Tag Archives: short story

Mr Akiki

(0n]e

The neon sign lodged within the front window pane of Parrot Bay has illuminated the litter-infested sidewalk of my street for the past nine nights. I know this because my apartment-a shitty studio with barred windows, one mattress (no bed), and a rusted sink-is situated right above the establishment; each night, after working the graveyard shift, I have returned to find it alit. It’s odd, the turquoise lights may shine brightly, but I can tell that they are dimming, and that worries me because Simone never forgets to turn off the light when she closes her business for the day. On day ten, which happened to be today, I decided to check on her.

I was initially introduced to Simone Douglass when she came to scope out the location, maybe three years ago. She wasn’t striking or eye-catching at first, and she partially resembled the morally-guided brunette sidekick that was the second to last person to die in teen-slashers, but what she lacked in physical beauty, she made up for in her intellect. I learned that she was the first woman to graduate from community college with a degree in Computer Science and that she intended to open a used technology store that doubled as a repair station. However, I also learned that with her supreme intellect came with a few side-hustles (student loans cost a soul nowadays). I’m not exactly sure what she did in that space below my apartment, but I often witnessed a variety of customers coming at any given time of day. By 9:00 PM, when I prepared for my night shift, the store was empty, and Simone was on her way back home; that’s how things went, at least until ten days ago.

On this particular evening, my alarm was set for 7:30 PM, but I awoke due to a quaking from below (my mattress is on the floor). Had Simone finally returned? I threw off my comforter and dashed to the window. The only remarkable sight was the eerie blue hue from the neon sign that bathed the steel gutter under the sidewalk. The noise persisted; it was erratic and lacked any coherent rhythm or melody. Initially, I thought it was her stereo system, or maybe one of the many televisions in her shop had accidentally powered up-occasionally this happened due to the amount of energy the store used. I pressed my ear against my splintered floor and listened as the noises transitioned into voices.

Simone has a distinct whine, a nasally shrill that she was very much aware of-she claimed her shyness stemmed from this speech impediment-so I immediately recognized her voice. The other, well, it was hard to accurately listen for there were other noises that interfered whenever they spoke. It sounded like static, but instead of it having that uniform cracking and rushing sound-like a raging whitewater rapid-it was ominous and hollow as if it the source were in some uncharted seaside cove.

Now, I’m aware of what you’re thinking, and yes, I am also aware that eavesdropping is wrong, but you must understand that I had a legitimate reason for my actions. Not only had the neon light been burning throughout the past nine nights, but I also required Simone’s assistance as a dealer of goods. Each time I came to visit her store to pick up my order, the door was locked, and she was nowhere to be seen-and hiding is near impossible in a store with quadrilateral window panes instead of a front wall. Try to sympathize with me, what would you do when your neighbor has neglected their duties, and, as if fate would have it, you overhear them conversing with a stranger on the day you decided to investigate their timely disappearance? To the common man, this would’ve been enough evidence for them to put to rest their concern, but I’ve been told that Pisces are too empathetic, and my parents happened to consummate their love on a summer evening in June. Company or not, I had to see Simone and, if I were fortunate enough, she’d have my order ready for pick-up.

Parrot Bay. The letters pulsed back and forth as I peered through the front window. The store itself was empty, and the overheads bulbs were powered off, enhancing the luminosity of those lights still lit (the neon sign and some other unidentified source in the back office). I tried the handle, but the door was locked.

I tapped on the glass with my knuckles, but the echo died somewhere between the entrance and the office. I even called out her name while I was on the street. A dumb move because a nearby tenant verbally assaulted me from the third floor ( he dropped at least three “F-bombs” on me). Again, I looked through the glass, waited, tapped the door, and even considered picking the lock, but still, there was no sign of Simone. Something told me-maybe the neon lights-that I should’ve stopped or given up, but what of my order?

I know this may be hard for you to believe, but I promise that I am not in the business of crime; it’s a lucrative hustle that only the wisest, or foolish, can handle. And, when I broke into the back door of her shop, situated between the two olive-green, industrial-sized trash bins, I was not trying to steal anything. If you can somehow put your authoritative opinions to the side and entreat my confession, then you will soon have all the answers that you seek.

Now, I’ve been in Simone’s shop quite often, and I’m no stranger to her wares, but when I entered on this evening, I knew that something was amiss. Amiss might actually be an understatement because after finding the circuit breaker and bringing light to the building, my eyes were met with destruction. Nearly all of the television screens positioned on the back shelf had their faces shattered, black and copper wires undulated and constricted in a sphere like pythons caught in a breeding ball, and various green microchips and computer circuit boards were in fragments on the floor. Naturally, I called out to Simone, but not once did she reply to me; instead, she carried on her conversation with her company. The store was in shambles, and my first thought, just like yours, was a break-in. But why would someone break into a technology store and not steal anything? Deducing an answer to this question is what motivated me to proceed to the back office.

I must admit, I did consider calling first, but when I heard a bloodcurdling battle cry followed by a thundering boom, I dispelled the idea and rushed into the office. As I crashed through the door, a flash with the intensity of a solar flare temporarily blinded me. I expected myself to bear witness to two silhouettes: Simone and her company. However, when my eyes adjusted (it felt like an eternity in that white, hot light), I only saw one figure, if you could call it that.

In her hands was a rusted crowbar, presumably the one she kept under her desk (the neighborhood’s high crime rate called for “personal security measures”). Around her were more destroyed computer modems and accessories, and it looked as if the final blow had been recently dealt. The way she was wielding her weapon reminded me of that scene from Berserk when Guts defeated the one hundred men: exhausted and wounded, yet filled with a primal lust for battle…or death. She didn’t take notice of my entrance or even my presence for that matter; she simply continued her bashing. Shards of LED screens flew with each downward swing. I wanted to rationalize with her, maybe talk her out of her rage, but what words could I use when witnessing such a sight. Again, must I remind you that Simone is the same woman who used the last bit of her savings to procure this place as well as the products that lined its shelves; and here she was, ending the life of every digital object within her reach.

She stopped. So abruptly that my heart, which had been anticipating another blow, experienced a bit of tachycardia. Simone remained still for a few seconds, hovering over the remains like a seasoned hunter watching the soul leave its intended prey. And then, she approached me, with crowbar tightly gripped. Maybe it was fear that kept me frozen, or maybe it was the fact that if I moved I was probably going to need a new pair of underwear (and I was already down to two).

The distance between us shrank to only a few feet; I closed my eyes and foolishly threw my arms up as if they would shield me from her strike, but it never came. Instead, she opened her other hands and asked me for my phone. I did as instructed because the coward in me had no intention of forming any counter-arguments, especially against one who was armed. Strangely, she politely accepted the device, laid it on the floor, and smiled at me. Just briefly, because her grin was instantly replaced with a stiff lip. With the strength of the Norse god of thunder, Simone brought the curved edge of the crowbar down on my phone screen. Of course, I reacted, wouldn’t you if you just watched your digital lifeline get destroyed; and, after a series of increasingly tiring blows, I gave up any notion of salvaging the device or data. However, I was not enraged or angered enough to retaliate, plus she was still in possession of the makeshift (read: poor man’s) weapon.

As the carnage finally settled, and my muscles loosened their contractions on my bladder, I became mobile again. I inched closer to the door, preparing myself for a quick exit, but it seems that Simone was the one ready to escape. She heaved one of the boxed computer monitors that had a hole in the center with jagged edges and carried it to the chair. With the wall against my back and an ample amount of space between us, I considered the possibility that she was no longer a threat to me. So I stayed, at first to try and communicate with her, yet she remained silent throughout her task-unflinching as if taking a direct command from a superior who could seal her mouth. Unable to break free to her, I decided to observe her actions.  They made little sense at first: tying a few wires around the legs of the chair, propping the crowbar up on the desk, and angling the large computer on the edge of the seat. Once again, fate came to the foreground; Simone took one look at me, repeated a single phrase, and then went prone on the floor.

By the time I realized what her apparatus was, and where she’d positioned herself, Simone already kicked the crowbar; as far as the laws of physics are concerned, gravity will always bring objects down. The enlarged modem she’d just been carrying landed on her face, instantly crushing the frontal bones in her skull while the jagged edges sliced through the fatty deposits in her cheeks (even now, I can still hear that god awful crunching noise). Now the floor and my outfit were covered in her blood and other fluids; I assumed she was dead. Horrified, I went to check out the body; how firmly terror held me when her hand shot up and latched onto my arm. Rigor mortis reflexes or not, she would not let go. I eventually had to break one of her fingers to release myself from the grip. With the little first aid knowledge, I knew-my only instructors were actors on General Hospital and other soap-dramas set in a medical field (blame cable TV)-I checked the woman’s pulse.

Nothing. Yet, as if her spirit had not yet fully fled, a breathless cackle slipped through the holes in the computer modem. It sounded almost like a laugh, an innocent and sheepish giggle that a child would employ when entreated with sweets.

With terror and disgust as my two guides, I hastily made my way back to the entrance of the office and was about to leave when I remembered the other reason I came here: my order. I spent the next few minutes tearing away at what remained of the office, shuffling through her desk and filing cabinets. Eventually, underneath the bottom shelf of her closet, I found a box marked “Treasure Chest.” Inside it was dozens of digital compact discs, each neatly wrapped in a pre-made package. At the top right corner were the names of each of her customers, the particular patrons who made good use of her exceptional skills. Why was it called the Treasure Chest, and why was her store called Parrot Bay? Because…Simone was a pirate.

You already know this though, don’t you? A pirate, a person who bypasses the copyright laws and sells unauthorized works. She was the best I’d ever met. With only just a few hours of meticulously scouring through the reaches of the dark web, Simone could procure nearly any software that one desired: Adobe Creative suites, episodes of primetime television shows (remember the Game of Thrones hack?), virus installation software, and even modified versions of international video games. And now as I explain this, I realize that I may, in fact, be a criminal as well but that depends on what one considers a crime in this rapidly changing digital world. However, what I wanted was not of monetary value, it was a lost program that I’d heard about on some online community boards. Software that can enhance the internet experience. This was my first order from her-my only order-and I’d requested it over two weeks ago…before everything happened.

Unable to locate my order after a few moments of fruitless searching, I left the office and the remains of the owner. The switches of the circuit breaker flipped with ease and, once again, the store was bathed in darkness, except for the blue hue of neon light. Aggravated and slightly delirious (think you can watch someone die a grisly death and remain sane?) I ran through the shelves to the light. From my point of view, I could see the entire street, and it was empty. I found the plug that connected the sign to the outlet and yanked it out of its socket, but the blue pulsing persisted. I lifted my head from behind the counter and was about to tear down the sign completely when I saw the first police cruiser pull up to the sidewalk. How stupid had I been not to consider the chances that Simone the tech wizard and illegal software smuggler would have a silent alarm? I peered down the hallway at the back entrance, and was about to make my daring escape (just like I do on GTAV) until I heard the static from a walkie-talkie followed by a “FREEZE!”. With nowhere else to run, or even hide, I regretfully raised my hands, and chose the only other option…and here we are now.


“Mhhm. Would you state your name for the record once more? It seems our recorder was having some difficulty?” the bald investigator asked.

“Jean-Paul Holden, but I go by JP.”

“And, the events you’ve recounted to me are valid and true?”

“Certainly. I have no reason to hide the truth from you.”

“Indeed…” he clicked his pen against the clipboard. “And, what of this other person…you said that Ms. Simone was having a conversation with someone correct? Did you cross paths with them at any point?”

