Over the past few weeks, I’ve received a series of messages from an email I don’t recognize. They read like diary entries, and while it could easily be a prank or just plain old spam, the contents of these emails are unsettling enough that I have to share them. I’ll transcribe the first few ones here, and you guys can tell me what you think.
August 13th, 2020
Hey, it’s Elle. I’ve decided to move my journal entries here; I know my parents read my diary, so it is better to keep them here. This small device is called a “cellphone,” I wonder what the words mean? I know what a cell is, kind of, but what’s a phone? Belle says it sends letters and that everyone on the outside has one. I wonder what outside looks like, what’s past our suburb. I’ll ask Belle next time I see her, it’s been three whole days since she’s returned, but I haven’t had much time alone with her; hopefully, I can get some answers soon.
August 14th, 2020
I didn’t get to see Belle today, she wasn’t at church today, and since it’s a day of confinement, we had to stay at home after service. I still got to talk to her using this cellphone, I figured out how to send letters; I’m still figuring out a few other things. Anyways Belle told me that she didn’t show up to church because Father John said it wasn’t necessary. That’s the first I’ve ever heard of a family getting to skip church. Belle and her family are a lot of firsts like she was the first to leave the neighborhood, well not the first-first, but the first to come back.
The first were the Harrisons; they didn’t leave willingly, though. I was 8 or 9 when a crowd of the neighborhood men “escorted” Mrs. Harrison and her children Kim and Kallie to the Southern exit, yes, THAT one on Nightshade Lane. She and her kids just stood a few feet away from the exit, looking back at the crowd, asking with her eyes if she really had to leave. When the mob grew impatient, they started pushing them towards the street beyond Nightshade LN. That’s when the Harrisons started crying, Mrs. Harrison, in particular, begging to stay in between sobs. That’s when the crowd started dragging the Harrisons, dad amongst them, face full of rage. I pressed myself into my mom’s dress, not wanting to see. I heard the sound of the Harrison's cries growing fainter and fainter as they went further from the neighborhood. I think they were dragged away by force, but by who I still don’t know because when I finally looked, everyone was still there, everyone but the Harrisons. Mr. Harrison had hung himself the day before, so he was buried with the rest of the dead in the woods behind the Church. In the following days, I heard the adults talking to each other in hushed voices saying that they shouldn’t have made Father John angry; if only they hadn’t disobeyed him, then they could’ve stayed. To this day, the Harrisons haven’t come back, and I still don’t know what they did to make Father John and the adults so angry.
The event only brings into question how Belle and her family got permission to leave and return. I was terrified of reliving what happened to the Harrisons but, Belle assured me that it was only temporary, a vacation. Belle was gone for a month, four weeks straight of worry before the news of her return eased my fears. We didn’t get the chance to talk much, but she slipped this cellphone into my hand when our parents weren’t looking and said to keep it hidden. Through it, she sent me a letter today, asking me to round up the gang and met her in the woods tomorrow. I won’t lie; a tightwad of churning anxiety has settled in my stomach in anticipation of our meeting.
August 15th, 2020
More questions than answers, that’s all I got from our rendezvous at the woods. I brought everyone there, Kaden, Colt, and Juniper. Belle wasn’t at the treeline where I expected, so we went deeper into the forest towards the Western exit. Belle liked the exit because it was “mysterious,” and the smell of burning cedar wafted in from the other side. The woods also gave us good cover, so it was closest we had ever gotten to one of the four exits. You can see large trees and the roofs of distant houses beyond. Mulberry Street is the name of the road that takes you to the western exit, but people avoid it since there’s not much around.
We found Belle leaning against the Westernmost section of the border wall, the western exit about a few yards away. The worn and weathered, moss-covered bricks spoke of how old the wall was.
“We shouldn’t be this close to an exit,” Juniper whined.
The whole group ignored her and instead was focused on asking Belle all sorts of questions.
“What’s it like out there,” asked Kaden.
“Are there any people,” asked Colt.
“There is so much out there that It’s impossible to say everything, but there are these giant houses with dozens of floors and these things called cars that can take you anywhere really fast and there are lots of people, thousands actually.”
“Where did you go?” I asked.
“It was a town called Bakersfield; it was huge and had lots of neighborhoods.”
“I’ve never heard of it, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the name of any town,” I said.
“Dozens of floors? Think of how many families can live in those houses. Do they stretch real tall or are big and wide?” Caden asked.
“They stretch to the sky; they’re pretty actually.”
“That’s not true, mom says the world outside the suburbs is dull and dangerous,” Juniper said.
“Why did you leave, in the first place,” I asked.
“Dad says a girl only turns 16 once, so it’s gotta be special. They asked Father John for permission to leave for a bit, and he agreed.”
