The Family Portrait

By Chef Anon

Recently at the art gallery I work at, they had a new exhibition for local artists. It was the usual sort of thing; substandard paintings that only got a shoo-in because they were from the local community, paintings of local people and places and so forth. It was my job to decide which paintings got put on display, which entailed me sorting portraitthrough around a hundred of these awful excuses for art. There was one, though, that really caught my attention. Unlike the others, it was not of a local scene or a local person; it was of a family. A father in a suit sitting in a chair, his dutiful wife behind him and his young son and daughter at his feet.

By the looks of their clothes, they were from the 19th century, typically dressed for a middle class family of that period. Two things struck me about the painting; firstly the attention to detail and the quality of the artwork was impeccable (almost photogenic), and secondly was the shiver it sent down my spine. The people in the portrait had this eerie, gaunt look to them, and expressions that were so blank they looked almost dead. The painting had no artists name attached to it, and Molly from reception had said that she couldn’t recall anybody sending it in. I decided then that instead of putting the painting on display I would take it home with me; after all it had no name attached to it so nobody was going to miss it were they?

I got home and decided that I was going to hang it in my study, and after hanging it, spent the rest of the night filing paperwork. Every so often I would find my eyes drawn to the painting. I felt the strangest, and most uncomfortable, sensation. I felt like the family in the painting were somehow judging me; like I could feel their eyes boring into me from the painting. What’s worse is that because they were staring at the painter (and therefore anybody who looked at the painting) their eyes seemed to follow me around the room. After a while I couldn’t take it anymore, I turned the painting against the wall and vowed that, no matter how interesting it was, I would return it to the gallery the next day. I got a hold of myself though, I had been working quite late and was very tired, and decided that I would sleep on it. I began to finish off the last of my filing at my desk. This was a bad idea; my eyes were heavy and before I knew it I had fallen asleep right there in the study.

That night my dreams were filled with visions of the painting. Over and over again, all I dreamed about was that family staring at me from behind the canvas, drilling into my soul with their blank, visionless stares. With every dream they seemed to get more and more intense, until after a while their eyes were wide and they were giving me looks of such intense hatred that I thought they were about to kill me. After a while, I snapped into awareness to find myself face to face with the painting, except this time instead of blank expressions I was faced with a hellish vision that will haunt me until I die. Their faces were twisted into looks of absolute malice. Their gaunt waxen skin was drawn taut across their pointed cheekbones, their lips peeled back across blackened gums to reveal gnarled yellow teeth bared in a bestial snarl. The less that was said about their bloodshot, protruding eyes the better. I screamed and fell off my chair, stumbling out the room, unable to turn and look back at the painting. I ran across the hallway and dived into my bed, burying my head under the covers.

The next morning when I woke up, I was still terrified. I rationalized it to myself though; you were overtired and you had a night terror, the room was dark and both the shadows and your mind were trying to play tricks on you. I went about my usual routine unperturbed, comforted by the rational logic of my mind. I was about to go to work when I realized I had forgotten about the papers in the study. I opened the door to grab the papers but as soon as I set foot in the room, my heart froze and my blood ran cold. The painting was still turned against the wall. Not only that, but my desk had not even been facing the painting to begin with; it was facing the window.

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I am a Good Parent

By Chef Cosmo_Tronic

I have two.

They are beautiful. One is an adventurous boy at the age of four, yet respectful beyond his years. The other is an affectionate bundle of babbles with six months behind her. Together, they are the overflowing receptacle of love for my husband and me. We want to teach our children to be the best they can be in the world. We are the breeders of curiosity and intelligence.

Some parents refuse to explain things to their children. They command them and expect them to adhere to their regulations without providing any justifications. “Because I said so!” Some don’t want to elaborate on the happenings around them. “It just is that way, stop asking questions, don’t worry about it!” I believe that those parents just don’t want to think too hard. They’re conditioning their offspring to be as ignorant of our realm as they are. But no, not us. All children should understand the world around them. We want them to question it, scrutinize it, struggle with it, and come to their own conclusions. Most adults really underestimate the capacity children have for comprehension. We know better than that. We are better than that.

We have two, and we’re going to make them magnificent.

In the instance that our oldest inquires, “Mom, Dad, why are you throwing away the lasagna you made the other day?,” we don’t reply, “Because it is bad now.” What would he learn from that? Of course he loves and trusts his parents and may accept that as a valid answer, but do we want him to follow us blindly forever? Absolutely not; he and his sister are to be our checks and balances when we age and potentially lose our open-minded focus. The elderly can be so stubborn. So, instead, we construct a clear observation box of Tupperware to keep the lasagna instead of throwing it away. After a few days, the leftovers spoil and the nasty remnants are left for him to investigate. “Ew! So that is why you were throwing away the leftovers. Because they were getting bad!” Exactly. He is so smart. We are doing a fantastic job as parents.

We have two, and they are going to be perfect.

As most parents know, children are such curious creatures. There are not enough hours in the day to perform an experiment on every question our little boy has. Instead, we will usually lead him onto a path of critical thinking. When he asks why, we query back: why do you think it would be like that? He’ll ponder and fumble his way onto a few conclusions. Usually, he’ll need some boosts into the right direction. One night, he called for us from his bed as I was tucking in our littlest lady.

“MOM! DAD! I heard something in my closet! What was that?”

My husband chuckles as we come to his aide. “Well, kid, what do you think it was?”

“I think it was a monster! Or a ghost, coming to take me away.”

“Where have you seen one of those before? Have you heard about them on the news?”

“Well… no. Just stories from the other kids, but I never saw ‘em.” Our little one considered other possibilities. “Maybe it was an animal?”

That was much more plausible than a supernatural being. He’s on the right track. I chimed in on this investigation. “Honey, we are in safe place here, right?” My little detective agreed. “Why don’t we check to see what it was?” Nervous, he slid out of the covers and padded over to the closet door. It was a sliding door, and inside we keep his clothes up top and a small table with art supplies at the floor. There was a cup of crayons that must have been seated too far on the edge of the table, and the gravity finally got to them. There was a rainbow of wax sticks, sprawled on the floor, leaving light marks on the white door. As assumed, our brilliant mini-man came to this conclusion, all on his own. He would pave the way for his sister.

We have two, and they’re essentially already brilliant.

On a different occasion, he asked, “Why do I have these bumps on my arm sometimes?” We led him to deduct the situation around the occurrences. “Well, I am usually sitting still and I am cold. But why does my body do that?” Since we can’t read our DNA instructions within our home, we resorted to research. He cannot yet perform an intricate Google search, so we’ll be his typing fingers. We discover, in this instance of cooling temperatures, that our bodies are raising goose bumps in order to create insulation—it is working to make us warmer. Happy with his answer, he went on his way. Such a good child.

We have two, and they’re on their way to being great.

Other times, such extensive questioning just isn’t a viable option. Some sunny day, my husband and I tarried along our children to the local park. I was cradling my youngest, when our boy walked to us, fiddling with his fingers.

“There is this woman watching me a lot, and I don’t know why.”

We surveyed the park around us, but did not see any woman staring at him. Maybe it was another parent that didn’t trust other children around theirs, and thus watched our boy frolic around her babe. It was a full grounds on this beautiful day, but it was obvious that our boy was unnerved. We asked him if he felt safe enough to investigate. He said no. Proud of his deduction, we let him know that we were glad that he could recognize when he felt uncomfortable and to come to us for support. We left the park, explaining to him that sometimes you cannot investigate if it is not safe, but gave him our deductions to try to ease his mind. He wasn’t happy with this answer, so we advised him about some scientists. They don’t always have all of the information that they need, so they can’t finish their research. Every so often, one just has to move onto the next excursion without a real answer.

We have two, and they’re going be revolutionary.

