Thursday, May 17, 2018

Story 253: A Shot at Redemption

Colton took a fourth unlabeled bottle down from the shelf, this one filled with a golden liquid.  "You’re right," he said, "I’ve never had that particular request before.  But before you break your arm patting yourself on the back I should point out that pretty much all of my orders are unique."

He was standing behind the bar, wearing a pristine white apron over his tailored suit.  There was nobody else in the bar, just Colton and Isaac, though the distant sounds of a busy night club came from three stories above.  Colton’s bar was always empty other than whichever client he had decided to allow inside, despite having seating for at least a hundred.

"So the question, as always, is how do I mix this drink?"  He stared intently into one of the other bottles he had gotten down, a thing of thick green glass that - to Isaac at least - appeared to be empty.  Isaac knew the question had been rhetorical but it he answered anyway out of nervousness.
"Well - heh - hopefully no tongue of bat or anything, right?"

Colton smiled, and slowly looked up. "No. No bat for you, friend.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll have to put some... obscure... ingredients in there.  It’s magic you want, after all.  But no wool of bat, no eye of newt, nothing like that.  I think, in your case... a martini."
Isaac felt his muscles relax.  A martini.  That sounded familiar, safe.  "Sure, sure.  Thanks mister Colton.  Good old gin and vermouth, and a little of your... your thing."

"Maybe," Colton said, putting one of the bottles back on the shelf and taking three more down. "I have some very special gin that will be perfect for this, and a few types of vermouth that might tie in with the right binding ingredients.  But I have other options too, the martini has some variants that are still close enough to earn the name."
"Does that matter?" Isaac asked as he squinted at the thousands of bottles still on the shelves.
"Oh, certainly.  The name is all part of it, magic works partly on its own merits but partly on how the local culture demands.  Thus, in times where magic is largely considered fiction it can actually be better to disguise the crafting of potions as something people do believe in - mixing drinks.  But then the drinks themselves must follow, and so we care very much about the connotations.  Martinis are sophisticated, a bit celebratory.  As with any alcohol you can drink them when you’re depressed but that’s not really what they’re associated with."

Celebratory.  Isaac rolled the word around in his head, and couldn’t make it apply.  "I don’t know that celebratory is the thing, really.  Not to question your work, mister Colton, it’s just that I worry you’ve misunderstood."
Colton smiled.  "Not at all, but as I was saying there are variants.  A martini is our base, we’ll be close enough to the martini to get some of the good connotations we need but with a slightly different twist.  Pardon the pun.  Yes.  Add some vodka, swap the olive out for a twist of lemon peel... yes, this will do."  Colton yet again re-arranged the bottles, replacing some and pulling one more down.  He pulled a lemon out from under the bar and cut it in half, revealing black pulp under the yellow rind.  Isaac stared at it, watching the juice run down onto the bar and change from pitch black to bright red as it spread out in a puddle.  "That’s a lemon?" he asked, but Colton just carved a thin slice off and set it aside.

He began to measure out the alcohol, some of it seeming to pour in slow motion. "There’s still the question of the glass.  Martinis are traditionally served in a modified cocktail glass, but this type should be in a champagne coupe." Rather than ice, Coulton dropped some clear crystals into the container.  They didn’t look cold, but almost instantly condensation appeared on the glass.  "Of course what I really am using this for is the name, because the other connotations are more related to... subterfuge, gambling, womanizing.  All related to your predicament, I suppose, but the name is the thing.  Vesper.  Roman version of Hesperus, also known as the evening star.  Hesperus and Phosphorus are two sides of the same coin, brothers but also the same person - Phosphorus being the morning star.  Sound familiar, Isaac?"

Isaac shook his head and Colton began to stir, a faint light flickering in the drink as the crystals clinked. "It’s where the name Lucifer comes from, Isaac.  Lucifer is the morning star, the light bringer.  The devil.  And what would be the other version of Lucifer, his metaphorical brother?  The left hand of God, the angel before the fall.  And then of course in the plural we have Vespers, which I’m sure you know is a type of Catholic mass."  Colton set the stirring rod aside, the twisted length of metal steaming as if hot even though the mixing glass looked ice cold. "And that circles around to my choice of glass.  As I said a moment ago, a champagne coupe is traditional but that’s a sort of goblet and I have a custom-made goblet that’s close enough and is... extremely appropriate."

Colton placed a goblet on the table, made of stained glass, and poured the drink through a strainer into it.  He set the strainer aside, crystals now clouded, and placed the twist of lemon into the drink.  The liquid was glowing, casting bright shapes of color onto the bar.  Colton turned the glass idly, admiring it, and Isaac found himself trying to make the shapes in the stained glass form something.  Shouldn’t it form a picture?  But the pieces were too large, some tiny fragment of an image too big to see.  Isaac reached out and lifted the glass in his hand.

"Who am I," he asked, "to argue with God?  If the almighty wills that I be damned, then... and I did it.  I betrayed her, and I let her die.  I’m bound for perdition, and no fucking martini can change that."
Colton nodded. "Maybe.  It’s a tall order.  But this Vesper doesn’t overturn the will of God, Isaac.  It’s... a reminder.  An acknowledgement of sin, a reminder of a past glory, and a request for dignity and future hope.  Make a toast, Isaac."

He lifted the stained glass goblet to his lips, felt the liquid starlight flow into him and bridge a divide he didn’t know was there.  And Isaac laughed.

