1. I Hate It When My Brother Charlie Has To Go Away
My parents constantly try to explain to me how sick he is. That I am lucky for having a brain where all the chemicals flow properly to their destinations like undammed rivers. When I complain about how bored I am without a little brother to play with, they try to make me feel bad by pointing out that his boredom likely far surpasses mine, considering his confine to a dark room in an institution.
I always beg for them to give him one last chance. Of course, they did at first. Charlie has been back home several times, each shorter in duration than the last. Every time without fail, it all starts again. The neighbourhood cats with gouged out eyes showing up in his toy chest, my dad’s razors found dropped on the baby slide in the park across the street, mom’s vitamins replaced by bits of dishwasher tablets. My parents are hesitant now, using “last chances” sparingly. They say his disorder makes him charming, makes it easy for him to fake normalcy, and to trick the doctors who care for him into thinking he is ready for rehabilitation. That I will just have to put up with my boredom if it means staying safe from him.
I hate it when Charlie has to go away. It makes me have to pretend to be good until he is back.
2. The Annoying Neighbor
I used to live in a small building downtown. One of the reasons I moved out was the bad neighborhood, including this guy in the apartment right over mine. It was a weird looking fella who mostly kept to himself. Around midnight though, there was frequently a strange noise that got on my nerves. It wasn’t loud, to be fair, but I have really light sleep so it was hard to get my eyes shut with those little bumping sounds going on and on. It reminded me of high heels walking about, but not as loud, as if the person causing the noise was actually trying to be silent. After a few days, i realized the pattern was always the same, like a recording played over and over with random intervals in between. And that went on for the best part of an year, always the same sequence of bumps, slowly tattooed into my mind, sometimes for hours straight during the night.
It was only several years later, helping my daughter with her homework, that I learned a little bit of morse code. She knocked on the table with her knuckles and a shiver immediately went through my spine as I recognized that exact pattern. When i asked her what it meant, she laughed. “It’s the easiest one, daddy” she said. “It’s the one to call for help.”
3. I Begged You
“Please, I am literally begging you,” I say, but the executioner only sighs and gives me a truly sorrowful look as he slides the IV into my arm.
The chaplain sits beside me. “Once he pushes the button, the drugs will be administered in quick succession. Unconsciousness will occur in roughly thirty seconds, and death soon after that,” he explains, even though I have heard it so many times before already. “Any final words?”
“Just, again, I beg you not to do this,” I say.
The chaplain nods sadly, sorrowful that I do not face my executioner with a clean conscience.
That’s the thing, though. I haven’t murdered anyone. It’s been this way my entire life. I don’t know why, but whenever I would accidentally hurt myself, others near me would receive the wound. I once got a paper cut in class that caused the three people around me to bleed from their fingers. In high school, I was in a car accident, and even though my side of the car was hit, my girlfriend developed a broken leg.
I’m always very careful. I take care of myself, trying to stay in the very best of health. But when I was mugged by that trio and he shot me in the face, their faces exploded, not mine. And when the cops came, they found me kneeling beside their bodies, trying to figure out what to do and stupidly holding their gun.
Around thirty seconds after the execution started, I see both the executioner and chaplain fall to the floor with a hard thump. “I begged you,” I repeat sadly.
4. Julia Was A Clever Girl
Julia knew she was smart. She was one of those clever children, the kind of child who figures out early on that parents aren’t all-powerful and all-knowing.
The first time she realized this was when she got scared. There had been a noise in her room, coming from under her bed, or from the closet.
Julia ran down the hall, crying, “Mommy! Daddy!”
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“I huh-heard a m-monster,” Julia glubbed.
She expected them to comfort her, or roll their eyes, or get annoyed. Instead, they jumped up immediately and raced to her bedroom, where they checked under the bed, inspected the closet, and tested the window lock. They poked, prodded, and scoured every inch.
Julia caught on quickly. She knew what they were doing. By taking her fears seriously, they were showing their little girl that she was safe and loved. They had probably read about it in some book.
But the lesson Julia learned was that she had power. Thereafter, waking her parents became a nightly event. Julia would scream and cry, they would rush to her bedroom, and Julia would hide her grin behind tears. But not once did they ever complain.
One night she could stand it no longer, and she burst out laughing when Daddy fell down while examining the light fixture, as if a monster could fit up there.
“What’s so funny?” he asked, rubbing his backside.
“You,” Julia smirked. “You always believe me.”
Daddy wasn’t angry. He just looked at Mommy.
“Once,” he said quietly, “just once, we didn’t believe your brother.”
And Julia, an only child, did not sleep well that night.
5. This New Old House
We bought an old house, my boyfriend and I. He’s in charge of the “new” construction – converting the kitchen in to the master bedroom for instance, while I’m on wallpaper removal duty. The previous owner papered EVERY wall and CEILING! Removing it is brutal, but oddly satisfying. The best feeling is getting a long peel, similar to your skin when you’re peeling from a sunburn. I don’t know about you but I kinda make a game of peeling, on the hunt for the longest piece before it rips.
Under a corner section of paper in every room is a person’s name and a date. Curiosity got the best of me one night when I Googled one of the names and discovered the person was actually a missing person, the missing date matching the date under the wallpaper! The next day, I made a list of all the names and dates. Sure enough each name was for a missing person with dates to match. We notified the police who naturally sent out the crime scene team.
I overhead one tech say “yup, it’s human.” Human? What’s human?
“Ma’am, where is the material you removed from the walls already? This isn’t wallpaper you were removing.”
He had been given the watch on his tenth birthday. It was an ordinary grey plastic wristwatch in every respect except for the fact that it was counting down. “That is all of the time you have left in the world, son. Use it wisely.” And indeed he did. As the watch ticked away, the boy, now a man, lived life to the fullest. He climbed mountains and swam oceans. He talked and laughed and lived and loved. The man was never afraid, for he knew exactly how much time he had left.
