see if we can figure out what happened here. Freya and Reir, you girls are going to search the decks, the life-pods, everywhere. There’s one soul left on this boat, and good or bad we’re gonna get them off. Understood?”

Reir knocked on her own helmet.

“Yeah, we got it. Can we take these off, now? Says the air is clear. Mine’s fogging up a storm!”

“I don’t care,” Captain Leandare said. “You good, Freya?”

Freya nodded, holding her rifle tight against her shoulder.

“Yeah,” she said, staring down the dark corridors. “Doesn’t mean I like it, though.”

Reir pulled her helmet off, and took one, awful breath. Gagging, she wasted no time putting the bulky helmet back on her head.

“Jesus!” she said, panting. “Damn!”

“What was it?” asked the captain. “What’s wrong?”

Reir hunched herself, hands on her knees, audibly praying to not vomit in her helmet.

“It stinks!” she said in pained breaths. “Fucking smells like death in here. Like the back of a slaughterhouse.”

“Probably just Tyron,” Freya said, playfully.

Captain Leandare scanned the floor. There was nothing there but rusted grates.

Rusted, the captain thought. Like the outside of the hull.

“Fuck off,” Tyron said, not playfully. “This is serious.”

“I don’t know what could be causing the smell,” Captain Leandare said, looking across all of them. “But, where there is rotting stink there’s usually something doing the rotting.”

“Aye,” Freya said, scanning the bulkhead with her flashlight. “You know, technically rust is what happens when metal rots.”

“Rust doesn’t smell like flesh,” Reir said, nervously, her face still frozen with disgust.

The captain pointed down the corridor leading to The Kraken’s bridge.

“Tyron,” she said, taking command. “We still have a job to do, care to take the lead?”

“With pleasure, Captain,” the hulking man said, bringing his gun to bear.

Captain Leandare followed him, walking backwards so she could say to the others, “Keep comms open, see anything holler. Stay tight.”

“Working on it,” Reir called. “Don’t get lost!”

The captain stood shoulder to shoulder with Tyron, her own pistol wrapped firmly under her fingers. The grates groaned beneath their weight. The way to the bridge blew up brightly on their HUDs.

“Corbyn,” called Captain Leandare. “You there? Come in, Corbyn.”

A voice grew in her ear, “Got you, Captain. Been following along. It’s like I’m right there with you.”

“But not,” Tyron said, bitterly.

“Thanks for reminding me,” Corbyn said with an audible smile. “Good news, the ship’s doing a little bit better now. Reading five life-signs not just one. You guys must be doing something good in there.”

“Very funny, Corbyn,” the Captain said, stone-faced. “Can you pinpoint the other life-form for us?”

“Still weird,” corbyn said, smacking his lips as he worked. “I see you four. You guys heading towards the bridge, and Reir and Freya back approaching the main staff quarters, I assume, but nothing. Just four red dots. Nothing else in the entire ship.”

“Probably just a glitch,” Tyron mumbled, eyes scanning all around them, checking every metal and wire crevasse.

“Probably,” Corbyn said. “But good luck anyways. You guys are about twenty yards from the bridge.”

“Wasn’t hard to find,” the Captain said. “Pretty straight shot. Focus on Reir and Freya, they have the hard job.”

“Alright, I’ll leave you guys alone for a bit then, peace.”

And they were left in the narrow, silent hallway with only each other, and a peeling, iron door.

“How is this ship rusting?” the captain asked Tyron. “Ships can’t rust.”

“I’m not sure,” Tyron said, leaning in close to the wall. He scraped it with his finger, brushing pieces of metal onto the floor. “The ship’s brittle. Very brittle. I’m surprised we didn’t damage it by just looking at it.”

There was a short, unstable flight of stairs that brought them to the bridge. The captain let Tyron take the lead, watching with careful eyes the path they’d just taken. There was a whistling in the pipes, like steam. The hall was still empty.

Tyron had no issues getting the door to open. Its locks had rusted and were easy to break open. Little black and red and orange pieces crumbled like dirt, scattering in the stagnant air. The door creaked open, and the two made their way inside.

Five seconds later, they were entirely confused.

“Where is everything?” Tyron asked. “There’s nothing here!”

The bridge was empty. There were no panels, no computers. No pilot’s chair or navigation module. There wasn’t even a forward hull window. Just an empty, black room.

“Corbyn?” Captain Leandare called. “You need to check the schematics you found, this can’t be—”

“No,” Tyron interrupted, placing a hand on her shoulder, leaning his head in as he whispered. “This is the bridge, alright. Make no mistakes. We’re here.”

“Then where is everything?” she asked in response. “You can’t drive a ship out this far into space without a damn steering wheel.”

“Perhaps it was stripped,” Tyron suggested.

“You make no mistake,” the Captain returned, showing him the perfectly grated floor. “There was never anything here. If it was stripped we could still see where panels and stations were plugged in, but we can’t. There was never a bridge on this ship.”

Just then, the voice of Freya came over the comms.

“Captain?” she asked. “We made it to the engine rooms, and—”

She hesitated.

No, the captain thought, already making for the door. She knew exactly what they were going to say.

“—I don’t know how to say this Captain, but there’s nothing here—”

The captain was already moving down the stairs, hastily moving towards the engine room. She started to call Tyron, but he was at her side.

“—The engine room has no engine. It’s just a shell.”

“Freya,” the Captain ordered, now running down the corridor. “Get back to the airlock. Now!”

“Ma’am?” Freya asked, confused.

Corbyn came across too, asking, “Captain, what’s going—?”

“Just go!” Captain Leandare barked. “Corbyn, keep your eyes on the damn radar!”

She wasn’t confused. She knew exactly what this meant. It was a hollow ship. Inoperable. Unflyable. Dead, with a distress beacon playing anyways.

She didn’t know who, or why, but she understood a simple truth. The ship was a trap. They’d taken the bait.

“Captain,” Tyron said, overtaking her slightly so he could turn, and meet her eyes. “What’s happening?”

“Someone set us up,” she huffed. “I’ve heard of pirates using scuttled ships before to lure in slavagers and rescuers. Easy to catch you when you’re boarded to a lifeless hunk!”

“But,” Tyron said, confused. “You said it yourself. This ship was never capable of flying. Period. How did it get here?”

“They must have towed it,” the Captain mumbled. “It doesn’t matter! We need—aw, shit!”

They had reached the airlock, but Freya and Reir were nowhere to be found.

Captain called for them on the comms, “Where are you guys? We’re at the airlock, hurry up!”

There was nothing but a palpable tension; the earsplitting sound of raised, patient guns. Tyron took a deep breath.

“Come in,” the captain repeated, holding it together. Holding strong. But still, nothing came out of the dark hall.

There was a faint buzz, “Captain?”

“Corbyn?” the Captain asked, hushedly. “What’s happening?”

“I can’t raise them either, Captain,” he said, apologetically.

“Do we have incoming?” she asked.

“No,” Corbyn said quickly. “We’re still alone out here. Why do you ask?”

She couldn’t help but feel some partial relief.

“Because this ship is a trap, Corbyn,” she said, steadily inching forward. “And I wasn’t sure if it would be sprung from the outside or the inside.”

Tyron and the captain worked their way through the ship’s failing innards, attempting to hail Reir and Freya the whole time.

“Damn it,” cursed the captain as they entered the engine room. There was nothing there, as they were told. Unfortunately, the persons who had told them such were also missing.

“Captain?” Corbyn said, returning to the comms. His voice was weak, shaky. The captain didn’t like it. Corbyn was never nervous without reason.

“Yes, Corbyn?” she asked in a whisper.

“I’m only getting—three life-signs now.”

“What?” she asked, stunned. “Check it again.”

“I have!” Corbyn snapped. “I’ve rechecked and rechecked! I can’t find them! They’re—they’re missing, Captain. I don’t—”

“We’ll keep looking,” Tyron said, moving back into the hall. Captain Leandare didn’t follow him right away. She stood, staring at the open, black room with hopeless eyes.

It doesn’t make any sense, she thought. One person shouldn’t have been able to get the drop on Reir and Freya. They couldn’t—

There was a violent clang that shook the air. Spinning around, the captain moved into the hallway, calling Tyron’s name. When she got there, she only found his gun, resting on the rusty grates.

“Tyron!” she called into the dark passageways. Swooping down, she picked up his rifle on the go and chased an unseen enemy down the hall.

“There’s nothing there, Captain!” Corbyn said, following her through the halls on his computer. “You’re the only one I still register. You and—and whatever was there before.”

His words seemed to trail off as Captain Leandare, refusing to accept that her crew, her friends, was gone, continued to rush down the hall.

“Please, Captain,” Corbyn begged. “Please, turn around. We don’t know what’s in there!”

But the Captain didn’t listen. She followed the twisting, narrowing hallways as far as she could. They led her straight to a large, open chamber. A cargo bay of sorts. An empty cargo bay.

Whoever had taken Tyron from her, whatever, was strong. Tyron was a huge man. No one could have done it alone. Not like that. It was impossible.

Spinning, she shined her flashlight to the corners of each and every wall, as she desperately searched. For Freya, for Reir, and for Tyron.

“Where are you?” she called, desperately.

Then, after a moment of quiet panic, static came back over the radio. Static that, after just a moment, erupted into screams in the captain’s ear.

“Captain!” Corbyn screamed. “Get out of there! I found the life-form! I found it! It’s the—!”

His voice cut off, as the entire ship seemed to groan and strain. Flakes of black, like ash, fell from the rafters above. They landed on the captain’s exo-suit, and she stared at them. It was uneasy how similar they were to scabs.

Then, she understood. She'd been right about the trap, but so wrong about everything else.

There was a pressure around her ankle.

Oh my God, she thought. The one life-form. The ship!

A metal, rotten hand gripped the Captain’s ankle, and in a swift motion the grates parted like jagged teeth. The hand pulled down, and the living ship swallowed her whole.

Outside, a creeping, rotting rust slowly spread across the airlock of The Kraken, and seeped into the body of the Eleanor.

The distress signal continued to beep.

October 27th-Up on the Housetop

How could Ron sleep with such beautiful snow drifting by outside his window? Besides, it was Christmas Eve after all.

Of course he was tired, the day’d been busy. Started by cleaning the house in anticipation of his mother’s family and their imminent arrival upon the following morning, followed by a last minute trip to Kroger with his teenage sister because his dad had, of course, forgotten to grab the marshmallows for the sweet potatoes. Then it was racing every which way from Wal-Mart to church and then, finally, Ron’s grandparents’ house to celebrate with his father’s side of the family. They’d gotten back well past ten, much later than Ron was normally allowed to be awake; they’d been looking at Christmas lights on their way home.

So of course he was tired, but no child sleeps on Christmas Eve, especially not one who’s waiting for Santa Claus. The hours passed away, night turning into early morning, but his rooftop was still quiet and bare.

Thoughts of presents burned in his head, as a giddiness warmed and sparkled in his heart like firecrackers. He’d been so good, all year long. Surely the base of the tree would be filled, packed-full of gifts and goodies! So many colors. So many sizes with bows and ribbons! For him and his sister. For his mom and his dad.

But, there was a change in the winds that Ron could feel while tucked in his bed. He sat up with a fright as the night started to howl and turn. The snow outside whipped past his window, scattering as it fell. As the house seemed to tremble, there was a clattering upon the roof. It was an unmistakable sound, on this night most of all. The sound, the clacking of a great many reindeer hooves.

Ron couldn’t believe it. First there was joy, overwhelming joy! Santa had come! He was here. Here! He had come to bring him presents as he slept.

