untitled no.1

I am driving with my mother somewhere in the south or the mid-atlantic.
Not really the south or the mid-atlantic, somewhere that bears an energetic resemblance to the aforementioned but is unique in its particularities.
Quite unique, I will find.
In the back seat is a blanket covering a BB gun and a giant cap rifle, food, and various other nonessentials.
We go down the somewhat traffic ridden road and I know there are police almost everywhere, but still my mother fails to correct some sort of vague illegality that is sufficient to get us pulled over. I am disappointed.

Blue and red lights.

Crap.

We roll the windows down. A cop dressed in olive drab walks up to the back window and instantly pulls the blanket off the guns and gives me a severe look.
He knew! I am amazed.
“Why do you need these?” he accuses, handling the BB gun roughly and with an almost utter lack of gun safety.
“That’s a BB gun and the other is a cap rifle, they’re not very dangerous,” I clarify.
He eventually seems to arrive at the conclusion of what they are. I have the feeling I did not even need to tell him.
“We could have taken real guns but I thought that would be a bad idea. I’m sorry. Please.”
I am nearly on the verge of crying. I do not desire to go to jail or pay a large fine for something as typically trivial as this. My pleading is followed by silence for a few seconds.
The cop rolls the situation over in his head and seems to deduce that we are not particularly dangerous people.
“It’s not a big deal; I’ll let you off this time.” he says casually. He replaces the guns over the blanket.
“But do you know what’s up there on that hill?”
An air of mystery descends. On our right side is a large, dark hill covered with thick forest and grassy cattail marshlands leading up to it, as may be seen in parts of Pennsylvania. There is no path leading up to it and it seems exceptionally isolated from the rest of the world.
“No, I have no idea,” say I.
“I can show you,” he says, mystery thick behind his voice.
My mother is not at all interested in coming. She stays behind.
I do not know what pulls me towards the wild but it is an irresistible force and whatever is out there seems much more fascinating than the highway, and more dangerous.
We start off. The policeman begins to descend the ten foot slope directly beside the road and I follow him. He makes his own trail amongst the knee-high grasses that undulate for two-hundred feet until the more severe section of the slope upwards. After traveling increasingly far from the safety of the highway, we approach the trees and walk through them, in the midst of the dark and subconsciously-attuned woods native to this part of the country. The noises of broken sticks and crushing leaves sound.
However, I feel some sort of break in the solidity of the forest. I see light through the other side of the vegetation. The policeman smiles.
We break through the forest to a concrete ramp guarded by a chainlink fence. There is a hole in the fence that we step through. To the direct right of the slope is a large brick apartment building with faded yellow window casings on its myriad windows.
The building is clearly not being used.
I feel very apprehensive at the bizarre and monolithic feeling caused by such an object in the middle of the woods, but curiosity propels my feet nevertheless.
After mounting the incline, we turn to the right side and see another building that was being hid behind the first as we were on the ramp, and to the right of that one is yet another smaller version of the same, so that the three combine to make a U shape which we would have been on the left side of a minute ago.
We make it to the middle of these structures. They look at least seventy years old. There are stairwells down to possible entrances underground but we worry not with them.
Suddenly the policeman takes a pistol out of his holster and starts shooting at the wall and windows. 
“What are you doing?” I ask, startled. The gun seems inexplicably quieter than a real one. His aim is very specific. I am not used to policemen breaking the law.
“Look in those windows.” he says. I feel a dirge bell ring.
I can see clearly inside each of these windows. As I walk, in awe, down the side of the apartment building, I see room after room of people, motionless, going about their lives or simply sitting and staring out at whatever is in front of their windows. Young people, old men, all sorts of different inhabitants.
They are all stuck there, silent, but look as if they could suddenly move if something in the atmosphere shifted. It is so nearly like they are still alive.
“There was an accident here,” saith the policeman gravely, “A bad accident. Something happened nearby and everyone in these apartment complexes was frozen in time where they stand. It happened decades ago.”
The gravity of this dawns on me and I feel a strong sense of melancholy. It reminds me of a similar event somewhere else in the world.
“Here, take this rock lobber,” he says, out of the blue, handing me an underpowered or modified pistol. “Shoot some of them.”
I don’t know what comes over me, or if I am simply afraid to not obey, but I fire at a few of these ephemeral personages and small holes seem to appear in them where the slow rocklike projectile hits them. It is like a bizarre target gallery.
I give the gun back, wondering if I should feel guilty or contented with ending their ceaseless vigil. I cannot tell if I killed them or not, but nothing about them essentially seemed to change after being shot. 
Either way, the policeman’s habit of coming out here and regularly using this hideous place as a target gallery makes me feel nervous.
“I am going to leave,” say I.
“You should go up that path to the new civilization,” he advises. I nod. East of the apartments, further into the wilderness, lay a concrete path with a gate partially blocking it. I pass through the old gate and continue along. Rocks litter the way.
The policeman leaves and goes back to his car.
After putting some much-needed distance between me and those awful apartment buildings, I find myself curious as to what is ahead. I walk another five hundred feet.
My curiosity is satisfied as I see, far away, a small village built on top of a huge slab of concrete. A minute later I am there.
The terrain is generally somewhat flat, and the town is hemmed in by forested wilderness. The town is on the top of a hill, though, so the highest parts of the trees barely manage to rise above the settlement.
There are people here!
I find some young teen boy, somewhat overweight, and we walk along the main corridor of the town, talking about it. He seems so bored that we become friends quickly, as I am the only new thing to happen at the town in quite a while.
I ask him how the town was founded. He explains that some of the original residents from the apartment buildings managed to make it over here to start a new civilization. Now there are at least forty people in the area. I wonder how anyone could have escaped the accident.
The buildings around here are but small, blackened plank structures, but they give off a comforting if archaic energy compared to the brutalist Eastern European ambience of the last ones. I see some work being done in the area, dirt and gravel being moved, and there are several bobcats and excavators going about, doing their jobs.
Due to its remoteness, this settlement does not feel boring in the manner of some locations, but it does feel difficult to actually do much nonetheless.
We get off the beaten path and explore a fairly large cabin surrounded by woods. It has brown shingles and a single medium-sized window.
I walk up to it and peer in the window. There are many pots and pans, primitive darkwood furnishings, a few old books, and an icebox in it. But something is sitting in the chair close to the window I am looking into, on the right. A man-sized insect, a cricket or spider, or some unholy combination of man with the aforementioned. Its giant brown hairy legs splay out of myriad directions.
The thing is sitting there motionless.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say, very nervous.
“Oh yeah,” replies the boy. “Those are dangerous, we should go.”
We head, surprisingly slowly, back up the path separating us from the mainland of the town. My new friend and I mess around with gravel piles, look at construction equipment, perhaps go in a small cabin or two, and try generally to pass the time in any way we can. Sometimes we can see many people in the town and other times it looks nearly abandoned, but no reason is ever made clear as to the volatility of its rugged inhabitants.
After a while it becomes difficult to play around any more, and I do not want to retrace my steps and go back to the highway either. I feel that chapter of the adventure is over with and I am spooked still by those frozen structures.
Night is beginning to fall. It is not blurring the colors of the landscape or turning everything to black, but the carefreeness of the start of my voyage, if there ever was any, has faded away.
We are bored and feel the irresistible urge to explore more, dangerous as it may be.
Past the section with the bugman house is another turnoff into the woods, which has evidently been traveled before. We walk down the path, which heads downwards off the plateau of the town.
We come to a section where the grassy path ends and is replaced by a large square mass of concrete, fifty by fifty feet, with different rectangular shapes layered on top of it. It nearly seems like a children’s playground except for the vague eeriness and mystery surrounding its purpose.
We use it, however, for its supposed purpose and climb about on it, finding it a respite from the last events.
Then I hear something a ways behind us. Fear is in my friend’s eyes. I turn around and see, on the path coming from the town, another one of those horrid creatures. It lurches towards of with many light-brown hairy hairy arms and I don’t know how many legs.
We try to hide behind a concrete rectangle, but I hear it coming around the side and run to another shape before it sees me.
It is even more terrifying up close. I lose my friend at some point, and although I can deduce that he was not killed, I am never quite sure where he goes. My best guess is into the dark surrounding woods.
I play cat and mouse with the thing through different shapes until I eventually end up and the far end of the slab form the town. The pathway continues on further past that.
It sees me and has me cornered so that my best choice is to continue down the path.
I run.
Quickly the woods and trees go by me, for I am at top speed and jumping over logs and turning corners with an emergencial exhilaration I have rarely felt hitherto.
But it is yet behind me, and I find with horror that it is a tiny bit faster than me and is gaining ground at a tortuously slow rate. I need something to save me and at the next turn something does. An oak tree stands in the middle of the path so I barely brush by it and then put it between me and the thing as I continue running.
It smashes into the tree and falls. I look at it for a moment.
It is not dead but needs to make it off the ground before it can continue its pursuit.
I wonder what terrible accident could have caused such an abomination. The one at the apartment buildings or some sinister de-evolution from the surviving town? Or were they always in the surrounding woods?
At any rate, I continue as fast as I can and note the path’s curvature to the right. Perhaps it will eventually make a semicircle and join up with the rest of the town.
But yet again the thing is gaining on me and I run, filled with terror that I will trip up at some point and make a mistake. I am lucky, but it is only ten feet behind me.
I dodge under a branch and go around an S-bend, and see the path raise up. Five seconds later I am nearly on the level of the town again.
The creature is overrun and I make it, panting and happy to be safe again, onto the foundation of the town. The thing, evidently, is fearful of the area, for I never see it again.
And there is my friend, far away, on the top of a mound of dirt.
Finally, we are reunited, and I hope that my trials are over.

