Gravity

Click here for the part before.

 

Snapping out of the fog in his mind, Robert remembered he was running late for his meeting.  Hand tightening around his steel suitcase, he began to power walk through the crowd, meandering around people on their way to somewhere else.

Running late is one of the worst things.  You have to choose between lying and being honest and either option sucks because you’re still late.  Robert hated lying, so he tried to think of why he was late.  He was… Sitting in the park on a bench watching the people and the birds and the sun.  Not a very good excuse at all.  He was lucky to be an executive, or he would be fired.  But what about before that?  Why did he decide to sit?  He normally was never late.  Or, at least, he couldn’t remember being late before.

Why can’t I remember more?  

It was past rush hour, but the crowd was unusually thick.  Like cattle in the early 21st century.  He rode an escalator that was so crowded he couldn’t continue walking, and he tried to think to pass the time.  Tried.  Peering into his memories was like staring into a fog with the sun shining into it.  The past was an amorphous expanse of blinding light, and as he tried harder to remember he nearly fell off the escalator as the ride came to an end.

“Hey! Watch where you’re going!” An angry man he bumped into exclaimed.  Robert further buried his irritation and began to apologize as he recognized a friend from his department who should have been at work already.

“Shit.  Sorry, Omar.  I’m in my own little world today…”

“Oh, its you!  Happens to the best of us, obviously!   I’m running late too.  It was such a beautiful day outside I couldn’t help but daydream.  The light was coming through the trees in such a way…” Omar trailed off for a moment, staring through Robert’s face.

“I still get amazed by how different and… Well… Idyllic the world is now!  It used to just be my family who would get strip searched but now everyone does! Hah!” He smiled large through his beard with genuine happiness.  One of the first stories Robert heard from him was about his grandfather, a Sikh who was attacked because he looked like a “Muslim”, a follower of one of the many religions that became swept under the rug over the past few generations. Muslims and Christians fought for centuries over strips of land and ideology.  None of that mattered anymore.  There were some sects that still operated in secret, but during Unification religions became blended.  The strange discovery on the far side of Luna shattered most human preconceptions about being the center of the universe.

“Yes, the world does seem to be working together much better now, huh?” Robert clapped him on the back and they began to walk together toward the shuttle-pod doors.

“Speaking of work, lets get a move on!”

 

earth-and-moon

 

White tile covered everything, reflecting light ad infinitum through the hall.  The ceilings were tall, and crystal chandeliers as big as freight trucks twinkled high above.  A wide window at the end of the concourse showed the skyline, green and chrome mingling together in an awe-inspiring vista of civilization.  People walked in and out of the pod doors that blended into the walls seamlessly.  The ‘whoosh’ of the grand elevators arriving and leaving were subtle and could almost be mistaken for a breeze.  Robert looked up at a skylight, and something about the way the light came through the trees on top of the building made him feel nostalgic.  Out of place.  Something wasn’t quite right, but he couldn’t put a finger on it.

“No more daydreaming, R.J.!  This one’s about to leave!” Omar began to trot, and R.J. got up to speed quickly behind him.  Omar swiped his card and doors whispered open and shut behind them as they found seats and sat down.  These pods are normally pretty crowded, but Consortium employees had exclusivity to a few.  The V.I. hologram’s blue face appeared on the screen, on cue:

“Pleaaase fasten your safety belts, and place all belongings underneath your chair or in the bins above you.  We will be embarking shortly to Shangri-La.  Pleaaase fasten your safety belts…”

“So who do you have a meeting with today, R.J.?” Omar asked as he stuffed his suitcase underneath the seat.  It was too wide, and he was trying to angle it just right so that it could fit.  Robert was already good to go, and he looked at his watch as he spoke:

“One of the contractors… I can’t remember the name of the fellow but the company we are using for this expedition is the deep space one… Shit I can’t remember the company name either.  One secon–”

“Oh, you mean Zaeonic?  They’ve been out in the asteroid belt for a while, from what I hear.”

“Yes! That’s it.  Thanks.  Yeah they’ve been developing bases out there, and a colony from what I hear.  It’s been some time since they’ve been back here.  Almost 20 years actually.  The contact we have had with them has had some good info.  They seem to have found a rather large asteroid with significant deposits on it, that they say is en route to our gravity well.  I’m meeting with advance representatives to discuss compensation.”

“Wow, I can’t believe they’ve been able to keep it out of the news.  If its as large as your expression gives away, then they might be able to build another whole colony out of it!”

The pod began its acceleration up, like a bullet from a gun.  Robert never got used to it, and his hands tightened around the cushy arms of the seat.  The vehicle shook like it was an old plane flying through a storm, and the gravity pushed down hard on Robert’s head, and he stiffened his neck against it.  Omar was shouting over the sound of the vehicle and the classical music that was supposed to calm passengers:

“You look green!! It’ll be over soon enough, my friend!”  Robert’s eyes were closed and he ignored his friend.  He was too busy focusing on not dying / having a panic attack.  He had made this trip dozens of times, and he hated it more each time.  He wouldn’t mind a slower trip – even if it took a day or two – if he didn’t have to deal with this feeling every single time.  An hour was a long while, but after they reached a certain point, the force became much more subtle as the gravity from Earth became weaker.

“Welcome to Shangri-La.  Please find your luggage and exit the pod in an orderly fashion.  Thank you for taking the Great Elevator, made possible by Anaheim Electronics!”  The V.I.’s face flickered a bit before clicking off.  Robert always thought the face was creepy.  Shadowed eyes with the forced smile of its programming.

The pod doors opened to the gray, steel promenade of Shangri-La.  A variety of shops were doing business with the crowds of people.  A ramen shop was next to a Texas BBQ stand, and a gift shop flanked both.  Everyone walked about in their uniformed gray suits, some with red ties, some with the blue of the United Earth Republic.  Even fewer had green ties, which were either business owners somewhere or workers of one of the contractors for the U.E.M.C.

With a name like Shangri-La, Robert felt a bit surprised by how non-descript the station was.  Without the shops on the promenade, there was nothing of note on the station.  Sure, some back-deals were discussed over a latte or some Thai food once in a while, but other than that there was no windows or anything that allowed one to see the view.  The station was more functional than feng-shui.  Robert was confused by his surprise.  He froze.  He had been here dozens of times.  Was his memory already beginning to go?  As he searched his thoughts he remembered bits and pieces of former travels here.  Glimpses into the past.  Flashes of the faulty camera in his mind.

“Let’s get to the shuttle.” Omar said as they began to weave through the crowds.  It was more crowded here than the last time he was here, Robert noticed.  It wasn’t even rush hour.

“Yeah.” Robert said, somewhat annoyed.  Of course they had to get to the shuttle.  Running late, no less.

“I hope that Zaeonic rep is running late too.  He has a wealth of excuses that could be true, and I haven’t even thought of a good lie yet.”

“Well, lying isn’t your thing Robert!  That’s why we love you.  You don’t sugar-coat shit.”

“I was sitting on a bench watching people and the birds, man.  I have to think of something else.” Robert chuckled a bit, embarrassed.  Omar laughed openly.

“Yeah, you should find a better excuse.  And don’t turn red when you say it.  Like you are now!”  Omar laughed and Robert sighed as they both began to walk faster.  They turned the corner around a cupcake shop to get to the docking ring.  Luckily they had a private shuttle waiting for them, so no one was being kept waiting by their daydreaming from before.  The military personnel surrounded the check-in kiosk for their shuttle, and pointed their weapons at them both until their ID cards checked out.

 

o-neill-colony

 

“Sorry for the inconvenience, sir.  Move along.” Robert wondered how many times he had heard that in his life.  Always the same phrase.  He and Omar ducked in unison as they entered the craft.  Luxury didn’t always mean larger.  The seats that they had on there, however, were the best Robert had ever sat in.  His rear tingled with anticipation as he set his suitcase in the overhead compartment.  It was more relaxing than he anticipated, and he felt if he closed his eyes he could fall asleep instantly.  But the view was too good to miss.

Persephone was off to his right outside, a giant wheel-and-spoke colony that rotated to create artificial gravity, identical to Shangri-La but much larger, and with great windows to look out of.  The shuttle released its docking clamps and gently pulled away from the station.  The view changed to be that of the Earth’s sphere, a grand orb beneath them.  A giant marble of blue and green and sparkling white.  The other colonies could be seen now, giant cylinders that had great mechanic arms that opened and closed to simulate night and day.

“O’ Neill Colonies… I’ve always wanted to visit one, Omar.  They look awesome from afar, though.”

“Yeah, I have some family on that one over there — New Sydney.  They’ve sent me some really amazing pictures.  I’ve never been myself though, too –”

“Too busy.” The two of them said in unison, and chuckled a bit.

“Hey, we have to work to eat, right?” Robert quietly said as he rested his head back and stared out the window.

 


 

Outside of Persephone, a man paused in his  work.  His shuttle was docked illegally, but none of that really mattered.  His mag-boots clung hungrily to the outside of the station, hanging in the black.  He stood on one of the spokes that connected the two main rings of Persephone and looked up, taking in the view.  It was beautiful, but the man’s face was unmoved beneath his helmet.  He stretched, and reached into his pack to pull out the final charges.  He set the big block of explosive onto one of the cross-joints, and carefully stabbed the detonator into the pliable bomb.  The last one.