Story 252: The Queen's Garden

Sharon hesitated, trying to figure out the best way to extricate her foot from the snarl of undergrowth she had tangled it in without falling on her ass.  For the hundredth time she chastised herself for not wearing proper footwear, shoes she could lace tight or boots that went up to her knees or something.  Instead she had impulsively headed into the forest wearing Mary Janes that were almost immediately ruined and had been pulled off her feet twice, each time eliciting a string of curses that would have quite scandalized most of Sharon’s real life acquaintances who didn’t know that she swore like a sailor when she was alone or on the internet.

The man in the pub had said Castle Nurgül was just a fifteen minute walk away, and Sharon had imagined a lovely stroll through the woods because she was, she had to admit, totally clueless about nature.  Oh sure, she knew in theory that nature was filled with brambles and mud and biting insects but that had all been very abstract an hour ago.  An hour.  Fifteen minutes was probably the estimate for someone wearing the right sort of shoes, someone who hadn’t spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to find a way up a muddy slope that wouldn’t ruin her dress before not only ruining it but sliding down to the bottom of the hill anyway in a cloud of "fuck"s.

It would be worth it though, she was certain of it.  Anyway if it wasn’t she was damn well going to pretend it was, because she couldn’t bear to admit she could waste this much time and energy.  But then, how could it not be worth it?  The ruins of a cursed castle, abandoned in the woods?  Not in the guidebook, known only to the little village nearby?  That was the stuff of legends.  Literally.  Even if it was just a couple of tumbled down stones it would be worth it just to say she had been there.

Giving a decisive yank that somehow didn’t cause her shoe to fly off, Sharon got her foot free.  She was psyching herself up again, raising her spirits by their bootstraps - her spirits, at least, had metaphorical boots on apparently. "I’m going to see a cursed motherfucking castle in the woods,complete with the ghost an an old queen," she said out loud to further excite herself, "And also I’m not lost and I’m not going to wander off and die out here."  She noted the position of the sun again, and headed onwards.  She didn’t need to go far.

It rose up from the woods suddenly, like an optical illusion snapping into focus.  The green shapes ahead abruptly resolved into ivy-covered stone, much larger than Sharon had dared to hope for.  She pulled out her phone and took some pictures, but reluctantly put it back into her bag rather than starting up a video - the battery wasn’t as full as she would like and the last thing she needed was to get lost on her way back, probably within spitting distance of the village’s cell tower but with no way to call anyone.

Most of the walls were just long mounds, but there was still a bit of the central structure.  The man in the pub had been appropriately dramatic about it, telling her "The old queen is there, holding court still.  Best to stay away, but if you look just be sure not to enter.  And don’t touch her garden," although of course the whole place was practically a garden since the forest har reclaimed it.  Not a very good garden - most of the flowers were actually thistles and obviously there was no rhyme or reason beyond the rough borders created by ancient walls.

Sharon stepped into the center of the structure, no ceiling above but with stone steps still visible in the corner leading to nowhere.  She could imagine a throne at one end of the room, and felt a sudden urge to curtsy to the old queen.  She rolled her eyes at herself instead, and risked her phone battery to take a few more pictures.  There was a sound, like a murmur on the air, people talking or humming in the distance - but when she paused to listen there was nothing.  As she reached the end of the room she heard it again, and realized it was coming from a small gap in the wall that led out to where something colorful was waving slightly in the late spring air...

Roses.  Hundreds of them, on bushes in straight rows.  The gnarled roots climbed over everything so that it was actually just as tricky to navigate as the woods outside the ruins, but those rows were still somehow visible.  The roses were orange and yellow, spaced out in ones and twos but still in such numbers that Sharon felt almost disoriented.  "What the everloving fuck?" she muttered, and for just a moment felt a flash of annoyance.  Strange.  The sound faded in again for a moment, just long enough for the humming voice to draw her attention to the far end of the courtyard.

She picked her way along the center where the gap between rows was widest, heading to a shaded corner in the back where she could see something moving.  There was a stone, long and narrow, propped up at an angle - and some trick of the light was making it look like it was moving.  "This had better not be an actual fucking ghost," Sharon said to herself, and felt that flash of annoyance again.  It was just like a smell or a taste, but emotion instead.  She was sure it was her imagination, but it was unnerving.  Still she found herself walking forward.

It was a coffin.  No, a... what was the word?  Sarcophagus.  A human form, so worn by time that the face was gone, was still just barely visible carved into the top.  A woman, and some carvings of roses or some other flower around her.  The sarcophagus was open slightly, and Sharon could finally see what had been moving.  Bees.  Hundreds of them were climbing in and out of the sarcophagus - they had turned it into their home.  The humming sound returned - not humming, but buzzing.  Still, it did seem so much like a voice.

"That explains it," Sharon said as if trying to convince herself, "people hear the buzzing and it sounds like a voice, and they see the sarcophagus, and... yeah.  Instant ghost story.  Man.  I have to get a video.  Fuck my battery."

It was stronger this time, and with it came a voice.  Not words, not really, but the humming surged in time with a foreign thought in her head that said, essentially "rude".  Or... disrespectful.  Sharon stumbled back, shocked, and felt her Mary Janes snag on a root.  The traitorous shoe popped off and she fell backwards into one of the rose bushes, snapping a dozen stems and scoring her arms with the thorns.  "Fucking fucker!" she screamed reflexively as she felt her skin tear, and then the air was filled with bees in a maelstrom around her.

