ShadowCast EP 39 SNM Horror May

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ShadowCast Audio Presents:

Story of the Month

Call of the Crows by John Barnes

read by

Jason Warden

 

Download with ITunes

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Music featured on this episode is courtesy of

The Contrarian

.

Other Sounds courtesy of the Free Sound Project



ShadowCast EP 36 Niteblade Magazine

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ShadowCast Audio Presents:

An Audio Introduction to NiteBlade Magazineniteblade-filigree


Edited by Rhonda Parrish.

This week we have three examples from this fine magazine

“Shine on”

by J.A. Tyler

&

“Dream Spinner”

by Robert E. Keller

&

“Running Empty in a Land of Decay”

by Damien Walters Grintalis

Our stories were read by

MonsterMatt Patterson

&

Amy Tapia


Download with ITunes

Or Play in this window

Music featured on this episode is courtesy of

The Contrarian

 



ShadowCast 013 The Man Who Typed Too Fast

The Man Who Typed too Fast

by T.H. Davis

read by Jason Warden

Download with ITunes

Play in this window

Harry Dunphy woke quickly, his eyes springing open and his mind at once awake. He had had another one of his nightmares, and as usual, he had woken just before the inevitable ending. He let out a sigh of relief and stared at the ceiling, reflecting on the nightmare.

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It was an end-of-the-world nightmare; not like the usual – no nuclear bombs, or war. His end of the world nightmares were much simpler than war. They were nightmares in which he was alone in the world, wandering around empty streets and looking, in fearful amazement, at his surroundings. In his dreams, everything was intact: there was no looting or burning or craziness. Everything was as it would normally be, with one exception: there were no people.

He would wander around the cities and towns and the countryside looking for people, zooming from one place to another, magically transported by his nightmare. He never found anyone, but they were there, and he knew it. Just … not there, somehow. In the end – and this was the ending that alw

ays woke him, just before the finish – he would take a knife and put it to his own throat. Or it could be a gun in his mouth. Or he could be leaning over the edge of a tall building. It didn’t matter what way it happened, but the outcome was always going to be the same. The world would end, people would simply vanish, and he would kill himself. Unable to live alone forever.

Ordinarily, a horror novelist would find this kind of dream to

be pure gold, and they’d be jumping out of bed each morning to whack out another bunch of brilliant, nightmare inspired ideas. After all, wasn’t that how Paul McCartney came up with Yesterday? But not Harry. He couldn’t just get up and write about it. The dream had existed a long time before his writing career had. It had been there from childhood. It had been there when his first book sold; it was there now. It was always there and he knew it was always going to be there.

He lay in bed, trying not to think about it, but thinking about it anyway. The sun shone beautifully through the open window, and a light breeze pushed the curtains into the room, like two red ghosts. He cocked his head to one side, listening. He was listening for Anne, his wife, and not hearing her. He sat up, pulling his jeans and t-shirt on. For the first time, he looked at the digital clock on the locker beside the bed and groaned when he saw the little red flashing digits.

12:34 PM

He stepped into his slippers – the brown ones he had never liked but he wore anyway because Anne had bought them for him their first year together – and left the bedroom, hurrying downstairs. He was late. He always like to start writing at midday on the button, which meant being out of bed by ten in the morning, kissing Anne, having breakfast, having coffee, doing a little housework, and then heading to his study to sit in front of his computer.

Today was no different from any other and he cursed himself as he descended the stairs and entered the kitchen. He looked around but Anne wasn’t there. The kitchen was also the living room and the only other rooms were the bedroom upstairs, with an en suite bathroom; a bedroom downstairs, which had been converted into a study; and a utility room downstairs.

He walked to the front door, thinking she might be out in the garden, but when he opened the door and looked out, he saw no sign of her. He noticed the car was gone though and assumed she must have went to town – they lived two miles outside of Dunshaughlin, on the Navan side.

He closed the door and went back inside, yawning and stretching in the centre of the living room. He walked to the kitchen and found a warm pot of coffee. He poured himself a cup, and as he added milk and sugar, his mind was cast briefly back on the nightmare. The thought left him when he heard the crunching of gravel as a car pulled up outside. He took another cup down out of the press above the sink and filled it with coffee, making faces at the dark liquid (Anne liked hers black and he couldn’t stomach it unless it had plenty of milk).

Opposites attract, he thought happily.

The front door of the house swung open and he turned around. There she was: his love, his life, his Anne. She had a large bag by her side and he noticed it was from an electrical store in town. She held the grocery bag in the other hand. He went over and swapped the coffee for her bags. She pulled away when he tried for the big electrical store bag and smiled mischievously at him.

‘What is it?’ he asked, his eyes narrowing playfully.

‘It’s a present,’ she answered, smiling.

‘But it’s not my birthday, or Christmas or even International Harry Dunphy is so flipping awesome day or anything, so why am I getting presents? What do you want, or what have I already given you?’

She walked towards the living room couch, holding the bag away from him and sipping her coffee. She sat down and ignored him.

‘What’s on TV?’ she asked, trying not to laugh.

‘Yeah, yeah, gimme my present,’ he giggled and she joined in with him, both of them laughing.

‘Okay, okay, here.’ She lifted the bag to him. ‘You needed it, and I’m sick of you saying no.’

‘A laptop,’ he said. ‘Wow . . . this, is, so, awesome.’ His voice had gone robotic. ‘You shouldn’t have, no really, Anne, you really shouldn’t have.’ He smiled and spoke through his teeth.

‘Look,’ she said, ‘that thing you’re using inside needs to go to the museum, where it belongs, okay? I’m surprised you don’t have carpal tunnels just from the stretching you need to do to go from one key to the other. They’re so far apart, those keys. You know, the fifty or so stone slabs you whack everyday with your fingers.’

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Thank you, love.’ He leaned over and kissed her.

‘Sweet! Go set it up, ple-ease! I want to throw that ugly monstrosity you call a computer out.’

‘I can’t keep it?’ he asked, pretending to be upset. ‘It’s a classic.’

‘Yeah, yeah. Go investigate your new toy. Spend as long as you want, I’m planting the new flowers today.’

‘Enjoy yourself,’ he said, taking his coffee and the laptop box into his study.

‘You too, hon.’

Harry opened the door to his study with his foot – the door had no lock, so it was in constant motion, swinging back and forth with the slightest breeze. He walked inside and placed the laptop box on the table and his coffee cup beside it. He stared curiously at the box for a long time, then switched his stare to the ancient computer which sat, like a relic, beside it. He moved the older computer aside a little, puffing at the weight of it, and opened the laptop box.

It was like a magical new toy, and he unwrapped it like Charlie had unwrapped his Wonka Bar, fully expecting to find a golden ticket inside. When he took the laptop out, it wasn’t a golden ticket he found, but a sleek, shiny, black piece of machinery that he fell in love with immediately. He looked back at the study door, torn between going to kiss Anne and staying with his new toy.

