Autopilot

By Chef Skarjo

Have you ever forgotten your phone?

When did you realise you’d forgotten it? I’m guessing you didn’t just smack your forehead and exclaim ‘damn’ apropos of nothing. The realisation probably didn’t dawn on you spontaneously. More likely, you reached for your phone, pawing open your pocket or handbag, and were momentarily confused by it not being there. Then you mentally retraced the morning’s events.

Shit.

In my case, my phone’s alarm woke me up as normal but I realised the battery was lower than I expected. It was a new phone and it had this annoying habit of leaving applications running that drain the battery overnight. So, I put it on to charge while I showered instead of into my bag like normal. It was a momentary slip from the routine but that was all it took. Once in the shower, my brain got back into ‘the routine’ it follows every morning and that was it.

Forgotten.

This wasn’t just me being clumsy, as I later researched, this is a recognised brain function. Your brain doesn’t just work on one level, it works on many. Like, when you’re walking somewhere, you think about your destination and avoiding hazards, but you don’t need to think about keeping your legs moving properly. If you did, the entire world would turn into one massive hilarious QWOP cosplay. I wasn’t thinking about regulating my breathing, I was thinking whether I should grab a coffee on the drive to work (I did). I wasn’t thinking about moving my breakfast through my intestines, I was wondering whether I’d finish on time to pick up my daughter Emily from nursery after work or get stuck with another late fee. This is the thing; there’s a level of your brain that just deals with routine, so that the rest of the brain can think about other things.

Think about it. Think about your last commute. What do you actually remember? Little, if anything, probably. Most common journeys blur into one, and recalling any one in particular is scientifically proven to be difficult. Do something often enough and it becomes routine. Keep doing it and it stops being processed by the thinking bit of the brain and gets relegated to a part of the brain dedicated to dealing with routine. Your brain keeps doing it, without you thinking about it. Soon, you think about your route to work as much as you do keeping your legs moving when you walk. As in, not at all.

Most people call it autopilot. But there’s danger there. If you have a break in your routine, your ability to remember and account for the break is only as good as your ability to stop your brain going into routine mode. My ability to remember my phone being on the counter is only as reliable as my ability to stop my brain entering ‘morning routine mode’ which would dictate that my phone is actually in my bag. But I didn’t stop my brain entering routine mode. I got in the shower as normal. Routine started. Exception forgotten.

Autopilot engaged.

My brain was back in the routine. I showered, I shaved, the radio forecast amazing weather, I gave Emily her breakfast and loaded her into the car (she was so adorable that morning, she complained about the ‘bad sun’ in the morning blinding her, saying it stopped her having a little sleep on the way to nursery) and left. That was the routine. It didn’t matter that my phone was on the counter, charging silently. My brain was in the routine and in the routine my phone was in my bag. This is why I forgot my phone. Not clumsiness. Not negligence. Nothing more my brain entering routine mode and over-writing the exception.

Autopilot engaged.

I left for work. It’s a swelteringly hot day already. The bad sun had been burning since before my traitorously absent phone woke me. The steering wheel was burning hot to the touch when I sat down. I think I heard Emily shift over behind my driver’s seat to get out of the glare. But I got to work. Submitted the report. Attended the morning meeting. It’s not until I took a quick coffee break and reached for my phone that the illusion shattered. I did a mental restep. I remembered the dying battery. I remembered putting it on to charge. I remembered leaving it there.

My phone was on the counter.

Autopilot disengaged.

Again, therein lies the danger. Until you have that moment, the moment you reach for your phone and shatter the illusion, that part of the brain is still in routine mode. It has no reason to question the facts of the routine; that’s why it’s a routine. Attrition of repetition. It’s not as if anyone could say ‘why didn’t you remember your phone? Didn’t it occur to you? How could you forget? You must be negligent’; this is to miss the point. My brain was telling me the routine was completed as normal, despite the fact that it wasn’t. It wasn’t that I forgot my phone. According to my brain, according to the routine, my phone was in my bag. Why would I think to question it? Why would I check? Why would I suddenly remember, out of nowhere, that my phone was on the counter? My brain was wired into the routine and the routine was that my phone was in my bag.