My daughter had a fever the other night. I cradled her as she sweat. My son asked why his dearest sister wasn’t feeling too well. I told him we weren’t sure, but the doctor said that it would pass. He was visibly upset. As an older brother, it pained him to see his sister in any sort of discomfort. I placed her in her crib, with a fan on, and left her brother there to stroke her budding hair across her forehead. “I just want to know why your head hurts, little sister, and I want to make it better.”

We have two, and they are loving creatures.

I tried to distract myself with television, as my husband was away on a business trip, but I managed to zone out into a nap. Later, I awoke and left the room to check on my daughter and to see what my son was getting into. On my way, I noticed his father’s toolbox was open and on the floor. Meticulous of a man he was, it was odd to see the box open and a couple of implements missing. I became irritated at my husband, as I know that I did not leave this array here.

I went into the youngest one’s nursery. There, her brother had investigated as to why his sweet little sister had such a fever. He was in the crib with her. He had the screwdrivers. It was a mess.

He is the reason that I have one.

“Mom, I’m trying to look and see why Sister’s head hurts. I still haven’t found any boo-boos in her.”

It is okay. I am a good parent. I remedied the situation.

Because, now, I have none.

630-296-7536

By Chef Boothworld

I’m sure that all of you are used to the cry for help type stories by now. Help me, help me, blah-blah-blah. I won’t bore you with another. Even if I wanted your help, you couldn’t give it to me, because your help is useless.

Why?

Because you’re not a member.

I just wish that I wasn’t either.

It all started innocently enough. With a phone call.

I’d been up for a few hours, unpacking and cleaning, waiting for the plumber to call. I just moved into a cabin and the contractors fucked everything up. Because of that, I now have the wonderful task of making calls to competent people that can fix what the original contractors did wrong.

The phone rang at 12:06.

Not bad, I thought. Usually plumbers don’t bother to call or show up until 5.

When I picked up the phone I didn’t even get a chance to say hello before a woman on the line told me to “Please hold for the next available operator.”

I hopped up and sat on the cabinet in the kitchen. It was one of the few places in the cabin not occupied with boxes. Elevator music leaked into my ear. I’d started to drowse off when the music stopped and a piano chord that sounded like it was three notes that didn’t quite go together played through the receiver twice.

A voice came on the line.

“Welcome to Boothworld Industries. My name is Samantha and I will be your operator today. Name?”

I didn’t know what to say so I told the operator my name.

“Sir, we know who you are. I’m your operator. Please give me a name to access.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“It can be anyone, sir. We just need a name.”

“Uh, okay,” I said. I made up a name. “Harold Withers.”

“Sir, as your operator, I must point out that fictitious names, or the names of people that you don’t know, cannot be used.”

“Used for what?” I asked. How had she known that I’d made up that name? The whole thing felt like it was some sort of prank, but hardly anyone knew my new phone number.

“Remodeling.”

“Remodeling? Is this the plumber?” I asked.

“Welcome to Boothworld Industries. My name is Samantha and I will be your operator today. Name?”

I took that as a yes and gave them the name of an old ex-girlfriend. “Jessica Goodwin.”

I could hear the clicking of a keyboard on the other end of the phone. It sounded like the woman was pounding the thing with her fists. After a few moments of this, she returned.

“Jessica Goodwin,” she said. “Remodeling is scheduled for August 21, 2015. Would you like to reschedule?”

I was silent on my side of the phone. I couldn’t believe this. Someone had to be playing a prank on me.

“Who is this? Is this you, Jessica? Are you playing a prank on me?” I asked.

The woman didn’t respond for a long time. I thought that whoever was on the other end of the phone was holding in a laugh.

“Hello?” I asked.

“Yes or no, Sir?” The woman asked back.

“Yes?” I said, not understanding what the woman was asking.

“I have a Tuesday appointment available. Will that work?”

At this point I thought I was going insane and that it actually was the plumbing company.

“What about today?” I asked. “Do you have anything available for today?”

“Normally we can’t arrange for a reschedule on such short notice, but today we had a cancellation. How does three o’clock work for you?”

“Three o’clock is fine,” I said.

“Three o’clock it is then. Would you like a courtesy call?”

“Sure.”

“Wonderful. We at Boothworld Industries say thanks and welcome to the club. You have a marvelous day.”

That strange chord played twice again and the line went dead. I rolled my eyes and went back to unpacking.

My phone rang at three o’clock on the dot that afternoon.

“Hello?” I said.

“Sir. This is Samantha with Boothworld Industries again. Your courtesy call begins now.”

“What do you-” I began to say, but was cut off by those diminished chords blaring into my ear, then I heard Jessica’s voice.

“Why are you doing this?” Jessica asked. I could hear the tears in her voice.

“Jessica?” I asked.

“Sir,” the operator said. “She cannot hear you. This is a courtesy call. The appointment has already concluded.”

“Please,” Jessica begged. “Please don’t do this. I’ll do anything you want. I’ll-”

Jessica’s voice choked off into a wheeze and all I could hear on the other end of the phone was the rustling of clothing and more wheezing. Eventually it stopped and someone picked up on the other end.

“The scheduled work has been completed,” a man’s voice said. “We at Boothworld Industries say thanks and welcome to the club. You have a marvelous day.”

“Sir?” The operator came back on the line. “Was that to your satisfaction?”

I sat there for a long time, cold sweat dripping down my rib cage. Jessica was my ex, because I walked in on her and my best friend fucking at a party in high school.

I smiled and whispered, “That was perfect.”

“Wonderful,” the operator said. “We at Boothworld Industries aim to serve. Would you like to make another appointment?”

As I stared at the water leaking from the door of the dishwasher, I smiled even bigger.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes I would.”

“Name?”

“Dan. I don’t have a last name. He’s a contractor.”

“Dan Arencibia. July 13, 2032. Would you like to reschedule?”

“Yes,” I said.

“How would Wednesday work for you?”

“Didn’t you say you had a Tuesday appointment available?” I asked.

“I did, but unfortunately that slot has been filled by another member. Would Wednesday work for you?”

“No,” I said. “I have a job interview that day. What about Thursday?”

“Unfortunately Thursday will not work. You are due for remodeling Wednesday night.”

“What?” I asked.

She repeated the exact same thing to me again.

“Can we reschedule my remodeling?” I asked.

“Of course we can, sir,” the woman said. It sounded like she was smiling on the other end of the phone. “There’s always a way.”

I waited for her to tell me how. She didn’t speak.

“HOW?” I asked.

“Boothworld Industries is always looking to add new members. We are, of course, a membership by invitation only club. Sadly, our membership numbers have fallen in recent years. Economic recessions. Wars. Politics. What we would like you to do, in order to avoid your own remodeling appointment, is help us add several new members.”

The light at the end of the tunnel, I thought.

“How many members do you need?” I asked.

“One thousand.”

I choked. “One thousand?”

“Yes, sir. Otherwise we’ll have to keep our scheduled appointment. We must inform you that the member that scheduled this appointment did request a courtesy call.”

Everything stopped at that point for me. All my life I’d just skated by, not doing anything, not making a difference.

My mouth actually dried up. I’d always thought that was just a thing people wrote in books to be dramatic.

It’s not.

“I’ll get you your one thousand members,” I whispered.

“We at Boothworld Industries say thanks and welcome to the club. You have a marvelous day.”

The connection ended.

I hung up the phone and stared at it for a long time. I’m scheduled for remodeling on Wednesday, and somewhere, someone will be getting a courtesy call to listen to my last few breaths if I don’t get one thousand members to join Boothworld Industries.

It’s funny. I’d always wanted to join an elite club. Skull and Bones. New World Order. I’m not sure how I got in, but now I’m a member. I’ve got until Wednesday to enjoy it.

Like I said at the beginning: even if I wanted your help, you couldn’t give it to me, because you’re not a member.

Membership is by invitation only.

I’m inviting you in.

You can help me.

Just call 630-296-7536.