 

 

 

 

The Blind Man

The Blind Man
Nick Stubson scraped the rabbit hide over and over again. His muscles pulsed as he drew the steel across the skin, making an endless metallic noise. He repeated the action over and over again. Over and over. Teardrops of sweat swelled on his forehead as his face contorted from pent-up anger. No, he was not scraping a rabbit skin. He was carving out all the mistreatment and shattered, faded memories from his mind.
It was the fourth rawhide of the day, and the sun, a blistering volcano, stared down relentlessly. Nick grunted from the exertion. He was the constant laborer of the family, and would obediently do whatever his father asked of him. Except on rare occasions, when he would get a good lashing instead.
The young man pulled the rusty old clips off the hide, gathered them up in a neat pile, and trudged sluggishly around the side of the wooden cabin. Nick opened the door while holding the pile of hides in his other hand and trying not to let any of them fall.
“Nick, get your stinkass over here and let me see them rabbit hides,” demanded his father. “You took too long. Should’ bin done by noon.” Bill talked very slowly. He didn’t think much, and didn’t talk much either.
“Hm,” grunted Nick. “Sorry.” He laid them on the table. Old Bill got off his rocking chair by the fireplace and walked over while steadying his sore hip. He looked over the hides like an inspector at Colt Manufacturing Company.
“Hmm. You didn’t put ‘nough brains on the belly of this’n.” Bill spat on it carelessly. Nick became angry, since he knew there was a spittoon right beside the wall.
“And it got a brown stain righ’ here. Won’t get no money in town. You better do better, else I’ll trade you for some farm hand,” said Bill sternly. Nick knew he never actually would. In the recesses of his mind, Nick would rather live with someone else. Anyone else.
Millie was adopted by Bill Stubson in the particularly cold winter of 1898. Her mother was dirt poor and couldn’t take good care of anyone anymore. On a trip to see his family, Bill Stubson made a rare act of generosity to his kin by adopting Millie. The other reason why he had moved was never discussed. In a fit of rage, he had shot an old acquaintance in front of a bar– in the eye. In the desert, Bill knew he could avoid the law.
She sat on top of the home-made bed and read one of the four books in the house. She knew it by rote, except for the last five pages, which she vowed she would never read until she got incredibly bored. That moment was fixing to be soon. Despite almost everything in her life conspiring against it, Millie turned out to be somewhat of a lady. She didn’t receive the same harsh punishments from Bill that Nick did. Because of that, she kept a bit of her innocence. Bill felt quite proud to have a ‘daughter’ that could end up making a good wife in a few more years. He looked constantly for suitors for Millie, but there weren’t many boys in the area, so he rarely found any.
“Millie, go and fetch some water,” hollered Bill from the living room. The sound easily broke through the door of their bedroom. Within half a minute, Millie  was out the door. The creek was only a few hundred feet away from the cabin. It was a paltry little thing, but one of the only sources of good water in Nevada. A small grove of trees grew around it, sucking up all the water they could find. Those trees and Bill Stubson’s cabin were the only two signs of life on the deathly plains.
That night, Bill finished his bottle of bootleg. He was so drunk that when he saw a palmetto bug scurry across the floor, he took the old shotgun off the fireplace and tried to crush it with the buttstock. Luckily for him, there were no cartridges in the gun. And fortunately for the palmetto bug, Bill’s aim was terrible.
Bill fell asleep on the rocking chair. He had a bedroom and a bed, but he preferred to keep out of there some nights. The kids couldn’t tell why.
The next day, Bill asked Millie to get more water. Because of the unusually dry weather, however, the creek was dry. Millie huffed and pranced around, trying to think of another way to get some water. She walked back up the creek bank and started to stare at the far reaches of desert.
Millie’s eyes squinted as she saw something strange on the horizon. It was an old man sitting atop a silent horse. He was far away, but Millie thought she saw something unsettling in his eyes. She started up a pace towards the front door and tried her best to ignore the stranger. Something inside her told her that talking to him would only make things worse.
“Bill, there’s some ol’ man out there,” declared Millie. She got his attention.
“I’ll be darned. Ain’t no people ’round here. What’s he want?”
“I ain’t sure,” said Millie. “But he looks real strange.”
“Well tell me if he gets any closer,” said Bill cautiously.
“Yes sir,” replied Millie. A few minutes later, when she looked out the window, she could see no trace of the old man.
Nick brought one of his old rabbit traps outside with him as he left of for the morning. Trapping was his favorite thing to do, except for the occaisonal shot he took his his father’s shotgun. Mostly, however, animals were too smart to get within range.
The teenager walked eastward, towards the general direction of the nearest town. After a half hour, he stopped and set his trap next to a rotten tree stump. There were a few rabbit holes around the stump, so he supposed he might get lucky.
The sand crunched incessantly as Nick took step after step back towards the house. Each step became a tiny bit less certain until he was wandering around like his dad after a bottle of moonshine.
Suddenly, something brought Nick to his senses. In front of him was a liver bay horse with a ragged old man riding on top. The man’s eyes were grey and plastered-over. His mouth hung off on one side, like it was slowly wearing off his face. His face was filled with wrinkles.
Nick took a step away from the man, filled with repulsion. A few seconds later, he composed himself enough to ask a question.
“Who are you, mister?” said Nick, his voice quivering. The man didn’t answer. He turned his face downward upon Nick. Once more, Nick panicked. He took off in the opposite direction.
After running for an arduously long time, Nick was dried out and exhausted. He hoped he wouldn’t die in the desert. Nick tried his best to look for landmarks on the horizon. He could vaguely see two comforting shapes hundreds of yards away.
Nick arrived home, drunk some water, chatted with Millie, and went to sleep early. He mentioned nothing of the old man, thinking he might scare his sister.
The next day was Sunday, so the three had a comparatively large meal to eat. It consisted of rabbit stew, a few pieces of beef, water, and some vegetables imported all the way from Texas. It wasn’t the freshest meal, but it was a lot better than what the family usually ate. Bill and the others joined hands.
“By the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” said Bill, slowly. His expression changed from one of sternness to one of rage.
“Darned devil is there at the window again! I can’t believe him! Why is he doing this to us?” his voice was filled with fire. Outside, close to the house, was the Blind Man, solemnly watching the family.
“Nick, get your butt outside and see what he wants.”
Nick reviewed his options for a minute. He almost decided to disobey, but changed his mind at the last minute. He grudgingly did as his father said. The door creaked and Nick went out of sight. Bill and Millie started to eat. They were nervous, but the food helped keep their minds off what was happening outside.
A few moments later, Bill got up and looked out the
window. No-one was there.
Millie and Nick was out in the town, doing some shopping and selling the rabbit hides to the saddler. Since Bill was feeling sick and hungover, he stayed in bed and stared out the window. Bill was hungry and sick at the same time. He wanted to go in the kitchen and make something, but his head felt like it was getting hit by hammers whenever he moved more than an inch.
Bill growled and closed his eyes, feeling exasperated. His head slammed back down on the bed. Some strange force seemed to push him off the bed. For some reason, his head stopped throbbing long enough for him to make the long trek to the kitchen. Slouched over like a hunchback, he moved inch by inch to the front of the house.
Outside, it was sunny and hot like a barbeque. It was never any different. Bill suddenly slipped and fell onto the floor. He became enraged at himself and the world. Feeling no reason to get back up and live, Bill feel into an uneasy and restless sleep.
There was a loud thump on the door. Bill’s head jerked up quickly.
“Who is it?” he yelled, feeling a sense of foreboding. Something was at the door. It wasn’t Millie.
Bill scrambled to his feet quickly. He grabbed the shotgun off the wall and squeezed it in his hands. He sneaked up to the door, crouched up behind it, and opened it. As the door swung towards the house, Bill saw his worst nightmare. It was that ghastly half-dead man and his ancient horse. He stared right into Bill’s soul, in his unseeing, menacing way.
“Get away from here right now!” Bill shouted, unable to control his anger and fear. The blind man didn’t budge.
“I said move!” Nothing happened. Bill shouldered the shotgun and pulled the trigger. It leapt into him and belched a blast of bituminous flame. Only the horse was left.
Slowly and reluctantly, the old horse nuzzled the dead man one last time. He lazily walked away from the house, swishing his thin tail slightly.
An hour later, Nick and Millie showed up. Bill told Nick what had happened.
“That darned-awful man showed up and I told him to scram or die. Look what he did. He jus’ stood there and so I shot him.” For the first time in years, there was a small tinge of regret in Bill’s hardened voice.
Nick was repulsed by what he saw. As his father went in the house and looked for the shovel, Nick tried to avoid looking at the dead man. He could not. Blood stained the sand around the body. Each small white hair on the man’s head was clearly visible. Nick noticed how archaic the man’s overcoat was. He guessed it was from decades ago. The body was rolled onto its stomach, so Nick was luckily spared the sight of the man’s face, but his body had an unearthly, faint glow to it. It was very off putting.
“What happened to the horse?” asked Nick.
“I don’t know,” lied the father.
Two hours later, Nick and Bill threw the last shovel full of sand over the corpse. They buried him by the river, a few hundred yards from the house. To make sure nothing would happen, they made sure to dig the grave extra deep.
Finally complete, Bill nodded proudly to his son and they turned around and trailed back to the house. Nick heard the gravel crunching as he stepped, but something about it made him feel slightly uneasy. Was there another sound of crunching behind him? He turned and saw nothing at all.
Are you alright?” asked Bill.
I’m fine,” replied Nick quickly.
Within another minute they arrived at the front door. Bill pushed Nick aside and opened the door with haste, not wanting to wait another second to get back to his normal life and stop worrying about the Blind Man.
Standing immediately in front of him was the ghost with the old coat and the vacant eyes. An eerie, disembodied voice issued from him as he gave his final warning.
You cannot run from the past.”