“Um…now that you mention it, I didn’t. It’s possible she could’ve been on the phone.”

“So you did hear her talking with someone else, you just didn’t see them?”

“Correct.”

“Do you remember what was said?” Jean-Paul shook his head. “Nothing? It doesn’t have to be out of the ordinary,” he added.

“It was hard to hear anything over that blaring static. I’m sorry,” he apologized.

“Static, hm. Now, could you tell me your relationship with Ms. Simone?”

“She was a business owner who happened to live below me; I bought a few items from her in the past, but that’s as far as our relationship goes.”

 

“Was she involved with another person?”

“Not sure. I don’t pry into people’s lives,” JP expressed.

“Okay,” the investigator took the hint, “last question, what exactly did Ms. Simone tell you before she…before she perished?”

“I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as a saying.” JP wiped his lips with his hands and took a deep breath, “She just kept repeating the same phrase.”

“Then what was that phrase?”

Aki…ki…kiki…aki..ki…kiki.”

 

The investigator set his clipboard down on the metallic desk. “Does that ring a bell at all?” JP put his head back down in his palms, still in disbelief that Simone Douglass was dead. He loosened his tie, “Is there anything else that you can remember? Anything out of the ordinary?”

“No, sir. Are we almost done? I’m not trying to rush or anything, but I was expected at my job two hours ago.”

“You’re free to go but before you do, take this,” the investigator reached into his back pocket and removed a business card. “If anything changes or you remember something, don’t hesitate to call.” JP lifted the card from his hand and read the name, “Detective Carl Alison.”

Carl signaled to the guard who was standing watch at the door. He entered the room and collected the pair of handcuffs previously bound to JP’s wrists. “Would you mind showing Mr. JP to his belongings?” The guard tipped his head and gestured for JP to follow him throughout the precinct.

 

JP arrived at the entrance of his apartment complex. The first floor was dark, but he could see the strands of caution tape fluttering due to the ventilation. Luckily, the establishment lacked any security, and that the police disengaged the silent alarm; using the same pathway as before, JP entered Parrot Bay. He snuck past the miniature yellow tents with numbers on them, doing his best to avoid tainting the crime scene. When he arrived at the office, he peered through the cracked door and half expected to see the body. The coroner’s staff had already cleaned up most of the mess; however, the shrine of broken devices stood tall like an altar that once held a sacred object.

JP left the peephole and crawled from the office entrance to the cashier counter. He dug through a gap between the wall and the neon sign. His fingers tapped a solid object, a smirk now stitched on his face. JP retrieved the flash drive from the hiding spot and headed straight for the exit without so much as a second thought. All in all, he’d only been inside for three minutes.

Back in his apartment, JP wheeled his desk chair around. The flash drive was connected to his PC modem. While the system booted, he fixed a meal for one. The shrill cry of the microwave alerted him when his meal was complete, and he pulled the laminate film off of the plastic container. He stuck his finger in the macaroni and cheese, tasted it, and chewed on a bit of ice. “Still frozen.” Just like his computer screen.

JP tried toggling with the mouse, but the crosshair remained stuck in the top left corner. Frustrated, and exhausted from the interrogation, JP slammed the device twice. On the second smack, the screen glitched. White static shot across the screen and the pixels frenzied. JP jumped back, nearly knocking his dinner off of the desk. “Piece of shit,” he cursed as the screen remained still frozen. A beam of sunlight slipped through the shielded blinds; morning had come, and the status of his computer hadn’t changed since he inserted the flash drive.

He finally decided that enough was enough and that he needed rest. JP removed his uniform-his shirt had droplets of Simone’s blood on it. Standing naked in front of his device, he contemplated shutting off the power, but the risk of data corruption stayed his hand. Instead, with his options exhausted, he slipped into bed and reached into his bedside drawer. The container rattled as he set it down, counting out three pills. JP tilted his head back, dropped each of them in his mouth like a Sunday school treat, and prayed that the images of Simone’s skull being shattered would stop replaying in his head.

T-w/o\

He awoke when the orange glow of the sunset started to diminish. JP relieved himself in the bathroom and cracked open a room-temperature Mountain Dew. He’d examined the computer but, to his dismay, the machine had yet to process the program. Still frozen. However, while JP had been fighting through nightmares, his computer had downloaded twelve gigabytes of data from the flash drive. Irritated, he shut off the computer by pulling the power strip out of the socket. Enraged, he expelled a series of curses and indecent remarks about anatomical appendages, before leaving his apartment. He needed to replace his cell phone-it’d only occurred to him when his dosage alarm failed to ring that he lacked one.

Dressing in the clothes that he wore the previous night, JP, hurried out of his apartment. When he reached the entrance of his complex, and the front of Parrot Bay, he stared through the glass windows. Inside the store were officers, men wearing their badges and hats tipped to the side, drinking coffee while aimlessly wandering through the aisles. He decided not to linger, for out of the office where Simone had taken her life came Detective Alison.

JP arrived at the pawn shop a few blocks from his home. The shop was a shoddy excuse for a legitimate business (they’d been investigated for the sale of stolen goods). The establishment was less than appealing, the windows had streaks and stains, the lights were pulsing like a dying heartbeat, and the items for sale seemed to be scattered and tossed into corners with no definite scheme for decorations. However, now that Simone was no longer in the business of providing electronics, he needed to take his business elsewhere.

A greasy six-foot giant tucked a glob of snuff underneath his tongue-there was a cold sore the size of Texas on his lip that made JP wince as he entered. They exchanged pleasantries, or what could be considered pleasantries, because JP had little to say, and the cold sore cashier had a mouth full of tobacco. Cold Sore directed him to the electronic section, which was just a locked steel cabinet. He removed the key from underneath his desk, opened the door, and let JP have a glance at his wares.

In the corner of the room was a black and white television, its antenna jutted and bent like an elbow with a compound fracture. On the screen was static, but when JP reached for his phone, the digital haze broke, prompting the shopkeeper to glance at it. What he saw was a miniature image, a small insectoid like graphic appear on the bottom left corner of the screen. It crawled upwards, and when it reached the top of the screen, it glitched and disappeared. But not before an eerie noise erupted from the static that caused JP to freeze in place when he took hold of the phone. He stared at the television, but the screen was showing a commercial about snow cones. Still frozen.

JP powered on the iPhone 3 and waited for the recognizable logo to appear, however, instead of an apple with one bite in it, there were multiple holes as if a worm or some other creature had made a quick meal out of it. Unfortunately, he paid it no mind, because blistering Cold Sore was demanding payment-now that his television was active, he wanted to catch the next seven reruns of “Cops.” A handful of crumpled twenty dollar bills were exchanged, and JP stuffed the phone in his pocket. The bell above the door chimed as he exited; a shout broke out behind him. He doubled back just in time to see Cold Sore banging the television and bending the fractured antenna into an even more broken angle. Out of frustration, he threw the antenna across the room, crashing against a shelf full of band instruments, but JP was already on the next block at the time this happened.

Relief was the first emotion that settled into his system when he arrived back at his apartment; the officers were gone. The yellow caution tape that barred the entrance delicately flapped like petals kidnapped by the evening gale. As the fluttering continued, JP looked beyond himself in the reflective glass. His face still bore the shock from Simone’s death, but something else loomed in his eyes. It wasn’t fatigue, because he was used to sleeping for roughly four hours per night; it wasn’t fright, he’d seen worse sights while living with his parents who happened to be self-prescribed (his arm still bore signs from injections); it wasn’t even disgust, the television had more graphic content than what he’d witnessed. No, what lurked in the depths of his pupils was wonder. What thing could trigger someone like Simone to commit suicide in such a fashion? And, what of her last moments? Before his mind could formulate an answer, JP retreated into his hovel, fearing that realizations may alter his reality once again; he also believed he saw the gray coat of Detective Alison in the background.

 

The desk chair squeaked across the wood. The plastic tipped wires were carefully plugged into their appropriate sockets, and another swig was taken from the Mountain Dew (lined with stagnant backwash). It was time to update his phone, and transfer his data. JP plugged in the device and waited for his computer to load but, to his astonishment, the phone background matched his previous one. The apps were in the same order, and there was even the exact number of unchecked notifications. His name, his twelve contacts (two of which were no longer valid numbers), and even his dosage scheduling were set too. But, his machine was still rebooting, and there was no way that the information could’ve been the-

The computer screen skipped past the opening cutscene, and from the bottom left side crawled an elongated figure. Its legs, which were one-hundred digitized appendages, scrawled and glitched as it moved towards the upper right corner. As it marched, it jittered and made a distinct sound, one that made JP spit the rest of his Mountain Dew into the bottle.

Ki…ki…ki…kikik…kiki

It reached its destination, and it stopped as if each leg was being controlled by a single, unified neuron. The “centipede” rotated its body in the digital sphere and brandished a face. It had no eyes, a smile-made from its extended mandibles-stretching across his head, and a pair of antennae that bounced each time it twitched. And then, it spoke:

“I’m Mr. Akiki!” its lips moved, and the words appeared next to its mouth with a bubbly caption. “I’m here to help you, Jean Paul. If you have any questions, type them in the box below, and I will find the answer to them.”

He rolled his chair back in shock; the avatar seemed to laugh in response to his actions. Its sentience was staggering as if it was able to register JP’s astonishment visually. But, no way was it possible because it only existed in the digital realm (plus, he’d covered his webcam with black duct tape). He glanced at the USB sockets; stuck in the second slot from the right was the flash drive. He unplugged it and stuffed it in the drawer, underneath a collection of empty prescription bottles. Was this the program that was stored on the device, he thought as he rested his fingertips on the keypad.

The avatar rocked back in forth, swaying as one does when they are waiting for their turn to speak in a conversation. The mouse inched closer to the box, and, as it did, the grin expanded-or at least that’s what he thought. Mr. Akiki repeated himself, and the bubbly text box flashed twice, demanding the undivided attention of JP. He clicked on the open space, and his hands began to move without guidance.

The letters appeared on screen, “How do you know my name?” Mr. Akiki twitched and shivered, and its legs tapped against the screen as it prepared a response.

“I found it here!” The avatar glitched and the screen flashed. There was a photograph in place of the text box. It was JP’s license.

“How did you get that?” he typed.

“Mr. Akiki can find anything on the internet!”

“Were you the program that I downloaded?”

“I am!”

JP’s fingers moved across the black keys. Mr. Akiki physically flipped his bubbly text box into a blank square. He brought one of his legs, a slightly larger appendage with digital attachments that resembled fingers, to the screen and pressed a button. The screen flashed and enlarged until it engulfed the entirety of the screen. JP leaned in, anxiously waiting for the cybernetic apparition to explain itself. Finally, Mr. Akiki crawled towards the center, except its appearance had changed. The avatar was wearing glasses, large plastic frames that a first-grade teacher would wear (he half expected an apple to be in its hands).

“I am here to make your internet experience unforgettable! You name it, and I can share it with you, Jean Paul! I will show you everything that’s out there!” The screen fazed out for a second, and when it returned to normal, there was an image of Google or at least something that resembled it. After carefully examining it, JP realized that the letters were not just jumbled together, they were all connected. They resembled the body of a…centipede. Mr. Akiki scurried through the “O’s” before making its way to the search bar. Once inside, it dragged its body across, and letters came out. JP watched as the phrase “funny videos,” appeared in the box. And then, without having to click a single link or even the mouse, a media player materialized on the screen.