“I wonder if anyone ever made this stuff into a figurine or something.  It’s tougher than Play-Doh, but…” Tears welled up in his eyes.  His son was on his mind.  Little Jason Gathers Jr.  He would never see him again.  The companies put him to work as soon as he could hold a hammer.  He resisted as many in their early teens do, and the company security threw him against a bulkhead and shot him before the man could react.  The man remembered simply falling to the ground and staring at his dead son’s open eyes.  One of the officers spat something about how that hammer was a weapon.  The eyes. Pleading eyes.  Eyes that used to shine with such hope.  Thinking of this memory his soul felt weighed down by invisible gravity.

“This is for Jason.” The man muttered to no one but himself.  Plans were in motion already.  Everyone would finally know of their plight, the struggle that the rugged pioneers of space faced at the hands of the suits from the Consortium.  Everyone.  He climbed back into his personal craft and detached the cable from the station, coasting away on inertia.  Silent running.  He would drift for a couple hours.  He took his helmet off, blew his nose, and opened a nearly empty bottle of whiskey.  The last bottle he had.  But this last bit would be more refreshing.

Hard work always made whiskey taste better.

 

 

tales of a travelling salesman final
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Whirlpool

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The alarm bell rang with intense fury as the storm outside the ship’s cabin faded into silence.  The ocean waves bobbed the vessel up and down, and Robert’s great fear of drowning blended into nausea.  The crew was shouting outside, working effectively even without their captain.  Robert stepped over Captain Gathers’ sleeping body and peeked outside at the deck.  The horizon was swallowed by the immense titan of the sea, with its riders perched on top, preparing for battle.  It was larger than he had expected, for it was still growing toward them.  Surprised that it hadn’t arrived yet, he realized that it must be impossibly large.  Even its riders must be gigantic.

Robert was startled by 2 crew men suddenly outside on the deck, but they were distracted by the .50 caliber machine gun that they were bolting into place, facing the direction of their impending doom.  A titanic rumbling was growing louder, and no one could tell if it was the sound the creature made on purpose, or if it was the sound of the massive water displacement as it came toward them.  Regardless, men were having trouble fighting off their fear.  One man alone by the helm clutched at a picture of his wife and young child, born just before he left on this mission.  His last mission.  Tears blended with the sea spray as he pushed the throttle down further, trying to pull away from his fate.  The engine roared over the crashing of waves on the bow.

 

whirlpool 2

 

Robert still struggled to remember who he was, and how he got here.  Collapsing into a chair, he held his head in his hands and tried to fight off his nausea.  He felt a ring on his finger and looked at the gold glistening in the flickering light.  Married.  He grabbed a wet wallet from his hip pocket.  Photographs.  Children.  He saw one of his wife from their wedding day.  It was almost ruined from the water, but he could still see her eyes, and the way her black hair fell over her shoulder.  As if an invisible artist took great care to make sure she looked perfect.

“…Let me help you clean that up, breakfast is on the table.  I took today off so I could try to cheer you up…”

He snapped upright as a memory shot electric through his body.  Eggs, over easy.  Toast, perfectly tanned, lightly buttered.  Bacon, crisped to perfection. Coffee, black, with cream waiting to be used in a cute little cup with a tiny little handle.  It all was coming back to him now.  His unemployment, his depression.  The reason he used dreams to escape his life each morning with a new nap under an old oak.  The way the sun shone through the leaves that day, when he fell into some terrible reality.  To escape, he must dream.  But to truly dream, he must escape.  The strange old man!  The words he heard, urging calm, must have come from him!  Did he know how to truly escape?   To truly dream?

The .50 cal exploded from outside the cabin, and Robert was so startled that he fell back down.  He almost hit his head hard enough to be knocked out, but it just throbbed red hot in agonizing waves of pain.  He knew what he had to do.  He had to get back and save his wife from his copy.  The Dark One.  It ate the tanned toast that should be his, and had the wife that he should be with.  Rage bubbled inside of him as he imagined the malevolent smile looking at him from his own doorway as himself.  Robert stood and looked out the window, the gun chugging bullets as the boat bobbed up and down.  The leviathan was still growing larger now, consuming the entire horizon.

How could something ever be so big? 

A sound came from behind Robert and before he could turn in time the Captain had his arm in a lock behind him and his face pressed up against the tiny circular pane of glass.

“You really fucked up now, bud.”

“Please, please knock me out!” Robert groaned out as his shoulder almost dislocated.  Tendons stretched and popped as Gathers squeezed Robert’s forearm higher up on his back.

“You don’t get out that easy, bud.  You cannot escape.”  Robert’s face paled as he saw the faint smile of a Cheshire reflected in the thin pane of glass his face was pushed against.

“We are everywhere.”

 

whirlpool 1

 

Robert struggled and slammed his head back into Gathers’ shifting face, and a half-human squeal erupted from it.  Whirling around to face his assailant, Robert saw shadows spiraling back into the ears, mouth, and eyes of Captain Gathers, who now stood before him.  He looked confused.

“Hey… You knocked me out!”  Robert breathed heavily and rubbed his left shoulder.  He saw his chance now.  Anyone else would have just thrown themselves overboard and let the sea take them, but Robert could not bear to face that fear.  Not yet.

“I’ll do it again if you give me the chance, boy.”  Robert straightened his back and put up his dukes.  He wanted to get the hell out of this reality before the sea creature swallowed him up whole along with the boat.  Gathers let out a huge laugh and gave Robert a straight kick to the chest, flinging him back into the bulkhead.  The wind was knocked out of him and he couldn’t stand up or resist.  Gathers picked up Robert by his shirt, and brought his feet up off the ground and slammed him back into the wall.

“I’m going to work you over, buddy.”  He sneered into Robert’s face as he raised a fist.  The .50 caliber erupted hot lead outside, startling the Captain.  He dropped Robert and looked outside, pressing his face against the glass.

“My God… I’ve killed us all.” Robert stood up behind him, and paused awkwardly.  Should he try to knock himself out?  He didn’t have to worry about it for too much longer, as the aquatic behemoth suddenly began to submerge itself just as it came upon the boat.  The men at first began to cheer, but then the sheer mass of the being going underwater created a massive maelstrom off the port bow.  The gaping maw of an ocean god pulled the boat in and as they went down the boat tipped onto its side, and the death screams of fishermen filled the rushing vortex of wind and water.  Filing cabinets tipped in the cabin, and the corner of one impaled the Captain against the door with a wet thud.

“I’m sorry… Eveline.. Junior… Forgive me…” Bubbled blood coughed from his mouth as he breathed his last.  A fire extinguisher caught Robert on the back of his head as he stared at the dead man who wanted a better life for his family.  Sympathy came easily as darkness filled his vision.  More darkness.  Infinite darkness.  Almost as black as his wife’s hair.

 

 

tales of a travelling salesman final

 

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My Late Uncle Clive (2)

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I’ve lived alone since the kids have grown up, and my wife left me soon after that. We stayed together to raise the family, but she never really loved me. I don’t resent her for anything at all, so lets move along as I correct myself. I don’t live alone, not really.

 

My dog Max was a big ol’ Golden Retriever, and in his prime he was rambunctious and would bark at everything. But as time went by, he became more reserved. Some people follow the same pattern. I’m just glad he didn’t follow the terrible pattern that is senility. Max was my best friend, and he always managed to find his way up to my lap no matter how tired he was.

 

I got home, and I was greeted by the familiar thumping of his tail on the hardwood floor of the hall. I flipped lights on and kicked my shoes off and scooped all the old boxes of take-out off of the kitchen table and into the trash. I threw down the old manuscripts and papers, and took some fresher take-out from the fridge to sate my growling stomach.

