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Necrophobia[]

Prologue[]

I never believed in the dead.

Despite how intrigued I was with genres such as horror and thrillers, there was little to no interest in the deceased. There was an unnameable disgust to death regardless of my love for a rare ounce of psychological arousal. As a young boy, life introduced me to Urbach-Wiethe and, since then, eroded my ability to fear. In short, I couldn’t worry or discern fear even if I desired to; I won’t be able to experience something crucial, like feeling warmth for the first time. Still, I engrossed myself in fear-inducing experiences – cinematics, literature, haunted house walkthroughs, or roller coasters – you name it.

However, I haven’t had the slightest idea why. Conceivably the meddling of the undead toyed with my mind. The unintended enjoyment of necromancy felt vulgar. Personal tastes, I would say: the dead should stay dead. Funerals were distraught, freak accidents turned cruel, and post-apocalyptic undead remained offensive. The work of disdain concealed underneath false satisfaction as I got older and more experienced with society.

Nevertheless, I still clung to my favorite genres and found compassion in tales of grotesque fables. Behind the ghouls and cryptids stood genuine happiness in suspense and monstrosities. But that’s what I assumed would hold out the longest.

At the time, I was old enough to move out of my parent’s house with their permission. Eighteen or so, I had devoted every penny and dime to this moment, and now, it is finally happening. Every bit of hope for a new start will transform into a new life ahead of me. When faced with this opportunity, I wasn’t scared.

My parents, however, considered it too precarious and prayed for my security. Others believed it was a gift - a miracle even. Fear is an obstacle; it gets in the way of life.

Then what’s the point of living if you can’t experience that vital emotion, like that day?

Part 1[]

I had just moved in. It’s a reasonable village townlet down south Hudson of Westchester County, New York, yet it’s still lively and flourishing happily. Most of the place stands surrounded by lush trees like a forest, almost too crowded to reach the lake stretched by the Hudson River. As an austere individual, I fancied it here. Far away from the city and in mother nature’s embrace. Who wouldn’t in my stead?

Before arriving at my place, I toured the perimeter and explored new routes. Driving down an unknown road, I spotted an aging building just about the periphery; this surprised me. The town demolished abandoned buildings since they adapted to improve the environment, removing unnecessary waste such as this structure. From what I’d heard, all the surrounding facilities remain eradicated, whereas this one, not so much.

Once out of my vehicle, temptation and curiosity got the best of me as I discreetly strolled to the building’s entrance. As I got closer, it diverted my attention when one of my heels unintentionally struck a heavy object. It turned out to be a sign, faded and crooked over the past years. The words were practically unrecognizable as I gently laid them down in their original location. I returned to survey the building once more and took in further details.

It was a bar. It looked like any old bar; however, this one undoubtedly had a distinctive aura encircling it. The tavern was constructed of swarthy, thick wooden slabs, almost all impaired and fading in color, making it look effete black. The patched windows and doors with wooden planks; only the splintered basement door at the side stood bounded with dense, rusting chains. Another enormous sign above the roof hung for dear life as one of its hinges managed to loosen by the wind—what an unusual sight.

However, sight undermined the reason why I never trekked onward. It reeked. Pungent and putrid, the bar stank of some burnt animal left to decay; innumerous figments of rancid stenches came ubiquitous. My nose wrinkled and cringed as I attempted to fan out the disgusting stink. It smelled like blanched smoke. Even in the face of the odor, something else forced my head toward the eerie edifice. There wasn’t a defendant answer, yet one word undoubtedly described it: addictive, something within smelled addictive.

After several stern glances, and desperate attempts to avoid my gaze, I slackened myself from getting too suspicious or weird. Turning around and away from the bar, I backed my car into the main road, often wincing from the potent malodor and surrounding dust. As I drove off, from the corner of my vision behind me, I could have sworn the presence of the sudden dim lights flickering in the tavern.