Soon, JP found himself wiping away tears of laughter as the internet’s most comical videos played: a soccer ball bounced off of a goal post and hit a player in the nuts, a young toddler shouting for blueberries lost her balance and brought the bowl of yogurt down, a wedding party fell into a river after the pastor lost consciousness (due to locked knees). And as he laughed throughout the rest of the night, until his eventual bedtime (somewhere around 3 AM), so did his new digital avatar, but for reasons unknown to JP at the time. “I will show you everything…”

Kiki…kikiki…ki…ki

 

He closed the manilla folder and set it back upon his desk, next to his coffee and badge. The precinct was unnaturally cold this morning; the incoming winter weather had the facility manager continually altering the thermostat. Only a few early birds were present, each of them slurping down their first cup of instant coffee (they’d yet to invest in repairing their brewer); Detective Alison was already on his third.

A week had passed since the death of Simone Douglass, and the third-year investigator was at a dead end. The cause was apparent: the coroner’s report stated that the brain suffered severe trauma which lead to an almost instant neural disconnect. According to his only witness, Simone had enough sensibility to utter a final phrase. Much to his dismay, the toxicology report that he’d received the previous night ruled out his hypotheses; he’d insisted that her motive was related to drug usage, primarily the psychedelic and hallucinogenic variety. How else could he explain the level of destruction Simone caused to her wares? However, the lack of any substances in her system (not even marijuana) set him back to square one. And square one was not where he needed to be because the Chief was steadily closing in-Alison had already been under the watchful eye due to his blunder in the previous case he was assigned (a double homicide in a community college computer lab). The Chief also believed that there might have been a connection between the two cases, but that failed to motivate Alison. With a case this challenging, Alison made it a point to arrive early with the hopes of cracking it, but as temperature fluctuated, so did his patience.

If only it were something missing, then maybe he could use his investigative skills to scour a lead; however, there simply wasn’t enough information to know if something was lacking. Simone Douglass was an anomaly. A recluse that left no trail, especially on the internet. As one of the younger members of the force, Detective Alison was the ideal choice for any crimes related to cyberspace. Truthfully, this was an agist inference-his superiors assumed that since he was closest to the Millennial generation that he knew technology, but Alison was about as digitally dimwitted as a recently divorced, single parent on an online dating site. Even his lack of internet expertise wasn’t a valid enough excuse for this challenging case; he was tempted to say that Simone Douglass did not exist.

He opened the folder again, hoping that some minute or overlooked fact would catch his attention and lead him to his breakthrough, but the report displayed only the known. As he gulped down the last of his coffee-black with a helping of frustration-Detective Alison swept his hand across his desk with one swift stroke. Papers went flying, and the folder landed in an oblong shaped tent, only a few feet away from the Chief’s door (luckily, he only came in on the afternoons to handle logistics). The rest of the officers minded their own business, opting to focus on their conversations about ride alongs, busted drug dealers and the weight of their products, prostitutes and pimps caught in the act (and which ones to “extort”), and their favorite type of case: wiretappings.

Alison went to retrieve his documents, after adamantly vocalizing his anger through a series of slurs. When he finally reached the pitched tent, it was quickly dismantled by a blonde haired officer dressed as if he were about to go undercover as a high-school student. His lazy green eyes suggested that he’d just awoken. He handed the parchment to him and bared a grin laced with understanding.

“Tough case?”

“Yeah, and I’m afraid it will go cold soon,” Alison stated.

“What’s the sub?”

“Suicide…but there is evidence of foul play. I’m wondering if my witness was telling the truth?”

Blondie tilted the lustered badge on his right breast, “Ah, so you’re working that case?” His tone made it seem that it was the talk of the precinct (it wasn’t). “I was there, first to arrive on the scene. Was soaking up some sun while on patrol when I got a call about a silent alarm being triggered.”

“Did you notice anything suspicious? Anything that may have seemed out of the ordinary?” The espresso in his system had him speaking at the speed of a southern auctioneer.

“Well, all of the devices in her shop were broken. There was, probably, a couple ten-thousand dollars worth of equipment in there. Televisions, laptops, wiring, even the computer modem that ran the security system, all of it was just destroyed. As if done in a rage. But,” he rolled his thumb against his index, “there was this shrine.”

“A shrine?”

“Hard to call it anything else. Makes you wonder what she could’ve been worshipping.”

Alison pointed towards the upper left corner of the main hall; whenever he needed to remember a specific fact and had no access to a notebook, he mentally set the note in the corner, so he could return to it when he was ready to jot it down. Of course, this action made Blondie consider ending their conversation, and returning to the dossier he’d been reviewing.

“And, you were the one who arrested…” his eyes darted around the room, “Jean Paul, no?”

“Yeah, that was me. Caught him trying to slip out of the back office, right where the body was found.”

“Did you happen to see him before then?”

“Well…” Blondie’s memory had to still be intact; he looked no less than twenty-five. “When I passed through the neighborhood earlier, I do remember seeing him just peering out of his apartment window. It was sort of eerie; he didn’t acknowledge me. Just kept staring with no real focus.”

He was about to walk to his desk, believing that he was done with this interrogation when Detective Alison gripped his free hand.

“And then, you made the arrest.” Blondie nodded. “What was he doing?”

“He was near the counter.”

“Tampering with the register?”

“No…he was, hm.” Glowing like a star student, Blondie snapped his fingers. “The neon sign. He was doing something with it, but didn’t turn it off.”

“The neon sign,” Alison muttered, his attention directed back to the corner while Blondie shook himself free from the vice grip.

With this bit of information, Detective Alison returned to his desk but refused to sit down. Although it wasn’t much, it was still enough information for him to bring his sole witness in for further questioning. He removed the file that contained Jean Paul’s phone number and address. If he was in the store, then he had to know something; and, if he knew something, then Alison was sure that he could extract from him. He had to, had to prove to the Chief (and the rest of the force) that he was capable of being a detective.

T}{re3

The caution tape prohibiting entry into Parrot Bay had weathered due to the band of storms that hit the city. The driving conditions were so hazardous that Detective Alison delayed his house visit to Jean Paul for two evenings, thus bringing him a day shy of ten-when a case is exponentially more difficult to settle. He’d opted to make a house visit because every call that the detective put through was unanswered. There wasn’t even a voicemail set up. Before he decided to venture to the abode of his witness, Alison reached out to a fellow officer who ran communications. His bifocals fogged from his excessive mouth breathing. He’d asked to tap the wires of JP’s house to see if he were home, in exchange for a favor that could be settled at a later date.

When the line was finally established, Alison and Bifocals were shocked at what they heard. JP was alternating between laughter, banshee-like screaming, and insufferable fits of crying, only to repeat the cycle. And then he stopped as if he were…aware that they were listening. His laugh crawled through the microphone as Alison bit his knuckles until the blood drew. Then he said a name. “Mr. Akiki”. The glasses of Bifocals fogged as the detective blankly stared in the upper left corner of the room. What was he loo-

SKRRRRRRCH!

A deafening screech caused both eavesdroppers to dart away from their headphones. The carotid pulse throbbed against his neck while his temples tightened. The detective locked eyes with his reflection as he glared into Bifocals glasses. After that, JP went silent. Alison wanted to continue listening, even though the officer repeatedly informed him that he could no longer establish an open line, and retap JP’s wire.

“Something’s interfering with the channel. Storms nearly here.” Alison agreed, he’d wore his trench coat to protect against the slapping rain. “That’s a possible explanation for the shorted line,” Bifocals stated as he set the headphones on the hook, but Alison disapproved-he showed no signs of his opinion, on account of being in debt. “My best guess though is that this comes from the source.” Alison tore out of the precinct, stopping by his desk to grab his keys, badge, and gun holster. On his way out of the lobby, he ran into the Chief. The thick neck police force veteran (the office celebrated his 35th year of duty) halted the detective.

“Alison,” the scent of the Chief’s cigar coated his tongue as he spoke.

“Chief, I’m in a rush. I’ve got a lead on the Douglass case. The witnes-”

“You’re too late.” He then explained to the detective how a higher institute (he muttered something about the NSA) decided to freeze any investigations into the case. Their team was en route and would arrive at dawn. “Should’ve handled it sooner. Your recent performance has been shit. Therefore, you will be meeting with me tomorrow afternoon. There are matters we must discuss.” Alison nodded, swallowing his anger. He kept further responses short, hoping to end the chat with the Chief. When he departed, the gray-bearded veteran warned him not to interfere anymore, or he’d revoke his badge.

He ducked underneath the yellow and black tape as his signature (and only) gray trench coat skirting against the sidewalk and unlocked the door with the keys that he’d rented from the evidence room. The air inside the establishment was stale, and there was a lingering scent of ferrous blood in the air (the ventilation systems had been shut off by the property manager). He reached into his trench coat and removed a chrome pointer, a handheld utensil that he carried around when he was inspecting areas, and trying to avoid tainting the evidence.

Detective Alison’s search began in the office. He pushed the door open, removed his flashlight, and examined the perimeter before shining the beam at the center. It was still erect, the shrine of destroyed electronics. Alison knelt next to it: the foundation contained computer modems that had been pierced and jabbed, atop of those were the wide and flat screens, and every single one of them had a shattered hole the size of a dinner plate. The edges of the altar were lined with various gadgets and accessories (mouses, headphones, and speakers, web cameras); they suffered the same fate as their counterparts. Judging by the integrity of the structure, Alison deduced that the equipment had been destroyed before it was set into this position, and he also determined that setting them up in this manner required an ample amount of time. However, he still had no conclusion regarding its significance, if there even was any to be had.

He snapped a quick photo and then migrated to the right side of the room, where a tent with the number one had been placed. Around it was still stray stains of blood, and underneath the desk, he could see a pearly white object with rotted tendrils; someone missed a piece of the skull. Alison gagged at the sight, but then returned his flashlight beam to the site. A pair of latex-free gloves were removed from his pocket, and he strapped them up individually, slapping them loudly as a surgeon would before conducting an operation. His fingers traced the chalked line, noting the angulation and body placement of Simone. According to his witness, she’d been lying prone on the floor, when the modem came crashing down on her. As he examined the outline, he grudgingly accepted the claim. What could make someone remain still in a fatal situation? Some primal reflex should’ve overridden her nerves and made her dodge.

He came back to his feet and exhaled; there was nothing more to be learned here. Alison popped his knuckles and re-entered the main room of the shop. Leaning to the admissions of Blondie, he decided to check the counter. Just as the young officer had said, the register had not been tampered with, and it even seems that the front desk as a whole was untouched. He turned to the left and saw the neon sign. The wires had been unplugged; this had not been the case when he closed the scene a week ago.

“Someone’s been back here,” his finger shot to the corner. Alison then spent the next dozen or so minutes combing every inch of the neon sign. He peered in the crevice where the fuses connected with the base, scoured through the steel and cylindrical pipes and even removed the entire sign from its perch to see if something had been placed on the front. When he did this, a slip of paper fluttered to the floor. Using his pointer, Detective Alison flipped it over. A bellow of distant thunder crackled, and the scruffed cheeks of the detective curled into a satisfactory smile as he read the inscription.

Three knocks came to his door, yet he remained unfazed, or rather, he was so concentrated on the visual stimuli that his auditory senses had not registered the sound. His room was pitch black, except for the screen of his computer, and the occasional bolt of lightning brought a temporary flash to the habitat. At this point, he was unaware of what he was even watching; he just knew that he had to watch it. It’s what he’d been told to do. He needed to know everything.