 

Max found his way in with me, and sat eagerly by his feeding frenzy area. His tail was uncontrollable as I poured fresh food into his bowl. We ate together in silence as I looked at these strange documents. The night was steadily growing darker, but I forgot to turn on the lights and my eyes adjusted without my knowing. They were too fascinating to peel myself away from. There was something about the strange, completely foreign symbols. They were unlike anything I had ever seen before. Pictographs and dashes and curls all blended together into some forgotten story.
Some of the scrolls were something similar to ancient Sumerian. But they were also not quite like what Google searches spat back to me. There were flourishes here and there, and odd pictures blended in between some of the lines. The text spiraled around some of these eldritch images. One in particular caught my eye. Some strange octopus, turned upside down but with angry eyes carved right ways up in the head of it. The tentacles held different items: A cross, a strange “Y” with two dashes in the botttom, and knives. I stared at the image for longer than I thought, because Max’s whine broke my concentration. He stared at me with keen interest and tilted his head. I took another bite of my food and it was already cold! Time was passing by with unusual expediency.
The night had fallen completely by this point, and to see I had my face pressed up all the way to the papers. I didn’t even notice! I stood and flipped some lights on to continue, but then I heard Max begin to bark at the front of the house. Extremely out of character for him, the barking was persistent and growing louder. He never barked at anything anymore, not even the mailman. But something had grabbed his attention with an eerie tenacity. A loud knocking broke the silence from the front door, and Max’s barks turned to growls. No one ever visited me, not even my kids. And at this hour?
I grabbed the bat that was by the front door and looked carefully into the peephole. On my front step was that strange man from before, his brown hair was carefully combed in a modest pompadour, and he was wearing a dark coat. He looked nervously over his shoulder and reached up again to knock when I popped the door open a crack. My eye was the only thing he could see when I asked:

 

“What the hell are you doing here?”
“I… Haven’t been honest with you, sir.”
“Well anyone could have figured that out, buddy. You’re not a good liar.” He chuckled and reached into his back pocket, at which I slammed the door shut thinking he was going for a gun.
“WAIT! I’m a detective! I was getting my badge!” he shouted with frustration. I carefully peeped out the peeper, and sure enough there was a gold shield there, held up next to his sheepish grin.
I opened the door again, this time unlatching the various locks all of the way so that I could let him in.
“Well, why didn’t you just start with that yesterday? Would have been much easier for both of us. Plus I thought you were some creepy and stuck up asshole.” He laughed at that as he stepped inside, hanging up his coat.
“I get that all the time. There’s a lot to tell you.”
I cleared the manuscripts off of the table hurriedly, putting a pot of water on to boil for a french-press brew. All the while trying to think about why a cop would be interested in my late uncle.
“I’m just going to dive right into it, sir. I’ve noticed a pattern in some recent cases, as well as some cold cases going back… quite some time.” He produced a file from thin air, it seemed.
“Oh, by the way. My name is Detective Jackson, call me Trent. I’m sorry for yesterday. I’ve had to be extremely cautious. I’ve been receiving death threats for my work, which is unusual, because I thought only I knew about it. Even my boss doesn’t know I’m here right now. I’ve kind of become obsessed. But hear me out.”
“Sure. I have nothing else to do, and I haven’t had company in years. Plus I like stories!” I smiled and he gave a thin smile back.
“Women have been disappearing from this town for hundreds of years. But people always assumed they were runaways, or something along those lines. Because there was no discernible pattern or similarity. Until I took the time to do all this work. Every 4 years, a young woman vanishes. She is always between 16 – 25, and according to the reports that are complete, they have no real close friends, and their family is broken. Fathers or mothers gone or addicted to drugs, you know. Very sad situations.” He spread the thick file out on the table this whole time, laying out photographs from recent years, and ending with one from a very long time ago. The type of photograph from when folks never smiled. Her hair and eyes were as black as the underside of the clouds outside that wandered through the night.
“People always assumed that because of their home situations, and their ages, that they simply ran away, or killed themselves. No one had ever been found, and so without a body they remain a missing-persons case. Never able to warrant a full on homicide investigation. There were never any witnesses to the disappearance, it was like they just walked out their homes one day and never returned. But this is where it gets weird. All of these disappearances began when the college was founded. I’ve even found old primary documents from colonial eras about some disappearances, but those were assumed to be Indian kidnappings or the like.”
The sound of my phone timer exploded into the kitchen, and scared us both. He actually stood completely upright and drew his gun, which he now awkwardly put back into his holster. The coffee was ready.
“But I have made a map of the disappearances, and they all are within 30 miles of the college. I had been researching strange disappearances like this, and apparently there was something similar going on in Louisiana a long time ago, and it had to do with some strange cult that required human sacrifice. Throats were cut, then burned, or simply just burned alive. Really horrific stuff. But your Uncle intrigued me because some of the records from that case had strange manuscripts remarkably similar to what he was working with when I went to canvass the staff at the college. He said that he wanted to meet me, that he had something to tell me that would blow a hole in this case but… He died within 48 hours of talking to me. That is how I know something is seriously amiss here. Of course there were the death threa — ”

 

 

Max began barking again, furiously. He had barked more this night than in the last few years all together. I stood and looked for him in the front, and saw he was foaming at the mouth and barking like a wild animal. His eyes were crazed and my heart was pounding as suddenly the window shattered inward, and the room burst into flames. The curtains caught fire and the fire spread over pictures on the wall and an old couch as Max bolted from the living room and into the kitchen, barking and barking and barking. Trent stood and had his gun drawn just as another Molotov cocktail burst into the opposite end of the house. The heat filled the air as flames began to cover everything.
“Save the manuscripts!” I shouted at him, as I grabbed an old family picture of mine. From a time when we were happy. With the picture in one hand, I scooped the massive retriever under my other arm, and followed Detective Jackson as he kicked down the back door and covered the flames there with a blanket he had found. We tumbled out into the dewy grass and stood in the night, watching the flickering flames spike up high into the sky. Tires squealed out front as the culprits got away. No time for even a glance.
“Well, I guess we should go to…. well my place isn’t safe either.” He looked at me, then the ground. Within an hour we awkwardly were checking into a hotel together. He passed out in one of the twin beds, and I sat in the other, typing this. I will update soon.

 

Something is afoot.

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My Late Uncle Clive (1)

I was never close to my uncle, but then again, no one really was.  His work always came first.  He never came to any family gatherings, no matter how much anyone asked him.  Even physical letters went without reply.  He never even showed up for my dad’s funeral!

I resented him for that, until I saw his work.

He was an archaeologist who focused in ancient languages and cultures.  Clive Sterrenson was his name, and in his field he was widely respected.  Being in his old office was the nearest I ever came to visiting him, and he was dead now.  At his funeral, there was no family, only colleagues who seemed older than the manuscripts he pined over.  Funerals already make me sick, but the smell there was really terrible.  Something about the way old people smell really flips my stomach around inside me.  There was only one other middle aged person there, who seemed strangely out of place.  A blank face and a white suit he wore among downcast grimaces and black clothes.  I approached him, and asked him how he knew my Uncle Clive.  He stared back with that blank face and muttered:

“School.” Without another word he turned and walked away, disappearing into the crowd of mingling mourners.  Odd.  I talked politely with some of my uncle’s old friends, and they were remarkably tight-lipped with me about his work.  Each question was answered without specifics and between quick glances between each other.  My uncle had died of some sort of flu that took him in his old age with his weakened immune system.  Natural causes.  But there was something about this funeral that made me curious.  I felt compelled to learn more about my uncle, a man his own family did not understand.  I always liked a challenge, and I used to read the Hardy Boys when I was a kid.  Maybe there was something beneath the surface of all of this.  Maybe I just wanted to understand what kind of man would ignore his family for some old tomes and ancient etchings.

So before I knew it, I was pulling up in front of an esteemed college with towering spires and glamorous architecture with the loud and old truck I had.  I found a spot between a Lexus and a Bentley.  I remember feeling glad that even if normal teachers did not get paid as much as they should, at least these college professors were taken care of by the university.

The secretary seemed to be expecting me because she was stoic as a wall until she heard my name, which brought a smile to her face and a flurry of motion to her hands.  Ruffling through some papers and dust, she found a letter that my uncle had written and addressed to me!

“Why wasn’t this just mailed to me?” I asked, annoyed.

“He left specific instructions with me to only deliver it in person, and if you came in ‘of your own volition'”. She said with a forced smile, the smile of someone trying to assuage a problem customer.  With a sigh I took the letter, and she led me to his old office.  Dark wood everywhere, giant bookshelves on the walls that were behind and flanking his massive walnut desk.  This place took fantastic care of their professors.  The woman closed the door behind me without a word, and left me alone in the dusty darkness.  Thick curtains blocked out most of the light, only a sliver of sunshine found its way in.  Dust danced in the thinness of it.

I sat at his desk and a massive creaking shot out from underneath me.  All of this money can’t stop chairs from squeaking.  Looking at his desk, I saw it completely covered in papers and rolled up manuscripts, and in a large jar for pencils I saw an awesome letter opener — probably the coolest I have ever seen.  The child in me lit up as I saw the light reflect off of its gold.  It was shaped like a tentacle, the handle thick and there were suckers that fit my fingertips perfectly.  The opener was more like a knife I saw, the tentacle part curving down then flitting out toward the tip, the blade surprisingly sharp for a normal letter opener.  Probably some gift from the college.  A model ship in the room hinted, perhaps, at an affinity for the nautical.

Perhaps.

I opened the letter with ease, the blade doing the entirety of the work.  Surprisingly sharp.  The letter was covered in beautiful penmanship.

 

“Dear (Redacted),

I’m sorry for never being around.  I wish I could have apologized to my brother before he left us.  But it is my own fault.  This damned work I have been involved in for 40 years now has finally killed me, if you’re reading this.  And Miss (Redacted), if you are reading this, mind your own goddamned business.

Sorry (Redacted), but she is a bit of a snoop.  She’s probably still reading this.  So I’m going to hide another note somewhere in this room for you.  It’s in something… that holds the whole world in it.  Even you should be able to figure that out, no offense.  Burn this note so no one can — “

 

The door swung open with a clatter, and I was so startled that I quickly stuffed the note into my crotch for some reason.  Why not a pocket? I have no idea.  The strange man from the funeral was there, dressed in pressed khakis and a blue shirt.  A student?  He looked extremely irritated.