The Obelisk

by Azure James

“It is in one’s soul to explore,” said the great scholar Henry William Buckle. “For in exploration one may discover new parts in himself as well as in the world surrounding him.”

However, I never considered myself much of an explorer until the night of September 14, 1923. I was down in a sparsely-inhabited part of Florida, visiting family who had moved there only recently. I had come down with my mother and father, and for about a week, we had a fairly enjoyable time eating socializing, and drinking in the sweltering Floridian heat. 

On the eighth day of my excursion, I was talking to my uncle about the weather in Florida. Suddenly, all sound faded out and my uncle’s talking sounded like it was taking place a hundred feet away. He shook my shoulder but I could hardly feel it. His image was blurred in front of me, and I felt a strange sense of blankness inside.

A second later, everything more or less went back to normal and we both dismissed the episode as a trivial consequence of the change in climate from New Hampshire to the most tropical state in the Union.

 The day dragged on, and at the setting of the sun most of my relatives went to bed. I gradually felt some strange feeling in me intensify. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was, but it felt like some pull in me to leave the ranch-house and head into the murky forest to the south. I walked out of the house and leaned on the wall, thinking.

The heat was more tolerable now, so that being outside was quite comfortable. Black dragonflies buzzed about overhead. A light grey mist hung over the tree-tops. There was a small patch of grass surrounding the house, but around that was a jungle that stretched on for miles. Huge swathes of it were unexplored and virgin. It was filled with wild beasts and all manner of bugs. My heart began to beat faster as I thought of slinking out into the trees and feeling the isolation and wilderness first-hand. I knew there was something out there, calling me to it. I could not, however, tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

I felt conflicted. I went back in the house and saw my young six-year-old cousin sitting in front of a bookshelf. He was the only one who was awake. I had nobody else to talk to.

“Billy, what are you doing? You shouldn’t be awake at this time of night.” Billy looked apologetic.

“Sorry. I just couldn’t get to sleep. It’s too hot for me.

“I understand…” I said. “Billy- do you ever feel like you want to go out there and… see what’s in that forest?” I asked bluntly. Billy looked surprised, but he nodded his head quickly.

“I do. It’s right there. But I know mama would yell at me. I shouldn’t.”

“Good choice. That might be a bad idea. It’s not safe out there,” I said. “Good night, Billy. I think I might go outside for a minute. See you tomorrow.”

“Good night,” said Billy, in his cute alto voice.

I walked back into my room, where I was bunking with my uncle whom I had talked to earlier. In my suitcase, there were several useful items. I found a belt knife, lantern, and bottle of water out of it. The force came over me again. My mind drifted out of my body for a few seconds, making what the wall in front of me look dreamy and blurred. I heard a slight droning, quiet but noticeable.

“It sure would have been great if I’d packed my revolver,” I mumbled. My idea was crazy. No-one in my family would ever approve of me doing what I was doing. Actually, my aunt had told me to stay around the house.

Still, the feelings I got were somehow telling me that I needed to get out and explore the wilderness. I put on my backpack and walked out of the house slowly, trying to delay my leaving as much as possible. There was a sadness in my heart at leaving the house, but also a somber responsibility.

Responsibility for what?

 I felt the grass giving slightly under my boot. The trees loomed up like buildings. I brushed aside the vines and bushes and entered the dark underworld on nature. Crickets and cicadas sang, uninterrupted and loud. The smell was an overpowering mix of pine and rotting matter.

  Slowly, I moved through the forest. The growth was so thick that I could hardly get through it, even if I tried my best. Still, I pressed on. I heard the ripping of my clothes from the sharp thorns, but my mind was set.   

Time became ethereal as I blazed a path through the woods. I swatted at pesky bugs but on a few occasions felt a stinging pain when one escaped my hand.

