Tag Archives: thriller

Pandora

Elizabeth let out a ragged sigh of exhaustion as the men retired to the study. She backed out of her seat and began stacking plates. Reginald had just returned from India. She had not even gotten a chance to talk with him before he invited his friends over. The clatter of porcelain drowned out a roar of laughter from the dinner party. She paused in her duties for a moment and listened in. As much as Elizabeth hated that they were all at her house, hogging her husband, she as was curious about his adventures as they were.

“Elizabeth dear? Please come in here!” A voice echoed from down the hall.

She was shocked at the invitation. The men never asked her to join once talks started in the study. She cautiously strolled down the oaken hallway and swung the door open to a half circle of gentlemen around the fireplace. Her husband took a mighty puff from a cigar while tapping on a leather bound book.

“Do you know what this is darling?” Reginald inquired.

“No.” Elizabeth replied, looking around at the attentive men around her. “I have no idea.”

Reginald held the book by it’s spine and flipped it open to a random page. He took one more puff from his cigar before setting it down. He cleared his throat.

“My dear wife. I know you were classically educated, I am going to tell a story pertaining to that. Please bear with me.”

“Of course” She obliged.

“This book comes from a small mountain tribe on the border of India and Afghanistan. Now these tribesmen are a curious people. They claim to be related to Alexander the Great of Macedon. I trust you know of him?”

“Y-Yes, I do.” Elizabeth stammered. The mood of the room was darkening as her husband and his party stared at her intently. The fire crackled intensely in the background.

“Well. As you know Alexander the Great conquered everything from Egypt to India.” He continued. “What this tribe claims is that when Alexander was done conquering he visited the most remote village in his empire. It was then that he charged the tribe’s ancestors with a sacred duty.”

Reginald picked up his cigar nonchalantly and took a deep puff. His friends around him leaned in as the flickering flames illuminated half his face. He cleared his throat and lowered his voice.

“He told them that this here.” He shook the book in his hand softly. “This book- was Pandora’s Box. And that it should never be touched by a woman, else it would unleash a new wave of demons upon the world.”

Elizabeth stood there shaken. She glanced around at the men sitting around her for any traces of a practical joke. In their eyes, solely fixed on her, she saw only a solemn sincerity. She jumped at the touch of her husbands hand against hers.

“Dear?”

“Yes?”

“Will you open it?”

Elizabeth’s heart beat rapidly. Something inside her chest screamed for her to run, but she stood her ground against it. Her curiosity would not let her leave.

Reginald held the book out to Elizabeth with both hands. Her fingers trembled as she hovered them over the ancient binding. With a swift motion, she snatched the book from her husband. The party gasped. Only the fire broke the silence of expectation.

Nothing happened.

The men around her guffawed and laughed heartily, elbowing Reginald joyfully. He smiled and shrugged playfully. Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at her husband. It seemed she had been nothing but the night’s entertainment. Multiple conversations splintered off around her, but Elizabeth drowned them out in her head. She brushed her hand along the cover, and then thrust her fingers into the pages of the book.

She flipped it open.

Her eyes widened. She stared down at the page for a few seconds in a fear that paralyzed her entirely. Her body allowed her to shriek and she did so as loud as she could. The guests fell silent. Fat tears welled in her eyes, rolling down onto the pages of the ancient book. Onto the faces of demons writhing disturbingly on the pages in a frenzy.

The book shook violently with an otherworldly energy. Pages tore themselves out and flew onto the floor. Illustrations of eldritch creatures scrambled to life in the confines of the papers. Snapping, scratching, and gnawing viciously. While the men sat in their chairs, holding their feet up, Reginald took charge.

“We need to get out of here!!”

He scrambled out of his seat and raced for the door. In his haste, he stepped onto one of the pages carelessly.

A creature of pure black, with dull blue eyes wrapped it’s arms around the passing foot. In a blink, the thing had attached itself to Reginald’s shoe. Thrown off balance, he dropped onto the carpet. Close to more of the pages littered all over the floor.

He screamed in agony as the creatures crawled out of their ancient prisons and onto his pathetic body. He twisted with every latch, bite, and gouge. From every wound, a black bubbling ooze spilled from his contorting body onto the ground. Elizabeth and the party watched in horror as the things swarmed his face like insects. She was so utterly terrified that she could not muster a scream. Instead an icy chill rippled through her body, rendering her incapable of anything but watching as her husband squirmed wildly on the floor.

In his final seconds of life, Reginald thrust a pained finger past Elizabeth. Her heart sank as she followed his gesture to the fireplace.

The piercing sound of a final page ripping from the spine of the book stole the attention of the room. All eyes fixed on it as it floated lazily in the air, twisting peacefully before plunging itself into the embers.

With a rush of air, the light of the fire was extinguished. Elizabeth remained where she was in darkness. Standing with an empty, open book in her hand, surrounded by nightmares incarnate. She forced her eyes shut with all the might she could muster from within. Preparing for the same fate as her husband. Praying to God that her death would be quick.

Her pulse gradually slowed from it’s erratic beat, settling into its normal cadence. A soothing, crackling rhythm came to life somewhere in the room. And with a ragged breath, she opened her eyes.

The fire was back, and with it the unholy scene surrounding her seared itself into Elizabeth’s mind. The semicircle of cushioned chairs were plastered with the corpses of her husband’s friends. Backs arched, and mouths twisted. Frozen in their torment by a hardened black sludge. The pages once laid out on the carpet were returned to the book, now closed in her trembling hands. She let out a yelp as she dropped it unceremoniously and ran to escape the study.

Elizabeth caught one last glimpse of her husband’s blackened remains before slamming the door shut.

She felt a deep pang of guilt as she phoned for help. She hated that was not plagued by the death she had experienced. Instead while the dial tone rang she wondered selfishly, if the police would believe her when they arrived.

Origin Story

I never fought in school. I was always too reserved to be moved to anger and too smart to get myself backed into a corner. I guess that’s why I never realized that I had an unusual knack for it until just recently. So here I stood with bloodied knuckles and a debatablely stolen Twix bar.  I didn’t realize I was one of them.