When it comes to autumn, there ought to be autumn rain; it was showering endlessly. Most of the vicinity was either flooded or soaking wet. Because of this, I spent most of the day in my apartment, studying outside the window facing the nearby wood. I just can’t help but brood about that abandoned and broken-down bar. Was it that important? I pushed to focus and returned to study for an exam for the week. With my mind clouded with fixation and boredom, I couldn’t help but drift off to that lonely place. It was odd, though I never drove deeper in introspection.

I was fortunate to have a roommate, but not just any roommate. Nile worked for the town’s tourism department. We rarely spoke to each other despite common interference. It’s not like we saw ourselves as burdens; we maintained several errands outside our apartment, and the possibility of communicating remained low throughout our work and studies. However, if we did, we would converse about plain day-to-day topics – weather, shopping lists, work, college, saving money for rent – the average stuff.

Nile arrived about half an hour late from his regular schedule due to the storm. He was soaking wet, his trench coat hanging onto him like a vast, dripping blanket. He greeted me with a warm smile before heading to his room to wash off. After a few hours, we shared tea and gentle conversations in the living room, the atmosphere calm and peaceful with the sound of rain outside. The weather reminded me of the crippled bar down the road. I asked him about it. His lips twitched to form a thin line; he set down his lukewarm Earl Gray tea on his lap, his eyes wavering uncontrollably.

He managed to crack a half-hearted grin before responding. “That bar? The one off the road? Near the lake?”

I nodded.

“Ah, forget it. You shouldn’t interfere with that place,” Nile said dismissively. “It’s considered a bad omen to talk about the tavern. It isn’t a popular topic among the folks here.”

I didn’t know what he was blabbering about, so I went along with him and played with it. “Really?” My tone gradually tinged with amusement and curiosity.

“It’s up to interpretation on what’s real,” he paused. “Say, do you believe in the supernatural?” Nile questioned. This act of query made me raise my eyebrow.

“Depends on what you’re talking about. Cryptids? Aliens?” I asked him, never looking up from my cup.

“The undead.”

“Undead? Ghosts and zombies? No, not really,” I admitted. “I don’t think about ghouls more than I do any supernatural or paranormal. Why? What of it?”

“Well, see.” Nile started, placing his hands together and fiddling with them. “The town has its infamous folklore passed down from generation to generation, though it’s very recent to date back. It’s been a tradition to tell them to kids so they wouldn’t wander too far into the woods.”

He continued. “However, this tale isn’t all that ‘fiction’ like how most portrayed it. There are different variations of the story; almost every house has one. Nevertheless, the initial gossip was originally a retelling of a real murder case with several disappearances. And it all ties back to that godforsaken bar.”

My roommate glanced around before straightening his posture and looked me in the eyes, dead serious. “Do you want to hear the story of The Bartender?” Nile whispered slowly.

I leaned in, patient and keen to listen, until Nile stood up and waltzed to the hallways. In all honesty, it stunned me. I stared, scrutinizing for an answer. Was this a mere jest?

“Maybe tomorrow. Curfew hours,” Nile simply stated and yawned, positioning himself against the walls to turn off the lights.

“Ah,” I merely exclaimed. “Alright, get some rest, pal.” Pressing my thumb and index finger between the nose bridge, I groaned in a sudden exhaustion, descending back to my chair. Grabbing my phone from the foyer table, I caught a glimpse of the time, 11:54 p.m. It couldn’t have been this late.

Observing my disappointment, Nile shrugged. “I could get copies of the case files. The department doesn’t do anything but safe-keep the documents. I’m sure they won’t mind.”

“Thanks, Nile,” I said.

He hummed before dragging himself to his bedroom. I stayed a bit, wondering if my interest perked from the obedience to the paranormal. I frowned, bothered and anxious.

There’s no such thing.

Before heading to bed, I remembered something; I had forgotten to tell him about the bar’s grotesque smell. What’s so strange and foul about it? How about the lights flicking on? Was that my imagination too? Too tired for anything as I succumbed to Hypnos, I thought, perhaps tomorrow, I’ll ask him.

