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A Cure for Trauma

by cnkguy
A Cure for Trauma

Reading Time: 22 minutes

My older brother stood over me, eyes blown wide and a smile spread across his face. He held out a hand to me like he was approaching a wounded animal, knowing that any sudden move could spook me into leaving. My feet scuffled on the floor and I looked up into his big brown eyes, the same eyes that mother said made him hard to deny. They really were beautiful, but that wasn’t why I was finding it hard to say no here. For one, I was 10, I had no understanding of why this was wrong. The second reason is that he was so much larger than me, only 13, but he towered over me. The third reason is that he had no problem with kicking my ass if I didn’t do what he wanted.

“C’mon, baby, let me help you feel good,” he purred in that voice that he used to comfort me when I was crying. I looked up to him for so long, he was my big brother and he was supposed to protect me, he was supposed to take care of me. Everyone always said we’d be the only friends we had when we grew up, I assume that they would change their mind if they knew what happened when Mommy and Daddy were away at work.

“Help me?” I murmured, grabbing at the end of my green and yellow striped, oversized nightshirt, my chin tucked to my chest, and eyes glancing up at him through long, youthful lashes.

“Yeah, we just gotta get rid of these clothes,” he started to gently brush my sleeve off of my shoulder. I didn’t stop him, but how could I, I was so young.

“Okay.”


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My eyes opened slowly, toes and fingers flexing as I got used to my 17 year old body. Just another PTSD driven dream about that fucker. I sat up, rubbing my eyes and reaching for my phone, the bright light blinding in the dark of the room. When my eyes adjusted and the time became clear, I groaned in annoyance, throwing my phone back down. It was only two A.M. and I was still tired as hell. My hand reached out for the soda on my side table, sleep sticking my mouth together and making it uncomfortable. Just as I turned the slightest bit, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye.

My head whipped around, my thoughts telling me it was just my hair confusing me and falling in my eyes, or I was still half asleep and dreaming. That was what I told myself over and over as I stared into large, glowing white eyes, the silhouette of a human stood in front of me. It was as if all light was absent from the figure, no features legible through the darkness. The black hole of a figure stared at me for a moment before moving forward towards me. I opened my mouth to scream, but my voice was caught in my throat.

“Shh, no need to alert your parents, child,” the creatures voice was smooth, calming, like a professional children’s storybook narrator. His movements were smooth, like he didn’t even need to push off of the earth to propel himself forward. Everything about him seemed human, but eerily off. The bed dipped and my legs shot back. The thoughts of hundreds of horror stories with creatures seated at the end of your bed flashed through my thoughts, but left in favor of focusing on where this thing was and what it was doing.

“W-what are you?” I whispered, trying not to anger the monster by alerting my parental unit.

“Never you mind what I am,” he ghosted closer to me, “it is your job to mind what I do.”

“And, what is it that you do?”

“I cure humans like you! Through dreams, I help humans through their past trauma. You are plagued by the memories of your brother, and I can take that pain away, if you wish for me to.” His hand stretched out as if to touch my face, hovering inches from my forehead. He was close now, far too close for comfort.

“And why should I trust you? I don’t even know what you are, let alone what you intend to do with me.” I pressed my back closer to the wall, letting the covers fall over more of my body to hide me from him. My hands were trembling as I clutched the blankets and I felt my breath shake. I didn’t want him to know I was scared, but, curse this body, it holds no secrets.

“What would you like to dream about?” He purred, hand creeping closer and closer.

“Uhm, I guess an autumn picnic…alone,” I held back a stutter and looked into those soulless, white eyes.

He nodded his head and the hand finally touched base. It was cold, and felt like wind on my skin. My eyes weighed heavy and my body went lax, taking me back into my deep sleep.

Darkness.

At first, that was all there was. The smell of iron oxide and something else, like copper, wafted through the room. Something wasn’t right here. My eyes shot open and I was greeted with a small, confined, metal space. Rust tinted the walls and the floor seemed to be a conveyer belt. I glanced around, looking for a way out. In the ceiling was a small, square hole, either an air duct or a way into a room above this one. I whirled on my feet and was staring at a strange machine. I looked like a statue of a monster’s jaws. Sharp, jagged teeth line the upper and lower parts of the mechanism. The teeth were all shapes and sizes, pointed straight down like it was made to chew something up.

As I was observing the jaws, my body jerked forward, the belt underneath me whirring to life. My body seized and my mind went blank. Metal screamed as it scraped against itself, the metal jaws pumping up and down, clamping down on thin air. I turned on my heels, ready to run against the belt, only to notice the wall moving as well. The noise in the room was deafening, scraping and grinding filling the air and left my spine crawling with anxiety. In the midst of the sounds came the shattering sound of wood and pieces of an old, wooden stool were falling out of the hole in the ceiling.


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My eyes shot to the machine that was growing ever closer, hinges on the side controlling the motion of the machine. Working quickly, I scrambled for the pieces of wood, dropping a few and scooping it back up off the floor. I was right in front of the machine now, the already screeching audio getting intolerable up close. I began shoving the wooden chunks into the hinges, stepping backwards as I did to keep myself as far away from the jaws as possible. I tossed most of the pieces, afraid to get my hand close to the large shivs. I was halfway through blocking the mechanisms when my foot slipped, sliding in between two teeth in what had to be the most stressful moment of my life. I watched as the teeth wound up and went to clamp down again, I braced for the bite, but the teeth came just shy of my ankle, unable to close fully.

I stared in awe at my handiwork then quickly moved to the other hinge. The wall was still closing in, speeding up exponentially as I continued to stuff shards into the hinge. Finally, the jaws were jerking and lurching from the effort, jerking open and stopping abruptly mid-bite. I sighed as I looked for a way to get through the hole, the bottom so close together that I would have had to cut my leg to get through. As I was thinking about a way to use my new method of escape, the wall pressed against my back. I was about a foot from the machine, hardly any room to move. I had no time to think as I grabbed a tooth and tried to use it to push myself up. Instead, the metal sliced through the delicate flesh of my hand, causing blood to ooze out and a sharp pain to shoot through my arm. The wall pushed on and I had no choice, the wood was starting to give and break under the force of the machine. I jumped for it, hearing the wood finally shatter into pieces and just as I was about to touch the floor of the other side, the jaws clamped down around my leg.

A scream ripped through my throat and pain sliced up my limbs as the jaws kept chomping down on my leg, sliding it further and further onto the tooth. I took a deep breath and planted my left leg on the ground, pushing myself up and standing with one leg out behind me, continuing to be shredded apart, each bite making my good knee want to buckle and give way. I twisted around, my spine creaking and ribs aching with the effort. I grabbed hold of the leg, yanking upwards and screaming in agony as the muscle and bone was let go, only for the jaws to slam back down at a different angle and rip new holes into the mutilated flesh. My vision started to blur, tears blocking out the information. I grabbed hold of the leg again, hands shaking and arms weak. I had almost forgotten about the cut on my hand until I pulled once more, only for my hand to catch on my jeans and rip open further. A growl of annoyance and pain left my mouth and I gave one last tug, my leg jerking free and my body flinging forward. The useless limb flew forward and I instinctively put my weight onto my right leg, a grotesque snap ringing through the metal room as the bone fractured in half. My face slammed against the ground, expecting to find hard metal but landing against something soft and squishy. I cried out in pure agony and held my hurt leg, rocking back and forth to calm myself down.

“Oxygen,” I whispered, the word being a safeword in my family that marked an anxiety attack. “Oxygen!” I shouted as I placed my hurt hand on the ground, trying to hoist myself up. “Oxy-“ I looked down, bloody flesh staring back at me. Suddenly I was slammed back into reality. Bodies littered the floor, the same teeth marks placed on various parts of their corpses. My stomach heaved and I covered my mouth with my good hands, not wanting to add anymore bodily fluids to the mix. Tears streaked down my cheeks and I glanced around, looking for a way out. There was a platform, leading to a hole in the top of the far wall. I crawled on my hands and knees towards it, unable to balance on one leg in the pile of carcasses. My hand brushed over wounds that were long rotted and diseased, my knee driving into the stomachs of the dead participants. It felt like a lifetime before I reached the platform, hands reaching up to pull me onto the surface and pressing to get me back on my feet. I pressed up against the wall and hopped towards the hole, not looking back at the room full of corpses.

I rested in the doorway, a sob of relief leaving my lips. The room was similar, small and rusted, but there was a lovely red, leather sofa with cream accents and black armrests. The other addition was a beautifully polished grand piano on the other side of the room. I hopped to the sofa, still unsure of what I can trust, but not in the mood to look a gift horse in the mouth. I sighed in utter relief as I sat down, letting my eyes slide shut.

Soft piano music began filling the room, at first I thought nothing of it, until I realized that something had to be playing the piano. My eyes shot open and locked upon a beautiful blonde boy, maybe in his early twenties, messy blond hair fell in front of closed eyes, face calm with focus. His hands flowed across the keys in a way that was far too familiar. As the melody reached its last few notes, he slowed his tempo, the song ending and a hand hovering over the keys as though he wanted to play another song, but knew he was finished playing. The man lifted his head and placed his hands across his lap.


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“I just adore music,” the creature hummed in content, turning towards me and opening its eyes, large, white, and glowing. “Don’t you?”

I nodded my head, sitting still and keeping eye contact. I felt as though staring at him was like looking into the face of your killer, though, he very well may be mine. The thought curled inside my mind, wrapping around my logical reasoning and snuffing it out.

“Who were they?” I muttered, my voice cracking as I thought back to the pile of dead bodies.

“Oh, them? Trauma victims who failed their tests. Don’t worry, if you die in here, it normally means that you gave up trying to live anyway. Though I don’t suggest it, it won’t wake you up. You are transported through dreams, but this doesn’t mean it is one. There are consequences to actions here and death is permanent.” His eyes stopped glowing, the white of their eyes broken by reptilian slits.

“Why do you do this?” I whimpered, feeling the blood in my mangled leg starting to dry and grow stiff and uncomfortable.

“Why? That I can’t tell you just yet,” he tutted with his tongue like I was a child that asked a questions too big for my age.

“Please, j-just let me go,” I pleaded, tears staining my cheeks.

“Not yet, you have not reached the end, you have three more trials before that.” He grabbed my arm and hefted me up, dragging me to a hole in the wall that just seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. “Now, play nice, he’s sensitive.”

Suddenly I was thrown through the door, expecting to catch myself, finding that my mangled leg had mended and, even more to my dismay, there was no floor. I let out a cry of surprise as I fell through a large black abyss. Looking around, I searched for anything that would slow me down, something to break my fall. I looked down to see a light growing below me, I started to reach out, clawing at air, searching for purchase, but nothing came. I stopped, closing my eyes and let myself fall, accepting that I failed this trial.

My body smacked off the ground, the ground giving way then jerking back to sling me back into the air and repeat the process till I stopped moving altogether. I gasped for breath and blinked my eyes back open. The ground seemed to be made of pillows, brightly colored and spanning as far as the eye could see. I tilted my head in confusion, standing up unsteadily on the unstable ground. A pastel house stood nearby, leading me to believe that I needed to head to it. I reached the hot pink door and took a deep breath.