Sharon tried to apologize, for her language and for damaging the roses and for trespassing and for existing at all but her mouth was suddenly bone dry and the weight of the psychic fury around her chased every word from her mind.  By the time she caught her breath it was too late, bees swarming into her throat and all along her skin and stinging her.  She couldn’t even scream.  And inside the sarcophagus, inside the beehive, the old queen went back to sleep.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Story 251 (Creepypasta): The Department on the Fifth Floor

"Humor me for a second," Jessie said as she perched herself on the corner of my desk. "Tell me everything you know about the people on the fifth floor." That's what's burned into my head, that moment. She was wearing this fuzzy sweater, a bubblegum-pink eyesore that should have looked terrible but somehow came across as almost classy on her. It was no wonder most of the guys in the office had asked her out - which was probably why she hung out with me all the time. I was safe. I had a serious girlfriend (now my wife) and wouldn't have hit on a coworker anyway. My girlfriend never met Jessie, but always referred to her as my "work wife". She kinda was, it was platonic but also just... very familiar. I miss it a lot. Now I just have that moment that replays itself in my head, Jessie asking me to humor her and reflexively brushing a hand past her ear as if to tuck back the long brown hair that she had cut short a week before. Smiling, happy and a little excited, wanting to know about the fifth floor.

And I didn't know anything. Fifth floor was marketing overflow on the northeast corner, but the rest was behind a badge reader. I leaned back, trying to think, and Jessie's smile got bigger - it was clear this was the entertainment for the day (actually doing our jobs required a fraction of our attention). I knew I could ask someone higher up in the company, but that would ruin the game so I pulled up an org chart instead. One by one I went through the departments - HR on sixth, treasury on third - checking them off. Nobody - other than the aforementioned corner with a few undesirables from Marketing - was on the fifth floor. "Maybe it's leased out like that suite on the first floor, or maybe it's vacant?"
"It's not leased out," she said as she leaned back and looked around to see if anyone was listening, "because it's past the outer doors which means you have to be an employee here to get in. And it's not vacant. There are desks in there."
I hadn't even considered that she had already been inside, but it turned out she had come into the office just after four in the morning that day ("long story involving my engine catching on fire, I'll tell you about it later" she said - though of course she never did) and she got off the elevator at the wrong floor. The cleaning people were just leaving that area, and being a bit impulsive she had ducked in. Jessie hadn't looked around long, not wanting to get in trouble, but on her way out she had left a ball of paper in the stairwell door so it wouldn't latch.

So that was what we did with ourselves to avoid work. We waited until the stairwell was clear, pulled the door open, and pocketed the ball of paper as it fell out of the doorframe. I remember that I held the door open and gestured for her to go in first, making an exaggerated sweeping motion with my arm. She nodded and even mimed a curtsy before heading in. We thought we were so fucking cute. We were partially hidden by a fake plant and the desk closest to the stairwell was completely empty, no computer or anything, so we felt safe taking a look around. We could see down an aisle of cubicles - they were the same kind that had been on the third floor before the big remodel, beige fabric walls and grey desktops with little whiteboards and rolling file cabinets. There wasn't anyone sitting at any of the desks, but we could hear voices somewhere nearby.

Jessie looked nervous and wanted to head right for the main exit, just looking at whatever she could spot on her way by, but I felt confident we wouldn't get caught and wouldn't be in much trouble if we were so I wanted to snoop some. We compromised, making a wide loop around the main block of cubicles. I could still hear voices, the usual background murmurs of an office. Talking, typing, the occasional laugh. A phone ringing. But it was all at the other end of the office, with the cubes near us abandoned - not like the empty one by the stairwell, they had personal items and plants and things - but the computers were a bit outdated, with the big chunky monitors, and the calendars I spotted were from 1997 even though at this point it was May of 2004. It was like a corporate archaeological site, a preserved snapshot of the past. Nothing was so old that it was crazy to see it there - other than the calendars - but it was all just old enough to be strange.

By the time our loop reached the far side of the office, over near a tiny break room, something was bothering me. We stopped, silent for a moment, and then we realized what the problem was and I got goosebumps down my arms. I don't remember if one of us actually asked the other out loud, but we both knew the question - where were the people we could hear talking? All those little noises were coming from somewhere, but we had circled the area without seeing anyone and now all those sounds seemed to be in the direction we had come from. I cut across the middle of the room, not waiting for Jessie, and mid-way there I could hear talking on all sides of me. Like before it was muffled, just too far away to make out words. I turned, looking in all directions. "Hello?" I called, "Is anyone here? Hello?" There was no response.

I turned to call to Jessie, but I didn't see her. Jessie wasn't tall and the older style cubicles had higher walls than the new ones, but I still should have been able to see her head over the tops. I called out to her, walked along looking down every aisle, looked into the break room. I thought she might have gone out through the main door, but decided that she had done it to mess with me and so I went to leave by the stairwell instead - I pictured her lurking out front, laughing because she knew I was spooked, and I didn't want to give her the satisfaction. When I got to the stairwell door I took one last look over the mysterious department - I hadn't actually figured out which department it was supposed to be - and noticed something.

That desk, the one that I was certain was empty just minutes earlier when we arrived, had a computer and personal items on it. And a pink sweater draped over the chair. I looked closer and there was a picture pinned to the cubicle wall of Jessie holding a slice of birthday cake, surrounded by smiling people. It was clearly taken right there on the 5th floor and I didn't recognize any of the people as working at our company - I almost didn't recognize Jessie either, since her hair was longer than it had been even before her recent haircut. There were some other items, similar but not quite the same as the ones on her real desk. The calendar (October 1997) had her handwriting on it, as did a notepad sitting next to the keyboard. I felt like I should be laughing. It seemed so absurd, that she would somehow go to all that trouble to play a prank on me. But it didn't feel like a prank, and I couldn't bring myself to laugh. Instead I just stood there, straining to hear her voice in that distant murmur.