But he wasn’t asleep! Didn’t he need to be asleep! He thought so! Startled and embarrassed, he instantly fell straight back to bed, pulling the covers tight overhead. Would Santa know he wasn’t asleep? Ron figured as much. So he pulled the sheets tight, tight over his face, listening in the darkness as Santa dismounted his sleigh.

Clack, Clack, Clack.

Those weren’t the sounds that Ron had imagined boots to make. They were footsteps, surely, as the house moaned beneath a shifting weight, but with each step there was an awful scraping. A horrid Clack, Clack, Clack.

They were angry footsteps. At least that’s what Ron thought. But why would Santa be mad?

Why else? he pondered. I’m still not asleep!

So he closed his eyes and lay so perfectly still. Maybe, just maybe, Santa wouldn’t be mad.

And there he listened, as the awful Clacking sounds moved from the ceiling, and down their wall.

Not down the wall, down the chimney, Ron realized.

It spread into the house, and Ron started to shiver. The December night seemed to creep into his room, even though the window held tight. Letting the covers fall over him completely, he shrunk inwards, clutching his knees close to his chest, his hands rubbing and warming his feet.

There was a jingling sound, along with the Clack, Clacks that came from downstairs. Santa was at the tree, surely! He was dropping presents and candy! He was filling the stockings nailed to the mantle above the holly with all kinds of goodies and more! There was, for a moment, a clattering, sharp and unwelcome, but Ron just shrugged it off. Santa must have dropped the plate of warm chocolate chip cookies.

But then, Ron started to wonder. The Clacks were moving through the house, away from the living room and away from the tree. Where was Santa moving? And with such slow, sluggish way. The awful footsteps meandered through the house. Through every room and hall, until they came to the bottom of the stairs.

Santa was coming up the stairs, but, for the first time, Ron really wasn’t sure.

Why would Santa be coming upstairs?

He had often dreamed of meeting Mr. Claus, but he had a terrible feeling. He didn’t want to meet Santa. Not tonight, and not just because he’d been naughty and stayed awaked. The closer the footsteps got, the more his teeth chattered. Christmas Eve had always been like a wondrous dream before. Tonight, somehow, felt more like a nightmare.

At the top of the stairs, Santa turned down the hall, towards Ron’s parents’ room. The door there creaked open but why? Why would Santa need to see his parents? What was he doing?

The footsteps stopped for a while, and Ron listened closely. He wondered if he had woken them. If Santa and his parents were talking. Perhaps, talking about him.

But soon, the scratching footsteps started again, moving towards Ron. Moving down the hall.

He listened, as Santa stopped outside his sister’s room, just a room down the hall. He was close, and the more he heard the Clacking Clacks, the more Ron imagined a big, mangy raven or crow than a big man in red. Ron had grown nervous. Santa was in his sister’s room for a very long time.

Then, at last, it was his turn indeed, as Santa crept down the hall, and pried open Ron’s door. With a hiss, he entered. The only warmth Ron could feel surprised him. He hadn’t expected the tears that moistened his cheeks.

The footsteps, Clack Clack Clack, stopped right beside his bed, and the sounds were replaced with a labored, heavy breathing.

Ron didn’t know what to expect, for he no longer believed that this was Santa Claus. Whatever stood before him didn’t feel warm and cheery. Whatever stood before him made the air tremble and shake.

How could it not be Santa? Ron wondered. Only Santa can drive in Santa’s sleigh! It must be him. It must!

Mustn’t it? He couldn’t see the thing that should have been Santa, but he imagined it standing, leaning over him, scowling and sneering. He could feel it. An anger unimaginable. He wanted to cry.

But the thing, Santa, left without a word, without an assault of any kind. It Clacked down the stairs, through the living room where it momentarily paused, and then it hastened it’s escape, fleeing up the chimney and out onto the roof. Hooves above stomped and clattered, almost in protest, as the thing that should have been Santa mounted the sleigh.

Ron, feeling warm once more, threw off the covers and got up at once. That thing, what could it have been? Not Santa. Surely not. But it had left something under the tree. He knew that for sure.

So, without waking his parents, as fast as he could, Ron moved down the dark hall, and down the stairs towards the living room and their great, luminous Christmas tree.

The lights were on, but not the ones they’d placed. The charcoal tree glimmered with tiny red dots, blistering like embers. But that wasn’t all. In the fireplace, a real fire still burned, no, raged. Uncontrolled, it’s largest tongues licked about the carpet and dangling holly, scorching them black.

But more, the stockings were gone. Stolen...replaced. Ron’s face contorted with pain and horror.

Nailed to the mantle, three familiar faces, stolen from their rooms in the middle of the night. Their screams were silent, Ron’s was anything but.

Satisfied, the thing that stole Santa’s sleigh smiled, and mushed the unwilling reindeer on. There were still so many houses left to visit that night.

October 28th-Mr. Muffins

Ms. Moore was a peculiar old hag, and the whole town of Lincoln, New Hampshire knew so. Every day, at about a quarter to four, Ms. Moore would walk the streets. She did so every day whether sleet or hail, whether sun or rain, and she always wore the same garish thing. A black, wrinkly dress that dropped down low over her graying white socks, and a wide-brimmed hat to match, with a veil that cast down across her face. A widow through and through, at least for the past seventeen years.

And at the end of her arms, a pair of white gloves that reached to her elbow, and within her grasp, each and every time, the handle of a death-black stroller with a large, overhanging cover on top.

That was, as she told anyone who asked, where she kept “Mr. Muffins” on their walks.

Now, no one had ever seen ‘Mr. Muffins’, and, according to many, neither had Ms. Moore. If one were to ask, “Well what kind of dog is he?” then Ms. Moore could be inclined to respond, “Why, he’s a shy little terrier he is.”

Or, she could say, “Mr. Muffins is just a timid little Pompom.”

Or still, some have heard, “Mr. Muffins is, well, he’s actually just a little stray kitty who likes to keep me company.”

And they have to ask, because, as everyone who has ever tried harshly finds out, you can’t ever look at “Mr. Muffins”.

Adults and kids alike have all tried and tried, but Ms. Moore is adamant and fierce, frighteningly so, especially for her age. Many have gotten close, tried to peek inside, tried to lift the blankets inside, but to do so always incurred Ms. Moore’s vicious wrath. Never afraid to swat a hand or slap a face, Ms. Moore was a force to be reckoned with.

For whatever reason, she was sure as hellfire never going to let any man, woman, or child ever look at and disturb her precious “Mr. Muffins”.

It, of course, left many to speculate and gossip about what exactly “Mr. Muffins” really was. There were some, mostly those older and friendlier to the eccentric old lady, who just had to take her word that there was nothing inside that old stroller but some kind of pet that she loved most dearly. They would often be fast to claim that, “If you pass her on the street, and listen close, there is something certainly breathing and moving in there!”

However, most others would agree that whatever Ms. Moore carried around with her every single day was something else entirely.

Some would claim that she was, well, partially right. They liked the notion that, perhaps, Mr. Muffin was a pet...at one point. The idea of Ms. Moore carrying around a cart full of bones carried a certain loony charm. Others further believed that maybe it was something truly strange, like a pet gator or snake. Something that she’d, understandably, want to keep a bit more concealed. It would explain the noises.

To ask the most eccentric, however, would be to invite lunacy, for many still claimed that the reason for her mournful attire was that, inside that cradle, she carried the remains of her dear, departed husband. They would tell you that “Mr. Muffins” was her pet name for the man, and that she took him out every single day at the time that he died.

Crazy theories, but that was all anyone could do. No one was close to the woman. No one knew the truth about what “Mr. Muffins” was. No one.

However, there was one person who can claim what no one else can.

There was a man who had seen inside the carriage.

Everett Flores had seen “Mr. Muffins”.

It had been a chill afternoon, sometime in October, when Everett and his friend, a boy named Douglas Snow, hatched a plan to see inside the old bat’s stroller. It was a plan that worked to perfection.

As she passed by on their street, that fateful afternoon, Everett hid behind a row of bushes that Ms. Moore would have to pass. At the moment she was getting ready to, from the other side of the street, young Douglas Snow purposefully missed a shot on his basketball hoop. The ball went wild, straight across the street, and hit Ms. Moore right on the head causing her to stumble and release the cart.

Douglas ran across the street, feigning sincerity in his rambling apologies. As the old woman massaged her head and tried to regain her wits, Everett Flores crept forward. On his knees, he peered into the stroller, as Douglas Snow reached Ms. Moore’s side, trying intently to distract her.

She didn’t care for his apologies, telling the young Mr. Snow to, “Scram and leave me alone!”

She would have continued to berate him, too, had she not noticed Everett still leaning over inside her carriage, and to this, she had a reaction that Douglas had not expected.

He had anticipated hellfire, vengeful fury, and hateful curses. Instead, all Ms. Moore could do was raise her hands to her mouth and wail. Her screeches were sharp, cutting, and painful. Douglas took the chance, as Ms. Moore brought her hands to her face, covering her mouth, to go over, and grab Everett Flores by the shoulders. Yanking him hard, he dragged Everett away, unable to get him fully up on his feet. He knew that something was wrong right then and there. Everett said not a word.

As they crossed the street, Douglas heard the old woman lament aloud, “I’m so sorry, Mr. Muffins, I’m so sorry, please forgive me! Please!”

Douglas reached the curb, and tripped over Everett causing them both to fall hard onto the ground. Douglas landed on top of Everett, and Everett’s face hit the concrete sidewalk hard.

Douglas said that she turned to him, in that moment before she turned the corner of the block to flee, and she shouted, “He’ll get a taste for it. He’ll get a taste!”

Douglas had no idea what she meant by that, but when he looked down to Everett to see what was wrong, he didn’t know what to say.

Everett’s eyes were red, and full to the brim with blood.

Doctors told Everett and his family he’d popped blood vessels in his eyes and, with time, he’d heal. They said they weren’t sure if it was from the fall or something before. The fall had given Everett a concussion and a few scrapes and bruises, but other than that Everett seemed completely fine. On the outside, at least.

According to Douglas, Everett didn’t say much after that. In fact, he never spoke a word about Ms. Moore or “Mr. Muffin” ever again. Yet another ailment that the doctor’s explained away. Temporary amnesia caused by the concussion. Douglas never bought it, not even for a moment. He always attested, and surely still does to this day, that what happened to Everett wasn’t caused by the concussion.

In the next few years, before Everett moved halfway across the country for college, Douglas said he never once told him what he saw. He would always tell Douglas, “I don’t know, I don’t remember anything.”

But Douglas could always see it, he would say. He could always see it in Everett’s eyes. A deep regret. A deep fear. Unmistakable. Unforgettable.

Their friendship fell apart as the years stretched on, to the point where Douglas had lost track of Everett entirely. Strangely enough, it seemed the rest of the world lost track of him as well. Everett Flores went missing five years ago, vanished from his home in Arlington, Washington, five years after his incident with Ms. Moore and “Mr. Muffins”.

To everyone but Douglas, the two incidents were completely unrelated, and Everett Flores was never found.

Still, Ms. Moore continues to roam the town, every day, at a quarter ‘till four, with “Mr. Muffins” tucked safely in his stroller. And still, she insists quite harshly, that you don’t peak.

“Don’t you dare,” she’ll say, with a weak old smirk. “If you do, you might just get a taste for it.”

Whatever “it” might be.

October 29th-The Bad Harvest

It’s a bad crop this year.

I planted the fields around my house the day after the last frost. Risky, but I couldn’t wait. If July got here and I had nothing to show for it then there’d be hell to pay. I was out there at first light, and wasn’t back in until well after sunset. I had to be sure it was right; made sure I took down all those damn scarecrow posts, too. Burned them that night. I knew the ground was still unyielding and cruel, but the seeds could take it.

I wasn’t planting simple corn or beans after all.