“This isn’t so bad, I can handle this,” I chanted to myself like it would make it true. As soon as I opened the door I was smacked with colorful décor and the smell of death. The building looked like a fifties diner that was designed by a little girl. I sat down at the counter, tapping my fingers on the metal top. I turned when a door opened, revealing a small purple monster. He was egg shaped, furry and with small stubby legs. His arms were fat and his eyes were closed like he was sleep-walking, an oversized green and yellow striped shirt clung to his form. He looked like a puppet or kids cartoon character. He turned to face me, nearly causing me to jump out of my chair as I got a better look at him. Large, bloody teeth hung from an oversized mouth, little fangs were embedded in and around the mouth and he nibbled on a severed arm. Long, sharp claws held the arm in place and his mouth moved unnaturally, like a sock puppet that is being made to pretend to eat. He dropped the arm to the side and raised his free hand to wave me along, motioning me into the room he just came out of.

I slowly stood up, following the little beast into the room. My body froze as I stared at it all. The floor was yellow and the walls were bright blue, but the friendliness stopped there. Entrails hung like Christmas lights, dead bodies hung on the walls, skulls lined the window sills like pies or flowers, the rug was made of human skin, and the furniture was made of mangled body parts. The little monster stood proudly in the center of the room, uncanny mouth spread into a smile. He was hopping a bit on his stubby toes and waving his fat arms around like he was trying to show me something. The monster ran to the window sill and grabbed the skull that had the least amount of meat chunks on it, bringing it to me and pushing it into my hands. I grimaced as I took the object, looking down at the large claw, poking the skull as if asking me to look. I nodded and gave a forced smile.

“That’s very nice,” I said and handed the skull back to him gently, he ran and put it back in the sill then came back, grabbing my wrist and pulling me along to one of the neon blue walls. There was a dead woman, strung up on the wall, pieces of skin graphed from her legs and arms and sewn on her sensitive areas as if preserving her innocence. His claw poked at her stomach just like the skull, that innocent smile still spread across his face. I nodded and kept my tight smile, trying not to show my disgust. The hand still holding my wrist guided my hand to touch the woman’s stomach, as if he wanted me to feel just how soft it was. It was so cold and felt so dry, like she was ready to start decaying, but was never allowed to. My face twisted into one of disgust and I heard the monster whine. I looked down as it let go of my arm and walked over to his skull collection, picking up the one he had shown me and sitting in one of his grotesque chairs. His claws dragged across the top of the skull, as if petting an animal. The sound was strangely soothing despite its source. I sighed and walked over to the little thing, setting a hand on his fuzzy head.


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“Hey, it’s okay. It’s just not my style,” I gave a nervous laugh and started petting through the monster’s matted fur. “If it makes you feel happy though, then that’s awesome!” The monster turned its head to me, smiling again then opening its eyes, the white glow blinded me for a moment, closing my eyes and blinking them back open to see a different room. A tall, dark-haired man stood in front of me, maybe in his mid-forties and good looking for his age, his eyes that same white shade as the creature who ran this place.

“You almost failed,” he said with a disappointed frown. I looked up at him and nodded.

“What was the point of that, the monster didn’t even try to kill me!” I scoffed, not mentioning the unease of the situation, it felt like a perverted childhood dream.

“This isn’t about killing you, it’s not even about stringing up bodies to make you scared. You’re learning things. That is your purpose, to learn, child.”

“Learn what?! What am I learning? That you’re a piece of shi-!” his hand slammed over my mouth and he bared his teeth, long and sharp and angry.

“Watch the way you speak to me, child, I control this place and I control whether it is possible for you to survive or not!” I nodded my head, feeling his breath now, unlike before on my bed. His white eyes glowed dangerously and I had to focus on keeping my body from shaking. He removed his hand from my mouth and I sat there a moment, thinking.

“D-do you have a name?” I pretended, like I always did when I was scared. I was pretending he was a normal human, I was pretending he was just a stranger and I was okay, and I was pretending that I was going to get out alive.

He stared at me a moment as if thinking whether I was ready to know or not. The beast sighed and narrowed his eyes. “Chonak,” the word wafted over me, drawing me into darkness, unable to see, just like when I first was sent here.

My vision came back to me, seeing that I was in a rickety wood cabin with no entrance or exit. The ceiling was made of hay and string and the walls of large logs, tied together loosely with hay strands. It felt unsafe, like it would collapse at any moment. I moved forward poking at the wall and hearing the whole building creak. I took a deep breath and thought a moment. I heard the wall creak on the other side and turned around quickly screaming at the thing staring at me. It looked like Chonak had when he was playing the piano but his clothes were gone, his upper body looking skinny and malnourished, skeletal arms ending in frostbitten hands, blackened and scabbing. A third arm seemed to push out from his stomach like it had stabbed its way out of the flesh and the skin healed around it. His bottom half had four, broken, mangled legs, all meshed together by globs of fatty flesh, looking as though he was riddled with tumors. When he moved, his body rolled on his fatty legs, gushing and creasing against itself in an unnatural manner that was easiest for him.

My stomach heaved once more, watching him move made me sick. Then I watched as white, reptilian eyes glued onto my face, a smile that was a bit too wide with a bit too many teeth was laced onto his visage. A decaying hand came up to slide across the hay strands, finally taking it between his fingers with care and yanking, causing the building to groan and the corner pieces to bulge with effort. I tried my hardest to control my breathing, but it was getting difficult. His hand slid down, like a lover caressing his partner’s stomach, playing with the next strand and pulling again. The corner practically popped, crisscrossing and holding itself up through pressure, small holes opening between the logs. Chonak rolled his way over to the next corner, snapping me back into reality. He was going to wreck the place, collapse it in on top of the both of us. I surged forward, searching the holes for one big enough to squeeze through. I wasn’t that big, there had to be one. I tugged on the logs trying to make a bigger hole when yet another strand was pulled, rolling the logs out of place but creating an easy climbing surface.

My hands scrambled up the smooth wood, dragging myself up the first two layers only for the structure to jerk with the next strand. I scraped the wood with bitten nails, only to fall backwards, a sickening crack ringing in the room as my arm snaps underneath me. I cry out in pain, but I didn’t have time to focus on the agony, I had to climb, so I did. My hands clawed at wood, feet catching on splinters and flinging myself up, I was so close to the top when the logs rolled again, slamming against my legs, effectively trapping me. I growled out a sound of frustration, my legs not broken, just pinned.

“What the fuck is up with you and trapping my fucking legs you god damned-!” I jerked against the logs then realized what he was doing. He knew that he pinned my legs too, he knew that it would freak me out, that it would make me…


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“Oxygen!” I screeched, jerking with my good arm, dragging myself, but not freeing my legs. “Oxygen, oxygen!” I scrabbled at the wood, the adrenaline kicking in as I jerked and pulled, seeing his hand go for the final strand. “Oxygenoxygenoxygen,” I chanted as I freed myself, flying forward and over the top log, easily making it passed the straw roof. Just as I made it over, the house fell, knocking the wind out of me, but doing no other harm.

Rolling onto my back, I stared up at a white ceiling, my chest heaving as I tried hard to breathe. Suddenly, a figure, seemingly devoid of light hovered over top of me. White eyes blinked as if assessing the situation.

“You almost-“

“I almost failed, yes I fucking know!” I flung my hand into the air and quickly turned onto my belly, his arm extended out to me. It was his left hand, he was forcing me to use my broken arm. I reached out anyway, taking his hand and shouting as the bone snapped back into place. I stood now on bruised legs, glaring at the shadow creature. “What are you playing at?” I hissed, too angry to realize just who I was talking to and the fact that I only had one trial left.

“May I remind you to watch your tone, you aren’t done yet, besides, it is not my job to explain my motives to you.”

“I’ve been shoved into metal teeth, thrown into a room decorated in body parts, and nearly had a house collapse on me, I think I deserve-!” Sharp pain split through my midsection, blood spurting onto the ground as I breathed unevenly, staring down at the gash in my stomach, then back at the black claws coated heavily in red fluid. My eyes squinted as if my brain was lagging behind, angry white eyes narrowed and staring me down as well.

I felt my stomach gluing itself together, sticking and catching, tearing like stitches in my gut. I doubled over and finally threw up, messing up the perfectly white floor. My tears ran down my face, mixing with what was left on my mouth. I wretched again, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. I stood up straight, quiet now and less angry.

“Now that you are done with your outburst, I’d like to send you through the last trial.” Chonak waved a clawed hand at a door, white and like every generic door in any old house. The door nob was gold in color and there were black grease marks from grubby children’s hands dragging across it as they shut the door. There was a large hole in the door, covered by white duct tape which, assuming from past experience, was probably caused by an angry fist. I knew this door. I hated this door.

“No, no please, please don’t make me go in there,” I blubbered out through teary eyes and swollen lips. He turned around and glared back at me grabbing my arm and dragging me towards the door, a hand on the knob and there he waited. His demeanor changed, white eyes turning into a soothing light rather than an angry spotlight shining on my pain and sins. His shoulders were untensed and the anger that was once there was gone, he seemed sympathetic now.

“You can handle this. Remember, you were here to learn. Take the knowledge that you have learned with you and conquer your fear. Remember, you are not thinking what you could have done in the past, you are taking your newly found strength and using it now in the same situation. I’m giving you a chance to control a situation you couldn’t have possibly controlled before. Take advantage of this time, Seb, I believe in you.” The name calmed me now, his new attitude making it easier for me to consent to this. I nodded in agreement, wiping the tears from my cheeks.

“Alright, I’m ready.”

The door opened and to the left was a black TV cabinet, in the middle was a window, and to the right was the bed. I walked further into the room, staring at the mattress and recalling the details. Three layers, a box spring, a mattress, and a grey striped mattress on top. He had a yellow sheet on the bottom layer, a black duvet with yellow stripes on the bottom, and an orange blanket we got from grandma for Christmas. It was crusty and covered in sweat and fluids that dare not be named. It was like my green safety blanket, but all the softness was gone and it smelled like him instead of lavender and fruit. Two black and yellow, square, football pillows accompanied a gunmetal blue pillow, a yellow memory foam pillow, and an uncovered white pillow, covered n sweat stains. The room reeked of my brother, like sweat, grease, and zits. I wrinkled my nose, having trouble keeping my anxiety levels down. Suddenly there was a body behind me, hot breath brushing over my ear and hands on my hips.

“Hey, baby, it’s been a while,” I jolted forward, turning around and staring him down. My breath caught in my throat and a sob threatened to escape. His big brown eyes stared down at me, the same eyes that mother said made it hard to deny him. He stepped forward, backing me up onto the bed, my body falling back as my knees hit the edge of the mattress and gave way. I closed my eyes, trying to get my wits about me, but that fucking smell wouldn’t leave me alone. I shook my head to try to wave it away, but even if the smell had gone away, he had already placed his hands on top of my thighs. I opened my eyes again. He was wearing nothing but a pair of pajama bottoms, the string loose and allowing them to hang as if it were a threat. Anger bubbled up inside me as I stared at that calm, malicious smile. My hands landed beside me, something hard and cold touching my right hand. I looked down to see a knife, nothing special, just a kitchen knife. I picked it up and stared at it, then back up at him.