1963: Nightmares

By Chef Ankilon

//Changed title. I almost passed over this story, titled “THEN IT HAPPENED,” originally because I assumed it was a “THEN A SKELETON POPPED OUT” sort. I also cut out the intro, which was irrelevant to the story, and much of the information is rehashed in the story anyway.

//Source.

1963 June 27,

I had a nightmare last night. It was horrible. It was of my best friend, Elizabeth, getting brutally murdered. I couldn’t see the killer, but I did see a bloody gloved hand holding a piece of a glass shard repetitively stabbing her. It was horrible. There was blood everywhere, and Elizabeth’s screams still echoes in my ears.

When I went to school this morning, Elizabeth was not there. The teachers said that she called in sick that morning. A part of me is relieved, but a snippet of me is thinking back to the dream…

1963 June, 28,

Elizabeth didn’t come to school again. I didn’t have any dreams last night but I am very worried. I’m going to sleep now. It’s too much to think about.

1963 June 29,

Elizabeth still hasn’t turned up. I decided that I couldn’t hold it any longer. As soon as school finished, I ran to Elizabeth’s house to check up on her. The information I received when I arrived… was traumatising. According to Elizabeth’s mother, Elizabeth was mugged and murdered on the streets a couple of days ago. The murderer hasn’t been found but the weapon used was identified to be a shard of glass. I feel sick…

1963 July 4,

I haven’t been writing recently. I am still mourning for Elizabeth. Last night I had another nightmare. This time, it was my brother, Will. I don’t remember the details, but it was clear that Will was choking on something. A toy car. His favourite. I’m scared about his wellbeing.

1963 July 5,

Well I guess I was just being paranoid. Nothing any special happened today. My brother was fine. The Elizabeth incident was probably just a coincidence. I vaguely remember having a dream about my brother, but I don’t remember the details.

1963 July 6,

I WAS WRONG. Today I awoke to the horrifying sound of my mother sobbing. Felling drowsy I slowly ambled toward my mother’s figure. I was so taken aback by the sight that my legs gave away. It lay before me, my baby brother, Will, lying there with panic in his lifeless eyes. A wheel of a toy car was slightly visible through his mouth.

I cried a lot that night. Yes. I was distraught. But what gripped me more was the terror. My dreams were scaring me. I don’t know what to do.

1963 July 14,

Over a week passed without any major drama. I haven’t been getting any dreams and boy am I glad. Hopefully it stays this way forever.

1963 July 15,

NO! I had another dream last night. No. No. No. This cannot be happening again. This time it was about my mother. I don’t even know why I am writing this down. Although there are holes in my memory, the main element is clear. My mum has died. She seemed to have fallen down our staircase. I’m afraid to wake up…

1963 July 16,

I wake up to silence. It is eerie. And I know what’s going to come up. Holding back tears, I walked to the staircase. One step. Two steps. And it’s there. The unmoving figure of my mother at the base of the staircase. I do not want to go any further. I called the police, and in mere minutes they came. They asked me questions, but all was a blur. I don’t know what to do.

1963 July 17,

I’ve decided. I cannot hold it in any longer. I decided to visit a sleep therapist. I have to know what is wrong with me. Today was my first visit. They ran some tests on me. They say the results would come in tomorrow. Hopefully they figure out what is wrong with me.

1963 July 18,

The results came in…

I have sleepwalking problems.

I Worked Night Security in 2013, Please Help

By Chef SacredMythos

I’m scared, guys. I really am.

In the summer of 2013, I had what I considered to be the best job of my life. I was the Night Security Watchman, meaning I was the guy who watched the monitors for ten hours a night and got paid ridiculous amounts of money to do so.

Let me get one thing clear: I was a college student who was trying to get by. I had a decent scholarship to a decent state-level university, and I was avidly pursing my degree in Pediatric Healthcare. So, as you can guess, when summer came and classes stopped, I needed to occupy my time and try to save enough cash to supplement me over the break. Thankfully, I had a good friend (Let’s call him Will) who had been working around the town for a long while. He hooked me up with an interview with the company, and I was hired on the spot.

I was assigned as overnight security for a parking garage used by one of the local banks, as some of the higher-ups had a habit of staying overnight for their corporate whatever, and were worried about a string of recent break ins. I really didn’t care about the criteria. I was just happy because I got to spend ten hours (albeit bored) watching the office TV, playing Pokemon, and generally dicking around with whoever was on watch with me. Pranks were frequent.

A fake “severed hand” in front of a camera, one of them popping out with a yell, or anything of that stupid nature were common. After awhile, I grew desensitized to it. A short while after that, I often shut off the audio feeds altogether. Besides the random homeless guy wandering in or the teenagers trying to find a secluded place to drink, get stoned, or have sex, it was completely and utterly uneventful. Often times the other guards would just pass out in the office out of sheer boredom.

August 11th was a night like that. It was about 2AM, and I was halfway through my shift. The hours drug on, and in a last-ditch effort to stay awake, the roving guards (there was two at all times, and tonight, Will was one of them) decided to go to the roof to get some fresh air. Meanwhile, I was glued to my laptop, browsing reddit and drinking as much coffee as my body could handle. It was a completely and utterly average night.

Around 2:30, a car pulled into the lot. This was unusual, but not much of a concern. I watched it for a few moments, became uninterested, and went back to the laptop. Ten minutes later, the car was still there and its driver had yet to show themselves. It made me slightly uneasy, but I had just figured that there was a late night bottle of scotch between the executives and one had called for their spouse to pick them up instead of risk the DUI.

It stayed this was for 40 minutes. Then finally, at 3:30, the car door swung open, and the driver stepped out. He was thin, almost skeletal, wearing a tight shirt and slacks. His eyes were sunken and he was wearing a black skull-cap, and he had a half-burned cigarette in his hand. Naturally, he gave me the creeps. He wasn’t maintenance or a watchman, but he did seem familiar.

After a few moments, he put the cigarette out, and began walking towards the stairwell. There were no cameras in the stairwell, so i decided to notify the rovers.

“Tom, we have an intruder moving towards Stairwell F. Be advised, he seems pretty sketchy.” I droned over the radio.

A loud sigh blared over the radio, then his response: “Roger that. We’re on our way.”

They were armed with tasers and the like, so I wasn’t worried. Still, I decided to activate the audio for the floor, hoping to at least get a sense of where he was going. I expected to hear the sound of his shoes against the metal stairwell, but instead, I was met with a peculiar dragging noise, one which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

After a few moments of this, he appeared again, now toting a large, black sack. It looked heavy, but he was dragging it single-handedly with ease. He stopped upon reaching his car, and began looking around for something. Curious, I decided to update Will.

It was now that I realized just how nervous this was making me. My hands were visibly shaking and my voice cracked over the radio. All I could manage was “Will, please hurry.” Before the receiver slipped out of my hand. I took my eyes off of the monitor for half a moment.

When i looked up, I literally jumped out of my chair in shock. He was staring directly at the camera, but it seemed like it was going beyond. It felt like he was staring me in the eyes. The bags under his eyes added to the look of absolute malcontent and made him look like some cheesy action movie villain. It was completely silent, he wasn’t even breathing. He didn’t move. He didn’t flinch. I was losing my mind looking at him. If this was some kind of shitty prank I was NOT up for it.

I reached for the radio one more time, but somehow it seemed like he knew. He ran at the camera, with a look that I can only describe as sheer darkness on his face. I screamed aloud, and the camera went dead. In the audio, I heard footsteps. Doors Slammed, then after a few moments, yelling, an engine firing, and then a restless silence.

I sat there for a few moments, breathing heavily. What the hell did I just see? Suddenly, the radio came alive. It was Will.

“CALL THE POLICE. TELL THEM TO SEND AN AMBULANCE.” Will’s voice screamed, as groans sounded eerily in the background.