Eventually, after hours of monotonous labor, I could make out a strange clearing in the tree-tops above me. I was miles away from habitation. My heart began to race again as I got closer and closer to the clearing ahead of me.

I broke through the trees, and what was in front of my eyes left me speechless.

Looming above the trees was a forgotten, colossal structure. Its size and bulk sent shivers down my spine. Darkness enveloped it, but I could tell that it was not new. No, my nose and instinct told me it was ancient. For the first time in hours, I felt like I could think again. But the feeling of some strange attraction towards the monument never ceased. 

Who had created this stone building? To answer the question which burned like an open fire in my head, I walked towards the monument. The long grass creaked and sloshed under me like a swamped wooden house. My feet were soaking and numb. Soon, the thing loomed above me, cold and silent.

It was a gigantic, stepped obelisk. The closest thing to it would be the pyramids made by the Meso-American people in ancient times. However, it was tall and needle-like, unlike the broad and dull shape of the other pyramids. The color, also, was eerily different. It was a dark, coppery rust. I could not tell if it was made of metal or some unusual stone. Something about the obelisk was more off-putting than I’d ever imagined the Mayan pyramids to be.    

I tried to count the steps on the building. It had many tiers, and they made the obelisk much thinner as it got higher. At the very top, it couldn’t be wider than a foot or two. The top was amazingly far away from me. I wondered if there was some ancient treasure hidden up there, silently calling me.

Out of curiosity, I walked around the circumference of the bottom. It was much wider at the base than at any other part. Still, the walls couldn’t be more than twenty feet in length.

I held the lantern up to the wall to get a better look at it. The wall was covered in some strange writings or hieroglyphs which I had no hope of understanding. My stomach started to tie itself in knots. I was the first person to see this building in… years. Maybe even centuries.

Not content to stop there, I slowly moved the lantern to the other side of the wall, looking for any interesting signs on the wall.  All I could see was more and more pictographs.

 

 

 

 

The Rope

THE ROPE

    

The railroad track was as rusty as a ’58 Ford. I stood up on it, outstretching my arms and trying to keep my balance as I walked forwards. It wasn’t easy, and I often fell. But it was a fun way to spend an afternoon. Although it was July, there were a lot of clouds in the Tennessee sky. The day had been overcast and windy. Being the height of the summer, though, it was still warm.                              

I walked around a bend in the tracks, and forward on a straightaway for a mile. My dad told me that I shouldn’t go any further than the next bend I could see far ahead of me. I told him that since I was in high school, I should explore the world more.

To my side, I saw some young forest. The color of it was a light moss green. Every other day I’d explored the area, it was in that young forest close to the house. It wasn’t the most interesting place, though. There had been a forest fire in the area twenty years ago, so there wasn’t much to see around there.  

On the right side, there were the ruins of an old church house from the eighteen-hundreds. It had been burned down from a fire. The rubble was a blackened char. When I had looked through it before, I hadn’t seen much in it. Only one object was really interesting- a trapdoor to the basement, which was still in one piece. It was right outside the rubble, still partially covered-up. I still wanted to go down there, but something was stopping me. A hesitancy, and there wasn’t really a good reason for it. What could there be in there but a few old books or church pews? Not much.

Just thinking about the building got me a bit of an adrenaline rush. My eyes widened. I took a step off the old railroad steel. I made the decision to walk over to it. Maybe not to go in the basement, but just look around the other parts of the ruins.

I pushed aside the overgrown wheat and thistle plants and walked onto the thick field where the church had burned down. Bushes and trees were starting to engulf the remains of the building. Being in the area made me feel like I was trespassing. Not that anyone owned the land to get me in trouble. It just felt like a bad place to hang around. A heavy atmosphere pervaded the whole area.

Being close to the charred ruins, I searched for the small black iron handle that I knew would lead underground. I carefully walked along the precarious planks and shifting ash piles, trying my best to find the trapdoor.

Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a quick movement in the trees bordering the field. I dismissed the sight as my imagination, but it made me more uneasy. After a minute, I didn’t feel inclined to look anymore.

When I was about to stop and walk over to somewhere else, a sight caught my eye. As if a magician had revealed it, I saw the trapdoor right in front of my face. It was in a spot which I suspected had a pile of ash on it a minute before.

Taking a deep breath, I went on my knees and pulled the handle towards me. It moved a half-inch, and then suddenly stopped. There was a plank of wood obstructing the edge of the trap. I grunted and moved it aside, freeing the door. For a minute, I pondered whether it was really a good idea to explore something I obviously shouldn’t. My curiosity held out, though.

I opened the trapdoor slowly, looking inside rather reluctantly. The sunlight illuminated a ten-foot descent into the basement of the old Baptist church. A rickety, ancient ladder went down to the floor. I turned backwards and put my feet on it, feeling a little bit of give. I hoped the wood would hold out.

The insides of the basement were dark, compared to the entrance where the ladder was. The passageway was not wide, but it stretched on as far as I could see. Through the shadows, I could vaguely make out some bookshelves and rubble on the floor. The only thing that distressed me was the lack of any sort of flooring. Under my feet was nothing but rooty, dry dirt.

I pulled a Zippo out of my pocket. Maybe my parents didn’t want me to carry one around, but it was a lifesaver at times. The flickering light illuminated the dirty, white walls of the basement. The paint peeled off here and there, exposing the wood underneath.

As I walked foot by foot through the basement passageway, I saw the light flickering off the far wall. I could see the end of the passage. I closed the lighter for a second, so it wouldn’t burn out. There were two steps right before the end of the basement, and on top of them was an old desk with all manner of books haphazardly piled on it.

I relit my Zippo and walked over to the desk. It was in perfect condition, unlike the floor and walls of the basement. My stomach turned over as I looked through some of the old books. The newest ones were from the 1940’s. I flipped through the aromatic pages, looking over the paragraphs quickly. The older books were from the 1920’s or even the 1800’s.

One thing stuck out, which was a newer-looking journal. It looked like it was from the around the same time as the church had burned down. The book had been unceremoniously dumped beside the desk. The name written on it was Wendy Vernoff. I opened it and found the last few entries.

March 27, 1947:

 Discussed the Monday study group idea with Preacher Jacobs. I recommended reading Psalms, but he insisted on Revelations. Looking forward to heading the group. Mrs. Watkins will be a handful, but hopefully she won’t try anything too crazy. I would hate to dismiss her from the group.

March 28, 1947:

Heard the unfortunate news that Mr. Walker disappeared. His wife says that he’s been gone ever since March 24. The whole neighborhood’s out looking for him, and I suppose I should join the search teams, too. I have a bad feeling in my gut about this. Mr. Walker never was particularly sane. I remember him shouting some gibberish at the top of his lungs during Mass more than once. Lord, please bring him back safe.       

At the end of the entry, there was a small scribble. I wondered what it was from, and put the book back down on the desk. I felt nervous. It wasn’t easy to tell why. All that stuff had happened such a long time ago. It didn’t have anything to do with me.

Back at the other end of the room, the ladder was still there. I decided I’d had enough of the rubble, so I put my hands on the ladder and tried to climb up it. It groaned unhappily. Hopefully, it would hold out. I took a step upwards, trying to put my weight as close to the edge of the ladder as possible. Slowly but surely, I got to the top.

As I stood above the church, the afternoon light blinded me. I walked away from the ruins, not sure where to go next. As I went across the field, I felt anxious about what I’d found in the basement. Had the mystery ever been solved? Why had the church burned down in the first place? Nobody had ever told me. I wondered if anybody in the area even knew.

Something drew me towards the forest further down the railroad tracks. I had never gone back there before. Over there, the woods were old and virgin, unlike the new growth I was used to exploring.    