I left after a moment, went back to my desk and stared at my inbox for the rest of the day. I wiggled the mouse just often enough to keep the computer from going to sleep but otherwise I did nothing. I went home in a trance, told my girlfriend not to come over because I wasn't feeling well (which almost backfired, since she wanted to come and make me soup and pamper me) and crashed in my bed almost immediately. The next morning it all felt like a dream. When I got to work Jessie's desk was cleaned out, and my boss said he was told she had to transfer to another location due to "family issues". I couldn't get any more information about it, and despite how close we were at work I didn't know any of her friends or family to follow up on it. I quit a few months later, without having gone back to the fifth floor. Every few years I try to look her up, on Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever. I never have found her, but on the other hand I've never seen a missing person story pop up either.

So I tell myself it's fine, that it was an elaborate prank. I picture her, from that morning, sliding onto my desk and saying "Humor me for a second" and ask myself if she could have planned it, if she could have somehow gotten the help she would have needed to pull that off. I remember her in that terrible sweater, smiling, asking me about the fifth floor like this was all a great game - and I hope to god that that's what it was. I just don't believe it.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Story 250: Change of Plans

The flash of light nearly gave me a heart attack - I'd been working on my invention for nine hours straight and if there had been an electrical short that fried anything I would have cried. Instead, a strange man was standing there.
"Pleasure to meet you, Robert. You're quite famous in 2018."
"Um. No, I'm not."
The man looked confused. "Excuse me?"
"It's... it's 2018 right now, nearly halfway over actually, and I'm not famous at all."

He pulled off his goggles and sighed. "Right, no. I mean, here in 2018 you're... I mean you will be, before I came back to 2018, where you're... going to... shit. Look I said it wrong, okay? I didn't mean to say you're famous in 2018. Hang on. Can I get a do-over? I mean of course I can, I'm a fucking time traveler. Okay this won't have happened in just a second. Let me just..." He started tapping at some sort of device on his wrist, but was interrupted by a flash of light and another version of himself arriving.
"Pleasure to meet you, Robert. You're quite famous in 2093. I... fuck. Shit, wait, why am I still here?"

"I haven't left yet, asshole. You came back too late."
"You mean early. Because you're still here."
"No, late. Because you're supposed to go back to before I even arrive."
"Right. That's what I meant. Wait, then why did you say 'still here'? You should have said 'here already' or something."
"Jesus, seriously? You're the one that said that. Anyway, look, you have to... erase yourself or something."
"Fuck that, you do it."
"I was here first!"
"Right. I'm older, that means you're the leftover one."
I couldn't take it anymore. "Both of you, shut up. You, the one that got here first. What exactly am I famous for?"
"The time machine you're building."

"Oh. Huh. Well, let me show that to you, I guess. Come here." The two came closer, and I went to my toolbox. I pulled out my gun and managed to shoot them both before they could do anything, then dragged the bodies over to the drain in the floor so they wouldn't make too much of a mess. Pulling off the strange devices on their wrists, I walked back to my workbench. "Sorry fellas, but up until now I was working on a food delivery drone." But hey, who am I to mess with history? If I'm going to be famous for time travel I might as well get to work reverse-engineering it.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Story 249: You'll Regret This in the Morning

When you've got Chrono-dysplasia you lose track of time a lot, but based on my personal notes I think it's been almost four years since I last screwed up. Or, rather, it was four years before last night. God damn it. The rules for not screwing up are pretty simple to understand - do the temporal awareness exercises so that you only lose control when you sleep, and then find somewhere to sleep with clear temporal boundaries. Like, when I found myself too far into the future I snuck into the Grandview Heights Motel the day before it was going to be demolished and slept there, in a filthy room covered in graffiti. I got a few spider bites and had to drug myself to actually fall asleep, but when I did I had nowhere to go but backward. Chrono-dysplasia won't ever move you to somewhere that you'll be up in the air or embedded in a wall or anything. Likewise, if you want to make sure you move forward you pick a place that was just built.

For me, for the past four years, that's been my house. I bought it with a lot of help from my family, and I was the first tenant. I appear in different years but always the same bedroom. Sometimes - mainly if it's after 2024 - the door is on the opposite side of the room with external stairs leading down because someone else is living in the rest of the house, but that's okay. Usually I have clean clothes waiting for me, my sorted newsfeed ready to prep me for the world outside, everything I could ask for. And then last night I had to go and ruin everything.

Four years of really limited bouncing, keeping things under control, and then I get cocky and decide I should fly to Las Vegas - just for the day, right? After all, it's been so long that I've stayed in one spot. I told myself I could stay awake the whole time, and I almost did. Then I was there, on the plane, and I figured... well, I can't travel from a plane. Right? This power, obnoxious as it may be, would never drop me from forty thousand feet. And what are the odds of another plane being right here in the very spot I was as I slept? Well I guess the odds - whatever they are - aren't zero. Now it's 2002 - the very height of the terrorism panic over September 11th, and well before anyone knew what Chrono-dysplasia was. They don't take kindly to people showing up mysteriously on airplanes with a fake-looking ID and a mysterious device implanted in their neck (yes, fine, I know it's tacky but you would want a hands-free phone implant too if you never knew what year you were going to wake up in).