Part 2[]

The following morning, my skin met a frigid wind; the windows were open, letting the breeze blow into the room. The air grew thick with the scent of smoke. I grimaced at the familiar smell. Damn, I mouthed. Thinking about the bar influenced my ability to function. Peering out the window with tired eyes, I noticed the rain had finally stopped. I quickly got up and started my morning routine. Nile disappeared just by seeing an empty bed in his room, but the lukewarm, dark coffee on the table confirmed he had left the apartment recently. He was probably doing his morning errands like usual. If anything, I should be the one preparing to go out.

Halfway through the tram pilgrimage, I learned journalism class had been canceled via email, presumably from a flash flood yesterday. Although disgruntled, I found myself in the campus library. I locked myself in a private cubicle and got to work. Then I extrapolated this as a reasonable time to research the bar while Nile was away.

I got my laptop out and searched the town’s webpage, later discovering information regarding the bar and its history. At first, nothing popped up unless you scrolled down far enough into the website. The bar’s section was brief, skimmed through, almost as if a mere text was lost and forgotten. Some articles included missing persons from the 20th century, no doubt related to the tavern, yet weren't particularly forced on the cases; I was looking for the undead, but still–nothing. Several hours into my studies, my back began to strain and pull from my abnormal position on the stiff seat.

I decided to go for a walk.

All around me were the beautifully colored skies and raining maple leaves. The leaves scattered throughout the cement road as I walked upon them. I tried to avoid the puddles as much as possible. But even that couldn’t put my mind to rest. By the end of the afternoon, my energy drained as my shoulders scrunched in fatigue. At the local park, I sat on a bench, watching the kids play freebie while the adults chatted about the incoming holidays. I watched until my mind traveled to what Nile said last night: an undead entity that haunts the bar.

Impossible. Those things don’t exist. Or do they? I had no idea.

As the sky transitioned to night, Nile called, notifying me to return. His voice sounded urgent and swift; he said he had a surprise awaiting in our apartment. Of course, I had already suspected the surprise gift but played along. I returned the favor and said I would return in a few minutes. Immediately, Nile’s premature chuckle found its way to my ears before hanging up. I knew this would be a gift to be shared–a gift to be recognized.

Nile dragged me inside and harshly locked the door behind us, which was unusual behavior. Inside the living room, the center coffee table has been replaced with a large box with tape sealing every crack visible. I turned to him, curious, before going back to the package.

Must be the surprise he prepared for me, I thought silently. Nile stood behind me and nodded, granting permission to open it. Inside, I found it brimming with items: multiple crumpled police files along with preserved photos and newspapers dating back to the early 1940s. I looked at these strange and random objects while inspecting each one of them.

My roommate convinced the sheriff and the tourist department to give him some files for my diminutive research. It turns out that they had given almost everything related to the tavern. They said the cases were going cold; not enough evidence and most of the things said and done were probably mere coincidences, just ‘too good to be real’ mishaps of the past. When he finished, he told me about the old folklore that haunted the town or perhaps the bar where it died.

The fable began during the late 1900s. Though, most details had insulated from the original as the village grew older and more people moved in. It’s now a town’s story to prevent young children from wandering too far into the woods, or a demon will find them and devour their souls. Contrary to most of their beliefs, these stories were all too real.

As for the entity, many didn’t believe in the paranormal or just this one.

In the 20th century, the bartender from Haven’s Bar got shot–decapitated. Their upper skull had blown off their jaw and scattered throughout the bar. Witnesses stated the murder was a result of an unspecified brawl. The suspects? Unknown or undisclosed. Rumors have it that the police hid evidence due to bribes. The work of the mafia, but no one knows for sure. The customers didn’t recall anything during interrogation, possibly from a state of shock, yet they always remembered the faint smell of smoke and blood from the disturbance.