The door banged again, and this time, he was able to hear the heavy pounding; yet, what could be more important than the images that he’d been seeing? Shots of recently freed slaves trying to start again; the mitochondria, or powerhouse of the cell, suspended in the matrix; metal bands recording tracks in the studio; blindfolded bodies standing in a line, the rifle squad taking aim; an eyepatch-wearing cat explaining how the lunar landing was a hoax; behind the scenes footage from The Shining; a Google drive document with the title Ingilaef, and flashes of photographs at the speed of light. Finally, a voice broke through the haze, identifying itself as a Detective Alison.

Kiiiki…kiki…kikik

His legs uncurled from his chest and his feet planted on the floor. JP wobbled and nearly lost his balance; what happened to his body? His hand grasped the doorknob, and a thin, watery mixture of Mountain Dew and mucus escaped his mouth. He wiped it away and glanced at his hands; the cuticles were long, dirty, and brittle, and minor sores were sprouting on his skin. He felt a jolt in his arm when he turned the doorknob as if the simple act required him to use the momentum of his entire body.

JP nearly fell into the arms of his visitor after the door finally opened. Detective Alison retreated to a safe distance, his hands instinctively reaching towards the holster on his hip (although, he’d never shot his gun except outside of the gun range). He hurriedly shackled his fear of assault, and regained his balance, although the same could not be said about his witness.

“JP…?” he asked, with a mix of confusion and shock.

The person in front of him looked disheveled, almost delirious. His hair jutted in various directions, there were voids underneath his bloodshot eyes, and his entire face had dried flakes of flesh peeling off (there were even a few covered in a yogurt-like pus). And, how horrid he smelled as if he’d been spending his days inside of a morgue. “Come in, Detective Alison,” his frail hand gestured towards the opened door.

Reluctantly, Alison accepted the hospitality, but when he entered, he immediately regretted the decision. Where JP smelled like a rotting corpse, his room reeked of feces-human at that. Everything was in disarray: The mattress, now soured, was flipped upside down; the refrigerator was open (and smelled as if it had been for quite awhile). The home had been tarnished, except for the desk where JP’s computer was situated. On the right-hand side of the black, steel desk was a miniature figurine. When he glanced at it, he noticed that it was a foundation made from the speakers, USB wires, external hard-drives and flash sticks. A shrine-what was he worshipping?

JP closed the door behind him and returned to his chair and monitor as if the detective were absent. Entirely indoctrinated by the flashing screen, leaving Alison to his anxieties. No amount of mental notes could bring him any clarity in this situation.

“Aren’t you curious as to why I came?” Alison tried.

He says you came here for answers. He’s given them to me, but he also says that I couldn’t give them to you.”

“Why not? And,” Detective Alison approached JP, “who is he?”

A hysterical laugh echoed in the dismantled apartment, and the thunder bellowed, signifying the storm’s presence above the complex. “He says you will know soon.”

“Why not now?” But, his question remained ignored as JP returned to the racing imagery.

Alison removed the bit of evidence he’d recovered from the neon sign and set it on the desk. “JP, I don’t have time for games. I need answers, and you’re going to give them to me. I don’t care if he says you can or can’t; you will give them to me because it’s the law.” JP brought his phone to his ear and nodded his head as if instructions were being beamed directly to the device.

“He says that laws are foolish constructs of weak people, used to exert an imaginary power over their fellow neighbor. He also says that there is a law that states you cannot extort information from a witness outside of an interrogation room. It’s Article 19. Section 5. Subclause ii.”

Baffled, Alison stepped back. According to his education records, JP had no history of law, yet how did he know the exact clause? “The law is what protects us. It governs us,” Alison stated.

“Our physical bodies, perhaps, but what of our digital existence? Your laws are not applicable where I plan to go.”

“And…where is it that you’re going?”

“With Mr. Akiki.” JP cheerily slapped his hands as if he’d won the lottery. “He’s invited me to join him. And, he’s told me that you can join him too. He’ll show you everything!”

He rolled away from the desk and gave Detective Alison a clear view of the screen. Believing it to be some prank by the lunatic that had replaced JP, Alison hardly expected to see anything; but, when the hundreds of legs glitched their way across the rectangular box, he pressed his investigation.

“JP! Listen to me,” lightning struck the ground, and the furniture rattled. “I am going to arrest you if you don’t comply with me. Now, I also don’t believe it has to come to that, but you must work with me.”

“Mr. Akiki says I cannot.” JP’s finger stretched towards the critter now shuffling with the images.

“What!? That little avatar is Mr. Akiki?” At the mention of its name, the avatar waved with all of its right legs. Alison gawked at the sight but returned to more pressing matters. He needed a resolution, now. “You’re letting a simulated program dictate your decisions?”  His right hand curled over the young man’s shoulder, which caused him to twitch. “JP, I’m here only because I want to know the truth. Now, I know that you went back to the scene and that Simone did have that order you requested. You hid it, right? Put it on the neon sign so that none of my officers would find it, right?”

It was impossible to tell if the young man was even coherent, his eyes were glued to the screen and the playfully frolicking avatar.

“He says that I can answer you now.”

Alison wasted no time with this interrogation interval, “Did you come back to the scene?”

“Yes.” His tone was cold and devoid of any emotion.

“And, what was the order that you placed?”

“The rumors were about software that enhanced the internet experience…but, it was actually Mr. Akiki.”

“What is Mr. Akiki?” Detective Alison finally asked.

“He says he’s a sentient entity that has dwelled in the digital dark, ages before man discovered the world wide web. He assumes the form of the Scolopendra gigantea, or cave centipede. Mr. Akiki is the one who gave me the answers to everything. Ask me, ask me anything!” JP bounced thrice on his chair before it buckled under the weight and threw him to the floor. With a giggle, JP regained his footing. Again, he repeated his question.

“How did Simone Douglass die?”

“No, not that kind of question.”

“Why not? What will happen if you answer it?”

“He won’t let me come with him,” JP sucked on one of the sores on his hand.

“Where,” Alison felt stupid playing into this farce, “where is he going?”

Everywhere. He’s got a plan. Now that he’s no longer trapped, he’s going to travel the world wide web, and he’s inviting us to be his legs.”

“His legs?” The lights flickered for a brief second, and the computer screen flashed, for the lighting struck a tree in the distance.

“Yes, he says that Simone is already there. And, that he has space for me, right next to her.”

“Simone…? JP, did Mr. Akiki…did he make you kill Simone too?” Maybe his fractured mindset hid the memory of the murder.

“No. She did it herself; I told you that.”

Detective Alison calculated the distance between his position and the door, just in case a hasty escape was necessary. JP’s constant shuffling proved the detective’s fears to be true; he was spiraling. Eventually, he would reach a point of no return. But, before he was able to calculate his route of retreat accurately, the lightning struck again, this time splitting a powerline routed to the same grid as JP’s apartment. The apartment was bathed in blackness. Detective Alison gripped his holster when heard JP’s voice.

“Ask me a question! Like Jeopardy. Or, should I just tell you what Mr. Akiki has shown me?” He was unable to locate the source of the JP’s voice in the dark for it sounded as if it were coming from every direction. “Carbon is the molecular key because it is capable of sharing its valence electrons and opening its orbitals to accept others; Mary Shelley’s inspiration behind her world-renowned novel, Frankenstein, was stemmed by the previous miscarriages she’d suffered; in 1518, a dancing plague sent 400 people into a Footloose frenzy, it occurred when a woman named Mrs. Troffea broke out into a routine on the street; a double homicide occurred at a local community college and the case went unresolved; Detective Alison is a rat bastard, he lied to me about my daughter’s murder; internal investigation discovered that Carl Alison forged evidence to steer the case.”

“Stop it! How do you know that?” his fingers slipped around the grip of his gun. His pulse raged loudly as the darkened room started to meld into a singular, black expanse. He tried to find the corner, but the lack of light made it impossible for his eyes to locate the exact vertex. Alison needed to leave, needed to escape this situation before it became worse. How had he known about his faults? He’d only lied because the Chief was hammering him about results-the mayor and parents of the victim seemed to be doing the same to him.

“Mr. Akiki. It was Mr. Akiki.” JP’s silhouette appeared against the computer modem. “He showed me the reports.” Detective Alison started backing towards the door. “Mr. Akiki is done talking though. He says you can’t leave yet.”

“JP, don’t do this…” Alison warned.

“He says that you can’t leave yet! He says that if I let you leave, that he won’t take me with him. Then, he’ll no longer show me everything.” JP’s voice scattered against the walls as heat lightning continued to thunder in the sky. “I need to know. I Need To Know. I NEED TO KNOW. I NEED TO KNOW!”

Kikiki..kiki…kikiki

An eerie chatter resounded from the speaker of the clutched cell phone. “JP, this is your last warning. I’m asking you to please stand down. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Mr. Akiki says that you’re a liar. Liar. Liar. Liar. LIAR!”

The lights returned while the madman wildly howled; suddenly, his erratic rampage halted. A faint alarm was echoing from the cell phone. JP’s stained teeth glimmered in the light. “It’s time! It’s time! It’s time for my dosage!”  Detective Alison’s eyes were readjusting from the darkness; when sight did return, he was transfixed by the subject in the line of his pupils.

Shoved into JP’s mouth was the iPhone, and the teeth that had once been apart of his simple smile were scattered on the floor, the roots trailing across the carpet. After he collected them, he ran to the edge of the desk. JP then started stacking the saliva soaked phone atop the miniature shrine that was previously erected. The missing teeth were placed around the perimeter as if they were a patrol unit on a wall. Once his task was completed, JP bared the remnants of his smile, the blood and tendons hanging out of his bottom lip.

“He says that I have to do it. I have to kill us.”

CRACK!

JP rushed the detective, throwing the keyboard at him. He blocked the device with his arm, but the assailant was already ready for his next attack. The base of the mouse slapped against Detective Alison’s temple and nearly shattered the bone above his eye. Blood drew and made his vision blurry; the clip on his holster was clicked. However, as Alison drew his gun, he temporarily lost sight of JP.

“KIIIIKIKIKIII!!!” the lunatic appeared in his peripheral, and suddenly he felt the grip of constricting wires. The black rubber dug into his skin as JP, who was hysterically laughing, continued to tighten it. Unable to see what was happening, and also unable to locate his gun, Detective Alison used the brunt of his back to slam his assailant into the wall. That proved to be fruitless, for the wires slipped up to his neck.

“MR. AKIKI! LET ME JOIN YOU! PLEASE, SHOW ME EVERYTHING!” JP’s arms flailed, and the wires crawled along Alison’s neck, pinning his thyroid between the walls of his windpipe. And then, he felt himself being dragged, slowly, then rapidly as the lunatic sprinted across his bedroom.

Shards of glass rained down on the sidewalk as JP hurled himself out of the two-story window. Lightning cracked across the sky just as his spine snapped from the tense wire (that he’d also wrapped around his neck). But, instead of him propelling down to the ground immediately, his limp body was suspended in mid-air. Still inside the apartment, clinging onto his life, was Detective Alison. The wires crushed the cartilage in his neck, and cut off any circulation or airflow. His eyes were bulging as his puffed cheeks turned cyanotic. In front of him was the computer screen, flashing brightly. It suddenly stopped, and from the darkened rectangle appeared the avatar. The centipede bared its malicious, faceless mandible:

Akiki…kiki…kikiii…kikiki

Consciousness slipped away as the digital avatar raved in the darkened room. With nowhere to go-and no possible way of escaping the wires-Alison closed his eyes. He relaxed the muscles in his legs, and allowed gravity to take over.

