The Watchmen Part IV – A Horror Novella

I stand outside for a moment and watch as the cars pass by. Everything moves so much slower here than it does in Dallas. No one seems to be in a rush, or cutting each other off. It really is beautiful and even from here I can make out the mountains in the distance. I will be going back to my place tomorrow. I still have to figure out what I will say to my parents─ what I can possibly say to anyone. Devon’s smile flashes in my mind. I find myself wondering if he will smile at me like that again after my live stream. I think given time, I would have liked to get to know him better. I’m not sure in what way, but I know that I enjoy his company. I certainly don’t want him to die the way everyone did in my visions. No one deserves that. I trudge into my room, set my keycard on the nightstand, and then drop my bag on the floor. Whether I want to or not, I am going to the funeral tomorrow. Not just to show my support to the company, but to talk with a Devon. Maybe Zedd spoke to someone before he passed away or he had confided in someone from our department. I’m not sure of the dynamic between him and his team, but I know that he and Devon seemed comfortable talking to one another. I can worry about that tomorrow. 

I pick up my phone and check my messages. Mom has sent me a link to a pie recipe she found and asks if I would like her to make it this year. Leave it to mom to ask something like that a solid three weeks before Thanksgiving. She has always been that way, about as anxious as they come to getting everything in order. Last year she had managed to cook a full traditional Thanksgiving meal and a full vegan one for her sister. Aunt Marie is obsessed over a few things─ her fine wrinkles, the little bit of weight around her tummy, and the horrible meat industry and how they all lobby together to get the public to buy into meat and animal products. I will get a link to a documentary at least a few times a year. Everyone has an agenda she would say. Though, admittedly she probably isn’t wrong about the lobbying. I’m sure it happens in just about every industry. I admire her for it none-the-less, I certainly can’t do it. I tried being a vegetarian for a while and promptly lost my shit. Even my mom had broken her no cursing rule and told me to stop being such a bitch. I still laugh at that from time to time. My mom, miss prim and proper cursing me out and shoving bacon in my face. I guess we all have our limits and I apparently am a real asshole when I don’t eat meat. I open up my work emails and skim through. There are a few messages from corporate about Zedd and a personal email from Devon. It is titled ‘I’m sorry for all of this.’ I immediately open it. 

Hey Kate,

I just wanted to say again that I am so sorry your first week happened this way. Zedd was a good friend of mine and to say that I am in total shock is a bit of an understatement. I hope that this hasn’t changed your mind about working for us in any way. I hope to have you on our team for quite some time. I’ll see you in the office tomorrow, we’re all going to work half a day and then attend the service. You are more than welcome to join us or head home. You won’t be judged either way. 

Take care, 

Devon  

I reread it and then hit reply. 

Devon,

I want you to know that I plan on staying with the company for a long time. In no way is this anyone’s fault and I would never hold you or the company accountable for someone else’s actions. I’m sure that Zedd had a reason for all of this even if we couldn’t understand them. I lost a good friend of mine this way in high school. Just focus on the good times and the time you shared together. I’ll see you tomorrow at the office. 

Yours,

Kate

I am surprised to find a bit of wetness gathering in my eyes. This stirs memories of my friend James. It would have been eight years ago now. In some ways, he reminds me of Zedd─ quick witted, shy, but very vocal when he was passionate about something. Why is it that some of the best people in the world take their own life? This thought seems to depress me more over the years. I remember taking several psychology courses talking about how some of the most brilliant minds struggled daily with depression. I can believe it. Seeing the world as it really is has to have its downfalls. 

I sigh heavily on the bed and then shove my feet into the shoes on the floor. I just want to be done with all of this. It’s killing me knowing that there is nothing that I can do. I’m done with it all, especially feelings. I have a few hours before I head back to Dallas. We are expected to be in tomorrow morning, so I will have to get back to my place in time to shower and dress. I am not sure if I have something appropriate to wear to a funeral. Most of my clothes are very casual and the few dresses I own are sun dresses. I can’t exactly show up in a flowery sundress to a co-worker’s funeral─ jeans just seem disrespectful. After a little bit of searching, I find an online delivery service that will pick up something from a nearby store and deliver it tonight. I quickly browse through some dresses and pantsuits before deciding on a loose pair of slacks and a blouse. Thankfully I have a pair of decent black flats at home just for this sort of occasion. Now I know why my parents had told me to always have a pair of black dress shoes. 

I sigh, browsing through the T.V. It has been a long time since I’ve been to a funeral. The last one had been my Nana Genny’s. I remember it being a very cold day. It was the sort that makes you shiver no matter how many layers of clothing you had on. I was still in my teens, old enough to understand death, but still too immature to understand. It hadn’t really hit until grandpa Jay had started dating again. When he remarried, mom stopped talking with him. I’m not sure why she did, after all he was only human. I never hated him for it, he had been with nana for over forty years. It must have been hard to be with someone for so long and then suddenly they are gone. I don’t think I would want to be alone either. I still call him from time to time to check in and see how he is doing. Grandpa Jay had hoped someday mom would come around. I do too. A chill runs along my arms and up through my head. I wonder if maybe I am getting sick from all the stress. I am not sick often, but when I do it normally takes me out for a few days. I had the flu once as a child and I’ll never forget it. It is probably why I get my shot every year and wash my hands like it is some sort of religion. The kids always poked fun of me for it, but guess who never gets sick? Let them laugh, cleanliness always wins and I am the proof. 

After wasting some time browsing my phone and trying again for the hundredth time to find these mysterious Watchmen, I decide that a trip to the sauna sounds better. I am pleased to find when I arrive that there is only a family in the pool and an older man in the hot tub. The sauna is people-free. I slip my shoes off and walk into the steamy bliss. The length of my body stretches out on the bench and I wiggle my toes. It feels amazing. The heat stings my lungs a little but I don’t mind. I just want this chill to melt from my bones. I only remember feeling this way once, and it had been the flu. Hopefully I’m not getting sick. I close my eyes and breathe deeply, only focusing on my breath drawing in and then out. I imagine that I am floating in my own ship in the middle of space, staring at the small particles floating by. The sun heats my back as I face out toward the galaxy. Jupiter looms nearby, huge and deadly─ but beautiful. I am mesmerized by the swirling multicolored gas. I bathe in the warm glow of the sun as it kisses my bare skin. I am completely alone. This has been a form of meditation for years. The thought of being completely isolated and floating through space comforts me. I think it would have the opposite effect for most people. To me, it is heaven. Lately I find myself wanting to be alone more and more. I could live by myself with my computer and art. Art has been a way of life for me for as long as I can remember. I would love to sit outside and draw everything I saw, especially people. I have brought my sketchbook along for this very reason. It’s probably time to do something that calms my nerves before the funeral. I also will need to present something at work. We have weekends off but I never stop drawing. It brings me joy to paint and draw more than anything in this world.

I take several long breaths. Don’t think about that now, I say to myself, think about the warmth. I focus on the heat and my breath. Suddenly, my mind wanders to the first night I had experienced this─ the first night that I had experienced Them. Despite the terrifying sensation of another being thriving off of my pain, I am curious about what They are. Their black hoods flash in my mind and I can see nothing but blackness behind them. Their long, thin bodies would disappear into a sort of translucent grey haze. They never move and stand perfectly still. Deathly still. The beings never say anything, they don’t need to. You can just sense them. Sort of like when you were a child and try to sneak up on your parents. No matter how quiet you thought you were being, they would turn around and shout, ‘boo!’ scaring you instead. Only, these things were dense. They press in upon you until you cannot breathe. Your breath becomes shallow, and your chest feels as though you can be crushed alive at any moment. Your heart feels like it is being torn from your chest. And then comes the cloying, damp air as they invade our plane of existence. They stand there merely existing when they shouldn’t. These awful, horrible creatures shouldn’t be allowed to. And yet I feel as if I can get used to that if it were something as simple as being uncomfortable. Nothing compares to the sensation of death after gruesome death. If this is as bad as my visions, I would lay there and suffer until they decide to release me. Death isn’t what scares me, living does. Please let it take me out in a blast of fiery glory. It will be a welcome end to my suffering. 

There is a thought that is beginning to sprout with each passing day. Little by little, I water it and entertain the idea. Zedd was right to do what he did, and I think that I will follow suit. Whatever these creatures are, they aren’t going to stop. I just know that I will die as slowly as possible. Besides, even if I can stock up and get the hell out of dodge, what then? It won’t save me from the fallout. The odds of me finding someone with an underground bunker that’s willing to share is slim to none. There has to be a few of them out there, right? That won’t save the human race. Because in the blink of an eye, entire cities will be wiped out. There will be a lull as the survivors try to seek shelter or help, but by then the radiation sickness will start─ and then black rain. The bombs will take people out in the city right away but the ones just outside of it will suffer this horror in tenfold. People like my parents, people’s families. Even if a decent size population somehow makes it, the hospitals won’t be able to keep up. It will take decades to recover from it. I sigh and my eyes open. I stare at the wooden ceiling above me. I want to be helpful. I want to be one of those people that decide that no matter what, humanity can prevail and I can save them. The truth is, no matter how hard I try or what I say, I have zero proof. And proof is all that matters. If it were me listening to someone say that the world would end, I would laugh and roll my eyes and then move on. It shouldn’t matter to me, but it does. It’s frustrating, and maybe we were both crazy but it doesn’t stop me from getting my feelings hurt. Humans are weird, emotional beings and sometimes I hate being in my own skin. All I can do is try and warn them all and then I can leave with a clean conscience. As dumb as this idea is, I will make it my mission for the next five days to do what I can. I don’t want to live in this kind of world but I can help everyone else that will be stuck in it. 

The Watchmen – Part I – A Horror Novella

And the Watchmen wander the streets with a flurry and flutter, the wisp of a coat. With weary eyes they usher;

Tick-tock, little rabbits run to your den.

For on this night, hallowed night, They send the world to silence.

Ever still, ever waiting, ever stoic they remain;

And the Watchmen release their hymn to fall upon deaf ears.

Let the breeze stir, let the night rise. Oh peace, dear quiet surely now you will come!

For the creatures of this world listen to wicked tales spun by devils. Oblivious to this moment, oblivious to stalkers that roam in the night, oblivious to the silence that the Watchmen shall bring. Their eyes how they sag; their bones brittle and weary. They cry for their saviors as their arms reach for the sky.

And the Watchmen remain silent.

For the world in one night the Watchmen did see, as They gaze from the darkness and listen to their pleas; And so it begins, from the earth it rises, mist flowing like water into cracks and crevices; it fills their homes, it fills their lungs, it fills the space until nothing is left;

Save the mist. 

And the Watchmen stay silent until at last, all at once, their eyes look to the sky.

This night, hallowed night, They gifted the world to silence.

14

It is just a note, some silly poetry I’d stumbled across in my old high school backpack. I remember taking a few creative writing courses before college, and then a few more in college. I thought most of my work had been transferred to my blog online, but I guess I had missed one. The number at the bottom intrigued me. I have no idea why it is there or what it is meant to be, but the font on it was different and bold like it held some sort of importance. I can hardly believe that I graduated just a few weeks ago and already starting my new job. My story is like something out of a dream. I doodled all through college, worked on projects with my friends, and submitted a few of my art pieces to companies with some silly dream to be a character designer for games. I couldn’t believe it when I got not one but two different offers─ from the companies I never expected to hear back from. We’re talking major game titles, the guys that went to conventions with millions at their disposal. I still can’t believe it. I am floating on a cloud as I pack my things to move down to Dallas. Texas, man that sounds weird. I always pictured that I would be in Eerie, or some small town in Pennsylvania for the rest of my life. I don’t even know where to begin with clothes shopping, or what to bring. I stare at my shovels and snow boots. I guess these definitely won’t be going with me.