I went back on the railroad tracks and tried to balance on them while walking quickly. To me, it was the best way to travel. Except for maybe a railroad handcar. That would be quicker. I kept going until the track curved towards the right. In this area of the forest, I was far from civilization.

I kept thinking of the journal, and hoped the man who’d disappeared didn’t cause the fire. The more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed. If all the people in the church were looking for the man, then why would it burn down? I considered that maybe someone had started it on fire while it was unattended.

A rather steep drop headed into the right bank of the forest. I ran down it quickly, almost tripping and falling headfirst into the ground. There was an ancient sense of stillness in the air as I started to wander around in the grove of trees. I walked over a mossy hill, finding several shotgun shells lying on the ground. I put one in my pocket. For some reason, I found myself stepping quietly and trying not to make any noise. Faintly, I could hear the sound of running water.

In front of me was a small stream. I had never seen it before. There were all sorts of snails, crayfish, minnows, and frogs in it. I watched the little animals for a while. The minnows swam away speedily, but the crayfish didn’t seem to notice me. I wondered if there were any bass further down the stream.

“Maybe it’ll join up with some more water and there could be a little lake I could fish in,” I mumbled. However, I didn’t have my fishing rod. I took off my shoes and let my feet dangle down into the water. The rushing stream licked my toes.

I realized I had to go to the bathroom, so I got up and made sure no-one was around. After that, I stood in the middle of a small clearing and wondered what to do next. The small saplings swayed melodically in the breeze. Creepers grew under them, making me appreciate the fact that I was wearing jeans.

Something interrupted my sense of ease. I didn’t feel like I should be where I was. A voice in my head told me to go back to the railroad track and head home. I didn’t listen to it.

I walked forwards, deeper into the forest. The trees became taller and older, and my path became darker. Lichens, mosses, and conks grew all over the ancient trees. I wondered if the forest was older than the first settlers in the country. Maybe I was the first white person who had ever seen it, in the first place. After a few more minutes, I was having a hard time even remembering where I was. My stomach began to turn as I saw some strange rusty objects in front of me. They were partially buried by leaves. It was impossible to tell what they were.  I saw a bleached bone sticking out of the ground at an unnatural angle.

“What is that?” I thought to myself. “That’s unusual.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small yellow shape sticking out of the pile. I walked towards it and picked it up with my shaking hand. On it was faded ink, long worn out from the rain and sun. Some of the letters had completely disappeared. As I read, my stomach churned like I was about to puke. I felt an increasing sense of alarm and dread.

M rch 2~ 194 :

I’ve h d eno  h of ev-ryone treati g me like I m some sort of mut nt freak! Mayb- I d d scream at chu ch. May\e I did k ll the neig\bor s dog. But th  is all I’m tak ng! I’m perfo ming the Txaltian Ritu l, and t ey can tell me I’m a ba t rd to my face! Ev n if t takes a hun red years. I h pe t ey find me!

G odbye, Vinc nt Walker

That was the same man who the woman had written about in her journal. I closed my eyes and tried to resist falling on the ground. I couldn’t place my finger on why I felt so horrible, but I did. When I opened my eyes again, I saw the end of a thick brown rope dangling off a big oak in front of me. I squinted and tried to take my eyes off it. Curiosity got the best of me, though.  Hesitantly, I looked up higher in the branches. There was a dark, hum-shaped shape directly above my head. I gasped.

CRASH!

Right in front of my nose was a decaying, bloody face. A gruesome, toothy smile stretched across his grey, cracked face. His red eye sockets stared at me emotionlessly. Around his broken neck was an old manila rope. He was dressed in faded, wartime clothes. I fell backwards, unable to take my eyes off the hanged man. I felt like about to have a heart attack. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? Was his mouth really moving? Did he actually say something? I heard a raspy, ancient voice.

Make them come. 

His black tongue flopped around in his mouth, trying to make words.

Do… it…now…

His hand started to twitch violently. It began to shake furiously. I was paralyzed with fear. I heard a bloodcurdling scream. The man’s mouth opened hellishly wide. The air was shattered like glass by the sound. I closed my eyes tightly, never intending to open them again.       

————

لعنة “The Curse”

لعنة

-The Curse

While we were outside splitting wood as a kid, my dad used to tell me a scary story. It happened when he went to Egypt for an important business meeting. After getting his job-related duties done, he decided to make the best of his trip and travel around the country. He had entered the interior of the gigantic desert when he went into a small village. It was barely modernized at all, this being the late 1960’s.

A small group of tradition-followers in the town still believed an unusual old legend that one of the gods would choose a man, and give him special powers to do their bidding with. There were equal chances of a benevolent or an evil deity doing this, and the people would not know until it was done. My father said he found a crowd in the middle of town that was rioting over a man in the middle of the pack. They all looked fearful and upset.

He looked a little strange.” my dad would say. “He was dressed all old-fashioned and he was very dirty. He looked like he had been homeless for a long time.”

My dad was not afraid of anything, so he walked through the crowd, right up to the man. They talked for a few tense moments and the crowd became even more uncivil. Then, the man suddenly swiped his fingers across my dad’s face and it started bleeding like he was cut with several knives. The stranger disappeared into the crowd while everyone was still stunned by the damage he had caused. The village doctor tried his best to remedy the damage, and he stitched the wounds up and applied medicines and poultices to them, but the scars were especially hard to get rid of, and they never quite went away. Father said he never thought the old Egyptian legend was true until that day.

The story always sounded strange and far-fetched to me, despite the scars on my father’s face.

– – – – – – –

A few years ago, I bought a beautiful lakefront house in Maine with my fiancé Kelly. We met our next door neighbors quickly and talked to them a few times. A real estate agent was living just five minutes down from us, but since she had just moved there that day herself, she had not started selling houses in the area yet.

After we got settled in, I decided it would be best if we stocked up the cupboards with some groceries from the town. We went out on the old, dusty roads to the local market. Close by, the house of the new real-estate agent stood quietly. It looked like a wreck, considering someone in that job department should really care about keeping their house in good shape, but I wrote it off as being a good deal, a “fixer-upper” in their terms.

The market was a few miles away. I couldn’t believe how small our town was. They thought that a few empty buildings, some railroad tracks, and three businesses counted as a town? I found it ironic and funny. Still, the little market had some good food if you looked hard enough, and the town was full of quaint charm.

We walked into the market, and I took a glance at its old, whitewashed sign. Lakeside Market’s sign was a staple of the village, possibly its most defining feature. Kelly and I shopped for a while, picking up many cans of soup with expiration dates four years from the day.

Never know when you’ll get a blizzard,” said Kelly. “We might as well be prepared.”

I laughed, thinking about the Boy Scouts. I turned a corner and bumped into a middle-aged couple with the shopping cart. After apologizing, we started to talk. The wife had frizzy blonde hair, and her husband had long, unkempt, brown hair. Although the wife looked fairly presentable, her partner was mangy, with brown splotches and bits of dirt on his skin. He barely moved and did not talk at all. Perhaps he was mentally slow.

Hello. I am Martha Salbert, and this is my husband Joe Salbert. Pleased to meet you.” Martha said, enunciating way too much for my taste.

Nice to meet you too. This is Kelly, my girlfriend. I’m Thomas. We just moved to the area. What’s your job around here?” I asked.

She looked off to the left. “I am a real-estate agent up on Howard Road. It makes a good living these days,” replied Martha. Everyone was silent for a second too long.

Actually, we just moved in here,” she continued. “We’re from a long ways away.”

Well that’s funny, because we just moved into a house on Howard Road, too.” Kelly replied.

I think we have to go. We still have a lot of unpacking to do.” I said, drumming up whatever excuse I could think of to leave. Kelly gave me a dirty look.

Bye, then.” Said Martha. Joe did not move or say anything. Something about the extremely polite wife and the quiet, dirty husband made me feel a bit uneasy. I wondered how they could possibly find each other attractive or interesting.