There were stories about where ‘they‘ came from. Some say the government started putting chemical agents in the milk in the mid-nineties, others say it’s centuries of living in an unnatural man-made environment. Long story short there is genetic mutation in humans at a rate previously unprecedented in North America, or recorded human history for that matter. I had been following the stories for months now. Fantastic stories of paparazzi trying to get a good shot triggering the power of flight to frustrated first time mothers finding super-speed and leaving everything behind. It seems around one in three hundred or so in my generation was changed in some way. Though my power is not as awe inspiring as some, I’m glad I have it. In a world of super powered degenerates, those without powers are helpless to the whims of those who see themselves as above the law.

What’s my power, you might ask? Well, I’m really good at fighting…

This all started on my midnight walk home from work. I always stop at the 7-Eleven across from my apartment for a candy bar and a lotto ticket. Every night I am greeted by a 48 year-old Hispanic man named Hector when I approach the register and we’d small talk about how crappy our days had been. Every night that is, except for this night. I grabbed my Twix and spun around to greet Hector with a grin. My smile was met with an expression of dismay as a pickup pulled up in front of the store. Couple of young punks with purple mohawks hopped out and kicked in the glass of the automatic sliding door. One stood six feet tall with muscles violently bulging from his arms and torso. The polar opposite of his relatively shorter, scrawnier companion. The convenience store greeting tone beeped menacingly. The smaller of the two kicked over a magazine stand and snarled.

“Aye, I’m in the mood for a Red Bull.”

“On it boss!” The larger man strolled up to the counter and threw a punch, exploding straight through Hector’s face. Blood and bits of skull flew in all directions as if from a burst piñata.

The murderers chuckled as the remnants of my friend’s face landed on the freshly mopped floor. The short one standing behind his overly-muscular compatriot pointed to me with a toothed grin.

“Oi! What you got there? Eh, doesn’t matter, it’s on the house now!” He threw his head back in laughter.

I clenched my fists, suffocating the partially melted Twix bar in my grasp. My mind flashed back to all the times I had backed down from a fight. All the times I had walked away and regretted it afterwards. Not this time.

The shorter one composed himself and barked orders.

“Aye, grab the pillow cases from the truck. We’re gonna clear this place out.”

The goon hurriedly left the store for the bags. The one in charge strolled over to the fridge with the energy drinks. That’s when I made my move. I swiftly walked toward him. My eye twitched and I think that’s what tipped him off as to what was about to happen. His face contorted with fear. I closed the distance. Ten feet. Five feet. Two feet. The melodic chime of the greeting tone sounding as his friend returned was the last thing he heard.

I had seen kung fu movies before, but I didn’t think snapping someone’s neck would be as easy as it was. One solid motion and a solid pop later the man slumped to the floor lifelessly.

“Hey! You killed da’ boss-man!” In a flash of purple, the mohawked man charged at me.

I had to act fast. I crouched onto all fours and scrambled a few isles over, back to the where I got the candy. I knew this place well. Better than a hulked out muscle junkie anyways. The beast who smashed in my friend Hector’s face rushed to my last position and let out a growl of frustration.

“SHOW YOURSELF!! LET ME CRUSH YOU!!” The man sounded on the verge of tears as he threw his fist into the ground next to the body of his friend.

“SHOW YOURSELF!!” He shoved over the nearest shelf. Assorted potato chips rained down through the store.

That’s when the power cut out. The faintly humming florescent lights were replaced by a silent darkness.

*CRUNCH*

*CRUNCH*

The sound of feet on assorted potato chips echoed in the darkness. He was looking for me.

“WHERE ARE YOU?!!”

*CRUNCH*

That time I was able to place where the crunch had originated. Two isles down- toiletries and contraceptives. If I could lure him one isle over I might be able to push the divider on top of him and make my escape. I grabbed a fistful of M&Ms and tossed them into the next isle. A few seconds of silence followed. I readied myself to knock over the metal divider. I took a step back to get something of a running start when I charged.

*CRUNCH*

An explosion of noise under my left foot broke the silence. I froze in place. My heart dropped. Maybe he didn’t hear that.

*CRUNCH**CRUNCH**CRUNCH**CRUNCH**CRUNCH*

The footsteps grew louder and closer. He definitely heard that. I turned away from the noise to make my escape. I made it a few steps before a warm, meaty palm violently grasped onto my shoulder.

“AHA! I’VE GOT YOU NOW!!”

One moment I was in the candy isle, the next I was in the air. I blinked in and out of consciousness several times before awakening against the feeling of cold, shattered glass.

The power surged back on.

“Thought you was so smart huh?” The thug was standing over me chuckling to himself over his relatively quick victory.

Everything hurt from my neck down. My breathing was sharp and painful with every new breath. I spat blood onto the white ceramic tile as I struggled to my feet. That’s when it kicked in.

My pain dissolved, replaced by a fire from within my chest. I felt good. I shot a confident smirk at my opponent. He had been waiting to see if I would stand up again. Those few seconds he allowed me were a deadly mistake on his part.

“Want some more boy? I can-”

His nose cracked and contorted as I sent my palm upward at devastating speed. Next came a swift kick directly onto his kneecap. There was a loud pop before he collapsed under his own weight. A moment ago the man was a hulking behemoth, now I looked down at a pathetic figure writhing in pain on the floor. I formed a fist with my left hand. My Twix bar crinkled. I had forgotten that I was still holding onto it. My mind raced, thinking about my daily routine. Candy. Lotto ticket. Hector. Things would never be the same all because two young punks walked into a 7-Eleven past midnight.

A new fire burned in my chest.

“Hey what’s your name buddy?” I took a step in his direction.

“Er, ah… Georgie..” He desperately squirmed away, inching toward the door. “P–Please, don’t…”

I leaped to block his escape. The look of fear in his teary eyes was delicious. He was at my mercy. This was more than fun. This was justice.

I prodded him with my foot to flip him over. The back of his head slammed against the bloodied ceramic floor. He gasped in pain. I got in position on top of him.

“Well Georgie, the thing is–” The fire expanded in my chest. I couldn’t help myself anymore.

I beat him mercilessly. With every hit to his head I could feel a little bit of him ebbing away. I kept going past the point where my knuckles started to bleed. When I was done I rose.