The two bodies came crashing down on the moist concrete, landing behind the yellow caution tape that guarded the entrance of Parrot Bay. A nearby taxi driver who witnessed the sight phoned emergency services. When they arrived, JP was declared dead-the official cause being a broken spine and brain trauma.

Ep!log>

The NSA agents-at least they claimed to be NSA agents-arrived the next day, their travel had been delayed by the band of storms that raged through the night. The Chief assigned Blondie to assist the agents.  He removed his black aviator frames as he stepped foot into the apartment; nearly vomiting his morning coffee  after catching a whiff of the foul stench in the air. Two agents, one dressed in a blue blazer, the other in a cheap, band graphic tee from Target, accompanied him as they investigated the crime scene. They meticulously  marked each site: the window where JP had fallen out of, the puddle of blood where his teeth had been recovered, and the desk that had housed his computer, and wires that had been used in the assault. According to the Chief, he was instructed to search out for any clues that could answer why their crucial witness hung himself, and that one of their detectives was now paralyzed in one leg. The team of three set up their tents, and collected any necessary evidence, before ending their search around three PM when they discovered an intact flash drive. He’d found it atop the shrine-like structure built on JP’s desk-and slipped it into his pocket while the agents were discussing their next strategy.

When he returned back to the precinct, Blondie passed by Alison’s desk. It was covered in various potted plants, cheap “Get Well Soon” cards, and Playboy magazines (“Rather have a limp leg than a limp dick!”). Ignoring the sight, Blondie pulled out his chair, toggled with the flash drive in his modem, and logged onto the police database network. The drive, classified as evidence, was Blondie’s choice for a starting point. He’d inserted it the night before but was unable to check the downloaded contents, on account of having to visit the crime scene at the crack of dawn-the Chief was demanding answers again. When his screen finally booted, Blondie was somewhat surprised and humored by the sight of a multi-legged digital centipede making its way to the center of his screen.

Akii..kikik…kiii..kiki

 

JLC, III

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Gangrene

Ein

“Grand Wizard Zaltua, I fear…that we’ve made a grave mistake.” A stream of white static ran across the laptop screen, distorting the image of a young, raven haired woman.

“Servant of almighty Saturn, what has your mind troubled?” Zaltua inquired as he cautiously leaned forward into his computer screen. “Come share with me what has you wretched in agony, and let us find some sort of understanding.” The feedback in his voice rang through the speakers, filling the man’s office with a mighty echo. Expansive textbooks with enlarged Latin symbols covered the table, black robes were cast along the damp floorboards while empty picture frames hung along the chipped walls. Thirteen thin black candles had been arranged in a near perfect circle; the majority of them had been melted, exposing a charred wick. The room smelled of body odor, rotting fruit, and mercury, a common (but toxic) ingredient in many necromantic rituals.  Zaltua directed himself to the left side of his display and noticed that he was receiving another call.

“Wait. Malach is on the other line, I’m going to transfer him to our call.” The Grand Wizard moved his mouse towards the green camera button and double-tapped his device.

“Malach…he’s calling you?” the woman asked in near disbelief. Her face alone made the Grand Wizard question his previous choice as the video feed from Malach appeared. The normally robust, mid-twenties man was now a skeleton; his fragile frame was beyond anemic and there were mustard yellow patches on his skin.

“Grand Wizard,”the frail man spoke into his microphone.

“Malach, what has happened to you? Why…do you look-”

“Malach! What have you done? The police are out looking for you,” the woman on the opposing screen shouted. The Grand Wizard scratched the arch of his curly eyebrow and waited for her to finish ranting.

“Bezel, was it? We are not personally acquainted, but I am curious as to why you contacted me and not Malach as we intended. I’m hoping that he will be able to dispel this confusion.”

“Grand Wizard, I’m asking you to help us because we’ve gotten ourselves into a dire situation.” The woman’s face was distorted by the fluctuating static. Her features were plain and her cheeks were free from any foundation. Her brown eyes shone like those who still exuded youth, yet they were also darkened and full of impending doom. “Malach…you’ve got to get away”

The enigmatic man spoke into the web camera, his rancid breath fogging the lens. “Nonsense. Grand Wizard, allow me to introduce, septum Bezel. She is somewhat new to our craft, but has shown great potential.”

“Malach, please…” the young woman begged. The Grand Wizard found it difficult to juggle between the two video streams, while he impatiently waited for their intimate conversations to invite him.

“Two completed seances, the conjuring of a familiar, there are even rumors that she summoned a succubus to perform…certain services,” Malach teased, although his sickening frame made the flirtation seem cynical.

“Let’s not forget you Malach. Aren’t you the Midwestern man of Macabre? Your ambition carried our teachings to the internet, now the entire world is able to witness our arts.” Bezel shot her comment back across the screen with elven-like accuracy.

“Your praises are welcomed but thin. I have no need for such titles and trivial matters,” Malach curtly remarked. He adjusted the black device, changing the angle of the webcam. His fingernails were raw and black from being gnawed, and his pale wrist was hairless and thin to the point where the veins were exposed.

“My liege, my teacher, I must confess to you.”

“Malach what troubles you?” Zaltua inquired while he adjusted the brightness on his computer display.

“The truth, how blinding it is. What I have just done will shape the nature of the world, erecting a new pillar of society with necromancy etched at its peak. I have accomplished a feat that none in this age have been able to attempt. I do believe that I have been chosen to usher in a new world. And there is no room for false prophets.”

“Then it was a success…” the young woman quietly muttered into her microphone, but the words  were lost due to the poor connection.

“Malach, what has gotten ahold of you? You’re not making any sense.” The Grand Wizard then turned his attention to Bezel, “and why have you yet to tell me anything?”

“My apologies. I…I am still shaken to see Malach on the other line. He’s jeopardizing his safety. However, I digress. Grand Wizard, have you watched the news at all today?”

“No, I was occupied for most of the day,” he confessed.

“The local news is abuzz with a story, our story; however, they will only present facts that are alternative to my version. It is only by this version will you be able to understand what has befallen us in Lindsborg. Malach…do you wish to share it?” Bezel asked while she positioned herself in her desktop chair.

“No, I will let you speak. I’m going to listen to pass the time,” Malach stated as he devilishly grinned at the video stream belonging to the Grand Wizard. His eyes shone as if he were content to patiently wait while she shared her story.

Bezel exhaled and removed her hands from her desk. “Well, Grand Wizard let me to tell you my truth…”

I, myself am a native of Kansas, however, I hail from the outskirts of Wichita. Being the daughter of farm hands I was blessed with an uncanny strength and vigor, my mother often commended me on the passion of my spirit. The agricultural lifestyle was mentally exhausting, despite what others may say. One must remember everything from the harvest moon to the distance between planted seeds as well as the rain and dry seasons that happen all too often in the Midwest. Although quite handy with the hoe, unfortunately I was not a stellar student. After graduating with one cord (for what, I do not know), I performed various odd jobs and peculiar tasks in order to help my family with their bills; this monotonous routine continued until I met Malach this previous summer.

I’m sure that you are familiar with Malach’s past, but for the sake of this story allow me to grace your ears with his origins. He was conceived to be a drifter; born to a carnival worker who traveled throughout the Midwest. His mother died during childbirth and some blame the doctor who oversaw the delivery (those in poverty usually have poor health-care). This sudden hardship left Jeremy Thomas, Malach’s father, in a tight bind while he raised the boy. Thomas was an entertainer of  little fame in the circus industry; but there are rumors that he included young Malach in his strange performance, which some say included rope bindings, searing fire, and the blood of bats. Whatever account you choose to believe is strictly contingent upon your own desire. As the generations changed and people became socially conscious, less individuals visited the freak-show, leading to the eventual closing of the carnival. Malach and his illiterate father were forced to temporarily settle down in the town of Lindsborg, Kansas. Lacking any real education save for the skills he learned while on the road, his father had a great difficulty finding a stable job, pushing them to the brink of poverty. This streak was broken when one day, by fate or luck (whichever is your preference), his dad was hired. The job? Working as the caretaker of a morgue. Since Malach had grown up around the circus and had no knowledge of public school system, his natural assignment was to aid his single parent. Together, their days were spent embalming the recently deceased, stuffing ashes into elaborate vases, dressing the corpses for the wake, all while maintaining the integrity of the county morgue. Being only a teenager at the time, Malach was not allowed to directly handle the bodies; however, tragedy struck again and his father became ill. The city officials permitted Malach to take over his position since he’d been trained (plus so few were willing to stomach the stench of embalming fluid). Now, exactly when Malach decided to give his soul to the eternal abyss I am not entirely sure, but he has mentioned to me that his choice was based on the failing health of his sole parent. For months, he watched his sickly father toil with the dead; and sure enough, he was buried on the boy’s nineteenth birthday. Since that fateful day, Malach has been a dutiful servant of Saturn, furiously studying the arcane arts in hopes to become a Grand Wizard. It would be another four years before our paths crossed in the most unusual of circumstances.

During the summer, I managed to pick up a new position of employment that seemed to fit my lifestyle. I’d only begun dabbling in dark magic when I was hired at the apothecary. While working as a clerk in the local herbal shop (the only shop for miles), I was tending to some freshly grown rosemary, when he entered the store. Upon first glance, I would have never guessed that he was an apprentice of the arcane for he wore jeans, a plain black t-shirt, and his face was free from any tattoos or piercings; one would even consider him somewhat handsome. We exchanged the usual customer/clerk banter until it came time for him to procure the items on his list. I immediately recognized the peculiarity of the objects requested-for they lacked practical or culinary use. The items included worms wood, frog’s breath, nightshade, a clove of yellow garlic, lamb’s ear, and the petals of a black dahlia. At the time, I myself was still scratching the surface of the powers of Saturn, but I was informed enough to engage him in conversation regarding the black dahlia-it is the ideal vessel for one to use in binding a departed soul to this world. Naturally, my bond to him was solidified; a man who, like me, was no stranger to death, willing to entreat with the dark wonders. I considered him to be the ideal magician, an alchemist unafraid to conjure creations from the netherworld. How refreshing it had been to meet another; for too long I believed myself to be the only seer within one hundred miles. Our companionship was instant, and the two of us spent the entirety of the summer performing rituals and recording them to be broadcasted. And thus began our journey as neo-necromancers.

I’m aware that most tales of the macabre begin in the bellows of a thundering storm; however, this story starts underneath the Midwestern sun in the town of Lindsborg, Kansas. Fall was evident everywhere one turned: the color of the leaves had transformed from green to orange and brown, diesel tractors hummed while lands lay bare from harvested crops, and Main Street was decorated with turkey feathers and images of pilgrims. Thanksgiving was but a week away, and the entire town was preparing for the fellowship and feast. With a population of less than three thousand, this place had all the essentials of a small town. We lived in the Rust Belt and streets were lined with old buildings, the relics of the steel industry. There was only one of each civic institution, one police station, one library, one hospital which only had two floors; we were lucky enough to have a movie theater. Although the majority of Lindsborg foundations were eroding, it was the people that carried the essence of life. Smiles and waves were exchanged upon passing, and the churches were always packed on Sundays. Nearly all the townsfolk were acquainted with each other, although, we were considered outcasts from their sappy society (and for good reason).