What was strange was when the haunting started. Things disappeared and reappeared in places unimaginable; wine bottles and glass will spill and crash unsuspectingly, and random collisions in one room but never the next. It took a turn when a man said to have seen a knife fly past his head in the public restroom. The police investigated the area to find no clear entrances where the knife had entered. But the only proof was the switchblade stabbed into the wall left from the incident.

It wasn’t only things going missing for a certain amount of time. Individuals started going missing and were never found, even to this day. Although the missing persons didn’t deliberately connect to the bar, people talked. What’s stranger was when the bar’s manager disappeared after the closing night. The disappearance only added to the mystery that shrouded the story and town.

Many suspected it to be the spirit of the malicious late bartender or a possible demon by its actions. Some even said it was the Devil itself. Whatever it was, it remained a debate until the bar officially shut down in 1945, before the owner vanished, possibly from the horror and lack of customers. Other complaints included reports of foul odor within the pub. Regardless, it remained a suspicion until someone dared to challenge the entity.

Just about ten years ago, a group of young teenage boys defied the rules and stories of the demon and went to the bar. They wanted to test it. Pester it. Mock it to see if the foolish folklore was authentic.

From the written police record, the leader, a 15-year-old, threw a rock at one of its windows and cracked it. They ran for it. Although still absurd towards the abandoned, lonely place. Mysteriously, the boy wasn’t with them. They went back to check, only to find his lifeless body on the stairs of the bar’s entrance.

Investigators tried to figure out the cause of the death, but it didn’t seem right: the said cause of death was due to charcoal burning. From charcoal? There weren’t any traces of charcoal from the surrounding areas or the boy. By suicide? That’s very unlikely. And to be done within a few minutes was impossible.

He was just dead. None of the boys saw what had happened, nor did they give a good hint of evidence. In the end, the case halted and remained unsolved.

After the unfortunate event, more people who countered the bar negatively began to die from sudden deaths like drowning, falling from buildings, unconsciously leaping in front of moving vehicles, and unexpected suicides. Some disappeared, similar to many years ago. One young photographer working for the town’s newsprint took a picture of the bar before hanging herself the next day. But that is not all that got discarded from her. She managed to capture an image of a figure.

The figure stood surrounded by black smoke, especially the head, and wore a black and white bartender uniform–the exact suit used when the bar was still open. This photo was one primary clue to justify that the entity was the dead bartender. Paranormal inspectors tried to link the images: the figure and the photographs the young bartender had taken before they died. After months of investigating, they had finally found an answer.

It was indeed a match.

The townspeople erupted. They were fascinated by the discovery but fearfully hesitant about the subject. They didn’t know what to do. Some thought of eradicating the whole building; however, they will suffer an ill fate. Others didn’t believe in the story, dubbing its dubious marketing strategies for the tourist department and the town. In the end, no one dared to approach it.

As the years went, the town got used to the unnatural phenomena surrounding them, masking it with ignorance and skepticism. When people started disappearing again, it caused most community members to flee out of fear. Since the vicinity wanted to keep its image and ignored its horrendous past, its introduction to the grim tale remained limited.

However, when I heard those stories, I couldn't help but grow more fascinated by this entity. The questions solved became several more inquiries and clustered my curious mind. However, fascinated yet confused.

“The undead comes back to haunt the living,” I started. “There has to be a rational explanation. Are there any motives? Was there a motive?”

Nile shrugged. He halted before responding, “Same thing applies to serial killers. You don’t know their motives half the time. The other half is when they don’t know either.”

He examined me, never leaving my sight. “You don’t believe in it? Do you?”

It was my turn to shrug. “Everything seems absurd. Photoshop is a thing, you know?”

The room became still with tension. Nile wanted to argue with me, but he held his tongue. A couple of seconds in, and I would have already lost it. Yet perhaps from the luck of God, I remembered my question from last night, so I asked. “Say, there was this smell in the morning. It reeked like the bar’s–very smokey yet putrid.”

My roommate threw his head at me, horrified. “When was this?”