The day continued to bake. The morning haze gave way to the relentless fever heat of the afternoon. Tarmac bubbled. The direct beams of heat threatened to crack the pavement. People swapped coffees for iced smoothies. Jackets discarded, sleeves rolled up, ties loosened, brows mopped. The parks slowly filled with sunbathers and BBQ’s. Window frames threatened to warp. The thermometer continued to swell. Thank fuck the offices were air conditioned.

But, as ever, the furnace of the day gave way to a cooler evening. Another day, another dollar. Still cursing myself for forgetting my phone, I drove home. The days heat had baked the inside of the car, releasing a horrible smell from somewhere. When I arrived on the driveway, the stones crunching comfortingly under my tyres, my wife greeted me at the door.

“Where’s Emily?”

Fuck.

As if the phone wasn’t bad enough. After everything I’d left Emily at the fucking nursery after all. I immediately sped back to the nursery. I got to the door and started practising my excuses, wondering vainly if I could charm my way out of a late fee. I saw a piece of paper stuck to the door.

“Due to vandalism overnight, please use side door. Today only.”

Overnight? What? The door was fine this morni-.

I froze. My knees shook.

Vandals. A change in the routine.

My phone was on the counter.

I hadn’t been here this morning.

My phone was on the counter.

I’d driven past because I was drinking my coffee. I’d not dropped off Emily.

My phone was on the counter.

She’d moved her seat. I hadn’t seen her in the mirror.

My phone was on the counter.

She’d fallen asleep out of the bad sun. She didn’t speak when I drove past her nursery.

My phone was on the counter.

She’d changed the routine.

My phone was on the counter.

She’d changed the routine and I’d forgotten to drop her off.

My phone was on the counter.

9 hours. That car. That baking sun. No air. No water. No power. No help. That heat. A steering wheel too hot to touch.

That smell.

I walked to the car door. Numb. Shock.

I opened the door.

My phone was on the counter and my daughter was dead.

Autopilot disengaged.

Happy Puppet Syndrome

By Chef Error666

\\Message from the author: “Special thanks to Christian Harris for helping me. I mean no offense to people with Angelman Syndrome. I just thought the symptoms could be manipulated into something creepy.”\\

It was simple, we thought. Take a few chromosomes, slice them up, put them over there, and hey, perfect human being. I’m still not sure what went wrong. Maybe a miscalculation? A misprocedure? Or maybe something beyond our control. Who knows?

We (a few of my psychologist colleagues and I) were intrigued by human emotion. Anger, despair, euphoria. Was it possible to lock the mind into one emotion? To lock it into a euphoric state so that no sadness or anger would cloud its thought? Theoretically, yes.

I won’t describe the procedures of our experiments to you. Both because I wouldn’t want you to repeat them but also I fear I will go mad if I have to recount them. The terrible things we did. We were ambitious, youthful, nothing could stop us, and no one could tell us we were wrong. All I will tell is that we got ahold of a few stem cells, nurtured them into fetuses, and tampered ever so slightly with the genetics. The experiment was called “The Angel Man Project” and the goal was to create a being which felt only happiness. But something went wrong. Terribly wrong.

Half of the test subjects died unexpectedly, without warning and without cause. The remaining half were mostly born hideously distorted. Three were born well. Perfect, we thought. A human with mental capability beyond any other due to its locked euphoric state.

They were perfectly normal up to eighteen months. That’s when the first symptoms appeared. Lack of balance, trouble sleeping and eating, low responsiveness. We all panicked on the inside, of course, but on the outside we remained calm and continued the project. We should have ended there. We should have taken those damned subjects and euthanized them and burned them and closed the lab. But we continued.