After successfully completed the conjuring of a bat familiar on Sunday, Malach and I decided to return back to his residence and recharge our energies. For the past month, we toiled to gather the ingredients and perform the spell; under the waxing moon of the previous night, our combined efforts were rewarded. The fresh remains of the bat reanimated and took flight for a few moments, before plummeting to its grave. Astounded, I watched the impossible become real; however, in my partner I could sense a senseless anxiety plagued him, seeing as the assigned tasks were somewhat simple to his standards. Malach had years of experience over me, yet he was tasked with the apprentice-level spells to perform. For the past month, he’d been wanting to expand his level and begin his Abysmal Trials-our nightmarish ordeal to become a Grand Wizard-but he’s had little chance to practice at that high of a level. Knowing this, I could only stay so excited as the black leathery wings of the bat finally stopped beating against the soaked earth.

When we finally reached his home (which was a studio apartment), there was a young boy sitting at Malach’s doorstep with a stick in hand. To distract himself, the boy was poking at something black and formless that was on the ground. As we approached him, our natural human instincts arose, and I tried to locate a parent in the surrounding area; but, before either of us could address him we were halted what we saw. The object that he’d been toying with was a bloated, dead, black rat. Maggots and gram-negative bacteria had eaten through the creature’s flesh, giving the unsuspecting passersby an uncomfortable view of its spoiled innards. And the boy’s repetitive, and I dare say, joyful tapping of the branch against the deceased beast made the cold run through my bones. Strangely enough, the boy who looked no older than seven wore a magnificent garb; jewels aligned his puffed shoulders, mushroom-colored boots shone in the light, and his pants were neatly tailored to fit his frame. But…what I remember most vividly was the shape of his pupils, they engulfed the entirety of the young boy’s eyes. And how black they were, darker than any new-moon night that I’d witnessed in my twenty-four years of life. There was something…sinister, about the young boy. His presence alone had intensified the pulsing of my veins, and my vision became hypersensitive, turning the sublime sunset into a kaleidoscope of twilight terrors. As we neared him, I caught sight of a strange object sitting next to him. A box, a package roughly the size of a small cabinet drawer. It was made out of cardboard, yet it was soggy and there were also black ten-gallon trash bags tied around it. There were recent reports that orphans had been seeking homes, but judging by his stance I knew the boy had not come to seek refuge. The enigmatic child cocked his head to the side and greeted me with an ivory white smile; how perfectly defined his teeth.

Malach was the first to approach him, for it was his apartment; the child lifted the medium-sized package off of the sidewalk, placing it in his hands. “This is the will of your father,” is all that he said before skipping down the sidewalk, eerily dancing towards the outskirts of town.

As he faded from our sight, the bindings that had been around the base of my jugular were loosened, and my vision returned back to normal; and yet, I’ve been unsuccessful in removing his grin from my memory. The rat lay on the sidewalk still, with the boys stick impaled within the stomach. Upon entering the apartment, the first thing Malach did was unwrap the package; had his father’s will finally been found? Although he’s rarely discussed it, Malach had somewhat of a disagreement with his father before the man’s expected death. I assumed this to be part of his driving force in his journey with the dark arts, as the loss of a family member can make one resort to a new reality. He tore through the cardboard while I contemplated the origins of the delivery boy. His late father had indeed worked in the circus business, and it was true that there were freaks among men (depending on how one defines man); but this boy was no carny, he lacked any desire to entertain. How long had he been waiting here for us anyways? Scraps of the package were thrown across the furnished apartment and Malach beckoned me to join him at the brown dining room table. We pushed the circular placemats to the side, making room for the object that had been gifted to us, and together prepared to uncover this mystery.

A book, or rather a grimoire. The binding was wrapped in a splotchy gray, self-lubricating substance, giving the pale tome the appearance of lungs excised from a chronic smoker, and around the edges were the objects that resembled human incisors. What exactly had Malach’s father given him? A flaccid maggot crawled out from underneath book onto the table and I quickly swatted it away; it was customary for old texts to house insect eggs, especially if they’d been in storage. My insides lurched at the sight; although I dabble in necromancy, I was never a fan of maggots. As Malach opened the cover, a foul stench came out from the pages. Typically, his apartment smelled of fried bacon, scented candles, and herbs; that was all replaced by the putrid odor that resembled what one would experience while trekking through a peat bog. On the inside of the cover were two feathers, bound at the quills, that had a congealed liquid at the tip. Being an expert in alchemical ingredients and apothecaries, I immediately recognized it as the feather belonging to the white vulture; yet, I’d never heard of a single spell that required the use of such a prized item. Some spend their entire life without ever laying eyes upon one, and here we were, with two in our possession. Next to the feathers was a small rectangular container that held a jagged, cast-iron, black needle; there was also a strange ring with a gray jewel in its hilt. While I inspected these peculiar contents, Malach hurriedly flipped through the pages until he momentarily paused with his finger hanging off one of the ‘teeth’.

“The pages, they’re blank. All of them.”

Continue reading Gangrene

Hope in an Abandoned Home

Thirty Pieces of Silver – Antonio Smith

Back in February, I collaborated with a talented NC artist, Antonio, to create this music video. We combined our crafts, his words and my vision, and this was the product. For this week’s Terror Tuesday, I plan to show this video along with what happened during the shoot. The short story below is an entry from my journal, that was written shortly after experiencing the fear associated with creating this work of art. The video matches up with the theme of this month, and if you’ve seen it, then watch it again and try to find a new interpretation of it. Enjoy.

Based on a “True” Story

I am here again, trapped within an abandoned house with the joker, or rather his reflection in the form of a man with tattooed hands (and yes, love is this word). We were ready to shoot the music video we scheduled at the beginning of the year. And, what a day, what a glorious day. A dance recital in the woods, sun setting as we capture the releasing of a spirit that has taken root in all of us. There is more than eyes and hands in this work, our very lives, the fabric of this branded existence, the dream after one thousand sleepless nights. We are invested to the point that the sentinels who guard the hourglass of Midas, momentarily quit their posts to allow us thieves draped deception to rob them blind, leaving only an oil soaked feather. I damn near say that the world’s axis tilted a degree, gripped by the suffocating feeling that has parasitically latched onto our own golden moment…

…It is so cold that I can see the dying air escaping my pleural cavity with ease, the dust from the strange rubbish twirling in the flashlight beam. It is odd, the material that we stand upon is most bizarre. At first glance, one expects to experience the same phenomenon as taking combat boot to desert sand. However, our first journey to this demolished home dispelled our foolhardy hypothesis. The rubble was, honestly, soft, gentle like clouds; but the tarnish below is far from the graces of heaven. I imagine this to be the place of a ghost, not of the dead kind, but the living who have decided that disappearing is better than a decision. Gone, so far removed from the eyes of a bittersome society that milk cartons remain unchanged for there is no hope in discovery. We are nefarious trespassers, bringing our self-centered art to a domain of imminent despair. Who were we to foolishly encroach upon this shambling foundation, as if it were vacant? Upon first entry, I knew in an instant that this house had something of a beat beating in the desolate closet.

What an ugly shade of pink the walls is, the peeling of chips long untouched reminds one of scabs upon the knee. And here we stand, those who are too fearless in our pursuit to pursue and question our invasion.

 

Until her voice broke through the shivering darkness, “What is that on the wall?”

 

What wall? There should be no wall that is unfamiliar to my eye. I recognize these walls for they have graced my sight twice, and you know what they say about the third time. We pause, my camera flashing. It reflects, and the Joker keeps asking to break the mirror. My attention back on the wall, and this note. The letters are illegible unless one crosses into a risky threshold, choosing details over safety. We peer at the parchment that has been, admittedly, carefully positioned upon the wall. A tick, a scratch, there is a mischievous sensation upon my brow as my lips curl to read the lettering.

“God has given us two ears-” this alone was enough to make me retreat to the uncharted forest in my mind. I dared not allow my creativity and curiosity the best of my rational mind, forgoing a magnified view of the sheet, allowing the Lovecraftian unknown to stay at a distance. Insanity besets those shamelessly brave enough to know. Leaving the note, she suddenly remarks, “there’s another.”

Now I am bound by the principles of man to venture into the realm of shadows, aimlessly wandering the cosmos for some degree of truth. I pause the right brain and allow its contrast to tarry me through the Styx, serving as an eternally dependent Charon, ferrying me through this phantom permanence. This note is bubbly and childish as if it were lazily drawn on the picnic table in the blood orange haze of summer; and, yet this is hung at a height that no sapphire-eyed youth could reach. No, this is the working of an adult. Neatly hung at such a fright-filled height was the name, Felicia. A star decorating the “I”.

A pointless phrase escaped my chapped lips, the Joker well aware of our situation. Change has always been the hope of man. It is in his hastily constructed will where this belief originates, and here, I pray, it takes its last breath. To hope for change is the existence of the enslaved for its tangible as the gut-wrenching apprehension that now has wrapped its icy whip upon my ankles. See, we were experiencing a moment of so-called “change”, and the desire to escape through the shattered window exponentially increased. Where was hope, written by hands enshrouded by blood and shadow, upon the wall where the ghostly message had been etched? No, hope had no domain here, bound to a rusted chain that once obliterated the proud spirits of my precursors. How can one aspire to have hope while being strung by the hands of the faceless puppeteers, the slightest twitch of fingers has the power to divert the direction of my fate?

It is inevitable, and the witching hour draws near; yet, this cabin has us trapped in an illusion, unaware of the surrounding nature. Tension has us gripped and my passion dares me to throw my hands in hopes of pressing forward. Even after use, I come no closer to understanding hope, but it has saved me again.

We begin and the red sphere floating in the corner of my eye, serving as a necessary metronome. We film, and create, and shot, drones to the hive mind of art, risking our beings in the pursuit of a sealed truths. Only our hands have the power to restrain this horror, but we are unable to undertake a task; we are but guppies on a galleon. He begins, lips moving in the boreal night, but words he does not speak. Indiscriminate slurs, a grave-bound grunt spoken by a writhing tongue. And I feel the curiosity of all those who will view this as if one member of the audience was tasked with being the only visual sensation; a theater full of obscure faces will use this as law. I am serving as the owl of Athena, providing convex visions to those who were too indisposed to explore this derelict residence.

As he performs, and the pressure of his spirit sets the room ablaze, I am reminded of the curse. The hex has succeeded, turning my attention away from reality, tossing my mind into a gutter of primordial ooze and corrosive ambition. I am the wall, the very point where the nail has been amended to the wrist upon the back of Felicia’s canvas. Did I just hear a twig break under the nonexistent feet or is the blood rushing through my jugular misplaced? The pulse of my viscera cannot be contained by elastic veins alone, spilling art into the apprehension. My vertebrae have been reaching the qualms of a surrender, each click, and sense filling my eyes with the spectrum of light.

Will the floor break, finding my foot in some body-filled basement only to become the next stiff addition?

Maybe the beast that breathes in the thicket, behind the window in the eastern corner, will ignite their inhuman muscles. I can see the glorious moment now, a monster with snarling teeth, drenched in the fresh kill, will appear. In a flash, he will have torn through my abdomen with one precise swipe of his jagged claws. Oh, how foul it will be to witness the splattering of my organs, however, they say that disembowelment is in this season. Lying on the soft earth, half the man I used to be, I’ll notice the striking quality of his objects of terror. The bulbous nose that resembles a cliff above putrid waters, the ivory bloodlust that has materialized in his pupils; how they reflected the dying light. And his jaw, how shapely defined as if Michelangelo was commissioned by the commander of the Ninth circle, and given inspiration one final time to chisel centuries of undiagnosed violence and maddening thirst for my erythrocytes into this panther-like mandible. The last thing I may very well see may be the foamed jaws of the beast of Revelations hibernating in the home we have invaded.  They say hope is found on the inside, maybe I will locate it among my distended cecum?