Yet, I admit I was worried that they wouldn’t take for the first couple weeks. I was impatient. My anxiousness led me to slaughter my cows and horses. Minced them and ground them, spread them across the field in a pulp. The ground absorbed them, and the seeds feasted. I’d like to think that it was necessary.

They sprouted the very next day.

That red from my animal’s blood pulsed within those seedlings, as they sprouted like little red worms. I was pleased, but from then on I knew it would be tricky. They would need to be fed.

Fortunately, crows and mice were plentiful, and dim enough to find themselves caught. I’d often hear the cries of the crows especially when I was working outside. I didn’t much care to watch.

Those awful screams brought back far too many memories.

It only took weeks for them to reach several feet high. They grew as thick as corn, and seemed prepared to reach the same height. Their stalks were moist and warm. Their leaves were slender and wiry, with wispy tendrils that coiled like snakes, and they were meaner than any creature I’d ever seen.

And I’ve seen some mean pieces of work.

They were easily able to take down racoons and possums, snaring them in their leaves, and tearing them apart with impossible strength. Their tendrils were like garrote wire around the necks of their victims. Never saw any of the bodies. I think they drag them down, into the earth, and finish their business there.

I do my damndest to make sure I stay away. They got a good five foot reach on ‘em now, and I’ve heard them take down deer. Had to move the chicken coop closer to the house, and the family knows good and well to avoid the fields. It’s a danger to even leave my driveway now, on foot or by car. Not that we have anywhere or any need to go.

And that’s good.

It’s the end of June now, and the plants are holding strong. None have wilted. None have faltered. It’s a bad crop this year, and that’s a good thing.

I can sleep at night, and so can my wife. So can the three children I still got left.

Been a year since the last one was taken, out the window at night.

We’ll see if they try it again this year. I kind of hope they do.

I’d like to see any one of those damn scarecrows get through my field of red wheat.

October 30th-Tales from the DSA Case Files: Starry Eyes

In Re:

Subject #1876: “Starry Eyes”

Excerpts from an electronic letter from Special Agent Mark Tye to the Director of the D.S.A. James Dorsson regarding Subject #1876 henceforth to be referred to as “Starry Eyes”.

It follows:


Director Dorsson,

There have been many times before where my actions have come before scrutiny and ridicule, and I’m afraid this will be another such occasion. I’m writing this today to act as a preemptive strike against those forthcoming criticisms that I’m sure will be reaching your ears presently. I trust that, with this deposition, you’ll be able to keep your faith in me as you always have before. I owe you much, and I hope that you’re starting to see your faith in me pay off. I need to tell you, firstly, about the subject in question, “Starry Eyes”. To say he is a unique man would be quite the understatement. This man is more than uniquely abled. He is a gift. A gift to us as I feel we are to him, whether or not he knows it yet. And everything about that frightens me.


TRANSCRIBED FROM AUDIO LOG


The following is a transcribed from a series of interviews conducted between Special Agent Mark Tye and Subject “Starry Eyes”. Interviews all conducted with Retainment/Interrogation Room 34. Audio date on following file: 2018-09-29.

AGENT TYE (AT): Can you give me your name?

SUBJECT: “STARRY EYES” (SSE): My name is what little I have that actually belongs to me. You can’t have it.

AT: I don’t need to keep it, I just want to hear it.

SSE: Everyone calls me Starry Eyes.

AT: But that’s not your birth name. SSE: It’s who I am now.

AT: When were you born, exactly? How old are you?

SSE: I’ve—lost track.

AT: Do you remember where?

SSE: Where I lost track?

AT: No, where you were born.

SSE: A place long dead.

AT: Places don’t die.

SSE: Worlds do. They die in my eyes.

AT: I’m not ready to leave until you tell me something about yourself. So, at least tell me why you wear the blindfold.

SSE: What?

AT: Why do you wear the blindfold? When we found you you wouldn’t open your eyes until we gave you one. You were crying, screaming, begging. Why is it so important?

SSE: I can’t even tell you that, you wouldn’t understand.

AT: Why were you screaming?

SSE: Because I couldn’t open my eyes.


END AUDIO EXCERPT


Letter from Special Agent Mark Tye to Director of the D.S.A. James Dorsson (cont.)

How long have we been a reactionary agency? How often are we even granted a choice? We don’t stop evil from happening. We clean up after its done, and then we tell the public it’s ok, nothing to fear. “It won’t happen again.” How many times have you said that, Director? How many times have I said it. I remember each one. I’ve worked on one-hundred and seventy-four cases. Each and every time, I had to tell someone those exact words. And they feel so damn hollow. Not because they’re always lies, but because of that one word there. The one word I hate saying more than any other. “Again.”


TRANSCRIBED FROM AUDIO LOG


The following is a transcribed from an interview conducted between Special Agent Mark Tye and Subject “Starry Eyes”. Audio date: 2018-10-13.

AT: They tell me you don’t sleep.

SSE: I don’t. Haven’t. Can’t.

AT: What happens every time you close your eyes, Starry?

SSE: I see them, all of them.

AT: Can you specify for me?

SSE: For you or for the recording?

AT: Both. I need to hear it again.

SSE: I see them. The other worlds.

AT: Other worlds, like ours. Like our Earth, correct?

SSE: There’s so many. Some like this Earth, sure. But many aren’t. They can be so different. So alien.

AT: And when you close your eyes you see them?

SSE: I see them.

AT: Is this like a telescopic view? Or are these visions through the eyes of someone else?

SSE: A little bit of both. It depends. Sometimes I see them all, every world, every reality, spawning off each other endlessly like branches. All of them come from the same mighty tree. The origin. Each comes from there, and they bare fruit.

AT: You’re describing what we would call a ‘multiverse theory’. Is that term familiar to you?

SSE: A crude description.

AT: It’s a theory. It’s never been proven.

SSE: I need no proof for what’s right in front of my eyes, Special Agent Tye.

AT: You said, a few moments ago that it “depends”. How you see things. It “depends”. Can you elaborate? Do you choose what you see?

SSE: I don’t choose what I see. I am shown.

AT: Who shows you?

SSE: I don’t know if it is a “who”, but I’m always shown what matters. What I need to see.

AT: And what do you need to see? What are you shown?

SSE: Horrors.


END AUDIO EXCERPT


Letter from Special Agent Mark Tye to Director of the D.S.A. James Dorsson (cont.)

I recognize and acknowledge the hesitation that my colleagues have expressed. I completely understand. Do not feel that I am ignorant of their points. I am fully aware of the consequences of a living gateway between dimensions. He is a doorway, and not just any doorway. He’s a doorway to these “cancerverses” as he calls them. Worlds that were never meant to be, where horrors have taken place on unspeakable levels by unimaginable monsters. And doors open on both sides.


TRANSCRIBED FROM AUDIO LOG


The following is a transcribed from an interview conducted between Special Agent Mark Tye and Subject “Starry Eyes”. Audio date: 2018-10-14.

SSE: They are cancers, never meant to be. Fallen from the tree.

AT: And these are the worlds you see when you close your eyes?

SSE: Every time.

AT: Have you ever seen this world?

SSE: No, I can not see forwards to the future or back to the past. I can only see what is happening in the now. My visions come from the left and the right, from above and below. From the parallels.

AT: Is this world like any of those that you;ve seen before? Any of these “cancerverses”?

SSE: Yes.

AT: Do you think we’re doomed to the same fate?

SSE: Yes. I have no doubt. One day the rot here will be too much, too great, and you will fall from the tree of creation. Just like all the others.

AT: And what makes you think that? What has given you that indication?

SSE: You have.

AT: Pardon me?

SSE: You, and your D.S.A.

AT: We protect our world.

SSE: So have all the others. You think people haven’t fought back before? You’re not the only D.S.A. that I know. You won’t be the last. Whatever name you call yourselves by, it always ends the same.

AT: Our world is healthy.

SSE: A healthy world wouldn’t need you, Agent Tye.

AT: So, how does it end?

SSE: In the void. Rotting.

AT: And you with us.

SSE: Perhaps.


END AUDIO EXCERPT


Letter from Special Agent Mark Tye to Director of the D.S.A. James Dorsson (cont.)

They say, in the multiverse theory, that the worlds split from each other. Each universe born of the last, each one dividing like the branches of a tree whenever a decision is made or something is left to chance. Every time something can be different, it is. That means there are universes that diverged long, long ago that look nothing like the reality we know. Yet, there are plenty more still that are nearly indistinguishable. And that’s what I’ve seen. Infinite possibilities. I looked into the Starry Eyes, and I saw hope.



TRANSCRIBED FROM AUDIO LOG


The following is a transcribed from an interview conducted between Special Agent Mark Tye and Subject “Starry Eyes”. Audio date: 2018-10-22.

SUBJECT: “STARRY EYES”: Somebody! Help!

AGENT ELLIOT (AE): Jesus Christ! Get in there, now!

AGENT MORRIS (AM): Oh, God! Get it away from him! Get it away!

AGENT AUSTIN (AA): Back off! Back off him right now!

SSE: I can’t!

AE: The damn room is falling apart!

AA: What’s that light? What’s that light between them?

AM: Break it! Get him on the ground! Get him on the ground!

AE: I can’t move Mark. He’s stiff as a board.

AA: Let him go dammit! Stop this!

SSE: Break it! Break the connection!

AA: Where’s the damn blinders?

AM: I got the blindfold!

AA: Put it on! Put it on!

AE: Holy shit, Mark! Mark, are you ok?

AM: Get him on the ground!

AA: Is Mark ok? I swear to God if you’ve hurt him.

SSE: Please! Please stop!

AGENT TYE (AT): Stop! Stop!

AE: Mark, it’s ok. You’re fine.

AT: Don’t touch him! Don’t hurt him. I made him!

AA: What?

AT: If you hurt him, you answer to me.

SSE: Please, no more.

AM: With all due respect sir, he nearly tore the room apart. What was that? What was that light?

AT: You can go. I’ll finish up in here.

AA: I don’t think—

AT: Now, Agent. That’s an order.


END AUDIO EXCERPT


Letter from Special Agent Mark Tye to Director of the D.S.A. James Dorsson (cont.)

The bond we shared, when I looked into his eyes, nearly destroyed the interrogation room. It nearly killed me. An energy connected us, linked us, and it burned like the stars. He was hesitant to do it, and I understand why. It was foolish, yes, but I don’t regret it. Inside his eyes, in that swirling, glittering cosmos I saw it all. I saw every reality. Every world. And a thousand nightmares. They’re still there, like thoughts after a dream. Images. A robot standing alone in a field. A grinning moon. Red petals. Red headlights. A council in the woods. Raining flesh. All of it seemingly unimportant, but only seemingly. Everything I saw could be us. Every future, every fate, every threat could be ours. And they’re all inside his head. He has seen things that no one else could know about. He knew about Angelica and the Oesterlings. He knew about the Final Religion, and the Harvestmen. He’s seen worlds where they win and where we lose, and that’s what matters. Because if even a fraction of what he says is true, and there are worlds tumbling into the void, dying, succumbing to darkness then dammit I don’t want it to be ours. We can’t let it be ours. With his sight, we can find threats before they emerge. We can prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes we’ve made elsewhere. We can survive. We can thrive. Never again will we have to say “never again.” That’s why, in light of everything, and all the destruction and havoc this one man can bring upon us all, I couldn’t resist.


TRANSCRIBED FROM AUDIO LOG


The following is a transcribed from an interview conducted between Special Agent Mark Tye and Subject “Starry Eyes”. Audio date: 2018-10-30.

SSE: I warned you it would be too much.

AT: You did.