I looked down at my bloody hands and the mashed up Twix bar. The feeling of justice was addicting. I craved for it. I needed it again.

The automatic door chimed as I left to find my next victim.

Joey

In 1983 I took a teaching position at an elementary school in the town of Pulp. It was a small, unincorporated town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The town had been build around the corn liquor business during the prohibition. But despite the town’s criminal past, a real community had developed. I was happy to greet a class of smiling children every day.

‘Hello Mr. Schuler!’ The class would say,

‘Hello class!’ I would reply.

My days were filled with teaching my class everything from science to history. They loved to learn and I loved to teach. Every child left with a smile on their faces, excited to share what they had learned with their families. Everyone except for little Joey Smith. He was always particularly gloomy after class, sometimes scared to leave school for the day. Some days he would come in with a black eye. One day I asked him what was wrong and what he said concerned me.

‘I have to go somewhere after school. I don’t like it there anymore.’

I contacted the police and they conducted a thorough investigation of the boy’s family and supposed after school activities. They sent a deputy named Clarence to talk me after they had finished their investigation. He told me what they had found.

‘Joey’s parents have been dead for months Mr. Schuler. We found their bodies on the floor in their home. It seem that they were killed in a robbery. We talked to Joey and he said that he hid under his bed and ran away after the robbers left. He’s been living in an abandoned distillery out in the woods for some time now. We’re going to put him into the foster house down on Denton Avenue for now. Thank you for alerting us to the situation.’

I talked with Clarence for some time. I did not want Joey growing up in the foster system. I had seen what that can do to a kid. We decided that adoption was probably the best option.

The next day I went to the foster house and filled out a massive pile of paperwork. I left with Joey as my adopted son. Over the next few weeks I noticed a change in Joey. For the first time I saw him happy, both at school and at home.

One day, Joey and I walked into class together as usual. Although today the class didn’t bother to greet me. Instead they talked amongst themselves.

‘Hello class!’ I exclaimed.

Only Joey said hello back. The rest of the class stared at the clock. I chose to ignore their insolent behavior and started my lesson. I got about ten minutes in when students started leaving. Just walking out of class and talking to each other. I had never seen anything so rude in my life. I yelled at them to come back but they ignored me. I had no idea what I had done to anger them so much. Soon enough everyone had left, everyone except for Joey. He was a good kid.

I continued to teach till the end of the school day. I looked back to find Joey smiling, I packed up my things and we started walking back home. We had just reached the edge of school property when Joey told me there was something he wanted to show me. I humored him and inquired what it was, but he just laughed and told me that we could only get there by walking. I let him lead me into the woods. We walked till the sun began to set before spotting a shack sitting in a small clearing of brush. I hesitated, but Joey did not. He walked straight up to a piece of sheet metal that served as a door and knocked three times.

‘We can go in now.’ Joey whispered to me.

I realized what this was. It was undoubtedly the old distillery Joey had called home for so many months. I called out to Joey to come back to me, but he had already entered. I would have to go and get him.

I pulled open the rusty door to find Joey making himself at home in the tiny shack. He sat in an old rocking chair that creaked as it moved back and forth.

‘This was my old house! I always sit in this chair. It’s the best chair I’ve ever had!’

I was delicate with him. This was obviously a coping mechanism that he had developed after the death of his parents. I walked through the doorway and the rusty door closed behind me. I placed a comforting hand on Joey’s shoulder.

‘Joey. Let’s go home.’

Suddenly I heard a loud bang on the metal door. A soft, concerned voice spoke from the other side.

‘Who are you? What are you doing here?’

The door creaked open slowly, revealing a thin, attractive woman. She had long brunette hair and her complexion was the fairest I had ever seen. For someone who lived in this shack, she seemed fairly clean. Her eyes lit up when she spotted Joey sitting in the rocking chair.

‘Joey! My little Joey! I thought they had taken you away forever!’

‘Mommy!’ Joey unzipped his backpack and took out a drawing he had done in class. ‘I made this for you!’

I assumed that this woman took care of Joey after his parent’s murders. She glanced over at me with wide eyes.

‘I’ll always love you Joey, but why? Why did you bring him here?’

‘Because I like him mommy. He takes care of me.’

‘Oh, no child.’ Tears welled up in her eyes ‘He can’t take care of you anymore. You have to go to the police now, live in a foster home. You can’t keep doing this!’

I was confused and infuriated. Who exactly did this woman think she was?

‘Excuse me miss, I believe I can take care of Joey just fine at the moment.’

She looked at me with blind fury contained within her eyes. She kicked the door open and left. After the door slammed shut it was silent. I gestured to Joey that it was time to go home and he obliged me by following me out of that shady forest. It would be dark soon, and I needed to get him to bed for school tomorrow.

By the time we got home I was very tired. I can’t explain it, but something bothered me about that woman’s words in the woods. ‘You can’t keep doing this!’ It seemed like a strange thing to say. Did it mean that Joey brought other people out to that shack? If so, why?

I threw those ideas out of my mind for now and walked into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Joey sat at the table scribbling away on some homework I had assigned him.

‘Ya know, I don’t feel like doing homework.’ Joey tossed aside his pencil.

‘That’s fine, just have something to eat. I’m making pasta salad.’ It was fine that Joey didn’t do the homework today. Seeing as how he was the only one in class today, he was already ahead.

‘No!’ His face contorted and turned red. ‘I’m not doing homework ever again! And we’re not having pasta salad! We’re having ice cream! Ice cream for dinner! I want it now!’

I was taken aback. Joey had never acted like this before and I wondered if it had something to do with the woman in the woods. I felt for him, he must be in a very troubling state of mind. Still, I could not stand by and let him walk all over me.

‘No, we’re having pasta salad. Maybe you can have some ice cream after dinner. And you’re still going to have homework. That’s non-negotiable.’

‘NO!!’ His face had turned even redder as he screamed ‘You’ll do what I say or I’ll make you hurt!!’

‘You know what? This behavior is inexcusable. Go to your room. Now. When you cool off you can come down and have some food.’

Joey thrust his hand into his backpack and rummaged around. He pulled out a small needle. I felt inexplicably troubled at the sight of it. Before I could tell him to put it away he stabbed it down into his palm. I instantly felt a searing spasm of pain in my hand. Joey was silent. He glared at me with an intensive stare.