#

After several tear-filled moments and lots of convincing, I tell my parents that I will be sure to call them once I get in my new place and I am all settled in. I had made arrangements for my new place over the phone, but I haven’t gotten to see it. Saying I am anxious to step foot in it is the understatement of the year. Part of the perks of this new job is I get to live in the complex not far from our office. It is a new building and within five miles of Downtown. I would be able to drive anywhere. I am bummed that I will have to look for a car, but according to my new boss I will definitely need one in Dallas. Apparently public transportation isn’t anything close to what we have back home. I smile as the thought crosses my mind. I am still thinking of mom and dad’s place as mine. This is definitely going to take some adjusting. Thankfully, my boss has given me the weekend to get settled before I start Monday.

My apartment is actually larger than I expect. I have room for everything and then some. It is a sad realization that I really don’t have a lot. Except my art supplies and computer which I keep exceptionally organized and stored away. I am not the sort to collect things. Stuff that piles on the shelves or takes up space annoys the crap out of me. In less than a handful of minutes, the internet is working and good to go. I have most of my living area, all of my bedroom, and bathroom, and some of my kitchen put together. I stream some music as I dig through the last box from the living room. I’m not sure why, but I decide to go ahead and look at that poem again. Hell, maybe I will run up to a hobby store and get a frame. It is kind of a neat piece, it even has doodles of some hooded figures around it. After rummaging around, I locate it near the bottom shoved between some art folders. I look at it and frown. There are drawings on it, but this time it is a city skyline that is surrounded by hooded figures. Something else has changed. Maybe my memory isn’t right or perhaps someone is playing a joke on me. But the more I try to rationalize it, the more concerned I become. My parents aren’t the joking sort, especially my mother. Why would they have pulled it out of the box at all? Neither of them would have done that. Despite all that, it isn’t the strangest part. The number at the top of the paper has changed from 14 to 12. It has been exactly two days since I looked at it. The color drains from my face. Were the numbers a sort of countdown? More importantly, a countdown to what? I turn the paper over in my hands, looking from the back to the front. There is no other information on it, no date, just the same words. The skyline looks familiar to me, but I can’t quite place where I have seen it. I pull out my phone and snap a few pictures. Maybe I can search it up online later.

#

I frown at the screen, shift in my seat, and then zoom in on my character. It is my first design for a new game that is still in the planning stages. They have trusted me to come up with the side character designs. I am insanely happy at my role here as it is, but this is going to be a major release game and I get to be a part of it. Me. It really is too good to be true. My first character, to my amazement, is approved and I am adding the finishing touches on her shirt and jeans. I add a patch, remove it, and then add it again. I decide the cute little hooded emblem will work with the dystopian theme and give it a little bit of a punk edge. I grin as I turn on the final layer. She looks badass, and not overly complicated which means other artists could duplicate the style in the department. I click save and get up from my desk to stretch. I look down and blink a few times. I can’t believe it. Have I really been here for twelve hours? A quick peek out at the office confirms it. Everyone has gone except me, the building is completely dark. My mind shifts to the letter and I wonder if the numbers will change again and what, if anything, they actually mean. I push the down arrow on the elevator when I notice a light flickering in one of the cubicles. I guess I am not here alone, one of the other artists must be staying late as well. It is near the back and toward the middle of the isle. The sporadic light patterns remind me of gameplay on a computer, like a shooter or something with fast movements. We don’t have lamps so it must be coming from a monitor. I smirk and turn back to the elevator. Someone is probably just chilling and playing games.

I tap my foot impatiently, it has been a while since I pushed the button. I press it again thinking that maybe someone else had gotten on and it canceled my call for it to come up. The golden ring lights up and I watch as it shows that it is making its way up. A loud bang erupts behind me. I spin around, expecting to see that maybe someone has knocked something over. Instead, I am greeted with complete and total darkness. I panic and freeze in place, not even daring to breathe. Ok, I reason, maybe the lights are on automatic timers. Suddenly there is a flash and then a flickering light toward the back of the office. This isn’t like before, it is the only light coming from the entire space. Even the emergency back-up lights aren’t on. I turn toward the button, fumbling my way in the darkness to find it. Why isn’t the elevator coming up? The light continues its rhythmic pattern, only now there is a loud buzzing sound. Similar to the sound an old florescent bulb makes but amplified tenfold.

My eyes are glued to the light, I am terrified that if I turn away something will get me. The hairs on my arms stand on end and I struggle to breathe. There is a whoosh, and then a sigh as a low groan sounds in the darkness. I can feel Its presence. It is waiting there just beyond the light. I am not sure how I know this, but it is a fact. I am not alone. I squint my eyes and can barely see the outline of a dark, hooded figure. Its presence is full of hate, it wants to hurt me in unimaginable ways. As soon as I am aware of Its presence, It shows me what it is thinking. The vibration intensifies as I watch myself in vivid detail and all of mankind standing helplessly at the towering mushroom cloud that forms in the city. I watch as my face in the vision goes from shock to absolute horror. The cloud seems so far away but then it is on me in an instant. Bile rises in the back of my throat as I watch myself smile wide─ the skin and tissue blasting against the wall in a large, gory pile. The whole time my grin grows wider. My now half-blasted body crumples to the floor in a loud, wet thud as the roar dissipates giving way to silence.
I squeeze my eyes shut and scream as I slam my hand on the down arrow again and again. The buzzing stops and I opens my eyes. I am shocked to find the lights are back on. The bell sounds behind me and the elevator doors open. I stumble toward the elevator, my legs threatening to give out. I yelp as a pair of hands grip my shoulders.
“Jesus Christ. Kate, are you OK?”

I want to cry at the familiar voice, but then I remember that this is my boss. I glance back at the space but find nothing there. It’s back to the soft lighting that had filled the office before. My lower lip quivers but I manage to straighten myself up. “I’m so sorry,” I stutter, “I─ thought I saw something.” Devon releases my shoulders and takes one of my hands. “What on earth happened to your hand? Are you sure you’re OK? I was just coming back up to check on you and close everything down.” His voice sounds guarded as he looks around the office.
I steady my breathing, convincing myself that I am just tired. It has, after all, been a twelve hour shift and my first week here. I am just stressed out over the new job and moving. I force a smile, “Yeah, I’m fine really. I bumped into something and didn’t realize I cut my hand.” His shoulders relax. He turns my hand over and inspects the jagged wound, “Either way, that’s a nasty cut. You should go get that cleaned out at the very least. You may need stitches.” My face is burning hot and I look at the ground. I must look ridiculous, like a scared little girl in an empty office building that freaked out when she was alone. Which is exactly what happened but I am way too proud to admit that in front of him. It’s bad enough that I realize it.
I manage to nod my head, “I will. It’s just been a long day,” I offer weakly. Devon smiles and clears his throat quickly releasing my hand, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to touch you, I was concerned about your cut and didn’t think about it.” I shake my head and smile, “No, no, it’s fine. I think I probably would have done the same thing.” We stand awkwardly for several moments before he takes a step toward the office. “You mind if I take a look at your progress since we’re here?” My grin grows wide, “Sure. Let me go clean up and I’ll meet you at my desk.”

#

I’m talking a mile a minute as I spin the camera around my imported designs on the character. Devon’s face is a mask, I’m not getting anything from him. Occasionally he nods and murmurs as I explain the textures I used and the designs that can be easily duplicated by the team. When I finish, he’s quiet and we sit for a moment as he stares at it. Finally, he gestures with his hand toward my keyboard, “do you mind if I drive for a second?” I shake my head, “no, go ahead” and I slide my chair over. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” he pauses and clicks a few buttons, then grabs the image with the mouse, “but I can tell you aren’t as used to Maya as some of my other guys.” He rounds out a section and then pulls back to take a look. I feel my face grow warm but I smile anyway. “Yeah, I mostly use illustrator and Photoshop with Z-Brush. I learned Maya, but I’ve grown a bit rusty.” He chuckles, “Old school, nice. But, I wasn’t trying to say you aren’t talented, I very much think this is a great start. We’ll go over it with Zedd tomorrow.” We sit in comfortable proximity as he sets up a few hotkeys and changes my settings. Devon is getting really in-depth, so at some point I grab a notebook and start jotting down notes. I’m not sure what impresses me more, the fact that he is taking time out of his day to share his knowledge with me, or that the owner of a game company seems to genuinely care about all his employees. I hear so many nasty rumors from friends that I had prepared myself before I started working here. Devon seems to be a perfect mix of teacher and boss He welcomed me to speak about any issues I was having and pointed out my mistakes in a way that I could learn from them. This is perfect. Neither of us realize how late it is until I get a text from my mother. It’s midnight honey, did your first day go OK? We haven’t heard from you.
I quickly respond to her and let her know that my first day is great and that I am sorry for worrying her. She tells me that it is fine and to get some rest and call her tomorrow.
Devon mentions something about us both getting some rest and that my mother is right. He walks me all the way out to the train station when it dawns on me─ the trains won’t be running this late. I walk over to the schedule just to double check and sag. The last one had run at twelve thirty, I’ve missed it by less than ten minutes. I can walk, I reason, it’s less than three miles. Or, I can Uber. I get a slight thrill as I pull out my phone. I’ve never gotten to use an Uber before, my mom used to drive me everywhere when I couldn’t ride the train.

Devon quickly catches on to the situation and offers me a ride. I’m thankful for the dim light because at this point he has seen me blush enough for an entire lifetime. He insists that it’s fine and we’re on our way in less than five minutes. I’m pleasantly surprised that I get to see what the inside of a Tesla Model 3 looked like. I’ve seen a few on the road, but I have never gotten to sit in one. I’m amazed at how clean everything is, especially considering the white seats. It is so quiet, I can’t get over it.

“So, how are you liking it so far?” Devon says. I grinned like a schoolgirl, “oh, I’m loving it,” I say excitedly, “this car is amazing, I’ve never been in one.” His eyebrows raise and he lets out a surprised chuckle, “Well, I meant at the office but thank you. I’m pretty fond of it too.” I’m again thankful for the darkness as I yell at myself to stop being an idiot. I quickly recover, “you should be more clear about the questions you ask,” I say, shaking my head. We both share a laugh as he pulls up to the stoplight.
“Sorry, let me be clear─ how are you liking everything at the new job?” He turns onto the street and I’m almost sad that we will be to my place in less than a handful of minutes. “It’s hard work, but I knew that going into it.” I pause for a few seconds and wait on him to respond, when he doesn’t, I add “but it’s a great job and I’m very thankful to have it. I’m one of the lucky few that can say I draw for a living.” That gets a smile out of him and I relax a degree.
“I’m glad that you feel that way,” Devon says. He looks out the window and then glances at me, “I meant to ask earlier─ Did you get a look at Zedd’s design already?” I furrow my brow and purse my lips, “At Zedd’s? No, I didn’t. Will mine clash with his?” My heart sinks thinking about all the hours I put in today. Maybe I should have checked in with the team first, I haven’t even thought about it.
“Oh no, nothing like that. I just noticed that you both used a black hoodie design on your characters and had collaborated. Just an odd coincidence I guess” Devon responds. I smile at him despite the growing nausea. “Did he design his today too?” I ask. He nods as we both pull up in front of my place. “Yeah,” he says, “that’s why I thought the two of you had spoken about it.” “Oh,” I say, my awkward smile growing, “how odd. I guess great minds.” Devon smiles at me as I try to shrug it off and reach for the handle, “See you tomorrow Kate.”