SSE: Yet, you forced me to do it anyways. There is a reason I chose to remain blind. Now it is not a choice. You’ve handcuffed me. Restrained me. There is a reason why you keep me here, locked away in a cage.

AT: I understand, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

SSE: What does that mean?

AT: There’s an alternative.

SSE: You’re going to kill me.

AT: What makes you say that?

SSE: I’ve seen you, in other worlds. I know you, Agent Mark Tye. I know your organization. I know these people. I am a threat. I am to be dealt with. I have made peace with it. Perhaps it is time. I am tired of watching.

AT: How many times has a world surprised you?

SSE: What?

AT: How many times has a world surprised you? Any that you;ve seen. Has it ever turned out well? In any of them.

SSE: In worlds touched by the dark? Never. They never surprise me.

AT: Well, you see, I’m thinking that might be where they’ve been going wrong.

SSE: You’re uncuffing me?

AT: Yes, because we’re not going to kill you. You’re a dangerous mutant of some cosmic origin with enough power to potential destroy us all. That’s what the boys upstairs say, anyways. That’s all you are to them.

SSE: And what am I to you?

AT: Potential.

SSE: What are you playing at?

AT: It’s called doing the unexpected, because you’re right. You should be destroyed. It’s too risky to let you go unchecked. Something needs to change. That’s why I’m offering you a job.

SSE: A job?

AT: I want you to work for us. I want to keep us afloat. No carnivorous plants or ominous space gods, ok? Your sight can tell us so much. You’re going to be our navigator through the dark. What do you say?

SSE: Well, I guess I could say that yes, this certainly is a surprise.


END AUDIO EXCERPT


October 31st-The Red Fall Harvest

September 25th- Red Hawk, Kansas is a little town just southwest of Hays off interstate 70. Small town. Three lights, two diners, one chain sub shop. Current population: 5,899 (expected to increase by one by the end of the day if Carla Redding has her baby). Town is mostly farmers and their families. Only a few exceptions to that rule, like Dr. Donna Jacobs who commutes up to Fort Hays University every day to teach Economics. Only school building is K-12 and encompasses all of Red Hawk and the smaller village right next door to the east, Garrett. Harvest time is drawing to a close. The land is flat, fields to every horizon. Only eye sore is the old tire factory half a mile out of town. There’s only one large Oak, and that stands outside the town’s southwest corner. Its leaves haven’t started to turn, and its roots are black as ash and break the ground along its base. It has just started to feel like Autumn. October approaches quickly.

The town is quiet.

September 28th-6:08 AM: Sue Roberts, the owner of Harley’s Diner on Main Street (Not to be confused with Dave’s Diner on Lime Street) talks to local farmers, and old classmates, Dean Baker and Todd Scobba. They get the farmer’s breakfast platters, like always, except Dean gets extra sausage instead of bacon. They give her a hard time, joshing her. She bares it, secretly recognizing how unfortunately like their fathers both of the men are. She smiles when the Moores, both Daryl and Katrina, walk in and sit at the bar. They’ve brought their sleepy-eyed teen with them. She almost falls asleep atop her pancakes, vaguely daydreaming about the Wilson boy next door.

“Hang in there, dearie,” Sue Roberts tells her, “It is Friday after-all.”

8:07 AM: David Young is about four miles out of town. He pulls down a long drive. It belongs to Robert Hall, David’s part-time employer. Robert owns half the fields around these parts, and usually starts bringing people on around the start of October to round the harvest up. David was looking to see if Robert needed any final help with the harvest. He’s hoping to get a headstart on everyone else, and get the best field pick. He’d prefer the one that’s right outside his house, if at all possible, but he found Robert unloading stockpiles of lumber from his truck.

When asked, Robert tells the boy that their work is done and he’s free to go. He thanks David for his help, but when David asks what the lumber is for Robert tells him it’s for a “personal project”. David lets it be, but he doesn’t stop thinking about it all day. He doesn’t know why.

9:24 AM: Police Chief Edward Harris props his feet up on his desk, nearly knocking over the framed picture of his wife that sat on the back in the process. He lets out a sigh of relief when the frame stops wobbling. Officers Douglas and Mullins have just gone on patrol, and he savors a brief moment of silence to himself inside the office. He lowers his wide-brimmed hat down over his eyes, and he tries to nap. His thoughts wander, as he recalls the chill in the air that morning.

It makes him think fall thoughts. He remembers that the anniversary is coming up. He needs to buy some flowers.

12:59 PM: Pastor Gregory runs into Wilma Matson at the dollar store. He bids her a good afternoon but, of course, Wilma barely offers him a smile. Pastor Gregory then proceeds to ask why she hasn’t been to church recently, and insists that she come this upcoming Sunday. Wilma tells him bluntly, “No, I got no more praying to do,” before taking her items to checkout. She mumbles something under her breath, but Pastor Gregory can’t make it out.

Secretly he’s relieved, for Wilma Matson is a mad dog, and he promises to pray forgiveness for thinking such a dreadful thing later that night. No matter how true it is.

3:26 PM: Phyllis Black picks up her two kids, Isaiah and Maribelle, from the elementary side of Red Hawk Local Schools. They live over in Garrett, and on the way home she tells them their daddy finally has a set date for his homecoming. October 31st. He’s been on tour for about two years, now. Afghanistan. Both of the kids gleefully cheer in the backseat. Their daddy would be home in just a little over a month. Phyllis smiles.

4:32 PM: Doris Bleacher eggs him on first, and then Earl Hodges does the same. Paul Elliott doesn’t want to go.

They all stand on the street, about a mile outside town, just outside the old tire factory. “Mullins and Hawkins”.

“It’s been abandoned since my folks were kids,” Doris says. She insists that Paul will be fine.

Paul takes one step closer, but no more. He doesn’t like all the birds sitting on the factory’s roof. Big, black birds.

He tells them he isn’t going. He starts to head home. The other two call him chicken, but both secretly feel a bit relieved. They run to catch up to Paul, quietly glancing back.

Dozens of buzzards watch them from the rooftop.

6:01 PM: It’s not often that out-of-towners show up in Red Hawk. It’s not a through-town. Only people who stop in Red Hawk are people who mean to stop in Red Hawk.

A stranger enters Harley’s Diner. He’s got a grizzled face and cold eyes. Sue stammers just taking the man’s order, for he’s got hunter’s eyes and they are unfeeling. He just orders a water and a medium-rare burger.

He stays for hours, and they talk. Sue is curious.

Sue finds out his name is Charles North. He is indeed a hunter, but he doesn’t say what he hunts. Said he hasn’t been to Red Hawk in nearly fifty years.

“Lived here for the first thirteen years of my life,” Charles tells her, “Then, we packed it all up and moved to Maine. It’s colder there, and it has far too many trees.”

She’s shocked to find out he used to be local, and that he is supposedly boarding with Wilma Matson just outside town.

When she asks how long he’ll be staying, Charles grimly tells her he doesn’t know.

“Hopefully,” he says, “only a few days. At the most, in the worse-case scenario, until the end of October.”

She tells him staying in Red Hawk isn’t that bad.

He asks if they sell alcohol. She tells him it’s a dry town. He laughs in response and tells her, “Well, you’re not making the best case for yourself.”

She smiles. He doesn’t tell her why they moved.

9:39 PM: Carla Redding has her baby. Girl. Seven pounds, eight ounces. They name her Jessica.

September 29th-More out of towners arrive in Red Hawk, more hunters. Sue notices that they’re almost all older, like Charles North. She has no idea what any of them could be hunting out here, though. She doesn’t ask.

Charles has been spending a lot of time in Harley’s diner. When the other hunters come in, they barely acknowledge Charles North’s presence, but Sue says they feel like kindred spirits. She’s not sure what that means. Charles says he knows them, but they don’t talk.

No one is thrilled with the arrival of so many strangers. Especially strangers with so many guns.

Doris Bleacher tells her dad that she saw at least ten rifles in the back of one of the men’s Chevys. Her dad tells her to stay away. She tells him she’s going to Paul’s tomorrow night, to which he responds, “Make sure you’re back before dark.”

She agrees, yet Mr. Bleacher still feels uneasy. He won’t admit it, but it’s not because of the guns. He won’t admit it, because he has no idea what else it could be.

September 30th-9:01 AM: Taylor Moore awakens to the sound of slamming car doors. Glancing out her window, she sees that the Wilsons are loading their van with suitcases and trunks. Pulling on pants and a dirty t-shirt, she heads downstairs to talk to them. She’s greeted kindly by the father, Thomas Wilson.

When she asks where they’re going the father pauses and stammers. He tells her they’re going on vacation.

“Where to?” she asks. “I didn’t even know you guys were planning anything.”

“Oh, uh,” the father says, absent mindedly, “Just remembered that...well, just up to my parents’. Mom hasn’t been feeling too well as of late and it’s about time we go see her.”

Taylor sees their son and her best friend Jonathan Wilson get into the van, and although the two meet eyes, Johnathan looks away almost shamefully.

“John?” she asks, peering into the van. “How long are you guys going to be gone?”

“I don’t know,” he tells her, barely looking at her. “I’m sorry.”

Before she can ask what that means, Mr. Wilson puts a hand on her shoulder.

“Can you watch the house while we’re gone? Feed the cats?” he asks.

She looks at the house, their two white cats are staring needily from the front door.

“Sure,” she says slowly. “But for how long?

“I don’t know yet,” he says. “But I’ll pay you for every day. I promise.”

Mr. Wilson tells her rather solemnly that they have to go, and awkwardly tells her goodbye and “be safe”.

She watches them drive away, confused and disheartened. Jonathan hadn’t even said bye. But, even more confusing, she had never seen Mr. Wilson so rattled before. He had acted spooked.

She walked up, shivering to the Wilson’s front door, and made sure that the key was still hidden under the doormat.

11:11 AM: Pastor Gregory has finished his sermon, and he is really happy with it today. He’s less so pleased with the number of people who showed up for service today. A little more than half his congregation is missing, and it disheartens him a little.

When he asks if there are any special prayer requests for the day. Adrien Bleacher, present with her daughter Doris, raises her hand.

“We’re missing a lot of people today, Pastor,” she says. “And a lot more have been feeling a little on edge the last couple of days. Maybe, just to be safe, we should pray for the whole town.

5:22 PM: Sue Roberts hasn’t seen Charles North all day, nor any of the other hunters for that matter. Ed Harris stops by for dinner, and he’s one of the only ones. The diner feels empty that evening, and for a Sunday night it’s incredibly strange.

“Slow night?” Ed asks.

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Sue says, pouring the chief a cup. “Everyone’s been on edge today.”

“Been like that for a few days now,” Chief Harris adds, looking around. “Don’t see those out of towners anywhere.”

“You think that’s what it is?” she asks.

“I know a lot of folks have expressed some...concerns,” says the chief, taking a sip of the coffee. “Got any cream?”

She brings him some, and continues, whispering, “Between you and me, Ed? I think something’s got the whole town spooked. You hear about the Wilson’s?

“Just got up and left,” the chief said. “Yes, I know. And so did the Burmonts and the McKinnon’s. Talked to Alex McKinnon last week and he was fine, promised he’d still be here to help out with the Fireman’s Autumn Ball. Today he tells me he’s cancelling it.”

“It’s too weird,” Sue says, adding in one last thing before leaving the chief.

“That it is,” the chief says, thinking. He has a sudden urge to drop by the Paris’ home. He wonders if they’d be willing to give him some flowers on such short notice.

6:55 PM: Carl Paterson has to stop for gas on the way home from his friend’s house, so he stops at the local station. Leaning against his car as the numbers run on the pump, he unconsciously starts to tune into a conversation happening at the next pump over. A woman and man arguing outside a red pick-up truck.