All in all, it took about five minutes for the authorities to arrive. As it turns out, Will’s roving partner had given chase to the man, but had stumbled near his car. Upon the man’s escape, he had backed out over the guard’s leg. Luckily, he avoided any fatal damage, but they still rushed him to the hospital.

For the remainder of my shift, Will and I were questioned. The police took the video tapes and audio logs, and the bag was searched. I wasn’t allowed to view the contents, but the officer’s pale faces and somber tones were enough. They told me it was a man, dressed in a suit, mid forties. He had been strangled, beaten, and had most of the fingers on his left hand removed. Apparently it was one of the employees. Nobody used that stairwell on a regular basis, so the rovers usually avoided it. After a short while, they realized we were as clueless as they were, and we were released.

Two days later, I resigned. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Every time I looked at the monitors I saw his sunken, half skeletal face in the corner. A shadow. Something. It stressed me out.

I don’t tell most people about this story. It just didn’t seem relevant and I just didn’t care to share it. Three days ago, I got a call from the detective’s office. They had apparently found the man after a year on the lam. Will didn’t manage to catch a look at him, and the guard who was injured couldn’t remember much of what happened before the accident, so they wanted me to identify him.

The video evidence had been enough to arrest him, but due to the shitty playback quality, they needed an eyewitness to make sure they had the right man. They told me that they would need to wait for statements, alibi investigations, and booking to occur before they wanted me for the process, but told me they would be in touch. They wished me a good day and hung up.

To most people, this would bring a long, scary story to a satisfying end. But not for me.

Last night, I got a manila envelope in the mail. No return address. I shouldn’t have opened it, but curiosity got the better of me.

What was included made my heart stop, and immediately created a cold sweat that still hasn’t stopped.

Inside were three putrid, grey, decomposing fingers, and a single post it note reading “Don’t you dare.”

What the Hell is That Song

By Chef WriterJosh/Josh Parker

//Source.

Every now and then, I get a snatch of a song running through my head. When that happens, it can drive me nuts, and it’s a devil of a time trying to get another song in there to replace it. It’s gotta be another song, though. I can’t ever just have a head full of peace and quiet. Sometimes the song I try to listen to and replace the persistent one will instead mix with it, creating this weird cacophonic mash-up in my skull that makes me want to stab somebody.

In the last several weeks, there’s one song that’s been pretty persistent, and the craziest part is that I have no idea who the artist is, what the song’s name is, or even the words. All I can remember of it is a single refrain that repeats the same line three times. The first time is clearly the main melody, the second is a counterpoint, and the third is the continuation of the main melody. It’s a strangely pleasant song, sounding like something Del Amitri would come up with, but I’ve listened to their entire repertoire, and nothing matches.

Whenever I have heard it in the past, it’s always been in a crowded mall or restaurant, and I can barely make out even the tune over the noise of other people. The only part I recognize is the part that repeats in my head, and so my brain picks it up above the noise, only to tune out again once that part is over.

As best I can make out, the line is “When I turn it out”. I have no idea what that means, but that’s as close to what I hear as any lyrics.

When I tuuuuuurn it ouuuuuuut…
When I turn-it-ou–ou-ou-ouuut…
When I tuuuuuurn it OUUUUUT…

On that last line, the singer soars up into falsetto. He has a light tenor voice as it is. Like I said, not at all unpleasant to hear. I have just kept wishing of late that I knew more of the song, or even what those lyrics were saying.

Like a time a few weeks ago that I overheard it somewhere in the background at work.

I work in a cubicle farm. What I do there is not important. I don’t mean I don’t want to tell you; I mean it just isn’t important. At all. If I were to come in to work and all my co-workers had been brutally murdered, I doubt anyone would notice.

We spend a majority of our day filling out pointless reports. Remember the movie Office Space? That’s my life, in a nutshell. The worst part is, it takes up most of my life, is pure drudgery the entire time, and leaves me too exhausted to do much else when I get home. Doing boring, repetitive work is probably the most tiring kind of job one can do. Even a rigorous physical job still leaves one feeling like they’ve accomplished something. My job is a soul-sucking nightmare.

But, regardless, sometimes someone turns a radio on to break the monotony. It rarely works, but this one time, I swear I heard that song again. I was sitting at my desk, realizing how much overtime I was going to have to put in so I could actually finish all my reports for that day, when I heard that song again. But this time the words sounded different to my ears.

You’re not geeeeeetting ouuuuuuut…
You’re not get-ting-ou–ou-ou-ouuut…
You’re not geeeeeetting OUUUUUT…

Heh. Fitting. I was likely going to spend the whole evening looking at this pallid office interior. Not getting out indeed.

I had a date that weekend. I don’t date much anymore. In fact, my social life in general kinda sucks. But this girl was cute, even if she was abominably stupid. I kept listening to her natter away at me all evening, pretending to be interested, but only because this girl was sending me signals that if I paid enough attention to her, she might pay special attention to me at the end of the night, if you catch my drift. Some of you might be judging me for that, but you just don’t get it. I get little to no excitement in my life. I have few friends and almost no time for romance. I gotta take what I can get. Most nights, if I want any action, I get it with RedTube and my only steady girlfriend, Palm-ela Hand-erson. Unless I was missing my signals, this girl was probably as hard-up as I was, and just as casual about who she used for service.

But about half-way through the date, that song came on over the PA system. It was quiet. Almost too quiet. But I heard it, and I thought the lyrics sounded different yet again.

She’s not puuuuuutting ouuuuuuut…
She’s not put-ting-ou–ou-ou-ouuut…
She’s not puuuuuutting OUUUUUT…

I ignored the song, figuring my own subconscious was playing a trick on me. But it wasn’t. The song was completely right. At the end of the date she didn’t even want a ride home, and didn’t even kiss me. That was a wasted $70. And what the hell was that song? I wondered more about that on the way home than anything else.

Two weeks ago my boss, Albert, took special care to come by my desk and make an example of me. Turns out form I submitted had some incorrect information on it. I doubt it was really the end of the world, but that’s the kind of thing Albert is there for, to catch me in an error and humiliate me. He seems to be the only one there who loves his job.

There are certain types of bosses in the world, and the one I hate the worst is the one that’s invisible unless you screw up. In fact, I once had a problem that I wanted to send up the ladder because I felt like it was beyond my pay grade. I couldn’t find Albert anywhere. He was never at his desk, never wandering around my area. Always I was told he was “in a meeting” or “on a break”. That same day, I was so preoccupied by the one problem that I ended up misplacing a decimal on a report I was working on. I heard from Albert in less than fifteen minutes. I later counted how long it was until the next time I saw him. It was nearly three days, and exactly twelve minutes after making another “mistake”, this one on purpose just to see how quickly I could bring him out of hiding.

The explosion I got from Albert two weeks ago wasn’t even my fault. It was his. The information that was “wrong” was information he had added, thinking he was correcting me, then sent on. Turns out that I had put the right information on the form. So he screamed at me for twenty minutes, making sure everyone knew how badly I had “screwed up”. Covering his ass.

I walked past his car on my way out to get a smoke. I needed a smoke break like, yesterday.

I’m not sure where I heard it. There wasn’t a radio in the parkade, nor was there any sort of PA system. Maybe it just ran through my head, but I heard that damned song again. And yes, again the words were different.

Why not buuuuuurn it dowwwwwwwn…
Why not burn-it-dow–ow-ow-owwwn…
Why not buuuuuurn it DOWWWWWWN…

And I stood there by his car, hearing that song in my head, and I had an evil thought. Whynot burn it down? The bastard didn’t deserve a car this nice. I did more work than he did, got paid less and drove an old beater.

I knew there wasn’t a working security system in the parkade. The building was old, maintenance was behind, and I once had my car keyed, only to be told by our lone night security guard that I was up a creek because unless he catches the vandal in the act, he can’t do anything.

I paused by his car for a moment, and then walked over and opened the gas tank. I took a long drag off my smoke, and dropped it in. I hurriedly replaced the cap and jogged for the door.