Alas, that was only a noise, and so far as modern science has extensively proven, noises are unable to disfigure the body such as mine. The Joker continues his hysterical rituals, my camera can no longer predict his movements. Erratic and spastic as if a queen ant had entered his chest, and burrowed into his ribs; there she laid ten-thousand eggs, all circulating through the four-chambered dungeon of crimson walls; and after being carried around to his appendages, they all decide to hatch and gnash at his tissue. Moving in ways that no normal human should contort, I am unable to predict him with my third eye (camera).

Now, it is me and this newly birthed creation, standing in the corner of a grimy room; but we may have been in limbo. My friend, who I’ve shared memories and substance with has disappeared beneath the finger-painted makeup. In his representation, physically; but, is a spirit that has been bound to a cursed object.

Ah, the rose. It makes sense, with the bottle half-empty. A bowl of packaged fruit waiting to be drained, the smears across his neck and mouth. This…this is a blood sacrifice, and I’ve been deemed worthy to die in this archaic ritual. Since before the fall of Jericho, there have been sacrifices requiring a living host who will face the end with hope.

Again, there is that damn word, how it pollutes my mental capacity for rationality. To lose that would mean to fail to find Rand’s individuals, yet it poisons me. Noxious fumes and toxins travel, disguised as particles of chance occurrences.

 

Why do I continue to have hope in the face of utter terror?

 

Do I not feel the bindings of my wrist, the pain that has yet to save me from this illusion. It is considered deprave to dream for something so impossible as hope, only the wise men and alchemist understand its working, and I am neither.

This golem in front of my lens has condemned me to this brief instant, altering the flow of the Nile, only for a moment. We exist as one, shared by two: source and projection. Each providing the devil with some contract written in the dark, by ink from a leaking thumb. When did we barter our souls, was this the unknown entry fee, the ante to bet on this moment. The candle in front of his blackened lips has finally burned out, and I am returned to the real. It seems that my hand was possessed by this idea, causing a Gothic style to dip from my dying pen. I am returned to the bar, the comfort of light upon my neck. But there is a fragment of me, still locked within that infernal moment, for upon completion is where things turned.

Our video called for an assortment of props: a series of Frank Sinatra records, the torso of a jester toy, wick and spark, a rose that reached the fragility of the end. But none were as fascinating, and oddly placed, than the mirror.

Positioned in the corner, in front of a child’s sock, it was erected. Angled as a corpse would be if it rose from the dark soul, its appearance is enthralling. Mesmerized by the reflection of this broken foundation, who knew such a beauty could thrive under forgotten objects? It was the production teams designation to leave the mirror for this so-called Felicia. If she were a spirit, I do believe this mirror has the power to return flesh to her, at the expense of divine currency. Surely, you don’t behave such blasphemy at free. Now, if our missing hostess happened to retain some degree of her assigned humanity, then this will serve as a portal to her pain. In her reflection may she finds suffering because only suffering has the power to remind the unconscious that life has an energy, a force that is beyond the measure of man’s greatest inventions, the gears will never understand the guarantee of the grave. A mirror, what change will this bring to this place?

Will…will I dare not utter this, for we are still under the derelict roof, but perhaps we can connect telepathically, for our values have been expressed through this ordeal. I apologize for this vain intrusion, but I must rationalize this decision with someone. I have stated time and time again, until my cords are raw with regret, that my life has been melded to this, proving that Prometheus is still bound. My heart goes to Sisyphus, maybe he will understand this ravenous plight. We will inevitably change the life of this house, clinging onto the shore of the last wave. Men have always held action higher than the idea, but unable to project this will into a stable reality. It is in moments like this, with terror lurking, that we have to cling to our fundamental values, most notably fear of the unknown. I am consciously choosing to throw an anomaly, a reflective surface in the dark abyss, surrounded by demolished furniture and dusted beer bottles. Notes strung upon the wall like strange fruit. Naturally, it was customary, and strangely courteous of us trespassers-bandits in some way-to leave something behind. We have taken the eternity of this place, no longer will it remain anonymous. It has been brought to a life of perpetual suffering.

To craft a project; this one goal has taken us through the caverns of an abandoned Thanatos, and we have conspired with the warden to leave a treasure upon our completion. Will the prisoners of this wooded Hell find a glimpse of God, resting inside their bosom-

Still, the word escapes my tongue, and I cannot speak the truth, not yet.

Hastily, we exit through the same path that brought us to this studio of terror, greeted by the shadowed thicket. The vines tangle with the tendons of the wilted branches as if they gained momentary animation, and let Arachne perfect her craft. We hack through with arms and machetes until one final ditch remains. A dried moat that, once, possibly isolated this crypt from the rest of the road. I half expected the snarling beast to grip me before departing, and tear me into pieces at the very end.

A well-timed step, a brush of the pine green, the feel of familiar bark in my hand: freedom.

Who knew the street was only five-feet away from the edge of the forest? Above lies darting comets, illuminated dots waiting to be connected by frost-bitten fingers. The silhouette of my car, enshrouded by the darkness that can only be found on the roads ungraced by a constructed street light. How splendid the cosmos are, how we forgot that infinity is just above.

 

I remember now, how it felt when that sensation comes alive, that word that has finally turned from noun to verb: hope.

Encounter

What terror, what fright, what dreadful delight to feel hair stand upon the nape of my black neck as if Tesla’s lightning surged through my skin. This feeling, this expression of my subconscious is but a mere smidgen of the infinitesimal matters of the heart (dubbed emotions, for lack of a better word), coming together within my rotting body. You may curiously wonder as to why I described my countenance as rotting, as to which I’d  simply reply: because death is the sole answer to the numerous existential questions regarding life; and scientifically speaking, our cells decompose as we move through the days. But I digress, for it is my ardent desire to share this woeful tale of of disaster to whomever may be daring (or foolish depending on the hour of the night) enough to listen. It is in fact, the duty of the artist to enlighten the common man; this one does by one’s art. Art is many things but the one thing it is not is a lie. Come, let me reveal to you the terrorizing situation that led to the creation of this piece, and then you may judge the validity of my sentiments.

Fright. Fear. Apprehension. As a young boy, I was no stranger to these fundamental principles, accepting at an early age them as my rulers rather than joy or comfort. This may indeed come as somewhat of a surprise to those who had the opportunity to behold me in my boyhood; my childhood was relatively free of suffering and anguish. Both of my parents had worked their way towards the middle class, and were employed in stable positions that allowed them to purchase a beautiful two-story home; it was here within these walls that I first discovered fear. At any given moment I am able to call forth the exact instant my heart tasted the juices of  dread for the first time.

At seven years old, I was more curious than any starving alley cat, sneaking around the house while my parents performed chores; however, during the summer months I was instructed to remain outdoors, which only furthered my budding desire for knowledge. The days under the blazing southern sun were spent playing with magnifying glasses, slaying imaginary beasts with sticks, and hurdling through the sprinkler system. If I had even a sliver of the wisdom I now contain I would have left the unknown alone and, in turn, removed this thorn of fear from my life; but alas time travel is, at present, still a modern myth.  Upon waking on the morning of a fine Saturday in the North Carolina countryside, I was tasked with helping my father with his outdoor assignments. We’d cut the front and back lawn, washed both the cars, trimmed the overgrown shrubbery , and threw down pine straw. Normally, our routine lasted until lunch time but on this fated day, we happened to finish early, leaving me with free time.

Ah, I must once again break you from your concentration to add in the one major detail regarding my residence; although my family had almost two acres in their name and nearly all of it, except for my home, was covered by a dense forest. The trees stretched beyond the reaching of my naive eyes, thorn bushes were tangled in Hangman’s knots, and behind the back porch was an inaccessible zone, or so I had been told since birth. But, as all seven-year-olds do, I believed myself to ready to conquer nature (how foolish). Upon first glance, my bosom was filled with an expected timidity, and I do remember there was some anxiety but these emotions soon polymerized; and, instead desire was dripping from my tongue. I longed for whatever may have laid beyond the edge of the forest; a primal passion awakened, one that I’d only experienced once while riding my bike without gripping the handles. And soon, I looked to the forest for my freedom, but what laid within the thicket was far from liberty.

With the rest of the day ahead of me, I began what may have become my first act of planning. Hustling upstairs with the fervor of a hunter with a new bounty, I procured my blue Batman book bag (The Caped Crusader) from my closet, a blanket, flashlight, and a disposable camera (one always needs proof when dealing with the unknown). I savored the last bit of sandwich made from my mother’s hands; how delicious her meals had been when I retained my innocence, ignorant to the existence of the other world. In front of me was the forest, a realm of bark and rotting wood, a secret that nature had purposely intended to keep; yet here I was, with brevity and the scent of pine straw in my hair. I can not adequately recall a distinct entrance, for the forest sprawled from the edge of our property line to the horizon behind the wooden gates my father had erected. Unfortunately, intimate details regarding the journey are hazy, but somehow my situation changed from curious to cautious as my pathway back home was eventually lost.

How many hours I spent in this desolate expanse of land I may never truly know, although I remember watching the sun disappear behind the decaying leaves. Now, there are two types of forests: the normal variety with woods and insects, and then there is the forest after dark, which is more acquainted with alien planets and Grecian labyrinths. Night drew closer and the silhouette of my home was lost beyond the mass of evergreen. The chirping of crickets became the screeching of buried sirens, vines that once hugged the bark hung like nooses that begged for my pulsing neck, and it was as if the darkness itself were made physical. I dare say that if I were to have extended my hand, I would have made contact with something, a shadow, or phantom perhaps. However, my hands were occupied with tightly gripping the flickering yellow flashlight. Realizing that I’d failed to replace the batteries in my flashlight after the most recent summer storm, I was left with no choice but to make a mad dash in whatever direction seemed the easiest to traverse. My feet carried my body through the shadows, my arms were constantly being scraped by clawing branches and fallen trees halted my progress, until a decaying root caught the bulk of my boot and sent my frame crashing into a bed of thorns. Indeed, the suddenness of the accident had shocked me but even as my eyes welled, my heart had yet to fully taste the nectar of the macabre.

 

Although blessed with natural agility I was not a dextrous child, and the excision of my appendages from the thorn bush drained the last remaining voltage from my flashlight battery. Placing my thumb underneath my tongue, I tasted blood, my blood. Rich in iron, but detestable in flavor; I quickly spat the liquid upon the bark of the neighboring tree, mixing with the pus-like sap oozing out of an infected wound. There was a rustle underneath the bed of leaves, the tapping of paws against the loamy soil, and for a brief second I was entreated to the whisper of the nocturnal beasts. Low, inaudible growls that originated from every direction, even above, filled the air while light was still unable to be viewed. My poor senses, they were but mere pawns at the mercy of the vengeful forest. Dead branches were clawing at each other like rabid animals, and the wind was coursing through the lifeless leaves, twirling like bones hung on an abandoned roof. In my state of panic, I imagined the trees coming to life and forming a massive barrier, isolating me from the entire world. Loneliness constricted my neck as nature reminded me of man’s eternal curse: that death was ultimately solitary act. As I stood in this overgrown temple, surrounded by the sentinels of the earth, my budding soul cried out in despair; had I found the end in the forest?

Continue reading Encounter

Shapeshifter.