“That’s not true! Mom said that you made Father John angry because you didn’t want to be part of the fall festival. So your family left, and when they couldn’t handle the outside world, they came crawling back, begging to be let back in.” Juniper blurted out
Colton gave her a blank stare, Belle simply rolled her eyes and returned to ignoring her. Caden and I gave her a quick dirty look and went back to listening to Belle's stories.
“I wish I could show you guys; in fact, I will! Let’s sneak out; there’s so much out there.”
Belle’s suggestion hung heavy in the air; of course, we had thought about it, sneaking out through one of the exits and getting a peek at the outside world, but it was only a childish fantasy. But Belle had also shown us that it was possible, she had left and returned, so obviously we could do the same, right? I think Belle knew our answer before we said it; even the ever pesky Juniper would agree.
“We gotta plan things out first, though, can’t just walk out and expect everything to be a-ok,” Belle said.
“We should pick an exit,” I suggested.
“What about the Eastern exit, that one’s gotta bridge,” said Juniper.
“Oldman Ferris guards that one with his rifle says in case anything comes from the other side,” I said flatly.
“What about the southern exit, no one guards that one,” said Colt.
His suggestion made my heartbeat speed up a bit.
“Ronnie says that he got close to it once, said that if you look at the windows of the houses past it, something will stare back. Said it was something tall and skinny.” Kayden stated
“Ronnie is a liar. He’s was obviously trying to scare you,” replied Colt.
“What about this one,” I said.
“No, it has to be through the one I originally left through, the Northern exit,” Belle said.
“That one always has at least two church members guarding it at all times, and it has a gate,” I protested.
“We’ll just have to make a distraction and sneak out.”
We discussed a few more things that day, nothing important; she told us about some funny street names and some of the food she tried. She was excited to show us the outside world, and we were excited to see it. The others left after an hour or two, but Bella and I stayed in the forest much longer. She showed me how to use my phone better; she told me to keep the battery fully charged so that I’d still be able to use it on days without electricity. Belle told me how much she appreciated me as a friend. She told me of her crush on Colt and how she wanted to ask him out. I didn’t tell her that I was crushing on him, too; I knew that I wouldn’t stand a chance against her. It soured my day, and I made up an excuse to go home. Before I left, she told me that she would message me tomorrow to meet her here again. I wanted to say something else to ease the nearly imperceptible line that had fallen between us; I chose only to say goodbye.
Am I an awful friend for feeling jealous? I mean, I’m sure most of our group had a crush on Colt, Juniper too. He was tall and handsome, stoic, and mysterious; maybe Belle and I always liked mysterious. I don’t know; I won’t worry about it; what I’m excited about is finally seeing the outside world. It’s like a cardinal sin to even talk about leaving but to actually do it, that would be unforgivable to adult eyes.
February 16th, 2020
I found Belle. She sent me a letter this morning, asking me to meet her in the woods at noon. I set out towards our usual spot and found her. She sat against an old redwood, blood pooling around the chamomile print skirt she had gotten for her birthday.
August 20th, 2020
It's been a few days… I just needed time to think, clear my head. Belle’s funeral was yesterday; she was buried in the same woods where Mr. Harrison and the rest of the dead where. There has never been a killing in this neighborhood; that was something that happened in other neighborhoods, ones far away from here. Murder, that was an impossibility once, now the adults, no, the whole community is terrified. Strict curfews, never letting loved ones out of sight. People hardly go out anymore; it’s as if overnight this place transitioned from a safe haven into something dangerous, a place where a lurking presence stalks the streets. Some are saying it was an outsider that had snuck in from an unsecured exit. I don’t believe it; I know that someone who lives here killed Belle, she told me so.
When I had found Belle, she had been holding something close to her chest. It was her journal; one final gift left for me. She knew she was going to die soon, that’s what was written on the first page. She said that she would die at the hands of someone we knew and trusted and that we had to escape no matter what.
The rest of her journal was an instruction manual on how to survive in the outside world, she talked a lot about strange places and events, but I could barely understand any of it. She stressed that we had to leave through the Northern exit, but that’s an impossibility now. The church has doubled the number of guards stationed there. I am at my wit’s end; I don’t know what to do. Should I tell the others of the journal? Or should I keep this myself? All I know is that I can’t stay here, not with Belle’s killer on the loose.
August 21st, 2020
Another day of confinement, they’re starting to become more frequent. You’d think they’d figure a way to keep the lights on after years of this, but maybe that’s the point. I’ve been reading Belle’s journal, and I’ve seen many accusations and implications that have left me deeply unsettled. Belle says that the design of our neighborhood is wrong. She says that most Suburbs aren’t built and contained in a giant circular brick wall. Instead, they’re open grids with more than just four entrances. If this is true, if anything she says is true, I’ll leave, tell the others and run. Belle has many plans outlined in her journal for that very outcome, but there is still an inkling of doubt. Within me exists a desire to believe that these walls shield us from the dangers of the outside world. Then I remember that Belle was killed and left at the base of a cedar tree; her killer still roaming amongst us, hiding in plain sight. The scariest thought, the one that fuels my restless nights, is the possibility that there is some truth within these entries.