It’s not until I get out of the car and wave goodbye that fear starts creeping its way back in. Has Zedd seen them too? I mean, a hooded figure is always related to death. Apocalyptic themes, blah blah─ It could just be that our minds are in sync. I toss my keys on the counter and then plop into my computer chair. I’m grateful that our hours are flexible at work. I am able to work the early eight to five, or take the ten to seven shifts. I’m tempted to go in earlier, but honestly it’s crunch time so it won’t really matter. I wouldn’t have much of an evening left even if I did come in at eight. I decide that second shift will work just fine.

#

When sleep finally comes, it comes in fitful bursts. I can’t purge the image from my mind and it again keeps going back to my skeleton grinning from ear to ear. The horrifying feeling as half of my face dangles by a thread, and the image of hot, blinding light as the boom echoes throughout the city. And It is there watching from the corner. Then all at once I realize─ not just It, but They. There, just in the building next to mine and then another standing below. They’re all staring at me, their dark hoods as black as night. I can feel the joy as they sense my suffering, They’re─ feeding from it. To my horror I can feel more behind me. They are right there. I can’t move and somehow I’m still alive. I feel my bones creak and splinter, sounding as brittle as dead branches snapping from the trees. Searing pokers jam into my belly and my skin drips from my sleeves and then falls to the floor in a sickening wet thump. I reach up and tear at my face wanting the sensation of dangling to stop. I can still see with the eye that now faces the floor and the one that remains in my head. I try and move, but I just fall to the ground. All I can do is lie there, suffering. Jesus.
I can’t take it, I just want to die.
Let me die. I try several times to scream but nothing comes out. Nothing exists but the deafening silence.

#

My eyes try to focus as I stare at the screen. I rub at them and stand for the hundredth time to grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen. I need to get my shit together before I have my first team meeting with Zedd. He had looked over my files and seems happy with the direction I am going. I am a little nervous, this will be the first time I have met the guy. We may work in the same building, but most of us keep to ourselves. I was able to meet the sound team earlier today. Let’s just say I’m envious that they get paid to to record different noises for the game. It looks like a blast watching the actors get into character, or the strange things the guys use to make different sounds. I’m sure they have a sound bank, but Devon has explained that they like to add a little flair to each game. I haven’t gotten to talk with him much today, but he seems just as friendly as he did yesterday. I’m really lucky to be here. That’s why it is imperative that I make the best impression possible. I don’t want to be seen as the newbie that can’t keep up. I even walked myself through the hotkeys and shortcuts Devon showed me last night. In the end, all I have managed to do is stay awake and flesh out a few characters and vehicles. I am feeling pretty shitty when one thirty comes too soon. I need to show an entire group of people some scribbles and color concepts. I sigh heavily as I save it to my G-Drive and trudge over to the kitchen for a last minute pick-me-up.

#

“Wow. Kate, was it?” I nod over at Zedd as he shuffles through my files. He projects them up for the team to see and I feel my face grow hotter than the sun. I keep trying to convince myself that I am ready, but I am completely dying inside at all the attention. I can’t wait for them to move on. “I want you to take a look at something,” he says. I watch the screen as he opens a second folder containing his work and then pulls it into an image viewer next to mine. My jaw drops as I look back and forth between the two. They were in different spots, but our characters have matching hooded tattoos. His is way more clever─ hidden between the character’s knuckles and going halfway up his arm in a badass old-school style reaper. Mine is clearly displayed on my characters back and shoulder that goes up into a reaper hoodie. I have decided against the patch today and went with something a little less obvious. Zedd has caught it right away. “I can take out the flair if it messes with one of the mains,” I offer wanting to be done with it. He looks over at one of the other guys and they both grin. “Are you kidding me? This is great. Honestly, I think we should add her to one of our main crew.” Zedd pauses and then leans in to get a closer look. “Is that a scythe, that converts into a hoverboard?” I blink a few times and then stutter, “yeah─ I guess I got carried away.” The whole team laughs as I pray that I melt into the chair.
“I don’t say these sorts of things lightly,” “he really doesn’t,” one of the other guys interject. That gets another hearty laugh and it’s a few more seconds before Zedd calms them down. “But seriously, I see why Devon hired you. Did you get to see our concepts before you drew yours?” I press my lips together and shake my head side to side. “I probably should have, that would have been smart.” He chuckles. “Well, we can clean it up a little bit with the rest of the team and she’ll fit right in. Missy, I think we got ourselves a new main character.”
I’m mortified at the thought, “Well, no, I mean it’s just some scribbles. We should ask Devon first right?” I’m practically stumbling over every word. The corners of his mouth turn up and there’s an unsettling gleam in his eye. “There’s a reason I’m team lead, Kate. Devon trusts me.” “Oh no, well, I didn’t mean that you aren’t─” words fail me and I’m left speechless at the thought of my new responsibility. This is all too much too soon, but I thank him and smile.
I’m flooded with relief as they move on to the rest of the team. I can’t believe the talent I see and they are all working on backgrounds and side characters. I definitely don’t deserve this. As soon as the meeting ends, I am determined to pull Zedd aside and tell him to put me back on the side characters.
The meeting lasts for just over an hour and we’re all packed up to leave. I make a beeline for Zedd and tried my best to argue that someone else’s work should be used before mine─ especially since they had been there longer. That got me nowhere fast and in the end Zedd stuck to his guns saying that he would supervise me every step of the way. After pouting for all of five minutes and slinking away, it suddenly hits me─ why am I being such a baby about this? Anyone else in my graduating class would have killed to be in this position. I need to suck it up and get over this fear. For once in my life I need to allow myself to believe I am here for a reason. I think back to the comments earlier during our meeting and smile, There’s a reason I’m team lead, Kate. Ok, maybe I am being a little harsh on myself.

#

I chew on my stylus as I sit back and stare at my submission art. I want it to be perfect and I have been messing with Maya all day. I pull her into a standing, and then crouching pose before I decided to send her bent on the hoverboard. Both her hands are sprawled out with flair and I make a quick gif of her pose animation for the opening credits. Technically, it’s a whole other team that does that part, but I want to reveal her with style. Zedd tells me that the social media guys were working on a fun build up to release her as a surprise and asks me to sit in on a quick skype with them today. It feels super awkward at first until one of the dudes and me hit it off on another game we love. I describe in detail about her abilities and we come up with several ability trees in less than an hour. It is going to have to be run through Devon, but Zedd says that the rough draft is looking great and that we are early enough in that adding a fourth lead is no big deal. After what feels like a long, but productive day I stand and stretch. I send out my final draft and copy Devon on it like Zedd had mentioned. I look at my Fitbit and frown, I have barely gotten in three thousand steps today. I am definitely going to the gym tonight, especially after the team meeting donuts. I suddenly feel very aware of how many I’ve eaten. Was it two, three? I shake my head, yep definitely gym time.
“Hey.” I leap at the voice and spin around. It is Zedd, but he looks─ different. His normally well kempt hair is wild and his eyes are rimmed with red. He looks as if he has rolled out of bed from a long night of drinking. And god, he smells.

What is that putrid odor? I try to smile, but my wavering words give me away, “oh, hey Zedd,” I reply, “what’s up?” He staggers toward me, his eyes trained on mine. His arm comes up and he points at me, jabbing in my direction, “you saw them too. Didn’t you?” My eyes grow wide at how angry he sounds. “Saw who?” I ask carefully, edging my way back toward the elevator.
His red, watery eyes bore into mine. He looks as if he will fall over at any moment. His hand stays mid-air but he points in a different direction, “them,” he whispers. I swallow thickly, but remain quiet. Zedd looks over toward the area I had first spotted the creature and nods, “I saw your sketches and it made me curious,” he slurs. Is he drunk?
Then it dawns on me, that is the odor I am smelling, vomit mixed with liquor. “So I went back and reviewed the cameras.” I cover my mouth and shake my head, “oh god, I’m so embarrassed, I was really tired and it had been a long day.” His finger comes up to his mouth and he shakes his head. “I saw how scared you were,” he whispers. I shift uncomfortable at his words. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. 
Before I can say anything, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. The crinkling sounds loud in the large, open space. “Here,” he growls, “take a look at this.” He thrust his hand toward me and I gingerly take the paper from his hand. “I thought it was just me until I saw your drawing.” I glance up at him confused and then down at the paper.
The hooded figure glares back at me from the sheet, nearly filling the page. There is no denying it─ the dark creature glares back at me. I can feel the entity’s eagerness oozing from the page. The same words are written on his paper. “Where did you get this?” I demand. He blinks in surprise at the shift in my demeanor.
“You’ve seen this before?” He grabs my shoulders and shakes me─ hard. I try to pull away, but he holds on tight. “You have to let me see it. Does yours─ change?” My body grows cold as I realize what he means. The numbers. He releases me as he studies the look on my face. My legs wobble and I can feel the contents of my stomach rising. I don’t want to, but I scan the page all the way down to the bottom. There, in bold print are the neatly typed numbers:

10

#

“I’ll have the number four, well done, with a coffee,” Zedd responds mechanically. I can tell he’s been here a few times. The waitress smiles and calls him by name. I order a muffin and coffee, smiling politely. Zedd has managed to clean himself up. His brown hair is combed back and he smells a little less sour with a hint of mint. He must have swished some mouthwash and washed up in the office bathroom.
As soon as the waitress leaves, Zedd turns his attention to me. He clears his throat, “hey, listen─ sorry I gave you a scare earlier. It’s just, no one else has” he trails off, taking a deep breath. He seems to struggle with his next sentence, “seen what I have. I thought I was going crazy.” I nod sympathetically, “it’s ok. I thought I was just, you know, tired or something. But, how did you know we saw the same thing? I mean, it was just a hooded figure. There’s tons of those around. It’s not exactly original.” He stares at me, quiet for several heartbeats.
“You’ve seen them, right?” his voice is soft, but it’s emotional. I tilt my head to the side, “I saw them, yes. But I only saw more than one when I─” I hesitate. He is the one that brought me here, but suddenly I feel dumb saying it out loud. “That wasn’t a dream. It’s going to happen.” It is my turn to stare at him, “how do you know that?” I ask.

“You asked how I knew we saw the same thing. I know because I felt that same feeling when I looked at your drawing. Plus, check this out” he pulls out his tablet and opens the files back up. It is our drawings sitting side by side. “It took me a while to spot it, but there it was, plain as day.” He taps on the screen and then zooms in on both images. “Do you remember drawing this?” I frown at the screen, squinting to see what he is trying to show me.
At first all I can make out are what appeared to be a bunch of squiggly lines. I look from one character to the other, trying to find some similar pattern or shape. “You can’t spot it yet, can you?” I shake my head, “no, sorry.” He taps on the screen a few times and then desaturates the images. The color drains from my face as he pushes the screen toward me. “How about now?”
Suddenly, I can see them everywhere. Words scrawl across their clothes, skin, making up part of the scythe, on the hoodie, covered in the background repeating over and over again:
No Escape. My stomach is in my throat as I think about the joy that creature felt as the skin slid from my bones and my insides sprayed the walls. How delighted It was to dine on my terror.
“There really is no escape.” Zedd’s voice sounds hollow. “It has to be what that countdown is on our papers.” I don’t know what to say, because there is nothing to say. After several moments of silence, the waitress brings our food. We both thank her, but neither of us touch our plate after she’s gone. 

Where the Silent Ones Lie Part I – A Horror Novella

My gaze shifts to outside as his words drone on. I can see his lips move and hear the deep rumble coming from his chest. I can’t make out what he is saying but it really doesn’t matter─ anything he has to say after tonight would be pointless. I flinch as I feel his hand close over mine to give it a gentle squeeze. I understand that he is just trying to comfort me, but my skin crawls at this small invasion. His words go up at the end, the sounds registering to my brain as a question. I turn and tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear.

“Sorry, what was that?” I ask. I shift myself to face toward him but my eyes are cast downward. I fidget with a straw wrapper focusing on pulling and then pushing it in my hand like a tiny accordion.