“What are you doing in here?” He spat words laced with venom.  I sat back in the chair and leveled my eyes toward him like I do with my son when he has an attitude.

“Perusing my late uncle’s work.  What are you doing barging into a dead man’s office?”  His face became even more irritated, narrowed eyes became the slits of a snake’s nose.

“I’m here to protect your late uncle’s work, all due respect.”

“Oh, were you a student of his?” He looked like he had been stung, and he shuffled slightly and became visibly uncomfortable.

“That is no concern of yours.  We were colleagues.  We were working together when he became ill.  I’m here to collect his things.”  Not if I could help it.

“You will do no such thing, not until I say so.  He made me his executor.  What was your name?” The man turned on his heel and said as he walked down the hall:

“Good day, sir.” Extremely strange.  Naturally I had to find out more.  So I collected as many papers as I could carry, loaded up my truck, and instructed the secretary to ensure the door remained locked and no one got into that room.

I’m home now, and about to go through some of his works.  Hopefully my boss is alright with me cashing in more vacation hours.  I will update as soon as I can.

 

Click here for Part 2

 

 

 

Just Beneath the Surface

Click here for the Tale before!

A darkness so complete.

He felt cold.  Looking all around, there was nothing to see.  He could not even see his hands or his body below him.  He felt as if he were a solitary eye floating in ink.

A darkness that breathed.

Continue reading

Escape to Dream

Click here for the part before

 

Knuckles aching on the wheel, Robert glanced again nervously into his rear-view mirror.  His imagination had been playing tricks on him – the police officer was exactly what he appeared to be.  Not a horrifying demon aching to consume him.  Merely a man.  Robert began to pull over, the black truck crunching onto the gravel shoulder of the road.  The cop’s car eased in behind him, and rolled to a stop with a loud creak.  Dust settled around them both as Robert looked again at the policeman and his dark sunglasses.  He was still just a man.

For now.  I have to make this as quick as possible.  

With an involuntary sigh, Robert stared at the road stretching itself out in front of him.  The trees swayed lazily in the breeze, the clouds slowly tumbled over each other across the bluest sky he had ever seen.    This was a day to stretch out somewhere silently in the shade of a great oak – maybe in a park somewhere – and dream.  Sitting in the quiet of the truck’s cab with the windows down, a cool draft of clean air caressing his beard and hair made it almost impossible to keep awake.  He snapped himself alert and rubbed his tired eyes.  Falling asleep was exactly what the darkness wanted.  For a reason unknown.  Something they desired was dependent on his being unconscious.  They needed him to fall into strange and impossible universes.  They wanted him to descend further into the endless depths of thirsting darkness echoing with the laughter of forgotten gods.  But his eyes were so heavy now.  Too heavy. The lazy air was laced with the faint scent of wild flowers.

wildflowers

The cop knocked on the roof of the cab and shocked Robert back into this reality.  Quickly jerking awake, Robert began to apologize:

“Officer, sorry for spee–“

“License and registration.” He cut Robert off with a blank expression that was somehow laced with suspicion.  No doubt earned through countless stops just like this one.  Countless apologies that fell on deaf, stoic ears trained by years of experience.

“Sure! Just, uh, bought this truck, actually.  So the registration is not updated yet but let me give you the card of the fellow that sold it to me.  It’ll check out.”  A nervous grin spread on Robert’s face.  His normal salesman smile probably wouldn’t have helped him anyway.  Not with this statue of a man.  He looked at Robert’s license, then at his face.  Without a word he turned and walked back to his squad car that looked freshly cleaned and waxed as it glistened in the shimmering sunlight.

Hands on the wheel at 10 and 2, Robert’s hands tapped with the rhythm of war drums from a far-away land that he had never even thought of once in his life.  He stared straight ahead as best he could, watching the clouds roll over the world in front of him.  The cop was probably far enough away that he was safe.  Both Robert and the cop were safe.  With a sigh and a stretch he eased his head back to look into the rear-view mirror at a towering juggernaut with black armor walking toward him.

Goddammitholyshitwhatthe —

His hands fumbled clumsily for the keys and they flew up into his beard and got tangled in the wiry hair that he was still not used to.  Swears turned to pleas for mercy as he finally just ripped the keys out, taking a chunk of hair and skin from his horrified face.  Blood trickled down from his chin as he shakily put the keys in the ignition, the car growling instantly with desperate fury.  As he peeled away, throwing up gravel and dust, he stared at this new creature.  Towering and slow, the armor was shining shadows, absorbing light and yet glistening like folded steel.  It came to a stop and stood with its freakishly long arms crossed, the sharpened smile so familiar to Robert now adorned the black space that was its face.  Tires gripped the pavement and pulled Robert away, and he looked again at the monster.  It pointed now in front of his truck, and he followed its gaze to a billboard that read:

We will always find you.

 

He slammed his fist on the wheel in rage.  Tears welled up in his eyes as he fought off accepting the truth of his situation.  The roads were familiar now.  He was almost home, where his wife waited patiently to find out what happened to her husband.  She must be either terribly scared or terribly angry, and Robert felt terrible to be the cause of either.  The truck roared down the road, going around one curve on what felt like two wheels.  The air whipped into the cab through the open windows, flicking drops of blood from his chin onto the windshield and all over the place.  A red, macabre version of Jackson Pollock’s work.  The wind smelled impossibly fresh, the rain’s scent still strong from the night before, mingling in along with the growing sound of sirens behind him.  The cop car began to pull itself closer to him, and Robert glanced to try and catch a glimpse of the demon, but it was the policeman again behind the wheel.  He was probably oblivious that Robert was fleeing because he had turned into an armored hell spawn moments before, with arms that dragged the pavement and threw sparks with each step.

The policeman pulled the cruiser up close to the truck’s bumper, and nudged it.  At the speeds they were going it caused Robert to nearly crash, a horrifying lurch to the right and then straight again let him have a moment of relief.  Robert had almost over-corrected, nervous and exhausted as he was.  Even in this situation, with tons of steel and fire rushing down the road – trees whipping by – the roar of the engine was more like a hum trying to coax him into sleep.  The cop was gaining again, and moved to try and hit the side of Robert’s truck inside of the next curve on the right.  A near-miss that could have been the end, Robert looked to see a familiar block up ahead, he was so close to home now!

So close.

An amazing tree stood towering on the corner of his street, a tree that his son had played under all those years before with the neighbor boys who were also grown now, working and living somewhere else in this universe.  As he began to slow and turn the corner, he could almost see the shadows of the life that he was racing back to: a football spiraling slowly through the summer air into the hands of a laughing child as the smell of slightly burnt hamburgers danced into their noses.

The cop almost caught his bumper again during the turn, but the maneuver was unnecessary.  Robert had taken the corner too quickly and over corrected, causing him to fishtail down his street.  The truck finally caught traction, but the angle of it threw his truck onto his next-door neighbor’s yard and into their apple tree with an immense thundering.  The windshield shattered and rained glass onto Robert’s head as it slammed into the steering wheel, and it was only through sheer will that he remained conscious.  Pain burned red hot throughout his body, pulsing.  The sun even seemed to pulse in tandem, high in the sky.

Steam poured from the crumpled hood of the truck, and the crash lured neighbors to their windows to investigate the normally quiet suburb.  Sirens began to drone louder as he unbuckled his seat belt, and collapsed from the car in an exhausted heap.  His head hung low and he stared at the grass, vibrantly green and pulsing with detail in rhythm with his pain.  Blood trickled down his face and dripped slowly onto the ground, and he forced his head up to look at his house.  His wife’s car was in the driveway, and his heart nearly exploded with joy.  Tears welled up as he staggered to his feet, clutching ribs that felt broken.

Only… a few steps… 

He shuffled and kept staring at his house, at the windows and the door.  He knew in only a moment or two his wife would look out and see him like he had never been before.  A fear blossomed inside of him.  A fear that he would be a stranger to her like this, unrecognizable with the blood and the beard.  The suit that was once so fresh was sticking to him with sweat, and covered in stains.

A few… more steps…

A ringing in his ears began, and it drowned out the sounds growing around him: The shouts of policemen drawing their guns and telling him to get on the ground, the screams of housewives running back inside their homes.  But the wind blowing through the trees remained clear.  The calming rustle of leaves against each other, and the whispers of molecules winding their way through the branches.  The only other sound that was just as clear to Robert was the familiar moan of his front door that always creaked no matter how he oiled it.  A former source of frustration coaxed the tears of joy to flow harder.  The front door was opening, and his beautiful wife came out.  Her long, black hair flowed over one shoulder, and she stared at him in disbelief.  She recognized him!  But the recognition was tainted with something else.  Something familiar to him now after the last few days.

Horror.