‘DO WHAT I SAY! DO IT! DO IT!’ He hopped up and down in his chair like a rabid animal. He started to dig around inside his palm, blood streamed from his palm onto the table. I felt the pain return even more potent this time around.

I could not take the pain any longer. It was like my hand was on fire. I stumbled over to the freezer, clutching my hand in pain and ripped the door open. Then I grabbed the ice cream and threw it onto the table. Joey pulled the needle out of his skin and the pain instantly stopped. What just happened?

‘Now you know to do what I say. Things will be different now.’

‘What?’ My thoughts were racing and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. ‘No! I’m still the adult here. You need to stop this behavior right now!’

Joey sighed and flipped his hand over on the table. Then he pushed the needle through the back of his hand. I felt the pain the instant he broke the skin. I could feel the metal sliding against the inside of my hand somehow. The pain was unbearable. Once the needle was through, Joey pulled it out from the other side. The pain subsided. He was still very quiet the whole time.

‘I have something to show you to help you understand.’

He walked upstairs and gestured for me to follow him. We walked down the hall until we got to the door to my room. It was cracked open slightly. I felt a icy shiver rattle my spine. Something was very wrong. Joey opened the door and my heart stopped when I realized what was inside.

There I was, peacefully in bed. I had no rational explanation. I was there, but I was also here at the same time.

‘I’ll let you return to your body, but now you understand to do what I say’

I looked down at Joey. He had a wide grin from cheek to cheek.

‘My daddy couldn’t take it. He shot my mommy, then he tried to shoot me. But I was always faster than him. Then I had to live by myself. And that wasn’t very fun. You won’t make me live by myself again, will you?’

I shook my head. There had to be an explanation for all of this. It was all too terrifying to be true. Had I been dreaming this whole time? Am I dreaming now?

Joey snapped his fingers and I woke. The sun shone through the blinds and I struggled to untangle myself from the mess of sheets and blankets. Had it all been a horrible, horrible dream? I walked downstairs to find Joey happily eating cereal at the kitchen table. I smiled but froze when I spotted a needle, sitting in reach of his left hand. It was covered in sticky, dark red blood. That’s when I realized just how real last night had been. He was evil, an unholy abomination. I had to kill him, I can’t explain the desire without sounding completely mad, but I had to. I scanned my surroundings frantically. A dull steak knife lay on the counter between me and him. He looked up at me and winked. A sudden burst of adrenaline took hold of my body and I ran at him with the knife in hand.

I can’t recall a lot about what happened next. All I can remember is when I tackled him to the floor, his eyes filled with a red fluid. Not blood, but something else. Then everything went black.

I woke up in the run down shack in the middle of the woods. The pale woman knelt over my body, running her fingers through my hair.

‘I love my little Joey, but he has to stop doing this. It’s a shame what happened to you.’

‘Wha-‘ I scrambled to my feet. ‘What happened to me? I remember it all going black, then I woke up back here. Did Joey take me here? How? I don’t understand..’

‘Honey.’ She placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. ‘You’re dead. You’ve been dead for a few days now. Though I suspect no one else knows yet. He keeps us here, the people he’s killed. We cannot leave. You’re the third, but I suspect you won’t be the last. If this is hell, then I suppose he is the devil. He didn’t feel anything when he abused us, when he made us do things, when he murdered us. He is evil incarnate, but I love him and you will learn to as well.’

I have spent what seems like an eternity here in these woods. Joey’s mother was right, over the years more and more people would appear in the shack. He visits us occasionally, and although I resented him at first I learned to love him. He doesn’t hurt you if you love him. Recently there hasn’t been anyone new here. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe someone succeeded where we had all failed. Maybe Joey is dead and no one else will share our terrible fate. I’m not even sure if he is capable of dying. Or maybe he is just looking for another person to be his plaything. I don’t know how old he is currently, and I have trouble remembering his face. My memory isn’t what it used to be.

If you ever meet a Joey Smith from Pulp California, please don’t try to see if I have been telling you the truth. I have. Just run, get as far away from him as humanly possible, and them some.

Baby, it’s cold outside

There was once a chef in the small Midwest town of Dearfoth, Minnesota. Everyone knew him as “Ole’ Mac”. He cooked at “Tilly’s diner” for minimum wage and was known for his generosity. At the end of every day he would give leftover soup broth to the freezing homeless that would conglomerate outside the back door of the diner.

The old woman who owned the diner knew about this and gave her consent. She too had a kind heart. But one day it failed and she died on a snowy January night. People from all over Dearforth came to the diner to pay their respects. Her death was a loss to the community.

Her son Jimmy flew in from Saint Paul to take over the family business. He was a fast talking corporate man and immediately noticed profit bleeding from the humble diner. At the wake he told the Mac that he sought to turn the place into one where he could achieve his greatest dreams. He also mentioned that Mac would help him greatly.

The next day Jimmy assumed control of the diner and started making changes. He cut the staff’s health plans, then forced Mac to stop his daily handouts to the freezing homeless men. The reputation of the diner quickly changed.

Mac was dismayed at the changes and immediately turned in his resignation. He cleaned his workstation and left. Luckily he was quickly offered a job in the timber industry by his brother.

Mac worked hard every day for weeks, and every day longed for the comfort of the diner. One day he decided to go back after work. Though when he walked in, he hardly recognized the place. It was completely empty. None of the staff or regular customers to greet. Only Jimmy stood at the cash register. He seemed tired, but at the sight of Mac was instantly energized.

‘Mac! I’ve been waiting for you to walk through that door! Business has been bad since you left, everyone quit and I have no idea how to run a diner by myself.’

Mac pitied him and offered whatever he could to help him out. Jimmy was happy at the idea and quickly led him back to the kitchen and put him to work.

‘I want to know how to make everything. Please teach me.’ Jimmy pleaded.

Mac donned his apron and went to work. There seemed to be no gloves, so he washed his hands thoroughly and began. He grabbed some meat that was set out for the day and tenderized it. Then he looked for a knife to cut the meat into manageable pieces but could find none.