In movies, cars that have their gas tanks hit with a bullet or lit on fire explode immediately. In real life, it takes a bit more time. I heard the tank itself ignite, but the fire was contained within the vehicle for nearly six minutes after I hit the stairs. I heard the detonation from there.

My heart was hammering. I couldn’t believe what I’d done. I went into self-preservation mode, high-tailing it up the stairs and hiding in a janitor’s closet. I waited there for twenty minutes and then walked back in calmly, pretending I had gone up the block for lunch.

I sat at my cubicle and ignored everyone for the rest of the day. I tried not to hear Albert as he burst into the office in a panic. I ignored my own pounding pulse. As the fire department cleared the building, I walked calmly along, facing the ground. They had the fire contained within a half hour, and I moseyed back in, just as calmly.

I had never done anything like this in my life, but I couldn’t ruin it by giving myself away. I sat back down, quietly, trying not to sweat, trying to keep my breath even, until the end of day. Then I went down, along with everyone else, to the parkade.

The fire from Albert’s car had damaged three other vehicles. Two were undrivable. Mine wasn’t one of them. I was able to retrieve it and I drove out of the parkade in complete silence, staring blankly ahead.

About three blocks later, I got the giggles. They started small, but eventually, I was laughing like a junkie pumped full of sugar. I had always been a law-abiding citizen, and I lived a life of misery. But now, I had committed a full-on criminal act and damn it, but it felt good! And Albert, well, how deserving was he, the bastard!

And there, maybe coming from another car, was the song.

Well we buuuuuurned him baaaaaaaaad…
Well we burned-him-ba–a-aaaad…
Well we buuuuuurned him BAAAAAAAAD…

We had, indeed, whoever “we” were. It was a wonderful feeling. A feeling of freedom! I felt on top of the world, like I could do anything.

And I felt that freedom until three days later, when Albert cornered me in the elevator. He was spitting mad.

“I know it was you,” he sputtered. He could barely contain his fury in that flabby little five-foot-six frame. His bald head was glistening with anger-sweat.

I was cool. “What was me?”

“You blew up my car, you bastard,” he said. He edged closer, like he was going to take care of me right there.

“That’s crazy,” I said. “I wasn’t even in the building.”

“You were. No one saw you leave. No one saw you come back. I asked around. There’s only one place you could have been. The parkade. Everybody else was accounted for. Everybody but you.”

Maybe it was the elevator playing it, or maybe it was my own imagination. But I heard the song again. With the lyrics changed. Again.

Gotta taaaaaake him ouuuuuuuuut…
Gotta take-him-ou-ou-ouuut…
Gotta taaaaaake him OUUUUUT…

I suppose it might have been saying “take him down”, for that matter. It was so faint. I never have heard it clearly. But I knew the song was right. Albert had to go down. And I was the man to do it.

I didn’t ever own up to torching his car, but I stopped denying it. I knew he couldn’t prove it, so instead of denials I began taunting him. Gently, but enough to show him how aware I was of just how little he could do to me. I even began ignoring his constant finding of “mistakes” I had made, which weren’t even mine.

And then four days ago, I met him in the elevator again. He had taken to turning his back to me, spurning me. That was his mistake. I lifted the straight-razor I had brought from home and sliced his carotid.

Blood was just everywhere. I mean, everywhere. The door opened on the parkade, and I just about fell on my ass from all the slickness. I dragged Albert to my car and put him in the trunk. The entire time, from somewhere, came that same song, the lyrics changed yet again.

Gotta buuuuuu-ry Aaaaaaal…
Gotta bur-y-A–a-aaaaal…
Gotta buuuuuu-ry AAAAAAAL…

I did bury him. In a shallow grave twenty feet from the highway in a field. I don’t know if they found his body, but I know one thing. I forgot that the cameras in the elevator worked just fine.

I still don’t know what song that is, though. I think about it sometimes. Wonder if I ever really have heard it right. Wonder, in fact, if I’ve ever actually heard it at all. I don’t know the answer to that, and I’m not so sure it matters anymore.

But it does play inside my cell, sometimes. A familiar version of the words, playing softly, usually when I’m trying to sleep. Almost sounds like it’s gloating.

You’re not geeeeeetting ouuuuuuut…
You’re not get-ting-ou–ou-ou-ouuut…
You’re not geeeeeetting OUUUUUT…

I Used to Hack Baby Monitors

   By Chef Manen_Lyset

     //Original title “I Used to Hack Baby Monitors. One Night, I Learned my Lesson.”//

When I was in high school, my friends and I had a peculiar pastime. Like any teenage delinquent, we liked to cause trouble. We weren’t vandals, we didn’t deal drugs, and we certainly didn’t bully kids in school. No, we liked to scare the living shit out of new parents by “hacking” their baby monitors. We were insufferable little punks who thought we were too good to get caught, and that our little acts of mischief would go unpunished. One night; however, I learned my lesson, and realized that I wasn’t quite as bulletproof as my tremendous adolescent ego made me out to be.

Dimitri, Kurt, and I went to the same school, shared many of the same classes, and hung out almost every evening after chow time. We watched prank shows, played video games, talked about who had the nicest rack in school. One evening, we were trading scary stories at the park. Kurt shared the classic story about the single mother who heard a haunting voice on her baby monitor. Like most horror stories, it sounded like total bullshit, but Dimitri told us it had happened to his mom once. On her own monitor, she’d heard a neighbour singing to her baby. Apparently, it was possible to accidentally tap into someone else’s frequency. In an instant, a lightbulb turned on in each of our heads. When you’re close enough to someone, you don’t need words to know what that person is thinking, and we could all tell we were thinking the exact same thing: we were going to buy a baby monitor and screw with people.

Pardon the pun, but hacking a baby monitor is child’s play. All you need to do is find a device on the same frequency as yours. Never one to do things half-assed, I purchased a high-end monitor with a frequency dial so we could prank as many targets as possible. The following night, we took to our bikes, roamed the neighbourhood, and found our first victim. We could see the nursery from the suburban home’s second floor window. Dimitri grabbed the baby monitor and began tuning it to different frequencies, until we heard breathing. I remember feeling excited as our plan finally came to fruition. Dimitri pressed the button, and began exhaling heavily into the receiver.

“Your…little girl…was…delicious…”, he murmured, using a demonic voice.

The light in the master bedroom turned on almost immediately, and we heard a shrill scream. Laughing our asses off, we quickly rode off down the street so we wouldn’t get caught.

We repeated the prank several times over the course of the following weeks, each taking turns talking through the monitor. Not wanting anyone to get wise to our little game, we chose different houses every time. People’s reactions were priceless: some mothers would reply in a panic, others seemed to know it was a hoax and told us to shut up, and one poor woman even started sobbing uncontrollably, begging us not to hurt her baby. I feel bad about that last one now that I’m older, but it was hilarious to me back then. My friends and I mimicked her high-pitch bawling and desperate cries for mercy for weeks afterwards. Yeah, we were royal dicks.

Karma’s a bitch, and I got what was coming to me one night. Kurt and Dimitri were busy studying for their midterms, so I went out on my own. By then, we’d gotten pretty much everyone in the surrounding area, so I decided to venture off across town and into unfamiliar territory. Finding a target wasn’t difficult: you just had to look for cars with baby seats, houses with overly-colorful cartoon-themed curtains, or toys left in the yard. I came across a house that fit all three criteria, and parked my bike out of view. Playing with the tuner, I eventually found the right frequency. I could hear the sound of a baby snoring very lightly. A devious little smirk pushed its way onto my lips, and my heart began pounding with excitement. It was my time to shine.

“I…am…watching…”, I whispered into the monitor, using the creepiest voice I could muster.

The house remained dark and lifeless. I figured the home owners hadn’t heard me.

“…I…stand…over your bed…watching…waiting…I will get you…”, I said, louder this time.