Eventually, the watch began its final countdown. The old man stood looking over everything he had done, everything he had built. 5. He shook hands with his old business partner, the man who had long been his friend and confidant. 4. His dog came and licked his hand, earning a pat on the head for its companionship. 3. He hugged his son, knowing that he had been a good father. 2. He kissed his wife on the forehead one last time. 1. The old man smiled and closed his eyes.
Then, nothing happened. The watch beeped once and turned off. The man stood standing there, very much alive. You would think that in that moment he would have been overjoyed. Instead, for the first time in his life, the man was scared.
7. Jeff Went Left
If you’re reading this note, I’m sorry. I assume you’re in the same situation as me—that smug bastard drugged you and dumped you in these catacombs, with only a candle to find your way out.
I don’t know how many people he’s done this to, but there have probably been a lot. He wouldn’t spend so much time on it otherwise, would he? He told me the catacombs are a maze, and he’s set traps and deadfalls at every turn. But he promised there’s one safe way out, if I’m lucky enough to guess the correct path.
I’m not lucky. I’m just an art student, here on holiday. There’s no way I’m getting out alive. But I want someone to. I want revenge.
I’m sure you do, too, so let’s help each other. I still have my sketchbook and pencils. Before each turn, I’m going to leave them behind for the next person, writing down which way I went. If I survive to another passageway, I’ll come back and leave a page like this one. If I don’t, then it’s up to the next person to carry on and go the opposite direction.
Eventually, if we keep leaving breadcrumbs, one of us will escape. Get to the police and find that bastard. Do it for those who didn’t make it.
My name is Jeff. I went left here.
Reading the note by candlelight you feel a glimmer of hope, until you realize you’re reading from the sketchbook itself. Jeff never returned to tear out the page, and you’re the first person here since him.
You look to your right, where the dark maze awaits.
He awoke to the huge, insect like creatures looming over his bed and screamed his lungs out. They hastily left the room and he stayed up all night, shaking and wondering if it had been a dream.
The next morning, there was a tap on the door. Gathering his courage, he opened it to see one of them gently place a plate filled with fried breakfast on the floor, then retreat to a safe distance. Bewildered, he accepted the gift. The creatures chittered excitedly.
This happened every day for weeks. At first he was worried they were fattening him up, but after a particularly greasy breakfast left him clutching his chest from heartburn, they were replaced with fresh fruit. As well as cooking, they poured hot steamy baths for him and even tucked him in when he went to bed. It was bizarre.
One night, he awoke to gunshots and screaming. He raced downstairs to find a decapitated burglar being devoured by the insects. He was sickened, but disposed of the remains as best he could. He knew they had just been protecting him.
One morning the creatures wouldn’t let him leave his room. He lay down, confused but trusting as they ushered him back into bed. Whatever their motives, they weren’t going to hurt him.
Hours later a burning pain spread throughout his body. It felt like his stomach was filled with razor wire. The insects chittered as he spasmed and moaned. It was only when he felt a terrible squirming feeling beneath his skin that he realised the insects hadn’t been protecting him. They had been protecting their young.
9. Seeing Red (The First Day Of School)
Everyone loves the first day of school, right? New year, new classes, new friends. It’s a day full of potential and hope, before all the dreary depressions of reality show up to ruin all the fun.
I like the first day of school for a different reason, though. You see, I have a sort of power. When I look at people, I can…sense a sort of aura around them. A colored outline based on how long that person has to live. Most everyone I meet around my age is surrounded by a solid green hue, which means they have plenty of time left.
A fair amount of them have a yellow-orangish tinge to their auras, which tends to mean a car crash or some other tragedy. Anything that takes people “before their time” as they say.
The real fun is when the auras venture into the red end of the spectrum, though. Every now and again I’ll see someone who’s basically a walking stoplight. Those are the ones who get murdered or kill themselves. It’s such a rush to see them and know their time is numbered.
With that in mind, I always get to class very early so I can scout out my classmates’ fates. The first kid who walked in was basically radiating red. I chuckled to myself. Too damn bad, bro. But as people kept walking in, they all had the same intense glow. I finally caught a glimpse of my rose-tinted reflection in the window, but I was too stunned to move. Our professor stepped in and locked the door, his aura a sickening shade of green.
10. Wait, Something’s Not Right
A sound wakes you up, sounded like a knock on your front door. It’s way past midnight, you’re lying on the sofa with the TV on static. The house is dark, the lights are off. You’re all alone. You look out the window, see there’s a full moon, shining its light through the glass pane.
You get up and head towards the front door. You look through the peephole. No one outside. You open the door. Find no one. You check around the porch. Still no one. Maybe kids were playing tricks on you.
Annoyed, you shut the door, turn off the TV, close the window, and head upstairs to your bedroom for the night.
The pain ended quickly. I rose and tried to find my body. Probably lying mangled underneath the metallic wreck. Dying in a road accident is definitely the worse way to go.
“So! Had a nice life?” asked a voice behind me.
I turned around to find a woman smiling. Since she could see me I was pretty sure she was a soul like me.
She giggled, “You are taking it pretty well. I am Cindy by the way.”
I spoke evenly,” What happens now? Hell? Heaven?”
She laughed louder.
Before I could say something I heard a commotion from far off.
Cindy shouted,” COME ON!” And she ran.
She turned and yelled,” Have you been good?”
“Have you done any good while you lived?”
Totally confused, I spluttered,” I…I donated blood once.”
As we reached the source of noise I was dumbstruck to find hundreds of people ripping each other apart in front of a hospital.