He sighs, “I asked if you were ok to drive home.” I offer him a quick smile, waving my hand in front of me, “of course I’ll be fine, Paul. It’s less than twenty minutes from here.” He regards my cool demeanor for a few seconds and then nods. “Alright, well just you know, take care of yourself and call me if you need anything.” My head moves mechanically up and down as I smile. The same smile I use when I want someone to believe that everything is hunky dory in Zen’s world.

A few more words are exchanged between us, I make promises that I don’t intend to keep, and then I stand and leave. There’s no doubt in my mind that Paul is feeling incredibly guilty, so I made sure to lay it on thick. No sense in making him fret for more than a few moments. Besides, it isn’t as if he personally made the decision.

I slide into my car, adjust the mirrors for the hundredth time, and pull out of the tiny parking lot. My car groans in protest as I drive over the familiar dips and bumps. The city has long forgotten these roads. It’s absolute murder on my 2001 Honda Civic. I’ve had great luck over the years, only needing to replace the main belt, spark plugs, light bulbs, and just recently, a new radiator. Thank god for the internet, I would have been out of a car for months if I had to have someone else repair it. I pull up to the main road and plug in my phone. No one would be pulling up behind me at this hour. By now I am normally rolling the pastry dough and prepping them for the long day ahead. My chest tightens and I feel my throat constrict. I fight the urge to keep everything down. I breathe, focusing on the air that exits and then fills my lungs. After several seconds I manage to calm down and draw one more deep breath.

I tap the screen on my phone and bring up my favorite playlist. I skip past the first few songs before settling on a metal band with a seriously awesome female vocalist. Her range goes from angelic high pitches to low, raspy growls─ she is definitely something special. I close my eyes as the beginning chords fill my car, her voice a silvery whisper brushing against my ear.

This time,

This time,

This time─ I’m really saying goodbye.

I’ve survived this long with one hell of a fight,

Clawed my way through the trenches,

You carved out of our lives.

Never-ending climb

to the other side

While you watched from above

Hoping that we would die.

Well watch this.

The car roars to life as I pull out onto the main road, the windows rolled down. The combination of cool air and heavy guitar rifts sends my heart soaring and for the remainder of the drive my troubles fly away.

*

The well-lit parking lot is a welcome sight as I pull into my normal spot by the light post. I am a few hours early so no one will be here yet. I reach down and grab the neatly packed bag in the back seat. As soon as I get inside the store, I make the rounds turning on the music, coffee machine, and re-stocking the fridges.

After all of the morning duties are taken care of I walk to the front and scan the parking lot. No one is here yet so I quickly cut off the lights and walk back to the lockers. Beth had a habit of getting here early but normally no more than thirty minutes. The handicapped stall is calling my name─ it has it’s own closed off room. I shut the door behind me, set my things on the chair, and then slide to the floor. I draw my legs in close, wrapping my arms around them and then rest my forehead on my knees.

It’s going to be OK. It’s going to be OK. I chant silently. Except it isn’t. I’m prolonging the inevitable pile of shit that is suspended above my head waiting to come crashing down on me. How long will I have this time? What’s going to happen when I have to skip on rent─ again. Andrea is extremely lenient and knows my situation, but that can only go so far with anyone. I have a sneaking suspicion that she isn’t charging me what she is charging the other tenants. I’m surprised that she already hasn’t put a notice to vacate on my door. I’m already behind by at least six weeks and now this. I will be respectful and go tell her today about the situation. I’m going to have to ask for a week or so to move all of my things and hope that she will be kind enough to let me. The bakery has been having problems and I knew it but with only me and one other employee on each shift I was hopeful that I could stay there longer. I squeeze my eyes shut then gently massage the bridge of my nose.

I try again to repeat the phrase a few more times until I convince myself, for the moment, that it’s true. I stand on two shaky legs and then turn the shower on full blast. I rotate the nozzle almost all the way to the left, cranking it up as hot as I can stand it. No matter how hot it is I still can’t shake the chill in my bones. My teeth chatter as I rub my body vigorously with soap.

My mind wanders to the inevitable and I sink into myself allowing a little of the truth to come through─ I have nothing left. My chest tightens and I struggle with my thoughts, trying to shove them down. It won’t help to think like this, I need to focus on work or whatever else gets me out of this mental hell. I’ll just go apply to every place I can think today and early tomorrow morning. I pause for a moment thinking on what day tomorrow is. Thursday I remind myself, Thursday is your day off. I’m torn between asking for more hours or just using a full day applying everywhere I can. Most places want you to fill them out online but with how things work now an algorithm sends your application to HR and you have to know what to add to it. I am horrible at filling out the damn things but maybe I can search up some templates and fill them out at the library.

I’m drying off when all of a sudden a huge boom resounds across the floor. My hands shoot out but only manage to slide across the slick walls. My teeth slam together so hard I’m sure they are going to break. Searing pain jolts from my elbows and knees and then runs through the extent of my body. Everything hurts but it doesn’t stop me from quickly shifting myself into a fetal position. The floor undulates beneath me, and I stare in wonder at the small blocky tiles rippling seamlessly like water. Is this what an earthquake is like? Finally, the ground stills. I lay holding my breath for several seconds not sure if it is safe to move. I let all of the air escape from my lungs, then draw in a deep breath. Reassured that nothing else is coming, I slowly pull myself from the floor and on my feet. Cautiously, I peek out from the shower into the main workout area. Nothing is out of place or broken and there is no sign of damage that I can see from here. I glance up at the clock and frown, it is almost time for Beth to get here. The last thing I need is her wondering why I’m taking a shower here. Then again, I could always explain that I came in early to work out. I think Beth may be onto my situation or have her suspicions so I decide not to chance it.

After getting dressed and making myself look presentable I stuff my bag into a locker and walk to the front. I’m almost through opening the registers when the beep sounds. Beth walks in and smiles, “hey Z- you’re here early, did your shift end sooner today?” I smile and nod, “yes it did. I think Paul could sense that I am running on fumes.” Her eyes take on a concerned look and she places a hand over mine. “You have looked pretty exhausted lately. Everything alright, hun?”

Beth is the only person that I don’t mind touching me. She really is a sweetheart and I almost feel guilty for lying to her, “oh, nothing I haven’t handled before.” I place my other hand on top of hers and gently squeeze before adding, “I really appreciate it though.” She smiles at me and then reaches for something from her bag, “alright sweetie, well anyway, I brought you some of my homemade biscuits and jam.” I perk up, grinning from ear to ear. “Did you really?” I’m practically radiant, clapping my hands together. “You spoil me too much, I’m going to put on so much weight if you don’t stop!” She raises an eyebrow and purses her lips as she gives me a quick once-over “From the state of you I’d say you need it. You can’t be more than a hundred pounds soaking wet.” She’s just about nailed it. I laugh it off “oh, I just forget to eat half the time I’ve got so much going on.” She shakes her head, “well you get some food in you, I don’t want to have to wheel you out of here on a stretcher after you pass out from hunger.” She’s only half joking and I know it. I clear my throat and start over, making sure that I count all of the one’s correctly. Beth turns back toward the locker room, leaving her offering on the counter.

Something occurs to me and I call back to her, “Hey, Beth?” She spins back around smiling, “what’s up sweetie?” I pause for a minute, trying to form a cohesive sentence. “Have you had any crazy earthquakes, or really hard vibrations when you’re up here?” She cracks a smile at me and cocks an eyebrow, “hun, I haven’t had any hard vibrations like that since Obama was in office.” She sighs and shakes her head, “man I need to get laid.” We both laugh and I feel a little better, Beth has that sort of effect on me. “My sad dating life aside, no I haven’t had anything like that happen here. Did something happen this morning?” I nod, “Yeah it was really strange, like the whole earth just shifted. You didn’t feel anything driving in this morning?” She purses her lips and tilts her head, “no sweetheart, I sure didn’t.”

The uneasiness creeps back in but I shrug, “guess it might have been an earthquake or something.” Beth nods, “yeah that or the new construction up the road. I think they’re pounding in some large beams for the foundation.” She pauses and then smiles wickedly, “wish someone would pound me like that.” I shake my head, “you’re awful!” Her grin widens, “hey, you must feel it too─ I have literally never seen you take time off and no mention of a boyfriend,” then she adds quickly, “or girlfriend whichever floats your boat.”

I shake my head, “go back to work pervert.” She laughs and turns back toward the office. I glance over at the food Beth brought and sigh. My mouth waters and it takes everything in me not to scoop them up and devour them right then and there. I know how that will look to her and I can’t stand the thought of making her worry. She has enough on her plate as it is. I don’t know how she manages to put on a happy face every day and be such an uplifting person. Her daughter and son passed away just last year on their way home from Thanksgiving. Beth once admitted to me that she felt at least partially responsible insisting that they rideshare with their cousins. It was just one of those freak accidents, a literal once in a million chance. They had all just made it into the city and decided to pickup food downtown. Sandra and David, Beth’s children, and Grace, the younger of the two cousins, had decided to stay in the car while Grace’s older brother, John went in to pick up their order.

The next thing he knew there was a deafening crash from outside. It took John a long time to talk about it but after getting over the shock, he had described in great detail what had happened. Apparently a man desperate to end his life had chosen that exact moment to leap from the top of the hotel. It still gets my blood boiling, how can someone be so selfish? I mean, taking your own life is one thing─ but to snuff out another’s without a thought is reprehensible. I still can’t believe Sandra is gone. Beth’s daughter was something special, just as kind and caring as her mother. That girl was going places, she was done with high school by fifteen and working on her masters in neurology. She would have started med school next year. While David might not have been the ideal son and sometimes him and Beth didn’t get along, he did love his mother very much. He wasn’t as ambitious as Sandra but he did just get his first office job and in less than a year got promoted to assistant manager. They both were very dedicated workers─ something Beth had drilled into them for years.

I wipe the registers and counters down with strong cleaner. Normally the people that closed were young and never bothered to clean. With the virus nearly shutting down all of the gyms around town, we really couldn’t afford to get sued over uncleanliness. These damn kids think they’re invincible and have a clear lack of motivation to do anything. I once opened up to find someone hadn’t even removed the cash from the registers. I suppose I could understand though, the pay here is abysmal. I look up and realize it’s less than five minutes until open. I rush to the office, lock up the cash, lock the door, and run back to the front.

Our usual is out front and waves at me as I unlock the door. He smiles at me as I let him by. “Hey Chris, how’s your morning?” He returns the favor opening the second set of doors. His face is comforting as always, I can’t help but relax near him. His deep timber washes over me, “always better to see your shining faces. You and Beth are awesome, always open on time.” I chuckle as he strides to the men’s locker room. “What can I say, you keep some normalcy to my days. I like to think I do the same for you.” He gives me a thumbs up and disappears around the corner.