‘Here, I found this in the back.’ Jimmy held up a knife with a gloved hand. He had also found a box of gloves but offered Mac none.

Mac continued and within an hour had prepared a great feast of all the menu items on a platter. Mac felt at home preparing food again. Jimmy thanked him and asked him if he could come tomorrow at the same time and help him again with some items he had recently added to the menu. Mac agreed and then headed back home.

The next afternoon, Mac returned. He opened the door and noticed a note on the register.

‘I stepped out to buy some fresh tomatoes, I’ll be back shortly. – J’

Mac went into the back and saw the new recipe on a similar note attached to the grill. He donned his apron then headed to the freezer to grab some meat. What he saw would haunt him for the rest of his days.

Bodies were suspended from the ceiling. As he looked closer, faces he knew stared back at him. The staff, the regulars, and the homeless he had once fed all were hanging with peaceful expressions. Mac shivered. Not just from the cold, but also from the thought of the vile fate that had become of his friends. He spied one of his homeless friends still with a bit of color in his cheeks though he had been beaten savagely and Mac quickly unfastened him and dragged him out.

He went back to the freezer door and turned to find himself face to face with Jimmy.

‘I told you that you would help me fulfill my greatest dreams. And in a way, you will.’ Jimmy said with a devilish grin.

Then he hit Mac with a nearby frying pan and Mac collapsed onto the ground.

Mac woke to the sound of the police bursting through the back door. They yelled at him to stay on the ground and kept their guns pointed at his shocked face. They found the bodies in the freezer, the food prepared from their flesh, and Mac’s prints over everything. If the homeless man had not woken from his hypothermia induced sleep and testified to his innocence, Mac would have been put to death by a jury of his peers.

Jimmy was found a few days later. The police followed his scent with dogs to the forest where he had tried to cross a lake that had been iced over. He had fallen through and had frozen to death. The same grin he had given Mac in the diner was permanently fixed on his face.

In the end, the merciless cold had taken him. To Mac it seemed like justice.

The Dark Zone

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”

-H.P. Lovecraft

Chapter One:

We started as five. Five members of an expeditionary division for the newly founded West Africa Trading Co. My long time friend Lt. Stanley Graves was our protection, and a veteran of the Great War in Europe. He suffered from shell shock and has been a mute since returning from the Somme. Elizabeth Huxley was our resident geologist and cartographer, we wouldn’t get very far without her. Mr. John Black was asked on as a translator, but it was later discovered that he studied medicine as well as African language at Harvard University. He had signed on late and had recently been on an exploration expedition to this part of Africa before, his experience in the field would be valuable. Wadsworth Billings was a trivial man from across the Atlantic, he was a professor of Anthropology at Oxford and jumped at the opportunity to join our expedition. With me as the leader of the party, we totalled five.

Our mission was to establish friendly relations with the natives and scout for good areas to use for hunting grounds in the region translated literally to be “The Dark Place”. This “Dark Zone” was suspected to be a place of great riches according to German Colonial records. Though it has not been explored or mapped in its entirety.

For the most part, the expedition was purely to prove the feasibility of a West Africa Trading Co. to the Federal Government, which was eager to subsidize the company after said feasibility study was completed. Of course, along the way we were to take note of any items that could be plundered from the natives when we returned with the full backing of the United States Government.

We cast off from Port Charleston, South Carolina August 17th, 1921 in a trading vessel bound for Kamerun. The former German territory had been seized after the Great War and divided amongst members of the League of Nations. The French had been kind enough to allow us to do our study on their portion of the territory, and offered to sell a good deal of land to us afterwards, should we find it suitable, for a great bargain. The voyage was mostly uneventful, with very little rain or rough waves. Wadsworth, a very superstitious man, took this to be a good omen and was very optimistic about the outcome of our little excursion.

As we neared the continent, we could see land through the thick fog and everyone simultaneously began swatting at mosquitoes that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The city of Douala was to be our first stop, where we had been given instructions to meet a Frenchman named Mr. Mercier at the Koch Pharmaceutical Co. for information on the area known to us as the “Dark Zone”.

I notified the party to ready themselves and their belongings. We were to be the first to leave the boat when it docked. We were eager for our meeting with Mr. Mercier. We thought it best to hurry so as not to get caught up in the chaos of unloading the vessel.

As we pulled into the bay where the city was located, we could not help but notice the strangeness of this place. Bustling ports and lines of steamships were transporting goods from further mainland via the Wouri River. A handful of buildings clustered together near the top of a hill showed indication of German ownership through the architecture and quality of craft. No doubt where the German colonists called home. The majority of the buildings were small huts slightly suspended from the ground and connected by boards. Wadsworth mentioned that the natives were preparing for heavy rain and Mr. Black confirmed that many were worried about washed out crops and the wrath of the gods. Despite the simplicity of its residents, it was a city in its own right. People carrying crates of cocoa and coffee moved diligently through the maze of walls and narrow boards. The natives were cautiously overseen by German colonists brandishing wholly outdated firearms. Everyone was busy and few people paid us mind.

We hastily made our way to the German part of town to meet with Mercier. Mr. Black was fairly familiar with the area, so he was able to guide us through the maze of planks and huts. As we passed the busier parts of the city, we noticed that it seemed rather empty and quiet. The pulsing sounds of the jungle began bleeding through the silence and we were reminded how wild a place this was. Elizabeth began to look around nervously. We could all tell that it bothered her.

When the party and I had finally made it to the top of the hill, we welcomed the sight of paved roads, horse-drawn carriages, and the Koch Pharmaceutical Co. Elizabeth especially voiced her relief at finally “finding civilization”. As we walked into Koch Pharmaceutical Co. we were greeted by a shady voice.

‘A pleasure to finally make your acquaintance Americains!’ The voice exclaimed in a heavy French accent. As we turned, we saw a man dressed in the light blue uniform of a French infantryman. There was a bottle of brandy and a half empty glass on the table where he sat. ‘Bonjour, I am Monsieur Mercier. And I presume you are the Yanquis with the obsession over this piece of merde territory?’ The Germans running the business in the background looked visibly angry at Mr. Mercier.