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He was cowering now, the way I had when I was younger, but he was also pleading, lying. “Hey, now, Seb, no need for that. Where’d you get the kn-knife?” his smile wavered and I stared at him.

“You know I can’t even squish a spider, let alone kill you. Then again, spider’s are innocent, you aren’t,” I played with the blade, the wooden handle and smooth blade were familiar, a chip out of the very tip of the knife. It was my grandmother’s steak knife that I stole when I was living with her. “In fact, the only thing I’ve ever hurt on purpose was myself.”

White light hit my eyes from behind my brother. The room faded away into a room I didn’t recognize. It was strange, and it looked like two people lived in it. My brother looked older now, his proper age, like he was 20. There was makeup and perfume surrounding the room, like that of his wife’s. She seemed to not be in this dream. I shook my head and stared up at him again. He looked like he was barely afraid of me now, like with age he had grown cockier. He had that same grin on his face, the one he flashed that meant I was in trouble or that mom hadn’t believed me when I told on him. It pissed me off. Not enough to kill though.

“What are you gonna do, stab me? You can’t hurt a fly, kid. How the hell did you get here anyway?” I shook my head.

“I don’t know how I got here, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna stab you,” I said, dropping the knife to my side. I stared behind his shoulder and found Chonak standing there behind him, pointing at the knife then to my brother.

“This is the final trial, Seb,” My brother turned around quickly as if startled by Chonak’s presence. He screamed and stepped backwards, falling down as he tripped over his feet.

“Wh-who the fuck are you?!” He cried out in terror, eyes wide and trained on the creature.

“It is not your business knowing what I am, it is your business knowing what I do,” he cooed, similar to the words he spoke to me earlier tonight. Was it still the same night? It had to be, time passed slower in dreams. “I’m finishing their trial, all they have to do, is kill you.”

I stared up in shock at the beast, “I can’t just kill my brother!” I shouted. “My father would be devastated!” I held the knife tighter and stared down at the boy, cowering from the shadow.

“It’s only a dream, correct, Seb? There are no consequences in dreams, no one will be hurt, just finish your trial and move on to have a happier, better life with what you’ve learned!” I stared at the creature for a moment, trying to decide what was truth and what was lies. He had promised to take me to an autumn picnic and I was sent into a metal cell. Though, he did prove that wounds meant little to nothing in this world. I sighed and walked around my brother, stepping over him so my feet framed his legs.

“Seb! Seb, no! This isn’t a dream Seb, come on, Dad would be so disappointed in you. You’ll crush him, you’ll crush grandma and grandpa and Jane! Come on, Seb, I said I was sorry!” The boy scrabbled backwards, his back hitting the bed, eyes pin sharp and staring me down.

I stood over my older brother, eyes blown wide and a smile spread across my face. I held out a hand to him like I was approaching a wounded animal, knowing that any sudden move could spook him into leaving. The knife was clenched tightly behind my back and I sighed in content. It’s just a dream.

“Sorry, Matt, but don’t worry, it’s just a bad dream, we’ll wake up soon.”

I could feel Chonak’s smile widen behind me as I raised the knife, bringing it down only to be blocked by my brother’s hand. “C’mon, Matt, don’t make this hard, just submit to me,” I purred. I grabbed at his hands, pinning them above his head and staring him down. He jerked to get free, but we played this game as kids. He beat me up, so I learned how to hold him down. I grabbed a fist full of his hair, the only big weakness that I knew of his. He went slack, reaching up to grab at me, to do any damage, but we had done this as kids too. Too bad he only got a month of military training, he could have stopped me, maybe. I pulled his hair to the side before driving the knife into his exposed neck. Blood spurted out of the wound as I dragged the knife away and I stood up, breathing heavy and watching as he twitched and jerked with his last final bit of energy. I stared down at the lifeless body before me and took a deep breath, more hot tears spilling out as I realized what I just did.

“It’s just a dream, it’s just a dream,” I chanted and wrapped my arms around myself like I was holding myself together. Chonak came behind me, wrapping his arms around me in a protective hug.

“Very good, Seb, you passed, you get to go home!” I nodded and felt a hand brush over my forehead, just like wind across the flesh.

My eyes opened slowly, toes and fingers flexing as I got used to my body. Just another PTSD driven dream about that fucker. I heard my father talking through the door, he was on the phone with someone, it sounded like Matt, or Grandpa, or Jane. I heard him end the call and then his feet padded over to my door. There was a knock and my father was walking into the room.

“Yeah, Dad?” My voice was rough as I spoke.

“Jane just called…” He scratched the back of his neck and looked uncomfortable, like he was about ready to cry or have an angry outburst.

“God, what does that bitch want?”

“Seb, Matt was murdered last night…”

I stared at him dumbly, thinking through my “dream.” Dad stayed a moment then nodded and left the room. I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, looking over to see Chonak waving in goodbye. I nodded to him and watched as he faded away. I’m sure someone would have accused me of murder, but how was a teenage girl supposed to get to North Carolina from Idaho in a night.


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Credit: abarbienamedken

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Graybark Drive

by cnkguy
Graybark Drive

Reading Time: 23 minutes

It all began the night the man in the black coat came to Graybark Drive.

Looking back, Harrison Naylor might have found that odd, because it was also the night that the Collins’ house burned to the ground. But no, when he peeked through his blinds that night, all he noticed was the great hulking man, dressed in shadow and radiating an aura of fear. Oh, he could see the fire well enough, but only because it illuminated the man in the coat. Harry only looked for a few seconds — any more than that and his hair would have turned white — but he swore the man had more than one shadow. More than he could count, dancing in the firelight like an army of shifting, churning nightmares.

The man looked neither right nor left. His gaze was fixed firmly on the burning house at the end of the street. And yet, when Harry dropped the blind and stepped back, he swore that the man had not only seen him, but measured, evaluated, and judged him in a split second— and found him utterly contemptible He sat down on the edge of his bed, and jumped when his wife’s hand alighted on his shoulder.

“What’s out there?” she whispered. Her face was pale and her eyes wide, and she hadn’t even glimpsed the man outside. Harry had, and he couldn’t imagine how he must look.

Harry looked at her, then at the window, and shook his head. “Nothing.” He said it again, to convince himself, “Nothing. Go back to sleep.”


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And so it was that Harrison and Meredith Naylor ignored the flickering orange light shining between their blinds, ignored the screams of their neighbors, and went back to sleep. They wouldn’t find out until the next morning that the same could be said for everyone on Graybark Drive. At least one person in every house had looked outside and seen the man in the black coat, and yet not a single one of them had stepped out of their doors to help the Collins, or even called the fire department. And when they closed their eyes, they all dreamed of a living nightmare dressed in a black coat.

The next morning, everyone emerged from their homes like mice afraid that the cat might be hiding nearby, and together they made their way to the Collins’ house. There was almost nothing left, just a couple walls and some charred ceiling beams— and the Collins themselves. Victor lay in the living room, his corpse stripped of flesh by the flames. His wife, Trisha, was by the front door. Gooseflesh rose on Harry’s arms when he saw her. She was facing the wrong way, as if she had gotten out of the house and then run back inside.

Of their baby son, Porter, there was no sign.

Finally, everyone simply turned and went home. Not a single word was said the entire time, nor did it occur to anyone how strange it was that nobody had gone to work or school that day. Everyone was home, every last man, woman, and child. The crowd slowly thinned as the residents returned to their homes without even a wave or a nod goodbye. Harry held the door open for Meredith, and as he closed it behind him a strange sensation washed over him. A feeling like he was standing on a beach, watching the waters recede. He knew there as a tsunami in the distance, but there was nothing he could do to stop it, nowhere he could run to hide from it. He could see in his wife’s eyes that she felt the same way. And still neither of them spoke a word. Harry tried to watch TV, but every channel brought him nothing but static. He considered calling the cable company, but the phone line was dead. Was that the work of the fire, too, somehow? He didn’t know, but he got the feeling it didn’t matter.

It was too late for that already.

The rest of the day went by in a blur, as if the sun was in a hurry to get Graybark Drive out of its sight, and the entire time Harry could feel the tidal wave getting closer and closer. Finally, the sun set, the moon rose…

And it began.

Though it made no noise and didn’t disturb a single blade of grass, Harry could feel the whatever-it-was crash over his neighborhood like a gust of wind that should have blasted each and every house off of its foundations. He and Meredith exchanged worried glances. Yes, she had felt it too. And so, for the second time that day, everyone peeked their heads out of their front doors. At first nothing seemed to be amiss. It was just another late spring evening, with a cool breeze wafting through the woods. It wasn’t until the moon had climbed higher over the horizon that anyone realized what was wrong.


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“The stars are gone!” at least twenty different people whispered at the same time, breaking the seemingly impenetrable silence.

Harry refused to believe it at first. It was impossible. The sky must just be covered by clouds. But as the moon continued to rise, completely unobstructed, he realized it was true. The stars had simply vanished from the sky.

“What does it mean?” someone asked. “What’s going on?”

Nobody had an answer. They all stood outside and stared at the empty sky for over an hour. They were waiting for something to happen, Harry knew. He knew because he was waiting for it as well. The tsunami had struck, and the stars had vanished. He wanted to believe that was all that was going to happen, but he couldn’t. This was only the beginning.

Suddenly, he became aware of the frantic beating of his heart, and the cold sweat on his forehead. Harry had gone from feeling nervous to terrified without even realizing it. His fear only increased when he realized he recognized the feeling. It was the same aura that the man in the black coat had radiated the night before. The man whose presence had made the suffering and death of his neighbors seem downright trivial by comparison. The hair on the back of his neck stood up as unseen eyes crawled all over him. Judging by the way his neighbors’ eyes shifted left and right, they could feel it too.

He grabbed Meredith’s hand in his own. “Inside,” he said.

She didn’t argue as he dragged her across their front yard. His lawn, his pride and joy that he fought tooth and nail to keep free of invasive feet, was trampled without hesitation. All around him, doors were slamming as everybody else hastened to get inside as well. Once he and his wife were through, he did the same, latching it behind him. He could hear Meredith breathing so heavily behind him that she was almost gasping.

“What do we do?” she asked.

“I- I don’t know,” Harry answered. He didn’t even know what was going on. How was he supposed to know how to fix it? Still, for her sake, he turned around and tried to look brave. “I think we need to—”

Before he could finish, Meredith’s face went white as paper and she pointed behind him. Harry froze, ice in his veins, and then spun around to see that someone was at their door.

Ding donnnnng went the doorbell.

Their front door had a large half-circle of frosted glass, and through it Harry could see a great, looming shadow. It had the vague shape of a man, but it was gigantic. Over seven feet tall, with shoulders that would have brushed both sides of the doorframe. Harry knew who was out there even before the wave of sheer terror came blew through the solid door like a winter wind. He backed away.

Ding donnnnng.

“Harry, who is it?” Meredith asked. She was terrified too, and she was looking to him for answers. Answers he didn’t have. He fumbled with one hand, unable to look away from the door, until he found hers and began to pull him backwards with him.

Ding donnnnng.

“Who is that?” his wife demanded, growing more frantic. “Harry, who is it?”

“I don’t know!” he yelled back.

Ding donnnnng went the doorbell— and then the doorknob began to turn. Harry and Meredith gasped in unison. Harry had locked the door. He knew he had! And yet, the doorknob turned, and the door swung open to reveal…

Nothing.