The first part of the day went by a little slow it was one of those days that there were a steady stream of people but not enough to keep my head completely focused on work. I frown looking over at the clock, come on lunch rush I plead silently. I look outside and sigh heavily, the sky is an angry shade of grey. It meant that we would slow down quite a bit, it didn’t always mean that but today was fairly chilly. I suspect it will last until the rain takes a breather. Probably until I leave, I think bitterly. I frown and walk over to the cleaning closet to grab some disinfecting wipes. I might as well make use of my free time. Beth steps out of the office and smiles, “you going to wipe down the machines honey?” I nod as I pull out a set of gloves, “yes ma’am. Figured I should make good use out of my time.” She grinned and patted me on the shoulder, “girl, can you please clone yourself? Or at least light a fire under all these kids asses.” I chuckle and shake my head, “you remember what it was like working your first few jobs, right? It’s hard to care making minimum wage.” She places her hands on her hips in mock outrage, “why, miss Z, it’s as if you are suggesting we don’t make a livable wage here!” she clicks her tongue and shakes her head. I smile shaking my own head, “oh I know it isn’t your fault Beth, you already pay me more than I know they would like you to.” She groaned, “hun, if it were up to me you would be salary with full benefits, no over-time.” She smiles and I notice her eyes dart from me to the floor. I laugh nervously and pat Beth on the shoulder, “oh I’m just teasing, we both know how Taylor can’t go without her latte and Justin, bless his heart, would be lost without his Tesla and three thousand dollar shoes.” We both burst out laughing as I turn toward the machines. I wave my hand to shoo Beth away, “you go relax, I know you are up to your eyeballs in budgets, schedules, and whatever other ridiculous tasks Taylor has you doing.” She sighs rolling her eyes, “yeah and speaking of which watch your ass, she’s on another one of her rampages. We were down by six percent last month and she’s flipping her shit trying to find a way to cut back on expenses.” I frown over at her “you can offer to cut my hours if you need to I don’t want you having to deal with the queen-of-bitches if you can avoid it.” She lets out a deep breath, “don’t you worry about me sweetie, I’ll lay off one of these lazy brats if I need to. But, unfortunately you won’t be able to work doubles for a few days, possibly a week or two.” My chest tightens, “oh” I say unable to come up with anything else. My mind’s racing but I manage to smile, “no worries. I’ll see if I can’t pick up a few more shifts at the bakery.” I flinch inwardly at the lie. Beth looks at the ground again unable to meet my eyes. “If it makes you feel any better she wanted me to cut more but I managed to talk her into cutting several of the brats hours instead.” I grin wickedly at her, “does this mean I get real breaks?” She snorts and walks back to the office calling out, “don’t press your luck kiddo.” I release a long breath of air not realizing that I have been holding it in. I really am lucky to have someone like her around.

I am supposed to work a double today but that’s gone out the window. Shit, I won’t get pay from the bakery until the end of the week. At least last week I was able to work a few double shifts so pay should be decent enough to make ends meet. At least for gas, food, electricity and water. Rent is another story. I pause and then do the math in my head─ holiday pay! I should actually be able to pay rent. I’d completely forgotten that last week was thanksgiving. Whether that’s enough to keep my place, I don’t know. At least I can try. The end of my shift comes way too fast and I dread every step out to my car.

#

Andrea peers over at me from across the table, she’s quiet but her face has hardened. I’m shifting nervously, waiting to hear what she has to say. I know that look and this isn’t going to end well. Unable to hold it in any longer, I break the silence, “I understand Andrea, I don’t expect a miracle. Can you please give me one week to get all of my things moved out and clean the place up?” I’m getting more worried by the second as she looks me up and down. Her arms cross in front of her and she sighs, “well, at least you were honest with me. To be frank, that space has been paid off for quite some time.” She picks up her cup of coffee and takes a long sip. “You know I try and be as forgiving as I can for you because I know about your situation. Tough having to work two jobs and barely make ends meet, been there a few times in my life.” She takes another sip and then gently sets the mug back on the table. “Listen, hun, I know how things can get, especially right now─ but I’m in the same boat with many other tenants. With the pandemic and job losses, I’ve got more than a few properties we’re going to have to take legal action against the tenants.” She shakes her head, “it really is a shame what has happened to them but now that the government has lifted the restrictions on rental properties, I have got to start getting paying tenants in here. I’m already starting to dip into my savings just to stay afloat.” I fidget with my hands, unsure of what to do with them.

My voice cracks as I respond, “no, really I understand. I’m so sorry that I’ve been behind and I know at the end of this month it will be two months.” My eyes start to burn but I take a couple of deep breaths and try and fight back tears. Renters have heard every sob story in the book, mine will just come off as manipulative. “After holiday pay this past week, I can go ahead and give you this month’s rent. If I’m able to get out of the lease and have a week to get everything ready, I can be out of your hair by beginning of next month.” She’s still quiet so I add nervously, “and I can have it all cleaned and tidy for anyone that you may need to show the space to.” Andrea regards me for a few more seconds and then nods. “Alright, but I need the space to be spotless and you have to be ready to leave if someone is coming by.” My shoulders sag and I can breathe again. “Thank you so much Andrea, I really appreciate it.” I fish out the envelope with my money and hand it over reluctantly. I planned on keeping a bit for food but having a warm bed for a week sounded much better. I’d be able to have plenty of water and some snacks at the gym. She takes the crisp envelope, counts the contents and then crosses over to her computer. The gentle sound of her nails hitting the keyboard somewhat settles me as I wait patiently for my receipt.

Her delicate flowery perfume contrasts her firm, business-like personality. It makes me wonder if there is a hidden feminine side to her. Even though her words are kind, there is a ‘don’t fuck with me’ vibe behind her fierce green eyes. I respect the hell out of her for it, you have to have a stiff upper lip to own properties. I have a theory that she can sense a lie from a hundred feet away, maybe more. “Alright, so I’m not going to charge you for the last few remaining months of rent owed. I just need you to sign this agreement that you will be moved out by─” she looks at her watch, “December thirtieth.” I take the paper from her, initial all of the marked sections, and then sign my name. “No problem,” I say double checking that I had filled everything in, “I’ll hand in the keys the day before so your guys can look it over for move-in ready.” My hands are shaking something fierce as I quickly hand the paper back to her. I’m practically burning a hole through her table with my eyes as she glances through my signed copy. “Thanks again for being so honest with me and saving me the time of going through all the legal motions,” she says softly and then adds, “It really does mean a lot to me.” My knuckles are squeezed together so tightly that all the color has completely drained from them. I know that my voice will betray me if I respond so I choose instead to smile and nod.

After several seconds of awkward silence it dawns on me that we are done talking. “Anyway,” I say, “on a personal note, thanks for being a kind person and putting up with me. On a business note, I’ll hold up my end of the bargain and hopefully you can get someone placed there soon. I’ll check around and see if anyone trustworthy I know needs a place.” Feeling better I reach out my hand to shake before realizing I shouldn’t and quickly withdraw it. “Sorry,” I say, “force of habit.” She laughs despite the situation, “I do the same thing all the time. It takes quite a bit of getting used to.” This is the first time I have heard Andrea laugh. It somehow warms my heart hearing it. I’m almost to the door when I hear Andrea call out, “hey, Zen?” I freeze and then turn toward her, “hmm?” Her face softens, “All things aside, I hope things do get better. Just, take care OK?” I’m on the brink of losing it, but manage to whisper a thank you. I wave and smile again before stepping out into the rain. My place isn’t too far from the main office so I opted to walk. The cool wind and wetness on my face and hair helps clear my mind. I have a lot to think about, even more to take care of, and a week to make it all happen.

Fantasy Stories – Anna’s Adventures Part III

Part I

Part II

Here is the next chapter of our Twitter stories. More to follow soon. If you’d like to adventure with us, you can vote on my daily polls to see where Anna goes and what she does next!

Anna dove into the grass, rolling out of the direct path of destruction. She pumped her legs as fast as they would carry her. Dirt, and debris showered her. It was getting harder to see. Was she still running in the same direction?

There was no sense in looking back. She ran forward as long as her lungs would allow, the deafening whistle ever-present. Something hard smacked into her side, then after a few more strides across her face. She’d managed to stumble into the woods.

Even as far as she believed she had pushed herself, the screaming of the tornado had not lessened. Trees were being pulled, uprooted as close as 50 feet away. Her body felt as if it would be lifted at any moment. This was it, she really felt it. The end of everything.

#

The ground rushed at Anna’s face as thousands of tiny specs dug into her flesh. She clawed at anything she could as her legs flew out behind her. Her arms were quickly giving out. Maybe this was for the best─ maybe it was meant to be.

Her face crusted with dirt as tears streamed from her eyes. What had she done with herself? What had she done with her life? She was already twenty-nine with a dead end job and living off of her mother’s insurance money. How pathetic could you be?

Anna’s hands kept finding dirt. She stretched with all her strength, each grab more disheartening than the last. How long could this last? When would her arms finally collapse? She choked and sputtered as the dirt flew into her lungs.

Her arms collapsed, the wind whipping her hair in a tangled mess behind her. She felt herself being dragged backward as she pawed feebly at the dirt. The debris pummeled her head as she kept it low to the ground. It was the only way she could breath in the storm.

Anna felt the second she let go. All the good and the bad things she had done with her life flashed into her mind. What would her mother think? Simply letting go without a fight─to what end? Being swallowed up and ripped apart by a bit of rotating air?

A curious thing happened. One that Anna never knew she had within her. It bubbled up and yelled from deep within her, “I will not!” Her hands flew out and clawed deep into the earth. She gripped with all her might, pulling at all the roots, dirt, and debris beneath her.

With a hearty yell, Anna lunged forward a foot, maybe more, and then another. And another. Until her hand found air. She searched it frantically─ looking for solid ground. Finally, she found it. It was directly below her body. A cave? A drop? She didn’t know.

A tree ripped away beside her, a rock narrowly missed her head. It was as if the earth itself were coming uprooted. It was do or die, this moment, and it was her choice. She decided it far better a death than this and took the leap of faith.

#

Anna fell flat onto the other side. She wasn’t quite sure how she had landed on her back and remained upright, but somehow─ here she was.

She sat up, brushing the debris from her face, hair, and neck. The roaring had ceased, leaving behind a deafening silence. She sat very still, just inhaling and exhaling. She wondered if the boy was looking in on her. ‘We’re watching your every move.’ They’d said.

She drew her legs up, and though she didn’t trust them completely, and there was quite a bit of wobbling, she finally stood up. After a few more steadying breaths, Anna finally took a look at her surroundings. Her eyes widened.

The bridge seemed to stretch on forever. The more she looked, the further it went. Surely this was an optical illusion, there had to be a support somewhere. She looked up, and then behind her. It was a dead end, a solid wall of rock. Suddenly she felt very vulnerable on this small, grassy island. It couldn’t have been more than five feet in diameter, the whole of it! She peeked over the edge, only to find that the few pebbles that fell over from her shoes hadn’t made a sound. Was she…on a pillar? Anna spun around searching.

Yes, she found. There was literally nothing around and even if there were, you wouldn’t be able to see it. There was miles, upon miles of fog! It was a wonder that the bridge was so clearly visible. But then, now that she thought on it, they must have done this on purpose.

Anna ran her hands along the rails and gingerly pressed her foot onto the first few boards. There were no creaks or groans, it was incredibly solid. Like it were new, and yet old all at once. Someone had put some incredible work into this bridge.

The first dozen or so feet went by slowly, but after she neared thirty feet, she relaxed to her natural gait. It was a strong bridge, the sort she remembered walking across as a girl when her family went abroad. Those were good times, before her father had gone.

There were noises in the air now. Things that she hadn’t heard before. They were low and continuous, like a drone, and then high pitched sounds mixed in. It was as haunting as it was lovely, ethereal in its own way.

The smell reminded Anna of the sea. The air was chilly and damp. It was the kind of breeze that made you get goosebumps and all the hairs on your arms to stand on-end. She wasn’t sure, but it sounded like water was very near.

To be continued!

Thanks for adventuring with me. Let’s see what Anna gets in trouble with next time. ❤

❤ Grey

 

Fantasy story – Anna’s Adventures!

Deep in the recesses of Grey’s mind is a story aching to be told. Just about all day every day I imagine things, I daydream, and I love to share it. It’s literally killing me not being able to release the novel I’m currently planning on getting published!

But, (oh, hohoho~) that doesn’t mean I can’t write for all of you still in some capacity. I love interacting with all of you, so I have a fun Twitter account that I like to poll, and tell tales. I realized, however, that some of you might not be able to keep up. So I can recap here! Here we go, enjoy~

Today, a young boy no more than 10 stumbled onto the driveway behind Ms. Anna’s home at 2401 Miracle Drive. He was lost, tired, and very malnourished. As luck would have it, she had just arrived from her trip to the local grocer.