Things only got worse. The subject’s movements became increasingly sporadic and they still could not utter words, although they could laugh and did so often. Much too often. Not happy laughter, but quiet, almost nervous laughing, nearly constant. No matter how much pain was inflicted on the subject it merely stared at you and laughed, as if it were mocking you, calling your attempts to harm it futile.

We expected the subjects to have extra learning capabilities. Quite the opposite occurred. Their mental development was severely delayed. They couldn’t pay attention to something for more than a few minutes before lapsing into a laughing fit. But we continued, hoping that these symptoms would clear up as the children got older. We gave a name to the symptoms. “Happy Puppet Syndrome”, because the mindless movements of the children made it seem like they were puppets on strings.

Five years into the project we realized there was no hope. We could no longer stand the incessant laughing of these children; as if they knew something we did not, as if some kind of joke passed between them. To look at a child and to see it twitch sporadically and laugh excessively is a haunting thing. Two of my colleagues had already quit because they could not stand it. I never heard from them afterwards. They are most likely dead.

The children had not talked for five years. Only laughed their damned laugh. We went in to give them breakfast and they stared at us with their huge eyes, twitching, giggling, and saying nothing. We lay the meal in front of them and left. The meal was laced with toxins that would silently and painlessly kill the subjects. It was a painful thing to do, but it had to be done. However, it would not be that easy.

As a friend of mine set a tray of food down in front of one of the boys, the laughing stopped. The boy looked up at my friend, his eyes suddenly dark, dead serious, the laughing gone.

They continued to stare at him and twitch for a while. My friend was in shock and would not move. My colleagues and I stood with pen and notepad ready to take notes. Suddenly, my friend fell to his knees, grasping his head and yelling furiously. He appeared to be in tremendous pain. My colleagues and I were so surprised by this we could do nothing but sit and watch. My friend collapsed to the floor, yelling curses. He jerked violently a few times, and then went limp.

I held back the urge to be sick, more successfully than a few of my colleagues. Something about this was not normal. A dark presence seemed to tower over us. We immediately sealed the entrance. The boy stopped, looked at the door, and laughed. He fell to the floor, twitching and rolling about laughing insanely. The two others did the same. After a few minutes the fit ceased, and they stood up, still twitching, still giggling.

The lights went out. I heard crashes, glass shattering, screams. The most terrifying thing of all were the haunting whispers, coupled with the quiet laughing. When the lights went back on, the subjects were gone. Two of my colleagues lay unconscious beside me, their bodies twisted at odd angles, blood trickling from their drooping mouths. At first they appeared to be dead. They showed no vital signs. But as I leaned in, I could hear them laughing, ever so slightly. I went over to examine my friend. No pulse, no breathing, but he continued to laugh quietly.

Although the subjects had gone, I still felt as if something were watching me, something that was just at the edge of my vision but that I would never be able to see.

Me and one remaining colleague closed everything down immediately. Before leaving we destroyed our research and locked and barricaded the lab. I lost communication with my colleagues. I presume they are dead.

I still feel like I am watched. I still hear the laughing, the whispering, in my dreams and sometimes when I am awake. When I do, I run. I get up and I leave wherever I am. I’m not able to stay in the same place for more than a few days because of this.

It spread. Other children were seen with similar symptoms. I have no idea how it spread, it shouldn’t be something that spreads. Somebody somewhere made something up about disjunction of the 15th chromosome, and that kept the people happy and in the dark, for now. The disease was coined “Angelman Syndrome”. So far the spawn are not dangerous. But I know the originals still lurk somewhere.

I know they are coming for me. I know they will find me. I accept this. It is what I get for attempting to tamper with nature. I leave this letter here as a warning. They are coming for you, too. They are coming for all of us. If ever you hear whispering, laughing, at the edge of your hearing, run. If ever you feel as if something stands right at the edge of your sight, but you cannot look at it, run.

Also, I warn you this. One: do not tamper with what is not yours. Two: Even Angels can be Demons in disguise. And three: Do not come for me. I am as good as dead.