“Of course I’m sure, Charles!” the woman groans with frustration. “I’ve had fifty years to think about it. There’s nowhere else it could have hidden!”

“But if you’re not right, then we’ve fucked this over. We can’t let it start, Wilma. Not even for a moment. It has to die tonight.”

“You think I don’t know? That I haven’t been tormented at that thought every night? I’ve been inside that damn factory and I know it’s there, sleeping and waiting.”

“But did you see it with your own eyes?”

“Dammit Charles, stop it.”

“Why? You had fifty years!”

“Don’t you dare! I had fifty years here while you got to run away, as far away as you could fucking go. I had to stay here and remember. You got to fucking leave and forget. You forgot just like everyone else did, didn’t you?”

The shouting broke, and the man said sternly, “You better look me in the eyes when you say that. Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare accuse me of forgetting her. I would never. It wasn’t my choice to leave you here, Wilma. At a certain point, however, it was your choice to stay.”

“I stayed for her,” she told him. “And I stayed for Patrick, and Yvonne, and Monica and Jimmie. I stayed for all of them, and I never forgot. I never did, Charles. I wouldn’t be telling you this unless I was one hundred percent certain. It’s the factory, Charles. It’s in the factory. I never forgot.”

“I never did either. I’m sorry. I trust you, don’t think I don’t. This just—it means a lot. To me. To everyone here, whether they can feel it or not.”

“I know,” the woman says. “And we won’t fail tonight.”

Carl looks over, curious to add faces to the story he just heard. All he sees is a red truck, loaded with canisters of gasoline.

His pump clicks, giving him quite a jump. He takes his receipt and gets in his car. Through the rear-view, he catches the red truck pulling onto the road. It takes off south and out of town.


7:30 PM: Ed Harris arrives at the Mansfield Cemetery with a bushel of flowers in his right hand. Doesn’t know exactly what they are, just that they’re golden and pretty. His father loved yellow.

He sets the flowers down on his tomb, resting them against the headstone. He’s a little bit early, and he knows. The wind changes directions as he stands back up. His stomach is uneasy.

It’s been almost fifty years to the day, and that means something. He looks up, and wonders if the sky had been that gray all day.

8:11 PM: Doris has stayed well after sun-down. She and Paul and Earl tell ghost stories to celebrate October’s arrival tomorrow. It’s a tradition they have shared since elementary.

As the stories become start to wind down, Paul, who has been twiddling his thumbs all night, asks the others if their parents have ever told them any local legends.

Doris and Earl both lie, and they both say no. They ask Paul the same.

Paul is honest.

“What about the Red Fall Harvest?” he asks.

Doris shakes her head, “Not even the grown-ups talk about that.”

Paul says, “They have lately. I’ve been hearing them, some of them, whispering about it. They think it’s this year!”

Earl adds, “It’s a kid’s tale. The adults don’t care, and they’re not childish enough to run from a myth.”

Paul says, “Then why did Allison McKinnon’s family pull her out of school for the month? You heard her. She said she’ll be gone all month! Why else would she–?”

“Stop it, Paul,” Earl says, uneasy. “Stop.”

“It’s a myth, Paul,” Doris says. “Like the boogeyman.”

“You don’t let the boogeyman scare you,” Paul tells Doris. “You don’t get defensive over the boogeyman.”

They sit in silence.

Earl eventually adds, “Fifty years, right? That’s a long time. That doesn’t mean that it’s this year.”

“What if it is?” Paul asks. “What do we do?”

“Well,” Doris says. “If it was actually real, don’t you think the town would be ready for it? You don’t just forget stuff like that, do you? I know fifty years is a long time but–”

“And even if they all remembered, then why would anyone even stay here?” Earl asks. “It makes no sense. It’s a silly legend.”

“But this year could be that year,” Paul says, quietly looking at his feet. He sincerely asks his two best friends, “What do we do if it is real?”

Doris and Earl look at each other, and she shrugs.

“Pray for October to end.”

She leaves shortly after, and Earl follows. Paul wishes them both a good night, and tells them both to be careful. None of them sleep well that night.

Thirty-one days in October, Paul thinks as he lies in bed. Thirty-one days of the Red Fall Harvest. Thirty-One nights.

The clock reads October 1st-12:00 AM and Paul wonders, How do we survive for thirty-one days?

2:34 AM: Chief Harris is awoken by a phone call. He tells his wife, Nora, to go back to sleep as he gets up and gets dressed. She doesn’t listen immediately.

“What’s going on?” she asks, drowsily.

“Something you won’t believe,” he said, pulling his pants on. “Apparently, someone tried to burn down Mullins and Hawkins.”

“What?” she asked. “The tire place?”

“Apparently half the building’s on fire right now. Fire crews coming from the surrounding counties. I gotta be out there, too.”

“It’s so dry out there, Ed,” she says. “If that fire spreads to the fields it’s gonna light up this whole town.”

“Fire department is already there, they’re handling it.”

“Be careful,” she tells him sternly.

“Don’t worry about me,” he says, yawning. “I’m too damned tired to do anything stupid.”

He kisses her on the forehead, and leaves her to dream. He drives off into the night.

4:47 AM: Gunshots wake up Dean Baker. He’s quick to grab his shotgun, and unfaltering as he steps out onto his front porch wearing nothing but long johns. His house is surrounded by corn fields this year, and he can’t see anyone. However, the gunshots are close, and he can hear more now. People are yelling.

He takes his shotgun, and aims it into the sky. He fires. The shot splits the night like thunder, and leaves it in an echoing silence.

He takes the chance to shout out, “Hey! I don’t know who y’all are, or what you think you’re doing, but this is private property. Y’all have run out of time. Y’all get no more warnings. Got guns and it’s open season, got it? Now get the hell off my property or I will unload everything I got in your direction. I won’t be liable at all, you hear me?”

No one responded. No more guns fired. There was a rustling in the stalks, but Dean couldn’t decide whether it was wind or person.

He waited on that porch for ten more minutes before he was satisfied. Returning to his house, he begrudgingly put on a cup of coffee. There would be no point in trying to go back to sleep now.

He ate breakfast with an eye on the door, and a shotgun beside his eggs.

12:45 PM: Talk of the fire has spread quickly through the town, that was inescapable. Sue fields the lunch rush and hungrily feeds off their gossip. No one seems to really know anything more than that they stopped the fire, and it seems almost certain that it was arson.

She’s already called Nora Harris, asking if she knew anything, but Nora says she hasn’t heard from Ed since he was called out this morning.

“I bet it was kids,” Todd Scobba says, shrugging it off. “You wanna hear something exciting, you should hear about what Dean had to deal with this morning. People shooting in his fields! Thinks it was those folks from out of town. He almost ended up capping them himself.”

Sue sighs, “What a great way to start October. A fire and a shooting. Keep it up, and this poor little town and her poor little heart will kick it with fright before we ever reach Halloween.”

“Forget about October,” Todd says, “that’s just one hell of a Monday.”

Sue chuckles, and pours Todd some more coffee.

2:35 PM: Pastor Gregory runs into Wilma Matson inside the church.

“Wilma?” he asks, almost astounded. “What a pleasure to see you today. We missed you yesterday.”

“I’m sure,” she said, avoiding eye contact and moving swiftly for the door. She wasn’t alone. A man followed her out.

“Who are you ,sir?” Pastor Gregory asks, extending a hand. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“No we haven’t,” Charles North says, shaking the Pastor’s hand quickly and failing to introduce himself. “I’m sorry we can’t stay long, we really must be going.”

The Pastor kindly, and curiously, bids them a good day, and he returns to his work.

3:45 PM: All things considered, the old factory endured the fire relatively well. The entire wall on the western side was scorched black, and the stability there has certainly been compromised. Not a terrible outcome for a building that has already been condemned.

In the aftermath, the firefighters and police have discovered a handful of melted gasoline canisters. It had indeed been planned.

Despite this, Chief Harris looks up at the rooftop and chuckles. The fire finally drove off the buzzards.

4:13 PM: Paul, Doris, and Earl have all stopped off at Harley’s dinner to grab a few slices of pumpkin pie. Earl’s idea.

“Do you think they’ll find any bodies in there?” Earl asks.

“What?” Doris replies, disgusted. “Gross, no. They’re not going to find bodies in the factory.”

“That’s where I’d put them, if I was a killer,” Earl says, grinning. “Probably why the buzzards hang out there. They love dead things.”

Paul says nothing. He hasn’t touched his pie. He doesn’t feel hungry.

“Think there were any hobos in there?” Earl asks. “Maybe they got trapped when it went down.”

“It’s still up, dummy,” Doris scolds. “You saw the reports on the TV during lunch today!”

“A lot could have happened since lunch!” Earl points out, his mouth full of whipped cream. “What do you think, Paul?”

Paul shrugs, “Sorry, I’m tired.”

“I am too,” Doris says, yawning. “I think I’ll sleep like a brick tonight.”

Paul takes a taste of his pie, and he pushes it over to Earl who greedily accepted.

He looks out the window, knowing full well that tonight he probably won’t sleep a wink.

8:59 PM: Pastor Gregory can’t find his holy water and he believes he is missing several silver crosses. He keeps searching, holding off on his first assumption. Thoughts of Wilma and that stranger take center stage.

He won’t accuse anyone of anything until he was well and sure that he hasn’t just misplaced them.

9:25 PM: Doris Bleacher tries to get to bed early tonight, and she succeeds. Yet, she has terrible nightmares. She sees her room, and there’s a branch outside her window. In the wind, it keeps stretching forward, grazing the glass with its sharp tips. It scratches and scratches, creating the most awful of noises. Like fingernails against a chalkboard. She wakes up sometime around 11:50 PM and remembers there is no tree in her yard and no branch to scratch the window.

Yet, she sees scratches on the glass, stretching from center of the pane all the way down to the frame.

Doris gets up and shuts her blinds, but she can’t get back to sleep that night. Fortunately, Paul is still up to text with her.

They talk about Algebra.

October 2nd-5:15 AM: Dr. Jacobs, professor at Fort Hays University, leaves for Hays, Kansas in her black Honda Civic. Her husband kisses her goodbye and watches as she pulls out of the driveway.

8:01 AM: Chief Harris enters the station, and finds Officer Douglas talking to a man and a woman. He doesn’t even recognize Wilma at first, and he certainly doesn’t recognize Charles.

“You’re Ed Harris, right?” Charles asks him, turning away from Officer Douglas. “Son of Tim Harris?”

“That’s correct,” Ed says, cautiously.

“I knew your dad,” Charles adds. “Very well. I was only thirteen at the time but—but he meant a lot to me.”

Ed is surprised, “Thank you, that’s very kind. I had no idea you used to be local.”

“Wilma and I were in the same class,” he says. “You were just in kindergarten I think, about fifty years ago.”

“That’s probably right,” Ed says. “So, what can I do for you today, Mister—?”

“North,” Charles says. “Charles North. And I do need something from you, Mr. Harris.”

“What would that be?” Ed asks.

Charles swallows, tears welling in his eyes.

“I need you to be your father.”

3:55 PM: Earl has barely gotten home, and already he’s out looking through the wheat fields for his dog.

He sighs, for there is nothing more annoying than finding a foot-tall Boston terrier in four-foot-tall wheat grass. This was the second time the dog had run away from him this week. Chasing another damn woodchuck, probably.

Earl calls his dog, “Sammy!”

Nothing. No barking. No moving. There’s nothing.

He tries again, “Sammy! Come here boy!”

There’s a dropping thud in the grass to his left, and a whimper. Just about ten feet away.

He creeps forward, asking kindly for Sammy to come. There’s a patch of depressed wheat, and he snakes his way to the made clearing.

He is shocked silent.

He finds Sammy, but Sammy is dead. Blood coats the brown leaves red.