“Two days ago? One? Most recent was this morning–”

“--You need to leave this town,” Nile said brutally, an uneven air swept between us.

“Now.”

Part 3[]

My face morphed into confusion then conflicting emotions hit me at once. I laughed. “I can’t leave this place. I just got here. Besides, I ain't leaving because of some fabled goon who is ‘responsible’ for the disappearance of dozens.”

“Why? Just because you didn’t believe in that doesn’t mean your life isn’t in danger,” he barked.

Disbelief. My mind was in utter disbelief, more disappointed if anything. In a state of pure solemnity, I spoke my opinion. “I dictate my own life, Nile. If there is a serious hypothesis for any of the happenings, here’s what I think. The town is to blame for its irresponsibility in further investigating the cases. They then started using jaded fairytales to excuse their poor, sob-ass authorities that couldn’t find those people and capture the real suspects.”

I continued, “And if you are worried about me, then how about yourself? Why not move out of the village if you knew something was out to get people?”

This time, Nile had it. He heaved a groan, “Fine. Do you want an answer? I will give it to you: my brother went into that damn building since he sniffed up some scent by the bar. He vanished after a week into madness; he never came back. ”

“I’m only here because I’m certain he’s still alive. I’m certain the bar has something to do with it.”

My eyes widened at his confession. It explained a lot: his reaction and possessive attitude kept me away. Yet despite hearing his side of the story, I recovered from my sympathy and stated my thoughts.

“My condolences, but I nonetheless stand with my argument. Your brother’s disappearance might not be related to the bar,” I explained densely. “That’s a make-believe story; no ghosts or undead to dismiss or blame. You’re being delusional. If he’s missing for so long, and if that ‘thing’ is real, he might have died, Nile. He is dead.”

My words that night were something I regretted for a long time.

Nile left the apartment after our argument. He drove off into the woods, and God knows where he was heading to. I didn’t bother to call. It was best to assume my response gave him a difficult time. I would have liked him to adjust to his feelings before returning. So I loitered for a day.

Two days.

Three.

Five.

I waited for a week; he never came back. The weight of guilt slowly drove me mad until I filed for a missing person’s report. However, even that wasn’t enough to soothe me. Phone lines weren’t reaching him either. As I waited, something in my mind screamed danger, that something wasn’t right. I disputed as much as I considered what Nile said; the authorities were ass at their jobs, pretty much-lounging baboons in uniforms at most. If someone were to look for him immediately, it would have been me.

I had already scouted the town, and to my surprise, one saw him either. My best guess would have been to go searching in the forest. The road down the Hudson River grew bumpier and more forgotten as we passed more oaks and rocks. It was so close to winter that the ground was already frozen. The radio jammed some light jazz music, yet my fingers couldn’t stop drumming the steering wheel out of stress. My gazes hovered towards the trees, hoping to find my friend Nile within them; still, no sign of him.

Soon it was already afternoon, and I couldn’t look further. Circling the area, I purposely left the best for last. Nile specifically told me not to go near that place again. However, desperate situations call for desperate measures. I didn’t want to lose him.

Driving by the tight corner, I catch a glimpse of silver gray. As I drew closer, I held my breath and let go when I noticed it was a car.

It was Nile’s car.

The car was there, yet no person was in sight; this wasn’t like him. Confusion and concern spiked my mind. I traveled further to look for him. There’s no way a person could roam this far by foot if it's going back to the town unless there was another destination they could have gone to. My breath hitched, stopping in my tracks as I contemplated my anxiety. The bar was near.

After a few minutes, I witnessed a glimpse of the bar’s roof. Making my way down the path, I finally found the bar’s location. I was grateful for once; however, something was wrong.

I parked right across the abandoned bar once I arrived. The tavern, nevertheless, remained the same, though wooden slabs patched the entrance. I quickly went up its steps and jiggled the rusting doorknob. Sweat dripped down my head when I heard an unmistakable click. That’s when I noticed the rigid planks weren’t bounding the frame; they never had, just mere decorations to deceive the naked eye.