***

The following manuscript was found in an abandoned and hidden laboratory discovered deep in an Alaskan forest. The laboratory consisted of an observation room and a containment room. The containment room was barricaded and locked, and the entire lab seemed to have caught fire at one point. Traces of blood were found after the containment room was breached, and a window was shattered. The exact nature of this lab is yet undiscovered.

Graffiti

By Chef WriterJosh/Josh Parker

//Source.

Something is hunting my family.

I’m not sure what it is, because every time I close in on a grain of discovery, it is snatched away from me.

It has been going on for years. Decades, even. I think I finally noticed the strange similarity when my cousin Melinda went missing after a midnight drive a couple of years ago. Back in the mid-2000’s, my Aunt Kelly and my young cousins Marissa and Kevin were found murdered on their front lawn by my Uncle Trent. They actually accused him of the murder at first, but were unable to make charges stick. He was found murdered in his own home a week after the police first talked to him. Police ruled it a suicide, but we knew better.

One of the strangest disappearances of all was my cousin Leo, who was led into an old building near his home by a man none of us knew and never came back out anymore. There were a few witnesses who reported seeing him walk toward the old building and go around the back. The man leading him was never properly described, and no one in the family knew who he was.

I don’t know who will be next. It may very well be me. I have a few reasons to think it is likely.

Lately it feels like someone is following me. Every time I go out in public, I can feel someone’s eyes on me. I catch glimpses of people keeping pace with me out of the corner of my eye, but they’re never there when I look directly at them.

Then there’s the graffiti. I first noticed it when I was taking the train three weeks ago and looked down at the wall of the car where I was sitting. Scrawled in sharpie were the words “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel has Kelly.”

I thought of my aunt when I saw those words, but I didn’t think much of them. Kelly is a common name, and the whole sentence just looked like the kind of stupid nonsense kids write on walls.

But then the other day I had to use a public restroom. I don’t see graffiti in public restrooms much anymore, but I saw it that day. Scrawled in what looked like the same kind of sharpie: “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel has Leo.”

That put my hair on edge. I had now seen this idiotic phrase and both times the name was one of my relatives.

I kept a lookout for more after that. And I saw them. In little secret, out of the way places I happened to look. “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel has Melinda.” “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel has Marissa.” “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel has Kevin.” “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel has Trent.” “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel has Louise.” That last one was my great-aunt Louise who I hadn’t heard from in years anyway, but it was still disconcerting to see.

Then one day I saw one day another scribble in sharpie, again warning me who Ol’ Uncle Quarrel has. This one was different, because I had not heard anything about his disappearance. The name was Jeremy. My brother.

I had not spoken to my brother in more than a month. We lived far apart. He had his family and I had my job. We never had a falling out of any sort. We just sort of drifted out of each other’s circle and decided we were okay with it.

My blood froze in my veins at seeing his name. I called him immediately. I didn’t even stop to think up a reason to call him out of the blue. I just got out my cell and called him without a second thought. It went to voice mail. I called his wife, Hannah. She assured me that he had left for work the way he normally did and she had no reason to believe otherwise. I asked her to text me that evening if she didn’t hear from him, but to have him call me if she did.

I never heard back from either of them. I didn’t sleep at all that night, waiting to hear from them. I tried to tell myself that she just forgot our conversation. The next day I called them back. No answer at any of their numbers. I called my parents and asked them to call their numbers. Dad later called me back and told me they had no answer at any of their numbers after repeated attempts.

And two days later, I saw the scribble on the side of a wall downtown. “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel has Hannah.”

I decided to speak up here in this post because the nature of the graffiti has changed recently. Two days ago, I found some that said “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel says you’re next.” Yesterday it said “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel is coming for you.” Today, I found a scribble right outside my apartment that said “Ol’ Uncle Quarrel is almost here.”

But I’m glad I wrote this post. Time has run out for me, but maybe someone will see this and keep the investigation going. I don’t know who or what this Ol’ Uncle Quarrel is, but I know he’s coming for me. There are footsteps in the hall. There are sounds of things crawling. Ol’ Uncle Quarrel is almost here.