He stayed. It took him almost thirty minutes to get it set up.

‘Writing software: check. Internet: check . . .’ He paused, looking excitedly at the screen. ‘I’m going to mark this momentous day, by starting a new novel.’

He sat back for a moment, looking at the flashing cursor on the screen, sifting through his imagination in search of a good story. When he finally had his light bulb flash, he lurched forward and began typing.

He loved the laptop’s keyboard immediately. It was smaller and the keys were smoother; easier to type on. And he found – to his delight – that years of typing on a piece of junk had made him ten times faster on this better model. He soon found himself carried away by the writing and as the ideas flowed out of him – he had found that goldmine of imagination most writers long for – the word count mounted. He noticed the pace at which he was typing and, amazed by it, he occasionally checked the word counter in the software.

One thousand, two thousand, four thousand, six thousand.

He wondered how much time was passing by. He had no watch and there was no clock in his study. He stopped typing and looked out through the small window. The sun was climbing slowly through the sky. He looked at the door to the study and then back at the laptop screen. He needed two things: the time, and a coffee refill.

Finally, he managed to get away from the laptop, saving the file before he left the study. When he went into the livingroom he looked at the clock, surprised to see that it was only 1:30 PM, and happy with the speed he was working at. He looked around, Anne wasn’t there. He refilled his coffee and stood still for a moment, wondering if he should go out and talk to her for a while, then he looked back at his study door and was drawn towards it. He allowed it to draw him in and soon he was back at the laptop, loving the keyboard with his fingertips and clacking away word after word and page after page.

Chapters flew by as the word count grew and his coffee slowly disappeared. The sun rose, like his imagination, and soon he was completely wrapped up in his work. After a while he stopped caring how many words there were. He didn’t take notice of his fingers moving around the keyboard, gradually building up speed to what became a slow blur that most would call supernatural. He didn’t see the page count, nor was he aware that he was punching out almost two pages per minute. He was completely entranced, and the world outside of the laptop screen and his mind faded away into obscurity: melting into virtual non-existence.

He just no longer noticed.

What he also didn’t notice, was that the sun had slowed its movement in the sky. The slowing of its rise was almost imperceptible, but it was there. It grew gradually slower as his fingers moved gradually faster. His eyes were glued to the screen, and he didn’t notice the sun. He didn’t notice that Anne had not been around in what had to be hours. He didn’t notice that the sounds of the seldom passing cars had grown slower and more drawn out until they sounded like huge bumblebees. He didn’t see the study door moving at a depressingly slow crawl back and forth, and then stop completely.

He just didn’t notice.

He typed, and typed, and typed. All he could do was type, and he entered deeper stages of his trance with every word and letter that darted up onto the screen. Sentences flew by and formed paragraphs in fractions of a second. Those paragraphs became whole pages in seconds and those pages became chapters in less than a minute. The word count reached well over one-hundred-thousand, and the page count reached almost three-hundred. And it kept moving, always upward, the pages scrolling by faster and faster. His fingers moved faster too, until they seemed not to move anymore; they moved so fast that they seemed to stay locked in one endless blur. The words on the screen became a blur too, and the page count continued.

300 . . . 400 . . . 600 . . . 800

His fingers began to slow down, gradually moving slower and slower, along with the words on the screen, each word taking longer and longer to type as they moved gently back to a normal pace. He didn’t notice this either – he was still entranced by the screen. The typing became slower and slower, and Harry grew out of his trance, coming quietly back into a state of awareness.

When his fingers finally came to a complete stop and the cursor flashed patiently on the screen, he looked dazedly at the page count.

‘Oh my fuck,’ he whispered and swallowed hard. ‘H-how is that possi -‘

He stood up from the computer, looking outside and noticing that the day was still young. The sun was still fairly high and he knew that it had to be 6 PM, at the latest. But it had felt like hours. It was hours. Nobody can write nine-hundred-and-sixty-seven pages in one day. His mind point blank refused to believe it.

‘It’s not possible . . .’

He backed slowly away from the laptop, as though it were a diseased thing, or some cursed machinery, and made his way to the study door. He yanked the door but it didn’t move and his fingers slipped off, scraping themselves along the corners of the door.

‘Oh, fuck!’ he shouted, grabbing his fingers with the other hand. He looked back at the laptop worriedly; wanting suddenly to get the hell away from it. ‘Something’s wrong,’ he said.

He reached out for the door again, this time pulling it slowly. It was stiff, as though there was a force on the other side, pulling at the same time. Eventually he got the door open, and it stayed in position where he left it – unmoving once again. He considered it with fear in his mind.

He walked into the living room and towards the clock. His jaw dropped when he saw the time and his mind went into major denial. The clock told him that it was twenty minutes to two in the afternoon.

‘Ten minutes?’ he gasped. ‘I’ve been in there for ten . . . ten minutes? What?’ His heart pumped and his stomach flip-flopped. His legs felt weak and he thought he might faint, but it didn’t happen and he could only stare in mad awe at the clock.

‘Anne,’ he said in no more than a whisper. ‘Anne?’ He repeated her name, but got no response. He looked around him. ‘Anne?’

He stayed where he was, waiting for a response, but he heard none. He looked over at the front door, remembering that she had gone out to do some gardening. He had to talk to her. She’d be able to make sense out of what had just happened. Anne was the down to earth, logical one. He was the imaginative writer who had repeat nightmares and wrote about things that scared the shit out of people. He couldn’t count on himself at a time like this – he would likely freak himself out more.

But Anne would calm him down. She would know what to say to make it better. She always did. She was good at making him feel better. All she had to do was look at him and he felt good inside; warm.

He stumbled to the front door, and grabbed the handle. His eyes widened with fear and near panic when he found the door was just as stiff as his study door had been. He pulled at it and it slid open a few inches. He pulled harder, putting all of his body weight into it. It came another inch or so and then he heard it, a crack and a pop and the handle came away from the door. He was brought to the ground by his own weight, slamming hard onto the carpeted floor, his head missing the coffee table by centimetres.

He jumped up, not quite recovering, but not quite feeling he had the luxury of time; something was very wrong here and he didn’t like it at all. He walked back over to the door and inspected the crack he had created between the door and the door frame.

‘Anne,’ he called out as he inserted his fingers in around the door. ‘Anne!’

No answer.

He pulled, putting all of his strength into it. His face turned red and he huffed and puffed with the effort. The door began to budge, gradually giving way. Inch by inch it moved away from the frame and at last there was enough space to slip through and get out of the house.

‘Anne!’ he called as soon as he passed through the doorway. ‘Anne, where are you?’