Harry and his wife both stood there, their backs pressed against the wall, staring at their empty front porch.

“Wha- What…” Meredith stammered. “What was…”

It was the last thing he wanted to do, but Harry uncurled his fingers from his wife’s wrist and crossed the living room to the entryway. His heart pounded inside his chest as he slowly poked his head out and looked right, and then left. Nothing. Nobody.

“There’s no one here,” he said, as much to calm his own nerves as Meredith’s. When she didn’t reply, he said again, louder, “There’s nobody out here!”


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He grabbed the doorknob and pulled the door closed, turned around— and found himself alone. Their living room was completely unchanged, save for the fact that his wife was no longer in it. Where she had just been standing, now there was only a picture hanging from the wall.

“Meredith?” he asked nervously. No answer came. “Meredith?” he asked again, more loudly.

The picture frame shook a little bit, as if someone had just slammed a door too hard. A chill ran down Harry’s spine again, and it was with slow, frightened steps that he crossed his living room again. As he drew nearer, his eyes grew larger. It wasn’t a picture he had ever seen before. It was of Meredith, but she stared back at Harry with a look of pure horror on her face. Her eyes were pleading, begging him to rescue her. On her shoulders were a pair of hands, blackened as if they, alone, were plunged in shadow.

“Meredith!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. He spun around, looking desperately even though he knew she wasn’t there. Behind him he heard a snap and then a crack. A glance backwards revealed that the picture had fallen from the wall and broken in half, a jagged crack going right up the middle. From somewhere deep within the house came a dark, cold, evil laugh. Harry’s mind went blank with terror. Not knowing what else to do, he turned and ran for the door that led to the master bedroom. Maybe Meredith had taken refuge in there. Maybe…

He threw the door open, but what waited for him on the other side wasn’t his bedroom. It wasn’t even his house. A long hallway stretched out in front of him, at least fifty feet long, with doors every few feet on both sides. What looked like gas lamps lit the corridor in between the doors, but even with that dim light Harry couldn’t see what waited on the other end. He stepped through without thinking, and immediately spun around to go back. He had no idea what was going on, but he was smart enough to know nothing good would come from going down that hallway.

But the door was gone.

Gasping, Harry put his hands on the smooth, bare wall. He was going crazy. Had gone crazy. If he just felt around, he would find the doorknob and be back in his living room. There was nothing there but what his eyes could see. No, no! This was all wrong! He had to get—

“Harry?” asked Meredith.

Harry froze, and slowly forced himself to turn around. Meredith wasn’t there. The hallway was empty.

“Harry?” she asked again. Her voice came from the shadows, sounding as casual as if she’d come to tell him dinner was ready.

Maybe I am going crazy, he thought, staring down that long, empty corridor. Maybe I’ve finally gone senile. Maybe I’m still sitting in my chair in the living room, drooling, and Meredith’s going to have me put in some nursing home and—”

“Harry, are you there? Will you please hurry up?”

With that, Harry began to stumble down the hallway, toward his wife’s voice. His legs were weak, his knees shaking, and he had to put a hand on both walls to keep his balance. At one point his hand touched one of the doors, and…

He screamed!

Harry jerked his hand away, heedless of the way he collapsed on the floor, eyes open wide with horror. He hadn’t seen anything when he’d touched that door. He hadn’t heard anything. But what he had felt on the other side, lying in wait… pure, unadulterated evil, so powerful that he was afraid it might have infected him just by touching it. And, just like that, he felt like he knew where he was. The man in the black coat… this was him. His true form, underneath his human mask. Living, breathing, thinking fear. Terror given physical form. And Harry was inside it. Swallowed whole.

Sensing his realization, the voice from before laughed again.

“Harry, dear? Are you out there?”

Meredith’s voice reached his ears like a speck of light in a dark tunnel, and he scrambled to his feet and chased after it. The doors flew by him, and the gap between lit lamps grew wider and wider by the second, until he was plunged into pitch black darkness. And still he ran. The laughing voice propelled him from behind, and his wife’s called to him from in front. He knew which one he wanted. Meredith. In his fevered state of mind, he became convinced that if he could only just find Meredith, all of this would cease to exist. The hallway went on and on, though, with no end in sight, and his wife’s voice never grew any closer.

Then a dark blue glow lit up the darkness. It was so unexpected that Harry dug in his heels and skidded to a stop, almost falling over again. It took his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the light, but when he did he stumbled backwards in horror.


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Just like he had hoped, Meredith was waiting for him at the end of the hallway, but this as not the Meredith he knew. She was… massive. All he could see was her head, like a grown woman pressing her face up against a dollhouse— and he was in the dollhouse. Her skin radiated the eerie blue light he had seen. Her eyes rolled to stare up vacantly at the ceiling, but a wide, half-dead smile stretched across her cheeks.

“There you are, dear,” she said, voice booming through the narrow hallway. “I was wondering if you’d gotten lost.”

“M- M- Meredith!” Harry stammered, staring at her in horror. “What happened to you?”

She didn’t respond immediately, and when she did speak it was as if she hadn’t heard him. “Are you all right, dear? You look terrible!” She wasn’t even looking at him. “Come, come. I’ll fix you right up!”

She opened her mouth unnaturally wide, the tendons in her cheeks creaking from the strain, until it was big enough for Harry to walk into. Thick ropes of saliva dripped from her jaws, and out of her mouth she breathed the most horrid, putrid scent that Harry had ever smelled. He trembled, nearly putting his hands on the wall again for support, and fought not to throw up. The hallway was dark, but Meredith was giving off just enough light that he could see what was waiting for him in the back of her throat: a door.

“No,” he moaned, shaking his head. “No, please!”

There was no doubt in his mind what he was supposed to do now. The only way out of this hellish place was in front of him. But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t!

“Haaaaaaarry?” Meredith called to him without moving her lips.

He shook his head. “I won’t do it!”

“HAAAAAAAAAAAARRY?”

“Yes, dear?”

Harry froze, and spun around. There, in the pitch black hallway he’d just come down… was him. Right down to the clothes he was wearing and the way his hair was combed, it was a second Harry Naylor.

“Dinner’s ready, Harry,” Meredith answered.

No, Harry realized. This wasn’t a perfect copy of him. This Harry’s face was grinning in a way that wasn’t humanly possible, its eyes open so wide that his eyeballs would have rolled out if he’d tipped his head forward. It was like someone had hooked a fishing line in every crease and wrinkle in Harry’s face, and then stretched it out, tying all those lines in a knot at the back of his head. Those eyes stared forward, unseeing, like glass marbles.

“Wonderful,” the new Harry said. His lips didn’t move— they probably couldn’t move, the way they were stretched out. “Coming, dear.”

His arms rose up in front of him, stiff like they were made of wood… and then he flew at Harry! It was like he was wearing roller skates, the way he glided right over the hardwood floor. An ear-bleeding screech rang through the hallway, though the real Harry couldn’t tell if it was from his copy, from Meredith, or from him. All he could see were those sightless, glassy eyes coming for him, those dead, unmoving fingers reaching for him. All his inhibitions were immediately forgotten, and he turned and ran into the giant Meredith’s mouth.

“Oh please, oh please, oh dear God in heaven, please!” he begged as he fumbled with the doorknob. It was covered with his wife’s saliva, though, and he couldn’t get a good enough grip on it. He could hear the inhuman shriek getting closer, closer. With one last sob, he put his hands underneath his shirt, grabbed the knob, and threw all his weight to the side. He collapsed onto Meredith’s tongue, coating his entire left side with her spit, but he didn’t care because he was rewarded with an audible click, and the door swung open.

He scrambled to his feet, nearly slipping and falling again, and threw himself through the door. He turned around, and saw just in time his grinning copy hurtling toward him, and he slammed the door. The scream cut off immediately as if it had never been there. Harry waited for the gruesome thing to hit the door, but the impact never came.

He didn’t know how long he stood there staring at the door, but eventually he forced himself to turn away and look around. What he saw was even worse than the endless hallway from before. Now he stood on a rusty catwalk, so old that the rust had eaten holes straight through the floor in several places. All around him was a tunnel of wet, glistening, pink muscle. It throbbed and pulsed rhythmically, the way he imagined the inside of a snake would look to something it had swallowed whole. Was this… had he actually gone inside Meredith when he’d gone through that door? No. No, this wasn’t his wife. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he was more certain of that than anything else in his life.

This was the inside of the beast that had swallowed him. The man in the black coat.

For a minute, Harry considered just lying down and staying right there for the rest of his life. Surely it wouldn’t be that long, and giving up sounded more appealing than seeing whatever horrors were waiting for him the further he went down the creature’s throat. Instead, he forced his legs to stop shaking and began to walk. He couldn’t give up. He wasn’t alone here. Meredith. He had to find Meredith, get her out if he could.


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The journey down the catwalk took less than a minute, and longer than eternity. Harry wasn’t sure how he knew that, but he got the inexplicable feeling that the rules of the world he knew didn’t exist in this place. If there was any such thing as reality in here, then it was a slave of the man in the black coat. Eventually, the catwalk came to a sudden end, though the fleshy tunnel extended on and on in front of him.

“Hello?” Harry didn’t know who he expected to answer, and was afraid to find out. “Wh- What now? Are you done? Let me and my wife go!”

Another gust of that rancid wind blew from the tunnel, nearly making Harry vomit, but no answer came. Then a footstep came from the catwalk behind him. Trembling, holding the rusty handrail for support, he turned around…

And found himself in a church. The transition was so sudden that Harry fell to his knees. The floor beneath him was polished white marble, and on top of that was a red carpet that led up the pathway between the pews to the altar. Whitewashed walls rose up dozens of feet, and then narrowed to a point. The sun shone through stained glass windows, making colorful patterns on the floor and walls. The catwalk, the living tunnel, everything from before was gone. When Harry glanced behind him, all he saw was a massive pair of wooden doors that led out of the chapel. He looked forward again, but closed his eyes. The scene was comforting in every way he could imagine, but he didn’t buy it for one second. It was a trick. It was trying to put him at ease so that whatever horrible surprises waited for him would shock him even more.

“Harry?”

It was Meredith’s voice again, and, despite himself, Harry looked up. There was someone at the altar, now. A figure clothed in a long, white dress and veil. When it saw him looking, it reached up and pulled the veil away to reveal his wife. Harry’s heart leaped into his throat. He didn’t know why, but he could tell that this was really her. Not another nightmarish illusion, that was the Meredith he knew and loved!

“Harry, what’s going on?” she asked. Tears were running down her cheeks. “Is it really you?”

Harry got back to his feet. “It’s me,” he answered. “Are you all right?”

She shook her head. “Harry, I’ve… I’ve seen the most horrible things! Please, you have to—”

“Ah, ah, ah!” a new voice crooned. Harry jumped, and Meredith spun around to find someone standing behind the pulpit who hadn’t been there a moment before.

The man in the black coat.