The boy was quiet and answered none of her questions, except that he was lost and hungry. It was late, nearly 10 p.m. and Anna was unsure of what she should do.

Anna offers the boy food, not too much as it seems he hasn’t eaten in quite some time. Curiously, he eats most of it but stores the rest in his pocket. After some convincing, she managed to get him to follow her inside.

Anna knows that it is late, but she feels sorry for the boy and decides to let him stay the night before phoning the authorities. After a huge struggle, mainly because the boy was terrified of the shower, she managed to bathe and clothe him.

After several restless hours, Anna wakes to discover the boy has vanished from the bed. There is a soft light coming from the front of her home. The boy’s small frame is outlined by the bright glow of her phone. He stares at it, hunched over like a little golem. He’s watching videos, enamored by the lights and sounds. He hums along and mimics words. Almost like a baby would do.

Anna shook her head and smiled. The poor child probably couldn’t sleep. As she turned to leave, she bumped into her comfy chair. The boy froze and turned toward her. She blinked, then blinked again. Had her eyes played tricks on her? Maybe her tired mind had made it up. Surely smoke had not drifted from the child’s eyes. He smiled at her and reached his arms up, motioning to be held. Swooping him up, she shuffled them both back to bed.

Morning came just as sure as the March Drench. Anna poured the waffle mix into her iron and glanced over at the boy. He stayed glued to the small screen, kicking his legs and humming. He looked serene and so small in one of her shirts.

Suddenly the thought of losing him felt worse than calling the authorities, but in the end she caved. Anna dialed & waited, each ring more jarring than the last. Finally the brisk voice answered. She said child services would be in touch & then the line went dead.

They spent the day watching t.v. & eating junk food. Anna had tried getting his name a few times, but he wouldn’t say. She was sure child services had forgotten when her phone sounded. The woman on the line sounded cold & detached.

Anna finished making his care package & got him ready for the person who would pick him up. She had sewn his tattered clothes & added in a few colorful patches from her old scarf collection. She’d just dressed him when her phone rang.

The woman on the line sounded apologetic as she explained that she was having car troubles. “Would it be alright if I come by in the morning? I’m so sorry for the inconvenience.” Anna smiled and agreed to have her come then. How exciting! Another night.

They had just finished up a movie when the boy yawned and stretched across her legs. He gazed up at her adoringly with deep, dark eyes. She instantly was drawn to how deep a brown they were. They were, in fact, so deep that she spotted something jet across the space next to her t.v. Her head snapped up to barely catch the hint of a small, furry creature no larger than a guinea pig with a long, pillow-y tail. A twinkling laugh escaped from her small visitor as he leaped up & chased after it.

Anna’s eyes grew wide as he rushed through her front door! She had no idea that he could move so quickly. She rushed after him, calling out “boy─wait, it’s dangerous!” She barely saw him fly into the trees behind her home.

Without thinking Anna dove into the forest after the fleeing child. She charged forward as fast as her legs would take her over small dips, brush, and finally leaping over a small creek. She sighed, bending over at the waist.

The boy seemed to have endless amounts of energy, but for some reason or another he paused, staring up at the trees. Anna gulped down a few breaths and lumbered over to him. Her arms wrapped around his small frame and she pulled him close.

Something shone on the edge of her vision, a flash of soft, yellow light. Anna stared at the bend of light, like an event horizon. The center was as black as…the boy’s eyes the other night.

She approached the ring of light, enthralled by the thin yellow line. The black was so dark that it continued forever. Anna felt the boy’s hand encircle her own and he tugged at her gently. His laughter sounded and his other hand extended into the darkness.

For a second, his eyes crinkled and she saw swirls of the same darkness spill from his eyes. Then he stepped into the darkness, keeping his grip on her. Anna stared hard at the direction of her home. What if this sealed up? Would she be able to get back? Her arm passed over to the other side─ It felt warm and safe. When she really thought about it, her life had really taken a turn for the dull.

When had she ever done anything with it? Making a snap decision, she stepped forward and left her world behind.

As soon as she crossed over she felt it. There was no going back. At least, not the way they came in. As far as she could see, there were low ceilings, long stretches of tunnel, & no light. It was just just tall enough for her to stand up─ a little over 5 feet.

Anna screamed as something furry zoomed past her leg. The boy didn’t even seem fazed by it, giggling at her outburst. She quieted, allowing her eyes to adjust. But they never seemed to. Everything was horribly out of focus and dark.

There was a shuffle, and then the child spoke: “lumena” He called softly. From his fingertips came a purple glow. It seemed to encircle only the two of them. It was her turn to latch on to him. “Where are we?” she whispered.

He didn’t answer, but instead let a sort of hum mixed with a …purr? Anna’s brain had decided a purr sounded right. She mimicked the sound back at him questioningly. A loud laugh from him gave her all the response she needed.

Anna sighed as they continued taking a left at one bend, and a right at another. They had been walking for what felt like miles. “At some point,” she said, “you’re going to have to tell me a name.”

He paused, staring back at her. His expression was impossible to read, the only thing that seemed to make any movement was the swirl from his eyes. She’d gotten used to it by now, slowly accepting that it was part of his reality. Which was quickly becoming her own.

“Why do you name all of your things?” he asked. That took her back. “Well, don’t you?” His mouth twisted up at the corner from her question. “We name what is important. And a name, is sacred.” They continued forward, the glow from his hands extending further out.

Finally, they reached the end of the tunnel. By the sounds, Anna knew that they were in a very large space. The boy flicked his wrists & the light streaked over to another area which then lit another, & then another.

A towering, glittering city with millions of lights stand before them. A slight wind picks up Anna’s hair as she stares at thousands of tiny movements below. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Her hand sought his as they moved forward.

After several more hours of walking, they finally reached the entrance. She stared into the open area with people roaming around. They were like the boy, but slightly taller. They took notice of the two of them, but went about their own way.

After several curious moments, she couldn’t help herself. “Why aren’t there any guards?” The boy cocked his head to one side & his eyebrows pressed together, “Guards? Why would we?” She had many more questions after this, but decided to keep them to herself for now.

The two of them finally came to the center. A tower stretched before them, stairs spiraling the outside and lit every ten feet. A double door with carved oak and two brass knockers stood dead center.

The boy pulls her toward the door, knocks three times loudly, and then stands back. The doors open inward with a deep echo. Anna stared around in awe. Everything had been carved completely from stone.

Four large statues depicted human-like faces surrounded by robes. They all surrounded a beautiful glowing stone that shone with a vibrant, purple hue. It dimmed, then grew brighter. The boy next to her froze in place, looking from the stone to her.

Anna watched as the boy’s shoulders dipped down and he let out a sigh. From the shadows, two large figures appeared. A gargled voice sounded from the left, “why have you brought It here?”

A second, smooth and higher pitch voice says, “and on such an occasion, young one.” The boy pressed his hands together in front of him, then spread them apart like he was opening a book. A soft light flashed for a second, and then it was gone.

There’s the briefest of silences and then finally the smooth voice speaks. “You believe It to be so?” The boy hums, then nods. Anna suspects it to be for her benefit. “If I ma─” the smooth voiced figure holds up a hand, silencing the garbled voice.

A long, tense silence follows. The boy’s face stays calm, but there is a gleam there Anna never noticed before. “A trial, then.” The garbled voice states matter-of-factly. The boy flushes, then again nods.

Four symbols appeared in the amethyst stone before them. The boy looked at Anna from head to toe. He appeared to be sizing her up. After a few seconds of deliberation, he chose.

She wasn’t sure what the boy had decided for her as the vertical lines appeared by themselves floating for several moments before vanishing. She was quite certain that this couldn’t be a good thing. Trial? No, definitely did not like the sound of that.

The boy tugged at her arm and inclined his head toward the shadows. After a few heartbeats, he again tugged at her arm. Following suit she bowed her own head and then stood. In seconds, maybe just a breath away, their presence was gone.

#

After sitting in her room for some time, Anna began to worry that maybe the boy had left her. Alone in this strange world. She had no idea where ‘here’ even was. They had traveled through a portal. Were they even still on earth?

The more she puzzled over it, the more it hurt to think about. What of her home? Her job? Would she be here, lost forever? Mother had always warned her she had a squirrel of a brain and jumped from limb to limb without thinking. Anna grinned as the door to her room opened.

Her grin fell at the sight in front of her. It was the boy, yet he was different. He was adorned in deep black robes. So dark in fact that the light wouldn’t bounce from it. With him, he carried a beautifully engraved box. It was purple, with intricate silver etching.

 

More of our story to come soon. Hugs my fellow adventurer’s.

❤ Grey

 

 

My Family is Falling Apart – Conclusion

Part I

Part II

Part III

I stare across the house from the living room and then turn back to the patio door. So this is it. This is what being insane is like. It’s Monday morning and I’ve scheduled an emergency appointment with a psychologist first thing. I have to run by the office first but it shouldn’t take long. Kyle is giving the presentation instead of me. It’s the first personal day I’ve taken in nearly five years. Suffice it to say everyone has already asked if I’m dying.

I roll into the parking lot, jet up the three flights of stairs and then slip into my office. I don’t intend to stay long, just look over the presentation and make sure it doesn’t have any obvious mistakes. Kyle is usually great with this sort of thing when I need to sit one out, so I’m not worried. I skim through most of it and grin. Good man, I think, looks great. I sigh in relief and send out an email that it’s approved. If this doesn’t seal the deal I don’t know what will. It was four months of hard work with a more than capable team. Minus Carroll.  

I stare across at the empty office. What on earth was she afraid of? Why did she call Jenna instead of me? Jen doesn’t work here. It just doesn’t make sense and the more I think about it, the angrier and more hurt I get. Did they talk about me behind my back? Had they always been this close? At this point I know it’s useless to dwell on it, but it’s the one thing that just doesn’t fit into the equation. Shaking my head I scoop up my keys and pull my door shut. I’m turning the lock when the smell hits me.

Jesus, it’s bad.

I glance up as people start to funnel through toward me. “Hey Tom, I thought you were taking a personal day?” I grin and wave at Kyle. “Hey man, you know I trust you to do an amazing job, but I’m still going to check.” Kyle gives a hearty laugh, shaking his head. “I would expect no less from our top guy, and honestly I welcome the second set of eyes. You never know, and with Carroll gone─” he sniffs and turns toward her office. “Holy shit. Did something die in there?”

I stiffen and turn toward the office. “You smell it too? Carroll mentioned it the other day. I thought I was going crazy.” Kyle turns toward me, his eyebrows raised. “Wait, Carroll called you? What did she say? Is she OK?” I study his face. His breathing has picked up and his nostrils are flared. His eyes are wide, scared-looking with a hint of anger. Then it dawns on me. They were seeing each other. I chuckle uneasily, “well, she was here a few days ago before she quit. Said she needed to take a few personal days.”

Kyle’s face turns pale and his fists ball at his side. “This is so typical. She hasn’t responded to me in over a week. She just disappears from the office, randomly shows up and then asks for more days off.” He wipes at his eyes muttering something about needing a minute and then he’s gone.

#

“Tell me more about the women in your life, past, and present.” Dr. Tanner says. I expected to talk a little bit in this first session, but these questions are leading to something I don’t like. What does this have to do with anything I’ve just said to him.

“Look, no disrespect but I’ve just told you that my house was torn apart by a non-existent tornado and that my soon-to-be ex-wife was a monster and some weird wind-beast is following me around. Why are you even asking me about this?” I say.

He smiles across at me with that infuriating calm all physicians seem to possess, “Yes, you mentioned these things, but one of them was before a head injury, the other was around bedtime, and the third you said you were looking out of your back window.”