‘Ah, yes. We were told you could provide us with information on the area known as the “Dark Zone”?’ I replied anxiously. The Germans turned and looked at us with the same hatred that they had reserved for Mercier.

‘I’ll tell you all we know about the place. And that is that it is that way.’ Mercier gestured to the east. ‘There is a reason it has been called the Dark Zone. No one knows what is there. Any you may have heard to the contrary has been exaggerated. We fly aeroplanes over the Dark Zone and surrounding areas every few days. The jungle is very thick there. To make matters worse, native guides from the local tribes refuse to take anyone near it. They have been candid with us thus far with everything we have asked them. So we take their word when they say that it is an evil place, filled with evil things. We stay away from the Dark Zone.’ He took a swig of the glass of brandy on the table. Wadsworth looked around nervously at the mentioning of the word “evil”. ‘The best I can do is give you the maps of the areas surrounding the Dark Zone. Maybe you can fill in the gaps for us?’ He slowly placed the maps on the table and smiled at us with his crooked teeth. Elizabeth shivered at the sight of his devilish grin. Mr. Black comforted her as Lt. Graves proceeded to scowl back at the Frenchman.

I grabbed the maps and stormed out of the building. Mercier was less than helpful. He had shaken the morale of the group before we had even set foot in the jungle.

Chapter Two:

We left Douala the next morning after a restless night at a local inn. Restless from enduring the howls of the monkeys and piercing shrieks of unknown creatures of the night. We met at the edge of town. Mr. Black seemed a bit intoxicated from the night before, but he assured us that he was fine, Elizabeth was busy studying the maps as per my instruction, and I took inventory of our shared equipment. Though it was troubling that our supply of whiskey was three times as high as the amount we had requisitioned. We could not afford to carry all the extra weight. Graves and Wadsworth came later with a donkey they had purchased from a local trader. A beast of burden that we decided to name Babe, after Paul Bunyan’s famous blue ox. Babe’s presence meant less for us to have to carry in our packs. Mr. Black assured us that he had talked to the natives and that they had told him to follow a lone dirt path on the southeastern edge of town. Elizabeth protested, saying that we should follow the river, but eventually agreed with Mr. Black. Taking the native’s advice was probably more accurate than the maps that Mercier had provided us. So we headed into the jungle, with only a meager dirt path to guide us.

A few hours in, Mr. Black began vomiting. He insisted that it was just his nerves, and we outfitted him with an extra canteen of water. He continued to vomit periodically. Elizabeth seemed worried for him, but Graves grunted to assure her that he would be fine. The monkeys antagonized us as we trudged on.

Later that evening, we made camp along the dirt path. Elizabeth and I set up the canvas tent while Graves and Wadsworth gathered firewood. Mr. Black was too sickly to engage in strenuous work. We had him gather smaller sticks from the ground. Elizabeth expressed concern over his condition. I assured her not to worry, and that I would have a talk with him about his health. Though when I greeted Mr. Black upon his return, his breath stank of whiskey and he claimed he had vomited several times in the past hour. I decided to keep this information from the group to avoid fighting so early into the expedition.

When Graves and Wadsworth returned, we made a great fire to ward off the jungle and welcomed another restless night filled with the terrifying noises of the African Continent.

The next day, the path we had been following so adamantly ended abruptly at a wall of solid vegetation. Graves, Wadsworth, and I unpacked machetes from the donkey and immediately began hacking at the vines and leaves. Mr. Black, still vomiting every hour or so was instructed not to let Babe out of his sight as Elizabeth studied the maps and used the compass to find us a bearing. We cut away a path for a little over three days until we reached a clearing in the brush.

The smaller plant life shrivelled and was replaced by gigantic trees that blanketed the jungle floor in a deep darkness. There was something otherworldly about this darkness, something unnatural and strange to us. It was midday, yet we had trouble seeing each other in the sheer blackness of it all. A stale stench, that grew stronger the further we walked into the dark became almost unbearable. Babe became uneasy, but was quickly calmed by Mr. Black’s presence. She had taken a liking to him. The ground was littered with dry sticks that presumably had fallen from the canopy above. Their constant crackling with every step, echoing in the void was unnerving to say the least. Mr. Black began unpacking lanterns for us to combat this sudden darkness, while Graves and I kept a watchful eye out, in vain for sudden movement in the impenetrable blackness.

The moment Mr. Black struck a match to light the lantern, Elizabeth let out a bloodcurdling scream. I, myself was briefly paralyzed in fear over what I saw there in the shadow of the great trees.

Remnants of a horrific scene, rivalling the death and destruction of modern warfare. Thousands of bones scattered beneath our feet, and as far as the eye could see. The bones on top were seemingly ancient with older still beneath, slowly sinking into the muddy jungle floor.

Mr. Black handed out lanterns to each of us while Graves distributed Springfield rifles to everyone. We all moved back to back against a mighty tree, facing out into the darkness. Then we began to hear it. The familiar crackling of bones underfoot. Yet, not one of us was moving. None of us dared take a step. The sound was deafening in the silence. It seemed to come from all directions. I heard a whimpering noise to my right, Wadsworth had dropped his rifle and was clawing at his ears while crying hysterically. I looked to my left and Elizabeth had closed her eyes and blocked her ears with her fists in an attempt to find some refuge from the loathsome noise. I could not see Graves, nor Mr. Black as they were on the other side of the enormous tree. I had to assume that they were crippled in the same way. I had to act.

I squeezed the trigger and fired a shot into the darkness. In that instant the terrible sound had vanished. Replaced by a cacophony of silence that, while bearable, still tugged at our sanity.

Chapter Three:

I stared into the void of black and it stared back. Though the few feet around us was illuminated by our lanterns, there was still a wall through which we could not see. The sudden complete and utter silence was loathsome. I did my best to end it for the good of our group. I instructed Graves to check that our supplies were still fastened to Babe and for Elizabeth to find us a way out of this place. We were disoriented in all the action and had no idea from which direction we came. The opening we had cleaved through the jungle seemed to have disappeared. Mr. Black took to Wadsworth, who had not yet recovered from the event. He was still clawing at his ears, blood ran down the sides of his face. He squirmed at the slightest comforting touch. I helped restrain him against the tree while Mr. Black injected him with a mild sedative. Wadsworth slowly stopped fighting and slid to the base of the tree, the bones crunched when he hit the ground. Barely conscious, he opened his hand to reveal a sizable piece of his earlobe that he had ripped off in his frenzy. Mr. Black hurried to dress the wounds on his head though the blood seemed to flow right through the bandages. Graves held a lantern close to my face and grunted, signifying that all of our gear was in order. I turned my attention to Elizabeth, who was digging past the layer of bones, into the soil beneath with a spade. Dismayed by the results, she frantically proceeded to dig another hole and appeared visibly disheartened. She pulled up a hefty stone and looked at it in shock. She held the rock up to the light for all to see.