I shouted, “WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?”
Cindy replied, “Someone is giving birth here. These souls are fighting to get inside the new born shell.”
“But the baby…”
“LISTEN TO ME…THERE IS NO BABY UNTIL A SOUL PENETRATES IT… If no soul makes it inside, the shell is pronounced dead by doctors.”
She continued, “Your fighting strength depends on your Karma. So the soul of a rapist or a paedophile etc. stands no chance. They will never get a shell and will painfully wither away. Children are most dangerous. Pure souls. Stay away from them during fights.”
“But what about heaven… and hell?”
“THIS IS HELL! And more importantly, the life you left behind… That is heaven.”
12. Warrior Of God
“If God exists, why is there so much evil in the world?” It’s a common question, but it is misplaced.
All things must have balance. Light and dark. Good and evil. Sound and silence. Without one, the other cannot exist.
“So if that’s true, then God does NOTHING to fight evil?” That might be your follow up question.
Of course he fights evil. Relentlessly. I am Dartalian, one of His most Holy and Righteous angels.
I roam the Earth, disposing of evil wherever I find it. I kill the monsters you don’t ever want to know about. I crush them completely so you can sleep at night. You humans have no idea how many of you live because of the work I do.
“But what about Stalin? Hitler? Ted Bundy? Jack the Ripper? ”
Well, those are the minor ones I had to let live. For balance. The ones I destroy are ….too horrible and vile to survive.
What’s funny, is while I would wager you never have heard the name Dartalian in any relegious texts, I bet you have heard of me.
Americans, for example, have their own name for me.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
13. Everybody’s Waiting For A Twist At The End
They were trudging through the woods, Henry Shears, a paunchy, balding accountant in a rumpled grey suit, and Dylan holding a rifle at his back.
“Why are you doing this?” Shears asked.
“Money,” Dylan replied.
“This is your job?”
“You don’t have to do this,” Shears said, his voice cracking.
“I know,” Dylan said. “I want the money.”
“Just let me go. I’ll pay you anything you want.”
“Wouldn’t work,” Dylan said. “Guy who paid me would be pissed. Might try havin’ me killed. Even if he didn’t, next time I need cash, he sure as hell wouldn’t hire me.”
“Who is he?” Shears asked.
“Guy I know.”
“Why does he want me dead?”
“‘Cause some other guy paid him to make it happen,” Dylan said. “Or some gal. Don’t know. Don’t matter.”
The woods were getting thicker, the light dimmer. As they pressed on, Shears’ pace was slowing. Dylan’s too.
“I have a wife!” Shears blurted out. “Two boys! My mother has Alzheimer’s… They need me…”
“Already knew about the wife and kids,” Dylan said. “Not your mom, though… Shame she’s sick, but it don’t change nothin’.”
“What will change your mind?” Shears begged. “Jesus, please! Anything you want!”
“Mind’s made up,” Dylan said. “Only reason you ain’t dead yet is I didn’t wanna haul you to the grave I dug.”
Dylan sighed. “Look… Everyone thinks I’m gonna change my mind or screw up, or someone’s gonna come save ’em. Like in some movie. Ain’t gonna happen. I done this before. Went perfect every time. These movies ain’t got no twists. Just endings.”
“You’re a piece of shit!”
“I know it.”
“God damn you!” Shears yelled, then stopped dead in his tracks. They’d come to a hole, dirt piled high at its side. And a shovel.
“He damned us all,” Dylan said. “On your knees.”
Shears turned to face him. “Fuck. You.”
Dylan smiled warmly and nodded, then aimed his rifle. Shears cringed, shut his teary eyes tight, then shrieked when the Mission Impossible theme started blaring from Dylan’s pocket. Dylan pulled out his phone. “Yeah?” he answered. “No… ‘Course I’m sure… Okay then.” Dylan ended the call. “Well I’ll be damned after all…”
“What!?” Shears screamed.
“It’s your lucky day,” Dylan said. “Some guy or gal don’t want you dead no more.”
“You’re… letting me go?”
“Not yet,” Dylan said. “First you’re gonna sit your ass down and count to a thousand while I get gone. Then you can go. Got it?”
“Yes!” Shears said. “Thank you!”
“Just don’t let me catch you watchin’ me leave.”
Shears sat down facing the hole, tears still wet on his grinning cheeks. “One… two… three… four… five…” he began, keeping count of Dylan’s receding footsteps, “six… seven… eight… nine… ten… ele–”
A shot rang out.
Dylan stepped over to the grave. Shears’ body had tumbled conveniently in. Most of his head too. “Sorry ’bout the ruse,” Dylan said, grabbing his shovel.
“Didn’t want you to see this comin’.”
There was no pearly gate.
The only reason I knew I was in a cave was because I had just passed the entrance. The rock wall rose behind me with no ceiling in sight.
I knew this was it, this was what religion talked about, what man feared .. I had just entered the gate to hell.
I felt the presence of the cave as if it was a living, breathing creature. The stench of rotten flesh overwhelmed me.
Then there was the voice, it came from inside and all around.
“Who are you,” I asked, trying to keep my composure.
“You know,” the thing answered.
I did know.
“You are the devil,” I stuttered, quickly losing my composure. “Why me? I’ve lived as good as I could.”
The silence took over the space as my words died out. It seemed like an hour went by before the response came.
“What did you expect?”
The voice was penetrating but patient.
“I don’t know…I never believed any of this,” I uttered “Is that why I am here?”
I continued: “They say the greatest trick you ever pulled was convincing the world you don’t exist.”
“No, the greatest trick I ever pulled was convincing the world that there is an alternative.”
“There is no God?” I shivered.
The cave trembled with the words: “I am God.”