OK, I think, and? I stare over at him and cross my arms.

When I don’t answer, he sighs and continues, “Tom, all of these things have a pattern. Do you not see it?” I frown, “That I’m going insane?” I offer. He shakes his head, “Far from it. When was the last time you had more than a few hours of sleep?” I pause awkwardly and think. Holy shit, he’s right. When was the last time I had enough rest?

I let out a long sigh. The weight of the world rushes from my shoulders to my fingertips and then finally the floor. The known side effects of sleep deprivation, all of them added up. I place my face into my hands and cry. Finally, things were making sense. I feel his warm hand on my shoulder and then he places a box of tissues in front of me.

“I tell you what, I’m going to go ahead and prescribe you something to help you both relax and sleep. It’s just a mild sedative and it is non-habit forming.” I nod automatically and sniff as I wipe the soft tissue against my face.

He reaches into his drawer and scribbles on a piece of paper. “In the meantime, let’s schedule another session and we can get more into the heart of the issue. I think this may be all stemming from much more than sleep-deprived hallucinations.” What could possibly be worse than this? I wonder.

The drive home has never felt so long. It’s as if my body has caught up to what Dr. Tanner said. I ache, from head to toe and my eyes are so raw I can feel every vein pulsing beneath the surface. I really want to talk with Karis, but I think it’s better that I just close my eyes for the next twelve hours.

I can’t believe how dumb I’ve been. Monsters? Conspiracies? Damn, man. Get your shit straight. I’m really glad that the pharmacy was around the corner from the doctor’s office. I don’t think I would have made it another mile past what I have. My knees wobble as I turn the lock and stumble inside. I don’t think any amount of caffeine could keep my eyes apart. I want to collapse in bed, but remember I won’t get actual sleep unless I take my meds. He warned me that I may be able to fall asleep while anxious, but I won’t be able to stay asleep.

I down the pills, kick off my shoes and collapse into pillowy bliss.

#

The sound I hear next is not the one I expect. I expected the familiar soft jingle that wakes me every single morning. This one is different. Like a low drone, a humming. I roll and pull the sheets over my head. Not alarm, I think, go back to sleep. Then it happens again, and then a third time before I realize that my phone is ringing. Angry, I roll over and look outside. It’s still light out, I must have only been out for a few hours. Damn it. I scoop up the phone and look at the caller I.D.

I clear my throat a few times and then answer, “Hey man. How did the meeting go?”

“Hey. I’m sorry, were you sleeping? I didn’t know you were taking another day off.” I bolt up and look at my phone. It’s 10 a.m.

Tuesday at 10 a.m.

“Christ, dude. I’m sorry. The doctor gave me some pills yesterday, I haven’t been sleeping. I must have slept straight through my alarm.” “Oh wow,” he says, “hey, no worries man. You must have needed it. I can hold down the fort another day, you get some sleep.” I clear my throat again, slowly starting to clear the fog in my mind, “You sure? I don’t mind coming in if you need me to help. Everything go alright yesterday?” I can hear his smile from the other end, “we crushed it. They signed first thing this morning, that report was freaking phenomenal man. You added some stuff in there I didn’t even think of. I really appreciate that.”

I grin, “well, keep at it and you’ll be where I am in a few years.” He chuckles. We both knew he was just as good. I’m hoping to see him promoted by the end of the year. The guy was a genius.

He shifts and then sighs, “there is one thing you can do for me.” he says. “What’s up?” I ask. “Can you ask Carroll to please call me when she can? I just want to know if she’s OK.” He sounds really sad, almost broken. Poor guy, I know where his head is at right now. “Of course. I’ll let you know right away if I hear anything.” “Thanks, man, I really appreciate it. Speaking of which, this is a little off-topic but can you have Brett call maintenance and check out her office? That smell really needs to be taken care of. People have been complaining all day.”

“Sure, I’ll give him a call right now. And Kyle, thanks again for all your hard work and taking care of yesterday and today.” I say. He thanks me and hangs up. I make another note to promote him asap and then roll out of bed. First thing’s first.

“Brett Manning.” he rumbles on the first ring. “Hey, Brett. I need you to email maintenance about Carroll’s old office. There’s a─” “Smell like putrid ass coming from there? Yes, I know. I put in a complaint a few hours ago, hopefully, they get to it today. Honestly, if it isn’t taken care of tonight, I think I may have to quit. Sorry, not sorry.” I laugh and shake my head, good ole Brett. “I don’t blame you. Let me know if they fix the problem today. If not, we may just go ahead and give a staff holiday tomorrow or let people work from home.” “I vote staff holiday,” he quips. “You would. Thanks, man, I appreciate it. See you tomorrow.” “Maybe,” he says and hangs up the phone.

The rest of the day goes by pretty uneventful. I pick up my phone for the thousandth time and look through my text messages. Still nothing. If I don’t get a call by 8 tonight, I’ve decided I’m going to call her instead. Normally, I like to let her be the one to call me in case they are in the middle of something. Just relax, I think, they are probably having a good time and forgot to call last night. Besides, would I have even heard it?

My stomach complains at me in a high pitched squeal and then a deep rumble. My first instinct is to reach for a box of cookies, but when my stomach turns just thinking about it, I realize I need actual food. A quick glance in my fridge tells me all I need to know. Take out it is.

#

I settle on some pepper beef and rice and then plant myself in front of the computer. It’s been so long since I’ve used this thing for fun that I forget I have at least three new games I’ve purchased recently. I used to be an avid gamer. In college, it was all I did. Hell, my degree was wrapped around becoming a 3d modeler for the game industry. My buds and I had won several competitions for most innovative. That was just before the crash in ‘08. I basically graduated with a useless degree, and here I am now managing teams of people that make websites for other companies. It wasn’t a dream job, but it paid more than enough to keep us comfortable. At the end of the year, I’d be looking at a possible promotion and making over $400k. It wasn’t what Jen made, but it was a decent living.  

The game fires up and I’m pumped. I’m a super nerd for sci-fi, especially shooters. Add mechs and I’m all in. This one checked all the boxes. Before I knew it, the doorbell sounds.

I glance at the camera and see the young delivery guy there. I’d have to go AFK for a minute, but I was in free play mode so I wouldn’t be holding anyone back. 

I let out a long sigh and pat my stomach. Man, that was some of the best Chinese food I’d had in a while. Or you were just hungry, I think. I stand and stretch, yawning loudly. I’m beat. I glance at my watch. It was well past Karis’s bedtime. I look at my phone and instantly feel guilty, there’s a missed call. Then, on closer inspection, I notice it wasn’t Jenna. Damn. Part of me is hoping that she got voicemail for once. Then a new feeling sets in. Why haven’t they called? It’s now been two days. While that wouldn’t really be a point of concern for many, it was for me. Jenna is an extremely punctual and respectful person. The silent treatment wasn’t her thing. Even when they fought she would tell him that she was angry and needed a moment to herself.

Maybe she sent a text, or she’s in an area without reception, I reason silently. I pull up my messages and then click on her name. I send a quick, ‘hey haven’t heard from you in a couple days, everything alright?’ Message and then wait. Fifteen minutes drag on, and then another thirty. I pace, staring at my phone and willing it to light up with the little rectangle of light. Don’t be crazy, I tell myself, they do live in the country. Unable to stand another minute of this I leave the room. I needed a distraction. A shower. My body responds with a slight shiver. Not the bad kind, but the sort that tingles you all over in anticipation. How long had it actually been since I’d taken a nice, long one? I sigh, pausing just outside of the bathroom. Best to keep it nearby, just in case, I think. I circle back to the living room, scoop up my phone and then pad to the bathroom. The cool tiles are unwelcome to my feet, but I ignore the slight discomfort in lieu of what is waiting for me. The hot liquid instantly bubbles out, splashing my arm as I pull it back. A sneak peek of what is waiting for me once I leave the frozen floor rocks that are my tiles behind.

I check the ringer, see that it is on and that no new text messages have arrived. Let it be, I tell myself. If you don’t hear from them by tomorrow, then worry.  This seemed to calm me. I shrug off my clothes and toss them aside. I pull at the glass door until the soft clink happens. My legs fold and I sit on the bench, allowing my head to get completely submerged.

My body melts into the water and despite the warmth, I shiver. I might as well be outside for all the heat I’m retaining. A cold creeps along my spine and seeps into my bones. My eyes close and I feel myself drift from the beating water against my skin.

Flashes of Karis’s smile pop into my mind. We’re walking along the beach, the sky an endless blue. I love you, daddy. Her giggles sprinkle across my mind like a summer breeze. I’m all grins, smiling at her sweet face. I love you too, baby girl, I say, reaching out and taking her little hand. The sky fades from the warm, sunrise colors, to an ugly grey and blue. Thick, dark clouds roll in. Not just any clouds─ those clouds. Its clouds. Instinctively, I reach to pull her close to my side and grasp at air. Karis is gone.

I spin frantically, searching the whole area, but the only thing I can see is the tall, dense grass. Miles and miles of nothing but the tall mess of green that reaches to the sky. There are no trees, no place to hide. Lightning explodes around the sky, and an angry rumble growls from the distance. Then it starts. This time it’s not just close to me, it’s behind me. No matter which way I turn, it is always a step ahead. It’s loud enough to be annoying, but soft enough that I can’t get a handle on just how close it is.

The suction sound drones on. It’s now moving all around me. Coming from every which way. I cover my ears and spin on the shore. There must be some way out of here. Some way back to the comfort of my home. I’m struggling to remember what it was I was doing. Something to do with warmth, I was vulnerable. The draining noise stops momentarily, and all that can be heard is the gentle rustle of grass behind me and the waves lapping at my heels. Something about the water dug at me as I stood there. Why am I here? Could it be possible that I fell asleep?

Yes, that sounds right.

I had stayed up late to play a game and checked my phone. After that, I─

What was it? My head is pounding as the deep rumble sounds again. Shower. The thought jumps into my head and I remember. I had been checking my phone before I turned on the shower. Then I sat down and closed my eyes. This time, it is distinctly closer. I know this because the spider webs of light are blinding, and the earth shifts beneath my feet. This can’t be real, I reason, because I’m dreaming.  I can feel Its vibration as It crawls toward me. I’ve fallen asleep in the shower, and I am safe and alone. The shiver returns as I sense the movement behind me. To my absolute terror, I know that It is standing there.

Click

Click

Click

Click

It’s swirling is now mixed with a new sound. Insect-like pops and chitters that blend with the draining-suction. Wake up, I yell. The clicking now sounds questioning, prodding even. It’s backed away, but I know full well that the demon is less than twenty feet from me.  I have acted, but not in a way that It expects. It’s not sure how to react, Its clicks and pops almost sound confused. I take a step forward, inching my way toward the water. When nothing happens, I take one more. Suddenly, the pattern starts again, click whirr, click, click, cli
God damn it, wake your ass up now I growl. I howl in agony as a new sensation rips into my left wrist. I spin toward the pain, cradling my left arm with my right. Blood oozes down my arm, then drips to my feet. It’s the only noise that fills the air. The wind has died, the lightening subdued. Not even a blade of grass dares to stir. It’s as if the entire world is holding its breath, terrified of the beast. 

My eyes are glued to my arm. There are two distinct slices trailing from the top of my wrist down to the forearm. Neat, precise cuts. Deep ones. I stare at the blood as it pools from my wounds. It wraps my arm and drips to the ground. I’m mesmerized by the amount that flows from me.

It isn’t real, I tell myself. Over and over again. It isn’t real, it isn’t real, it isn’t real.