Nothing. Just the sounds of crickets chirping, and the occasional dull roar of a car driving down the street. It was a little odd. Parents usually reacted much quicker than that. I began feeling a little nervous, and somewhat exposed. You know, like when you suddenly realize some creeper’s gawking at you? It was getting late, and I had a long bike ride home. Just as I was about to give up and leave, I heard a strange, moist gurgling sound coming from the monitor. The quiet, rhythmic snores ceased, and I assumed the baby had woken up and was about to start crying. Instead, a man spoke to me.

“You’re the one…being…watched now…Juan.”, he said softly.

My stomach pirouetted at his words. How did he know my name?! I felt sick. Something was very wrong, and I could feel it in my bones. I glanced up at the nursery window, and saw a silhouette standing there watching me. Had he been there the whole time? The air was thick and difficult to inhale, though perhaps fear was making it hard to breathe. My body quivered uncontrollably, as a sense of dread poured into every inch of me. I climbed on my bike, pedalling desperately to get away. Part of me thought I was overreacting, but the overwhelming need to flee overpowered my rational mind.

“You…can’t run…I know…where you live, Juan…”, continued the man, even as I turned the corner.

I flew down the street, not stopping until I reached a busy boulevard. Surrounded by cars and a few late night joggers, I felt safe.

“…Your hoodie will run red with your blood, boy…”, whispered the man, still talking through the baby monitor in my pocket.

A passerby gave me a nasty look as I yelped loudly in fear, practically ripping my hoodie in my frantic attempt at removing it. To the stranger, I must have looked like some snotty kid tripping balls or something. He didn’t know I was in genuine distress, so I don’t blame him for walking off with an insulted huff, though I wish he had offered to help me instead.

After stuffing the hoodie into my backpack, I noticed my name scrawled on the back. It was my fucking school jacket: no wonder that bastard knew my name. It then occurred to me that baby monitors were fairly short-ranged, so I was obviously being followed. I nervously glanced around to try to identify my stalker. Was it the empty-looking van down the street? That guy walking his dog? The car that had just driven by? Either way, the last thing I wanted was to hear that voice again, so I turned off the device, and started pedalling towards my home. Fear had heightened my senses, and I began notice every motion of the trees in the breeze, every crackle of twigs under my wheels, and every car that zipped past me. I flinched whenever anyone came near, paranoid that whoever had spoken to me through the baby monitor was going to catch up. Fortunately, I made it home without incident.

I parked the bike in my garage and crawled up the stairs to my bedroom. In one careless motion, I tossed my backpack and the baby monitor in the corner of my room, and dove under my sheets like an Olympic swimmer. It doesn’t matter how old you are: nothing feels safer than being under your blanket. I closed my eyes, hoping I’d be able to calm down enough to catch a few hours of rest before class, but then I heard static coming from the monitor across the room. The monitor that was supposed to be off.

“Sweet dreams, Juan.”, said the voice that still haunts my nightmares.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I was too frightened to get out of bed until sunrise. When I got up, my first order of business was to remove the battery from the monitor and throw it in the trash. I didn’t want anything to do with it any more. I came up with an excuse to give my buddies so they wouldn’t think I was a huge pussy. With massive bags under my eyes, I got dressed, had breakfast, and went to school.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I saw the house on the news. In an interview, a police officer explained that the small family who had been living in the house had been found in their beds, necks slit open. I had been outside when it happened: the killer had heard me on the baby monitor and decided to fuck with me. It was definitely a wake-up call, and I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t gotten the shit murdered out of me. I was too busy feeling thankful that I survived to feel bad about the family that hadn’t. Empathy, like wisdom, comes with age.

Now that I’m an adult with a wife and daughter, I truly understand the consequences of my actions, and the severity of the situation I put myself in as a tremendously stupid teenage boy. That dreadful night, I thought I reached the epitome of fear, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. As a father, I now know that fear thrives and multiplies when there’s something more precious than your own life at stake. I can’t say for sure whether the killer found me again after all these years, or whether a new breed of idiots had the same idea as my friends and I, but I can tell you that I now understand what true terror is. Last night, I heard something on our baby monitor that sent chills into my very soul, shackling me with a paralyzing fear that I doubt will ever leave me:

“I’m…still…watching…”

Tulpa

By Chef Anon

Last year I spent six months participating in what I was told was a psychological experiment. I found an ad in my local paper looking for imaginative people looking to make good money, and since it was the only ad that week that I was remotely qualified for, I gave them a call and we arranged an interview.
They told me that all I would have to do is stay in a room, alone, with sensors attached to my head to read my brain activity, and while I was there I would visualize a double of myself. They called it my “tulpa”.

It seemed easy enough, and I agreed to do it as soon as they told me how much I would be paid. And the next day, I began. They brought me to a simple room and gave me a bed, then attached sensors to my head and hooked them into a little black box on the table beside me. They talked me through the process of visualizing my double again, and explained that if I got bored or restless, instead of moving around, I should visualize my double moving around, or try to interact with him, and so on. The idea was to keep him with me the entire time I was in the room.

I had trouble with it for the first few days. It was more controlled than any sort of daydreaming I’d done before. I’d imagine my double for a few minutes, then grow distracted. But by the fourth day, I could manage to keep him “present” for the entire six hours. They told me I was doing very well.

The second week, they gave me a different room, with wall-mounted speakers. They told me they wanted to see if I could still keep the tulpa with me in spite of distracting stimuli. The music was discordant, ugly and unsettling, and it made the process a little more difficult, but I managed nonetheless. The next week they played even more unsettling music, punctuated with shrieks, feedback loops, what sounded like an old school modem dialing up, and guttural voices speaking some foreign language. I just laughed it off – I was a pro by then.

After about a month, I started to get bored. To liven things up, I started interacting with my doppelganger. We’d have conversations, or play rock-paper-scissors, or I’d imagine him juggling, or break-dancing, or whatever caught my fancy. I asked the researchers if my foolishness would adversely affect their study, but they encouraged me.

So we played, and communicated, and that was fun for a while. And then it got a little strange. I was telling him about my first date one day, and he corrected me. I’d said my date was wearing a yellow top, and he told me it was a green one. I thought about it for a second, and realized he was right. It creeped me out, and after my shift that day, I talked to the researchers about it. “You’re using the thought-form to access your subconscious,” they explained. “You knew on some level that you were wrong, and you subconsciously corrected yourself.”

What had been creepy was suddenly cool. I was talking to my subconscious! It took some practice, but I found that I could question my tulpa and access all sorts of memories. I could make it quote whole pages of books I’d read once, years before, or things I was taught and immediately forgot in high school. It was awesome.

That was around the time I started “calling up” my double outside of the research center. Not often at first, but I was so used to imagining him by now that it almost seemed odd to not see him. So whenever I was bored, I’d visualize my double. Eventually I started doing it almost all the time. It was amusing to take him along like an invisible friend. I imagined him when I was hanging out with friends, or visiting my mom, I even brought him along on a date once. I didn’t need to speak aloud to him, so I was able to carry out conversations with him and no one was the wiser.

I know that sounds strange, but it was fun. Not only was he a walking repository of everything I knew and everything I had forgotten, he also seemed more in touch with me than I did at times. He had an uncanny grasp of the minutiae of body language that I didn’t even realize I was picking up on. For example, I’d thought the date I brought him along on was going badly, but he pointed out how she was laughing a little too hard at my jokes, and leaning towards me as I spoke, and a bunch of other subtle clues I wasn’t consciously picking up on. I listened, and let’s just say that that date went very well.

By the time I’d been at the research center for four months, he was with my constantly. The researchers approached me one day after my shift, and asked me if I’d stopped visualizing him. I denied it, and they seemed pleased. I silently asked my double if he knew what prompted that, but he just shrugged it off. So did I.