The Suburbs: Who Killed Belle Mullohand?
August 22nd, 2020
Elle again, Things have only deteriorated since yesterday, Father John called an emergency day of confinement, for the first time. I’ve seen enough “firsts” for a lifetime, but they just keep piling on. The smart thing to do would be to accept it and start bracing for the ones I’ll encounter in the future. That would be what Belle would do, but I’m not Belle, and she’s not here anymore. During confinement, father John gathered a group of men, Belle’s dad among them, and went door to door, checking to see if anyone was missing. If I had to guess, it was to see if anyone was willing to break the rules, painting them as suspects. I don’t think Belle’s killer would be dumb enough to give themselves away that easily. Someone capable of doing something so horrible would be adept at hiding, they would have to be. Her killer had been here from the very start; I’m only left to wonder why?
After the search, confinement was lifted, and we were free to leave our homes. It was apparent by how empty the streets outside were that no one dared leave. I stayed indoors, rereading Belle’s journal, so much of it seemed nonsensical or perhaps even a bit hysterical. Passages of lumbering giants afraid of light, how the color of doors hint at what’s behind them, and rants about how the streetlights watch our every movement. It feels like peeling back a layer of her brain, and looking into some dark corner; I had no idea existed. I wonder how long she had kept it to herself, or if her mind was poisoned by her trip to the outside. Most terrifying is the fact that, more often than not, I catch myself humoring her, choosing to see that twisted section of the brain as the part that holds truths.
August 25th, 2020, Entry 1:
Over the past few days, I’ve been sneaking snippets of information to the others, Cayden and Colt, mainly, but I’ve chosen to keep the finicky Juniper in the dark. I want to at least go over the things that Belle has written down, most urgently, who killed her. The adults are planning to have a meeting on our street. Getting all four of us alone in my room shouldn’t arouse suspicion, but it will be much more challenging to communicate afterward. The parents have a steel grip on their children as of late; I can’t say I blame them either. If only the others had cell phones so I could send all this information over a letter. I’ve got to go now, but on a final note, I think I’m going to avoid the street lights as much as possible.
The meeting with Cayden, Colt, and Juniper went far smoother than I had anticipated; the adults had worked themselves into some kind of commotion that lasted quite a while. No one questioned our absence. Silence fell between us when I broke the news of the killer likely being a well-known resident; even Juniper was left speechless.
“So, what then?” Colt broke the silence.
“I don’t know what to believe,”
“What do you mean? Do you think she would lie about Belle? Juniper, you know that Elle was her closest friend,” said Colt.
“I have her diary, I found it… on her, when I found her”
We spent the next few minutes looking through her entries, Juniper growing more reserved with each entry.
“What could any of this mean? You know what she’s implying, right?” asked Colt
“Do you think that maybe her trip made her a bit nutty?” asked Cayden.
“I’ve considered it, but I’m not sure, as long as the possibility exists that a single entry is true to exist, I think we owe it to her to see it through the end,”
“I think there’s truth in it,” said Juniper
“What do you mean? You’re usually the first one to protest and accuse, what’s changed this time?”
“It’s just the part about the doors and the colors, I’ve heard it before. My dad once told me, when I was little, to watch out for the colors of doors. He said some aren’t meant to be open, especially if they’re red, green, or black.” Juniper answered.
I flipped back the page that discussed doors and the meanings of their colors and read it aloud.
“There will come a time when you’ll need to start looking through houses and rooms for supplies; it’s important that when that time arrives that you carefully examine the color of the door. The color of the door can be a warning, an indicator of what lies beyond its threshold. Here’s a list of colors and their possible meanings. An unsullied white door means it’s probably inhabited, though not usually dangerous, I would stay away from them. If the color is brown or a faded white, then it’s entirely safe. Green means hunger; whatever lies beyond it hungers in one way or another; stay away if you don’t want to feed it. Grey means life; this could be a curse or a blessing, so I’d recommend playing it safe and avoid this one. Black means death, never good, so you should never open them. Blue means an exit; it’s never to the same place; I’d recommend these only be used in emergencies. Red, bright red is the worst door you could ever hope to encounter. If you even so much as see a red door, run, sometimes something can come through it.”
“Why would Belle write something like this?” asked Cayden
Juniper was pale and wide eyes; she gulped before she spoke her next words.
“Did you guys notice the colors of all the doors here?’
“Yeah, they’re all brown, except for-”
“Except for the church doors,” Colt said
Now I was the one pale and bug-eyed, I croaked out the rest in a hushed wheeze as if speaking it to brashly would magnify its weight.
“The church doors are bright red.”