He walked cautiously down to the garden, scanning the entire property. As he neared the garden, he stopped dead in his tracks. A realisation suddenly hit home and he voiced it.

‘There’s no wind.’

He looked up at the huge Maple tree that had sat outside the cottage for almost one hundred years. It had been planted by the people who built the cottage and had stood as a constant, woody sentinel for all these years. Now, the wind had stopped, and with it, the leaves and branches had ceased to move.

Harry reached up and plucked one of the leaves from the tree. The leaf came away, but the other leaves, and the branch he had tugged on, remained motionless, as though stuck in time. He held the leaf between his trembling fingers, scrutinizing it and wondering what was happening. He dropped the leaf but it didn’t fall. It just hovered motionless in mid air.

He took a terrified step back from the frozen leaf and his heartbeat doubled. His mouth dried up in a flash and sweat stood out on his forehead, stinging his skin. He turned around to face the garden and saw her.

She was sitting on a large log that she called her “garden armchair”, surveying the garden. But she wasn’t moving. She was deadly still, like the trees and the wind and the sun. Harry swallowed a lump in his throat and took one unsure step towards her.

‘Anne?’

He waited, but got no response, so he took another step, then another, and another. Slowly, he drew closer to her, and with every step he took he became more sure that whatever had happened to everything else, had happened to her too. He walked slowly around her, looking quickly at the garden. She didn’t move. She didn’t look at him, or even acknowledge his presence. She just remained there, looking at her flowers.

Her hair was flowing away behind her, caught by the wind and now frozen in one movement behind her head. Her mouth was smiling and she had one hand raised with a finger pointed upwards. He knew what she was doing. She was scolding the flowers. She would talk to her flowers, because she believed that they reacted to human stimulus.

He looked at her, his heart thumping loudly in his chest and sweat streaming over his face. He moved closer to her. She never made a single movement: she was completely frozen in that position. He stared at her as he crouched down, looking into her eyes and suddenly missing her. He suddenly wanted to hear her voice so badly. He wanted to tell her he loved her and hear her say it back. He wanted to kiss her and love her. His eyes welled up and tears began to stream from them.

‘How is this happening, Anne?’ he asked quietly. ‘Come back to me, love. Make me feel better. Don’t go away . . . I need you!’

But she didn’t hear him pleading, and she never moved an inch. She remained as she was, smiling at the flowers in mock anger, her finger raised and her head tilted slightly to the right. Harry rested his head on her lap, and imagined she was stroking his hair and whispering to him.

Then he cried.

When his tears finally dried up, and his headache thumped so loudly inside his head that he could barely hear his own thoughts, he slowly sat up. He looked at Anne and caressed her face with his eyes. She was so beautiful.

He looked around dazedly. Was he still dreaming? Had he even woken up at all that morning? He knew he wasn’t dreaming. But then how was this possible? How was it possible for his nightmares, the ones that had haunted him all of his life, to become reality?

Reality . . .

‘I can’t do this,’ he said. ‘I can’t live like this, and I won’t try. I can’t look at you like this everyday. I can’t see you everyday and tell you I love you each morning and know that you won’t hear it, and you’ll never say it back.’ He swallowed a fresh batch of tears. ‘I can’t do it, my love.’

He stood up slowly, his hands resting on her knees, then he bent down to her and kissed her cheek, rubbing his cheek along hers and crying as he did.

‘I love you, my dear Anne. I love you.’

He walked away from her, and his tears came again. He roared at the ground and at the sky. He roared and roared until he reached the house. He cried for himself and he cried for Anne. He cried because this wasn’t right. He cried and he screamed.

He walked inside the house. He wasn’t crying anymore, but there was a low, primal groan which came from deep in his chest. He walked up the stairs, taking each step slowly.

He reached the top and his and Anne’s bedroom. He crossed the room and entered the bathroom. She was in the bathroom, and the bedroom, in everything he saw. Her clothes; her make up; her books and music; her flowers that she put in the window every morning. She was there and he had to close his eyes so as not to see her.

He reached into the wall unit above the sink and fumbled around inside, finding it hard to see through his tears. Finally, he found what he was looking for and he took it down. It was a small bottle of tablets. Sleeping tablets. He walked back out of the bathroom and towards the bed. He didn’t want to look out the window because then he would see her. He couldn’t bare to see her.

He sighed heavily and cried again, sitting there on the bed for a long time and working up all of his courage. Finally, he opened the bottle without looking at it, and quickly poured its contents down his throat, swallowing hard. He lay down on the bed and curled up, crying convulsively until darkness came and claimed him as its own.

The pain was over, and as he died, the last thought he had was of the nightmare that he had finally written but that would never be read.

The nightmare that had become reality.

ShadowCast 013 The Man Who Typed Too Fast

The Man Who Typed too Fast

by T.H. Davis

read by Jason Warden

Download with ITunes

Play in this window

Harry Dunphy woke quickly, his eyes springing open and his mind at once awake. He had had another one of his nightmares, and as usual, he had woken just before the inevitable ending. He let out a sigh of relief and stared at the ceiling, reflecting on the nightmare.

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It was an end-of-the-world nightmare; not like the usual – no nuclear bombs, or war. His end of the world nightmares were much simpler than war. They were nightmares in which he was alone in the world, wandering around empty streets and looking, in fearful amazement, at his surroundings. In his dreams, everything was intact: there was no looting or burning or craziness. Everything was as it would normally be, with one exception: there were no people.

He would wander around the cities and towns and the countryside looking for people, zooming from one place to another, magically transported by his nightmare. He never found anyone, but they were there, and he knew it. Just … not there, somehow. In the end – and this was the ending that alw

ays woke him, just before the finish – he would take a knife and put it to his own throat. Or it could be a gun in his mouth. Or he could be leaning over the edge of a tall building. It didn’t matter what way it happened, but the outcome was always going to be the same. The world would end, people would simply vanish, and he would kill himself. Unable to live alone forever.

Ordinarily, a horror novelist would find this kind of dream to

be pure gold, and they’d be jumping out of bed each morning to whack out another bunch of brilliant, nightmare inspired ideas. After all, wasn’t that how Paul McCartney came up with Yesterday? But not Harry. He couldn’t just get up and write about it. The dream had existed a long time before his writing career had. It had been there from childhood. It had been there when his first book sold; it was there now. It was always there and he knew it was always going to be there.

He lay in bed, trying not to think about it, but thinking about it anyway. The sun shone beautifully through the open window, and a light breeze pushed the curtains into the room, like two red ghosts. He cocked his head to one side, listening. He was listening for Anne, his wife, and not hearing her. He sat up, pulling his jeans and t-shirt on. For the first time, he looked at the digital clock on the locker beside the bed and groaned when he saw the little red flashing digits.