The drive back home was uneventful, but I noticed how hard it was to find your way around in the countryside. The roads twist and turn a lot and can even go in circles much more easily than you’d think. Even though they look straight, if you don’t have directions, you can easily miss your destination.

Once we got back to the house, the two of us got settled in for the night.

– – – – – – – –

The next day was rather mundane, and in the late afternoon Kelly said her nose was getting very stuffy. Since a lot of people at work were getting the flu lately, I told her I would drive into town and get her some medicine.

The lake looked very fresh and pretty as I drove by. It was like a calm, blue-tinted mirror. I listened to my favorite radio station, and it felt very nice to be alone. Even in my old car, the country roads zoomed by pleasingly. I started to relax and think whatever random thoughts that would cross my mind. It was great to not work for three whole days in a row. I definitely deserved the break, after working so hard in the city for such a long time.

Abruptly, the strange Salbert house went by. My stomach churned and my daydreaming ceased. I stopped the car, just to prove I wasn’t a sissy for being afraid of my neighbor’s house. I could just picture my friends laughing at me for being scared of a dumpy old building.

It looked more like it belonged in a South Carolina trailer park then a nice country town in New England. I just could not understand why a real estate agent would be so negligent. There was even more garbage sitting around in the yard than there was when I had first moved in. I looked at the tire swing hanging from an old oak tree and the roof of the house, bent like it was about to cave in. The only reason I could drum up for the property was that the wife was either a bad real-estate agent or not one at all.

I floored the accelerator like nobody’s business, burned some tar and rolled some coal, chuckling to myself as I heard the reassuring sound of the engine revving. After I passed the Salbert house, I went into a slightly less blissful version of my previous daydreaming, with a bad thought coming up once in a while to disrupt the happier ones.

The center of town was in sight ten minutes later. While I was there, I thought I’d get myself a book or two from the library. It was a small place, with a very quiet librarian. She only said one word to me during the whole exchange, and the strangest thing was that you did not even need a library card. I was starting to think there was no government at all in the town, almost like the Old West.

I went over to the pub for a light beer. It was the only place in the area that I had not frequented yet, aside from the church. The building was very old, even older than the supermarket. There were two locals sitting next to me. I sipped on my drink and struck up a conversation.

How do you like this town?”

They were quiet.

Ain’t bad,” said the older man. “I just want the old Episcopal back. Don’t you, Harvey?” His friend grunted expressionlessly.

Are there ever police around here?” I wondered aloud.

Harvey laughed.

No. I never…” he scratched at a piece of finish on the counter. “Never seen one in my life.”

No,” corrected the older man. “There was one two years ago, stopped by here and even pulled Josh over for Dee DoubleYou Eye.”

What sort of trouble did he get in?” I asked.

Ticketed, I think,” replied the man. “What do you think a’ this place?”

It’s interesting,” I said, uneasily.

After the bar, I picked up some medicine at the market and noticed some people at both the library and the drug store were whispering about a bus accident. I joined in one of the conversation circles. There was conflicting information about the accident. For some reason, everyone was arguing over whether the driver was crazy or not. I didn’t really care too much, considering that anything would be big news in a small town like this. I thought about Harvey and his friend and missed them and their somewhat warm personalities.

When I finally looked at my watch again and peered outside, I was quite surprised. The sun was hanging low in the sky, looking like a big tomato. I hurried to my car and floored the engine again, not a bit afraid of police.

Night quickly started to fall. It falls thick in New England. The crickets and cicadas chirped and buzzled like a church chorus. The color of the sky changed from pink, to light violet, to an electric blue, to ultramarine blue and finally to a stiff lightless black.

I found myself driving this way and that on the aged country roads. It was getting so dark that I could hardly make out where I even was. I kept driving in circles and prayed that my internal compass would lead me to safety.

A time or two, I even saw a bright, shiny pair of eyes on the side of the road. I found myself praying that they belonged to an animal and not a person. There was barely a house anywhere, and most of the habitations were perched high on hills, a long ways from the road.

None of the roads felt safe, and comfort was nowhere to be found.

I thought about how Kelly must be wondering where I was. She probably thought I was cheating on her or drinking at the bar. One of those was true. I worried my heart out over her and hoped she wasn’t getting sicker.

The stars came out bright, as the sun had long since disappeared under the horizon. This far out in the country, streetlights were a rare sight, so I had to use the dusty headlights on my car. They were hardly brighter than household light bulbs.

I kept worrying and driving around for an exceptionally long time, terrified to look at my watch, as it seemed it would make it earlier if I didn’t.

The gas gauge was starting to deplete. That was my final warning sign that I should ask someone for help. If I ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere, odds are no one except Kelly could help me. I had to get over my resistance and fear to asking the country folk for directions.

The car came to a halt at the end of a dirt driveway. I repeatedly told myself that it would be fine to ask a stranger for directions at night, but I couldn’t believe myself. After deliberating for much too long, I walked out of the car, up a brown dirt driveway, and onto someone’s doorstep.

Knock Knock.

There was a tense moment of suspense, with me strongly regretting stopping the car. I backed up a few feet, trying to be less of a threat.

An old man flung the door open. He had a huge white beard and steel-grey eyes. He was as dirty as a wolf, and looked a lot like one. In his hands was a rusty old double barreled shotgun, which he pointed at my feet. My heart jumped out of my mouth.

What the hell are you doin’ up so late?”

I felt awkward, and almost laughed, but realized I was at gun-point.

I’m lost. I need to find Howard Road.” The man looked away for a second and spat on the ground.

I ain’t knowin’ where that is. Ain’t you from out of town?”

…Yeah.”

Git!” He pointed the shotgun at my chest, and I turned and ran, seeing the door slam behind me.

After walking to my car, I drove on for another few minutes and finally looked at my watch. It was ten o’clock. I tried to keep myself calm, but failed. Fog settled everywhere, making it even harder to understand the roads. Driving this late was hell.

About twenty minutes later, I, once again, stepped out of the car. The gas gauge had been on empty forever and the motor sounded junky like it was a minute away from running out of gas. Hardly seeing a thing in the darkness, I tried my best to walk up a path onto someone’s doorstep. Waves quietly hit the shore of a lake, giving me a little more courage. It felt nice to know I had found the lake, as long as it was the right lake in the first place. Even if I was on the wrong side of it, I could bet I’d find our house eventually, probably by walking.

The knocking sound was very loud, even compared to the crickets. I tensely hoped someone would answer the door, then realized I was kidding myself, actually hoping no-one would answer at all!

My silent prayers were answered. Nobody responded. Just to make sure the house was empty, I walked over to the drapes, since it looked like a dim light was on inside the house. I awkwardly peered through a hole in the drapes, and to my astonishment the house was entirely empty. Pristinely empty. The only thing in it except the floors and walls was a little wooden trapdoor in the hallway. It stood out clearly against the tile floor of the featureless kitchen. A single light bulb hung down from the top of the living room.

I stared uneasily at the trapdoor. What was behind it? This town was overflowing with mysteries. I felt curious and nervous. Why would the house have nothing else in it? Did it go underground? Maybe someone lived under the house all the time. I couldn’t tell for sure, because the trapdoor never opened or moved. I puzzled over the biggest question.

Why would someone own a lakefront house and keep it so bleak?

Slowly inching away from the drapes, I saw a security light turn on, illuminating the entire property. I instantly realized the oak tree and rope swing. The house was Martha and Joe Salbert’s. I ran back to the car as quickly as I could, and sped away.

The car ran out of gas right before it pulled into the driveway. I walked into the house and explained to Kelly that I had gotten terribly lost.

Would you mind helping me push the car out of the road?” I inquired.