She turned and went back into the house, covering her mouth with one hand.  The door stayed ajar.  Robert was exhausted, and he collapsed onto the grass and pain exploded in his chest from shattered ribs.  He used his entire strength to look up at his home, the one that he had fallen in love and raised his family in.  He looked, and he saw himself standing in the doorway.  Clean cut, wearing a fresh new suit tailored to fit.  A black suit with a black shirt and tie.  The Robert in the doorway smiled at him, with a horrible malevolence.  The smile of a sadist.  The Robert in the grass collapsed, and had no strength to lift his head more, so that his view of his doppelganger was sideways and distorted.  Robert could feel his hands clench into fists and his teeth grind together as the other Robert smiled and turned his head to match the angle of the true Robert.  The fake mouthed three words as the tunnel vision grew and unconsciousness gripped the real Robert:

“We are everywhere.”

tales of a travelling salesman finalClick here for the next part!

I Got My Foot Caught in a Bear Trap While Hiking

This will be my first and last entry, I don’t have much time left. I don’t know when he will be back. So I will write as much as I can. From the start. I hope my phone has service enough to tell this tale.

 
I was hiking out in the woods, I took a semester off to be alone and take some time to myself. Finally put those old Boy Scout skills to the test. When I left it was a warm day, and the trees welcomed me into their fold. Being alone is one of the most therapeutic things to me, and so is being away from the hustle of day-to-day life. Something about how the emanations from old trees wonderfully change and and renew a weary spirit, so Robert Louis Stevenson said.

 
I hiked for a long time, far away from the small mountain town whose name I forgot. Damn my short term memory and my almost childlike excitement. No one will find me now, I’m sure. The bleeding has slowed, so I will live for a while longer I think. Panic is getting harder to fight off, but I have to recount this story. I must.

 
Birds flitted about the trees, strange modern dinosaurs screeching and cackling into the theater of the wild. Most probably begging for sex, but it was still awe inspiring. So inspiring that I did not watch where I was going. My right leg landed squarely in the middle of a large bear-trap. The crunch of bone was quieter than I expected, the steel instead clanging loud enough to send the birds into flight. Blood squirted into my eyes and I stared in disbelief at my mangled leg, splintered bone poking out of my shins and the ancient, rusty trap digging hungrily as tight as it could. I did not feel it at first. Shock, probably. But after I fell to my ass and stared at it for a while, the pain was immeasurable. I cried out into the forest for help, I don’t know how long I screamed. I didn’t even think about wolves or bears or anything but my own desperation. This trap had been here for a while, it seemed, and I was afraid I would have been forgotten out there. I didn’t leave my family or girlfriend on the best terms before this little adventure, yet my screams searched for their help. To no avail.

 

Time crept by, my breathing was labored after a while and I was in shock. I could feel the color drain from my face and my anger bubbled up in a dream-like fury. How could someone leave a trap out here in this day and age? It was illegal, after all. As an environmentalist I knew more than most about random laws germane to protecting this planet and ecosystem. But right now, on the border of this small field surrounded by pines, I was mortified at becoming a lower rung on the food chain. My phone had no service at the time, calls failed as I frantically slammed digits and prayed for an electronic blessing. To no avail. I waited, and watched blood trickle into the leaves and grass and dirt. Dizziness set in as the sun began to fade behind the trees of a mountain and finally disappear. Fighting off the horror of the wild was nearly impossible, and the only thing that kept me from screaming more was how weak I was. And the knowledge that if i screamed more, it was more likely a wolf or the like would come and gnaw at my stomach as I laid helpless on the ground, entrails chewy and gristly on its large and happy teeth. I knew my last view would be the dead eyes of some animal who found an easy meal.

 
I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke it was morning. I began screaming anew, panicked at my own passing out. I could have died then. I must stay awake. I screamed and screamed as birds screamed and screamed and the horrible morning cacophony echoed into the warming light. A crash in the bushes off to my right and across the field caught my attention and silenced my cries. An orange hat poked above the bush, and a man’s face was underneath it, calm and clean-shaved. An orange vest appeared as he stood, draped over a green shirt. He was cradling a large rifle. A hunter. My fear gave to anger as I assumed this man had set the trap and was coming back to check on it.

 

“HEY!! Don’t you know that it’s ILLEGAL to set this trap here in the mountains?!??!?” I screamed at him as tears fell over my pained face. One fell into my wound and the salt burned, but not as hot as my fury. “YOU HAVE TO PROTECT THE ANIMALS!!”
The man walked through the bushes and trotted over silently, seeming to ignore my angry accusations. His footsteps made loud thumps onto the damp morning flora as he came to stand over me, examining me. A chuckle came as he stoically looked down at me with eyes impossibly dark.

“But I’m a cannibal”

 

I must have been knocked out, because I woke up chained to a metal pole holding up the wood floor above me. It’s dark here, and the room was a basement carved into the earth, dirt walls and floors. My eyes have adjusted so I can see old saws with thick tines and strong handles on a pegboard to my left. A table with dark stains. I know this is my last chance. I have one bar. To my family, friends, and my girlfriend: I’m sorry. I can hear him coming now, and i have to hide my phone again.

 

Goodbye.

dark trees 2

Scratching (Final)

Click HERE for the part before.

I’m writing this in the lobby of a Starbucks. I’m not sure how much time has passed, but I need to make a record of this before I finally lose my senses to the fear that is lurking behind my eyes. Or they catch up with me. My wife has left me and its my fault, all my fault. I’ve become obsessed. I should start from where I left off. Looking back at what happened there is so much gray, and not enough black and white. The people here are casting odd glances at me, they must think it strange for a homeless looking man to have a laptop and to be typing furiously while stifling the crazed laughter that keeps bubbling up into his mouth. No matter. Who cares what THEY think?? Th0ey have no idea of what lives out in the untouched woods east of this town.

 

OK, I need to focus. Focus.

 

I went back to the house. The house on the left, where the old man was, was embalmed with yellow CAUTION tape. Wind made it flutter and sound like some leathery wings above the din of the trees that swayed and twitched in the heat that blew through them. The humidity was so thick that I felt as if I was wading into some great, invisible sauna. The strange, seemingly empty house on the left stood silently. Staring. The trees all around us, being fairly far into the countryside, towered into the sky as they moved with the wind. I thought about how I wished I had enough money to buy a pistol. Buckshot and slugs would do.

I was going to move without hesitation today. I was going to finish this. It was going to be easy. I could corner them here and finally finish this. Oh, to be finished. Were that I could be and not a raving man holding on desperately to the cliffs of sanity — trying to save myself from the black waters of madness frothing below. I have to push their strange ritual out of my mind. That dark altar in the woods. Forgotten… Demanding attention.

Wait. The beginning.

 

I was about to re-enter my old home, the one that I had fallen in love in. So many memories were held within its walls; pale echoes of laughter glowed in my mind as I went to slide the key into the lock. The key barely touched the brass when a quick clamor and came from inside and I whirled to the window next to the door to see my white curtains obscuring my view. Shadows were all I could see, and one moved into the hallway and out of sight while another stealthily slithered to the kitchen on the right. A trap was in the process of being set and I had stumbled upon their devious workings. I would not become the next skull on their filthy shrine, cut into that wet colon of the earth. I would not be another trophy to be polished and displayed carefully in the foul darkness while they cleaned their rotting teeth with a splinter of my rib bone. I would not be, as it seemed more likely now, a sacrifice. It did not matter. I would not become another victim. Not today. Or ever.
I put a chair under the front door to keep it from being opened. Leaving it locked, I doused the front of the house in gasoline. Even the windows were covered in dancing flames as I moved around to the back. From the hole in the house foundation, rats came squeaking out into the dirt and into the underbrush. Then a black-nailed hand – elongated in a disgusting strangeness – pulled a pallid beast out as it gripped the dirt. I shot it and it wheezed and looked up at me as it gave its last repulsive breath. Hatred brewed in those obsidian orbs that stared unblinking as death filled its new corpse. Another came, and it was so fast!! It crawled out low to the ground as if this was another natural way that they moved — on all fours!! In one motion it had come out of the hole, and pulled its revolting counterpart over itself like a cloak. I fired 3 rounds into it, the buckshot only slightly penetrating until my final round – a slug – tore through them both and it fell into a steaming hump of grey flesh half into the brush and half in the dirt. Dark red blood began to pool and be absorbed by the planet. Mosquitoes and flies landed instantly on the macabre pile. A wafting of horrible smells from the body blended with the natural stink of a swamp. My house was engulfed in flames behind me, and while I was far enough away from the main part of town for it to take some time for police to get here, I had to work quickly — I knew I had to I had to finish them off now and here and forever and then leave this place and never talk again. There could be no more rituals. I had no clue – at the time – that these horrors were nothing compared to what I would find later. The blending of onyx and green in the moonlight… No. Not yet. I must write it all.
The house that had seemed vacant next to me all of those years was not, and the fire had grown out of control with the wind and spread to it. I checked inside the shed to make sure that my rudimentary barricade had held, which it did. A loud crashing and cries of the beings who had long been hidden echoed out. Melancholy and angry, animalistic and frightened. Unnatural, and yet… human. Almost. I moved just in time to see the last of them tumbling over each other into the forest, screeching and clicking and talking to each other… Maybe to me. Fragments of half-words and almost familiar tones drifted into my ears. I did see one that sat, staring at me from across the small field. It saw me, too. I raised my gun to fire a slug I had loaded, but it was gone. I knew that I could not leave them free in the forest, I could not pass the buck on to some other unsuspecting soul.