15. The Wallet In The Sewer
My folks dropped me off just outside the campus main gates.
“Call us and let us know how your mid-terms go?” Dad asked.
I smiled and replied that I would. I gave them both a hug and stepped up onto the sidewalk and waved at them as they merged back into traffic.
That was a great weekend, but it was time to get back to my usual college routine.
As I bent down to pick up my bags, I saw it. A wallet was lodged between the grilles of a sewer grate by my feet.
I pried it out carefully. It was black with a silver zipper along the top. A faded “Hello Kitty” sticker decorated the bottom right corner suggesting that the wallet most likely belonged to a girl. I opened it and my eyes widened.
Hundred dollar bills.
There must have been a dozen of them. I immediately glanced around to make sure no one noticed. I headed as fast as I could back to the safety and privacy of my dorm room.
Once there, I emptied the contents of the wallet.
There was however, a wallet-sized high school graduation picture of a girl. She had shoulder-length golden-brown hair and a cheerleader smile. She was pretty and next thing I knew, I forgot about the cash and found myself staring at the picture. I got knocked out of my fugue when I heard footsteps outside. My roommate was due back any moment and I didn’t want him to catch me with all that cash so I put everything away but I held onto the photo.
I made inquiries about the girl in the photo. It took some time, but I finally found out her name was Rebecca but people called her Becky. Once I got a name, it was only a matter of time in finding her. She was a freshman who worked part-time at nights at the sports complex.
The sports complex was in the process of massive renovations. When I approached it, I swore it looked like a bomb hit. Once inside it didn’t take me long to find her. She was sitting inside the entrance booth. She didn’t look at all like the girl in the photo. Whereas the girl in the photo was bright-eyed and cheery, this girl looked sullen and bored.
“Becky?” I asked.
She looked up at me. I was half-expecting to see her smile but she didn’t. In fact, from the way she looked at me, it made me feel like I was bothering her.
“Yeah?” she answered.
“I…uh…I have something for you.”
I reached into my school bag and pulled out my .22. Becky didn’t have much of a chance to react when I double-tapped her in the head.
I quickly left by the side entrance. On my way back to the dorm I sent out a text on my burner phone.
“Job is done. I expect 2nd half of payment at the same spot.”
16. The Accident
It was one a.m. and Guy Halverson sat in his dark living room. He hadn’t moved for over an hour. The accident earlier that evening kept playing over and over in his mind. The light turned red, but he was in a hurry and accelerated. An orange blur came from his right, and in a split second there was a violent jolt, then the bicyclist rolled across his hood and fell out of sight on the pavement. Horns blared angrily and he panicked, stepping on the gas and screeching away from the chaos into the darkness, shaken and keeping an eye on his rearview mirror until he got home.
Why did you run, you idiot? He’d never committed a crime before this and punished himself by imagining years in jail, his career gone, his family gone, his future gone.
Why not just go to the police right now? You can afford a lawyer.
Then someone tapped on the front door and his world suddenly crumbled away beneath him. They found me. There was nothing he could do but answer it. Running would only make matters worse. His body trembling, he got up, went to the door and opened it. A police officer stood under the porch light.
“Mr. Halverson?” asked the grim officer.
He let out a defeated sigh. “Yes. Let me—“
“I am terribly sorry, but I’m afraid I have some bad news. Your son’s bike was struck by a hit and run driver this evening. He died at the scene. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
17. Next Time You’ll Know Better
Have you ever walked into a room and found a vampire?
No, not the sexy kind, but a foul creature with bony limbs and ashen skin? The kind that snarls as you enter, like a beast about to pounce? The kind that roots you to the spot with its sunken, hypnotic eyes, rendering you unable to flee as you watch the hideous thing uncoil from the shadows? Has your heart started racing though your legs refuse to? Have you felt time slow as the creature crosses the room in the darkness of a blink?
Have you shuddered with fear when it places one clawed hand atop your head and another under your chin so it can tilt you, exposing your neck? Have you squirmed as its rough, dry tongue slides down your cheek, over your jaw, to your throat, in a slithering search that’s seeking your artery? Have you felt its hot breath release in a hiss against your skin when it probes your pulse—the flow that leads to your brain? Has its tongue rested there, throbbing slightly as if savoring the moment? Have you then experienced a sinking, sucking blackness as you discover that not all vampires feed on blood—some feed on memories?
Well, have you?
Maybe not. But let me rephrase the question:
Have you ever walked into a room and suddenly forgotten why you came in?
18. They Got The Definition Wrong
It has been said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I understand the sentiment behind the saying, but it’s wrong.
I entered the building on a bet. I was strapped for cash and didn’t buy into the old legends of the hotel to begin with, so fifty bucks was more than enough to get me do it. It was simple. Just reach the top floor, the 45th floor, shine my flashlight from a window.
The hotel was old and broken, including the elevator, so that meant hiking up the stairs. So up the stairs I went. As I reached each platform, I noted the old brass plaques displaying the floor numbers. 15, 16, 17, 18. I felt a little tired as I crept higher, but so far, no ghosts, no cannibals, no demons. Piece of cake.
I can’t tell you how happy I was as I entered that last stretch of numbers. I joyfully counted them aloud at each platform. 40,41,42,43, 44, 44. I stopped and looked back down the stairs. I must have miscounted, so I continued up. 44. One more flight. 44. And then down ten flights. 44. Fifteen flights. 44.
And so it’s been for as long as I can remember. So really, insanity isn’t doing something repeatedly and expecting different results. It’s knowing that the results will never ever change; that each door leads to the same staircase, to the same number. It’s realizing you no longer fall asleep. It’s not knowing whether you’ve been running for days or weeks or years. It’s when the sobbing slowly turns into laughter.