12:34 PM

He stepped into his slippers – the brown ones he had never liked but he wore anyway because Anne had bought them for him their first year together – and left the bedroom, hurrying downstairs. He was late. He always like to start writing at midday on the button, which meant being out of bed by ten in the morning, kissing Anne, having breakfast, having coffee, doing a little housework, and then heading to his study to sit in front of his computer.

Today was no different from any other and he cursed himself as he descended the stairs and entered the kitchen. He looked around but Anne wasn’t there. The kitchen was also the living room and the only other rooms were the bedroom upstairs, with an en suite bathroom; a bedroom downstairs, which had been converted into a study; and a utility room downstairs.

He walked to the front door, thinking she might be out in the garden, but when he opened the door and looked out, he saw no sign of her. He noticed the car was gone though and assumed she must have went to town – they lived two miles outside of Dunshaughlin, on the Navan side.

He closed the door and went back inside, yawning and stretching in the centre of the living room. He walked to the kitchen and found a warm pot of coffee. He poured himself a cup, and as he added milk and sugar, his mind was cast briefly back on the nightmare. The thought left him when he heard the crunching of gravel as a car pulled up outside. He took another cup down out of the press above the sink and filled it with coffee, making faces at the dark liquid (Anne liked hers black and he couldn’t stomach it unless it had plenty of milk).

Opposites attract, he thought happily.

The front door of the house swung open and he turned around. There she was: his love, his life, his Anne. She had a large bag by her side and he noticed it was from an electrical store in town. She held the grocery bag in the other hand. He went over and swapped the coffee for her bags. She pulled away when he tried for the big electrical store bag and smiled mischievously at him.

‘What is it?’ he asked, his eyes narrowing playfully.

‘It’s a present,’ she answered, smiling.

‘But it’s not my birthday, or Christmas or even International Harry Dunphy is so flipping awesome day or anything, so why am I getting presents? What do you want, or what have I already given you?’

She walked towards the living room couch, holding the bag away from him and sipping her coffee. She sat down and ignored him.

‘What’s on TV?’ she asked, trying not to laugh.

‘Yeah, yeah, gimme my present,’ he giggled and she joined in with him, both of them laughing.

‘Okay, okay, here.’ She lifted the bag to him. ‘You needed it, and I’m sick of you saying no.’

‘A laptop,’ he said. ‘Wow . . . this, is, so, awesome.’ His voice had gone robotic. ‘You shouldn’t have, no really, Anne, you really shouldn’t have.’ He smiled and spoke through his teeth.

‘Look,’ she said, ‘that thing you’re using inside needs to go to the museum, where it belongs, okay? I’m surprised you don’t have carpal tunnels just from the stretching you need to do to go from one key to the other. They’re so far apart, those keys. You know, the fifty or so stone slabs you whack everyday with your fingers.’

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Thank you, love.’ He leaned over and kissed her.

‘Sweet! Go set it up, ple-ease! I want to throw that ugly monstrosity you call a computer out.’

‘I can’t keep it?’ he asked, pretending to be upset. ‘It’s a classic.’

‘Yeah, yeah. Go investigate your new toy. Spend as long as you want, I’m planting the new flowers today.’

‘Enjoy yourself,’ he said, taking his coffee and the laptop box into his study.

‘You too, hon.’

Harry opened the door to his study with his foot – the door had no lock, so it was in constant motion, swinging back and forth with the slightest breeze. He walked inside and placed the laptop box on the table and his coffee cup beside it. He stared curiously at the box for a long time, then switched his stare to the ancient computer which sat, like a relic, beside it. He moved the older computer aside a little, puffing at the weight of it, and opened the laptop box.

It was like a magical new toy, and he unwrapped it like Charlie had unwrapped his Wonka Bar, fully expecting to find a golden ticket inside. When he took the laptop out, it wasn’t a golden ticket he found, but a sleek, shiny, black piece of machinery that he fell in love with immediately. He looked back at the study door, torn between going to kiss Anne and staying with his new toy.

He stayed. It took him almost thirty minutes to get it set up.

‘Writing software: check. Internet: check . . .’ He paused, looking excitedly at the screen. ‘I’m going to mark this momentous day, by starting a new novel.’

He sat back for a moment, looking at the flashing cursor on the screen, sifting through his imagination in search of a good story. When he finally had his light bulb flash, he lurched forward and began typing.

He loved the laptop’s keyboard immediately. It was smaller and the keys were smoother; easier to type on. And he found – to his delight – that years of typing on a piece of junk had made him ten times faster on this better model. He soon found himself carried away by the writing and as the ideas flowed out of him – he had found that goldmine of imagination most writers long for – the word count mounted. He noticed the pace at which he was typing and, amazed by it, he occasionally checked the word counter in the software.

One thousand, two thousand, four thousand, six thousand.

He wondered how much time was passing by. He had no watch and there was no clock in his study. He stopped typing and looked out through the small window. The sun was climbing slowly through the sky. He looked at the door to the study and then back at the laptop screen. He needed two things: the time, and a coffee refill.

Finally, he managed to get away from the laptop, saving the file before he left the study. When he went into the livingroom he looked at the clock, surprised to see that it was only 1:30 PM, and happy with the speed he was working at. He looked around, Anne wasn’t there. He refilled his coffee and stood still for a moment, wondering if he should go out and talk to her for a while, then he looked back at his study door and was drawn towards it. He allowed it to draw him in and soon he was back at the laptop, loving the keyboard with his fingertips and clacking away word after word and page after page.

Chapters flew by as the word count grew and his coffee slowly disappeared. The sun rose, like his imagination, and soon he was completely wrapped up in his work. After a while he stopped caring how many words there were. He didn’t take notice of his fingers moving around the keyboard, gradually building up speed to what became a slow blur that most would call supernatural. He didn’t see the page count, nor was he aware that he was punching out almost two pages per minute. He was completely entranced, and the world outside of the laptop screen and his mind faded away into obscurity: melting into virtual non-existence.

He just no longer noticed.

What he also didn’t notice, was that the sun had slowed its movement in the sky. The slowing of its rise was almost imperceptible, but it was there. It grew gradually slower as his fingers moved gradually faster. His eyes were glued to the screen, and he didn’t notice the sun. He didn’t notice that Anne had not been around in what had to be hours. He didn’t notice that the sounds of the seldom passing cars had grown slower and more drawn out until they sounded like huge bumblebees. He didn’t see the study door moving at a depressingly slow crawl back and forth, and then stop completely.

He just didn’t notice.

He typed, and typed, and typed. All he could do was type, and he entered deeper stages of his trance with every word and letter that darted up onto the screen. Sentences flew by and formed paragraphs in fractions of a second. Those paragraphs became whole pages in seconds and those pages became chapters in less than a minute. The word count reached well over one-hundred-thousand, and the page count reached almost three-hundred. And it kept moving, always upward, the pages scrolling by faster and faster. His fingers moved faster too, until they seemed not to move anymore; they moved so fast that they seemed to stay locked in one endless blur. The words on the screen became a blur too, and the page count continued.