No… I’m too tired,” she replied, laying quietly in the bed.

It was clear she had become sicker during the day. She was now essentially bedridden. I felt sorry I couldn’t get her the medicine sooner. After pushing the car halfway into the driveway alone and filling it up with a gas tank from the garage, I went to sleep and tried to sort out the many strange events that had transpired in the course of the day.

Sunday morning, I awoke and got Kelly some breakfast. We ate it together, and started chatting. She was feeling good enough to walk over to the kitchen table. A newspaper sat next to my plate.

I read this old newspaper while you were gone, and I want to find out about something,” she told me.

What is it?” I replied cautiously.

Well, there’s this bus that was on its way out of town early this morning and it crashed.”

What’s so interesting about that?” I said, somewhat rudely.

Kelly looked around the room, as if she doubted herself for a moment.

Well, the driver said the bus hit somebody, but there was no body to be found. It seems strange to me. I feel like you should go there and maybe figure out what happened. Even though the authorities say the man was delirious, there’s a chance they could be lying. I just don’t believe the official account. I don’t think they even investigated the entire area.”

My stomach churned like I was on a roller-coaster. Something about it didn’t sound right.

I don’t know,” I complained.

Please?” she pleaded.

Umm.” I sounded very awkward. “Maybe I could do that, I guess.”

If you’re spending all that time out in town, it shouldn’t be much of a problem to go out a little further and investigate it. I’ll bet the evidence of the crash is still pretty fresh.” She looked at me pleadingly. I couldn’t resist.

Okay, then. I’ll be back as soon as I’m done.” I said, sounding a tad surer. I grabbed my light jacket and started to walk out the door. She beckoned me back over.

See you later.” Kelly kissed me on the cheek.

– – – – – – – – –

I drove back to the bar and had a glass of iced tea. Harvey was there without any friends.

Hey,” I said. He looked up from the ground, and became slightly happier after seeing my face.

Do you know where that accident happened?”

The one yesterday, from the bus?” he asked.

That one,” I confirmed. He computed the directions.

Over yonder, down that road.” He pointed. “Turn right after it turns into a Y. It will be big field, two hundred acres.”

Thanks,” I said. I finished the tea and followed the road out to the spot.

It was sunny and bright out, the exact opposite of last night. Bugs hopped around on the long grass. Different-colored bushes grew spottily in the grass. The fields seemed to go on on forever, and I was happy to be in a pleasant part of the countryside.

Right outside of the road’s shoulders sat two four-foot deep ditches filled with grass. I assumed they were used for draining water off the road.

I found exactly where the event took place about a hundred yards in front of my car. Some very short skid marks were conspicuously present on the road. They definitely belonged to a bus. If the driver of the bus had seen the person he was about to hit, he would have slammed the brakes for longer than a few feet. Buses do not stop on a dime by themselves.

I considered the possibilities that would make the skid marks only a yard long. Maybe someone had jumped out of the ditch and nearly hit the bus as it tried to stop. The driver could have been distracted and not tried to stop until he’d nearly hit the person. An operator in a professional bus company would definitely never hit someone on purpose, and it was easy to see a person walking on this road. Maybe there wasn’t any person at all. Maybe the driver was just crazy. I wondered why my partner would care so much about the details. There clearly was not a dead body or any missing people in the town.

Walking back towards my car, there was a bend in the road, and a tiny patch of tire rubber there apparently belonging to the bus, not big enough to show that anyone had really slammed the brakes. If the driver had been speeding excessively, he would have really had to slow down for that turn to avoid toppling over. That ruled out very high speeds as a possibility, although it didn’t entirely rule out slight speeding.

My newest explanation was that the driver had slowed down for the turn, and been so tired that he didn’t see the other man until he was right in front of the bus. Then, the driver slammed the brakes for a second, but hit the guy anyways.

There was one problem with my hypothesis. As I went back to the first skid marks on the straightaway, I noticed one drop of blood on the road. It was not exceptionally fresh. How could a bus hit a man and only spill one drop of blood? No blood, or lots of blood on the road would make sense. But one drop? How could a person get hit by a bus and run away that quickly? How could he not be identified at a hospital?

I looked for evidence in the roadside ditch, but still didn’t see anything showing that there was a man involved. It was impossible to tell if there were footprints or not in the murky water. I did know that the authorities were wrong in thinking the driver was insane, though. I knew enough about forensics to prove that the spot of blood was caused by someone on the ground, not a person driving the bus. I walked along further.

Suddenly, in the ditch, I came across some evidence. A red brake light from the bus sat on a dry area of grass. As I picked it up, I noticed something extraordinary; it was still acting like it was on the bus. Even though no electricity was running it, the light would flash on and off in a predictable pattern. I turned it over and could find no battery. I knew that flasher batteries were externally powered anyways.

It was fascinating. First, the light would turn on for a second like it was braking lightly. Then, it would turn off, meaning the brakes were not being used. Finally, it would turn on for a split second, then quickly oscillate, like the electrical system was being fried.

It was hard to think of an explanation quickly. Perhaps the bus had hit something that had caused damage to the electrical system?

My new idea was the bus slowed down for the turn, then slammed the brakes for a second as it hit a big animal.

That theory had its faults, too. However, my new theory was about to be replaced by one much more sinister.

As I walked towards the skid marks again, I decided I would quickly check the fields beside the road for evidence. I walked out about twenty feet and meandered for a while, looking in the very deep, encompassing grass. The soil mushed under me as I stepped, making a squishy sound.

My heart stopped. I almost stepped on something. A dead body, laying deep in the grass. The man’s hand was right under my foot, but his battered face was barely visible in the tall grass in front of me.

I ran back to the road and into the safety of my car, mind reeling. I panted, heart beating like I was about to die. Up ahead, there was a small disturbance in the grass ahead. Holding my breath, I noticed a mysterious figure rise up and slog away into the bushes.

I’m going crazy,” I said to myself. Making a sloppy U-turn, I headed back down the road. Everything felt so surreal that I could barely even start to process it. The man clearly looked dead, but he sure didn’t act that way. Back in the town, I pulled into the pub parking lot, needing to calm down a little.

The first thing I did after getting inside was buy a real drink. The familiar overweight older man was there, sitting on a stool.

Guess I never introduced myself properly last time. I’m Howard,” he said. I smiled superficially and told him my name.

Are you alright?” he asked. A cold wave went through me and I shook my head slowly. He frowned.

I know the feeling. Girlfriend cheating on you?” he asked.

No,” I replied humorlessly.

Nah. But… some strange stuff happens here. Is it the bus accident?”

I smiled, surprised he could guess so quickly.

How did you know?” I wondered. He appeared reluctant to give away his secret.

I know it wasn’t quite as they say it. Act’ly, I knew the driver myself, and I kin say he is not crazy like they say he is. Facts are, the case doesn’t just make sense in the normal way. That’s how things are in this town.”

Something was nagging at me.

What is the name of this town? I haven’t seen a single sign, or picture, or anything anywhere to tell me what it is. It’s creepy,” I blurted.

Howard laughed and opened his mouth to reply when he spotted Martha Salbert walking past the pub, crying. He watched her closely through all the windows until she went out of view.

Tell me, Thomas. What happened? Did you go to the crime scene?”

Crime scene?” I muttered under my breath. “Umm,” I said, louder. “Yeah, and it wasn’t right. Everything about it felt kind of surreal.”

Howard winked.

That is your problem,” he said, pointing to the last spot Martha had been. “They’ve been here longer than two days, I’ll tell you. Lucas, get my bud here a double of vodka.”

I thought about complaining that I don’t drink vodka but kept quiet instead. When the glass appeared I drank it quickly and felt a burn in the back of my throat. The world soon began spinning slowly under me as I swayed slightly from side to side.