She usually enjoyed unfurling a fresh sheet over her bed, swishing it out like they do in those detergent commercials. Tonight, however, as the sheet settled down onto the empty mattress, it outlined the contours of a body.
Then it sat up.
20. Bang Bang
Ever since I was young, they’ve tried to reassure me it wasn’t my fault. Grandpa died from a heart attack, not because we were playing cowboys and I shot him with my finger “guns.” But by the time help came, the bullet holes had disappeared.
Little Emily vanished last year. Now they’re pouring new sidewalks in my neighborhood, and I’ve found her name in the wet cement, written in remembrance. But it was written in reverse. And from below.
22. Cold As Hell
After centuries spent crawling through an endless desert, the Devil appeared and offered the man a glass of cold water. Though suspicious, he savored every drop, and afterwards he looked up gratefully.
“Why this kindness?” he asked the Devil through cracked, scabbed-over lips.
The Devil smiled and patted him on the head.
“Because you had forgotten kindness existed.”
Then he was alone again, and the moisture remaining in his mouth turned to sand.
23. I Never Saw Her Naked
“I don’t get naked in front of anyone,” Sadie told me. “Ever.”
It was an odd thing to say on a first date. Sure, we had already discussed our jobs, families, and the movies we liked, but this seemed to come out of nowhere. I thought she was joking.
“You mean you’re a never-nude?” I asked with a grin.
“No,” she said, chuckling. “But I wanted to tell you up front, in case it’s a deal-breaker.”
I shrugged. Very few things are deal-breakers when you’ve only just met someone, especially an attractive someone. Besides, whatever her quirks, Sadie was also smart, sexy, and sweet. I already knew I wanted to see her again.
So I did. Many times. We dated, moved in together, and eventually got married. A perfectly normal relationship, except that Sadie really hadn’t been joking about her quirk. In all that time, not once did I see her completely naked. She seemed fine with nudity while dressing or bathing, but only behind locked doors.
She refused to explain, so her phobia mystified me. Almost anyone would have agreed that she was beautiful, and she claimed to have no embarrassing tattoos or traumatic stories of abuse. When we made love, my hands roamed everywhere beneath her clothes, but I couldn’t feel any scars. In the end, I gave up asking about it and just accepted her as she was.
Then she got pregnant.
If you’ve never had a lover suddenly turn cold on you, I don’t recommend it. Over nine long months, Sadie’s sweetness disappeared, as if everything had been an act. When her water broke and we went to the hospital, she even banished me from the delivery room.
I suppose that was a good thing, because when the baby came, I heard screams. Not the wailing of a newborn, but the frenzied shrieks of adults. By the time more hospital staff rushed in, Sadie’s doctor and nurses were dead, having torn out their own eyes before slitting their throats or bashing their skulls against the floor. And at the center of it all was Sadie, unconcerned by her bloody surroundings as she cradled our child in a sheet.
Nobody else understood. Nobody else grasped what I grasped.
Those people had seen my son. My newborn, naked son.
In the days that followed, I felt even more unwelcome in my own home. Sadie would sit in a rocking chair, holding our strangely quiet child, and both of them would stare right through me.
Then, not long ago, Sadie died in a fiery car accident. It was almost a relief, I’ll admit, but being a single parent isn’t easy. Alone with my son now, his silent stares grow colder every day.
I keep my eyes tightly shut whenever I bathe or change him, of course. Whatever he really is, I can only assume that it would drive me mad to see it.
But it’s almost as maddening not to know.
The doctor pulled the stethoscope ear tips out and hung the device around his neck.
“Mr. Weatherby, all of your tests have come back negative and my examination shows nothing abnormal.”
Adam knew what was coming next. “I’m not crazy, Doctor.”
“I’m sorry, but there is no physical reason for why you occasionally lose control of your hands. A psychologist can help—”
“I don’t need therapy. I need answers. They seem to have a life all their own. I can’t hold a job. I’m under investigation for assault. I almost killed my neighbor. This can’t go on. I’ll try anything at this point.”
After two weeks on a new medication, Adam saw no progress and grew increasingly depressed.
He was convinced that despite what the doctors said, it was not a psychological problem. That night, a frustrated and angry Adam sat in a chair and drank bourbon. Drunk and hopeless, he stumbled to the garage and started the table saw, then slowly lowered his wrists toward the screaming blade.
Detective Armstrong entered the garage where several uniformed officers stood over the blood-soaked body.
“So what do we got?” he asked, taking in the blood-splattered scene.
“This is a weird one, Detective.”
“Take a look at the body. He apparently chopped off his hands with the table saw and bled to death.”
Armstrong knelt down. “And?”
“And we can’t find his hands anywhere.”
25. He Stood Against My Window
I don’t know why I looked up, but when I did I saw him there. He stood against my window. His forehead rested against the glass, and his eyes were still and light and he smiled a lipstick-red, cartoonish grin. And he just stood there in the window. My wife was upstairs sleeping, my son was in his crib and I couldn’t move I froze and watched him looking past me through the glass.
Oh, please no. His smile never moved but he put a hand up and slid it down the glass, watching me. With matted hair and yellow skin and face through the window.
I couldn’t do anything. I just stayed there, frozen, feet still in the bushes I was pruning, looking into my home. He stood against my window.
26. The Regrets Of A Time Traveler
I am a time traveler.
Or I mean I was.
You see, I was capable of travelling time however I pleased, past or present.
I was a scientist with a great mind, I think, being the only person in my time (no pun intended) to discover time travel. I say I think because I don’t really remember my past. When I discovered this ability, all I remember was euphoria. My vision sparked colors I’ve never seen before, my body dissipated into millions of tiny particles, and suddenly, I’m in another dimension of time. Amazing, right? The thing is, whenever I travel time, through that tunnel that propels all of the particles and atoms that are a part of me, I lose a portion of my memory, somewhere in that jumble of hyperspace. My first time travel, I forgot pretty much everything.