"One last time," the government spook says, "how did you get on that plane?"
I can wait it out, fall asleep here somewhere. This will be okay. The cavity search was unpleasant, having my implant cut out was traumatic, and this whole ordeal is embarrassing - but I can make it. I just need to get them to let me sleep. Another suit comes in, hands a file to the one that has been questioning me. The spook's eyebrows go up like elevators. Are they learning the implant was advanced technology from their point of view? Did they find little two-year-old me in Cincinnati?
"Well, well, well. We've found our record on your twin brother. Did you think we wouldn't find out?"
"I don't have a twin brother."
"No," the man says, "not anymore. Is that why you were sneaking onto airplanes with strange devices? Are you trying to get revenge?"
"I have literally no idea what you're talking about. Look, can I just... get some rest? I'll tell you anything you want in the morning."
The man shakes his head. "Fine. We'll do this the hard way." He leads me to a cell and shoves me inside, locking the door. "In the morning, you'll tell us about yourself and about your brother."
"I already told you, I don't have a brother."
"You know, this is the very cell he was shot in? Why someone would break into a government facility and then hide in an empty cell is still a mystery to us. One that you will soon be solving."

Oh, shit. Shit. "No. Wait. Don't go. I'll explain everything, you just can't let me fall asleep here. I have a condition, it sounds crazy but you have to believe me!"

"Good night, mister Doe. We'll see you soon."

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Story 248 (Creepypasta): Sometimes I'm Somewhere Else

I'm writing this on my phone, hunched over a table in a Nebraska Starbucks, so please forgive me for any typos. My laptop is about a thousand miles away right now so I don't have a lot of options. I'll probably have to get a room at the Quality Inn right outside, so I guess I could use their business center.

I'm sorry I'm rambling. I don't really want to get to the point, it's going to make me sound like a crazy person. It's possible I really am crazy of course, though I don't think so. And it's possible that my problem - the most immediate part of the problem anyway - will just fix itself. That's why I'm at a Starbucks, actually.

Here goes: I don't have any fucking idea how I got here. This started a long time ago I think, back when I was maybe eight. I remember we went to a restaurant and I got up to use the bathroom, but when I came back out everything was different. Different tables, different customers, different decorations. I just stood there and stared for a bit, then walked outside. Across the parking lot I could see the correct restaurant, with my mom's old station wagon parked out front. I ran over and found my family and didn't tell anyone. What would I have said?

There were other times. I got onto the correct bus at the end of the day once during my sophomore year but after a while realized it was on a different route, and when I looked around I saw blue eagles on the school jackets and folders the kids had. I wasn't just on the wrong bus, it was a bus from the wrong school entirely. Again, I didn't tell anyone. I had minor incidents, ones that might have been my imagination. I would go for a walk and end up too far away from home. I would turn down an aisle 9 in the grocery store even though I had just left aisle 23. One time I got drunk and ended up in the wrong bar. Those ones were all easy to shrug off.

The thing that was always the same, that it took me a little time to notice since it didn't happen very often, is that I was always tired afterwards. I would get "lost" and then feel weary, like I had just worked out. After I noticed I got paranoid, and whenever I suddenly felt tired I would look around in a panic. There were plenty of times I hadn't moved, though. I decided I was just seeing patterns where there were none, and went on ignoring the "glitches" as I thought of them. I almost posted to Reddit about this once before, but had one of those sudden feelings of exhaustion right in the middle of it and lost my train of thought so I just went to bed instead - and then in the light of morning it seemed too crazy. I deleted it all.

I've been tired a lot, lately, even though as far as I can tell I've only glitched out a few times. I ended up on the wrong level of the parking garage last week, and left a different conference room than I had entered a bit before that. Nothing extreme. But I was tired all the time, and I got a few comments on it. My coworkers told me to get more sleep, and Ian - who is particularly blunt - told me to go shower and shave. He wasn't wrong, it was like I had stayed up all night in my office even though I had actually only been there for forty-five minutes.

All this I could handle. It was worse than when I was a kid, gets a little worse every year, but it's not the end of the world. But then about an hour ago I got on the elevator at work and as the doors shut I noticed it was all wrong. The elevator was dingy, and it only had buttons for two floors. I assumed I was somehow in an elevator in a parking garage, but when I pushed the door open button I found myself at a Quality Inn somewhere in North Platte Nebraska. My work is in Phoenix Arizona.

It's never been this bad. Never. I've moved maybe a hundred feet most times - a few were probably further but even then it couldn't have been more than a few miles. This was at least a thousand. My phone was dead somehow, but that's been happening a lot lately so I had a recharger. I got it started back up and called my boss, let him know I wasn't feeling well and left early. He was surprised since he had just been talking to me and I seemed fine - as far as he's concerned he spoke to me right before my noon meeting which means either I hallucinated that phone call or I'm not crazy. It's not physically possible to get this far that fast, not even on a plane.

I came to the Starbucks partly because it was right outside the Quality Inn, and partly because I had the thought that with Starbucks all looking the same it might be easier for me to get back. I mean, I go from a bathroom to another bathroom - a hospital room to another hospital room (don't ask), a bus to a bus. If it's going to happen anywhere a place like this should be the easiest. The thing is, I've never done it on purpose before and the more I think about it the more I think I don't want to. I used the bathroom right after I got here, and I've got a good three days’ worth of stubble on my face (I don't grow beards well so that's not as much as you might be picturing). I'm not just tired but almost ready to collapse, and my feet feel like they have blisters. When I connected to the Starbucks wifi, my phone said it was backing up my photos - I looked and there's just a picture of a long dark tunnel (I can upload it if you need but it doesn't really show much of anything). It says it was taken at 4:37pm today, but it's not that late yet.