“The bride mustn’t show her face before the wedding,” he said. His voice was as smooth as oil, and he reached out and put the veil back over Meredith’s face. “Now, shall we begin?” He looked to Harry. “Harrison Naylor, do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

“Meredith!” Harry screamed at the top of his lungs. To his surprise, his legs filled with strength and he sprinted down the aisle like a man half his age. He waited for something to stop him, but he reached his wife without obstacle. The man in the black coat looked down at him, grinning like a predator, as Harry took his wife in his arms— and she fell to pieces. Bones. Bleached white and bare of any flesh, they clattered to the floor all around him, falling from her dress as if he’d upended a bag. Her skull rolled forward, a few strands of her graying hair still clinging to the scalp, and bumped against his face.

The man in the black coat chuckled. “I didn’t say you could kiss the bride. But who am I to stand in the way of love?”

Forgetting his fear for a moment, Harry glared up at him. His long brown hair and nearly trimmed beard belied the primal sense of terror that radiated from him. “What did you do to—”

The man in the black coat reached for him, and his arm grew to gigantic proportions. A hand large enough to hold a car collided with him, and pushed him back up the aisle. The wooden doors flung open to reveal blackness on the other side. Harry had just enough time to scream before he was propelled from the church. Then he was falling… falling… falling…

Standing.

He never felt himself land, he merely had the sudden realization that he wasn’t falling anymore. Darkness was all around him, so thick that he felt his lungs must be turning black from breathing it in. A glimmer of light appeared in the distance. He stopped, looking at it.

“Nope,” he decided, and turned and ran the other way. He had the creature’s plan figured out. Lead him by the nose from one horror to another, and then… he didn’t want to think of what its end goal might be. All he wanted was to get out. The laugh echoed through the darkness to taunt him again, but Harry ignored it. A laugh couldn’t hurt him. He just had to keep going.

“Harry…”

He stopped without meaning to. It sounded like the wind itself was whispering his name. Was it Meredith? The beast? The beast pretending to be—

“Look down, Harry.”

He did, and nearly fell over with shock. Though the ground beneath his feet was as solid as stone, to his eyes he was standing on thin air. Below him was a maze. Vast, almost eternal, yet by this place’s insane laws of physics he was still able to see it all. Just like he saw Meredith running through it, heard her screaming at the top of her lungs.

“Meredith!” Harry shouted, but she didn’t hear him.


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She wasn’t alone. All throughout the maze, Harry could see things moving. Gliding along the ground without moving their legs. His heart sank into his stomach even before he got a good look at them, and his suspicions were confirmed when Meredith ran right beneath him. The copy of himself he had seen earlier, with its painful grin and outstretched arms, was in pursuit. Only now there wasn’t just one of them, there were hundreds. Thousands. As Meredith ran, her path was cut off by two more rounding the corner in front of her. Their arms shot up, and they sped toward her, giggling like toddlers chasing candy.

“Meredith!” he screamed again, and dropped to his hands and knees. He began to pound the ground with his fist. “Let me in! Let me—”

Whatever invisible floor was holding him up shattered, and he tumbled down into the maze as well. Pain lanced through his old bones, but he forced himself back to his feet. He had to save his wife before those- those things caught her! He had seen which way she’d gone, and so he limped after her as quickly as his tired, sore, old body could carry him. He passed several of the copies of himself, and though they grinned at him they didn’t give chase. He would have been comforted by that if he hadn’t known why. They weren’t here for him. This maze was for Meredith.

A scream tore through the air, and Harry spun around. It had come from that way! He took off down that narrow corridor, praying that there wouldn’t be any branching paths to throw him off course again. There weren’t. After fifty feet, the path angled left. Thirty feet later, it turned left again. Then again fifteen feet later. Then five. He was going in a big spiral. And then, at the center of the spiral, he saw his wife.

“Meredith!”

She was in a big open square, more than thirty feet across, and a dozen of the Harry copies were surrounding her. She was standing in the exact center, hands clasped over her mouth, tears running down her face.

“No, no, no,” she was moaning, shaking her head as if that would wake her up from this horrible nightmare.

The Harrys grinned at her, arms reaching out, and slowly they began to glide toward her. Inch by inch, the circle shrank. Harry’s pulse spiked. He had to do something, but what?

Before he could move, a grinding sound, like nails on a chalkboard, filled the air, and the floor beneath Meredith’s feet began rise. One block rose two feet, another four feet, and the one she was standing on rose six feet. Stairs, though not enough of them to escape. Meredith screamed again, but fell silent when they stopped moving. The grinning copies continued to draw closer. Harry watched, afraid to do anything else.

GONNNNNNNG.

A single toll of a bell rang through the maze, and with it something fell from the sky. Long, thin, and reaching all the way up into the darkness above them, dangling just a few inches in front of Meredith’s face, it ended in a loop just big enough for…

“No!” Harry screamed. He ran into the square, heedless of the copies of himself that he had to squeeze between, and stopped at the first step. “Meredith!”

She spun around when she heard his voice, and took a step back.

“Stay away from me!” she yelled. “Get away!”

He shook his head. “No, Meredith, it’s me!” He stepped onto the second step. “I’m the real—”

“GET AWAY!” she screamed again, louder than ever.

Harry stopped. “Meredith, please. You have to listen to me. I don’t know what’s happening, but we have to work together to escape from this place. Please, just…”

He reached out his hand, but Meredith looked at it like it was the most disgusting thing she had ever seen. She cowered away from it, and in doing so her head bumped the noose.

“Get away,” she said. Her voice was low, now, like she was threatening him. “Go away. Leave me alone!”


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Her hand reached up to grasp the rope, and Harry froze like his feet had been cemented to the floor. He told himself he had to move, tried to force his legs to obey, but he couldn’t. All he could do was watch as his wife, terrified out of her wits, slipped the rope over her head.

“Meredith, no,” he begged her. Tears were running down his cheeks. “Please!”

“This…” her voice was shaking. “This is my escape!”

“NO!”

She stepped over the edge of the platform, fell less than a foot, and came to a sudden stop. Harry heard the snap, heard her last few breaths gurgle out of her throat. Her feet twitched for a few seconds, but then fell still.

GONNNNNNNG. GONNNNNNNG. GONNNNNNG.

The unseen bell tolled the death of his wife, and Harry fell to his knees.

“Meredith…”

But then another sound came, so loud that it even drowned out the death knell above him. The ground beneath Harry’s feet began to tremble. He couldn’t bring himself to care. Whatever happened next couldn’t be worse than what he’d just seen. Meredith’s body shook on the end of the rope. And then, with a deafening CRACKLE, the maze collapsed. Stone by stone, it dropped into the empty blackness below. Harry found himself a single drop in a storm of Harry Naylors, all of them plummeting down, down, eternally downwards. He couldn’t even find it in himself to scream. There was a flash of light, Harry closed his eyes, and…

Found himself back in his own living room.

He was in his armchair, in front of a TV that hissed with static. He looked around. Everything was exactly…

Creak… Creak…

…how it should have been. Not a speck of dust out of place. Had it been a dream? No, he shook his head. It hadn’t been a dream. It was real. All of…

Creak… Creak…

…it. With a trembling hand, he felt his shirt, still wet from when he’d run into the giant Meredith’s mouth. With a gasp, he sprang to his feet. Meredith! If he was here, then did that mean…

Creeeeaaaak.

He paused. What was that infernal noise? His and Meredith’s house was old and far from quiet, but he knew each and every sound it made. The hinges squeaked, the vents clanked, and the wind rattled the windows. But creaking? That sound was new. Almost like someone was swinging from the…

“Congratulations.”

With a gasp, Harry spun around to see that he wasn’t alone in his living room. The man in the black coat sat in the corner of the room on a wooden stool, his coat enveloping his massive frame like a shadow given form. Meredith was there too— hanging by her neck from a rope that had been tied to rafters up above. She swung back and forth like a pendulum in the world’s most gruesome clock. The rafter creaked with every swing. Her dead eyes stared at her husband. And every time she swung close to the man in the black coat, he would give her an absentminded push, making sure she never stopped moving.

“Very few people survive what you just went through,” he said. He wasn’t looking at Harry. Instead, he was staring at Meredith’s corpse, as if the gentle swinging had hypnotized him. “You have earned your freedom.”

Behind Harry, he heard his front door click as it unlocked, and then swung open. A cool breeze blew against his neck, but he ignored it.

“So…” His voice was shaking, and he made himself wait until he could control it before continuing. “So that’s it, then? You come here, kill my wife, and then just let me go?”

“Your wife killed herself, old man.”

There was a hint of a smile on the man’s face, but Harry ignored it. “Why are you doing this?”

Creak… Creak… went Meredith’s corpse as the man in the coat pushed her, like a child on a swing. Finally, he turned to look at Harry and got to his feet. Even from across the room, he towered over Harry, and the shadow he cast was longer than it should have been, casting Harry into darkness all by itself. Once again, that wave of terror washed over him, like someone else was pushing their fear onto him. He found himself trembling.

“Because,” the man in the black coat said, “I can’t let my little secret get out, can I?”

“W- W- What secret?” Harry stammered. “I don’t know what you’re—”

He didn’t get to finish his sentence, because that was when his mind went blank. It was like an explosion of fear inside his body. Icy cold terror, blood freezing horror, like nothing he had ever felt before. Fear the likes of which he’d never even thought existed. It wiped all rational thought from his mind, and in that instant he became an animal. There were only two things in the world now: terror, and escape. Rather than stand there and endure the man in the black coat’s attack, whatever he was doing, Harry chose escape. With a scream that tore his vocal chords and made blood ooze down his throat, he turned tail and ran through the open door of his house, into the street.

And then, just like that, the fear vanished. It went away so quickly that Harry collapsed in the middle of Graybark Drive, his head striking the pavement so that stars danced in front of his eyes. Panting, he forced himself to get to his knees. He was in the middle of the road, staring straight down to where it ended at the ruins of the Collins’ house. Shame clawed at his heart now that the fear was gone. He hadn’t been able to save his wife, and now he had left her body in the house with that… whatever it was that disguised itself as a man wearing a black coat. And the worst part was that he knew he’d never see her again. Because as horrid as he felt, he couldn’t go back into that house. Not now, not ever. Meredith—

Something moved.


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Harry’s heart began to race as something stirred in the ashen remains of the Collins’ house. A shape, barely visible in the starless darkness, rose up. Slowly, it began to draw closer to Harry. A steady click, click filled the air, as if someone was tapping sticks on the road. The figure came closer, and Harry recognized its human shape. Not the man in the black coat, it was far too thin and short to be him, but then who?

Slowly, like it was moving through deep water, the thing came close enough for Harry to see. Startlingly white in the near-pitch black darkness, and so thin Harry could almost see through it… no, he really could see through it! With eyes that moved as slowly as the thing in front of him, Harry looked at it from its bony, fleshless feet, to its bare ribcage that he could look through and see the Collins’ house, to the toothy grin beneath two black, empty eye sockets. It stopped in front of Harry, as if it hadn’t expected to find him there. The bones were blackened in places where the fire had scorched them. It carried the smell of smoke. Harry didn’t need skin or clothes to know who was standing in front of him.

“V- V- Victor?” he stammered.