August 26th, 2020
I don’t think anyone left unconvinced yesterday; if Juniper was vouching for her, then it solidified that Belle was on to something. The precarious situation I had found myself entangled in called for some measure to ensure my safety. I shuddered thinking about going the way the Harrison’s did; I want to prevent something like that from ever reoccurring. I keep my cellphone and charger on me at all times, and I’ve strapped Belle’s journal to my hip. I’ve set plans to scout out the four exits, just in case we ever need to leave at a moment's notice, we have the right one chosen. I’ve come up with a way of communicating with others without bringing too much attention to ourselves. Colt and Cayden are across the street from Juniper, and I can see Colt’s bedroom window from her backyard a street over. If I leave my lights on past 7 with the curtains half-drawn, that means it’s safe to come over. If I leave the lights on with the curtains completely open, that means to meet in the Creek in the eastern quadrant. Anything else means stay put; Colt has the responsibility of mimicking my curtains’ state to keep Juniper in the loop. I find it quite ingenious, though I haven’t gotten the chance to use it.
There is one last card left in my deck, but this one relies on a bit of luck. In four days, it’s possible that a “Night of Fate” occurs, and all the streets and quadrants rearrange. It only ever happens at the end of the month and only rarely. It’s been seven months since the last rearrangement has occurred, so we’re overdue. Our house is currently in the southwest quadrant, if our street is shifted into the northeastern quadrant, it would be perfect, but things rarely line up like that. Regardless, the change happens overnight when everyone is asleep; we should be able to use the confusion of the event to our advantage. Wherever we arrive, we should scout the nearest exit; worst-case scenario, we end up near the Southern exit. Whatever happens, I’m content biding my time until the opportunity presents itself.
September 1st, 2020
It happened overnight; the streets shifted around and settled in new locations. Colt and Juniper ended up on the same street as mine, and Cayden ended up a street over. Unfortunately, the worst has come to pass; my house now resides on nightshade lane. The Southern exit is right down the street; I can see past its boundary, beyond the wall into the adjacent neighborhood. Like the other neighborhoods visible from ours, they were uninhabited. But there was something wrong; these houses looked far more barren and dilapidated. The yards are overgrown, and the trees have gnarled and twisted into nearly unrecognizable forms.
Colt, Juniper, and I were able to get close to the exit, enough to see into the nearest outside house. There were no curtains, so I could see that all its rooms were empty, not even furniture. A shiver ran up my spine; this is where Ronnie claims he saw something starring back. I wonder if there is something that watches us in our sleep; Sentinels prowling around at night, making sure that nothing gets in, or that no one gets out. We left with the knowledge that the southern exit was more than just a point of entry; it felt like a deterrent or a punishment, but for what?
September 2nd, 2020
I saw them last night, through my window, tall, lanky figures staring in from the other side of the boundary. The details were lost to me in the darkness, but I could see the glow of their eyes, like nocturnal predators. I think they saw me, or somehow knew that I was watching, because they paused and focused their gaze on my bedroom window. After a few moments, they dispersed, ducking into darkness and into the abandoned houses. I could see that even while moving away, their eyes were trained on me the whole time as if moving backwards. I tried imagining the forms they had to take for such a feat, and conjured images of tall egret necked things. Something with limbs contorted in ways that made my stomach ache, and then I thought, what if there’s a central core. Something like an amorphous blob with tendrils that reached out, tendrils with eyes that could see in the dimmest of nights. Belle had sketched things like those, but there was a lack of context that accompanied the sketches. As if done quickly, too fast to write down what they meant.
I’m beginning to have second thoughts about digging deeper into what’s hiding in these suburbs. But I don’t want Belle’s death to be in vain; she knew something was going here, something vile and corrupt. I think she was targeted because of what she knew, which means that now I’ve marked myself and all the others to suffer the same fate. It’s this fear that keeps me pushing towards some answer or solution. Until then, I’ll be writing to you Belle, I know that you won’t ever read these, but I’d like to have this one escape.
Until next time, Elle.
The Suburbs: Exits, Sentinels and The Red Door
It’s been a few days, making sense of these last few entries has been difficult. I waited a few days in hopes of receiving more emails to make sense of whats going. I did, but unfortunately, nothing is cleared up. Instead, more questions are created, and the implications are chilling. I’ll split the last batch of entries across two posts to give me time to process before I transcribe the last half. I hope that you guys can glean some time amount of closure, but I doubt it. If anyone has any theories of just what the hell is going on, I ask you to let me know. As of now, I chose to think of these emails as nothing more than fiction, for my mental health. However, as Elle has said many times before, the fear of this having any truth keeps me awake at night.
September 2nd, 2020
I wasn’t the only one that noticed the tall beings peaking in from the other side. Colt and Cayden saw them too, and Juniper claimed that her parents told her to keep her curtains drawn in the night whenever they resided in the southern end of the neighborhood. My house has shifted towards the southern quadrants before, but never close to the south exit. I wonder if the long term residents here knew about them and why they choose to keep it to themselves. I know that Juniper’s parents are heavily involved with the church; maybe they know more than the rest of the residents here. All I know is that there have been a startling amount of parallels between Belle’s journal entries and occurrences that can’t be a coincidence.