300 . . . 400 . . . 600 . . . 800

His fingers began to slow down, gradually moving slower and slower, along with the words on the screen, each word taking longer and longer to type as they moved gently back to a normal pace. He didn’t notice this either – he was still entranced by the screen. The typing became slower and slower, and Harry grew out of his trance, coming quietly back into a state of awareness.

When his fingers finally came to a complete stop and the cursor flashed patiently on the screen, he looked dazedly at the page count.

‘Oh my fuck,’ he whispered and swallowed hard. ‘H-how is that possi -‘

He stood up from the computer, looking outside and noticing that the day was still young. The sun was still fairly high and he knew that it had to be 6 PM, at the latest. But it had felt like hours. It was hours. Nobody can write nine-hundred-and-sixty-seven pages in one day. His mind point blank refused to believe it.

‘It’s not possible . . .’

He backed slowly away from the laptop, as though it were a diseased thing, or some cursed machinery, and made his way to the study door. He yanked the door but it didn’t move and his fingers slipped off, scraping themselves along the corners of the door.

‘Oh, fuck!’ he shouted, grabbing his fingers with the other hand. He looked back at the laptop worriedly; wanting suddenly to get the hell away from it. ‘Something’s wrong,’ he said.

He reached out for the door again, this time pulling it slowly. It was stiff, as though there was a force on the other side, pulling at the same time. Eventually he got the door open, and it stayed in position where he left it – unmoving once again. He considered it with fear in his mind.

He walked into the living room and towards the clock. His jaw dropped when he saw the time and his mind went into major denial. The clock told him that it was twenty minutes to two in the afternoon.

‘Ten minutes?’ he gasped. ‘I’ve been in there for ten . . . ten minutes? What?’ His heart pumped and his stomach flip-flopped. His legs felt weak and he thought he might faint, but it didn’t happen and he could only stare in mad awe at the clock.

‘Anne,’ he said in no more than a whisper. ‘Anne?’ He repeated her name, but got no response. He looked around him. ‘Anne?’

He stayed where he was, waiting for a response, but he heard none. He looked over at the front door, remembering that she had gone out to do some gardening. He had to talk to her. She’d be able to make sense out of what had just happened. Anne was the down to earth, logical one. He was the imaginative writer who had repeat nightmares and wrote about things that scared the shit out of people. He couldn’t count on himself at a time like this – he would likely freak himself out more.

But Anne would calm him down. She would know what to say to make it better. She always did. She was good at making him feel better. All she had to do was look at him and he felt good inside; warm.

He stumbled to the front door, and grabbed the handle. His eyes widened with fear and near panic when he found the door was just as stiff as his study door had been. He pulled at it and it slid open a few inches. He pulled harder, putting all of his body weight into it. It came another inch or so and then he heard it, a crack and a pop and the handle came away from the door. He was brought to the ground by his own weight, slamming hard onto the carpeted floor, his head missing the coffee table by centimetres.

He jumped up, not quite recovering, but not quite feeling he had the luxury of time; something was very wrong here and he didn’t like it at all. He walked back over to the door and inspected the crack he had created between the door and the door frame.

‘Anne,’ he called out as he inserted his fingers in around the door. ‘Anne!’

No answer.

He pulled, putting all of his strength into it. His face turned red and he huffed and puffed with the effort. The door began to budge, gradually giving way. Inch by inch it moved away from the frame and at last there was enough space to slip through and get out of the house.

‘Anne!’ he called as soon as he passed through the doorway. ‘Anne, where are you?’

He walked cautiously down to the garden, scanning the entire property. As he neared the garden, he stopped dead in his tracks. A realisation suddenly hit home and he voiced it.

‘There’s no wind.’

He looked up at the huge Maple tree that had sat outside the cottage for almost one hundred years. It had been planted by the people who built the cottage and had stood as a constant, woody sentinel for all these years. Now, the wind had stopped, and with it, the leaves and branches had ceased to move.

Harry reached up and plucked one of the leaves from the tree. The leaf came away, but the other leaves, and the branch he had tugged on, remained motionless, as though stuck in time. He held the leaf between his trembling fingers, scrutinizing it and wondering what was happening. He dropped the leaf but it didn’t fall. It just hovered motionless in mid air.

He took a terrified step back from the frozen leaf and his heartbeat doubled. His mouth dried up in a flash and sweat stood out on his forehead, stinging his skin. He turned around to face the garden and saw her.

She was sitting on a large log that she called her “garden armchair”, surveying the garden. But she wasn’t moving. She was deadly still, like the trees and the wind and the sun. Harry swallowed a lump in his throat and took one unsure step towards her.

‘Anne?’

He waited, but got no response, so he took another step, then another, and another. Slowly, he drew closer to her, and with every step he took he became more sure that whatever had happened to everything else, had happened to her too. He walked slowly around her, looking quickly at the garden. She didn’t move. She didn’t look at him, or even acknowledge his presence. She just remained there, looking at her flowers.

Her hair was flowing away behind her, caught by the wind and now frozen in one movement behind her head. Her mouth was smiling and she had one hand raised with a finger pointed upwards. He knew what she was doing. She was scolding the flowers. She would talk to her flowers, because she believed that they reacted to human stimulus.

He looked at her, his heart thumping loudly in his chest and sweat streaming over his face. He moved closer to her. She never made a single movement: she was completely frozen in that position. He stared at her as he crouched down, looking into her eyes and suddenly missing her. He suddenly wanted to hear her voice so badly. He wanted to tell her he loved her and hear her say it back. He wanted to kiss her and love her. His eyes welled up and tears began to stream from them.

‘How is this happening, Anne?’ he asked quietly. ‘Come back to me, love. Make me feel better. Don’t go away . . . I need you!’

But she didn’t hear him pleading, and she never moved an inch. She remained as she was, smiling at the flowers in mock anger, her finger raised and her head tilted slightly to the right. Harry rested his head on her lap, and imagined she was stroking his hair and whispering to him.

Then he cried.

When his tears finally dried up, and his headache thumped so loudly inside his head that he could barely hear his own thoughts, he slowly sat up. He looked at Anne and caressed her face with his eyes. She was so beautiful.

He looked around dazedly. Was he still dreaming? Had he even woken up at all that morning? He knew he wasn’t dreaming. But then how was this possible? How was it possible for his nightmares, the ones that had haunted him all of his life, to become reality?

Reality . . .