The dead man moved. With creaking joints and a clatter of bones, it held out its hand and reached toward its former neighbor. Harry couldn’t move, and sat there trembling. Its fingers brushed the old man’s face, and…

Harry died. He went without a scream, or even a whimper. When he felt those dry, skinless fingers brush his face, his heart simply stopped, and he fell forward, face down in the street. Victor’s corpse stood motionless for a minute, as if unsure what had just happened, but then it lowered its hand and began to walk. It walked up Graybark Drive, neither looking left nor right. Its pace was shambling, but determined. Nobody looked out their windows to see it. Soon, it was swallowed up by the starless night, leaving Harry’s corpse alone in the middle of the street, where it remained until the sun finally rose that morning.

It was Harry’s across-the-street neighbor that discovered him. Doug Runner, who had known Harry and his wife for nearly forty years, found himself strangely unsurprised to see Harry dead in the middle of the street. Just like one could predict rain by looking at the sky, so everyone on Graybark Drive had been able to predict death by the ominous, creeping sensation they’d all felt that day. Even so, he ran out his front door to check on him. No pulse, but no wounds to give a hint as to the cause of his death. Nothing except the look of terror frozen on his face.

Harry’s front door stood wide open, and Doug, against his own better judgement, decided to go check on Meredith. Horrified though he was, he was even less surprised to find Harry’s wife hanging by her neck from the ceiling. Her body rotated slowly on the end of the rope, and her empty, glass-eyed stare seemed to be both condemning and warning. Condemnation for not being there to help. Desperately warning him that the same would soon happen to him. Doug knew he ought to do something, call somebody, but all he could think about was getting the hell out of that house. Just like Harry had done the night before, Doug turned and sprinted through the front door, and didn’t stop until his own door was slamming firmly behind him.

He never noticed the second shadow that followed him inside.


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Credit: Adam Bolander

The post Graybark Drive appeared first on Creepypasta.

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The Tower Abiding

by cnkguy
The Tower Abiding

Reading Time: 25 minutes

The only thing I can remember is this tower.

I must have been somewhere else before coming here. I don’t remember anything before this, but I know things. I know the room I often wake up in is a doctor’s office. Then again… those words together don’t seem quite right to describe what I call the checkpoint. Office of a doctor, maybe? The doctor’s study? It was warm and homey, covered in shelves crammed full of books and knick-knacks. I wonder why I call them that… little objects and shapes with no discernible purpose… knick-knacks.

There is a couch nestled in a window nook, but outside the window is nothing but a blank white. There’s a ball on a stand… a…. globe? Yes, a white globe that sits by this couch. I sometimes spin it when the door is locked. There is a desk piled high with books, each page filled with handwritten scrawl I don’t recognize. There is one book that I know: I think it was blank when I first came here, but I can’t be to sure. I don’t remember ever arriving here. Just being here.


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Off on its own there’s a cabinet that stretches from the floor to the ceiling. It’s as wide as my arms when I hold them out and made of a dark, solid wood. It’s filled with glass bottles with little labels on them and jars filled with cloudy water and plants. Vials of powders line the doors and dried flowers and bags of chopped roots hang from the top.

There’s one other thing in the room, sitting atop a carved podium in the center of the room. A blood-red phone. I know it’s old, and I know it’s called a rotary phone. Every day, it rings, loud and harsh. It always startles me and makes my heart pound. I’ve climbed over the desk and knocked down side tables just to make it stop. When I pick it up and put the receiver to my ear, I know what to say.

“I’m here.”

Sometimes there’s noise after I say this. A scream, a loud crash, a high-pitched tone, a rattling breath, but sometimes there’s nothing. I put the receiver back on its cradle and I hear the click of the door unlocking. If I’ve knocked anything over in the room it has been replaced, and sometimes the furniture is a bit different. The window, the globe, the desk, the cabinet, books, and phone are always there, never moving. However, sometimes there’s an extra chair or table, sometimes the shelves look different or there’s an extra pile of books on the floor.

After I stop the ringing and I hear the lock click loose I know it’s time to keep going.

The stairs sometimes change, but my favorite form is that of a curving stairway. One side curls flush with the walls of the tower, the other looks down into the gaping maw below. Usually there’s a banister, but not always. When I look over the railing, all I can see is stairs winding down, down, down, all the way to eternity: a tiny pinprick of black. It is the same when I look up. A few times I’ve opened the door and nearly stumbled off, for the stairs were narrow and simply hugged a slender pole going up the middle of the tower.

That’s rule number one. Be careful.

There are a few other rules I’ve discovered. Don’t touch the phone unless it rings. Picking it up will cause the tower to shift and noises to erupt from the other end. The phone will start its harsh ringing and an uproar will erupt from its receiver. The door will lock so you’re trapped in the uproar until you collapse in exhaustion.

Another rule is don’t try to force the door open. The phone will scream at you.

There is sometimes a television in the checkpoint. It has a knob you can turn and antenna you can move. If the door is locked you can turn the knob and it will light up the room if the lights have gone out. Sometimes, it’ll show fizzling bits of black and white. If you stare at them long enough, you’ll sometimes see things. It’s a good way to pass the time if you’re waiting for the phone to ring or you get to a checkpoint early and aren’t tired yet. Just make sure you turn it off when the door unlocks. If you leave the room with it on it will start growling with a low, humming sound. It’ll get louder and louder until it’s filled up your head with its buzzing roar until you fall or go back down and turn it off.

Those are the last two rules. Don’t sleep on the stairs. You’ll wake up with wounds and bruises. It’ll slow your progress for quite awhile, and you don’t want to be caught in the stairwell after dark.

Finally, go up, never down. I… don’t know why. But when the phone rings and the door unlocks, you should never, ever go lower than the checkpoint. I get uneasy even turning around to turn off the television, but the one time I took a step lower out of curiosity I knew that I had just done something terribly wrong. I jumped back up to the landing and sat down, unable to move for quite a time. The checkpoint door locks behind you, so I eventually had to force myself to trudge upward until I reached the checkpoint again.

It was always the same basic room, and my own book always lay on the desk, but somehow I feel like I’m making progress.


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Every day it’s the same. I open my eyes and I’m in the checkpoint. Sometimes lying down on the couch, sometimes sitting at the desk, sometimes standing by the door, but always at the checkpoint. I wait for the phone to ring, I answer it, the door unlocks, and I climb. Eventually, I make it to the checkpoint again. I watch the television, leaf through the books, or write in my own book until the room darkens and I close my eyes. Then everything repeats.

I don’t remember a time that anything was different. Sure, sometimes there would be a new piece of furniture in the checkpoint or the stairs were somewhat changed, but overall my days bleed from one into another in a ceaseless climb upward.

That is… until now.

As I climbed up the stairs yesterday, I noticed a second step of echoing footsteps right behind my own. It was barely out of sync with each strike of my foot on the stone stairs and didn’t seem in any hurry.
That same feeling as when I stepped down instead of up filled me from my feet to my chest, threatening to reach its fingers into my head.

I’m the only one here. I’ve always been the only one here.

But… I’m not the only one climbing.

The staircase was wood today. It curled around a central white pillar, accented with an elegant curved handrail and gold brackets . The wood was smooth and cool to the touch, drawing a smile to my lips as I glided upward. Wooden stairs always seemed more welcoming than iron or stone, and it made the stark light that emanated from everywhere and nowhere seem warmer and more welcoming.

There were windows on the smooth stone walls. As always, they were blank and white, like someone had build a second wall on the other side. After taking a few cautious steps I settled into the rhythm of the new stairs. They were nice, not too steep but not to shallow. I craned my neck up, noticing that I could see a door hovering on the edge of discernible vision.

The checkpoint seemed close today.

With hope of a short climb I picked up my pace a little, matching the beat of my footsteps on wood to a song that always hung at the edge of my mind.

My grandfather’s clock was too large for its shelf
So it stood ninety years only the floor.
It was taller by half than the old man himself
But it weighed not a pennyweight more…

As steady as the ticking of a clock, my footsteps echoed up and down the stairway. I found myself humming along with the words in my head.

Ninety years without stumbling
Tick-tock tick-tock
His life seconds numbering
Tick-tock tick-tock
But it stopped-

I stopped.

Short-

A footstep echoed.

I hadn’t moved.

Cold dread filled me as I stood motionless. I strained against the silent buzzing of still air, but heard no more footsteps.


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I slowly continued to walk, this time listening for any deviant echoes that trailed behind me. Craning my neck upward, I squinted towards the checkpoint. It seems the stairs were tricking me today – though I had gone up quite a bit the checkpoint had barely moved. I was tired, but didn’t want to risk resting without knowing how far the checkpoint really was. I blinked and the stairs wavered, flickering closer to the central pillar as it twisted itself tighter as it rose. I frowned, looking down at my feet as the pleasant wood drained into the cracks of emerging stone.

The same quivering fear that filled me when I took that step towards the lower floors rose to my throat. As if running from a rising tide, I rushed up the stairway, ignoring the handrails in fear of them faltering or changing. A second set of footsteps echoed seconds and inches behind my own as the tide of dread rose faster, licking at my heels and biting at my ankles.

With another blink the air waved and the stairs sunk into a flat landing, where I stood panting. The echoing footsteps had stopped and a heavy silence had draped itself into the stairwell. I signed and slowed to a stop, catching my breath and looking around. I found my eyes pulled towards the way I came, and the ocean of dread that rose behind me was almost tangible. With a shuddering sigh I forced my eyes away and looked up towards the checkpoint. It didn’t seem as far up as it had been earlier, but I pushed my excitement down, knowing that it might very well move again.

With breath and composure restored, I started up those stairs again. It had been a long time since the stairs had been so active in their changes. Usually things didn’t change while I was on the stairs, instead waiting until checkpoints to morph. By this time the stairs had slid flush with the central pillar, roping upward in a tight spiral. I kept my fingertips grazing the stone walls – it was nice to have walls on both sides instead of just one. I couldn’t fully extend my arms, but the narrow hall of stone was comforting.

As I rounded another tight bend the silence was broken by a sharp shattering and clattering. Around the next curve I sped to find a window that nested in the outer wall was broken. Fractured glass hovered and spun slowly in the air as if suspended by wire. Amidst the scattered debris floated a cup and saucer, delicately detailed with white flowers I thought I recognized.

I prodded at one of the glass shards, carefully pushing them away until I could take the cup. A bit of liquid sloshed out, a dark, sticky, mess. Chunks of stuff floated in it, as though it had congealed from being left out for so long. A cautious sniff made me sick to my stomach – it smelled of rot and blood and poison.

Careful not to spill any more, I continued up the stairs. It was only a few more bends until I was face to face with a smooth wall. I smiled and looked towards the central pillar, the predictable wooden door of the checkpoint was there to greet me.

It had been a long climb today, it would be nice to sit down.

Balancing the cup and saucer in one hand, I opened the door and pushed my way into the checkpoint. The cabinet was already open, inviting me to store my new prize inside. I would sometimes find bottles and jars on the stairs, and I always felt the need to hold onto them. I squinted at my teacup closely, looking at the painted flowers.

I knew those flowers.


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Carefully placing it on the newly formed hollow – perfectly suited for a cup and saucer – I scanned the dried flowers hanging from the top. I finally found a dried bloom that looked the same, although its white petals were yellowed with age. Above it, the words “Rue: Extract or dried” were written in precise letters.

I peered back into the cup at the liquid inside. What exactly was it? I noticed that rot-and-blood smell again. With plenty of space in the stairs for the smell to defuse it wasn’t as noticeable, but here in the checkpoint it stifling. I searched in the cabinet for an empty jar, successfully finding one in the back. Holding my breath, I poured the chunky stuff into the empty jar, closing it fast. My head spun and I felt sick.