So I'm thinking maybe it only seems like I just around instantly. Maybe I'm actually going somewhere, spending time there, and then returning - and it's just that I don't always come back to the right place. Why else would my phone keep suddenly being out of charge? Why do I need to shave? Why am I so tired? I think that photo was taken about three and a half hours after I vanished out of an elevator at work, and then I was there long enough for the battery to finish dying. Maybe much longer than that. Days, probably. I don't feel hungry, I could use a shower but I don't think I smell bad enough for it to be that long. It doesn't totally add up.

I don't really care about that part though. Mainly what I'm worried about is the question of what happens to my memories of that place. If I'm right, if I'm going somewhere, do I forget afterwards? Or am I not aware in the first place? Is someone - something - in control of me? And yet, I have to hope it happens again and takes me home. Maybe I'll crash at the Quality Inn instead, then rent a car in the morning and start driving. I don't know what I'll do if this keeps happening. Will it keep getting worse? Will I appear on the wrong side of the planet, with grey hair and tattered clothes? I think there's nothing I can do but hope it all turns out okay somehow.

I just did it again. I had finished this post, everything up to the paragraph above, and was trying to decide if I really should submit it. Once I put this out there it's admitting that I'm probably crazy, or worse - if I'm not crazy that something that can't be understood is happening to me. I was stalling, and got up to buy one of those muffins that always look so much better than they actually are. I paid the barista, and then when I turned to go to my table I was at the far end of the Starbucks. The barista didn't seem to notice. I was still holding the muffin but it's moldy and crushed, like I clenched it in my fist. My wallet had been in my other hand and was gone, so I reached into my pocket and it was there along with something else - a torn sheet of thick yellow paper, with a few words written in what I hope is ink but smells like the inside of an abandoned sushi restaurant. 'DONT TALK ABOUT IT' is all it says, no explanation or even punctuation.

So maybe I shouldn't post this. I'm thinking about the other time I was going to post this, where I glitched out and then felt too tired to keep going. Was that a coincidence, or was something trying to make me change my mind? But that photo of the tunnel, and the thick black 'ink' on that paper - both fill me with dread somehow, the same feeling as that time I found bloody tooth in my jacket pocket. I haven't thought about that in a decade, but now I'm wondering again where it came from. Fuck it. This is something I have to do. If whatever is behind this is evil, so be it. Better to get my story out there. And if I'm crazy, or if I wrote the note myself... I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. I just can't think about this anymore, not by myself. Wish me luck.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Story 247 (Creepypasta): The Tunnel Behind the Wall

A little background: Pretty much as soon as I turned eighteen I started saving up for a house, I guess just because it was a thing I felt like I was supposed to do to count as an actual adult. But the prices just kept going up and up, faster than I could save money, and eventually I gave up and spent it all on other things. That's why when the housing market finally crashed I still couldn't get the kind of house I wanted. I had to settle for a smaller, older, fixer-upper way outside of Phoenix. Still, it was a nice property and the house backed right into what a lot of us here in the Phoenix area call mountains but reasonable people in the rest of the country would probably call a pointy hill.

The house was two stories, which isn't common for older places in Arizona and especially not for out in the desert, and the lower level was partially underground due to the slope of the "mountain". That meant it stayed much cooler than it otherwise would have but I also think it was to blame for the scorpion infestation. The walls were covered in that awful dark faux-wood paneling that I associate with 1970s rec rooms for some reason, and when one of the panels popped out a bit I wasn't sad because I thought that might give me the needed motivation to replace it all. I tried to press it down but could feel that there was damage of some sort. Pulling it away, it was clear that the drywall behind it had pushed into the room, and through the hole I could see a void. Now I was worried that some wild animal had made a den in some crawlspace between my house and the mountain and was scratching at the wall.

I cleared that side of the room and pulled off the paneling, then cut a section of drywall off so I could get a better look at the space behind. First thing I saw was a metal bar, and then as I pointed a light in I could see it was a concrete tube. It looked like some sort of huge drainage pipe, though I couldn't for the life of me think of why there would be a drainage line - especially one big enough for me to walk down (or at the very least kinda crouch and waddle down) leading into or out of the mountain. I called the city and eventually got through to someone who told me very authoritatively that it wasn't a city works thing and had to have been put in place by a private party who had owned the land.

The house had been foreclosed on so I bought it from the bank after the foreclosure auction didn't get an acceptable bid. My realtor said the person that had it before the bank hadn't actually lived there and had intended to flip it, so that meant the last actual owners were a few steps back. I figured I could go through the title for the house and see if I could get names, I know in theory it's all out there to find but it seemed like a lot of work and my immediate issue was the hole I had left in the wall. I could have repaired the drywall pretty quickly, but in a fit of curiosity I made the hole bigger instead. I borrowed some bolt cutters and removed the padlock and chain that was holding the bars shut and opened the thing up.

There was a layer of dried mud and grass on the bottom, but no actual moisture and no smell. I crouched down and headed inside, flashlight making the concrete walls around me very bright and yet still leaving a circle of total blackness in front of me. I wasn't too spooked yet, and was kinda enjoying the adventure of it. Eventually I came to a fork, and headed to the left where I quickly hit a dead end. There was a circular concrete room, about ten feet across and totally covered by a nest. Dry grass or hay, a shredded blanket, some other bits and pieces I couldn't identify. There was a stuffed animal or maybe a dog toy - a blue bear clearly without any stuffing in it. Just like before, everything seemed dry and there was no smell. I heard something behind me and nearly jumped out of my skin, but when I spun around there was nothing there and I started to wonder if I had imagined it.