Ever since then, I’ve taken caution to how I time travel and how often I do it. I chose to limit my abilities to inhibit the possibility of forgetting something important. I’ve forgotten a multitude of things, some smaller than others. Around a year ago, I forgot the color of my hair, only to remember immediately upon seeing my reflection in the mirror. But it could get much worse, as I once forgot to how to breathe, forcing my own body to jump the engine when I passed out to allow myself to breathe on my own.
It was my curiosity that screwed me over.
On June 18, 9214, scientists, with the assistance of advanced supercomputers developed a prototype, an invention capable of previewing possible occurrences of forthcoming events. The minds of this millennium were able to see the freaking future. The display, provided by code and text, made expert computer programmers look like toddlers playing with C++. Nevertheless, it was read, making its predictions. It ran for 3 years, producing accurate images of the future. But in 9217, it ceased to continue. The image of the end date was incoherent, even to the damn supercomputers. Scientists theorized this would be the end of existence, the complete opposite of the big bang. Religious wackos marked this as the apocalypse and the end of God himself. I wanted to know better.
It provided a date of the year and a hazy image of a dark and decaying earth, just months before the end date. Being a time traveler, I enjoyed having the information no one else had. It made me feel wonderful. That’s why I decided to go there, to find out what the hell happens and go down in the books.
And I did. Boy, do I regret it.
I was trembling, my bowels loosened, my stomach turned. I was terrified.
Not because the tall man with the inhuman grin on his face was walking towards me.
Not because the deafening screams that were in my ears didn’t resemble humans.
Not because I had just found hell on earth.
But because I forgot how to time travel.
27. Grandfather Tim
Grandpa Tim was a bit of a recluse, as my family liked to say. He lived out in the middle of nowhere in an old, dilapidated house. But when he came around, everyone listened. No one argues or disobeys his commands, as strange as they were.
For example, the time Tim convinced my Aunt Betty to purchase a life insurance policy on my Uncle Bill. Betty argued but gave in to Grandpa who insisted on paying for the policy. Two years later, Uncle Bill passed away from a sudden heart attack. Aunt Betty received a huge payout that helped Uncle Bill’s wife with the funeral costs.
Sometimes his advice would be to get checked at the doctor, even if you weren’t sick, and they would find a life threatening tumor inside you. Other times, it would be to stay home from work on a certain day and then you’d see a twenty car pile up on the highway in the news. Grandpa Tim always knew exactly when to call.
When Tim died, I inherited all his possessions including his house. The lawyer instructed me to check his mailbox for a letter Tim left me.
I found myself opening a door in the basement and then almost fainting when I saw the endless cavern of hourglasses as far as the eye could see. The closest hourglasses to the door had the names of my family members etched on their bases. That’s when I saw the sand in my parent’s hourglasses about to run out. I called them and told them to not get on the plane heading to Tim’s funeral. The sand in their hourglasses refilled.
28. Simple Thrills
The fortune teller was never wrong. If you had the money and the guts, she could show you the last moments right before you died. I knew people who had been to her and told of what they had seen. I’ve seen her predictions come true on several occasions.
It didn’t take too much thought before I decided to see her myself. I’m naturally curious. The vision she showed me was stunning. As I gazed into her crystal ball, the world faded and I was walking down the back road near my house, in the dark. The crickets chirped in the shadows. The crisp, cold air nipped at my nose. And then darkness. I didn’t see how I died. The fortune teller said we didn’t always see our deaths, sometimes just the moments before. The ball, she said, showed us only what we needed to see.
That vision changed my life. It’s easy to take risks when you know they aren’t risky. That back road I’m supposed to die on? It’s not the only way to get to my house. All I had to do is avoid it and I didn’t have to worry about a thing. I could go bungie jumping or sky diving or swim with sharks without worry of lasting harm. I was able-bodied in my vision so I knew nothing bad could happen to me. And the thrills were wonderful. But of course, thrills quickly stop becoming thrills when you take away the danger.
Don’t get me wrong: I still love the extreme sports and the risky adventures. I ran with the bulls last month. I had a blast. But lately I’ve taken to a different type of thrill. Once a month, after the sun goes down, I put on my coat and I take a walk, right down the road. Yeah, that road.
As I walk down that road, hear the crickets chirp, feel the cold wind blowing through my hair, I find myself undergoing a transformation. The solid, fearless foundation I have in the face of cliffs and sharks and charging bulls starts to fracture and crumble with every step I take. As I approach the spot where the fortune teller’s vision goes black, I feel my chest tighten. The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The sound of the crickets gives way to the thrum of blood as my heart frantically pumps. I shudder and then close my eyes, waiting, wondering if this is the moment I die. I continue to walk, eyes closed, and brace for the icy sting of a blade or the fangs of some unknown beast. Fear floods my mind and when I can take it no longer, I open my eyes again, never knowing whether I’ll see the end of my street or the grinning visage of Death.
And for that glorious moment in time, I feel truly alive.
29. We Can’t Go Back Into Space Until Logan Masterson Dies
That’s pretty much the long and short of it. Personally, I think that this whole thing will be the end of manned spaceflight. It was already dying, and now this? Talk about a PR-nightmare.
Plus, morally, the murders were pretty bad too.
Unsurprisingly, it began with lust. Masterson was aboard the ISS with Mizuki Katayama, a brilliant Japanese mission-specialist. He loved her, or more accurately he wanted her, and she’d politely turned him down.