5:01 PM: Officer Douglas is in Harley’s and he offers a word of warning to Sue.

“That out-of-towner is a whack job, Sue. Ed thinks you need to watch him carefully.”

Sue is confused, “What would make him say that?”

Officer Douglas shrugs, “Stopped into day, said some things that really rubbed the chief the wrong way. Brought up stuff about the chief’s father and how he died.”

“Goodness,” Sue says, shocked.

“He actually told the guy to get out of town.”

“You’re kidding,” she gasps.

“Nope, said the next time he saw him there’d be trouble. And he meant it, too. So keep an eye out, Sue. I mean it. We know he’s grown a certain fondness to you.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Sue says, coldly. “I haven’t seen Mr. North since Sunday.”

“And hopefully,” Officer Douglas adds, “you won’t be seeing him again, neither.”

5:33 PM: Dr. Jacobs returns from the university.

“Saw the damndest thing,” she says. “Farmers put up a scarecrow in an empty field. What’s the point of that? There’s nothing left to guard! Why leave out a creepy-ass scarecrow?”

Her husband chuckles, telling her, “I don’t get them sometimes.”

She kisses his cheek, calling him a good-ole “City Boy.”

He ignores it kindly and lets her know that dinner will be ready in about ten minutes.

7:11 PM: Carla Redding, her husband Dave, and their baby girl, Jessica, all came home today.

Their neighbors, Ed and Nora Harris, are there to welcome them. Nora congratulates her, and Carla asks Nora if she’s still willing to babysit every now and then.

Nora tells her, “Of course.”

10:31 PM: Sue is closing up, her purse slung over her shoulder, when Charles North finds her on the streets.

She tries to ask him what happened, and where his black eye came from. He doesn’t answer. He only asks her to hold onto something for him.

She asks, “Hold on to what?

But Charles is already leaving. He ignores her.

She calls out, “If you’re hunting you might want to start doing it a little better. Coyote got a boy’s dog this afternoon. They’re still out there.”

This makes Charles stop, but only briefly. As he walks away, she walks the opposite direction, wondering what it was all about. She is unaware that Charles had slipped a small, silver cross into her purse.

October 4th-5:15 AM: Dr. Jacobs leaves for Hays, Kansas in her black Honda Civic. Her husband waves goodbye.

12:34 PM: Dean Baker walks into Harley’s fuming. Sue asks what’s the matter.

“Damn kids,” he says. He goes on to say that he was harvesting one of his wheat fields over by route 70 that morning when he saw someone running through the fields. Couldn’t see all of them, but he got out and started calling at them.

Says the rustling stopped, and no one responded when he called, so he spent over an hour searching the fields for anyone.

“Had to have been kids,” he says. “I heard them running around behind me every time I moved. Circling me.”

Sue asked how he knew it was more than one kid, especially on a school day.

“They must’ve been playing some hooky,” Dean scoffed. “And I knew there was two of them because I followed one who was running on that north side of the field and then another one started running around me to the southeast. Tell me what kid can run about four hundred feet in three seconds, Sue. You tell me that!”

5:33 PM: Dr. Jacobs is home from work, and tells her husband that it’s going to be a long night of grading. He tells her he’ll whip her up a cup of warm coco and she smiles.

10:33 PM: A scraping on the roof wakes up Paul Elliott. He knows he’s a middle schooler, and that means he’s a big boy. Monsters don’t exist. But he still pulls his covers up to his face as something moves along his roof.

A text buzzes on his phone from Dorris, but he doesn’t read it. His mind is racing. Could be a bird, could be nothing. There are plenty of logical reasons for a roof to creak. But Paul isn’t thinking logically. He can only think of three words.

Red Fall Harvest.

October 5th-5:15 AM: Dr. Jacobs leaves for Hays, Kansas in her black Honda Civic.

9:15 AM: Econ 216 is gathered impatiently inside room 211. The class comes to a consensus. If Dr. Jacobs isn’t there in fifteen minutes, then they’re free to go. The students text on their cellphones until then.

12:08 PM: Sue realizes she hasn’t seen the out-of-towners in a good while, except for Charles. Maybe not since Sunday night. She wonders if they’ve all gone.

2:10 PM: Phyllis Black passes a red Ford pickup by the side of the road on the way to pick up her kids. She slows, checking to see if anyone was still around. No one. The truck is parked halfway into a wheat field. She continues on, figuring that whoever it was must have already gotten some help.

7:33 PM: Mr. Jacobs is starting to panic. His wife is still not home. She isn’t answering his calls.

His thumb hovers over the green “Call” icon. The number reads, “911”.

October 7th-8:33 AM: Ed Harris feels like pounding his head into his desk. The past week has brought him nothing but hell. Not only was there the incident at the factory, then everything that’s happened with Charles North and his insanity, but now, on top of it all, Dr. Jacobs has been missing for at least forty-eight hours and no one can give him even the slightest clue where she’d gone.

Cops from Ellis county have been looking for her all night, but there’s been no trace. No one’s even been able to spot her damn black Civic. Cars don’t just go missing, people just don’t go missing without a trace.

At least, they shouldn’t.

He curses as his mind dwells on thoughts of Charles North, and he remembers that, while he’s working, his wife is in church right now. So, he takes a moment to pray.

He prays that Charles North truly is mad.

4:33 PM: Doris, Earl, and Paul all meet up together at the park.

Their discussion is brief.

“What do you think happened to Sammy?” Paul asks.

“I don’t know anymore,” Earl says, kicking at the grass. “That woman’s missing now.”

“Think she’s the only one?” Doris asks. “Because we’re already a week in, if this really was the—you know, then there’d be more gone, right?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Paul says, picking up a rock in his hands, looking to the dark, gray sky. “I’ve never had to believe in the boogeyman before.”

His knuckles bleach, and his fist shivers.

8:56 PM: Phyllis Black thinks she hears a knock at her front door. So she goes to answer it only to find that no one is there. Then, she hears her daughter scream upstairs.

She charges through her daughter’s door. She finds her, coiled up on her bed, staring out the window.

When she asks little Maribelle what happened, Maribelle tells her in a shaking voice that there was a man outside her window. But that was impossible, she explains to her daughter.

There was no way someone could have been outside a second-story window.

9:33 PM: Another knock. Another door. This time, it’s the Jacobs household.

Mr. Jacobs opens the door, expecting police officers.

He’s greeted by the night.

October 8th-Blood is found on the Jacobs porch.

Analysis done over in Ellis county confirms not only the DNA of Mr. Jacobs, but the DNA of his wife Dr. Jacobs, was present at the scene. This information is shared only with Chief Harris. He wants to keep it quiet as possible.

Neither body is recovered.

October 10th-Pastor Gregory is out and about, a Bible in hand. He is looking to head over the the old Oak tree to read beneath its changing leaves.

He’s disappointed, however, when he arrives to discover that all of the leaves have already fallen.

But I was just here yesterday, he thinks, and the leaves were only just changing!

The branches bare, and with the moist, almost blackened leaves left scattered across the ground, the Pastor takes it as a sign. God works in mysterious and sometimes terrifying ways, after all.

He returns to town, hoping to find what God really has planned for him today.

October 12th- The Jacobs were only the first.

Officer Harris’ office is swarmed with phone calls about missing pets and relatives.

“The only saving grace, if you could call it that,” Chief Harris tells his team that morning, “is that the same shit is happening in Ellis, Russel, and Rush counties.”

Officer Douglas approaches Chief Harris afterwards, and asks him a very personal question.

“What are we thinking about Charles North?”

Looking him dead in the eyes, Chief of Police Ed Harris tells Officer Douglas, “I don’t know, but if you see him, I want him brought in for questioning.

Officer Douglas whispers, “Do you think he’s the one who’s been doing this?”

To which, Chief Harris merely repeats, “I want him in for questioning.”

Officer Douglas nods his head, and hits the streets.

By 9:00 PM that night, six people are confirmed missing.

Dr. Jacobs, reported missing on October 5th. Her husband, Mr. Jacobs, was cited missing in the morning hours of October 8th.

Since then, the list has grown to include local elementary teacher Margaret Madison who lived in Rush county, sub shop manager Eric Carlie who lived in town, retired police officer George Humphries (a personal case for Chief Harris), and, sadly, a young cheerleader for the high school by the name of Brigitte Dawes.

No bodies have, as of yet, been recovered.

An APB has been put out for both Charles North and Wilma Matson.

October 14th-Taylor is over at the Wilson’s house that morning and that evening to feed the cats. When she comes in the morning, she’s greeted lovingly by both of them, Jonesy and Paws. She feeds them, cleans their litter boxes, and leaves.

When she returns that evening, she’s greeted by neither. She searches the house from top to bottom. She looks in every closet, behind every couch, and under every bed.

Every bed except one. She doesn’t go into John’s room. Considering her feelings, she thinks it would be inappropriate. So, respectfully, she leaves it alone, especially after she hears one of the cats growling from beneath his bed frame.

Glad that they’re alive, she returns downstairs and pours their food. They’ll eat it eventually, she figures.

October 15th-Sue is the first to see him. The red pick-up truck that belongs to Charles North pulls back into town, and he stops at the red light outside of Harley’s. The truck’s dented, the bumper trailing along behind on the asphalt. Dirt sheds from the undercarriage like old skin. Sue wants to ask Charles if they got into an accident, if they were ok, but then she realizes that Wilma Matson isn’t with him anymore.

She can’t remember when she’d last seen Wilma.

That’s when she notices that the passenger’s side window has been shattered.

Charles North keeps driving. He keeps hunting.

October 16th-3:33 AM: Paul hears it again, the scratching on his roof.

This time, it migrates down to his wall. Scratching just outside his window.

Paul closes his eyes tightly, and he prays. He prays and prays as there comes a tapping at his bedroom window.

He sends a final text to Doris Bleacher.

4:58 AM-Earl Hodges is awoken by a chilling breeze. His window is open. He doesn’t remember opening it.

Getting up to go close it, he drags a blanket with him. He bundles up, trying to fight off the chilling October air.

With the window shut, he returns to bed, lying on his back. He looks up into the darkness once before closing his eyes.

A muffled sound pries his eyes back open.

Looking into the dark a second time, he sees something in the shadows.

He has no time to do a thing before the shadows fall all around him. By then, he is only screaming.

5:15 AM: Reporting their missing child to Chief Harris, the Hodges mention that they were sure they heard two separate children screaming in Earl’s bedroom. Their account claims they’d heard the screams, rushed to the bedroom, and found nothing but an open window.

Chief Harris notes that it’s a fifteen foot drop at least from Earl’s window. There was no trace of a ladder being used.

6:01 AM: The Elliott’s report their son missing as well.

They note that their son’s window was also pried open. They say the lock has been broken.

7:01 AM: Taylor starts to wonder what’s up with the cats. They haven’t touched their food in days, and they haven’t come to her since Sunday morning.

Caving, she checks under John’s bed. She finds nothing. The cats are no longer in the house, but every room is secure, every lock locked, and every window closed.

They had to be there somewhere.

8:31 AM: The Bleachers don’t go to work today. They stay home with their daughter, and they talk. Doris cries. Her friends are gone. Everything feels empty.

There’s a text on her phone. It reads, “I’ll miss you.”

4:33 PM: Todd Scobba gets out of his tractor. Something shiny has caught his eye in the middle of his corn field.

He bends over, and picks up the object, best to avoid it getting caught in the harvester.

Strange, he thinks, realizing it’s a silver cross, bent in half bringing the top to nearly meet the bottom. Todd realizes with frightened eyes that it’s caked in blood.

6:04 PM: After remaining silent most of the day, Doris asks her parents about the Red Fall Harvest.