Still, there was that other fork to investigate so I headed down it - but that, too, stopped at a circular concrete room. No nest in this one which let me see that the floor was slightly indented towards a tiny little drain in the center which was almost comically small considering the size of the tunnel and room; it wasn't any bigger than a sink drain. There were also some random bits of debris. Some rocks, about one beer bottle's worth of green glass, and a pile of what I thought at first were little white pebbles. I leaned down and got a closer look, and when I saw they were teeth I felt a sense of absolute panic overtake me. I stopped thinking at all, and if I could have run I would have but instead had to settle for a frantic shuffle - banging my head into the top of the tunnel repeatedly.

When I got out, the room was trashed. The television was on the ground, papers from my desk were everywhere, and the door was open. I called the sheriff’s department and a deputy came out, and he looked at me like he had seen a ghost. He walked right past me into the house and looked around like he owned the place, and only snapped out of it once I tapped him on the shoulder. He apologized and said that he hadn't heard anyone bought the house, and I got the distinct feeling that he thought it should have remained vacant but I can't promise that was anything other than my imagination which I think you can imagine was running wild at that point. I told him my whole story, and when I got to the part about the teeth I realized they hadn’t been bloody or anything. They looked like baby teeth that had just fallen out naturally, which was somehow both better and worse than the alternative. The deputy headed into the tunnel and came back later with red-rimmed eyes and a blank expression. "Allergies," he said, but I swear to god he had been crying. He told me to seal it up, and said I must have left the door open and let a coyote in while I was in the tunnel.

I wanted to object to that, but honestly it was the best explanation. Sure, something could have been in there and passed me while I was in the other side of the fork - but the tunnel had no food, no water, and had been closed up for years. There was simply no way there could have been anything living in that tunnel. The deputy left, and as he got into his car I saw something fuzzy and blue peeking out from his pocket. I can't say if it was the stuffed animal for sure because I couldn't bring myself to go back into the tunnel to see if it was still there. I found a padlock I used at the gym and re-chained the entrance, and as fast as I could I put the drywall back up - I even put the hideous faux-wood paneling back on so I could be done faster. I sold the house at a slight loss but nothing too terrible, and tried not to think of it again.

But the part that haunts me is that when I was cleaning up the mess, after the deputy had left and while I was still trying to convince myself everything was fine, I lifted that television off the ground and uncovered a dusty human footprint on the floor.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Story 246: Understudy

"Hello, Jack."
It's me. Maybe from the future? I look a little heavier, a little more worn somehow. It has to be a prank. Time travel isn't real, and nobody would make a clone that looks worse than the original. It has to be a clever makeup job that's part of some joke that... oh, Harold. It has to be that douchebag Harold.
"Nice mask, dumbass. Don't think I forgot that bet. The fake IRS call didn't get me and this isn't going to either."

I put my satchel down and pour myself a drink. Harold looks confused, or maybe a little bit amused. He's probably going to keep trying this gag for a minute or two.
"No, Jack. I'm you. Well, I'm the real you. You're just a clone."
Oh that's clever. That's actually way better than what I was expecting. "I like it! Yeah, get that existential dread thing going. Nice one, Harold!"
"I'm not that prick Harold. I'm... you know what? Fuck it. Quartermellon."
Quartermellon? What does that even...

I'm paralyzed. I can blink, and breathe, and... that's about it.
"There, you see? I came to thank you for working so hard these past two years. You've made me a lot of money. I was going to do it the right way, work my way up the ladder and kiss everyone's ass, but after Diana left and Karl took the job I wanted I... needed a break. So thank you. Really."
This is impossible. I'm me. I've always been me. I remember... things. Right? It's... shit, I mean I don't remember a lot about my childhood but that's normal. Right? Nobody remembers much of what happened before they turned thirty.
"All good things must end, I'm afraid, and now that you've fixed my finances and obtained my dream job I really should step back in."

I have to say something. I try to talk, but I can't quite form words. He can tell I'm attempting to communicate though.
"I shouldn't do this, but... I'm going to trust you. Don't try anything. Quartermellon."
I almost drop my drink, but recover. I take a sip, trying to relax. "Thanks. There's a problem with your plan, though."
"Oh?" Now he looks amused for sure. He's not buying it.
"Yeah. You can't possibly be me. You've been - what, on vacation? For two years? Lounging on some beach, drinking, catching whatever STDs the locals have on hand? Your fiancée left you and you didn't get a job and you lost it. Almost lost everything. Now you think you can come back and operate at an even higher level? Do you have any idea how many projects I'm working on right now? You'd be clueless, you wouldn't know where to start. You don't know the people, the policies, the background. You're rusty from sitting on your ass and you want to just jump right into the lion's den?"
He looks mad, I may have overdone it. But I'm not wrong, and I need him to think about this, to realize how hard it's going to be.

"I could... I'll figure it out." He doesn't sound convinced. Good, now I can offer him an alternative. Offer to keep living 'his' life and... fund his beach vacation, I suppose. Until I can figure out how to get rid of him.
"Listen, I can -"
"Quartermellon! You've said enough. Maybe you're right, maybe I'm worthless. Maybe I can't come back. But at least I'm not a slab of vat-grown meat! I... Jesus, I need a drink."
He storms out, door slamming. Slowly I watch the sun dip below the horizon, unable to move. At some point I fall asleep, and when I wake up he's still not back. I think he's never coming back. I pass out occasionally, and wake to a ringing phone or a knock at the door. I can feel myself dying. Come on, you asshole. Come and take your life back.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Story 245: Once More Unto the Breach

"Going behind enemy lines" is what we called it. My squad and I arrived together, with no supplies or weapons. Last I remembered we had been fighting a platoon of demons up at the outer ring, and then something fiery shrieked down out of the sky and exploded.