The same scenario happens on Earth every day. The only thing remarkable about this murder was its location.
If you admit to watching the Broadcasts, then you know how he killed her and what he did to her afterward. But I’d rather not get into that.
After killing Katayama, Masterson was alone on the ISS with Anton Vitaly. Saying the cosmonaut was in the wrong place at the wrong time would be an understatement. Masterson made short work of Vitaly as well.
But again, I’d rather not go into details.
You have to remember that, at this point, nobody on Earth was clued in. All we saw was that the cameras on the station had stopped transmitting, and that the personnel weren’t responding.
It’s during this period when Masterson must have fully embraced his psychosis. He blacked out the station’s windows. He diligently severed all outside controls. Then he waited.
These first days and weeks were panicky for NASA, JAXA, and Roscosmos. Eventually a mission was sent up to investigate the ISS. The next three Astronauts and Cosmonauts in the queue for residence were sent up with tools and supplies.
Masterson, of course, knew they were coming. He listened to Earth communications, and still had access to the external cameras. It was a relatively simple matter to sabotage the airlock and depressurize one of the station’s segments.
From what little we know, it’s assumed that all three died instantly. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
It was at this point that the Broadcasts began.
Attempts to stop his outgoing messages were pathetically ineffective. All Masterson had to do was slap an old-fashioned broadcast antenna on ISS and—presto! The whole world was his audience.
Nobody is supposed to watch, but I’d bet that everybody has at least once. The Broadcasts were sickening and fascinating at the same time. A psychotic murderer, completely out of reach of civilization—with a broadcast antenna.
Most were horrified. Countries banned viewing the broadcasts. But some segments of the internet loved it.
Everyone pretends they don’t watch, but all of Masterson’s performances are easily accessible online.
Months passed and people began to wonder how he was still alive. Then someone pointed out that Masterson has a water-recycler and about five corpses-worth of meat.
Still, he can’t last forever. So we’re waiting him out. A few politicians and world-leaders have threatened to launch missiles at the ISS. But that’s just bluster.
So, just go to sleep. Don’t even think about the fact that there’s a psychotic killer out there, passing overhead every 92 minutes.
30. You Get What You Pay For
“Yeah, you like this, baby?” she whispers as she pulls her thin t-shirt over her head, arching her back to keep her breasts well in view of the webcam perched atop her monitor. Light slants in through the closed curtains in her room. It’s a messy room, a college girl’s room, rundown and half bare. She probably needs the money. I just need to watch.
“Yeah, yeah…” I coo back in my dark room, fumbling with the zipper on my pants. Diana is my favorite. Look at her cute, flat stomach, still with the belly ring she probably got in high school. So young. Her small white breasts almost glow in the light coming from her wide-open window.
Wait, wide-open? When did…?
My mouth drops as a man dressed in black swings a fist into Diana’s face, sending her sprawling with a cry. She hits the ground with a thump so hard I almost feel it. Wait… did I feel that?
The man picks her before I can blink, and swings her into a wall facefirst. Dark drops hit her keyboard, but that’s not what I’m looking at. I’m looking at the picture frame that just jumped off the wall of my apartment. The wall that I share with a neighbor I’ve never met.
The man is ripping her clothes off and I hear her crying—crying from my webcam… and through the wall. Every thump as the man drags her to the bed reaches my ears twice.
Oh God. Diana is my neighbor. She lives right next door–and I can save her from this, from being raped, from being murdered!
Or I can watch.
31. Mama’s Little Goat
I left home in a hurry to pick up my son from school. Traffic was flowing pretty well that day, nothing on my way but a few red lights. It was while I was waiting at a red light that I noticed the woman.
I have no idea how long she had been standing there, staring at me, but once I noticed her I just could not look away. She was smiling like a maniac, and waving at me with one hand, while stroking a little boy’s hair with the other. The little boy, her son I assume, was wearing baggy brown clothes and a black goat mask. Now that was a very weird costume, plus, who wears a costume the day after Halloween?
He was also waving and staring at me through that unsettling mask but his waving felt uncomfortable and forced. The woman’s eyes, they could see right through me and I could almost physically feel her stare fixating on me. She wouldn’t even blink. I felt naked and extremely unnerved. Now the boy’s eyes, God, the boy’s eyes were pleading and begging for help. The woman started to grow impatient, waving harder each passing second.
I looked away. For some reason I was terrified. I had to get out of there. Once the green light was on, after what had felt like forever, I took off. Didn’t even dare to look back.
I thought nothing could be more terrifying than that extremely unsettling feeling I had felt under the stare of that woman and her son. But then I got to school, and they told me my son wasn’t there. They told me my wife had already picked him up. But I don’t have a wife. They handed me a note, saying she had asked them to give it to me. There are no words to describe what I felt when I read the note. “Don’t say I didn’t give you a chance to say goodbye.”
32. Stuck At Work
It’s 7:31pm, and I’m the last person in the office. But instead of leaving, I’m standing in front of the elevator with a box of paperclips in my hand.
“Ready to go?” asks Ray.
He’s keeping the elevator door open for me. Behind him are Megan, Carla, and Marcos, all of whom look tired from working so late.
The first time this happened, I opened my mouth to say yes, then I suddenly changed my answer as I remembered my resolution to lose a few pounds.
Back then I said, “Thanks, but I’ll take the stairs.”
This time I don’t say anything.
“Suit yourself,” Ray says anyway, as if I had spoken.
He releases the door, but before it can close, I toss in the box. It lands on its corner and the lid pops off, scattering its contents like a paperclip grenade. Then the door slides shut and I’m alone again.
No one in the elevator thought this was weird. In fact, they didn’t even notice. I’ve done this little experiment many, many times, so I’m not surprised they didn’t react. I’m also not surprised to look over and see the box of paperclips back on my desk, as if I’d never touched it.