I stepped away from the cabinet for some fresher air and went to the desk. I wrote about the active day in my book until I felt the air might have sweetened. Back to the cabinet, I picked up the jar and brought it to the desk for better light. The mixture seemed somewhat layered, sharp reds slurred around dark chunks and bits of pinkish film. I frowned and held it up to the dull light of the window, but it didn’t seem to change anything. Just in case it disappeared, I described both the cup and liquid in great detail, and attempted to sketch the cup. It wasn’t the best, but it would get the point across.

The light of the tower dimmed, progressing steadily to darkness. I closed the book and hurried my way to one of the couches – I didn’t trust that the room stayed the same in the darkness and I didn’t want to stumble around in the dark.

I could just distinguish the shape of the couch when the room descended into pitch. I felt my way across the room until my fingers touched familiar fabric and lowered myself down in a sigh, happy to finally…

… I was by the door.

I wish I was asleep instead.


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Ignoring my wishes, the phone rang, clamoring for my attention with its dark scream. When I answered it in my usual way I heard a screeching cry and troubled coughing. I stiffened, knowing better than to try to hang up before the phone was finished. The screaming dwindled to a sob… a cry… and whimper… and nothing. Finally, the merciful sound of a sharp note played through the phone, giving me permission to hang up. Unlike the other calls, this one sent chills down my spine. Something about that withering life, full of suffering and pain, finally ebbing away frightened me.

I rubbed my eyes and looked around the room. It had been ransacked sometime between my blinks. The furniture that was always in the room was still intact, but the extra tables, chairs, and couches were town and flipped over. The cabinet had been opened and its contents spilled out in the room. The rot-and-blood-and-poison mixture from the jar was sprinkled among the trail of dried plants that snaked its way to the door. The vile smell was unleashed into the room, stronger than it had ever been. I gagged and covered my nose as I followed the trail out of the checkpoint.

The stairwell was dim today, narrow and wrapped around thin pillar as it traveled. It was made of iron grating, and the stairway seemed to widen as it went up. I couldn’t see anything past the stairs, and wondered if how large the tower had gotten. The free side of the stairs opened to darkness, and I knew I’d have to be careful without a handrail. There was no sign of the sickening trail on those stairs.
I steeled myself with a deep breath before looking down. The trail that had led me out of the checkpoint had turned down the stairs, which twisted down into the darkness. I couldn’t tell if it widened as it went down or not. Dread nipped at my ankles and I started up to avoid it.

I hadn’t gone up more than a few hundred feet when the second set of footsteps appeared. As always, just an instant behind my own. I looked up to check the distance of the checkpoint… and my heart stopped.

Looking down at me, just a floor or two above, was a woman. Her dark eyes were ringed with tired bruises, and they widened at the sight of me.

Or should I say… my own eyes widened at the sight of my reflection. I flattened myself against the pillar while my doppelganger took off up the stairs. I only heard a few of her steps before silence took over. It was as though she simply disappeared.

Or she had stopped, and was waiting between me and the checkpoint.


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I knew there were other people like me. I don’t remember ever seeing anyone else, but just as I knew the names of the things in my room I knew that I wasn’t the only person. I had tried in vain to remember what other people looked like, but all I could recall were my own blurred features from one of the checkpoint’s occasional mirrors. However, the reflection I had just seen was sharp and perfect, as lifelike as a twin.

I still hadn’t moved. The idea of meeting myself was too much.

Slowly, I moved my eyes down. The rot-and-blood-and-poison trail had crawled up the stairs, looking like a trail of something being dragged downward. My gaze went back up. Which would be worse? Following the foul trail into the trembling darkness below or continuing upward towards the checkpoint and my other?

The smell from the trail was turning my stomach, pulling the ball of sickness upwards into my throat. I swallowed it down and hurried upwards, pushing my soon-burning legs until they trembled and twitched.

My hands met flat wall and I instinctively turned and threw myself into the checkpoint door, crashing into the room and falling to the floor. The nausea had finally receded into the pit of my stomach, freeing me to gulp down lungfuls of air as I lay on the cold floor.

The checkpoint was very bare today. Only the phone on its podium and a single chair furnished the room. My book filled with daily scribblings was crumpled on the floor, as if it had been carelessly tossed. I picked it up and looked around the room. Where was my cabinet?

Clutching the book to my chest, I inspected the walls of the room. It wouldn’t be the first time I had found a hidden alcove in the checkpoint. However, the walls were flawless and bare.

I was actually relieved when the lights began to dim. The checkpoint hadn’t even provided me with a pen to write in my book with, so I had little to do other than pace the tiny room. The chair would have to do for tonight.

It was a simple wooden chair, the type that was used with a desk or a table, not the type to curl up in and snooze. There were no arms or cushions, so I was left to awkwardly fumble into what felt like a livable position. As the grey lights gave way to black pitch, I could hear the soft groans and snaps as the tower shifted its many checkpoints and stairs.

The door clicked shut, sealing me inside the safety of the checkpoint. For a long while I just lay and breathed, focusing on the cool marble floor and the sweetly stagnant air – not even a hint of rot-and-blood-and-poison.

I couldn’t find the phone.


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It screamed and screamed, but I couldn’t find it.

The door and its frame stood in the otherwise empty checkpoint. The room stretch to the horizon, fading into an empty grey as its floors melted into the distant nothing. No ceiling, no walls…

No phone.

With adrenaline burning my insides, I threw myself against the door. A tattoo of bangs sounded from the other side, each strike to the door accompanied by the cracking of wood and a booming voice demanding entrance.

The tower was angry.

With a resounding roar a crack spiderwebbed across the door’s surface, cracking and splitting the paint. A burning chill flared in my stomach as I ran in the other direction, trying to keep my footing as the floor began to tilt upward in an attempt to dump be back to the door. With a defiant scream I pushed my legs faster, scrambling up the incline with all the strength I had. I had resorted to crawling on my hands and knees when I saw something at the corner of my eye, the smallest of flaws in the perfectly empty room. A ragged gasp escaped my lips as I changed direction and crawled towards it on bloodied knees and palms.

With a groan the floor shuddered and began tilting back to its original position. The phone still screamed and the booming voice still punctuated the violent tattoo against the door behind me, but at least I had a fighting chance. Back on my feet, I ran towards the growing shape of my cabinet. The splintering of wood grew louder as the door bulged outward and a crack echoed through the empty room.

“Where is she?”

I had no choice.

I wretched the cabinet doors open and threw myself inside, feeling my heart jump into my throat as I came into contact not with the edges of the thing, but with cold, dead air.

I teetered.

I slipped.

I fell.

It was dark.


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Deep, black darkness. So thick and inky if felt as though it had substance, like I was falling through a thick syrup. Thicker and thicker the air grew and slower and slower I fell until I lay suspended in the air.

For a breath I was relaxed, floating in the air and cradled in the thick atmosphere. I felt safe,cloistered in the solid air. By the succor was short lived as the blanket tightened and snaked around my neck and into my mouth, filling my nose and mouth and lungs and ears as I struggled against the constricting darkness. I bucked and kicked, but the binding tightened around me, squeezing the last drop of air from my lungs. My head began to spin as blood pounded in my ears. The world flooded and my body fell limp and…

With a gasp I found myself above water, grabbing wildly at the cobblestone that circled around me, clawing like a wild animal until my fingers caught the edge and I pulled myself up and-

The water was suddenly shallow.

I looked at the rock wall encircling me, its edges a few inches above my head. On shaky legs I stumbled up, using the wall of this… well? Using the walls of the well to pull myself up.

This isn’t right.

This wasn’t the stairs… this wasn’t the checkpoint.

This was… something else.

Walls were absent from this room. However, unlike the bastardization of the checkpoint I had seen earlier, this room was dim and full. All around the well swelled a gently lapping pool of water. It lapped against a grassy edge that poured into a sloping field beyond. On the opposite shore grew tall and sturdy sentinels that blocked the view beyond.

Chirps, croaks, and gibbering calls echoed between them, melting into the darkness behind the sentinels.

Trees.

The word came to my head but was dismissed as my eyes scanned the lapping shoreline until the trees shrunk into smaller and smaller versions of themselves and the landscape returned to field.

This isn’t right.

Careful of any shifts, I climbed out of the well, testing the depth of the pool surrounding it. Despite it’s appearance, the water barely covered the sole of my shoes. Water rippled from my feet, kissing the flecks of green that clustered here and there.

Lily pads.

I could clearly see stalks diving down from the pads and disappearing into the darkness far below the surface of the pool.

Yet my feet were barely wet.


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I took a tentative step … then another… and another… repeating the motion with caution until I was close enough to leap from the water to the grassy shores.

A tug at the corners of my eyes pulled my attention back to the trees on the other shore and my throat tightened at the shift.

Ropes.

Ropes hung from every branch. Thick, sinewy things, each with a gaping loop at its end.
Pain blossomed in my neck and twisted its fingers down my spine and into my ribs. That same feeling, the sensation of wrongness, the same I felt when I thought about going down instead of up. I stumbled into the grass and flung myself towards the field beyond. The painful fingers loosened their grip on my rips, retracting further and further up my back until only a dull ache behind my eyes remained.

I glanced over my shoulder, back into the rope-strewn woods. Those sharp, throbbing fingers of pain branched down to my ribs again, squeezing my lungs until I jerked my head away.

I could breathe again.

With a cold stone of unease settled in my stomach, I turned my attention to the endless fields beyond. The grass was stock-still, only moving when I brushed it aside. The stalks slowly return to their original place with the a slow deliberateness reminiscent of a venus fly trap.

I squinted into the distance. Far, far off, past where the grass blurred into haze, was a massive shape. It seemed more blurred than the rest of the horizon, shuddering and wavering as though it was underwater.

I didn’t want to go back to the ropes.

There wasn’t much choice. I couldn’t stay here – I had to get to the checkpoint. What if it got dark? This place felt more dangerous than the stairs, more open, and so, so distant from the familiarity of the stairs and the safety of the checkpoint.

When I looked at the roped trees it was all-too similar to the feeling that twisted my stomach when I thought about going down instead of up.

What if…

What if I was… Down?

I had to get back up, to the checkpoint and my cabinet and collections and journals and even the blood red phone that screamed and demanded.

Anywhere was better than here.

Still struggling for breath, I pushed aside the stagnant grass and trudged towards the distant shape. At first, my progress seemed as unmoving as the grass around me. But with every step, my lungs filled easier, and the distant shape began grow and sharpen into a white, dingy cylinder. Despite this, it continued to waver, forever shifting its place in the world. I stopped, squinting at it. It stretched high into the sky, surely too far to even be scaled.

A few paces more and I began to notice the grass thinking before sloping down to a lapping shore that stretched into a treeline.

Those same roped trees loomed before me, stealing my breath as the familiar pain threatened to bring me to my knees.

I was back?

How?

That was…

But that jittering shape stood in place of the well. Its somehow solid and fluid form shivering around some undefined center.

But those ropes. They were in the trees beyond and behind. I was boxed in, trapped between dangling ropes that made my head and chest hurt with pounding blood and asphyxia.