Once the door opened, I peered inside. Dust caked the walls, and all the furniture was still there. The wallpapers curved out of shape, dull and moist. Some of the corners have gotten mold between visible cracks. Furnishings totaled over, some destroyed, and the stench grew more potent, yet I didn’t care. I was looking for something or someone.

There, I saw him, Nile.

A wave of relief came crashing as I came kneeling towards him. Seemingly hiding under the bar counter, Nile sat idly on the floor. His legs didn’t seem to work. One of his ankles had a painful purple and green, budging in size. Sprained, I thought. I wondered how Nile managed to move around. His caving body wasn’t any better. The guy has been shaking since I saw him.

“What the Hell happened? Why are you here? Why is your leg like that?” I asked him.

“I don’t know. I don’t know! The bar—it spoke to me! The door wouldn’t open!” Nile frantically exclaimed, “I was driving around when I stopped at a curve to calm myself. Then I smelled it; I couldn’t move. My head started spinning, and the next thing I knew, I showed up in this damned building!”

“It wanted to toy with me. Everything seemed so out of place; things were moving; the bar was moving. I’m so sorry; please get me out of here.” He said, sobbing as I tried to calm him down.

“Hey, hey. It’s okay; we just need to get you out,” I reassured my friend. Grabbing onto his arms, I pulled him and slowly made my way to the exit until I saw it.

Like the photos, everything remained accurate: the dark pigment skin, bloody outdated bartender uniform, and most of all, its decapitated head. Their tongue freely wiggled as if they had a life of their own. Blood from their wounds continuously spilled into their uniform and floor as smoke piled up the ceiling. The teeth were still intact as the gross flesh sat on its head. Despite wearing old-fashioned cloth, the style showed prestige. However, blood and gore covered its livery as if a child had spatter paint against it. The thing was rotting from the inside out. It stood there, taunting us as the walls creaked and groaned, almost like it was alive.

What was familiar was the smell; seething charcoaled flesh. The source of the odor had been this the whole time. I could have laughed, but I didn’t. It was all real. It wasn’t like anything I had ever seen or heard of.

I couldn’t move. No matter how hard Nile or my mind screamed to move, my body wouldn’t budge; I couldn’t help but get drained and observe the situation. It felt as if my feet stood physically glued to the ground. I stood there, staring at it with exhaustive stares and a dry throat.

The thing titled its head—decapitated from the jaw while blood poured out from the reaction. The dead stalked forward toward us. Some of its blood spilled onto my hands and face, foul and disgusting as it burned my hands with toxin and scum. Stanked just like its smoke. It made me let go of Nile out of instinct. I tumbled out of the bar, onto the floor, and into the ground, panting intensely, never looking back into the building. From my suffering stomach, vomit came crashing down as I heaved myself from anxiety. What the fuck was that thing? Suddenly, a new wave of panic hit me.

Nile. I left Nile in there. My legs quickly scrambled up and marched onto the steps, and paused. The undead bartender stood in front of me. Tilting their jaws yet again, it lightly bobbed its shoulders as a gesture of amusement. They found this gravelly entertaining. It slowly raised its hand and waved before the door started to swing.

From that moment, I heard the faintest words before they parted. That rasping voice teased the living as it danced with death. It mocked both of us; it ridiculed me.

“Goodbye,” was all it said to me.

I didn’t flinch. However, a lump rose from my chest when I realized what it was doing. With every strength I had left, I bolted. I ran faster than I did in my lifetime, more quickly than I could think. Everything ached. Sweat priced down my eyes as I screamed for my roommate’s name.

Nile called back to me. His arms stretched towards the closing door as he cried, “Samuel! Wait-” The door closed and clicked locked.

I spent hours hammering at the door. Sometimes I tried to peel the wooden slabs of the bar to no avail. I would return to the door and pound again. My head became faint, and my tired eyes grew heavy with tears. I yelled for Nile’s name again.

But it was too late.

Nile was already gone.

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