I withdrew a little from the world at that point. I was having trouble relating to people. It seemed to me that they were so confused and unsure of themselves, while I had a manifestation of myself to confer with. It made socializing awkward. Nobody else seemed aware of the reasons behind their actions, why some things made them mad and others made them laugh. They didn’t know what moved them. But I did – or at least, I could ask myself and get an answer.

A friend confronted me one evening. He pounded at the door until I answered it, and came in fuming and swearing up a storm. “You haven’t answered when I called you in fucking weeks, you dick!” He yelled. “What’s your fucking problem?”.

I was about to apologize to him, and probably would have offered to hit the bars with him that night, but my tulpa grew suddenly furious. “Hit him,” it said, and before I knew what I was doing, I had. I heard his nose break. He fell to the floor and came up swinging, and we beat each other up and down my apartment.

I was more furious then than I have ever been, and I was not merciful. I knocked him to the ground and gave him two savage kicks to the ribs, and that was when he fled, hunched over and sobbing.

The police were by a few minutes later, but I told them that he had been the instigator, and since he wasn’t around to refute me, they let me off with a warning. My tulpa was grinning the entire time. We spent the night crowing about my victory and sneering over how badly I’d beaten my friend.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when I was checking out my black eye and cut lip in the mirror, that I remembered what had set me off. My double was the one who’d grown furious, not me. I’d been feeling guilty and a little ashamed, but he’d goaded me into a vicious fight with a concerned friend. He was present, of course, and knew my thoughts. “You don’t need him anymore. You don’t need anyone else,” he told me, and I felt my skin crawl.

I explained all this to the researchers who employed me, but they just laughed it off. “You can’t be scared of something that you’re imagining,” one told me. My double stood beside him, and nodded his head, then smirked at me.

I tried to take their words to heart, but over the next few days I found myself growing more and more anxious around my tulpa, and it seemed that he was changing. He looked taller, and more menacing. His eyes twinkled with mischief, and I saw malice in his constant smile. No job was worth losing my mind over, I decided. If he was out of control, I’d put him down. I was so used to him at that point that visualizing him was an automatic process, so I started trying my damnedest to not visualize him. It took a few days, but it started to work somewhat. I could get rid of him for hours at a time. But every time he came back, he seemed worse. His skin seemed ashen, his teeth more pointed. He hissed and gibbered and threatened and swore. The discordant music I’d been listening to for months seemed to accompany him everywhere. Even when I was at home – I’d relax and slip up, no longer concentrating on not seeing him, and there he’d be, and that howling noise with him.

I was still visiting the research center and spending my six hours there. I needed the money, and I thought they weren’t aware that I was now actively not visualizing my tulpa. I was wrong. After my shift one day, about five and a half months in, two impressively men grabbed and restrained me, and someone in a lab coat jabbed a hypodermic needle into me.

I woke up from my stupor back in the room, strapped into the bed, music blaring, with my doppelganger standing over me cackling. He hardly looked human anymore. His features were twisted. His eyes were sunken in their sockets and filmed over like a corpse’s. He was much taller than me, but hunched over. His hands were twisted, and the fingernails were like talons. He was, in short, fucking terrifying. I tried to will him away, but I just couldn’t seem to concentrate. He giggled, and tapped the IV in my arm. I thrashed in my restraints as best I could, but could hardly move at all.

“They’re pumping you full of the good shit, I think. How’s the mind? All fuzzy?” He leaned closer and closer as he spoke. I gagged; his breath smelt like spoiled meat. I tried to focus, but couldn’t banish him.

The next few weeks were terrible. Every so often, someone in a doctor’s coat would come in and inject me with something, or force-feed me a pill. They kept me dizzy and unfocused, and sometimes left me hallucinating or delusional. My thoughtform was still present, constantly mocking. He interacted with, or perhaps caused, my delusions. I hallucinated that my mother was there, scolding me, and then he cut her throat and her blood showered me. It was so real that I could taste it.

The doctors never spoke to me. I begged at times, screamed, hurled invectives, demanded answers. They never spoke to me. They may have talked to my tulpa, my personal monster. I’m not sure. I was so doped and confused that it may have just been more delusion, but I remember them talking with him. I grew convinced that he was the real one, and I was the thoughtform. He encouraged that line of thought at times, mocked me at others.

Another thing that I pray was a delusion: he could touch me. More than that, he could hurt me. He’d poke and prod at me if he felt I wasn’t paying enough attention to him. Once he grabbed my testicles and squeezed until I told him I loved him. Another time, he slashed my forearm with one of his talons. I still have a scar – most days I can convince myself that I injured myself, and just hallucinated that he was responsible. Most days.

Then one day, while he was telling me a story about how he was going to gut everyone I loved, starting with my sister, he paused. A querulous look crossed his face, and reached out and touched my head. Like my mother used to when I was feverish. He stayed still for a long moment, and then smiled. “All thoughts are creative,” he told me. Then he walked out the door.

Three hours later, I was given an injection, and passed out. I awoke unrestrained. Shaking, I made my way to the door and found it unlocked. I walked out into the empty hallway, and then ran. I stumbled more than once, but I made it down the stairs and out into the lot behind the building. There, I collapsed, weeping like a child. I knew I had to keep moving, but I couldn’t manage it.

I got home eventually – I don’t remember how. I locked the door, and shoved a dresser against it, took a long shower, and slept for a day and a half. Nobody came for me in the night, and nobody came the next day, or the one after that. It was over. I’d spent a week locked in that room, but it had felt like a century. I’d withdrawn so much from my life beforehand that nobody had even known I was missing.

The police didn’t find anything. The research center was empty when they searched it. The paper trail fell apart. The names I’d given them were aliases. Even the money I’d received was apparently untraceable.

I recovered as much as one can. I don’t leave the house much, and I have panic attacks when I do. I cry a lot. I don’t sleep much, and my nightmares are terrible. It’s over, I tell myself. I survived. I use the concentration those bastards taught me to convince myself. It works, sometimes.

Not today, though. Three days ago, I got a phone call from my mother. There’s been a tragedy. My sister’s the latest victim in a spree of killings, the police say. The perpetrator mugs his victims, then guts them.

The funeral was this afternoon. It was as lovely a service as a funeral can be, I suppose. I was a little distracted, though. All I could hear was music coming from somewhere distant. Discordant, unsettling stuff, that sounds like feedback, and shrieking, and a modem dialing up. I hear it still – a little louder now.

Doppelganger

By Chef Eureka2814

I could feel him inside my head, burning, consuming, devouring. He crept through my entire body, dictating all that I did. It was like being constantly buried in sand up to your neck, unable to move your limbs without further entrenching yourself. For ten years, I felt as if I was always suffocating.

I watched him for what seemed like an eternity, living my life in my house with my wife, and each day I thought to myself that I had to get rid of this imposter, this doppelganger that seized me from within and kept me from myself. I had to be rid of the being that had snatched my very existence from my grasp.

I tried to reason with him more than once. I begged, I cried, I pleaded. I implored him to release me, but to no avail. He had no intention of relinquishing control of my body. I’m not sure he even realized that the battered man in his dreams was the person he had usurped.

Soon I resorted to a more violent attitude – I would shout at him in his sleep, attack him, trying to frighten him into giving up. If he was scared enough, I thought, he might abandon his efforts.

I had no luck for a very long time.

After a long while, though, he started to get neurotic and paranoid. At this point, he was desperate to keep his stolen body. He would talk to my wife of nightmares, of the feeling that something was haunting him or trying to possess him. He spoke as if I was the problem. It didn’t take me long to figure out that he was misdirecting her – that he was using my voice to speak lies.

I persisted in my tactics, trying to scare him. It worked by inches. Every time I saw him in the mirror, he looked more exhausted and less well-kept. The constant nightmares were taking a physical toll. I was weakening his grip.