Whatever the case, we’ve already made up our minds; we’ll try to escape this place by the end of the week. The south exit is out of the question; something malicious stalks the other end, waiting for anyone that dares get close enough. The north has also been eliminated, though Belle stresses it as the only viable option. The amount of guards stationed there makes it impossible to get near it unnoticed. That leaves only the west and east exits. We’ve made plans to sneak out tonight; scout both ends out. I’ll update tomorrow if I get the chance.
September 3rd, 2020
Last night was terrifying; I feel like a noose is tightening around our necks. I remember learning about the fate that awaited blasphemers in the days of old—the scenes of half a dozen dangling bodies depicted in the church's stained glass murals. I shudder at the thought that, in the future, a new mural will show the swaying bodies of Colt, Cayden, Juniper, and I.
We left at midnight, with as light-footed as possible, we jogged down the street towards the east, avoiding the eerie orange glow of the few street lights around. The night draped a new veneer over the suburbs; everything seemed much more sinister under the moonlight. Strange shadows warped, twisted, and snaked along our path as we moved from street to street. When we finally arrived at the eastern exit, crouched and hidden by the small bride stretched across an even smaller creek, we saw old man Ferris asleep rifle in hand on a rocking chair. The suburbs beyond the threshold of the eastern exit were lit under dim streetlights and occasional porch light. It’s worth noting that this was the first time I had seen outside housing having any lights or even signs of being inhabited. Not wanting to wake old man Ferris, we made our way to the other side of the suburbs towards the Western exit.
The Southeastern quadrant had always been unnerving; it’s tall redwoods acting like natural walls, as the streets wound deeper into the other end, they formed an impenetrable tree labyrinth. The thick tree canopy always cast it under shadows, and on this night, only small beams of filtered moonlight illuminated our path. We were trying to avoid streetlights, so we walked in forested spaced between each street; the sharp angles unnatural angles of the houses surrounding us on both sides were like monoliths that we had to avoid at all costs. As we passed the church across the street, on the edge of the Northwest quadrant, I saw Cayden and Juniper visible shudder at the sight of its bright red double doors. Colt made an unwelcome comment about how he thought he saw it’s doorknob jiggle. We could have gone behind the church, through the woods, but I refused to go near that place ever since Belle’s murder.
When we finally hit the edge of the wall, we followed its curve until we stood in front of the exit and knew that the choice of which one to use was cemented here. Closer than ever before, we looked at the world beyond it, there was no one around to stop us from leaving right then and there, but the air here was thick with something malevolent.
“You smell that?” asked Cayden.
“It’s stronger at night, the smell of burning wood,” I said
“The doors are white, the ones I can see anyways.”
“Juniper, Do you believe that there’s something living behind them?” asked Colt
“I can see a few chimneys; what if that’s where the scent is coming from?” said Cayden
I stayed quiet, knowing the implication it was decided that under no circumstances would we use this exit. East it would have to be, but there was still the obstacle of old man Ferris. The trek back home was done in a different kind of silence, something both somber and charged with excitement. By the end of this week, we would finally be free of this place. I was so excited I didn’t even bother to freak out about the towering sentinels peering over the wall and into nightshade lane.
September 3rd, 2020
Father John is on to us, I know it; he dropped strange hints and thinly veiled threats about the fate that awaits those who dare betray the community. He went on a sermon about the origins of our little community, about how much the elders had sacrificed to find this little slice of paradise. He claimed that “to be free of the world around us was nothing less of a blessing.”
“If only the youth knew of the degeneracy we escaped, the deals we made, maybe they wouldn’t work so hard to undermine us,”
It upset some of the parishioners that the first service since Belle’s death would take such an aggressive tone. I tried my best to ignore it, knowing that soon I would “be free” of this place. I could tell by how Juniper wrung her hands that she was having second thoughts; I have to talk to her soon. Until next time Elle.
Today it happened; I don’t know if it was the worst day of my life or the best. I awoke to father John in our living room, talking to my parents. I was called over when they noticed me, and father John proceeded to ask me a series of incredibly vague questions.
“What have you been up to these past few days, Elle?”
“Just trying to cope,”
“Have you been contacted by anyone you would consider dubious or untrustworthy?”
“No, father, everyone here is upstanding. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here,”
“So you have been listening to your lessons, but not close enough. The elders are the only ones that you can trust, Elle; they are truly incorruptible. The rest here are vulnerable to… outside persuasions. The residents are to strive then to be as upstanding as possible, lest they risk being expulsed,”
“Why did you let Belle and her family leave?”
“The Mullohand’s had committed the sin of coveting to the outside world; I let them see what awaits beyond these walls. When they saw the truth, they came crawling back, begging. Being a man of forgiveness and unquantifiable love, I accepted them,”
“What’s out there, father John?”