‘Magnetite’ She exclaimed. ‘It’s everywhere. Our compasses are useless here. I have no idea where we are.’

My heart sank. We were lost in this horrible place.

Elizabeth and Mr. Black started fighting over who was at fault. Wadsworth began mumbling about our imminent deaths. Graves walked over to Babe and rummaged diligently through our supplies. The expedition was falling apart around me.

Graves walked over to me brandishing a flare gun and then gestured up toward the impenetrable canopy above. Although the thought had occurred to me earlier, I explained to him that firing a flare into the leaves would only serve to burn down the trees and us with them. But a glimmer of hope shined in my eyes.

I walked over to Mr. Black and Elizabeth, still fighting, and got their attention. I waited until all eyes were fixed on me to reveal my plan. We would move in any direction, numbering the trees we passed along the way. Either we would eventually find the opening through which we had entered, or we would spot an opening in the canopy where we could fire a flare that could be spotted by the aeroplane missions Mercier had mentioned.

Within minutes we had packed up and were ready to head out. Even Wadsworth seemed energized by my plan. I had given them hope that they would not die here, but I had not given my word. I couldn’t promise them that.

Chapter Four:

We had walked for what seemed like miles and the bones showed no signs of thinning. They still crackled with every step. We checked the compass periodically, but to no avail. The needle was spinning out of control due to the magnetite buried beneath the graveyard of bones.

At first we looked nervously around as we trudged into the unknown, but one by one we looked straight ahead, embracing the darkness in its entirety. There was not much conversation except for the occasional whisper coming from Wadsworth. He had kept the portion of ear he had so viciously ripped off. I had glanced back by chance to catch him whisper into it, but when he realized what I had seen he quickly returned the bit of flesh back into his pocket. I was concerned for his sanity.

We made camp when Mr. Black fell into a fit of vomiting. There was no firewood except for meager strips of bark Graves was able to cut from the massive trees that seemed to make us feel more and more claustrophobic. We used a couple of our precious few flares along with the bark to make a pathetic fire to huddle around. We ate our food cold and settled into our bedrolls. I decided to keep one of the lanterns burning while we rested. The lack of any noise at all made sleep all the more difficult. The silence was crushing. A deep pounding in my head kept me awake.

Some time later I heard the crunching of bones and the sound of rummaging coming from our stash of supplies. I grabbed the lantern and got up to investigate. As I neared our equipment I spied a familiar face. Mr. Black had located the store of whiskey and was forcing it down his throat like a crazed beast. He turned to me and I saw the face of a man possessed. I called for the others, and they stumbled over in a hurry. We watched in dismay as Mr. Black continued to drink. Tears rolled down his face. Elizabeth tried to take the bottles away, but he forced her back. It was then that Graves and I took it upon ourselves to restrain Mr. Black against the ground. Bones clattered everywhere and Mr. Black screamed in pain. He continued to fight. Wadsworth watched in horror. He thrust his hand into his pocket to retrieve his piece of ear.

‘He’s evil’ Wadsworth whispered to it. ‘We’re going to die because of him.’

Elizabeth saw this and immediately snatched the ear from his hands. In a fit of anger Wadsworth screamed and cried for it back. But he was denied. Fearing for her safety, I instructed Graves to put restraints on Mr. Black and turned to face Wadsworth. In the dim light, he was nothing but a shadow. He immediately backed up against a tree and grabbed a rather sharp bone from the jungle floor to fend me back. With his attention turned toward myself, Elizabeth left and returned with a rifle. She shouldered it at Wadsworth, demanding that he calm down. This had the adverse reaction as Wadsworth went completely berserk. He lunged at me with the bone, managing to stab it into my thigh. I screamed in pain. The scream was enough to startle Elizabeth into firing. A bright flash blinded me. When I regained my vision, Wadsworth had tackled Elizabeth to the ground and was bludgeoning her face with a skull that had been near my foot. There was sheer ecstasy on his face. His mouth smiled with delight. His eyes were filled with an empty, animalistic rage. Elizabeth screamed and flailed her arms but to no avail. I kicked Wadsworth off and pinned him against the ground. He was howling in anger and trying to gnaw at my wrists. By this time Graves had finished restraining Mr. Black and had come to our aid. He held a machete to Wadsworth’s face. Wadsworth immediately stopped resisting and instead bulged his eyes out at Graves. I felt slightly disturbed at the intent I saw in those eyes, but Graves seemed unaffected. He kept the machete’s blade close to the soft skin of Wadsworth’s face.

Convinced that Graves again had the situation under control, I turned my attention to Elizabeth, who was now sitting up. Her face had been badly bloodied. Her left eye had swollen to the point where she could no longer see out of it. Blood seeped from the red impact marks all over her head. I helped her up to see that when she was tackled, she had been impaled by some of the splintering bones blanketing the ground. Luckily, they were mainly superficial wounds. I helped her pick out the pieces and looked for Mr. Black to sterilize the wounds.

I found him with his hands and feet tied in the area where I had left him with Graves. There was a mound of bile next to his head where he had vomited. He no longer seemed possessed by whatever had caused him to drink so voraciously. He looked at me and explained that it was the silence that drove him to it.

‘The silence made my head feel like it was going to explode until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I needed something, something to calm my nerves. Anything to take his mind off of the absolute and total absence of everything.’ I shivered when I heard what he had to say. I had that same feeling. The pounding in my head. Slow, constant, and deep.