‘I can’t do this,’ he said. ‘I can’t live like this, and I won’t try. I can’t look at you like this everyday. I can’t see you everyday and tell you I love you each morning and know that you won’t hear it, and you’ll never say it back.’ He swallowed a fresh batch of tears. ‘I can’t do it, my love.’

He stood up slowly, his hands resting on her knees, then he bent down to her and kissed her cheek, rubbing his cheek along hers and crying as he did.

‘I love you, my dear Anne. I love you.’

He walked away from her, and his tears came again. He roared at the ground and at the sky. He roared and roared until he reached the house. He cried for himself and he cried for Anne. He cried because this wasn’t right. He cried and he screamed.

He walked inside the house. He wasn’t crying anymore, but there was a low, primal groan which came from deep in his chest. He walked up the stairs, taking each step slowly.

He reached the top and his and Anne’s bedroom. He crossed the room and entered the bathroom. She was in the bathroom, and the bedroom, in everything he saw. Her clothes; her make up; her books and music; her flowers that she put in the window every morning. She was there and he had to close his eyes so as not to see her.

He reached into the wall unit above the sink and fumbled around inside, finding it hard to see through his tears. Finally, he found what he was looking for and he took it down. It was a small bottle of tablets. Sleeping tablets. He walked back out of the bathroom and towards the bed. He didn’t want to look out the window because then he would see her. He couldn’t bare to see her.

He sighed heavily and cried again, sitting there on the bed for a long time and working up all of his courage. Finally, he opened the bottle without looking at it, and quickly poured its contents down his throat, swallowing hard. He lay down on the bed and curled up, crying convulsively until darkness came and claimed him as its own.

The pain was over, and as he died, the last thought he had was of the nightmare that he had finally written but that would never be read.

The nightmare that had become reality.

ShadowCast 009 The Cove

The Cove

by Casey Rea-Hunter

read by Casey Rea-Hunter

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I did not set out to discover anything, least of all what “makes me tick.” At no point in my average-length career in the field of property insurance did I once have the inkling to explore what psychologists and chemically addled reprobates might call “the periphery of consciousness.” I’m certainly well read; retirement spent in the provincial bosom of a coastal New England town affords plenty of time for literary investigation. Yet even my lazy consumption of books borrowed from the local library did not awaken any desire for self-discovery. They were all someone else’s stories, visions, anxieties.

My daughter, on the other hand, away at a liberal arts university not terribly far from my own unostentatious seacoast accommodations, always had an instinct for personal revelation; at least the kind approved by the bohemian professors she so desires to impress. I never faulted Emily for these tendencies. After her mother died, seeking meaning became her primary pursuit. I hadn’t the heart to tell her that, in my estimation, there is positively no sense to be made from the myriad banal activities that comprise our time on this planet. Nor is there any consequence to our search for significance in our own lives or the lives of those around us. It is merely chance and biology that sets the course of our brief existences, whether we ascribe metaphysical significance to the crushingly mundane or accept our lot as fleeting nonentities in an utterly cosmic trifle.

When I say that I am retired to this coastal community, I exaggerate. Only summers are spent at this salty idyll; during the colder seasons I — like all but those blasted seabirds that squawk mindlessly as they scour the beach for aquatic carrion — migrate to more hospitable climes. This year, however, I’ve stayed longer than usual, partly because of the balmy weather, but also due to my increasing fondness for wandering the long stretch of beach, which becomes significantly more traversable as the tourists depart to wherever it is from which they came. In September, for example, I practically have the entire coastline to myself. Often, I find myself strolling along the water’s edge well into the evening, my galoshes making obscene sounds as they connect with the clumps of seaweed that threaten to overwhelm even the sand.

Yet I am not the only lingerer as summer’s sultry hollows are subsumed by the chill of encroaching autumn. The flea market just outside of town is still open, its garish trinkets glinting as its unpleasant merchants move indolently among the wares. I must confess a persisting obsession with this grubby bazaar, though I had never actually wandered along the makeshift display tables dug haphazardly into the pebble-speckled sand and wispy sea-grass. That is, until a couple of weeks ago.

On that day, having walked my bicycle to Duane McMullen’s repair shop to resolve a persistent problem with the derailleur, I decided to venture to the flea market while my ailing ten-speed received its wrench-and-oil remedy. After all, it was only a couple of miles down the road from the bike shop, just a few clicks past the sign marking the approach to our sleepy burg. Duane had some other repairs ahead of mine, and he told me that my chariot would likely not be ready until late afternoon. So, with my army surplus rucksack dangling from one shoulder and my trusty water bottle in hand, I made my way to that vulgar emporium which had, for unknown reasons, captured my interest.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t disappointed by the flea market; it was hard not to be. Dusty videocassette tapes of films no one had ever wanted to see were crammed into milk cartons alongside dog-eared books and Popular Mechanics magazines from an era when transistor radios were novel. As the lone soul perusing the tables that day, I was significantly outnumbered by the sallow-faced merchants who stared blankly into some imperceptible distance and spoke to one another, only occasionally, in a language I could not discern. After strolling mutely through row and row of commercial detritus, I came across a small assortment of jewelry, all clearly handmade. The items ran the gamut from unsightly to grotesque, yet I found myself transfixed by their peculiar allure. One piece was not as unseemly as the rest; in fact it could be considered handsome in its own queer way.

A dragonfly pendant, delicately carved out of some kind of metal that may have been a relative of pewter, but whose obsidian surface reflected the afternoon light in an uncanny manner. With its bulbous eyes fashioned out of what appeared to be twin rubies and a protracted tail that came to a meticulous point, the object betrayed artistry utterly at odds with the rest of the merchandise on offer. For some reason not entirely known to myself — but in no way a product of that chimera of modern psychology, the subconscious — I immediately thought of Emily. Perhaps it was my daughter’s penchant for flitting from one obsession to another, or maybe the fact that she owned precious little jewelry that didn’t once belong to her mother. No matter the association, I knew immediately that this curious object d’art was meant for her. I hastily purchased the dragonfly from a swarthy-looking fellow who took my bills, crumpled them and shoved them in his ratty sweatshirt pocket, after which I abruptly left that abysmal market to pick up my bicycle.

Later that evening, I decided to mail the dragonfly to Emily at her college. There was a small box in which I’d been keeping thumbtacks that almost matched the pendant’s strange charm. A possession of my own grandmother, the box had traveled from Russia to this very coast sometime before the First World War. A suitable vessel for what I, in a moment of atypical sentimentality, imagined could become a new heirloom. As I reached into the plastic sandwich bag in which the flea marketer had so ungracefully deposited the dragonfly, a sharp pain immediately struck my thumb. I involuntarily yanked my hand back and shoved the wounded digit in my mouth. Blood. With the other hand, I gingerly dumped the dragonfly on the unvarnished conglomeration of wood that passed for my dining room table. Flipping the pendant this way and that with my uninjured hand, I searched for a razor-edge to blame. There was the pointy tail, sure, but as my fingers probed its tapered end, I felt nothing sharp enough to draw blood.