 

They were my responsibility. They were mine to kill.

 

I left the inferno raging behind me, screams of the damned erupting from the yellow blossoms of their funeral pyre. I crashed into the underbrush, and ran after the creatures. The fauna was thick on the ground, cutting and pulling and tearing at my arms and face and clothes. Ahead of me, I could hear the stampede of the hominids running through the forest. I caught glimpses of them standing upright, and I fired at them, missing. I don’t remember how long I chased them, my breath burned in my lungs and my legs were aching when I finally slowed down. It could have been an hour. Maybe even more. The adrenaline was endless, and my heart fluttered like a captured bird in my chest. I managed to slow my breath after a time, and listen. The sun was beginning to fall already. How long did I run? This part of the forest seemed untouched by man. A forgotten swamp. I began to walk, hearing silence around me. My crunching was stifled by the mud, for the ground had become much more damp. My eyes investigated every leaf and bush, tree and branch. I saw no signs of animal life in that place. No paths cut by boars in the brush. No scratchings from deer. Even the insect life was drained from this place, as the sun fell behind a clouded horizon. There was darkness now, and I was lucky to have packed a flashlight.
I moved through muck now, my boots almost getting sucked off by their sinking into a mire of ancient land. Spanish moss was thick in many places, choking the life from parts of thick oaks. Slopping through more and more, I was worried for gators, but saw none. I thought myself lucky for it, and stopped my breathing and strained my ears to focus on a sound I swore that I did not hear. But I did hear, and to think of it now makes me want to scream out at these fools around me who have no fucking clue what lives east of their suburbs and lattes.
The sound was chanting, words that I had never heard and wish to never hear again even if it means I have to take a spike to my ears. Half-human tones and alien syllables distantly found their way to my mind. Words meant to remain unheard — but I must try to make some sense of it all! some record so that people can know and avoid and perhaps… No. There is no defeating it I suppose. The dreams made it clear. The voices blended and clicked and did not make sense but here, I will try:

 

Ft’ngluii maglwf’nafh Kuthluun Reh’lyeh wvagah-najl phutadjnn

 

I heard these mumblings and moved closer, that is when the words became more clear to me. They chanted low, just above a whisper, and yet being in that strange silence of that old land it reverberated into my bones with every vile syllable. I moved quietly closer to observe a horrible sight and strange things that disappeared when I went back to look for them. I combed that same area for days and could not find anything. That glade was still there, a str a n ge island in the swamp with a river gliding around it murky and brown. It was still empty, when I went back. No animal life. But the shrine was gone, or invisible. Yes… The shrine.
The creatures swayed grimly chanting around a monolithic structure around 8 feet tall. Fires surrounded it, layers of sticks blended with a few headless corpses that crackled and popped and made me nauseous with a stench of charred flesh. The stone towered and was an odd color. Black and green and… yet not. Not obsidian and emerald though, it was almost as if the green had blended into the black, a disgusting and unknown color. Strange carvings were visible, unexplainable hieroglyphs and a malevolent etching of some strange being I cannot describe. Something from the sea. I stared upon the horror of this evil ritual, and raised my gun to fire. Slugs ripped into one and it fell suddenly, like a repulsive rag doll. The others looked around frantically and screamed with an overwhelming hatred as I fired again, and again, pumping rounds into the bush next to me. I think it was then I went mad, as some picked up strange amulets or totems from around the shrine and took off into the night, leaving the horrible fire burning flesh under the stars. The night was silent again, and I blacked out.
I woke up several days later, for I had grown a beard and bug bites covered my body. Maybe I came back into rational thought again, and repressed the time spent insane? I found my way back to that place and it was empty, no green/ black monolith jutting from the earth on that strange old island. Not even evidence of burnt grass. I laughed into the silence. Just empty dirt filled the island, and not even footsteps remained. I must be insane. I went back to the town, and I found that my wife had left the hotel without a forwarding address. Her number was disconnected. Her family’s was off. And so I went to look again at that place. It must be there!  But, there was nothing. I hunted in those woods for anything now, no boar or deer or ancient subterranean human cult lived there anymore. I googled my home address in the news just now. People disappeared 20 years ago from there, almost to the day. And 40 years before that. I have to leave now. The police are on their way, apparently. Something about arson. More like some sort of cover up. The people are whispering around me and I have to leave.

 

The Whispers

 

Click here for the part before

 

Hours passed.  The light began to flicker in the lamp behind Robert.  Stopping his nervous tapping on his legs, he turned to look at the chaotic strobe.  The room was in a state of flux between darkness and light, each flicker an explosion of lightning in the empty room.  Suddenly, one of the flashes revealed a shadowed figure in the center sitting on his bed looking at him with a predatory smile — God, those teeth!  Shooting up, he knocked the chair over and almost fell over it as he stepped back.  Robert was stumbling as the impending darkness washed back into the room, like a wave crashing onto the shore.  His heart was cold as he reached for anything he could use to protect himself, blindly grasping at the scratchy curtains and the end table.  All was deathly quiet now, save for his scrambling.  The light crackled back into the room as he fixed his eyes on an empty bed. Perfectly made.  Untouched.

Moments passed as he flicked his eyes around the room, assuring himself that his mind was playing tricks on him.  The lack of sleep was not helping his nerves, and neither was this spastic lighting.  He walked over, and adjusted the bulb so that it sat better within its home, and clicked the ceiling light on as a backup.  Considering how heavy his eyes were, brighter was better.   Anything to help keep him awake.  He thought about the bathroom, and the shower that was sure to be inside.  Walking across the light brown carpet, he opened the door to the modest restroom and flipped the light on.  It was what you would expect: A decent sized shower with white-tiled walls and a tacky shower curtain with a flowered pattern commonly found in the homes of the elderly.  The mirror and sink were clean, and he looked at the tired-looking man staring back at him.  Big bags drooped under his eyes, and his clothes were rumpled looking.  The suit that had been so crisp and clean had been turned into third-hand clothing within  24 hours.  He shrugged at his reflection, and went to relieve himself in the toilet.  A wave of ethereal relaxation rushed over him, and he remembered he hadn’t had a chance to do this in forever.  It was almost too euphoric to handle, and he chuckled.

Upon flushing, he noticed that the water pressure was quite weak as it refilled the bowl.  Trying to wash his hands, he saw that the water was now nonexistent in the pipes.

Damn.  I really needed a shower, too.  Would have helped pass the time.  

 He glided back out into the bedroom, beginning his first lap of pacing back and forth.  Step by step he had to hold his eyes open, feeling the strength draining from his body.  He let himself close his eyes – thinking that if he relaxed them while he walked that he could get a second wind.  Fatigue does this to people.  It tricks our trains of thought onto the rails of foolishness.  However, Robert was correct in thinking that he would find his second wind.  It was from a different source, to his dismay.  Sometimes when we first begin to fall into sleep, there can be an uncontrollable jolt of raw fear. A powerful sensation of falling can snap us back awake whether we like it or not.  Many find it an inconvenience.  After the initial shock, Robert was relieved by it.  He had almost fallen asleep while pacing on the floor.  Legs like jello, arms like cement.  Robert was afraid that he could not keep himself awake.  Raising his arms out to his side, he opened his palms and began to smack the shit out of himself.

“Stay – a – WAKE!!” Each syllable sounded in time with a quick smack on his reddening cheeks.  Smack.  Smack.  He paced across the floor in time to his new found rhythm.  Robert tried his hardest to push the horrible reality of why he was doing this out of his mind.  Gleaning the tiniest bit of humor he could, he held on to this and forced an internal laugh.

Stop hitting yourself.  Stop hitting yourself.

That bully he knew would have found this hilarious, no doubt about that.  He was confident that he was awake.  For now.  A stinging heat welled on his face.  His eyes were tired, but his mind had hardened itself.  It had to.  Oblivion was within Robert, and it waited with a hungry maw just behind his eyes.  He knew it was there.  Licking his lips and staring out of the thin part of the curtains through the window outside, Robert knew this was a healthy fear.  Like his stomach groaning into the silence, it would help keep him awake.  Hopefully.  Maybe more fear would add to the mental bulwark against the black.  He could study the evil, perhaps.  Gaze at it with steadied eyes, and see if he could understand.

moon gif

There was something important he forgot, though.  All know this to be a truth somewhere deep down inside, no matter their culture.  No matter the philosophy or belief.  It is a law, one that has been etched into the definitions of existence.

Those who study Evil, are studied by Evil.

This was something that could not be helped.  Robert cracked his neck, twisting it to one side in a habit he had since he was a child.  It felt great, tiny pops of pleasure amid a body of creaking bones and tight back muscles.  Staring out into the night, he tried to remember the moments in between the worlds he saw.  A dark hallway filled with dots of light, the obsidian hole he fell into filled with vile eyes that gazed into his soul.  Did he see any hints? Anything that could help him understand? There were whispers, he remembered.  Whispers of some enigmatic language he had never heard before.  What were those strange words? His mind focused on that memory, pushing into the past with prying sight.  His ears tingled for a moment, and he stared at shadows on the parking lot darker than the night sky above.