Killed every last one of us, but that's a minor setback. "Regroup!" the squad leader yells, and we line up. There's a constant flow of people here, getting herded into different groups by genuine pitchfork-wielding devils. Those guys are practically just accountants though. Where are the heavies?
"Men, it's an honor to go behind enemy lines with you," our leader says, "and I will remind you that we are fighting not just for the liberation of these damned souls but for our own immortality. It's all or nothing, hellfire or eternal life. I have orders to follow, in this particular situation. We are not to try and escape or cause general mayhem, but to quickly and efficiently secure this area. Do you understand?"

We all shout, and start planning. It makes sense; if we can get organized here where the dead arrive in Hell then we may be able to fight this war from both sides. And the lack of heavy Demons might mean we're already wearing them thin, so this could be enough to tilt things in our favor. One day this cavern will be cleaned up and air conditioned, it'll look like Grand Central Station instead of a volcano's asshole.

Soon we make our move, and start taking out devils. We suffer heavy losses, including myself - but it's not that much of a loss. The trident skewers me and I feel the worst pain I've ever experienced burn through me, but a few minutes later I'm picking myself up off the ground good as new. Rumor has it they've got pits of acid where they shove soldiers so that you can't ever get back on your feet, but I don't plan on letting them drag me to one.

Finally, when almost all of us are armed with stolen weapons and the remaining devils are running for it, a heavy shows up. It's not even a type I've seen before, it towers over everything like a colossus. Shit. Jenkins charges in and manages to stab at it's Achilles tendon, but it's like threatening an elephant with a toothpick. The beast stomps on Jenkins and he's gone, flattened and burning. Presumably he'll recover eventually but...

One by one we try to hurt it and fail. I manage to avoid being stomped but my trident is gone, and I'm out of ideas. This thing is unkillable.

Then the others start charging. The regular folks, old men and little girls and all the other confused and tormented souls waiting to be sorted. They start climbing it, and there's so many of them the thing doesn't even seem to know what to do. They're hitting it, ineffectually, with their fists and feet. Some have rocks, and one or two have even picked up tridents. It's not enough to kill the thing, but the demon is clearly feeling overwhelmed. It brushes a hundred people off, but they scramble right back. The ones that are too smashed to move are replaced by new souls, even some that are just now arriving.

I grab the trident I had dropped and start climbing. The mass of screaming, naked bodies should be horrifying but all I can feel is hope and inspiration. Reaching the thing's head, I swing out in front of it on a curved horn and slam my weapon right into its eye. The beast howls and falls, crushing hundreds below it. I roll free and by the time I stand I see some others from my squad are on top of it, stabbing its other eye. The whole cavern shakes, and then gets deathly silent.

The thing isn't moving, at all.

The human souls cheer, and some make a run for it. We start to try and wrangle the rest, organize them so we can secure the entrances and exits. We've got a beachhead now. Hell will have us to pay.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Story 244: Welcome to the Club

"It's just a little... undignified," he says. I nod, not really to agree but just to fill the gap in the conversation. I don't know how to respond. This dude and his buddies kidnap me and bring me into what looks like some sort of super creepy cult meeting and now they're telling me they're worried about me hurting their reputation by... being immortal the wrong way?

"There's also the question of the evidence it leaves behind," another says. I was a bit distracted when I came in, especially with the hood over my head, and so I didn't pay a lot of attention to their names. I think this guy said he's an immortal through reincarnation, and I know the first dude said he was an 'ageless one' whatever that is. There's one who says he drank an elixir of immortality, and one who says she can choose to age in reverse whenever she gets too old. So that's pretty cool. I realize they're all staring at me. I guess I should say something?

"Uh, yup. Yeah. That's a tough one. I usually just... eat it though. I mean, it's simple and I'm hungry and... yeah. I know it sounds strange but like... two birds with one stone, right?"
Yeah they think I'm nuts. They're looking back and forth at each other, nodding. I think they're about to kill me. And if they're actually a bunch of immortals they'll know a way to do it. Lock me in an airtight box and bury me? Shoot me into space? I mean even if those don't kill me they'll be a huge inconvenience. The enormous no-neck guard at the door pulls a gun which... I mean that's no biggie.

"Sorry for this inconvenience," dude number one says, and my ears ring for just a second before they stop working. Seems like a lot of damage was done, my whole body is shutting down fast. I feel my muscles contract and heave and there's that trippy moment where my perception shifts and I'm suddenly surrounded by my old body, being pushed out. Tearing and ripping I force my way out of my ribcage and stand, dripping, on my corpse. They're sighing, and looking both disgusted and resigned. I guess they had to see it for themselves. Well, like I warned them I'm starving and I'm only going to get hungrier as I grow back to my usual six-foot self over the next few hours, even after I reabsorb my tail and extra arms, so...

"Oh gods, he's doing it. He's eating his own corpse. Will someone... can we get him a meat and cheese platter or something? And a mop?"
There's some arguing, and talk of voting on something. I can feel myself getting bigger as I crunch my old bones, feel my body growing into its usual youthful human form.
"I'm out. Meeting adjourned. He can join but I don't want to ever be in the room for that again, understood?"
Sorry it's not dignified, folks. Maybe you'll get used to it.