At any rate, the wound was entirely superficial, and I was quite able to prepare the dragonfly (and box) to mail to my daughter with tomorrow’s post. Having accomplished this small task, I found myself unexpectedly fatigued, so I retired to my modest single bed, where I fell fast asleep.

To say that my dreams were bizarre would be an understatement. At one point in my troubled rest, I explored an oversized Victorian domicile at the center of which I was certain to encounter the savior of mankind, whose being it was my task to swiftly extinguish. I am in no way a religious person, but the experience was so palpable that I recall resisting that which appeared to be my destiny: to foreclose forever the possibility of human salvation. I drifted from this nightmare to another in which my lower half had been replaced with a heinous mass of pulsing tentacles covered in sensitive cilia that ached like a thousand papercuts. Huddled around my misshapen self were strange figures in gossamer cloaks woven from the silk of the spiders that lived in their toothless mouths. These ghastly characters set about the task of spooning into my own maw a pungent fluid the color of diluted motor oil and with the consistency of infant excreta.

I awoke to a bright wash of yellow light directly in my eyes and the sound of screeching voices and what might be termed music, depending on the relative sanity of the listener. The intrusive luminescence I immediately realized was from the disused lighthouse that protrudes like a narrow finger from a scraggy peninsula that intersects my bedroom window. In the three-and-a-half decades since I’d first visited this town, I had not once seen this ramshackle beacon illuminated. Strange as this may be, I was more disturbed by the terrible sounds that seemed to emanate from somewhere along the beach — how far from my home, I could not make out. I pulled myself out of bed, opened my window and craned my head like a punch-drunk mongoose. A blast of cool, salty air hit my face as I squinted against the harsh light that beamed directly into my eyes every ten seconds. The sounds were louder, but I still could not determine their origin. I jerked my head back inside and hurriedly closed the window.

My nearest neighbors were a quarter mile away, but surely they could hear the cacophony, too. That is, if they hadn’t already decamped back to Connecticut. Should I phone them? What time was it, anyway? I suddenly felt compelled to investigate the source of these perplexing sounds. This urge was in no way keeping with my typical behavior; my more rational self would have called the Myerson’s or simply taken a sleep aid and pulled the covers over my head. But in this odd instance I was gripped with the dogged desire to follow the racket to its source. And this is exactly what I did.

Armed with nothing but a flashlight and a sense of determination to discover what was going on out there, I scuttled down the wooden pathway leading to the beach. The sounds had increased in volume, though I still could not determine who — or what — was making them. Shrieks blended with the incessant thrumming of some sort of stringed instrument that rose and fell with the crashing of the nighttime tide. Somewhere within this discordant racket I thought I heard words, but their meaning was entirely unclear. Every so often, a concordance of voices would join together in a single utterance and then fall back into aural chaos. Once on the beach, I set off in the direction of the perturbing racket. After about a mile of trudging in the darkness, flashlight illuminating only a brief path before me, I realized I was no longer moving parallel to the ocean. In fact, judging from the diminishing sound of the waves, it seemed that the sea was several dozen yards behind me. Nonetheless, I pressed on, mostly because the din became more defined with every step.

At some point, I found my flashlight’s beam swallowed by darkness blacker than that of the night to which my eyes had only recently grown accustomed. It took me a moment to realize I was pointing the thing directly into the mouth of what appeared to be a cave, or at least a hollow of some kind. I edged closer, reaching out with my free hand to better determine the particulars of this formation. I felt along the stony edges of a substantially large opening and plunged my arm forward into empty space. It seemed that the mysterious sounds were coming from somewhere inside. Although I’d never encountered anything resembling a cave in my many walks along the beach, I resolved to enter this Stygian aperture. Pointing the flashlight a few feet ahead, I stepped into the blackness.

The air inside the cave was dank and oppressive. My shoes crunched along small pebbles that had been spared being ground into sand by moon-maddened surf. I walked for maybe five minutes until my flashlight found accidental focus on the cave wall to my right. As the light glanced the granite surface, I caught my first glimpse of the sigil that would come to weigh heavily on my waking hours and beleaguer my already troubled sleep.

It wasn’t the only marking the cave wall, which was positively cluttered with a hodgepodge of what seemed to be a kind of hieroglyphic language along with primitive symbols. Some looked like crudely constructed mandalas, others betrayed a more advanced technique. The icon that I found my eyes drawn back to was somewhere in between; a rudimentary circle bisected by what looked like a numeral four and several smaller symbols that floated on the periphery like alien satellites around a geometrically perverted planet. The sigil seemed altogether familiar — where had I seen it before? As my mind was searching for suitable evidence connecting me to this unnerving emblem, I was jostled to attention by a disquieting wail, which sounded like it came from a woman. Newly motivated, I hurried through the cave towards that terrible sound.

Sometime during my harried flight through the darkness, I began to discern a faint glimmer of light ahead. As the edges of the cave wall came into definition, I noted the absence of markings along their surface. Several paces later, I found myself back under the starless sky, standing on a sandbank several dozen yards above the beach and the restless, inky ocean. Below me was the largest bonfire I’d ever seen in my life, around which danced figures that were illuminated only by the spasmodic flicker of towering flames, twisting in a chaotic dance of their own. I immediately dropped to the grassy dune, as not to be seen by the debauched revelers. I counted around thirty or so figures, all naked as jaybirds, many entwined in a mockery of romantic intimacy. Howls and shrieks accompanied strange chants of unknown province; at one point I was certain I saw a woman climb atop a man’s back as though mounting a horse, propelling both rider and steed into the roaring flames.

Transfixed by the scene unfolding before me, I decided to wend down the embankment for a closer view. From my new perch, a pair of school busses’ length from the bonfire, I could make out a bit more detail. There were shapes emerging from the water, slithering slowly up the beach like deranged amphibians. I couldn’t see much detail, but they were essentially slug-like, with elongated flipper-things protruding awkwardly all along their bulging, distorted forms. Every so often, a human dancer would leave the fire and lay prostrate on the beach, after which one of the beasts would wriggle upon them until they were covered entirely in a palpating mass of sea-flesh. The sounds that came from these creatures were truly horrifying, but it appeared that they received pleasure from the foul activity. I shudder to imagine what was experienced by those underneath.

At that point, I was altogether revolted, yet I could not tear myself away from the scene. The dancers twirled madly around the fire like an infernal maypole, coupling and decoupling, some diving headlong into the flames, others scurrying down the beach to be smothered by the slug-things. Just as I was about to scream or run, or both, my gaze fell upon one of the dancers, whose long blonde hair whipped behind her as she writhed and arched to the terrible music, the source of which I still could not determine. As she rounded the corner of the bonfire, her face was suddenly illuminated by the blaze. Emily.