I have to go,” I said, suddenly determined. “Kelly needs my attention. She’s sick and she hasn’t heard a thing from me.”

There’s a payphone over there,” said Howard.

No, I should get back home.” I stood up and tried to walk towards the front door but collided into the counter.

You ain’t gonna get home safe,” said my friend. “I’ll drive ya.”

Ten minutes later, I was in Howard’s car. We discussed my explorations as I slowly became more sober.

I saw a brake light that was still going on and off. I even remember the pattern.” After explaining the flashing pattern, I took the brake light out of my pocket and stared at it. It didn’t turn on at all.

Hmm,” I said. “It was working.” Doubtful, Howard chuckled.

What else?”

There were two sets of tire marks, and I found a dead person in the grass.”

What?” he shouted.

I stepped on him by accident. Once I’d got into the car, he seemed to go away into the bushes.”

How was he dead then?”

He was laying face down and looked injured,” I replied.

That is weird,” replied Howard.

Oh, we missed a turn,” I noted. Trees and vines abounded everywhere, making the world feel like a natural prison cell. Howard stopped and looked intently at the woods. Up ahead, peering through two trees, was Joe Salbert’s face. It was bloody and discolored, staring at us ferociously.

Is that…” said Howard, terrified.

Drive, just drive!” I moaned. He backed the car up and swung it around as quickly as possible. We saw no more of Joe Salbert.

After getting on the correct road, it only took a minute for Howard to find the house.

Do you want to come in for a bit?” I asked, partially because I was feeling vulnerable. Howard shook his head vigorously.

I have to go.”

He sped off in the opposite direction of the Salbert house and the visage apparition we had just seen.

Back at the house, Kelly was in bed again, quite unwell. I decided at first to ignore anything important and instead get over the shock by thinking about mundane things, but the picture wouldn’t get out of my head. Joe Salbert’s bloody face had been permanently imprinted into my eyes like a cattle brand. I couldn’t even think. It was that jarring.

I made Kelly some chicken soup and was alone with myself for a few minutes.

I didn’t feel like I could call the police, since they would be too suspicious of me. Besides, there was no evidence anymore of anything except me being crazy, especially since the ‘dead’ body had disappeared. I brought the soup to Kelly, who took it gladly.

How did it go?” she asked.

Good, but it was… confusing.”

Look at this,” she said, showing me two pictures of the bus after the accident. The whole front of the bus had crumpled up. It looked like it had sustained enough force to kill any animal. But which animal would only spill a drop of blood from being hit by a bus?

The second was of the back of the bus. I felt an appreciatively eerie feeling as I noticed the missing brake light.

I have that brake light,” I said, taking it out again and putting it on the bed next to Kelly. It was still.

I explained everything to her, even though it sounded crazy. There was a scraping sound outside.

I don’t get it. You’re not… crazy or anything, but that just makes no sense,” complained Kelly. “How could he just get up? And why would Salbert be out in the middle of the woods with a bloody face?”

I’ll tell you why. It’s the same person,” I said.

No. That bus was crumpled up like it hit something a lot heavier than thin little Joe Salbert. And even if he was dead, he wouldn’t just get up and run away. That must have been a different person, maybe a prankster.”

Sorry, I know who it was,” I said, obliviously. Kelly shook her head in disbelief.

You should just rest a while and stay out of town,” she recommended. I sat there silently for a minute.

It was all making sense to me.

It’s the curse, the Egyptian- wait. Look- the light is flashing again!”

Kelly looked at the brake light, amazed as it lit up again brightly in the same pattern it had at the wreck.

A moment later, the disgusting face of Joe Salbert shown murderously outside the bedroom window. I felt like I was going to puke. Blood rushed to my head as it spun around. I felt so dizzy. Kelly screamed and told me to chase the intruder out. I couldn’t move, immobilized by dark energy.

As soon as I could, I summoned up enough power to go into the kitchen and grab a knife. It felt woefully inadequate. The bedroom window shattered and an ugly arm stuck through it while my partner screamed. With surprising courage, I ran up to it and sliced it strongly. As the arm started to bleed, it retracted back. I ran around to the front door and opened it. Joe sprinted up the hill, back to his house, at a breakneck speed, faster than I had ever seen before. I felt enraged at him, unable to catch him.

I stumbled back into the house, too afraid to tell Kelly what had happened. Even though she had seen Joe’s face in the window, she didn’t see him run, and she had never heard the story my dad had told me.

Kelly,” I said, collapsing onto the bed. “I have some important news to tell you.” She looked incredibly uneasy. Her expression told me to go on.

Joe Salbert is not a normal man. We have to get out of here right now. I didn’t have any more time for explaining.” I picked Kelly right up off the bed, and started to walk towards the car. She was obviously confused.

After putting her in the backseat, I took a splitting axe out from the garage and put it in the passenger’s seat. I turned the car key.

Rit Rit Rit

Come on!” I shouted. I pounded the dashboard and turned the key again. The car started. I slammed the accelerator pedal down and spun the wheels. The car gained traction and sped off down the road. Within a minute and a half, I was again in front of the Salbert’s house, except something was different this time.

A police car, sirens on, sat in the driveway. The front door was open.

Wait here,” I said, receiving no response. Grabbing the wooden axe, I walked up the driveway and through the front door. Martha Salbert lay on her stomach in the living room, injured.

Martha?” I asked, crouching down.

He just… hasn’t been the same since he got in a fight…” Blood poured onto the carpet from her stomach.

With who?” I asked. Her condition was getting worse by the second.

With…” she coughed futilely. I waited, empathetic with her plight but anxious to know what she would say.

That Egyptian man… at the…” Her face fell back on the floor and she lost consciousness.

I pressed on further into the house. In the kitchen, the trapdoor was open. A ladder went down into the shadowy basement, which I descended quickly. The basement was a single large room, full of objects and boxes. In the corner, I saw a policeman trying to arrest the unarmed Joe Salbert, bloody face and all.

Put your hands up!” he shouted, shining the flashlight at his face. The assailant quickly slashed him in the face and pushed him over. The officer’s gun discharged but missed its target. Joe ran past with impossible speed and disappeared after climbing up the ladder.

Are you alright?” I asked, walking over to the severely bleeding officer. Something about the event suddenly fit together in my head. The policeman mumbled words but was too shocked to say anything to me. I grabbed his pistol off the ground and put it in my pocket, then took his radio and spoke into it. I found his badge and name while I talked.

The officer… Officer Martez has been injured. He needs immediate medical attention.”

Affirmative. We are dispatching backup and an ambulance right now. Who is this?” said a voice.

A friendly neighbor,” I replied, putting the phone back on Officer Martez’s belt.

I ascended the ladder and pulled myself up onto the kitchen floor. The crazed maniac suddenly appeared from around a corner and tried to shove me back into the basement, but used too much force and pushed me further into the kitchen instead. I pulled out the pistol and fired at Joe Salbert, hitting him three times and slowing his pursuit. He approached me, slashing at my chest, but I dodged the strikes by jumping backwards. Out of ammo, I threw the gun and hit him in the stomach. Joe stepped backwards quickly as I readied the axe over my shoulder. Quickly, the attacker stepped up and sliced across my arm with his razor-sharp fingers. I grunted, hurt, and swung the axe down over his head, splitting it like a piece of wood. Joe Salbert dropped onto the floor like a sack of potatoes. Temporarily losing my sanity from the acute stress, I chopped his neck in two, ending his life.

Feeling disgusted, I dropped the axe and went into the living room. Martha was stone cold dead. Out the front door, I could clearly see my car. Up the road a ways, the ambulance drove towards the scene to pick up the survivors.

The backseat of my car was empty.

Kelly, where are you?” I yelled, with my last conscious breath. I fainted, falling onto the grass.

I never thought the old Egyptian legend was true until that day.