“You’ve lived here your whole lives,” she tells them. “You have to know something.”

“That’s a myth, baby,” her mother says. “The Red Fall Harvest isn’t real.”

“But what is it?” she asks. “If it’s not real then you should be able to tell me everything you know, right?”

“Sweetie,” her father says, deflecting the question. “I know what you’re thinking, and it’s perfectly normal to try and rationalize this. What happened to Earl and Paul today—it was monstrous, so you’re trying to make it make sense. I get it, but I can tell you one hundred percent that the Red Fall Harvest isn’t real.”

It’s the first time that Doris recognizes it. The first time she sees it and understands it.

Today, Doris sees her parents lie to her, with reassuring smiles on their faces.

She never forgets it.

7:22 PM: Ed Harris brought no flowers today. Just a Yuengling and about fifty years of unresolved issues.

He stands on his father’s grave, takes off his hat, and toasts to him. Today is the anniversary. Fifty years to the day. Fifty long years.

Harris had only been five when it happened. Too young to remember. Too young. But then, no one seemed to remember what had happened.

No one except for Charles North, he thinks.

He wanders the tombstones after a while, looking at dates. Casually at first, and then very intently.

“A lot of headstones with the same year on ‘em,” Charles says, yellow flowers in his hands.

The chief is stunned at first, but says, “Same month, too. October. Nineteen sixty-eight.”

Charles steps forward, and the chief gets a good look at him. His face has been scratched and torn, he walks with a horrible limp, and his neck is purple and blue.

Carefully, Charles bends down and places the flowers atop the grave of Timothy Harris. Died: October 16th, 1968.

“How come you remember?” Ed asks. “Why you?”

Charles closes his eyes, “It’s not easy. Something like that. It’s something you want to forget, and many do. It makes it easy on you. It wants you to forget. That way you don’t leave. You don’t plot. You don’t fight.”

Charles looks up at the police chief and answers his next, unspoken question.

“I don’t know how It does it. It’s evil. Unnatural. Impossible. So I don’t question when it does the impossible.”

“I want to remember him,” Ed Harris says, on the verge of tears. “I want him to be here. I don’t—I can feel it, you know? The want. The need to forget, to blame anything else. I feel that thing in my head. It tells me this is all ok. This is natural.”

“I’m not sure if that’s the creature or just logic,” Charles says, chuckling.

“I wish it was the latter.”

“How many people now?” Charles asks, standing back up.

“At least eighteen,” Ed says. “Every day I want you to be wrong. But It’s become so clear that you’re not. Those poor boys today.”

“They’re all people I failed,” Charles says with a heavy heart. “People died because I failed, Wilma is dead.”

The chief staggers, “Wilma Matson is dead?”

Charles nods, “Because of me, and I’m gonna die if I keep at it. I’ll fail you all.”

Silence.

“Did my father fail you?” Ed asks eventually. “When he died did he fail you?”

“Your father,” Charles says, his eyes closed tight, “Saved a lot of people.”

“Then he didn’t fail,” Chief of Police Ed Harris says, placing his hat back on his head. “Tomorrow, we’re gonna end this.”

“You saying you believe me now?”

“I’m saying this town’s gone mad, and I’m following quickly behind.”

October 20th-The missing person count has reached thirty-four across five counties.

Yet, since the disappearance of Dr. Jacobs, the news has remained silent.

The biggest story today: big narcotics bust in Daryl Township.

Everything is fine.

October 22nd-7:33 AM: Taylor Moore is outside, bringing in some wood for the fireplace.

She looks to the Wilson’s house. It’s been empty all month. She wonders if they’re ever going to come back, and she wonders what she’s going to tell them about their cats when they do.

A sound cuts through the air. A beckoning whistle.

Turning, she looks into the thick wheat fields behind her house. The whistling comes again, rising in pitch. She creeps closer.

The whistling doesn’t come again, but there comes a point, when she’s right next to the field, when her body locks up and refuses to take another step closer. Still as stone, she understands.

There is something in the field.

She doesn’t need to see it to know. Something is watching her from within the deadly still blades of wheat.

For a moment, control is hers, so she takes a step back. The whistling again, only this time it’s sour. It rots into a feral, almost feline hissing. She wonders if it’s just her imagination, or if there’s a shadow in the grass, moving closer and closer.

Something pops out of the wheat, causing Taylor to flinch. The object is small, and it rolls to a halt by her feet. It’s white, but stained with so much red. She covers her mouth, as an identical one also rolls onto the lawn.

They’re heads. Cat heads.

Taylor instantly drops the wood, and she dashes for the house.

Tears falling, she screams for her parents as she hears the wheat break. Someone, something, burst from the field, and was gaining on her fast.

Almost to the door, she reaches out her hands, as the screaming grows closer like a roaring car. She feels a rotten moisture beading along her neck as she grabs the door. She doesn’t even open the screen, there is no time. She launches herself through the screen, crashing and sliding onto the linoleum floor of the kitchen.

There is a whoosh of air, and by the time Taylor turns her pursuer has vanished.

Her parents run into the kitchen and hold her as she wails.

They don’t send her to school that day. They, too, decide that maybe it’s best to get out of the state for a little while.

1:22 PM: Four pickup trucks are found by Dean Baker behind an old barn on the south end of town. Officer Douglas identifies each one as vehicles that had belonged to the out-of-towners.

Each one has an empty tank and a drained battery. They’ve been left running.

There are no clues as to where the drivers have gone.

Dean asks Officer Douglas where Chief Harris has been. Officer Douglas tells him, “Hunting, I think.”

5:59 PM: Doris sends texts to a girl named Jennifer Martindale, a friend of hers from Flush County..

Doris: hey

Jenn <3: yea?

Doris: have you guys ever heard of Red fall Harvest?

Jenn <3: yea, wait how did u hear about it?

Doris: It’s a legend

Jenn <3: Yea, OUR legend.

Doris: I thought it was just a red hawk thing?

Jenn <3: i didnt know u guys talked about it

Doris: same, but you

Jenn <3: can i ask u a ?

Doris: yea

Jenn <3: do u think its real?

Doris: yes

Jenn <3: i do 2

October 23rd-Carla Redding can’t keep her little Jessica quiet, no matter how much she coos and begs. She thinks maybe her baby can feel it. She knows her baby can feel just how terrified her mommy really is.

She can’t hear her husband downstairs anymore. In fact, all she can hear are the footsteps that are indolently rising up the stairs, like the despair in her chest. Footsteps that certainly aren’t her husband’s.

She rocks the baby, bounces it against her chest, but she won’t stop. No binky and no begging can appease her. She is terrified, and so is Carla. They can only sit in the bathtub and wait.

Sit and wait for death to come.

She has no other choice, as the footsteps reach the top of the stairs. She clamps her hands over Jessica’s mouth, and she holds tight.

She holds her breath, as someone comes to stand right outside the bathroom door.

“Mommy loves you,” she whispers.

October 24th-12:33 AM: Officer Douglas joins Chief Harris and Charles North as they enter the Redding’s home. It takes only five minutes to clear.

All they found was Jessica Redding, alone in a bathtub, still crying.

Charles North punches a hole through a panel of drywall.

Officer Douglas can only ask, “Why would it leave her?”

No one has any answer.

1:33 PM: David Young is tired of waiting. Most of the fields have been harvested by now, all except for Robert Hall’s. He pulled into the long drive with thoughts of how to tell the old man straight, get his priorities back in order, but they quickly changed.

The old house is completely boarded up. Every window, every door.

David gets out of his car, and walks up to the front door.

“Mr. Hall!” he calls out. “Are you there?”

He goes back to his car, and pulls out a hammer. He starts to pry and pull. He takes the boards off the door, and he goes inside. It was unlocked.

Inside, two things catch David’s eye. The first: there is a note on the table.

It reads:

“To whom it may concern, I have tried to hide. I fear that it will not be enough. I remember now what I couldn’t before. The closer it comes the clearer my own fate is. There is no running from this. There is no fighting. I can only hide and pray. What it missed fifty years ago it will not miss now, of that I am sure. I know that once this month has gone and passed, you will all forget me, like I forgot before. But try not to. Hopefully with this letter you won’t forget me. Won’t forget it.

Don’t forget the Harvest. “

Then, scrawled underneath with a different pen, the frantically written words, “FROM THE CRAWLSPACE FORGOT.”

And that was the second thing David noticed. A hatch in the floor in the kitchen had been pried wide open. The hardwood that had sat upon it had been cracked and mangled, like the hatch had been broken open from inside the crawlspace itself.

David couldn’t find any trace of Robert Hall at all.

9:23 PM: There’s a strong, ghastly odor inside Pastor Gregory’s church. He follows its odor from his office, to the main entrance. There are footprints there, unlike any he’s ever seen. They are burned into the floor.

He follows them into the nave, and he gazes up the rows of pews, following the footsteps up the channel to where they end at the base of the altar.

The lights above the altar spark and short, casting the altar in shadow.

Pastor Gregory demands to know who is there.

He calls at a figure in the shadows, kneeling before the stain glass mural of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Gregory rubs his eyes, just to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. He can still see it, and he can even hear it.

The figure at the altar is smoking. Their skin is sizzling.

The shadow stands up.

10:10 PM: Firefighters have been called to the St. Charles's Lutheran Church. The whole building is engulfed in thick smoke and flame.

Much to the surprise of the firefighters, the fire burns green.

October 27th-All day, Doris has wandered about the town, and she’s been keeping numbers.

One special number specifically.

Thirty-seven. The number of people in town she can’t account for. And that’s just Red Hawk. She can’t even imagine what it’s like anywhere else.

She talks to Sue Roberts.

“There’ve been a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while, Dear,” she says. “I’m sorry.”

“Have you seen anything unusual?”

“There’s been a lot of that this month,” Sue says. “Lots of weird things. You’ve seen quite a bit yourself. Are you sure you’re able to be out here on your own?”

Doris nods, “Yes.”

Her voice is hollow, and Sue can hear it. She wonders if there’s anything left of the girl.

Doris asks, “Do you believe?”

“Believe?” Sue asks.

“In the Harvest.”

Sue shakes her head, “I’ve heard more about it in the last week than I have in forty-five years of living, baby girl. If such a thing were true—”

“Thanks,” Doris says, blankly. “I’ll just have a slice of pie and a water please.”

Sue puts on her best faux smile, “Of course.”

Before she gets too far, Doris asks, “Have you seen Chief Harris lately?”

Thinking, Sue realizes, a bit nervously, “No, No I haven’t.”

“Thank you,” Doris says, staring out the window.

As Sue grabs her pie and water, Doris scratches out the number “37” and writes down beside it “38” with a question mark right beside it.

October 28th-7:33 AM: With Pastor Gregory missing, and in light of the recent, devastating fire, Service is cancelled at St. Charles’s Lutheran Church.

Congregation members are welcomed by all of the nearby churches.

Regardless, Phyllis Black has decided to remain home. Despite everything, she holds onto one, simple truth. Her husband, her love, was just a few days away. Soon, they were going to be a family again.

She makes her children pancakes and eggs, and she sits down at the table with them.

“Mom!” her son says. “I had the weirdest dream last night!”

“Yeah, baby?” she asks. “What was it?”

“I had a dream that the shadow man was in my room,”

Phyllis squints, “The shadow man?”

“Yeah!” he says, excited.”He whispers in my ear and tells me I’m going to fly soon, Mommy. He says he’s going to make me a swing on the big oak tree out of rope!”

“This was a dream, you said?” Phyllis asks.

“I think so,” her son says. “The shadow man says he likes me. Says I’ll be the last one.”

“The last one?” she asks.

Her son nods before taking in a large mouthful of eggs.