“Nothing of value to you child. Now run along, I beg you not to make the same mistakes as Belle,”
The mention of Belle, the use of her to threaten me, it sent a white-hot fury through me. There was something even more threatening in how he said “nothing,” like he was completely truthful. I left, not wanting to hear any more of the discussions between Father John and my parents.
I met the others in a pocket of trees between Nightshade ln and Mulder, and I told them about my meeting with father john.
“It has to be today, Elle, Father John called my parents this morning and made similar threats,” said Colt
“I haven’t heard anything from my folks, but I agree. There must be something we stumbled on, or are close to finding out if Father John is acting to threatened,” said Colt
“Do you think it was him?” asked Juniper.
“No, but I know he’s involved,”
“Then I can’t stay here, not when the adults worship someone like him. I always followed the rules and believed, so why are they lying?”
“Tonight then,” I said
With that, we split up and headed home, everyone but Juniper and I. She had always been the most combative and skeptical of the group, challenging anything that would contradict her beliefs. I guess Belle’s murder and the adults’ recent actions shattered how she viewed the world around her. I could tell by her uncharacteristic silence that she was vulnerable, so I walked her home, trying to convey some security through my actions. She squeezed my hand before she left, and we both knew that we could trust each other.
At 11 pm on the dot, I turned on my room lights and opened the curtains halfway. From my second-story window, I watched Colt and Juniper do the same, letting Cayden know that it was time. With a jolt of excitement and fear, I bolted down the stairs and out the front door before anyone could stop me. I was met by Colt and Juniper outside and would later join Cayden on our run towards the southern exit.
I saw them standing tall, watching over the wall; I gestured with a hand for them to approach. As if all they needed this whole time was an invitation, they stretched up towards the sky, morphing it towering giants. We turned and ran, not wanting to see their real forms. I felt the vibration of their footsteps and knew that they had stepped over the wall into the suburbs. I saw a few houses light up, but I didn’t pay them any attention; I was focused on leading them towards old man Ferris.
By the time we had reached the eastern exit, the whole neighborhood was aware of some commotion, everyone, including the old man. He made a sound between bewilderment and fear, doing nothing to stop us as we ran. He raised his rifle at the creatures and fired off several shots. As I was about to cross over onto the other side, I looked back and saw a slithering multi-limbed thing from and reform its body into abstract shapes; in the distance, I saw more of them, wrapped in shadow, it was hard to make out. But I swore that some of them, with their many appendages, carried entire houses. With one last instinctual prayer, we ran through and crossed over into a new world.
The neighborhood immediately beyond our suburbs was run down and abandoned, with no immediate signs of life. The streetlights flickered constantly, the lawns were dry and dead, and the houses where small, paint peeling in long curls off the cheap wood planks.
”Wow, this place is a dump!” said Cayden
“I wonder what happened here, where are all the people?” asked Juniper
“We have to find a place to settle down for the night,” said Colt
We walked farther into this new suburb, purposefully taking the most winding path possible in case someone would come looking for us. On the street named “Calingway,” we found a sizeable moss-covered brick house. The faded brown door signaling to us that it was safe to open. The inside was barren of furniture like it was built to be abandoned. Colt has taken the lead and collected branches of wood, wood panels from houses, and dried grass to start a fire in the chimney. So by the warm glow of a fire, we found enough comfort to fall asleep on foreign floors. When I wonder what awaits us, I feel a mixture of fear and excitement, I want to see the dawn of a new day, but I fear where we’ll end up.
So until next, I’ll be writing, Elle.
The Suburbs: No end
I want to start by saying that this entire experience has been uncomfortable at best, and harrowing at worst. I don’t know these entries’ purpose if this is a joke, an elaborate marketing scheme, or, most distressingly, real. I want to warn you that this last collection of entries is baffling. I can only hope that if there’s any truth to be found in this entire saga, it’s in its fleeting moments of peace.
September 5th, 2020
Our first day outside the suburbs we grew up in was strange, to say the least; we wandered around for hours before seeing any notable change. The houses transitioned from old and run down to strange concrete dwellings, stripped of any identifiers. They were all uniform, no way to distinguish one from the other; most unsetting was that they all lacked doors. Belle hadn’t mentioned anything about these strange structures. As I recall, she said that if you walk far enough, you’ll eventually reach a city or town, I’ve read about them before, but I had never seen one in person. Supposedly all you have to do is follow a main street, but the ones we’ve followed haven’t led to anything resembling a city. The evening is approaching, so we’ll keep moving until we find a place that’s more comfortable to sleep.