Lano kala bo’shar lanu novala 

These words burned like fire into his mind and felt as if they were whispered loudly into both of his ears.  He whirled around and stared at the empty room.  The lights both flickered weakly and went back to normal, as he felt for spit on his ears.  He could have sworn someone ha –

Pharom car’ana mokkada bah’jah ko se

Tears welled in his eyes as he spun around again, he could hear the tongues clicking in his ears and he could feel the spit of the hissing whispers without question, and yet he was alone.  He fell to his knees, knocking over the end table in the process.  The Gideon’s bible fell from the drawer onto the ground in front of him, and he was struck with a thought.

Maybe this will help! 

One hand brushed tears away as the other turned pages.

The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not… want

He sniffled a bit, and read the rest of the passage as quick as he could.  He felt much calmer now.  A deep breath after each few lines brought his heart rate down.  Turning the page to continue, he stared in horror and could not help but read this next part out loud.  Weakly, he whispered to the empty room.

“Go to sleep, Robert.”  Printed alone, and centered on the page.  And the next page.  And the page after that.  Robert continually read it aloud, turning the pages faster and faster and reading it louder and louder.  Yelling out into the hotel room he gave the book a cathartic throw and it slapped heavily on the wall, then dropped to the ground with a soft thud.  He began to cry heavily, labored breathing in between sobs.  Finally managing to calm himself down, he sat with his back against the bed.  The clean linen scent wafted into his nose as silence echoed into the room.  Only the soft hum of electricity accompanied its melody.  He stood up and moved back to the window and sat down, tapping a different beat cautiously on his knees.  Tap.  Tap.  Grimly he thumped, shadows outside waxing and waning as clouds passed quickly over the moon.  Seemed like a storm was coming, the trees swaying in the passing moonlight.  Black clouds rolled in from beyond the horizon, covering the land in a pallid shroud the color of coal.  Low rumbling filled the room with static buzzing invisible through the air outside.  Any minute now it would pour.

storm gif

As a streak of lightning traced across the sky, the parking lot was illuminated with a clear light. Enough for Robert to see several shadowy hominids crawling low to the ground, only to be swallowed up by the darkness as the lightning turned into a growling roll of thunder.  He pulled the blinds shut and squeezed the curtains together, eyes bulging from his skull.  Backing away, he turned and looked around for something he could use as a weapon.  Three loud knocks rapped on his motel room door, and lightning crashed outside.  Robert could barely breathe now,  horror clutching his throat with its strong hands and squeezing him with fingers of terror.  He was frozen solid.  Whispers spoke again into his mind:

Ko’se lano makora kojani noss’e

Three more knocks, louder than before.  Urgent.  He was surprised that the beings did not force their way in by crashing through the window.  He could imagine the storm blowing wind in through the shattered glass as the demons crawled closer toward him, their hellish teeth bared in the cheshire smile of a hated creature, twisted by time.  Three more knocks, a pause between each distinct thud on the door.  Against his better judgement, he walked to entrance and looked outside.  Standing there in the storm was Don French!  The old man had his brown coat drawn tight against the wind.  Making a frustrated gesture toward the door he began to walk away.  Robert watched his back as he shuffled weakly around the corner. The wind was pushing and pulling his body in a way that made him look like a drunken man finally stumbling home.

Robert slunk back over to the window with all the stealth and precision he could muster, and looked back into the parking lot.  The various blacks and grays swirled together, shadows dancing wildly as the wind flew violently through the trees.  The gusts were so strong that even the cars swayed lightly on their chassis.  A lightning bolt crackled through the clouds above, tracing its way across the sky.  It was enough to restore his view outside, and Robert stared at nothing but an empty landscape being buffeted by the storm.  No demons, no black tongues curling between spiked teeth.  No apex demon with the horns of a ram that looked doused in fresh blood.  A shiver found its home in his shoulders as he thought of the various creatures he had seen.  His eyes were heavy still, and heavier by the minute – but his fear helped keep them pried open.  Like a device used to peel your eyelids back.  But instead of cold metal prying into his skull, he had the whispers and an ancient evil that was stalking him.  This room had kept him safe somehow, despite the horrors that unfurled their tendrils within his thoughts.

Because I am alone here?  Do they need a… vessel? 

The storm roared outside as he glanced at the clock, the strong white numbers stood out against the black tiles they sat on.  They flipped, and showed that it was so much closer to morning than Robert would have guessed.  His heart twinkled in his chest for a moment, and in that tiny time a small smile toyed at the edge of his mouth.  He had stayed awake this long, he could make it for a while longer.  He began to tap an upbeat rhythm on his knees now:  Tappity-tap-tap-tappity-TAP! Robert felt a warmth in his stomach, and its rumblings had calmed along with his mood.  The storm was beautiful, a wild force of nature whirling overhead.  Chaos raged in the heavens and with each bolt of lightning and crack of thunder his hands tapped to the beat.  He felt strangely happy suddenly, all things considered.  He was closer to home.  His wife was sleeping now, probably listening to the same storm buffet against her window.  Clouds almost as black as her hair, that pure raven shimmer of beauty.  His minds eye painted a picture for him: framed by the white of the bed and the clean sheets, her lovely face softly sleeping with the glow of an angel.  Robert’s blood ran icy in his veins as he felt the air of a whisper slither into his ears.

  Kaa…La — K’osst AMOJANN!!

Each syllable was stressed with the flinging of invisible spit into his ears, and he involuntarily wiped at them.  There was no rest for the weary, and definitely not for him. He paced.  Thinking about going to sleep for the smallest second he shook his head violently and smacked himself in the face.  No sleep.  This was his one chance, as far as he knew. Robert might not make it back to this frame of existence again.  He had to take this chance as far as it would let him go.  As far as the darkness would let him.  Robert stared at his hands, and turned them into fists.  Nothing would stop him, and he found a new conviction in spite of his fear.  The storm raged on in the sky outside, the electric air buzzing and rumbling.  A roll of thunder almost drowned out a new knock at the door, a shave-and-a-haircut pattern.  Robert went and looked through the peephole at a different man than he expected, as it was not Don French.  It was a stranger, someone he had never seen.  He had a toolbox, and he did not look happy at all.  It was early morning now, and Robert supposed that he was not the only tenant here that had no water.  Why did he need to get into his room?  Robert decided to let the man knock uselessly, there was no way he was going to open the door.  Spending time with anyone inevitably led to their being engulfed by the tentacled cloud of shadows.

The knocking continued, turning from the amiable pattern into the typical three loud knocks of someone in a hurry.  They shot into his room over the rumbles from the sky, and then Robert thought he had gone away.  A lull in the chaos made for a deafening silence, and the sound of a key sliding into his lock sent a numbness into his body.

His heart pounded in his chest.  The lock turned, and the door handle began to twist.

key gif

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Spiral of Shadows

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The horns were all Robert could see for a moment.  His eyes focused on the demon perched on the back of the Harley roaring toward him, shadows swirling violently behind it.  There were two sets, one beginning from the being’s brow and extending back, with only a slight curve inward toward their tips.  Perfectly symmetrical.  The second pair came from just behind its cheeks, and curled over like the horns of a ram.  Like some horrible helmet.  They were blood red and shined with polished brilliance, reflecting the light from the sun glaring down on them.  Robert tried to swallow, but he couldn’t.

He and the shadowy demon flew at each other, alone together on this stretch of highway.  Heart pounding in his flesh, he stared at the face of the darkness. The smile stared at him harder than the red eyes that sat above, unblinking. The teeth were perfectly straight, sharpened to points.  So symmetrical. Robert was paralyzed, he could feel his eyes bulging out of his head at the horror. Smiling ear to ear, the mouth wrapped around its black head.  It tossed back, laughing wildly at everything. Shadows whipping around like tentacles flapping in the wind.  So close now! Robert could not move, and he felt that he was watching himself from somewhere deep within his body.  Like those terrifying dreams we have from time to time, a strange cursed passed down through history.  A sensation of paralysis and gripping fear that may permeate into our waking state.  A brush with hell.

Numb to the world, he could not feel his hands clutching the wheel.  He squeezed so hard that pain echoed in his metacarpals; bones that broke when he was a kid and never quite set back right in his hands.  He stared at the being bearing down on him with intent to kill, and he thought of Linda.  His wife’s face blinked into his mind, a breath in his ear, the smallest whisper.  A reassurance.  The words that were whispered are words we all wish to hear, the most comforting phrase a person can know.  These are, all at once, words of forgiveness and trust, loyalty and joy.  Words that are as old as humanity.  Words necessary for life to continue:

“I love you.”

At the moment before the impact, time slowed down.  All in one second he stared, noticing the being reaching out for him, one arm stretching out with onyx claws.  Within this moment, the claw melted into a black-gloved hand.  It was rising to shield the face of a human in black, slamming into his car.  The creature had abandoned this husk within a fraction of a second.  The man was tossed into the windshield, tumbled over the roof, and thudded on the road behind Robert losing control of his car.  Slamming into a tree, he managed to slow it down enough that he wasn’t knocked out, while protecting his head with his arms.  He always wore his seat belt, and it cut into his chest with burning force.  The horn exploded past the ringing in his ears, droning out into the sky.  The car was totaled, at least beyond what Robert could repair.  Bleeding and groaning he spilled out of the car onto the grass.