“The last one to harvest.”

9:32 PM: It had been a slow, slow day at the diner. On Sundays she was only open for dinner, and it was a Sunday, but after the weeks that Red Hawk had seen Sue Roberts was surprised that anyone at all had shown up.

She turns off the “Open” lights, and she starts to do her final round on all the tables. The silence is horrible, so she hums to herself to pass the time.

She only stops, when two voices break the quiet. They’re just outside, walking down Main Street. Two familiar voices.

“It has to take them somewhere!” comes the voice of Charles North.

“We’ve checked the factory,” adds the rugged and tired voice of Chief Harris. “There was nothing there!”

Sue Roberts leaned over a booth, and with her fingers she pried open the blinds. She gasped. Both of the men were carrying rifles.

“There has to be!” Charles says, furiously. “We need to go back!”

“What’s it matter at this point?” the chief adds, almost laughing. “We failed. It’s almost over! The end of the Harvest is three days from now!”

Sue watches, hand over mouth, as Charles North stares down Chief Harris.

He whispers something that Sue can’t hear, and the chief nods his head.

“Ok,” he says, “we’ll see what we can do.”

Then, it happens faster than anyone can react.

A creature, darkness itself, swoops down from the sky, wraps itself around Chief Harris, and then it is gone, taken back by the sky.

Sue screams and Charles roars at the darkness, lifting his rifle to fire once, twice, three times. Racing out onto the street, Sue calls his name, but Charles doesn’t heed her. Exhausted, he tries to run down the street. He tries to follow the creature in the night, but he has run out of energy.

In the middle of Main Street, Charles collapses, and Sue doesn’t know what to do.

October 29th-Charles awakens with a start inside one of the booths in Harley’s Diner. Sue is right there, waiting for him to wake up.

“What time is it?” he asks.

“It’s 6:22,” she says. “You’ve been out all night.”

“How’d I get here?”

“I dragged you in.”

“Jesus,” he says, massaging his temples. He stops, “Harris! Where’s Ed?”

Sue stammers, “I—I don’t know. I can’t tell you. He’s gone.”

“It took him?”

She nods, “Yes. It took him.”

Charles falls back down in the booth, and he starts to laugh, or cry. Sue can’t tell which one.

“It’s my fault,” he mumbles. “It’s my fault again.”

“What’s your fault?” Sue asks.

When he’s ready to answer, Charles rises slowly, his hand in his pocket. He pulls out his wallet, from there he pulls out old, wrinkled pictures.

He shows her the first. A little girl with blonde hair.

“This is Delilah,” he says, grinning. “She was my sister. My younger sister. We grew up here, in Red Hawk. Well, that was the plan anyways.”

Before Sue could ask, “What happened?” Charles has already started showing her another. There were five children.

“That’s Wilma, there. Second to left. See the smile? I miss it.”

Sue could see it, if she squinted. Wilma Matson. Smiling.

“The others are Yvonne and Patrick Matson. They’re on either side of her. Her older and younger siblings, respectively. Then the other two are Monica Wilson and Jimmie Hall.”

“Wilson?” Sue asks. “Hall?”

“Names you’re familiar with. If you know Robert Hall, he was Jimmie’s younger brother. Thomas Wilson is Monica’s half brother, after her father remarried.”

As he pulls out the final picture, “Those who’ve lived through it, who’ve lost during it, remember the Harvest easier than the others. Because they will never forget that loss, not entirely. ”

He places the picture on the table. It was a man in a Red Hawk police uniform. The name on the uniform: HARRIS.

“Some never forget at all,” Charles says, solemnly. “Not even for a moment.”

“Is that—?” Sue asks.

“Tim Harris,” Charles nods. “Ed followed in his father’s footsteps. In more ways than one. Tonight, he took the final step. He died. Just like his father did. Saving my life.”

Sue sits with her hands clasped between her legs, head bowed. She doesn’t know what to say, so she asks a question.

“So, the Red Fall Harvest?”

“Is real,” Charles says. “Every fifty years, it wakes up, and the ritual starts again.”

“I can’t—” Sue stumbles, looking for excuses, for logic. “It can’t be.”

“You saw it,” Charles says. “Now you can’t forget it, and you must try not to.”

Sue asks, “How much of it is true?”

“Depends on what you’ve heard.”

“What happens next?”

It’s the twenty-ninth,” Charles says, defeatedly. I’ve failed to stop it, across five counties I couldn’t stop it. Not like I’d planned. But there’s a way to make sure it doesn’t come back.”

“How?”

“Well, Charles says, grimacing as he stands. “It’s time to stop being reactionary, time to stop chasing, and it’s time to hunt smart.”

He sees his gun on the far booth, and he wanders over to it. He picks it up, and looks at Sue.

“It’s time to set a trap.”

October 30th-The streets are empty. The air is still.

It is the quiet before the storm.

Inside, a plot is hatched.

They await the final day.

October 31st-5:23 AM: It’s been a long morning for Phyllis and her children. Both Isaiah and Maribelle had slept all the way to the airport, but now that their father was in the car, they couldn’t go back to sleep if they wanted to.

“Did you get all the bad guys, daddy?” Isaiah asks.

“Isaiah,” his mother scolds.

“I just want to know!” he says, upset.

“What matters is I’m back,” Devon Black says with a grin, holding his wife’s hand tight. “And I’m gonna be back for a while. There’ll be plenty of time for questions.”

“Can we go get something to eat?” Maribelle asks. “I think dad deserves that.”

“At five in the morning?” Phyllis asks, flabbergasted. “You’re hungry?”

“For a frostee,” Maribelle admitted.

“Well,” Phyllis says, taking her eyes off the black road for just a second. “Tell you what, if we got and get a frostee, do you promise to—?”

“Honey!” Devon sais, squeezing her hand tight. “Look out!”

Phyllis spins back around in time to see a tall figure standing on the road. She screams and swerves to avoid him. Brakes and tires squealing, she loses control of the van, and they land in the steep ditch on the left side of the road.

The impact knocks Phyllis out for only a minute.

When she comes to, her husband is outside the car screaming into the night. As her senses unfog, she gasps in horror at the name he’s yelling.

“Isaiah! Isaiah where are you!”

In the backseat, Maribelle cries, for the man she’d seen in the window had returned, and he’d taken her brother with him.

7:21 AM: Officer Douglas tracks Charles North and Sue Roberts to the old oak outside of town. They explain that Chief Harris is gone. Officer Douglas tells them that the Black’s young son is missing now, too.

Charles tells Officer Douglas he’s going to need a favor, and although hesitant, the officer obliges.

He leaves Charles and Sue to their work at the tree, as the hours countdown towards the end of the Harvest.

3:11 PM: Doris wanders the town once more, taking tally. The number she’s written down?

Fifty-four.

She keeps gazing longingly to the sky, full of darkness and cold, wondering if the Harvest would have enough kindness to swoop down, reunite her with her friends, and bring that tally up to fifty-five.

But she is safe.

She wanders the streets.

6:59 PM: Dean Baker notices a scarecrow set up in the middle of the field he just harvested last night. Curious, he drives over to it to check it out.

It’s dressed in sacks, with a Jack-o’-lantern as the head.

However, he’s horrified when he sees the blood running down its legs, across human feet.

When Officer Douglas arrives, they confirm the identity.

It’s Chief of Police Ed Harris.

11:37 PM: Sue hears its wings beating as it soars out of the sky, and dives amongst the branches of the mighty Oak. She wants to run, to scream, to get as far away as possible, but she can’t. She’s too close to the tree. The moment she moves, it’s over.

You have to wait, Charles had said. You will move, but only when it’s time.

She sees Charles, hunkered about fifty yards away behind a roll of hay. His fear shows only in his face, as he gazes into the darkness and sees nothing.

This is where it happens, Sue, he’d told her earlier. This is where the Red Fall Harvest happens. This is where it brings them once it harvests them. To offer them in return.

Offer? She had asked. And in return for what?

To the dark, Charles had said, In return for eternal life.

It’s been working for nearly three hours now, coming and going every few minutes from the moment the sun set in the horizon.

There’s a screaming in the air. It belongs to neither Sue nor Charles, nor to the creature itself, but to the child the creature still holds in its arms. The final victim.

Isaiah Black.

The creature lands, standing before the tree. Sue wants to ask, What is it doing? As it steps closer, the child in hand, but she doesn't need to. She can tell, as the creature raises the boy up like a trophy, like an achievement. The creature is proud. It roars its joy.

The Red Fall Harvest is here.

Quickly, Charles takes the moment and stands. He aims the flare gun so graciously provided by the Red Hawk Police Department. He aims at the base of the tree, and he fires.

The gasoline they’d doused the tree with earlier ignites immediately, shooting up the trunk like bolts of blazing lightning. Crackling and spitting, it lights the tree up in a horrid, red splendor.

In the light, Sue sees them all, hanging from the branches from nooses. Dozens and dozens of bodies. Some mangled, some intact. Some half-eaten, others still struggling. The bodies of Robert Hall and Carla Redder. Or Earl Hodges and Paul Elliott. The offering the creature has made.

The creature! In shock and horror and the desolation of its most sacred site, the creature squeals and screeches in pain and anger at the night. It turns to face Charles North.

Charles greets it, by placing a bullet right between its eyes.

It’s Sue’s moment. Getting up, she runs and runs, and before the creature can recover, she picks up Isaiah Black, and she carries him to safety.

It always saves one, Charles had told her. For the end, one final kill before the dark, to prove its worth.

“Run!” Charles screams, as he continues to shoot the creature. Sue listens, telling the boy in her arms “It’ll be ok, it’ll be fine.”

They get into a Sue’s car, parked just off the field, and they drive. They drive and drive until the gunshots fade into the night.

They keep driving until the clock changes one last time.

November 1st-12:00 AM:

And then, they are safe.

The Red Fall Harvest is finally over.

And they both can sleep.

November 3rd-5:32 PM:

It’s funny, Doris thinks, as she walks down the old, quiet road out of town.

It was only days ago, but it felt so much longer.

No one talked about it now, even Sue Roberts was starting to forget. Everything was returning to normal in Red Hawk, and that should have been good.

But Doris wasn’t normal. She wasn’t forgetting. And that was a problem.

No one had seen Charles North since that night, and from what little Sue had told her, she was hoping that maybe, just maybe, the strange man could give her some advice on how to survive the next fifty years.

She’d see Isaiah Black and his family in town earlier, laughing and smiling. Like nothing had happened.

Sue had told her, the day after, what all had happened. So, Doris had gone to the oak tree, to see what was left.

The tree was unscathed, and no bodies had been found. Doris didn’t know that she had ever expected anything different. She knew that was exactly what she would find.

So, after school, she decided it was about time that she did something that she wasn’t as sure about.

She was back there, for the first time since that day over a month ago.

The old factory. The buzzards have returned, and they watch as Doris fearlessly marches across the old parking lot.

She finds a place to enter on the scarred west wall, and inside she lights the way with her phone’s flashlight.

It’s as she expected. Abandoned. Empty. But she finds something more.

A passageway leading into the basement, one that should have been impossible to miss.

She walks down, without hesitation, and enters a chamber of horrors. Skeletons litter the floor, bones of animal, dog, cat and more. Not even the stench of rot could deter her, for what Doris seeks is on the north wall.

Rooted into the concrete, a network of ash-black roots.

In the center of the web, a figure stuck in place, frozen for the next fifty years. Doris watches it, very carefully. She fears it, although she knows it cannot move. It cannot feed.

She sits there, on the damp ground before it, and she waits and plots.

“Oh, what to do, what to do?” she asks herself. The figure is unmoving.

She has fifty years.

She’ll think of something good.



Credited to Ryan Brennaman 
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