September 6th, 2020
Last night something followed us. After we found our way out of yesterday’s labyrinthian concrete suburb, we reached something a bit more familiar. The houses here were perched atop hilly streets, and they looked well kept and lived in, dense but well-trimmed shrubs and trees boxing the borders of most homes. We knocked on a few of the doors, and when no one answered, we picked the nicest place and broke in. This house was different from the others we had seen because it was fully furnished, and even had beds. By the time night had fallen, all 4 of us had gathered mattresses in the master bedroom and had laid down on them, ready for sleep. I slept for a few hours before I was awakened by a concerned Colt, he whispered,
“I heard someone knocking on the front door.”
“What do we do?” I asked
Colt only put a finger to his lips and hushed us, A series of quick, sharp knocks rang out as he did. We followed him downstairs and out the house’s back door, jumping a waist-high fence into the backyard of an adjacent home. It was dark now, and the lack of street lights made it hard to navigate. As my eyes struggled to adjust, I thought I heard Juniper say that the door was an immaculate white, as if that explained what we had just experienced. We eventually found our way onto a road that went into a patch of forest; as we stepped into it, I thought I saw movement from behind us. I couldn’t make out anything like shape, but I did pick up a slight change in the darkness as if something shifted its weight and orientation.
Once inside the forest, we walked a mile or so, the hill perched houses looked down on us from only a few hundred yards away. We huddled together under a large tree and fell asleep; in my last moments of consciousness, I saw something shift again. In the light of a dim moon and starless night, I saw something watch us from a dark corner.
September 7thm 2020
I awoke this morning, tired and sore, Cayden complained about his back pain, and Juniper thought she would never recover from her soreness. To his, credit Colt remained ever stoic, not even showing obvious discomfort. It was here, underneath the canopy of a sparse forest, that we reread select entries from Belle’s journals. After a particularly unsettling passage about the dangers of catching the attention of a stalking presence, we came across a recommendation to travel at night. The simple explanation was that it was too dangerous to let one’s guard down at night. So without much discourse, we settled on resting during the day and trekking through the maze of suburbs at night. We settled down under a comfortable patch of softened leaves and moss and tried to sleep, aware of the beds contained in the nearby houses.
September 9th, 2020
The last few days have been hellish, the entity that has been stalking us is still persistent, and it’s doing a fine job at slowly driving us insane. During the night, we see it dip behind corners and crouch to hide beneath bushes. The only respite we have is that it doesn’t seem active during the day.
Since the last entry, we have broken into quite a few houses; I chose to sporadically charge my cellphone in those that had electricity. Other than that, we’ve moved away from the hills into the strangest suburbs yet. We’re currently lost in an area with long stretches of empty roads, and only the outlines of houses remained. It was as if a giant had plucked off the ground, but for what purpose? Other than that, we’ve been subsisting entirely off the occasional fruit tree and tap water. We’ve been out here for a few days and haven’t seen another person around, which makes me worried about just how long it’ll take to find a city or town. Colt has made plans to break into the first house he sees, being extra mindful of the color of the doors, just to shower, and I can’t say I blame him, we could all use a hot shower.
Hoping to see you soon, Belle,
September 13th? 2020
We are haggard, tired, and desperate, the stalking entity still shadows our every move, but it hasn’t caused us any direct harm other than being a nuisance. We’ve run into something else in the time since, something overtly dangerous. During a hunt for a house with a shower and laundry, Cayden accidentally opened a green door. The inside of the house was dark, damp, and pungent. The walls were soft and pink, they throbbed, and the entire thing shifted as if it was in the middle of taking a breath. Cayden realized it was flesh, the inside of a mouth, and he threw himself backward at the revelation. A fleshy mass dislodged itself from the ceiling and, upon landing, morphed into a long-necked creature, a smile tore across it’s face revealing distinctly human teeth, each one as big as my head. The thing made a lunge towards Cayden, and both let out a shrill scream. Colt intercepted the thing and slammed the door shut on it. The four of us lept back, trying to create as much distance between us and the door. I was expecting the creature to come busting through or at least throw itself against the door. The door was as still as the night; the entity made no further attempts to pursue. Of course, this scared us enough to stay away from the houses for a bit, but I’m starting to lose track of time, I smell awful, feel worse, and my phone is on low charge. I hope we can find a suitable, uninhabited shelter before long.
September 16th, 2020.
In the last few days, we’ve been taking shelter in houses with brown or stained white doors. We’ve had another run in because Juniper accidentally opened a grey door, mistaking it in the low light of dusk as off-color white. What was behind it was a curtain of worms, stringed together by some kind of webbing. Juniper slammed the door as it the things writhed and tried to form a mass of entangled bodies bound together by silk. Guess that’s what Belle meant by “gray doors containing life.”
I don’t know how much longer we can hold out like this, I haven’t eaten well in so long, and I can feel myself thinning dangerously, I hope we can find a city or town soon enough. I dread the thought that we took a wrong turn somewhere and have found ourselves in locations long abandoned. But if that’s the case, why are some of the houses so immaculate? If most of these houses didn’t contain any human life, you’d think they would have long fallen into the same state of disrepair of the first suburb we found. Colt and Cayden have been theorizing about why this is the case.