I only had one chance.


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The old pain began to work it’s way down my spine and around my lungs as I walked towards the shoreline, knowing I would have to bear the pain if I was to get to that flickering tower. By the time I reached the shoreline the throbbing in my chest left no space for air to flow into my lungs and I was grasping at the space in front of me, desperate to find the entrance to the tower that flicked in and out of existence.

I must have blacked out, because I woke with my face pressed to an oddly warm wooden floor. Unsteadily I fumbled up, feeling somewhat at ease now that I was back inside the tower.

That ease left me when I looked around. The wooden floor seemed to age and rot the further away from me it stretched. Pristine wood gave way to rough grey boards, the gaps of rotten wood growing larger and larger as dirt and grass took over the floor, finally sloping into a shore and…

I was back at the lake.

It was still as glass, not even a ripple at the shores or even around the well that stood in the middle of the lake. I didn’t want to look any higher than the shoreline, what if the trees were still there? The trees and those choking ropes. I mustered my courage and dragged my eyes upward, preparing for the worst. But instead of trees and ropes, rough hewn stone walls surrounded the area. I sighed in relief – I was still inside the tower. I was still Down, but that could easily be rectified with the stairs that curved upward from the shore. I walked around, skirting away from the too-still water to access the base of the stairs, but I stopped short at sight of what was waiting on the stairs.

A child.

Very young, maybe four or five, with the short hair of a girl with too few years for it be long. Most of her head was covered with with a sunhat that seemed a few sizes too big for her, and she wore a very fancy dress, bursting with lace and petticoats and ribbons. She looked just like me.

How long had I been here?

The girl… I? The other me looked from her velvet shoes and a resounding sense that I should leave gripped me. Those unblinking grey eyes stared at me with no sense of malice, but also without recognition or any type of thought. Just a blank, unfeeling stare.

I eased towards the stairs – I was indeed Down, and I knew I needed to get back up, I wasn’t supposed to be Down. I felt sick, my stomach rolling with hot, festering fear as I advanced towards the blessed stairs and the cursed child, the taste of it thick on my tongue. Her eyes followed me, craning her neck up as I came closer.

Finally, I was at the base of the stairs. By now, the fear that sickened my stomach intensified as a thick, cloying smell clouded the air around me. It seemed to fill my lungs with the heavy stink, lessening the space for much-needed air.

I had to get up. I had to reach the checkpoint. I had to get back to the monotonous climb.

But I didn’t know if I could get past this other me.

I turned away from the child, covering my mouth and nose. Another step and the smell was so thick it seemed to settle on my shoulders, weighing me down with its sour heat. A buzzing had started filling the air and I could almost feel the flick of tiny wings against my face as I drew closer. What little space was left for air in my lungs was filled and I gagged – I recognized the smell. The smell of rot-and-blood-and-poison.

Desperate for air, but slow from the weight on my shoulders to run, I pulled myself up the first few stairs and past her. Step by step, the air grew clearer, lighter, but still filled with dread as I felt the stair of my own eyes on me.

The pressure of her gazed finally left me as I turned a bend in the spiraled stairs. The relieved sigh drained my last speck of energy and I sank to ground, gulping shuddering breaths. The air was clean, but that fetid smell seemed to be stuck in my nose. I wiped it furiously and pulled myself up by the banister. I needed to move – it was a bad idea to be caught on the stairs after the checkpoint closed.

I knew from the echoing footsteps and flutter of motion above me that I was again not alone in my climb.

The flashes were fleeting, hurrying upward. I should hurry too. Keeping my eyes to my own moving feet, I went up the stairs as fast as I could without needing to stop. As I climbed, the polished wooden stairs steadily rippled from brown into a dull and splintered wood and I kept my hand hovered just above the withering banister to avoid the splinters and loose nails.

A slam from above me startled me and I grasped the banister, nicking the side of my palm on one of the nails. A hiss of pain echoed through the tower and I grasped my injured hand to my chest. It stung, but it was just a nick in the skin, nothing serious. I turned my gaze up towards the sound at fault and saw something I never saw before.

The top.


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The checkpoint above stood on its own at the end of the stairway, an arched ceiling… no, not just a ceiling, a …roof? Yes, a roof hovered over the checkpoint’s door.

A deep chill wafted up from below, cutting along my ankles and ushering a heavy stink I recognized. The lights below began to dim and darkness oozed its way upward.

Bleeding hand forgotten, I threw myself upward and grabbed the warm, pulsing doorknob and opened the final door.

It was different here.

Not like the ropes in the trees or that room in the Down, not sickening or painful.

Just… different.

Like Down, this place had grass, but no lake, no border of rope-choked trees. Just grass and hills stretching far, far, far, until they faded into nothingness. The whole place seemed to breathe, rippling through the tall grass with a rush of cool breath.

Wind.

It was wind.

The breathing hills were only broken by a single, gnarled tree. It twisted and wound upward, reaching towards the unending dome above with pointed fingers. And there, at the base of rolling roots, was myself. That tiny, short-haired me.

Her… my? The child. The child’s hat flew off her head and she took off to chase it. There was no sickly smell or buzzing cloud this time. Instead there was a soft, clean smell to the place, carried from the grass and hills.

The other me caught up to the hat and squatted to pick it up. She looked up in time to see a small bit of black jump out of the grass and flutter a distance. She dropped the hat and started towards the creature, arms outstretched and eyes bright. No more than a few steps were skipped before a booming voice echoed from the world, the same one that had screamed at me while it pounded on that door.

“Not so far from me, little one.”

Startled, but far from afraid, the child grabbed up her hat and took off towards the tree, leaping through the grass like a spirited fawn.

With a crackling and splintering, the tree gave a jerk and its limbs began to straighten as it reached a twiggy arm toward the girl. Its twisted limbs smoothed into long, pale fingers that slightly rubbed the child’s hair before pulling her towards its now-human body. As he did the girl looked up at him, her eyes filled with love and admiration.

The creature turned its head to me and the same twisting pain from the ropes curled down my spine. He lowered his head so that only his clenched mouth and chin could be seen and the pain settled into the back of her skull, dull and aching.

“Go and play, little one.” He said, “But not to far, not beyond our hill.” He gestured to his roots, which were fluttering from wood into cloth, and a single grasshopper burrowed out and leapt high. The child made a squeaking nose and followed it excitedly, attempting to grab it but narrowly missing as it led her away.

He stared after her, but seemed stiff and his pale fists were clenched at his sides.

“Nothing.” He started in a low voice, “Nothing I can give her will amend for for what was done to her. I have tried. Giving her this place to play and discover, guiding and caring for her. But only so much can be done for that little one.”

I hesitated, “Is… is that me?”

At that the creature seemed to grow. His black robes rippled in a sudden gust of chilling air. The fabric struggled to accommodate his growing form, stretching tight enough to see the outline of bones. His mouth opened and his lips receded to bone as he screamed, “You? You? You stupid woman, you are the cause of all this! Snuffed out after mere days and knowing nothing but pain from the moment her little nerves awoke!

I felt the tiniest of heartbeats stirring inside me, causing a deep, dark shame.

“I…” I felt the memory, small and irritating, “Is this…”

I understood. I had done something wrong. I swallowed and looked up at him, whispering, “The abortion?”

A deep growl rumbled in his bony chest, “That? You think this is about that? Removing an unwanted child from your undeserving womb?” By now the robes were barely threads woven into yellowed bone, but his face was still blessedly covered. “No! You could have given her a clean, painless death. Her little soul plucked from you and placed into another. Her body would be destroyed but she would have lived!” Pieces of the revealed bone were flaking away and even his face cover was loosening.

Teas, herbs, and honey, but still it grew. Arriving early, red and malformed, mewling for days and refusing to quiet until…

“But your selfish pride wouldn’t allow that! You thought yourself so pious and true, and so concerned were you of that reputation that you would rather make all around you suffer than to admit to the slightest of missteps. And when someone, someone truly pious and good tried to intervene, to rescue the little one from the pain-”

Blood. A knife. Cutting, slicing. Sorting by size and concealing in bags… taken out to the back fields and hidden. Cleaning, wiping, scrubbing. So much bleach.

“She was going to tell.” I rasped, “She swore she wouldn’t tell but she went back on her word! It was supposed to be a secret, but she still came, saw me outside and -”

Water. Even after three days it still clung to life. She had to quiet it, had to make it stop.


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“No courage to end the most innocent quickly, even after all her suffering. Too weak, too cowardly.”
Finally, it stopped its twitching and writing, stilled by the frigid lake on that winter day.

“So very cowardly.” Its face was exposed. Fiery hatred blazing behind its empty eyes as its skull cracked. “So concerned for yourself, unable to bear living while others knew what you had done, you refused to accept the deserved repercussions for your sin!”

A rope. Pain shooting from her skull and down her spine. Gasping for breath that couldn’t find a way in.

“I was scared.” I whispered, “Yes, I was weak. I was wrong, but I was so, so-”

With a resounding roar the familiar pain racked down her body, so terrible that her vision dimmed and her breaths stopped. A whipping breeze whirled around her, pieces nicking her skin and tearing her clothes.

“I, I, I!” The creature howled above the wind. “So much damage you inflict, so much bloodshed and pained weeping, yet you still say, I, I, I!” She could hear the cracking and splintering of bone as the creature shifted its form. No longer human, no longer anything that should exist. It heaved with some unknown effort, now a huge, grotesque amalgamation of mismatched bones and tendons. The fire behind its eyes was blazing as its now-cervine skull fractured and lowered with the weight of stretching and cracking anglers. A final splintering sounded as bone erupted from the creature’s curved spine, twisting and splitting into some broken reflection of dying bird.

“I!” The creature’s scream racked its own bones, causing them to shudder and clatter against one another. No longer coming from just the beast, the cacophony shook the world around her so it churned and flickered, sharpening as the border of trees burst forth from the ground. Closer and closer, more trees broke through the soil, the bindings of rope growing tighter and tighter on their branches and trunks as they multiplied.

“I!” A warbling tone had joined his cry.

“I!” It screamed in beat with the creatures raging voice.

“I!” Ringing, ringing, ringing-

I picked up the blood-red phone. I knew what to say.

“I’m here.” A single, shuddering breath came though the phone before being replaced by silence, followed closely by a sharp tone.

The checkpoint’s lock clicked open and I started my climb. Ever since I can remember, it’s been the same thing, day after day. I open my eyes to the checkpoint, answer the phone, and I climb. Sometimes the furniture may change or the stairs might shift, but I can always guarantee to have a window looking out into dim light, a globe and books, a cabinet for things I might find, and the same, blood-red phone.

The door locked behind me and I felt a sudden uneasy notion that I should look Down. I eased my eyes away from my upward goal and felt a cold dread grip me with such ferocity that I vaulted myself up the first few stairs.

I had to climb.

“My grandfather’s clock was too large for its shelf
So it stood ninety years only the floor.
It was taller by half than the old man himself
But it weighed not a pennyweight more…”

After all, that was one of the rules.

“Ninety years without stumbling
Tick-tock tick-tock
His life seconds numbering
Tick-tock tick-tock
But it stopped short,
Never to go again
When the old man died.”

Never, ever, go Down.


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Credit: UrbexSpider

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