The harsh wind licked the dusted snow off of the poorly constructed cabin. Positioned a few meters away from the edge of the cliff was the construct rocking along with the blizzard. Ice crept in through the gaps in the roof. A young man with an overgrown beard threw open the door and hurried inside. He wore a leather jacket with fur around the shoulders, a wooly hat, and had a pair of rugged binoculars wrapped around his thick neck. Using the lens, he peered out over the other side of the mountain. “We’re safe,” he frantically said to his younger brother, cautiously positioned against the wood. The eldest pedaled back from the frosted window, and slowly doused the oil lantern sitting on the floor.
“You got it, right? I saw you attack it with your knife, right?”
“I think, it was moving so fast I couldn’t even tell.”
“What’s that on your back?” the younger brother weakly whispered. The eldest quickly reached for the fire prod before removing his coat and bringing it to his nose.
“It smells like…sulfur,” he said.
“Was that some bear?”
“I…I don’t know. I can’t even describe it .”
The wind’s speed started to diminish as the indigo moon crept behind the peak of the mountain. “I shouldn’t have brought you up here, this is all my fault,” the eldest said.
“Don’t think like that,” the younger exhaled.
“No, it is, I should have waited until you were healthier before we did this.”
“If we would’ve waited, I may never have done this climb,” he passively smiled. “You know I wanted us to go on this trip, we’ve talked about it for too long.”
“Always the optimist, even in the face of danger,”
“Right…” the younger replied. “What do you think we should do? Bar the doors?”
“Smart idea. Whatever is out there, it’ll have a harder time getting through the door if we block it.”
“Did you get a good look at it? the younger curiously asked while gasping for air.
He shook his head, and specks of crystallized sweat bounced onto the frigid boards.

The eldest rose to his feet and began rearranging the furniture to barricade the entrance. He angled the massive dresser towards the door, tilted the circular table to block the exposed window, and broke the lantern to scatters shards of glass in front of each possible entrance. Sitting in the corner, the younger brother watched in awe at his resourcefulness.
“This reminds me of old times?” the eldest said while wiping his hands.
“Oh…does it? How?”
“Remember how we used to play in the woods. I’d build a fort, and you’d sit around waiting for it to be complete. We’d stay out till the sun went down, and we’d play that one game. I forgot what it was called,” the eldest said.
Shapeshifter…”
“Ah, that’s it. You always wanted to be it too,” he chuckled.
“Mhm.”
“Those were the days…everything was so simple back then.”
“And then I got sick…” he confessed.
“And then you got sick.”
“Who would’ve thought,” he coughed, “that ma and pa gave me the bad genes?”
“Don’t blame them,” he stated.
“I’m not. Nobody is to blame but myself, for being so weak,” the younger paused. A gale cut through the logs and stung their sullen eyes. “That’s why you wanted to bring me up here, right? To show me I wasn’t weak.”
“Guess you figured out my motive, huh?”
“I am the smarter one, remember?”
“Is that so,” the eldest laughed.
The repositioned furniture slightly creaked as the night progressed.
“Do you even want to take a guess at what that was?”
“It had two legs, and it stood upright.”
“I thought I saw a tail or something attached to it. But I don’t know any animals that stand on two legs and have a tail.”
“Ever heard of a kangaroo?”
The younger leered at his brother, “you think a rabid kangaroo is chasing us across the Appalachian trail?”
“No, but it is an animal with two legs and a tail.”
“Yeah yeah, so we have no clue then,”
“Do we need one?”
“Not really, so long as we survive,” the younger confessed.
“We should escape, first thing in the morning.”
The younger nodded before dropping his head back onto the wood. “I’ll take first watch so you can regain your strength. You’ll need as much of it as you can if we have to make a quick escape.”
“Wake me up when it’s time to switch shifts, or if you hear anything. I don’t care if it’s just an icicle falling off of the roof, wake me up.”
The eldest snapped his fingers, before reaching for the cast iron prod in front of the fireplace.
In the stillness of the moonlight, a slight echo rang from outside of the cabin. The youngest just managed to drift off to sleep, before the echo resounded. He frantically jumped out of his nap, but reached for his side immediately afterward; his muscles were spazzing once again. “Did you hear that?”
“No, what was it?”
“Sounded like a shout. Shit, do you think it found us?”
“Doubtful,” the eldest said.
“What about our tracks?”
“The blizzard probably covered them by now, even ol Ham-bone and his bloodhound nose couldn’t find us. And we put them lights out as soon as we came in.”
“Right, I forgot about that,” he exhaled. The silver moon shone its light through the window, flooding the cabin with ivory. As the beam crawled from one wall to the next, the younger brother picked his head up for just a moment to notice his shadow across the floor. His sickly frame was barely visible; the radiation had eaten away at much of his muscles, leaving a crackling skeleton in its wake. The youngest twirled his wrists, watching the darkness give form to his figure once more before glancing at his brother; his eyes trailed the floor until they reached his sturdy boots. The eldest peered through the sliver of the window that was available, gripping the metal prod. The moon retracted behind a slight wave of snowy clouds, but for a short second, the younger brother failed to recognize his brother’s shadow. Along the floor were the shades of his boots, the iron in his hand, and even his hat; but in the areas where his body was visible were absent.
“Hey, bro-“
“Shhh,” he interrupted before placing his bony index finger over his lips.

The youngest remained quiet as he watched his brother from his corner of the bleak cabin. The remaining light from the moon dissipated, leaving them in complete darkness.
Huff. Huff. Huff.
Trying to control his breathing, the youngest clasped his shaking hands together and tightened his fingers around each other.
Huff. Huff. Huff.
A low growl came from outside the cabin that caused the younger brother to lose his rhythm. Unable to see his brother, he forced his buckled knees to curl, giving him enough momentum to rise. Using the wall as support, he nudged himself closer to the entrance, hoping to catch his brother. As he leaned against the sturdy board, the growl increased in volume, whatever was outside, it was coming their way.
“Brother, brother, where are you?” the youngest whispered. When he experienced the gnawing silence, he assumed that his whisper wasn’t loud enough, but he couldn’t even hear his brother breathing. The growl suddenly changed into something more of a shout, a primal cry. “Brother, please help,” the youngest whispered once more. Footsteps shuffled along the boards, and suddenly, he felt a frigid hand against his shivering arm. He had recognized the grooves of his brother’s hand before he pulled him down.
“It’s outside,” the younger stated.
“Yeah, I heard.”
“What should we do?”
“Maybe wait?”
“Right, the entrances are blocked. There’s no way it can come in.”
“Exactly…” the eldest voice had a sinister tone in it.

Continue reading Shapeshifter.

Eve’s Drop

Sp/l-it

1.

The rain quietly rests on the window sill, watching the scene unfold before it’s crystalline eyes. A silent film with two figures, man and woman, sitting on the edge of a bed. Lips moving, bodies shifting, jerks and jolts as irreversible lighting strikes their hearts. A moment, now space expands. An otherworldly pressure blanketing the bedroom, pausing just above their tears. Two becomes one faster than droplets sliding down the stained window.

2.

She walks into the bedroom, her feet crumbling under the weight of calcified guilt. Crawling out of clothes that smelled of regretful cigarettes and old books. Standing above a rotted coffin, buried under soiled sheets;  a resurrected corpse now occupies this space, the same bed where they used to lay.  Unaware, she’s created a Frankenstein of her former lover, made with pieces of men who want nothing but to feel warmth.  How deftly mad was she, to bring him to her sacred garden and attempt to place a lost soul in this new body?  And this man, this monster would never leave now. No, she had given him life, who was he to turn away from that?

3.

He stepped out of the rented taxi, neck scented with cologne and a touch of starch. A finely shaven beard, chiseled from ear to chin. He a was a man, and ready to do what men do, and indulge themselves. Listening was a bore, and whisky always made his lips run loose. He approached the crowded bar, scanning over the bottles like a falcon above the forest; but no prey appeared. Reaching into his black denim, he unveiled a leather wallet containing enough money for him to face his fears, or so he believed…

Serial Streamer

There was a slight glare from the light but she continued to look. It was darker than normal this afternoon, the sun seemed to go down earlier. The sound of heels tapping pavement could be heard at the other side of the alley. Instinctively she clutched her keys, placing them between her fingers. Her wedding ring made it difficult for the key to fit but somehow it slid in. Her phone in the other, using it as a guiding light, searching for the apartment number. Sirens wailed in the distance while television noises echoed through the hall. But then it became silent, as if all the oxygen has suddenly disappeared. The darkness from the other side began to shift, slowly at first. Out of the void a figure began to appear, the lights casting a dim silhouette over his face. And then a small light, a set of legs followed by hair and face. A woman. A lost sheep. Somehow she managed to step into his view, just when he was getting ready for the night. She seemed to be the perfect warm up for the approaching festival. Tonight was his night. Under the mask he could only hear his own breathing,

Inhale

Exhale

Inhale

Exhale

Until the rhythm became him, then he would go.

The front pocket of his uniform was glowing, a white phone peeking from under the cloth. He looked to the streetlight, and from under the mask it looked like the light was fading.
She didn’t notice him until he was only a few paces behind her, how quiet he moved. A slight chill went up her blouse, causing goosebumps to stand at attention. It was mid May but between the silent bricks it felt like December. Cold with a hint of the end. She looked at the houses, watching the numbers climb. Her own destination seeming farther, while the end was still following. A Mis-step gave him away, for his feet were in sync with hers. She turned to see a small figure, a teenager. His outfit slightly dirty, the singe of the day’s grime was still on his sleeves. His hands were long, they almost didn’t belong to him. The streetlight flickered and his face appeared, only for an instant. Pale skin and hollow eyes, until two pupils appeared from the dark circles. A mask. She thought back to her husband, and wondered how she would never stroke his chin again.

He walked to his prey, and reached into his pocket. A flash of silver illuminated in the alley. Under the mask he could only see one thing, her. Her body began to grow larger as he lumbered towards her. Suddenly it grew smaller, and her feet began to move quicker. No matter, they always run. He turned to the left and continued down the hall. His phone still sitting in his pocket.
She ran down the halls, screaming for help. It wasn’t enough for the occupied apartments seemed to only house lights. She turned around and noticed that he was gone. A slight trickle began to crawl down her legs, the liquids from earlier making an escape as she searched for hers. Her phone light was now off and the keys were no longer within her hands. She crawled into the pile of trash next to the rusted gate. The smell was only tolerable because her life was on the line, but she still gagged. And then it became quiet, no longer rustling plastic and drastic heartbeats.

His hand reached down

Her hair was snatched

His shoulders bulged as he lifted her

The trash bags rolled off her legs as she was taken

He kneeled next to her and unsheathed his knife.

In the distance a trickle could be heard, a fresh puddle forming in the gutter. In the dark it was colorless, but in the morning the street would turn Crimson. He lifted her body off the ground and tossed her into the trash, the festival was about to begin and he was late. She wasn’t…enough. He reached down into his pocket and checked his phone. His screen mirrored that of the alley, his new canvas. Leftover blood was streaked across the LCD lights and for a second the cells made a kaleidoscope on his mask. A solitary red flash was pulsating in the corner until a hold transmission button appeared. He pressed it and the screen went black. A lone sigh escaped from the nostril holes and a set of words refracted off of his face. The screen read “Lost Sheep” and his transmission ended.

I sat in the corner of my room, numb. Tears unable to fall and words no longer forming. What had I just witnessed? The ending of an innocent life or the craving of a sadistic man. The two accounts both open on my screen, wondering who’s story was the real one. I was afraid, but most of all I was confused. How, how could I watch that? How could I sit still and experience the end of an existence. I wondered who was the real monster as the same night sky began to fall over my bedroom window.

This short came from the idea”what would happen if someone live-streamed a murder?”