“What if the reason that Belle stressed that we left through the north exit is that its only direction that leads to other people,” claimed Cayden.
“That doesn’t make any sense, who built these houses then? Why would they exist for no reason, there had to have been lived in at one point, right?” said Colt
“What if they just grew, like grass or trees?” said Juniper
She had been somber since the very beginning of our departure, but in the last few days, she had retreated into herself. I think we all have; my head and body ache with malnutrition and fatigue. The journal that Belle left has become raggedy and is starting to fall apart; I’ve read and reread the thing so much but never find anything that inspires hope. I wonder if we escaped a personal hell and stepped into the all-encompassing hell that father john talked so much about. What if this is all punishment for a sin we committed long ago? I sit watching Cayden and Colt argue back in forth on what to do next. Cayden has hardened into a person willing to challenge everything if he thinks it’ll benefit him. Colt tries to keep the calm persona intact, but I can see the signs of his stoicism starting to splinter and crack, some days I’ve even heard him murmur to himself how much he hates this, and us. Juniper barely makes an effort to do anything more than the minimum required for survival. I don’t know if this is the end or if something else awaits around the corner.
Possibly for the last time, Elle.
Note that after this entry, things went silent for the most prolonged period I have ever experienced. That was until two days ago; below is the final entry made by Elle.
Cayden and Juniper are either dead or lost; I don’t know if that distinction matters anymore. Unknowable days after my last entry, we ran into an impossibility in a world filled with impossibilities. It was a dark night, and we were walking down a long winding road, a series of houses on one side, and open woods on the other when one of the branching streets shot up into the sky. Our eyes followed it up as it twisted into and contacted into a tangle of streets and houses suspended hundreds of feet in the air. There were whole houses, parkways; it was all a maddening tangle, an entire suburb in the sky. We were so distracted by the spectacle of it all that we didn’t notice that the house closest to us had a dim porchlight, illuminating a dark red door.
We heard it first, the slow creek of a door opening; in all the time we’ve spent here, never have we heard that sound made by someone or something that wasn’t part of our group. We turned to face it, a dark figure humanoid figure, limbs twisted into cruel angles. It unraveled itself in every sense of the word, its limbs falling lose and danging down the floor, limp. Skin from its body unrolled into long spiraling ribbons of coal-black flesh, leaving the sinew and muscle underneath exposed. At its center, a cavity, a black abyss, dilated and opened wide, and a long flesh tendril shot out an incredible speed, whipping Cayden across his chest and face with enough force to send him flying back. That’s all it took for the rest of us to run; juniper was unlucky enough to turn down a street alone. The thing turned to face her and violently lashed it’s whip around, the sound of each powerful crack reverberated in the still night air. I wanted to run after her, but a pair of surprisingly strong arms lifted me off the ground and threw me through a house with a blue door before their owner stepped in. On the other side was a field of flowers bathed in moonlight awaited, Poppy I think.
Colt and I laid on the ground, exhausted and on the verge of passing out; in the distance, beyond the field, I saw more houses. In the corner of my eye I saw movement. The entity we picked up a while ago was still stalking us. The force of the throw and fall had knocked Belle’s journal from my hands, and its front cover tore open when it hit the sharp end of a bolder. Inside I saw a folded up note I had not seen before. I snatched it and infolded it, and read through it. The words haunt me in ways I can’t begin to articulate. That was last night; it’s morning now, Colt is beside me, taking shallow, labored breaths. I don’t think I’ll make it past tonight, so just in case, I’m going to write down Belle’s final entry.
“Dear Elle, I’m sorry that I’ve forced you to live through this, just know that it was an act of love, my love for all my friends is enough justification for what I’ve done. Long ago, a group of people decided they wanted to separate themselves from the evils of modern life. So through some force, be it an arcane ritual or the blessing of a dark god, they founded our suburbs. I don’t know how long it’s been since, but the oldest adults remember vaguely what the world beyond our suburbs was like. I saw it too; it was more beautiful and full of life than you can imagine. I’ll never see it again, and I can’t bear to live the rest of my life like that. So I’ll give it to you, Juniper, Colt, and Cayden. I’ve decided to die, I know you’ll find me, and I know you’ll find this journal, and I know you’ll this note. Before it’s too late, gather the others and, in the commotion, leave this place. I can’t stress this enough; it has to be through the Northern exit. The world I saw beyond the suburbs can only be reached through that exit. I think that they don’t exist in the same place, it’s hard to explain, but it’s only through the northern exit that the two overlap, and you can cross seamlessly from one place to the other. I’ve heard the other exits don’t lead into anything but an endless maze of suburbs. Please, get far away from this place, find happiness amongst a world filled with vibrant, real people. I know if anyone deserves that, it’s you. Love, Belle.”