Panicked, I found myself scurrying back up the sandbank, almost involuntarily. As I fled towards the cave entrance, I began doubting what I saw. It couldn’t have been my daughter — she was already well into her first semester; we weren’t scheduled to see each other until Thanksgiving at the earliest. Besides, it was terribly dark, and I couldn’t be sure of anything I saw — not the slug things, and certainly not. . . Emily. I raced through the cave, not stopping to examine the strange symbols I had discovered on the way in. I’m not sure how I managed to find my way back to my home, but somehow I did. And I know that I eventually managed to fall asleep, as I woke up the following afternoon with sheets still moist with sweat.

In the coming weeks, I spent much of my time scouring the beach for anything resembling a cave or the beachhead on which I witnessed the chthonic celebration. There was no evidence of either. Nightly, my sleep was disturbed by hazy remembrances of what I saw, as well as frustratingly incomplete flashes of that strange sigil I’d encountered in the cave. I was certain that if I could only manage to get that symbol on paper, then these vexing visions would cease. I spent long afternoons that would often bleed into early morning attempting to recreate this baffling sign. Yet the more I tried to delineate its geometry, the more its full configuration eluded me. Notebook upon notebook was filled with incomplete renderings, but in recent days I’d come tantalizingly close to rendering this uncanny insignia.

Close to Thanksgiving, I received a phone call from Emily. She wanted to join me for the holiday at my seacoast retreat. Though I was in no mood to entertain, I knew that my future time with her would be limited as her academic and social life took precedent over visits with her father. So I somewhat haltingly made my invitation. “Is there something wrong, Dad?” she asked with her typical composure. “Not at all,” I replied, trying to put the image of her face in flame’s flicker completely out of my head. At this point, I had mostly convinced myself that I’d merely imagined that it was Emily writhing around the mammoth bonfire. It was, in fact, all I could do to maintain something resembling composure.

When my daughter arrived, I immediately noticed something was different about her, though I could not place what it was. She’d always been an independent person, even as a young girl. Certainly, more so after her mother’s passing. She greeted me with winsome aloofness, and our subsequent conversations were a bit trivial, yet hardly unusual. Such is to be expected when you haven’t seen someone in a while. Besides, it’s not as if I wasn’t distracted. As we ate our Thanksgiving meal, I found myself obsessing over that sigil. Perhaps I could find time after dinner to open my notebook and work on solving this agonizing riddle. I was certain I’d captured the symbol’s general orbit, and the lines were more or less accurate. But there was still something. . . off about my rendition.

I put it out of my mind, deciding that it was time to present Emily with her gift. I never actually mailed the dragonfly pendant — other. . . things. . . had come up. So as we sat by the small fireplace, I handed her the antique box. I hadn’t thought about it until that moment, but the night I pricked my thumb on the dragonfly was the same night that I’d witnessed the fiendish gathering. Yet only a fool would imagine a connection. A fool or someone whose grip on reality had become compromised. Was I cracking up? I banished the thought and concentrated the best I could on Emily’s reaction to the gift.

“The box originally belonged to your great-grandmother,” I explained, my voice sounding smaller than I had expected. “You never met her, but I’m sure she’d have wanted you to have it. Anyway, it’s not about the box — go ahead and open it.”

Emily did as instructed. I’m not sure what I expected her reaction to be, but whatever it was did not transpire. Her eyes did not grow large; she did not let out a little gasp or an “Oh, my God!” — instead, she gazed at the dragonfly with a subtle look of knowing, one corner of her lips turning up in an off-putting hint of a smile. After a period of silence, she simply said, “It’s lovely, Daddy.” I felt no desire to solicit any further opinions about the object. In fact, I felt somewhat nauseous.

Outside, it was raining heavily. When Emily declared that she was going out for a while, I was stunned. “Where would you be going on Thanksgiving night in weather like this?” I asked. “Well, I thought I’d go downtown and maybe see if the bookshop is open.” I knew she knew it wasn’t. “Are you sure?” I responded meekly. My stomach was doing flip-flops. “I won’t be long,” she answered. “Just need to stretch my legs.”

“Well, if you’re going out, you need to put on some boots. You should still have a pair in the closet.”

“I know where they are.”

“I’m still not sure it’s very smart to go out in this weather. Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

“Dad.”

“OK, OK. Just. . . be careful.”

Emily pulled one of the rickety kitchen chairs closer to the now-opened closet and rolled up a pant leg. As she slid on an oversized boot, her long blonde hair fell in front of her face so that I could no longer see her features. So I simply stared mutely at the legs of the chair as she reached for the other boot. She rolled up her second pant leg. And then I saw it.

The sigil was tattooed on her pale white ankle. I could distinguish all of the angles clearly now. I knew what was missing from my sketches. At that moment, thoughts of anything but completing my illustrations completely evaporated. I stood up abruptly and walked to my study.

“Um, OK, Dad. . . I’m going out now.”

I’m sure I answered in some fashion, but by the time the front door closed a thousand miles away, I had already opened my notebook to the unfinished symbol. I knew exactly what needed to be done. I rolled my decrepit office chair closer to my desk and hurriedly sat down. Just a line here. . . and one there. . . and there was that slight hook on the part that looks like the numeral four. . .

I completed my work in short order. I stood straight up and stared intently at the symbol that had caused so many sleepless nights. Now, things could get back to normal around here, I thought. I just need to lie down for a while. I attempted to make my way to the bedroom, but the wooden floor was suddenly slanted at such an angle that I found it difficult to reach the door. I felt dizzy, and grabbed for the edge of my desk to steady myself. But what I touched was most certainly not my desk. It was much older and more ornate, with grotesque carvings all across its colorless surface. There were new pictures on the wall. Only they weren’t pictures at all, but rather bizarrely shaped holes that seemed to spontaneously assume strange new angles. Within them were swirling distortions of faces, illuminated by a sickly, unnatural light. Somehow, the windows had disappeared. And the walls were no longer met by ceiling, but instead extended into what looked like obscure infinity. I found myself being pulled by some strange force ever closer to one of those twisted shapes in the wall. Soon, I was inches away from the warped orifice.

As the room began to sway around me, I heard the strains of that infernal instrument whose source I could not discern. The walls were no longer walls, but throbbing organs whose terrible pulse achieved a maddening cadence with the music. I heard laughter, screams and deafening ripping sounds, as though the very fabric of my physical apprehension was being rent to ribbons. At that moment, I knew I had no choice but to submit, to tender my resignation to reality. I thought briefly of Emily, and then I leaned forward into that heinous opening. I felt the entire world dissolve, and accepted my hellish providence.

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