He had calmed down considerably, so I decided it was a good idea to release him from his restraints. He thanked me and began tending to Elizabeth. I noticed that he stumbled when he walked away. The man was definitely drunk. Elizabeth’s bandages were put on with shaking hands. I doubted that he performed a satisfactory job, and I told him do it again when he sobered up.

I looked around and saw that the silence had taken a toll on everyone in the party. All except for Graves. He seemed strangely at peace. I hadn’t seen him like this in years.

We decided to tie Wadsworth up against a big tree near camp. He whispered and cried when we left him. Elizabeth wanted to have him gagged as well, but I decided against it. We could use some sound to break the infinite silence. To that end, Wadsworth’s moans were almost comforting. We got into our bedrolls and finally were able to fall asleep.

Chapter Five:

We found Wadsworth dead when we woke. He had been strangled while we slept. Everyone seemed taken aback, but I knew the truth. One of us was a murderer.

I made the decision not to dwell on it and to keep moving forward. The death of Wadsworth, though cruel and malicious, was justified. There was no way we could continue with him after what he had done. It left a bad taste in all our mouths when we untied him and left him to rot on top of the sea of bones. But we had to keep moving if we wanted to survive.

We walked again for miles, crunching with every step, still marking every tree, still looking above for any sign of natural light. It was still black in all directions, a seemingly infinite amount of bones still covered the ground, and the great trees seemed to cluster closer and closer together. It seemed hopeless.

That’s when it started to rain. We heard no thunder or lightning, just the patter of water droplets dripping from the thick canopy. We were all soaked and shivering before we could unpack the ponchos from Babe. It was then that we noticed her getting weaker. Graves and Wadsworth had not purchased feed, anticipating that she could eat the dense vegetation we had seen around us before we foolishly ventured into this place. She had been remarkably calm this whole time and it troubled us to think about how we could go on without her.

We made camp, thinking it wise not to push Babe too hard in her weakened state. The  large canvas tent we shared offered some shelter from the rain for us, but Babe could not fit inside so we decided to tie her to a nearby tree.

The rain kept the silence at bay and granted us the first real sleep we had been allowed since we had left Kamerun. But it was not long before it was interrupted.

I woke to the sound of Babe in distress. I got up to wake the others only to see that Mr. Black was missing from his bedroll. The supplies had been rummaged through and I had no doubt that more than a few bottles of whiskey were missing. I woke Graves and Elizabeth, and we headed outside with lanterns, ready to restrain Mr. Black again if need be.

Nothing prepared us for what we saw. Mr. Black was crouched over Babe’s lifeless body, his fists were full of organs that he threw callously aside. He turned to look at us, blood dripping down his face. A confident, twisted grin betrayed his shaking hands. Elizabeth screamed in horror.

‘I had to do it again. I couldn’t help myself. I’ve been here before, I’ve seen you before. Only with different faces.’

Graves and I turned to run for the rifles we had stowed away in the tent.

‘Don’t you look away while I’m talking to you.’ Mr. Black picked up a rifle that lay next to Babe’s corpse. He aimed it at Grave’s head. His hands still shaking. Graves and I stayed where we were. Mr. Black continued to talk.

‘I’ve been here before. I know that only one of us can leave this place. I knew it all along, I led you here knowing it. I will die knowing it. After killing someone in this place you understand. You understand that this is how it has been for eternity. The Old Gods about whom we have all but forgotten. They long for the ancient pleasure of returning life to true darkness. That is why we are here. They want it, they’ve always wanted it. That’s why I want it.

My expression was that of true horror. This place was not a jungle, it was a tomb. A place of death in ancient times, in modern times. For all time.

Graves looked at me and spoke. I was shocked. I hadn’t heard his soothing voice in a long time.

‘Time to go over the top. Eh, old friend?’ Graves smiled at me. His face looked serene.

I stared Graves in the eyes and nodded. Then turned to Elizabeth. She nodded at me. We had to rush him. We had to kill this evil thing to save ourselves from this terrible place. We counted to three in our heads before we broke out into a mad dash toward Mr. Black; and perhaps our deaths.

A shot echoed through the trees. The flash was so disorienting in the dim light that I tripped and fell among the bones. When I looked up I saw a figure that was once my dear friend Graves slink to the ground. I looked to my left and saw that Elizabeth had succeeded in reaching Mr. Black. They were fighting over the gun, but she was easily overpowered and pushed against the tree where Babe’s body lied. I got up to aid her, but by the time I was close he had caved her face in with the butt of the rifle.

With his attention still on Elizabeth’s corpse, I tackled Mr. Black to the ground. He still clutched onto the weapon, using it to try and force me off. So I pushed it back. Back up against his throat. I pushed with all my might. He let go and made a futile attempt to beat me away with his fists, but I kept pushing. He made loud gargling noises but I pushed the rifle harder so that they stopped. I looked into his bulging eyes as the last bit of life escaped his body. I will never forget what I saw. He gazed up at me with an eldritch stare, void of emotion or concern. A slow, crooked smile crept onto his face, almost like he saw something in that moment that gave him the greatest feeling of joy. Then his body went limp and lifeless.

Chapter Six:

I remember waking up alone at the end of the small dirt path that led us to that place. The dense vegetation that had previously barred us from the Dark Zone had grown again. I wept for my comrades but a supernatural feeling overtook me and I ceased immediately. I can’t explain it, but suddenly I wanted to go back. I needed to go back.

I followed the path back to Douala and caught a ship heading back to Port Charleston. When I returned I contacted the West Africa Trading Co. and tried to give a verbal report as to what had happened. They stopped me before I could begin and insisted that they had not yet sent an expedition to Africa. But they offered me a position based on the fact that I had experience overseas. They introduced me to the crew. A soldier that had recently returned from France, a geologist who was also quite skilled at navigation, an anthropologist from across the Atlantic, and the bold leader of the expedition. I went with them back to Africa, back to find the Dark Zone again. I told them my name was Mr. John Black and that I was a doctor and a translator although I was none of those things. It would not be easy to do, and I turned to whiskey to calm my nerves, but I needed to go back again. I realised that I would die, that the other three would die. Everyone played their role perfectly. Only one of us could leave that place. Only one of us would return. We would continue to go there for eternity; only with different faces.

They want it, they’ve always wanted it. That’s why I want it.