There’s movement behind my arm. A darting movement that is so fast I can’t keep up with it. It’s as if the monster exists in two places jumping between the planes. I can see that it towers me. The gargling, and then clicks continue. Almost as if this is Its way of drawing breath. There’s a waving movement, like thousands of wriggling worms.  I want to look up, but I can’t bring myself to. Somehow I think that if I don’t look at it, it can’t harm me.

If I can’t see it, it can’t see me. 

I smirk, remembering the logic I’d had as a child hiding beneath my covers. I guess we never really grow up.

It sighs, breathing a rancid stench into my face and lungs. I squeeze my eyes shut. It isn’t real, it isn’t real, it isn’t real. 

The pop-click, then click, click, click is inches from my face. Every muscle in my body tenses up as I ready myself for the inevitable blow. My legs buckle and I drop to the ground.

I’m surprised as my hands shoot out and are met with smooth, wet tile. I’m crouched on the shower floor, my head leaning on the wall. Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed with emotion. I curl my legs under my chin and rock back and forth beneath the stream. It’s long since gotten cold, but I don’t care.

I’m free from the evil creature. At least, for the moment.

#

I groan and roll over, willing the annoying sound to stop. The jarring noise sounds again, and then again. I growl and roll towards it. Scooping the phone up, I look at the screen and then hastily hit the green button.

“Hey, I was wondering when I would hear from you guys.” I sit up, excited to hear Karis and Jenna’s voice again. “Daddy?” I clear my voice a few times, trying to get the grogginess out of it. “Yeah, baby. Daddy is here. How is your trip going?” Static fills the speaker. It sounds like she’s trying to say something, but it keeps cutting out. “Sorry baby, Daddy can’t hear you. What was that?” I struggle to make anything out. “…my’s good. I’ve had fun.” I smile as she finally comes through. “You’ve had fun? That’s great! I miss you, sweetie.” There’s silence on the other end.

“Sweetheart, are you there?” There’s a burst of static, then “Daddy?” I panic and respond instantly, “Yes, I’m here. I’m glad you’ve had a great time.” There’s a long static filled pause. “…my’s good. I’ve had fun.” A knot forms in the pit of my stomach. “Yes, baby. You just said that.” I swallow thickly. “Can you put mommy on the line?” I’m met with more static. “…Daddy?” A lump forms in my throat. “Who is this?” I manage to choke out. There’s a long pause, then, “…my’s good. I’ve had fun.” This time her voice sounds different. As if she knows something that I don’t. My hands tremble as I hear the static grow louder from the other side.

Her laughter breaks through the static. Not Karis’s soft, twinkling laughter. It’s something else. Something that sounds like my little girl. My throat goes dry. I’m finding it harder and harder to breathe. How long is it going to toy with me?

“Daddy?” it’s her. It sounds like her. She’s frightened. “Baby? Where are you? Are you OK?” “Daddy, are you OK?” I let out a long sigh, covering my hands with my face. “Yes, sweetheart. I’m alright. How is your trip?” The silence that follows makes me nervous. I’m worried that I am being messed with again when I hear, “Oh. It was good. I told you that a long time ago.” I sit up. “A long time ago?” She sighs really loud, “yes,” she says, “like, a long time ago.” I’m immediately alarmed and confused. I glance at the date on my phone, then bring it back to my ear. “When did you talk to daddy about the trip?” I can hear her fidgeting on the other line. “Daddy?” My stomach twists, “yes, baby?” “When are you going to come to get me?” I frown at how small and scared she sounds. “I can come now if you want.” I tear up as I hear her start crying on the other end.

“Honey? Don’t cry. I’ll come over, right now.” I hear a few more gasps and then the phone goes quiet. Confused, I immediately dial Jenna’s number. It goes straight to voicemail.

I roll out of bed and throw on my clothes.

#

I’m in Jenna’s driveway, tearing across the parking lot when my phone goes off.  I pull it out frantically, then frown at the screen. It’s the same number from last night. I swipe it to go to voicemail and beat on the door. I wait.

Thirty seconds go by, then a minute. I’m not sure if she has heard me. This time, I knock louder.

I take a step back and yell, “Jenna, it’s me.” Thirty more seconds, still there is only silence.

My phone jingles and I look at the message that’s popped up:

Voicemail 00:31

Maybe it was work. I am supposed to be in this morning. I look at the time and frown. Not this early, it’s barely 7:30 in the morning. The office won’t be open for another thirty minutes. Probably a telemarketer or scam. No one calls me. Except Jenna.

I try the door again and gasp as it pops open. I stare as it slowly comes back toward me and snaps shut. I try the knob, and it easily swings open.

“Hello?” I call inside. I hesitate at the entrance, unsure of what I should do. I didn’t want to intrude. Maybe I’m just overreacting. Suddenly, I’m embarrassed. What if Karis is just having a moment and I read too much into it?

“Jen? You here?” I glance around the living room and then over to the stairs. A thin streak of red lines the stairs all the way to the top. Now I’m really worried. I’m very aware that the only thing I have is the clothes on my back, and my phone. What if someone else is here? What if they have a gun?

I ease the door closed and quickly run over to the kitchen. Without thinking, I reach above the refrigerator in the cabinet. Strapped right where it was in our house is Jen’s gun. I rip it out and check the clip, exactly fifteen bullets are still there. She hasn’t had a chance to use it. I pull back, getting one bullet in the chamber and turn toward the stairs.

I jump as the phone vibrates in my pocket. Jesus, I swear silently, Good thing I didn’t have my finger on the trigger. I edge up against the wall and look at my caller I.D. The same number is calling me. Maybe I should go outside and answer it. Maybe it’s Jenna.

I sneak back outside and manage to answer on the last ring. “Hello?” I say quietly, not wanting to alert anyone that may be inside. “Jesus, dude. You’re hard to get a hold of. Did you get my message?” I relax at Kyle’s voice. “No, sorry man. I had to run and pick up kiddo early this morning. I may be bringing her into work today.” There’s a slight pause on the other end. “You getting to see her again?” I frown, “Yeah, why wouldn’t I?” “I don’t know man, there was a lot of…you know. With you and Jenna.” I sigh. Oh right, he wouldn’t have known about the agreement between me and her recently. “Oh, yeah that all got worked out. So, what’s going on?” He cleared his throat, “well, turns out they found something in Carroll’s office. They are shutting down the whole office for the day. I just wanted to let you know to not come in.”

“They found something?” I ask. “Yeah, they think an animal might have crawled up between the floorboards and died. They hired a crew to come in and clean it up.” “Oh, OK.” I say. “I appreciate you letting me know. We all coming back in tomorrow?” I look over at the door. It’s still propped open, no Jenna in sight.

“Yeah, it shouldn’t take too long. The crew actually got here about twenty minutes ago. I just wanted to catch you before you left.” “Alright,” I answer, “thanks again, man. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He mutters something and then we both hang up.

Good. That means I can see what the hell is going on. Hopefully, Jen is just upstairs and can’t hear me. My mind goes back to the first time I saw her in this place─ the way her skin moved beneath my touch. Her long, unnatural stride.

I glanced up as a dark cloud rolled over the sun, bathing the area in an eerie green light. Again, I pause by the door. What if this is a trap? What if…It is in there, waiting for me to walk right into Its trap. Is Jenna a part of it? I started thinking about how different she had been acting lately. This huge, expensive looking home. How young she looked the last time I saw her.

Tom, I just want you to know─ I’m sorry. 

I stare into the house as I push open the door. What are you sorry for? I wonder for the thousandth time. Sorry that you tore us all apart?

I climb the stairs, the gun weighing heavy in my right hand. I peek into Karis’s room, then double check the hallway. It’s quiet as ever. The sun shines for a moment, bathing the room in a warm glow. It’s a peaceful feeling, almost safe. I know why she loves this space. It’s completely open. You can see the entire house from up here and most of the kitchen. Jenna always hated walls.

The sun slips back behind the clouds and the putrid green is back. I take a deep breath and push on Karis’s door. It makes contact with something and stops. Something solid. I grunt and push harder. A loud whimper comes from behind the door. I pause, crouch down and call softly, “here boy, come here.” Another whimper. I look down the hall again and then back to Karis’s door. It’s wide enough for me to squeeze through. I have to make a decision. I look into her room.

Her bed has been made and everything is neat. It looks as if she hasn’t even been here. I reach in and grasp at the door handle. The whimper gets louder and I feel something jump on the door. There’s a soft woof and then another whine. I feel around until I grip something tangled around the door. It feels like─ I pull it off the handle and then bring it around the door. The lump on the end hobbles toward me and then the dog is suddenly in front of the door. He’s been completely tangled in the leash, no doubt trying to get out of the room and then shutting himself in. He nips at me as I untie it from around his neck, and then shoulders. It doesn’t hurt, I can tell he’s just scared. I coo down at him, running my hands behind his ears and neck.

He whines but allows it, desperate for human contact. I pick him up and take him downstairs. I’m reluctant to tie him up, but I need him to stay out of the way while I search for Jen and Karis. I fill a bowl of water and another with a little bit of food. He doesn’t seem to take notice as I hook the leash around the table and tie it off. He’s happily chowing down on the food as I climb the stairs.

Now I’m really worried. Jen never mistreats animals or leaves them alone for longer than a few minutes. The dog would have been with her, or in the back room where he could go outside and then back into his crate. I glance down at my arms and gasp. They’re covered in blood. A quick glance tells me it’s not my own. It must be from the dog. I want to run and check his injuries, but I need to find them first.

I’m at full speed. If someone is still in the house, they would have attacked me by now. Or got out. I’m being incredibly stupid, but I need to know.

Fuck it. 

“Jenna?” I burst into Karis’s room. I drop to look under her bed and then search her closet. They all turn up empty. “Karis? Honey, are you OK?”

I scream through the hallway, busting down every door on the way to Jenna’s room. Empty, empty, fucking empty. 

My phone goes off just as I round the corner. Jenna’s room is a few feet away. I halt at the entrance. It’s then that I notice all the water. It’s pooling into the room. My phone hums several times as I trace the source back to the right. The door is closed.

My lip trembles as my knees wobble, threatening to buckle beneath me.

I can’t breathe. Can’t move. I’m vaguely aware that my phone is going off again. I stare at the silver door handle. My own reflection is small, weak. Jesus, I look so small.

My hand trembles as I reach for the phone. It’s buzzing again, this time with a voicemail. I know what is waiting for me behind that door. I bring the phone up to my head and play back the message.

“You sick son-of-a-bitch. I know it was you. I KNOW IT WAS YOU─ Do you know how they found her?” The phone drops from my hands. There’s more screaming and yelling, but I can’t make it out.

I don’t want to do what my legs are doing, but they won’t stop. I’m in another person’s body opening the door.

All I wanted was to be a husband, a father.

I stagger into the room and reach for the handles to turn off the water. I stare down, numb. I can hardly move. I don’t want to move─ I don’t want to look. Her delicate, pale hand is cradled by a smaller hand resting on the side of the tub. Karis is laid across Jenna, curled in a fetal position. They look so beautiful, it’s as if they were asleep.

I jump as Jenna’s eyes flash open and she smiles. She grins lovingly up at me as she cradles Karis in her arms. My wife, my beautiful wife is back. I cry, holding the two in my arms. The drain sounds, swirling and whirling around us. The room darkens as rain pelts against the glass.

I feel Jenna wrap her hand around my own and pull me back toward them. She smiles, wrapping her hand against mine. I’ve missed her touch so much, how I’ve longed to just be here in her arms. She caresses my cheek, then runs the length of my arm down toward the gun. I cradle the other side of her, Karis positioned in my lap. I felt her hand in mine as she guided my hand up to my mouth.

Her blues were so perfectly calm, her skin smooth as silk against mine. I stare into them as I hold her and Karis. I feel her squeeze my finger and I close my eyes.

Finally we’re together again, a whole, happy family.