My other experiments end the same way. I’ve blocked the doors, I’ve shouted and begged, and I’ve grabbed at Ray’s arm, but nothing makes any lasting difference. My co-workers never respond, and everything resets. I always end up alone in the office, at least until the elevator reappears and Ray asks if I’m ready to go.
I’ve gotten tired of experimenting, but there isn’t much else to do around here. The phones and radios and fire alarms don’t work. All the computers are frozen. I found a cheap romance novel hidden in Megan’s bottom drawer, but I know how it ends. I ought to—I’ve only read it thirty times.
Even if I actually do take the stairwell, it’s like walking into an M. C. Escher print. However many flights I descend or ascend, every door brings me right back here, to the 40th floor.
Of course, I could always join my co-workers in the elevator. I remember once when I was a kid, I was feeling morbidly curious so I looked up elevator accidents and found out they were incredibly rare. Elevators are probably the safest method of transportation in the world, since they basically cannot just go crashing to the ground. You’re about 1,000 times more likely to die on a staircase.
But even though I know that, I also know this: each time the elevator leaves, if I put my ear to the door, I can hear the receding screams of my co-workers echoing back up the shaft.
And that’s why it’s always 7:31pm. Because I’m supposed to be with them.
Looking up from the paperclip box, I see the elevator has returned.
“Ready to go?” asks Ray.
Eventually, I know I’ll say yes.
33. There’s No Reason To Be Afraid
When my sister Betsy and I were kids, our family lived for awhile in a charming old farmhouse. We loved exploring its dusty corners and climbing the apple tree in the backyard. But our favorite thing was the ghost.
We called her Mother, because she seemed so kind and nurturing. Some mornings Betsy and I would wake up, and on each of our nightstands, we’d find a cup that hadn’t been there the night before. Mother had left them there, worried that we’d get thirsty during the night. She just wanted to take care of us.
Among the house’s original furnishings was an antique wooden chair, which we kept against the back wall of the living room. Whenever we were preoccupied, watching TV or playing a game, Mother would inch that chair forward, across the room, toward us. Sometimes she’d manage to move it all the way to the center of the room. We always felt sad putting it back against the wall. Mother just wanted to be near us.
Years later, long after we’d moved out, I found an old newspaper article about the farmhouse’s original occupant, a widow. She’d murdered her two children by giving them each a cup of poisoned milk before bed. Then she’d hanged herself.
The article included a photo of the farmhouse’s living room, with a woman’s body hanging from a beam. Beneath her, knocked over, was that old wooden chair, placed exactly in the center of the room.
34. Schizophrenia with Severe Violent Tendencies
“Mr Johnston, it says here that you have schizophrenia with severe violent tendencies,” the psychiatrist murmured checking his notes, his reading glasses resting on his nose.
“Sharing with me won’t reduce your prison sentence,” he continued, “But it may go someway to clear your conscience, you understand?”
“So, where would you like to start?”
“The voices,” I said, staring at the artexed ceiling.
“Voices, hmmm; are they threatening?”
“Do they make you angry?”
“You could say that.”
“Do you hear them now?”
The psychiatrist sighed, I winced at the cracking of his wicker chair as he sunk into it.
How much longer do I have with this criminal piece of shit?
“Around thirty-five minutes doc,” I responded gritting my teeth.
Startled, he replied, “I’m sorry?”
“You have to talk to this criminal piece of shit for thirty-five, hang on, thirty-four more minutes.”
“I… I… don’t understand?”
Can he hear my thoughts?
“Yes I can.”
“Oh, uh, how unique. Can you hear everything I am thinking about, son?”
“Oh my God,” he said panicking, “I… I… think you should leave!”
“But what about my conscience?” I said in a sarcastic tone.
He scrambled to his feet and ran to the door; he opened it and closed his eyes tight, pointing the way to my exit, “Please leave!”
I pushed myself off the couch and made my way to the door.
Don’t think about your daughter, don’t think about what you do to her.
I stopped and turned, “I’m sorry? What do you do to your daughter?”
I grimaced, and put my hands around his neck, “You sick fuck!”
35. The Undying Love Of A South Texas Girl
The waitress placed a plate of steaming enchiladas, smothered in cheese and onions, with a side of guacamole salad in front of Brian. A sweet tea was just out of reach of his left hand. He muttered a quiet “thank you” and turned his head, gazing out the diner window to a point off in the distance.
”I love you,” he whispered.
”I love you more,” was her reply.
“I love you the most.”
“Well I’ll love you longer.”
“I’ll love you until I die.”
“I’ll love you even longer than that.”
It was an old bedroom game. The scene played out in his head as a figure began to emerge in the sunset.
“Better get these to go,” he thought, before deciding, “No. Fuck it. I’ve got time.”
Brian was half way through the plate; the waitress had refilled his glass of tea three times, when a patron deposited an absent minded quarter into the juke box. It was Robert Earl Keen, one of her favorites.
”The road goes on forever and the party never ends.”
Brian shook his head. Mr. Keen had no idea how right he was. He glanced out the window, studying the approaching figure. It was closer now. Brian could almost make out its features. He took the time to slowly enjoy what was left of his meal before sliding a $20 under the edge of the cleaned plate. By the time he unlocked the door to his old pick-up truck, he could clearly make out the details of the figure he had been watching.
The fetid corpse trudged closer and closer to the diner. Rotted flesh dangled from crackling bones, and the white gown it once wore was now a filthy rag.
“I’ll love you until I die.”
“I’ll love you even longer than that.”
Brian slid into his truck and closed the door. He wondered how far away he’d have to go this time, and how long it would take her to find him.