He became so desperate, in fact, that he began googling things like “demonic possession” and “poltergeists”, looking for help. It was almost sad – there’s not a whole lot out there on how to rid yourself of the original tenant of a body.

Of course, he didn’t find anything.

But I did.

I saw the things he read, and I began to get ideas.

Slowly, as I pushed against him, I felt him beginning to slip. He started to grow disorganised, paranoid. He quit my job and locked himself in my computer room, perching before a computer monitor as he searched desperately for help.

He ruined my life before I could get it back, spending months in that office with the blinds drawn. I think he was trying to discourage me, trying to convince me that the effort wasn’t worth it. I had no more job, no more wife, no more money. But I didn’t give up – I had spent too long trying.

I was gaining ground by miles now. I acquired control of my physical faculties once more. I could wiggle my fingers or toes for moments at a time. After practice, I could speak again, and eventually I learned to walk.

He couldn’t keep me strangled.

This morning, I woke up to realize that he was gone. I had control again. I leapt to my feet and ran around the house in disbelief, tearing open the blinds and tossing things in the air, reveling in a sense of pure ecstasy. I ran a hot shower, enjoying the feeling of the water on my back. When I emerged, I took a moment to breathe the soap-scented air, amazed that I was finally free.

Still grinning, I wiped down the foggy mirror with a towel so I could shave, but stopped dead the moment the glass was clear.

“Please,” my mouth was saying, over and over. “I just want my body back.”

Touch

By Chef SilverMetal

Out of all the organs in the human body, the skin is the most sensitive. It envelops all of us, a system of tiny hairs and pores and nerves connected to nerves connected to nerves. If our bodies were the same size as the Earth, we would still be able to feel objects as small as cars. Do you realize how powerful that is? If a bug crawls up our arm, we know it. If a person touches us, we definitely know it. Even the smallest collision of our body and a separate object reminds us that it occupies space. To feel something is to know it’s there. You wouldn’t really think about it until someone tells you, you know? But then it makes sense.

When I was a child, my father would often take me hiking after school, high enough on the mountain near my house to see the city lights turn on as mango-colored twilight stained the sky. We would sit on a rock and think about how big everything was, and I decided early on that I loved the outdoors. Hearing the wind in the trees, tasting the dry mountain air – this was the world, and the only way to know it was there, was to truly feel it.

Late one afternoon, as we trekked back home in the increasingly deeper blues of the evening, my father explained to me that each person’s reality is entirely created by their perception of the world. What he saw as blue, might be what I saw as red – and there was no way of knowing, because each person could only know what he saw for himself. And in that same light, what our senses tell our brain is real, IS real, and nothing but our brain can convince itself otherwise. I was fascinated by this idea, to say the least. I realized that if I believed something was real, if I could truly see it, hear it, feel it – who was to say it wasn’t there?

As I grew older, I also found myself taking more hikes by myself. I still preferred the cool of the evening, and I still preferred the world from far away. I had usually dealt with enough of it during the day to convince myself I deserved some time alone. Sometimes it was all too easy to procrastinate my inevitable return to the real world – on one particularly dry evening, I had already found myself three miles up the mountain when the sun began to sink. I sat down on a familiar rock with a view of the city and took a swig from my canteen, as tens of tiny mountain gnats wallowed aimlessly in the sphere of my hiking stink. I swatted them away subconsciously as I took off my shoes and rubbed my socked feet in the dirt. Whatever, I could wash my socks later. Nature felt right.

As I stood up and stretched, my arm brushed against the fingers of a small tree to my side. It tickled a little, and I thought back to my childhood, when everything around me was mine to discover by touch. Things were so easy then. I smiled, and reached out to touch the tree again, but I must have imagined it because I couldn’t seem to find any plant life in my immediate area. I turned around again to see the distant city lights beginning to flicker on. Heading home now would be a good idea.

I walked slowly, and thought of my father’s advice that knowing how to hike downhill could be just as important as knowing how to hike up. The sky turned a familiar deep blue, and my eyes betrayed me once or twice as the light faded, causing me to step on a wobbly rock or slide a little in the dirt. I looked down the cliff at my side and avoided thoughts of vertigo. The trail I knew so well felt more like a stranger than a friend today.

I was a third of the way back down when I felt a gentle pat on my shoulder – not the kind you’d get from a person, or even an animal vying for your attention, but like someone had tried to pat you on the back and given up at the last minute, with only the edge of his finger grazing your skin before he turned around and walked away. Against all instinct, I stopped walking. I ran through a quick list of the animals I had seen in the mountains before. Deer were too timid to approach me. Mountain lions wouldn’t be out this time of year, and I would know if there were bears in the vicinity. I trudged forward again. The sky was getting darker while the city grew brighter in the distance. By this time, my hiker’s high had lost some of its energy, and I started thinking about how much I just wanted to be home.

I was getting lower and lower on the mountain by then, and I hadn’t seen anyone else on the trail for at least an hour. I kept hoping I would see a hiker on their way up, or at least another human being to remind me that I wasn’t the only person who liked to hike at night, but every corner I turned revealed a path as empty as the evening air. I passed a familiar group of trees on my right and then I felt the touch again, on my other shoulder. This time it felt more deliberate. A gentle nudge, unmistakably real, but gone as soon as I realized it had happened. I stopped again, and turned around. I could see fifty feet up the trail behind me, before it rounded a bend. There were a few tall trees on each side, but no people in sight.

I regretted staying out so late. In fifteen minutes, I had gone from slightly uncomfortable to genuinely afraid, and it became harder and harder to tune out the insects buzzing by my ears. Gone was the bliss of my evening stroll; for someone who raves about the power of exercise to relieve stress, I was feeling pretty stressed. I continued briskly down a path between two ridges, and little by little the city was obscured from view. My eyes darted left and right, and my stride was just short of jogging. At this point there were hills on either side of me, so my field of vision was limited to forward and up. I looked up. The sky was a dark bruise of purple and black, with the occasional stars peppered in between the leaves of the trees. I couldn’t see the moon. I wondered if the stars would be enough light for me to see without using the light on my phone – I didn’t like the way flashlights made the shadows jump.

I must have looked up for too long, because left-right-left-right suddenly became left-left and then I was falling, falling very slowly, with nothing to grab onto, and suddenly time caught up with me and I was on the ground. It somehow felt wrong to lose my momentum, because I was still afraid, and I forced myself up so I could continue home as quickly as possible, but before I could brush myself off it struck me that everything around me had grown quiet. I looked up and down the trail. No people, no animals, no sound. I felt individual beads of sweat form along my arms and neck. I realized I couldn’t see the stars. There was no wind. I held my breath. And then it happened again.

This time it came to rest on the back of my right shoulder, but it wasn’t a tap, or a poke, or a stroke, because it didn’t go away. And it was in that blindness and silence that I truly felt it there behind me: a dull pressure about the size of a hand, unmoving but deliberate, in a way that would be comforting had I known who or what it was, but I did not. I started to turn around, but then I stopped. I felt cold, I felt afraid, and I felt the hair on my neck shuddering slightly in the breeze, but there was no breeze.

And then it was gone, and I saw the stars and heard the bugs, and suddenly I was running, running faster than I have ever run before, all the way home to my front door, which I opened and promptly slammed behind me.

All senses, as mediums to the outside, provide us with concrete methods of experiencing the world. But our minds can fool us. The wind against our neck might be a person’s breath until we snap back to reality. A quick movement in the corner of our eyes, or a voice calling our name when there’s nobody around, are often chalked up to poor vision or faulty hearing and lost in the waves of random, everyday happenstance. Our bodies are reliable, but everyone makes mistakes.

Out of all the organs in the human body, the skin is the most sensitive. It envelops all of us, a system of tiny hairs and pores and nerves connected to nerves connected to nerves. Even the smallest collision of our body and a separate object reminds us that it occupies space. To feel something is to know it’s there. You wouldn’t really think about it until someone tells you… but then it makes sense.