Holy shit.

 He managed to get up, his left leg shouting out in pain to his brain.  Both the motorcycle and his car were wafting black clouds of smoke lazily into the sky.  Finally, the car horn was fading down into silence.  Robert limped over to the man in black, laying face down in the middle of the road.  Blood pooled underneath him, thick and almost reflecting the serene sky above.  His head was cracked open, and Robert remembered something similar from when he was a child.

The memory rose to the surface, where back in his home town where he was teased by a bully, and Robert challenged him to a bike race down a steep hill.  Robert was eager to put that giant of a kid into his place.  The bully naturally accepted and rode to the appointed place.   Robert prepared by going home for his favorite shirt, and he made his way there.  But not before his mom made sure he ate a big lunch.  She thought he was just going to play as usual, and he needed the energy.

cirrus clouds

The sky now was the way it was then, blue with only a whisper of clouds high in the sky. They were like white feathers up there in the light blue hue.  Robert won that race, but his opponent had lost in the worst possible way.  Halfway down, he lost control of his bicycle and toppled head first onto the asphalt.  The blood was thick, and almost reflected those celestial feathers hanging in the blue.  The smell was the same too.  Copper laced with something else.  That big lunch his mother made for him – salami on rye – made a surprise appearance that day.  As if on cue.

This day though, his stomach was cast iron.  He did not feel queasy at all looking down at the dead man.  Relieved, he began to limp away down the long highway flanked by trees.  He was hungry and tired and his body ached with every step.  Birds called out their songs to the sky, intermingling with a wind that traced its way through the trees.  The breeze was cool, and he raised his face to the sky for a moment before continuing his walk.  He felt like some great weight had been removed from his shoulders.

His leg had mostly stopped bothering him, and sticking to the shade he began to walk briskly down the road.  Nervously he hummed to himself as the trees helplessly listened.

~*~*~***~*~**~**~*~***~**~**~*~**~***~*~**~**~**~**~**~**~**~**~***~**~*

After what seemed like forever, he happened upon a small town.  It was the type you always pass on the way to somewhere else, and if you blink twice you’ll miss it.  A gas station, a diner, and a small motel were the only establishments that he could see.  All of them seemed very old, like folks haven’t passed through in a long time, and it was only by the grace of God that they managed to stay open.  The gas station was the first he came upon, a place named “Jim’s”.  A small mechanic’s garage was attached, where a man was underneath a black sedan that looked completely shot, and a small truck was parked next to the wall outside. Robert swallowed, and hoped this fellow took credit cards.

“Hey there!” Robert said amiably, walking up to the mechanic now rolling out from under the car.  Tools were littering the ground, grease seeming to cover everything.

“Hey there, mister.  How can I help you?”

“You must be the Jim.  I’m Robert, Robert Lowman.  Call me R.J.,” The salesman in him was coming out again, and he smiled at Jim’s face covered in the grime of hard work.

“Say, does that truck happen to be for sale over there?  My car just got wrecked a ways up the road, and I have to get somewhere.” Hiding his unease, Robert was in a hurry to escape for a while. He needed to get away from the eyes of strangers.  He felt extremely paranoid even talking to this man for a moment.

How does the darkness find me?

“Actually, I have been trying to get rid of that thing for a while.  Some guy came here, asked for it to get repaired, and then just disappeared.  Strangest thing.  So yeah, you can have it budd —  er  — R.J.!”  Jim was visibly pleased with how has day was turning out.  He was thinking of maybe getting his son that bike he wanted.  Robert moved in with a fair offer, uncaring of running his credit up.  Thoughts of holding her in his arms again made financial worries seem distant.

“Sure thing, sir!! Thanks for not low-balling me.  Let me get your information then I’ll get the keys.”  Jim wiped grease from his hands onto the grease on his overalls, and the exchange went quickly. Robert was eager to get on the road again.  He was completely exhausted and felt that he would fall asleep if he kept his eyes shut longer than a blink.  Hopping in the truck, he put the keys into the ignition and the engine just made a strange clacking sound.

“Starter’s out? That’s strange… I just replaced that the other week.  No matter, should have another one in the back somewhere.  I’ll get it swapped right away.”  It turned out that he did not, and after looking for several minutes apologized and said that he ordered one from a store up the road.  They were going to drive it out in the morning, so Robert was stuck in this glimpse of a town.  Robert normally would have felt frustrated or angry, but he knew he did not have the time for that.  Walking toward the diner, he could swear that he could feel the man began to be framed by swirling shadows.  He whipped his head back around and looked at a normal Jim walking back inside his shop.  Trees stood tall around the town, and stared at Robert, who shivered as he began to navigate around rusted out cars with tall grass growing out of them. An ancient refrigerator was yellow in the partial shade, patterns of leaves dancing across its door.

Better get some food to go.  Can’t spend too much time near people, obviously.

The diner was almost as dirty as the garage, and he would never have eaten here if he was not starving.  When he grabbed the door handle, he also grabbed a fat round roach that crunched in his hand.  Normally it would have startled and made him disgusted.  Today, he just wiped it off on his pants and walked inside the restaurant.  He could feel the eyes of patrons looking him up and down, and he buried his anxiety with the perpetual smile of a salesman.  He ordered a burger, fries, and a Coke from a bubbly young waitress with bouncing brown curls.  Sitting at the counter, he tried to read a newspaper someone had left behind but could not focus with the eyes tracing over his body.  Suddenly he stood up, deciding to wait outside for his order.  The uncut grass was safer company than that of strangers.

 Finally the girl came out to him, white teeth shining with youthful optimism.

“Have a great day, sir!!”  He took his bag and walked to the motel without a thank you or hesitation, taking long strides.  A nervous pace like walking through a parking lot late at night.  Crunching through some grass for a few seconds, he stepped onto the pavement of the motel’s modest parking lot.  It looked like it was well taken care of, unlike the rest of the town.  Freshly swept and windows washed, and a clean bell tingled in the air as he walked into the small office.  An old man tended the counter, and cheerfully greeted him.

“Hello!  My name’s Don French, and this has been my family’s motel for a long time.  You look like you could use a good night’s sleep!” He gave a strong chuckle despite looking very frail, his white hair thin on his head.  Wrinkles carved strong lines all over his face.

“Hey Don! This place is a sight for sore eyes indeed.  Got a room?”

“I got a whole bunch!  Let me get your card and information here,” He said with a smile.  Soft music buzzed from a radio that seemed to match Don’s age.  Robert scribbled his information with intense speed, his hand aching from the tenseness of gripping the pen.  The exchange was quick, both men practiced in the process of buying and selling.  A few smiles and a key let Robert into a motel room, with a very comfortable looking bed that Robert knew he could not sleep in.  He promised himself to not even touch it, no matter how inviting it was.  Even the smell wafting up from it – fresh linens – could not coax him into its soft promise of comfort.  He understood that even a wink of rest would fling him into a river of oblivion, filled with its currents and eddies and sharp rocks.

Robert stared out the window, looking outside on a world that appeared bent on catching up to him somehow.  A strange chase that was chilling to think about, the darkness hiding in the universe itself searching everywhere all at once for a single man.  Could the plaster in the walls sense him? The lamp, or even the light itself that radiated from it?  The shadows that stood tall on the wall behind him?

“We are everywhere.”

Robert tried to think which word of the phrase was the most horrifying.  “We” implies numbers, possibly great ones.  A whole team of shadow beasts with some devious objective.  “Are” cements the fact that they exist.  And reinforces the “we” from before, and with confidence.  And “everywhere”?  Well…  One finds it easy to think of those implications.  Robert’s legs twitched with an anxious tic.

The wind blew briskly outside as the sun drifted lower in the sky.  Shadows cast from the trees grew longer, and darkness crept over the land.  Robert’s stomach rumbled, and he appreciated it.  The hunger should help keep him awake.  He played a tune with his hands on his knees, an ancient rhythm that has been played time and time again by those familiar with struggle, or with a battlefield.  The beating of drums that came from his hands was the song of nervousness, of anxiety and a lingering fear.  It had played in the hearts of those who have stared death in the face, and lived.  Lived to know that one day they would have to raise their sword again against that Black — the Nothingness.  Raise their sword and watch it disintegrated by the scythe of Death as it cuts down to push them into the darkness of Shakespeare’s “Undiscovered Country”, from whose borders no traveller returns.

But Robert’s tune was somewhat different.  He had the knowledge that there are fates worse than death.  The madness that he had felt in those spaces of time, those places darker than black.  The whispering tongues that wagged in the darkness.  A place that ripped and pushed into his mind and abused his senses with overwhelming inputs of emotion and physical horrors.  Madness.  Robert shivered, and tapped his hands harder, faster.

He had to stay awake.  He had to make sure his wife was safe.

It was going to be a long night, he mused.

Tap tap.

Tap tap. 

motel2

 

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